Jimmy Robert


Jimmy Robert, Imitation of Lives, 2017. Rehearsal view, Glass House, 2017. NIC Kay and Quenton Stuckey.

The work of Guadeloupe-born, Bucharest-based artist Jimmy Robert spans photography, film, video, sculpture, and performance, but collage is its mainstay. For his latest piece, titled Imitation of Lives, 2017, and staged at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, Robert mines the architect’s infamous life and historical influence to create an exquisite montage interspersed with divergent references and foreign objects, including music, mirrors, bits of poetry, and a marble trompe-l’oeil painting by Lucy McKenzie, among other things. The work is co-curated by Cole Akers and Charles Aubin as part of Performa 17 and will take place November 3–5, 2017.

TRAVELING OUT OF MANHATTAN TO GO TO THE GLASS HOUSE, there are many, many different disjunctions. Gender and class and race—you feel very much all of this as you progress through the landscape. And then once you are in the house, there is a different atmosphere: one of privateness and coziness, almost, which you don’t expect because you feel like you are always outside. It’s a complex space. It was very clear to me that the house was a stage and that the performance had to be thought through as a series of images that could be read, as in cinema.

The narrative of Imitation of Lives is mostly constructed through the costumes. The first section is what I call “the security section,” because of the security outfits. The second part is “the hoodie section,” and the third part is “the robes section.” In the first section, we’re wearing all black clothing; in the second, the hoodies are all gray; and in the third, the robes are white and silky and semi-transparent. So there is a gradation. I was thinking also of mirrors and reflections and the possibility of black bodies being within this space—what they could represent, through what they’ve represented before. If you have a security outfit, it’s a question of power; if you have a hooded figure, it’s a question of anxiety. And then there is something totally different and much more mannered, decadent, and superfluous with the robes.

Another thing that is interesting about the house is the absence of walls. There isn’t one perspective from which to see the performance. Who is looking at whom, and how? I integrated Jeff Wall’s book Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel into another performance I did called The mirror is on stage, which also involved some movements from Trio A by Yvonne Rainer. For most of the piece, Rainer never looks at the audience. The gaze is averted. So, I placed mirrors on my hands and my face, and I performed these specific sections of Trio A, reversing the gaze of the audience members onto themselves rather than onto the performer, while they obviously are looking at the performance. And I recited a text that contains some quotations from the Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel, which is a long reflection on the idea of transparency and visibility. Wall makes these kinds of relations between the mirror cross section of Graham’s Alteration to a Suburban House—which was never built—and the Glass House.

There are some sections of the book in which Wall talks about anxiety, and those, to me, were the most interesting parts. It’s very interesting that somebody like Philip Johnson, who had an openly gay life, could live in a totally transparent house at a time when there was no transparency about sexuality. It says a lot about the anxiety that can be generated by looking and the possibility of looking through someone’s private life.

I have mostly worked in white cubes, and sometimes in theaters. This is the first time I’ve worked in a house. It becomes a stage because we will be in this space with this audience and the audience will have to negotiate its own space at the same time. You cannot get away from the fact that it is a domestic space.

— As told to David Huber

View of “Barbara Chase-Riboud: Malcolm X: Complete,” 2017.

In addition to her work as an artist, Barbara Chase-Riboud is an acclaimed poet and novelist, recognized for her historical novel Sally Hemings (1979), which challenged official American history. In 1969, Chase-Riboud began her series of twenty “Malcolm X” stelae, monumental sculptures made up of metal and fibers such as silk, rayon, and cotton. She completed the series in 2016. Fourteen of those works are currently on view in her solo show at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York through November 4, 2017.

BY THE TIME I began the first four “Malcolm X” stelae in 1969, I was already past my Giacometti stage. I was living in Paris and looking for a way to get rid of a sculpture’s legs and anything that had to do with naturalism. I remember telling my friend and fellow artist Sheila Hicks, “I’m trying to get the legs off of these sculptures and the sculptures off the base.” Finally, we came up with the idea of covering up the legs so that the sculptures seemed to be hovering. She said, “OK Barbara, I’ll show you one knot, and then you’re on your own.” So that’s what she did: she showed me one knot, and I found the material that seemed to work.

I began using silk like you would use clay, sculpting it, which is exactly the opposite of what Sheila does. From that, the other skirts of the works evolved. Sometimes they’re more baroque than others. I had decided that the first ones would be silk because silk is such a strong material and it’s practically indestructible, like bronze is indestructible.

When I finished those first skirts I realized something extraordinary had happened between the metal and the fiber. I hadn’t planned it that way. The fiber became the heavy, strong element, and the bronze became the liquid, flowing, moving material. It was a miracle, and then it began to happen over and over again. I thought, “This is an accident. This is never going to happen again,” but it did. You have motion with the bronze, and you have stability with the silk, but it’s really the silk that’s moving—the threads move all the time no matter what you do. They’re powerful. Yet, it’s the combination of the two textures that makes works even more imposing than if they had been all bronze. The light also transforms the metal. There is a metamorphosis that takes place; this is the magic of these objects.

I was going in my own direction toward abstraction, and I decided to dedicate these stelae to Malcolm X because he was dead. It was a matter of memory, of doing a monument—not to his philosophy, but in the Latin sense of memoria. The work is pure abstraction, pure beauty—that’s the only thing I’m really interested in. Most activism sacrifices the aesthetic part of making art for the message. I never do that. For me, the message is the message.

Maybe people have caught up with me. I think that’s the case. I don’t use the word expatriate—I think it’s absolutely insane to use expatriate in the twenty-first century. I’ve never used it, and I don’t answer to that label. That’s just one more label added onto all the other labels that are slapped on me. I reject labels; creative artists don’t deserve them. It’s the last thing that we need, and since art has absolutely nothing to do with most labels it’s insane to talk about us in terms of movements, politics, aesthetics, race, age, beauty, or whatever. But I’ve been out here for a long time. This isn’t something I discovered the day before yesterday. It’s only because of the suppression of our history of America that we have arrived at a boiling point. It’s like an ulcer; it just exploded. We have to deal with something that should have been dealt with in 1865.

— As told to Grant Johnson

Cosey Fanni Tutti, exhibition poster for “Prostitution,” 1976.

In 1976, British performance artist and musician Cosey Fanni Tutti (Christine Newby) cofounded Throbbing Gristle from the art collective COUM Transmissions along with Chris Carter, Peter Christopherson, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. As she details in her autobiography Art Sex Music (Faber & Faber, 2017), their debut gig occurred, rather appropriately, on the opening night of COUM Transmissions’ “Prostitution” show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. On the occasions of the fortieth-anniversary reissue of Throbbing Gristle’s album The Second Annual Report (Mute, 2017) and the COUM Transmissions retrospective at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull, England, earlier this year, she reflects on the band’s mission, its radical roots, and the significance of her own pseudonym.

MY NAME CHANGED FROM Cosmosis to Cosey Fanni Tutti. A friend had sent me a postcard and addressed it to Cosey Fanni Tutti. It seemed rather apt, because at the time I was doing mail art and collaging a lot of sex magazines, Cosey Fanni Tutti was fine with me. I don’t regard myself as having an alter ego. I’ve just always been who I am. But there was a point later on when I went places, and my name preceded me. I think that’s when I realized that the name itself had traction. The name does have a life of its own, people build something about me around it.

The north of England in the 1960s was just waking up to progressive music and art. We had the art college, university, and technical college, so people were travelling in from the outskirts of Hull. And the record companies had begun to send artists from their labels around the country, artists like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. In Hull and Yorkshire, the people are tough, and it’s tough to convince them to change. I was amongst that social group of working-class families who worked bloody hard and didn’t need any disruption from their children and daily lives. Within that culture you were expected to follow form. I was born at the right time, just as the whole hippie culture and Beat generation came through. We knew there was an alternative lifestyle out there—we’d seen it, we’d read about it, and we wanted it. It wasn’t long after that I left Hull, or I was politely asked to leave.

In COUM, people would mess around playing acoustic guitar or bongos in different people’s flats. Then it shifted from that, to using anything that could make sound that was more interesting. It wasn’t based on any formula as such—it was about being creative with sound. We were breaking down rock ’n’ roll with toy instruments and basically being annoying. Then we realized it would be good to be a little bit more constructive about it. We got to know different people through COUM, and they brought different things, like the possibilities of amplification. Then we moved down to London and met the musician and engineer John Lacey, who was very technically competent. And through him we met Chris Carter who was able to build synthesizers. It was Chris building equipment that brought me to a different kind of sound. I thought it gave us the possibility to create sounds that we hadn’t heard before—or the sounds we could hear in our heads. It was Chris’s information and ideas and innovative approach to it all that made Industrial music possible.

I see Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records as satellites of what was going on in punk. Throbbing Gristle came out of Brion Gysin, International Times, and all those experimental groups of the ’60s. Out of that came Industrial music. We had nothing to do with punk. Punk came from Malcolm McLaren and John Krivine. They didn’t do it themselves, they formed bands to do it for them. That’s the big difference between us and them. We did it ourselves. Bands like Cabaret Voltaire did it themselves.

By the 1980s what was labelled “Industrial” music was nothing like the original. Throbbing Gristle had finished by ’81—the project was over. It had been a product of the late-’60s generation speaking out about the ’70s. It was a really tough time in England in the ’70s. There were a lot of power cuts and struggles with the National Health Service. It’s getting like that again now. I think when we get Brexit, it will be like what we had in the ’70s—it’ll be very desperate. People are going to find it difficult. I’m not looking forward to it myself.

— As told to Erik Morse

Jérôme Havre, Cauleen Smith, and Camille Turner, Triangle Trade, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 14 minutes 31 seconds.

The artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith, who recently relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles, rarely tethers her work to bare reality. Her latest film, Triangle Trade, 2017—made in collaboration with Canadian artists Jérôme Havre and Camille Turner—renders three new, fantastical realms, inhabited only by the puppet likenesses of the work’s three creators. Triangle Trade is on view at Gallery TPW in Toronto until November 11, 2017.

TWO YEARS AGO, I visited Toronto to do a site visit at Gallery TPW, where I had been slated to have a solo exhibition. I wanted to make a film in the city for that show, so I started meeting with a lot of black artists living in Toronto, hoping to find a few collaborators. I became really intrigued by many of these artists’ ideas about blackness; I sensed a lot of frustration about how whenever black history or experience is discussed, it’s always from an American point of view. But there’s a long history of black people emigrating from the Caribbean to Canada, which seems to create a kind of double colonial consciousness—an echo in terms of belonging and not belonging.

Ultimately, I chose to collaborate with the performance and multimedia artist Camille Turner and the sculptor Jérôme Havre. So much of Camille’s work is made through a speculative, science-fiction lens, and she loves to use Afro-Futurist metaphors to talk about alienation. It became clear we’d be able to have a very natural conversation within a project. And I just thought Jérôme’s work was so fresh—I had never seen anything like it. He was making things that—to me—were, crucially, not like anything that an American artist would make.

For example, Magnifique Isolation, 2009, was a stunning installation that he made of small, distorted human figures that hung from the ceiling, suspended in midair. I can’t really think of any African American artist who would hang a body. That decision was so intriguing, because it shows how the weight of history always presses itself upon aesthetic decisions.

I have to stress that our film, Triangle Trade, is equally mine, Camille’s, and Jérôme’s. Each of our segments in the film function independently of one another, and our respective puppets never really engage in dialogue. Even the terrains and topographies of our separate segments remain really distinct, which might, in some way, be symptomatic of the black diasporic condition.

My segment takes place on a volcano. My puppet talks about how it’s impossible for anyone to claim one, because it’s literally made up of matter coming from the core of the earth. I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, and about how North American land is completely soaked in blood. It’s become increasingly troubling to me, especially when I try to imagine futures or forms of liberation or justice.

New land seems necessary, but, of course, all the land everywhere has been claimed and colonized many times over. I thought about other planets, but there’s a strange colonial project in that too. So, really, the only place you can arrive at and settle in without doing harm is at a lava berg.

The terrain in Camille’s segment is a completely imaginary and allegorical world. It looks nothing like Earth, and she describes it only in magical terms, rather than empirical ones. Jérôme’s is an island, but, more than that, it’s a kind of meta-space or feeling—the feeling of being adrift. It was an important challenge to create Triangle Trade together without necessarily agreeing on what time or space we were in. I think that’s an interesting lesson on how to get along with people in general. You may not all have agreements on where, and when, and who we are.

— As told to Juliana Halpert

Barbara Hammer, Faucet Head (detail), 1969, acrylic on paper, 42 x 24".

Barbara Hammer, a beloved icon of lesbian and experimental filmmaking, has a very full season ahead of her: the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York is hosting “Evidentiary Bodies,” a retrospective spanning fifty years and featuring her never-before-seen artworks, which opens October 7, 2017 and runs until January 28, 2018; the New York Film Festival is screening five of Hammer’s 16-mm works, made between 1975 and 1989, on October 9, 2017; the gallery Company in New York is presenting an exhibition of her work, “Truant: Photographs, 1970–1979” from October 22, 2017 to November 26, 2017; and, finally, a newly restored version of her film Sisters! (1974) is being shown at the Metrograph in New York for a program titled “Mischief and Play” on December 17, 2017. To top it all off, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University just acquired the artist’s massive archive.

THE SHOW AT LESLIE-LOHMAN is going to be a very different kind of retrospective. Most people know me as a filmmaker, and there have been a number of surveys of my films. But this exhibition is going to go beyond the moving image. Two great young women, Staci Bu Shea and Carmel Curtis, have curated it. They’re going to show work I’ve made over the last fifty years that has never been seen before. You know, I’m not in the closet, but a lot of my artwork is! So there will be installations, photographs, collages, and recently unearthed Super 8 films that have been digitized. Among the older works is a costume from 1984 called Lesbian Hands. It’s a performance outfit made from gloves that covers the entire body. It’s a piece that talks about how hands are sexual organs for lesbians. There’s also going to be a new three-screen work about mortality, something I might project into coffins. It’s called Transition Screen, 2017.

Some artists become agitated about putting together a big survey. Perhaps they’re afraid of seeing the entirety of their lives laid out in a certain way. Or maybe they’re just embarrassed by old work. But I don’t cringe at any of it—I rejoice. I became an artist so I could put who I am out into the world. Art is the only channel for it, at least for me. Hopefully, in addition to the youth and naïveté, people will see the growth and maturity in the show, too, along with everything I’m facing now as I approach late age. If I share, the audience will share back—that’s what I believe.

The Company show is going to feature twenty-nine photographs that were made during the ’70s—pictures of lovers, motorcycle trips, landscapes, and film stills, among other things. Andrew Durbin, the gallery’s director, selected the works from thousands of black-and-white negatives. The process took months. He is very patient! A beautiful—and affordable—book is going to come out for the exhibition, too. Hannah Black and A.L. Steiner are contributing essays, and Andrew has written the introduction.

Excerpt from Barbara Hammer’s interview for 500 Words.

At the New York Film Festival, five older works are going to be screened: Psychosynthesis (1975), Women I Love (1976), Audience (1983), No No Nooky TV (1987), and Still Point (1989). I am especially excited about the new print of Still Point! It is a major experimental film of mine and has rarely been seen. It never went to festivals or venues. The 16-mm frame is cut into four equal parts, each with a different image. When I made it, I wanted to start a new language where the viewer could read images rapidly from one part of the screen to the other. The subject is also a breakthrough for me: the film asks how a middle-class lesbian couple can be a part of public space. It features my lover Florrie Burke—we’ve been together twenty-nine years now—and myself along with the streets and people of New York.

Oh, and my film Sisters! has been restored with a grant from New York Women in Film and Television and will be re-premiered at the Metrograph movie theater in December. It hasn’t been screened since it was first made, back in 1974. It’s about women taking over the world: women driving trucks, changing Volkswagen engines, and leading the police in new revolutions! It also has footage of women topless, dancing, sweating—with babies on their shoulders!—to the music of the Family of Woman band at the second National Lesbian Conference that took place at UCLA, where Audre Lorde and Kate Millett spoke.

Another wonderful thing that’s happened is that the Beinecke Library at Yale has acquired my paper archive. Fifty boxes of my drawings, journals, manuscripts, and ephemera get to sit alongside the rare letters and papers of Gertrude Stein and Georgia O’Keeffe. It took about one solid year to organize everything for the library. And what’s even better is that the money from the sale of the archive funds the annual Barbara Hammer Lesbian Experimental Filmmaking Grant that’s given out by the nonprofit Queer|Art. The first one, a prize of $5,000, will be awarded this year. But just to be clear: the grant is a lesbian filmmaking award, because lesbians have been disappeared once again into the word queer, as they were before with the word gay. It’s so important to acknowledge the multitude of different sexual identities and not collapse everything into one term. Lesbians need to be recognized. And the sale of the archive is going to ensure that this award exists for a long, long time. Aren’t I lucky? I’m so grateful that I get to leave this kind of legacy. It’s astonishing.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich