John Giorno


View of “Ugo Rondinone: I ♥ John Giorno,” Sky Art, 2017. Photo: Daniel Pérez.

Ugo Rondinone’s massive project “I ♥ John Giorno” is a love letter to the titular poet—and Rondinone’s husband—which originally opened in 2015 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris before coming to New York this summer. The exhibition, a major retrospective of John Giorno’s work, is also a homage, with contributions from artists such as Billy Sullivan, Verne Dawson, Elizabeth Peyton, Anne Collier, and Judith Eisler. “I ♥ John Giorno” is spread across twelve institutions throughout the city, including the Swiss Institute, Red Bull Arts New York, New York University’s 80WSE Gallery, the Kitchen, High Line Art, the New Museum, Artists Space, and White Columns. Here, Giorno talks about the making of the show.

I LEARNED EARLY ON FROM THE BEATS, such as Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs—and the Pop artists too—that archives were very important. This was around the late 1950s, or the beginning of the ’60s. So, I just saved all of my work. My parents had a house in Roslyn Heights, Long Island, and for fifty years I brought everything I made there for safekeeping. After my parents died, Ugo surveyed what I’d stored—he wanted to turn it into a project. This was around 2000. And then in 2003 we saw the Jean Cocteau retrospective at the Centre Pompidou—which was so brilliant and totally great. Ugo questioned what an archive for public consumption could look like, and his idea for the show developed over the course of fifteen years. It’s shocking the way that everything sort of miraculously happened. Every element managed to come together and flourish.

The New York show is different from the one in Paris simply because there’s more room here. Some really important things get to see the light of day, like the AIDS Treatment Project—at Hunter College’s 205 Hudson Street Gallery—which I started in 1984 to help people sick with the disease pay for their rent, medicine, transportation, anything they needed. Musicians like Debbie Harry, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and Hüsker Dü performed at the Beacon Theater to raise funds for the project. All the posters explaining what the AIDS Treatment Project did, to encourage people to help, are there on display. Peter Ungerleider’s great film Loving Kindness is playing there as well. It’s a movie about the project and the absolute horror of that time. My personal Tibetan Buddhist shrine is also on display at Hudson Street, in a shrine room with twenty ancient thangkas borrowed from the Rubin Museum of Art. For the Palais de Tokyo show, we borrowed twenty ancient thangkas from the Musée Guimet.

Excerpt from John Giorno’s interview for 500 Words.

The exhibition is really Ugo’s creation. We’ve been together for twenty years. We sleep together every night—when you’ve been sleeping with somebody for that long, you know their mind. He’s taken everything that I’ve done and turned it into one massive work of art, and he’s allowed everything I’ve made to take another step forward. All of the people who’ve contributed to it have transformed it as well—Rirkrit Tiravanija, Michael Stipe, Matthew Higgs, Pierre Huyghe, and Angela Bulloch, among others. The show has evolved since it was in Paris, as it’s being presented across multiple New York venues that are collaborating together for the first time, and that’s extraordinarily wonderful. I have the good fortune to watch it all take shape.

I’m not really overly cautious about what I think my story is. It’s silly to be overprotective of one’s own history, isn’t it? If you go and try changing something, it always backfires. Ugo’s presented my life, but not in a way that’s nailed down. Things are still changing—it’s always shifting. Though, it was extraordinary to see all these images, books, and other things I haven’t thought about or looked at in ages as the show was being put together. The photographs of my family I hadn’t seen since I was fifteen years old! Taking all that in can make it feel like your life’s a slide show, or a stop-frame movie that’s eighty years long.

But I have written a take on my own life—everyone has a take on their own life, right? It’s almost done, at about 680 pages. I’ve been working on it for more than twenty years. The last chapter is going to be about Ugo and the Paris and New York shows, but I haven’t written it yet. The reason the book’s taken so long is that I never kept diaries. I’ve kept appointment journals, and those can be useful for placing certain events. It’s all just memory. I can remember conversations from fifty years ago. It is a long process that involves allowing the memory to come back. It generally begins by remembering what I said, and over the course of some days I remember what was said between myself and someone else. Whenever there is an important event I want to remember, this is the process. Then I embellish the dialogue with descriptions of that moment. There are eighty-page chapters on Andy Warhol; Bob Rauschenberg; Jasper Johns; William Burroughs; Ugo; being a Tibetan Buddhist in the Nyingma Tradition; and being a poet and artist. The book is going to be called Great Demon Kings.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Kishio Suga


Kishio Suga, Law of Halted Space, 2016, wood, metal. Installation view, Dia:Chelsea, New York, 2016.

A founding member of the Japanese art movement Mono-ha, Kishio Suga was born in Morioka, Japan, in 1944 and currently lives and works in Ito City, Japan. Suga’s first solo museum show in the United States, which he discusses below, is on view at Dia:Chelsea in New York through July 29, 2017.

AT FIRST, Dia requested a past work, but when I saw the space, a former marble-cutting factory, I felt that I wanted to do something new. I imagined a show of work that would contend with the height of the tall ceiling—something not flat, but three-dimensional and solid. I think there is a profound difference between the conditions of something at rest versus something that is upright, even if it is the same object.

For instance, when a tree in a meadow stands upright, there is no upper limit. Trees are directed toward a limitless place. I’m interested in this natural condition. If I were to set a limit to it, I would suppress this verticality with something horizontal—with pressure. This pressure is something I explored in this show.

I am also very conscious of how things are connected through some kind of ground. The things above possess a certain system in some form, even if it happens to not be visible. One can imagine such a system, even if it is not perceptible. My work attempts to make this system visible.

I don’t usually think of symbolic things when I’m working. I think more literally of things concretely piling up, one on top of another. When they are piled into this kind of space, there is a limit, especially since natural stones I used in this show are uneven. In order to have them stand up, it was necessary to secure them, so the wall of the building and many other things started to become necessary.

Of course, I could have worked with rope or a softer material. For example, I could have tied ropes, and I could continue to tie them. However, for this show, I wanted to work with variously sized objects. When things are uneven, that needs to be made evident. There is also the problem of size. So, I thought about how to unify the unevenness as a whole and make it one.

As told to and translated from Japanese by Mika Yoshitake

Trevor Paglen, Sight Machine, 2017. Performance view, Pier 70, San Francisco, January 14, 2017. Kronos Quartet. Photo: Joshua Brott, Obscura Digital.

Trevor Paglen is the first artist-in-residence at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. The exhibition “The Eye and the Sky: Trevor Paglen in the Cantor Collection” places his photographic series of predator drones, “Time Study (Predator; Indian Springs, NV),” 2010, alongside photographs by artists such as Eadweard Muybridge, Edward Steichen, and Eve Sonneman from the Cantor’s permanent collection. Earlier this year, the Cantor also commissioned Paglen’s multimedia performance Sight Machine. Below, he discusses issues of surveillance in the show, which is on view through July 31, 2017, as well as in the performance. On July 25, 2017, Paglen will participate in a panel discussion on civil liberties in the age of hacking at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. His exhibition “A Study of Invisible Images” opens at Metro Pictures in New York on September 8, 2017.

MY TIME AT STANFORD has centered around a development in imagemaking that I think is more significant than the invention of photography. Over the last ten years or so, powerful algorithms and artificial intelligence networks have enabled computers to “see” autonomously. What does it mean that “seeing” no longer requires a human “seer” in the loop?

This past January, the Cantor commissioned Sight Machine, which I produced in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. While the musicians performed selections by Bach, Raymond Scott, Laurie Anderson, and Terry Riley, among other composers, they were surrounded by cameras that all fed video into a rack of computers. The computers were programmed to run a large range of computer-vision algorithms, such as those used in self-driving cars, guided missiles, face detection and recognition software, and artificial intelligence networks used by Facebook, Google, and other companies to interpret images. While the Kronos Quartet played music, a projection behind them showed them as they looked to the array of algorithms watching them.

At one time, to surveil implied “to watch over,” and to survey was basically “to look.” Between these two definitions we get a sense of how photographs can be manipulated for multiple aims. Eadweard Muybridge’s Sunset over Mount Tamalpais, 1872, which gives you a vantage point to look at the Northern California landscape, is also a document of the move toward geopolitical dominance. That work is in “The Eye and the Sky,” and Muybridge has been on my mind for some time. My photographic series in the show, “Time Study (Predator; Indian Springs, NV),” is made up of albumen prints of predator drones. They relate to Muybridge because they deal with conventions that we take for granted in landscape photography. During the residency, I worked with computer-vision and artificial intelligence students and researchers to further explore the largely invisible world of machine-to-machine seeing. We not only developed software that allowed us to see what various computer-vision algorithms see when they look at a landscape, but also were able to implement software that could be used in conjunction with artificial intelligence to “evolve” recognizable images from random noise—almost like a hallucination or the phenomenon of pareidolia, in which one sees faces in shapes such as clouds.

To “teach” AI software how to see various objects, you have to use enormous training sets of data. For example, if you want to build an AI program that can recognize pencils, keyboards, and cups, you need to give it thousands of pictures of each object. The AI technology teaches itself how to see the differences between these objects during a training phase of the software development. The libraries of the thousands of images you use to train an AI project are called training sets.

The implicit biases and values built into various training sets can have enormous consequences, and there are numerous examples of training sets creating AIs that reflect the unacknowledged forms of racism, patriarchy, and class division that characterize so much of society. A Google AI program described an African American couple as “a pair of gorillas,” while other AIs technologies routinely assume that doctors are male and nurses are female. Indeed, in AI-based gender-recognition algorithms, subjects are invariably described as either “male” or “female”—the concept of nonbinary gender identities is utterly alien.

This brings me to what I am really fascinated by: a panoramic looking, or bird’s-eye view, that you get with nineteenth-century landscape photography and that you begin to see manifested in the twentieth century as surveillance by machines. In the twenty-first century it involves total machine capture. At Stanford, we started developing training sets based on taxonomies from literature, psychoanalysis, political economy, and poetry. We built an AI program that can only see scenes from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and another that can only see monsters associated with metaphors of capital such as vampires and zombies. Another one is trained to see “American predators,” from Venus flytraps to predator drones. With this body of work, I wanted to point to some of the potential dangers associated with the widespread deployment of AI and other optimization technologies.

In AI there are enforcement mechanisms that are even harder to discern. We are training machines in patriarchal histories or racist histories, etc. We know gender is fluid and race is a construct, but that is not the case with machine categorization. There is an assumption that the technology is unbiased, but it is not. These are not merely representational systems or optimization systems; they are set up as normative systems and therefore they become enforcement systems. The project to redefine the normal human is a political project. The contestation of those categories is essential before they become hard-coded into infrastructure. Sight Machine and my photographs included in “Time Study” address machine vision and the invisibility of these repressive visual regimes.

Read Trevor Paglen’s 1000 Words in the March 2009 issue of Artforum here.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama, 2016, 35 mm, color, sound, 130 minutes. Yacine (Hamza Meziani).

Released mere months after the series of terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, Bertrand Bonello’s provocative film Nocturama (2016) centers on a gang of French teenagers, played by actors and nonprofessionals, who conspire to blow up national and corporate landmarks throughout the city in a wave of coordinated bombings. It will be released from Grasshopper Film on August 11, 2017, and will play at theaters in New York before a larger US tour this September. The Film Society at Lincoln Center will also host “Deeper into Nocturama” from August 18 to August 24, 2017, a program featuring films selected by Bonello that have inspired his work. Additionally, his twenty-four-minute short film Sarah Winchester, Ghost Opera (2016), based on the biography of the eccentric nineteenth-century gun heiress, is now available on the Grasshopper Film website.

NOCTURAMA WAS MADE BEFORE the Paris attacks, but it was released after. It was very difficult for people to see this kind of narrative. The film had some common points with the attacks, but at the same time it was very different. Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with insurrection—not in its classical sense. In the film, some young people are planting bombs to attack Paris in similar places and at simultaneous times. But it’s not reality; it’s not about ISIS, there is not a clear reason for their actions, and there’s no one explaining why these attacks are happening. Still, it was too tough for some audiences to watch. But when you mix reality and abstraction, it speaks to the success and the power of cinema.

One of my favorite books—and one that helped me with the writing of Nocturama—is The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude by Étienne de La Boétie. It was written in the sixteenth century by a twenty-year-old, and it is still one of the strongest political books about insurrection. It presents ancient ideas: the notion of the people versus the state…and, well, actually, of freedom. We are very attached to freedom. It has always run through our history and culture.

We live in a period that can create a person who is totally fascinated by terrorism and capitalism at the same time. If I had made Nocturama forty years ago I would have only made the first part of the film, because it was about the reality of the streets. The first part was shot during the day with a lot of movement in real places, including the Paris metro, almost like a documentary. It’s the second part of the film that makes it feel very contemporary, because it is in an artificial, commercial world that we constructed. We were very lucky to find an old department store in the center of Paris called La Samaritaine. It was totally empty, so we had to recreate everything inside. What was fascinating about it is that it doesn’t have any windows, so you are kept from the reality of the outside, as if you were in a box. The space was very expensive, so we didn’t rent it for that long. I think we had it for four weeks before the shoot, and then we shot inside of it for six weeks. Every Saturday and Sunday I would spend alone there—just walking around trying to find the next shot. These were weird moments. Some people talk about malls and department stores as dreamy places. In fact, they’re freaky; they’re a dream and hell at the same time.

Trailer for Bertrand Bernello’s Nocturama, 2016.

Cannes didn’t want the film, so we decided to go to the Toronto and San Sebastian festivals. The exclusion from Cannes probably didn’t help for sales and at the box office. There were so many articles and messages on online social networks that said the film was not selected at Cannes because of its subject. The controversy began from there, and it was difficult to stop it. Of course, I wonder how the film would have been received if it were released two years before. The French critics understood it. My problem was with the social networks, the blogs. There are a lot of haters on these platforms.

In many of my films, like House of Tolerance, Nocturama, and Sarah Winchester, Ghost Opera, I’m attracted to places that become their own inside world. I heard of Sarah Winchester ten or twelve years ago, and when I read the story of her life I immediately wanted to make a film about it. I started to write a treatment, but it immediately became too expensive. And it had to be an American film, because it was a real American story. I didn’t feel like I could achieve it, so I left it on my desk and dropped it. When the Paris Opera gave me carte blanche for a project as part of its Third Scene initiative, I decided the form of the opera would be an amazing way to tell the Winchester story. I’m still surprised that there is not an American film about this story—someone like Michael Cimino could have made an amazing version of it, a true story about America based on one woman.

— As told to Erik Morse

Sam Gilliam


Sam Gilliam, Yves Klein Blue, 2017, acrylic on Cerex nylon. Installation view, central pavilion, Venice, 2017. From the 57th Venice Biennale. Photo: David Velasco.

Sam Gilliam is a Washington, DC–based artist whose vibrantly hued unstretched canvas Yves Klein Blue, 2017, will be draped across the entrance to the Giardini’s central pavilion at the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale until the show closes on November 26, 2017. Here, Gilliam speaks of his earlier participation in the Biennale, forty-five years ago, and his continued investigation into the expanded field of painting. His work is also featured in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which will be on view at Tate Modern from July 12 to October 22, 2017.

IN VENICE, I’m showing Yves Klein Blue, an outdoor drape piece that hangs on the front of the building. Suspended from the ceiling of the colonnade entrance, it blows in the wind. Seahorses was my first outdoor drape, which I did in 1975 for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Installing that piece on the outside of the museum was fantastic because we used a hook and ladder truck from a division of the fire department. We got up to the rings along the building, and we did the installation. Around 8 PM that night we finished, and, sure enough, there was a major storm coming off the Atlantic. We went to dinner, and we came back. There was this really beautiful moment when the strong winds inhabited the piece—rays of light shot through the fabric, creating shadows in the folds. I wanted Yves Klein Blue to billow like that early work.

I first encountered Yves Klein while stationed with the army in Japan. There was a Klein exhibition in Tokyo. The Gutai group was being born, and I was in the army, and I thought nothing about whether I would be an artist or not. In fact, I probably thought that I would never be an artist. But Klein had an effect on me, and I thought about making art beyond the interiors that it is usually presented in, about making art more in the outside world.

In 1972, I was in Venice to install my work Baroque Cascade, which measured ten by seventy-five feet when undraped. I was there alongside Ron Davis, Diane Arbus, Keith Sonnier, Jim Nutt, Richard Estes, and Walter Hopps. I went over early to assist with the installation. I was particularly excited to show my work because of my desire to connect painting and architecture.

All that is happening now—the immigration crisis, the bombs, the gutting of the National Endowment for the Arts, the presidential corruption—was present in the 1970s. It seems worse now, but history, like art, is cyclical. Yet, I think we’re in a much worse place than we were in the ’60s, when the NEA was initiated by the Johnson administration. This time, it’s almost the same, but where are our educational institutions?

To gesture at the cycles of history is art at its greatest capacity. Yves Klein Blue is about participating in a continuum—it’s about connecting the precursors with the present. After all, blue is what we think of first when we imagine a Klein, but there is something autobiographical there for me as well, which harks back to my early formative years. To me, art is about moving outside of traditional ways of thinking. It’s about artists generating their own modes of working. We need to continue to think about the whole of what art is, what it does. Even though my work is not overtly political, I believe art has the ability to call attention to politics and to remind us of this potential through its presence.

For more reflections on the NEA from Johnie Scott, Barbara Rose, Maya Lin, Ed Ruscha, and Ian Volner, see the Summer 2017 issue of Artforum here.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

*View of “scenic, say,” 2017.

Emily Roysdon’s exhibition “scenic, say” at Kunsthalle Lissabon marks a transitional moment in the artist’s work as she shifts from her site-specific performance and text project Uncounted, 2014–17. Here, the Stockholm-based artist discusses moving forward and creating spaces for both “alive time” and loss. The show is on view through September 2, 2017.

WHEN KUNSTHALLE LISSABON contacted me about doing an exhibition a year and a half ago, I imagined I’d soon be stepping out of my project Uncounted. Uncounted began as a collection of textual fragments, phrases, and questions that influence each other in various ways as the text develops over the course of writing. One of the phrases, “alive time,” has been at the heart of the project for years. I’ve written about it, but only by asking other questions—for instance, about marginality, what is unseen in time, and the project’s phrase “how to build a structure to be alive inside.” I think one of the reasons I’m so connected to “alive time” is that there’s inherently a sense of loss in this phrase that’s important to me.

I needed a sense of loss to be constitutional to what I’m creating right now. I was leaving Uncounted and experiencing the loss of my grandmother. I’ve always said that I have three moms, and she was one. I had been photographing her, and them, for about twenty years. And so, in grief, after losing her, I was going through my image archive over and over again—every old negative, analog, medium-format, 35-mm, and digital image. So in a way the exhibition comes from this personal image archive. But I’m not that kind of artist; I’m not going to just use my image archive—at least not at this point in my life—to tell the story of my three moms and the unconventional matriarchy that we have. Maybe when I’m eighty I’ll do a straightforward show like that. Instead, to make this show, I wanted to honor these questions around grief and see how they intersect with “alive time.”

I play with an idea of theater in “scenic, say.” In many ways I have always used it as a specter—this thing that I imagine, but that I’m not that rigorous about. I build it as a shadow structure to my thinking. In this exhibition it’s a bit more formalized though; the relation to theater is announced in that first word scenic, but then also in the series of five wall murals titled “Vanishing Point” and the collages titled “prosceniums.”

Of the wall murals, one features my grandmother Enid in the bathroom. There’s a toilet bowl in the bottom left corner, and she’s grabbing for a bar on the wall for some support. I consider her the protagonist. I thought her leaning was important somehow—this elegant lean, this need for help. I think that grounds the show in a lot of ways. It’s the first figure you really have access to. Of the other murals, one is a choreographic moment, two are architectural/spatial, and another, the largest, is from my “piers” series and depicts a horizon that embodies a particular cultural history and city space.

As I’ve been making exhibitions with Uncounted the last few years, I have focused on different questions in the text to stage my exhibitions and make works out of the various proposals. But in “scenic, say” I really boiled them down and isolated a few phrases so that they have different performative relationships to the “prosceniums” I constructed in the collages. I tried to give the following phrases from Uncounted a different materiality, by using them in my collages: “aliveness trespasses,” “what is a transition that is not a solution,” “What instruments have we?,” “a length of inaction,” and “genders and governments, the shifting of weight, the changing of direction.”

That the collages are independent, each on their separate stands, means the works themselves create a space; they are something you navigate. They compose a landscape. I like to tether the text and questions to that performative space, and for that performative space to be the back side of a photo that you’re not seeing. Both series use photography to think about “alive time,” and in both the integrity of the space is obstructed, calling up the questions of trespass and marginality that Uncounted writes around.

— As told to Samara Davis