George Herms


George Herms in Irvine, California, 2011. Photo: Sue Henger.

LOVE is not just the word with which George Herms signs his work but an expression of a particular ethos. Well known in Beat generation poetry, art, and 1960s-era California Assemblage circles, he was also involved with Wallace Berman’s influential publication Semina. Herms speaks here about a series of recent collage works exhibited in “LOVE George Herms” at testsite in Austin, Texas, which are on view from September 7 to October 19, 2014, as well as the recent acquisition of his archives by the Getty Research Center.

IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE STORYBOARD—isn’t that how the Bible starts out? A collaboration with a fictitious artist who integrates film, video, installation, sculpture, drawing, original music, and performance. That’s what I do, but now that text becomes a found paragraph for discussing artists of our time. Artists don’t want to be boxed in, or at least I never wanted to be.

Within the work, I’m the boss; I know what’s happening. My technique is to look at magazines upside down, and if I find something I enjoy, I tear it out. I’m a tear-rrorist. Like panning for gold with scissors, I cut out whatever is interesting to me. Then those pieces begin to dance around and form collages. Generally, I work on a coffee table, so that’s my natural scale. Besides the rusty-dusty stuff, I have an interest in color, which comes from working with bright and vibrant printer’s inks via my independent LOVE Press.

Some of the collages in my current show at testsite are composed of pieces of my archives returned to me by the Getty. And so this is an autobiographical body of work. For example, there’s a document in one of these collages, a piece of paper where you can see a list of names on the reverse side. This is from when I was executing the facsimile edition of Semina, and those are the people that are in the first issue—Cameron’s there, and so is Walter Hopps.

For fifty years I never threw anything away, so there was five decades of junk mail, documenting every election and all that stuff. I was like a scientist recording what was going on that day. But once I got to the Getty Research Institute, things changed. I found out about archival categories, and they would put my things into different boxes: for example, letters and correspondence. If the letter had the date on it, the Getty didn’t also need the envelope to establish date. So they threw away all the envelopes; they were winnowing. We had a sign on the office wall, which I made, which read WINNOW, DON’T WALLOW. In that little office, there was a table and a camera aimed straight down on the documents. There was also a second camera pointed at me with a microphone on it and I went over every single piece of paper accumulated over those years. All told, it was about twenty boxes’ worth of envelopes and newspapers thrown away, and naturally I asked, “Can I keep them?”

After fifty years, I’m going through my own wastebasket and finding there’s more. It gets ridiculous, because the challenge is to make gold out of dross. The less interesting the thing is, the bigger the challenge.

— As told to Andy Campbell

Sanaz Mazinani, U.S.A.I.R.A.N., 2014, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Sanaz Mazinani is a San Francisco–based artist whose work explores the relationship between perception and representation. Her installation U.S.A.I.R.A.N., 2014, is currently featured in “5 x 5,” a program of contemporary, temporary public art spearheaded by the Washington, DC, commission on the arts and humanities. Mazinani’s work, which appropriates the exterior of a vacant library at 1300 H Street Northeast in DC’s thriving H Street Corridor, is on view until November 21, 2014.

U.S.A.I.R.A.N. is a public art installation that activates a vacant space by covering all its windows with a set of twenty-one digital montages. The imagery used was all sourced online and brings together photographs of Tehran and Washington, DC, that challenge the negative representations of Iranians that are seen in popular media in the West, as a means to take control of our own image.

The site is a former library, which has lain vacant since 2009. It used to be an important community hub, so when I found out that it has been purchased by a developer who had plans to demolish it and build yet another condo in this already fast-gentrifying neighborhood, I knew that I needed to use its incredible architecture for one final hurrah.

The building is incredibly unique. It’s octagonal with a set of twenty-four windows, eight of which are curved, so I was excited to use it as an urban forum of exchange. I was commissioned by Out of the Box Projects for “5x5,” with a premise to create a public art installation that would speak to issues regarding the theme of home(land). Since the project is in the US capital, I wanted to respond to the cultural void created by the absence of an Iranian Embassy. In the 1960s and ’70s, the embassy was a site of cultural exchange, with events featuring Iranian performers and artists that drew the likes of Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor, and Frank Sinatra to DC. Today, not only is that singular venue long closed, but there are immigration restrictions in place that make it difficult for Iranian artists to present their work anywhere in this country. So this work’s initial inspiration was to throw light on the void of Iranian arts and culture in the US due to sanctions and the politics at play today.

The process of visiting the site and conversing with DC residents allowed me to understand exactly how little Americans know about contemporary life in Iran. The project slowly morphed into a kind of representation of Tehran juxtaposed against DC, wherein the montaged images on the windows do the heavy lifting of presenting a new perspective and proposing an alternative view of Tehran. I knew I wanted to create a public installation that would be alluring from a distance, but also difficult. The imagery uses patterns reminiscent of Islamic ornamentation superimposed onto this midcentury American building. By merging and colliding images of the US with those of Iran, the work forms surprising visual links and narratives.

While installing the work, I had a chance to talk with many neighborhood residents. One comment that stood out was: “Aren’t those two countries at odds with one another?” This was the golden question for me. I want to call attention to the significance of perspective and position, and to recognize the ever-changing political relationships that are manufactured around nation-states. Above the building, for instance, waves a double-sided flag that reads, SPEAK A NEW LANGUAGE, SO THAT THE WORLD CAN BE A NEW WORLD. This Rumi quote appears in both Farsi and English, and it references the power of arts and literature to alter the imagination.

The project is rather accessible, with blunt contrasts and comparisons that leave space for viewers to formulate their own questions, providing a physical forum that agitates our understanding of difference. The installation is viewable during the day and at night, when the entire building turns into a giant light box. And that really speaks to my interest in photography and what it does in the public sphere. Repetition and reproducibility empower images with the ability to construct and define history. This installation becomes an alternative to the dominant narrative. The images have all been plucked out of their own contexts. Combining photographs of Tehran gathered through a variety of online sources—which are not normally printed in newspapers—with similar photos of DC reveals the kinship between these cities.

— As told to Katie Anania

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation, 2013, 16 mm film, HD video, 18 minutes. Ginger Brooks Takahashi.

Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz, a Berlin-based duo, reinvent historical narratives in film, photography, and performance through queer discourses. Aftershow, a new book published this month by Sternberg Press, will be available at the New York Art Book Fair from September 26 to 28, 2014, and focuses on three “filmed performances”: No Future / No Past, 2011; Toxic, 2012; and To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation, 2013.

WE LIKE TO DESCRIBE OUR FILMS AS “FILMED PERFORMANCES” because they don’t actually document performance. Instead, performance and film are folded into each other. Usually, we take some material from the past—a photograph, a fragment of a film, a dance, or a song—as a point of departure for these works.

Recently, we worked with a 1970 score by Pauline Oliveros titled To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation. This turned out to be particularly interesting for us because scores already imply a specific temporality. You can produce your own version of one, but of course, there have already been different renditions and adaptations made of it long before you’ve begun, and there will probably be an infinite number made afterward. This introduced a new perspective on our interest in archives—for instance, how we might playfully deploy a photographic document from the past as a “score” for a future performance?

By looking at forgotten or disavowed queer moments, affects, acts, or leftovers, we not only want to (re)consider them as political interventions, but also try to re-create the past in order to articulate a contemporary desire. Retroactively, they have the potential to build an archive of denormalizing practices. Our work primarily focuses on the temporal politics of embodiment, and we find literary scholar Elizabeth Freeman’s term “temporal drag” very useful in this respect. It introduces a different understanding of drag, one that is not limited to the subcultural performance of undermining, or “mining,” the dual-gender system. It situates drag as a set of temporal practices that works against normative biographies and other hegemonic historical narratives.

Drag also rejects the act of revealing what lies beneath one’s clothing (or behind a curtain on a stage). It generates productive connections of the natural and the artificial, the animate and the inanimate, from props and vinyl records to wigs—and everything else that tends to produce connections to others, and other things, rather than merely representing them. In our films, we especially like messy embodiments of anachronistic elements in which different temporal or historical moments take place. For this reason, our performers don’t try to “be” or “act” like figures from the past, but instead connect to objects, clothing, gestures, and poses.

We began developing our new artists’ book, Aftershow, following the completion of two recent solo exhibitions: “Patriarchal Poetry” in 2013 at the Badischer Kunstverein and “No future / No past” in 2011, which was part of the “Chewing the Scenery” project at the Fifty-Fourth Venice Biennale. We chose the title because aftershows are situated on the limits of performance. They are usually informal, yet celebratory, parties that often happen behind or beneath the stage. And in order to address the power relations that are connected to the staging of bodies and the apparatus of vision, we often use the perspective of the backstage: In our installations and exhibitions, visitors might enter a space and find themselves behind a projection screen or a display case that they have to walk around to view. This “backstage perspective” is also a constant preoccupation in our films: What happens beyond the frame? What is the boundary between staged and unstaged moments?

In the book, we’ve written a series of letters to friends and collaborators, including Virginie Bobin, Gregg Bordowitz, Anja Casser and Nadja Quante, Mathias Danbolt, Sharon Hayes, Fatima Hellberg, Werner Hirsch, José Munoz, Henrik Olesen, Bernadette Paassen, Yvonne Rainer, Irene Revel, Eran Schaerf, Jack Smith, Ginger Brooks Takahashi, and Andrea Thal. The letters consider not only questions of research but also political and formal problems; however, many of these exchanges are somewhat fictional. Some letters, for example, are addressed to “friends from the past”—such as the one to Jack Smith whose work has inspired us for a long time (and who may or may not be happy with this made-up “friendship”). We chose the format of written correspondence because we wanted to intercut different personal and experimental writing styles, and carry out in-depth discussions on aesthetic and theoretical concepts central to our work—the archive, restaging, opacity, and desire. Over the years, we have developed long-term working relationships with friends, and others from our social circles who have artistic practices that we admire. With these letters we’ve sought to render our collaborations and ongoing conversations visible.

— As told to Alena J. Williams

View of “Gianni Piacentino. Works 1965-2014,” 2014.

The sculptural and wall-based work of Italian artist Gianni Piacentino is based around ideas of speed, branding, and industrial aesthetics. In spite of (often inadvertently) sharing ground with Minimalism and Pop art, Piacentino’s practice has defied categorization since his early, fraught association with Arte Povera in the 1960s. His work is partly inspired by his lifelong love of motorbikes, which gave rise to the streamlined vehicle sculptures he is best known for. Here he talks about his current exhibition (curated by Andrea Bellini) at VW (VeneKlasen/Werner) in Berlin, which is on view from September 17 to November 8, 2014.

THE EARLIEST WORKS in the show are from a time when a few Italian artists, in particular Giulio Paolini, were trying to go beyond painting. It started from a question: “OK, this is the frame. What shall we do with it?” I love concrete things, so I wanted to see how the canvas is made. I used to have my frames specially made thicker by a carpenter. Technique is important. This is how my Minimalist sculptures came out in 1965–66, which are the earliest works in the show.

In 1967, after breaking off with the Arte Povera group, I took a rest and started restoring a motorbike—a stunning Indian from the 1930s. While I was restoring it, I had an epiphany. I decided I wanted to put my life, and all my passions, into my work. Up till then, with my minimal structures, I’d had the feeling that I’d somehow done an academic work, linked to the history of art as the development and invention of new styles. So I wondered: “Why not do other things?” and that’s when the first prototypes appeared—models of vehicles, wings.

My work is about minimal form, finish-fetish culture, motorbikes, and the passion for very particular colors. I started with unusual colors in the late ’60s: matte metallic, pearl, and iridescent colors. I am fascinated by the aesthetics of technology, especially in connection with the idea of speed.

I can do professional body car painting, metal polishing, light engineering myself, though sometimes I need to use specialized workshops. When an artwork is emotionally cold it is important to control it physically. It is too easy to make an industrial object.

Motorbikes are an important part of my life. From 1967 to now I have driven very fast motorcycles. Illegal speed is normal for me. I was also a professional racer, although as the “passenger” in the sidecar class, in the ’70s. And I still drive a very fast Aprilia 1000 RSV4 Factory (an SBK model with 186 HP, 296 km/h) and a KTM 690 Supermoto. I drive it every Saturday around 11 AM, I always do the same trip. To go really fast you must know every inch of the road where you are driving.

— As told to Alexander Scrimgeour

Mario Garcia Torres, I Am Not a Flopper, n.d., HD video, color, sound, 29 minutes.

The work of Mexico City–based artist Mario Garcia Torres addresses the ways in which art and information are constructed over time. Here he discusses I Am Not a Flopper, n.d., which is on view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, from September 13, 2014 to January 4, 2015. New pieces by Garcia Torres are also included in a joint exhibition with Cildo Meireles, “Que Coisa É? A Conversation,” at Pivô, São Paulo, which runs until November 1, 2014.

I AM NOT A FLOPPER is a new delivery of a stage monologue I cowrote with philosopher Aaron Schuster a number of years ago. In this thirty-minute one-act play, an actor assumes the role of Alan Smithee—a pseudonym that filmmakers use whenever they want to withdraw their directing credit from one of their films. By personifying such a pseudonym, the piece brings to the forefront issues surrounding established notions of creation and invention.

Alan Smithee was first used and approved by the Directors Guild of America in 1967. While the specific reasons why a director didn’t want their name attached to a film were not always clear, we can surmise that they were probably unhappy with the studio-edited result, that it didn’t represent their original intention. We also don’t really know why the credit was given that particular name. One hypothesis is that Alan Smithee is an anagram for “the alias man.” Another is that the name comes from Orson Welles’s Mr. Arkadin (aka Confidential Report) (1955), which includes a character who acquires amnesia and at one point entertains the notion that his own name might be Smithee. Regardless, directors have actively used Alan Smithee since its inception, attributing to it more than seventy projects to date. These include famous titles, such as Catchfire (1990), a film that was actually directed by Dennis Hopper, as well as a lot of bad movies with insane titles you may have never heard of, like Le Zombi de Cap-Rouge (1997) and Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh (1991).

In I Am Not a Flopper, Smithee expresses that the content in these films is not important; what is vital is the fact that each of his projects occupies a time slot. Though his films might not have been successful in theaters, many of them were subsequently shown on television and thus seen by a broader audience. For him, the film’s function was not to entertain but to fill the airtime. The audience may not know his name, but they have most likely seen one of his works. If achievement is based on circulation, then Alan Smithee has certainly made it.

Among other subjects discussed in the piece is Smithee’s “self ready-madeness,” a term he uses to describe someone whose work is automatically built as the result of an involuntary process. But if we look closer, what appears is truly an artist who is creating work, yet at the same time is not producing anything physically at all. Smithee reasons that he doesn’t want to produce films because there are so many out there already; what he wants is to change their authorship, and by doing so challenge ideas about film production.

For example, Smithee’s filmography is built randomly. Though Smithee was born in 1967, his earliest film is from 1955. Inversely, though he could have made a film in 1983, it could have only been attributed to him in 2014. The production of his work is constantly shifting backward and forward in time because of the politics of the withdrawal/crediting process. His output is never consecutive, which brings into question why artists need to create chronologically. I stopped dating my own work some time ago because of that very argument; a work I produced today might be more related to one I made ten years ago rather than one I made yesterday.

When I debuted I Am Not a Flopper on a stage in London, the live performance was an integral part of the work. For the work at the Hammer, Los Angeles becomes a better context to have this discussion. We hired a new actor and recorded him in a television studio, inserting him in the medium in which Smithee had acquired the most visibility. With this second iteration, the character is no longer fixed to one image. I’m actually looking forward to having even more faces associated with the project by doing three or four more versions with different actors reading the same script. At this point, I’m considering playing Alan Smithee myself.

— As told to Frank Expósito

Timur Si-Qin


Timur Si-Qin, Premier Machinic Funerary: Prologue, 2014, 3-D-printed bones, Plexiglas vitrines, tension fabric display, flowers.

In Timur Si-Qin’s recent work, commercial and stock photography, as well as displays like those often found in malls and stores, are presented as biological relics. The first part—aptly titled “Part One”—of the Berlin-based artist’s series “Premier Machinic Funerary,” 2014–, is featured in the latest edition of the Taipei Biennial, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud and on view at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum from September 13, 2014 through January 4, 2015.

“PREMIER MACHINIC FUNERARY” is made up of installations that resemble a form of hypercommercial ancestor worship. Essentially, they are funeral altars with 3-D printed scans of hominid fossils. More aptly, they’re antifunerals, marking the reemergence of a life form through various phase transitions: from organism to fossil, from 3-D data to 3-D print. KNM ER 406, the fossil I’m focusing on for “Part One” in Taipei, was a male Paranthropus boisei who lived around 1.7 million years ago in what is now Kenya. Through technology and the ritual of contemporary art, this person is, in some way, being resurrected and, at least temporarily, prevented from having their particular arrangement of matter dissolve into entropy forever.

I try to make work that doesn’t believe in the separation between culture and biology. To view humans as occupying a special role in the universe—and therefore as outside of nature and separate from other animals—is a theological belief that has no evidence. There never has been nor will there ever be anything “outside” of nature. Of course, just saying that something is natural doesn’t mean that it is morally correct or that we shouldn’t work to change it. Nature is inherently dynamic and chaotic, and life has always been about a two-way interaction with the environment. The environment changes life, and life changes the environment. The universe is a dance between entropy and complexity. Fortunately, and mysteriously, matter has a tendency to self-organize and determine its own being.

I’m interested in the way commercial images reveal the processes by which humans interpret and respond to the world around them—these are the fingerprints of our cultural image-search algorithms. The interesting question is no longer whether or not the image is a construction, but rather in what ways this process is structured. Common and repeated “solutions” to commercial imagery—cheesy stock photos, pop music, and formulaic Hollywood movies—are all ingrained modes of culture that can tell us something about its materiality and tendencies. When one understands the tendencies of a material—like a blacksmith who grasps the tendencies of metals—one can use that knowledge to activate the item’s capacities. In that way, a greater understanding of the materiality of culture may lead us toward unlocking its unrealized capacities.

Nicolas Bourriaud’s book The Radicant (2009) probably falls closest to the context he’s laid out for the biennial. In both, he emphasizes the importance of a globalized network, and it’s an idea that others often miss when they focus on the impact of technology. The digital-native generation is different from previous generations because of the exponential access and confrontation with other cultures that the Internet allows, which facilitates a deprogramming or reverse engineering of one’s own culture.

— As told to Gabriel H. Sanchez

Francesco Clemente, Sixteen Amulets for the Road (IX), 2012-2013, watercolor on paper, 19 3/5 x 22 2/5".

Francesco Clemente’s longstanding love of India is at the core of “Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India,” an exhibition that opens at the Rubin Museum in New York on September 5, 2014. The show melds past and present, encompassing a range of styles and media. Throughout the works—which engage traditional Indian techniques and frequently investigate spirituality—Clemente’s respect for Indian culture is palpable. The show is on view until February 2, 2015.

THIS EXHIBITION presents a panorama of work I’ve made in India. The layout of the show is designed like a temple, and both physically and metaphorically it will feel like the viewer is exploring a sanctuary from outside to inside, progressing past its niches to the inner sanctum. There is a frontal area where five large paintings from 1980 are displayed, and around the central staircase there will be four cells with four cenotaphs—sculptures I am showing for the first time, which I made this year in Rajasthan—commemorative monuments of my nostalgia for India. A side room will contain the The Black Book, erotic watercolors I painted in Orissa in 1989, and watercolors from 2012 and 2013, which incorporate miniature techniques.

In recent years I have been obsessed with discontinuous surfaces, and this is something that comes to light in the new watercolors. Years ago I saw a fashion show by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—she combined jersey with felt, so a nonabsorbent fabric sewn next to the most absorbent fabric that exists. These textures stayed with me for years, and I developed a desire to achieve the same types of contrasts in painting. I believe there are two ways of getting dressed: consonance or contrast—matching everything or mismatching everything. There are painters like this: those who aspire to or are slaves to have everything harmonize, and others who play with contrast. I always have seen myself as someone who tends to harmonize, and so I wanted to challenge this, and try to do the opposite.

The four sculptures exhibited in four niches echo the five paintings from 1980, which hang nearby and were conceived in relation to the five senses. Always returning to the ancient esoteric precept, “As it is above, so it is below,” the vase is the body, the body is the vase, the wind is the flag, the flag is the wind. At the beginning of the exhibition there is a resonance between these bodies of work. There is a moon, a vase, and a lock. The box is a box that cannot be opened but it has a lock. For the fourth sculpture, I made a cast of a cassette player, which to me evokes the Hindu concept of akasha, sound space.

Everything I do is handmade, and for me even sculpture cannot be delegated to others. I need to be absolutely certain, so every stain, every burn is my own. I worked in Jodhpur to create both the sculptures and textile works with stitching and embroidering. For instance, in the show there is a flag with an Ouroburos and a phrase from Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, his prophetic book from 1967: “The spectator feels at home nowhere because the spectacle is everywhere.” I like thinking about his neo-Marxist reflection from the viewpoint of Indian culture, which is supremely visual. In India, the image is pervasive, from the most ancient culture to the most modern. Human need, not the logic of domination, imposes the image. Without the image, there is no life. And so the question is not to liberate humanity from the image, but to direct humanity toward an image that heals, instead of an image that weakens.

I never went to India thinking I would dive into the past; for me India was an alternative contemporaneity. In Hindi, the word kal refers to both yesterday and tomorrow—they are just brackets that surround the present moment. So much intellectual effort there is directed toward connecting to the now, as exemplified by all the great Indian thinkers, up to our own time. This focus also helps to rescue an experience vaster than oneself from religious narrow-mindedness and bring it back to the religious experience, not to religious fundamentals. I find this kind of thought very generative for what I do, and it is often the reason for what I do—to indicate a possibility for entering the present, a present without attributes.

For me, it is also important to relativize the value of the image. I have no interest in dogmatic icons; I have no pretense of imposing yet another dogma on the world. I simply would like to offer this observation: What we are taught to regard as experience is incomplete, and it is normal to have a vaster and more direct, more unmediated experience of ourselves and of the world. Almost everything presented to us is a convention, and I would like to produce images that avoid this. The fundamental convention is that everything modern is new, and everything traditional is static. In contemporary traditional contexts, politeness requires saying, “I have not invented anything, what I do is not new, everything comes from my masters.” But it is a convention, for as soon as one becomes familiar, close up, with even the rural tradition of painting in India, one realizes that every artist there has invented something absolutely new. In the Western art world, every artist, following accepted etiquette, says “It is all new, I invented everything.” But if one lives for more than a generation, one realizes this is not true.

A friend of mine who was working with a textile worker in Kutch, Gujarat, asked him how much red he was putting in the mix, and the worker replied, “I have no idea, I taste the color.” That’s it. My ambition is to be able to do something where all my senses are involved and have the same cognitive dignity, passing through scent, sound, touch.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

— As told to Ida Panicelli

Trajal Harrell, Used, Abused, and Hung Out to Dry, 2013. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 13, 2013. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu.

Trajal Harrell’s Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church, 2009–2013, seven works investigating a speculative collision between the traditions of voguing and postmodern dance, has become one of the most influential dance series of the past five years. From September 14–20 at the Kitchen, as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival, the seven performances will be done in order, at the same theater, one work each day, beginning with (XS) on the 14th and ending with (M2M) Judson Church Is Ringing in Harlem on the 20th.

But before then, on September 4-5, Harrell kicks off “In one step are a thousand animals,” his two-year Annenberg Research Commission Residency at the Museum of Modern Art, with The Practice, an open-ended generation of dance material. Here, Harrell speaks about his research residency and the consequences of Twenty Looks.

FOR FIFTEEN YEARS I’ve been looking at how to use voguing as a theoretical lens. It’s like ballet training, this investigation. For the past five, the foreground of my work has solely been about the relationship between early postmodern dance and the voguing tradition. This exploration was prompted by a question—“What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?”—which grew into the group of works known as Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church.

The seven performances that make up the series will be shown in order over a course of a week, one each day, at the Kitchen. It was shown in its entirety once before, in Vienna, but in different theaters, and not in order. I never thought that anyone would be able to put the whole thing on here in New York. The production aspect of it is huge. The casts are different for each version. The Kitchen and Crossing the Line are crazier than I am. I call it my grand slam, like I'm getting ready to do my US Open.

But for my work now, this idea of what would have happened in 1963 is done. Today I’m looking at Butoh through the theoretical lens of voguing. My residency at MoMA, titled “In one step are a thousand animals,” developed out of a work I did at the Museum of Modern Art last year called Used, Abused, and Hung Out to Dry. The question there was, “How do you vogue Hijikata?”

It began with me looking at how the appropriation of the fashion spectacle through voguing has influenced my work. I was thinking about when the Japanese came to the Paris fashion shows in 1981. If you read the way people spoke about that, the way it’s mythologized, it’s very similar to the way people speak about Butoh, as part of this violent, post-atomic aesthetic.

I wondered if there was any relationship between those fashion designers—Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto—and Butoh. I began doing research in Japan, trying to draw a map between Comme des Garçons and Butoh. I played six-degrees-of-separation with people I met, to see if I could meet Rei Kawakubo, to ask her personally. Of course, Kawakubo is reclusive, and the idea was not necessarily that I would meet her. It was more that this would be a great way to encounter people in Japan and research dance.

I had a Fellowship for the Saison Foundation in Tokyo. They asked, “Why don’t you go to the archives of [Butoh pioneer Tatsumi] Hijikata?” And I said, “I don’t want to go to the archives of Hijikata. It’s too conventional. I want to play this weird game and meet people and have strange and interesting conversations.” But one day, I relented, I said, “Okay.” I went, and when I put in the first tape, which was of his last piece, I was so blown away by the work.

I thought, “How is it possible that I missed this?” His main muse, Yoko Ashikawa, came to perform in Paris, but in the West, we only saw the second generation, really. We saw people like Sankai Juku, Dairakudakan, Min Tanaka. We saw people who worked with him, but Hijikata never actually left Japan.
This became a historical context for me to go into my imagination with, and then Ana Janevski at MoMA heard about that, and MoMA commissioned Used, Abused, and Hung Out to Dry, and this idea evolved to form a residency around this research.

As you know there’s this intense dialogue about dance and the visual arts. This residency is an opportunity for me to rethink dance within a different regime. They didn’t say I had to perform, but that was the first thing I wanted to do. It was really important to me, also, that there be openness to it. That I get to discover things in it, and things can change. I want to have an opportunity to learn from what happens.

There’s a process that I use in the studio to generate material with the performers, and it’s something that I’ve never shown in public. The Practice is what we’re calling it, and it’s just an early part of the residency. It’s not a show. It’s not a performance, necessarily. I wouldn’t even call it an experiment. It’s really an open studio. People will get to see us work, and I don’t know what will happen. I’m trying to stay very sincere with that, with myself, and trying not to get all jacked up about it. It’s a way of being in the work, really, without having to make something.

— As told to David Velasco

Jo Baer


Jo Baer, Dusk (Bands and End-Points), 2012, oil on canvas, 87 x 118".

For the 31st São Paulo Bienal, Jo Baer is presenting “In the Land of the Giants,” 2009–13, a series that debuted at the Stedelijk Museum last year. Born in Seattle in 1929, Baer became associated with Minimalism in New York in the 1960s. In 1975—“due to Nixon”—she moved to the greener pastures of the Irish countryside, where she encountered the primary subjects of these works: ancient burial sites and Neolithic stones. Mapping and compressing various timelines and genealogies, Baer’s multifaceted, encoded canvases will be on view in the biennial from September 2 to December 7, 2014.

THESE PAINTINGS are inspired by my remembering of the Hurlstone, a large megalith set at a diagonal in a field in County Louth, Ireland, which was interesting to me for the enormous aperture set in it—a hole that, when I first looked south through it, seemed to suggest a path extending over the mountains all the way down to the huge earth-mound cemeteries of New Grange and Knowth. At the time it made me wonder: What have I stumbled on? Is this one of an ancient highway’s crossroads—sight through, and turn here? Only much later, in urban Amsterdam, after recalling and then thinking on this, did I put the hard edge down—set the ruler to the page—and that’s how these paintings began.

The Irish rural landscape had always struck me as odd. The castle I lived in from 1975 to 1982 was built in the twelfth century, and the ruins of a fifteenth-century church as well as part of a school for scribes sat at the top of one of my fields. In my neighborhood, you would also find standing megaliths and tractors in the same field, or a cottage next to a graveyard from 3000 BC—or 4000 BC even, with a horse there, chomping on grass—all of it just blatantly lying around with nobody noticing. I remember a farmer once bragging about one of my fields, “Oh yes, there used to be an earth mound here, but I plowed it away.” I told him that its ghosts must have been causing him a lot of bad luck.

In all, it was pretty remarkable to someone from the outside; in fact it hit me as close to surreal. Here were immense records of time, and as a history junkie, one of my evening pastimes was tracing ley lines on my local ordinance maps, which mark every megalith, ford, graveyard, and tomb. When I really began researching these old stones, I discovered that the Neolithic, mound-building North Atlantic maritime peoples who erected them were unique because they were the first farmers there, and landed in Ireland around 4500 BC. Their forebears had left Jericho around 7000 BC, colonizing as they sailed along the coasts of Iberia and Brittany and on to the British Isles. Two of the earliest court tombs in Ireland are still at their western landing point, sited on either side at the end of the aforementioned path—a ritual track. One finds other epic menhirs and lost henges clasping this line, and they surprised me into a full commitment to the entire Neolithic project.

These paintings are not about memories—mine or time’s—they are more about a variety of temporalities and their related forms. They are really abstract paintings made with images, as I believe that a painting ideally does not represent or illustrate a concept, but, rather—as it’s always been—is about its own very deep structure. I think it’s important that people are able to “read” these paintings like a map with lines that go from here to there.

The viewer will come to understand that I’m a magpie: For decades, I’ve collected photographs of odd things, pictures that seem to go together for me to make a subject. I used to look in second-hand bookstores for images I could use, and then I would trace them on a grid for my paintings. But as soon as I could use computers to grid up—circa 1995—I did. Typically, I compose some images on a field, print it all out in black and white, and then take colored pencils and change things around. I then scan the image back and play with it some more until I get what I think will look and be right. When it goes up onto the much larger surface of the canvas, more changes must be made. In these particular paintings, the process results in a sense of the compression of time and memory and imagery that is obvious: The paintings speak a digital language but the coding isn’t difficult to discern.

Right now I’m turning this series of six paintings into replicas—smaller pigment prints using oversize ink-jet printers and this beautiful Fabriano watercolor paper. The prints will have the feel and a sense of the paintings, if not the impact. Made for smaller exhibition spaces, they will be large enough to stand on their own in a room along with some of their smaller working drawings. Picasso got around an awful lot that way, didn’t he? I think I’m going to do this with all of my image output, at least with those of the past few years. I don’t see why paintings should just sit around in warehouses, never shown. Still, it took me nearly fifty years to get my so-called Minimalist work into the canon, and as this work is pretty much on the edge also, I’m not expecting an immediate popular response. However, perhaps pigment prints traveling about to today’s many available nonmuseum spaces might go some way towards abbreviating the process.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler