Alejandro Cesarco, Revision, 2017, 16mm film transferred to digital video, color, sound, 3 minutes 40 seconds.


Alejandro Cesarco is a Uruguay-born, New York­–based artist and the director of the nonprofit Art Resources Transfer. His current solo show, “Song,” at the Renaissance Society in Chicago features a range of old and new works, and at its heart is the video Revision, 2017, which Cesarco discusses below. The exhibition is on view until January 28, 2018. Cesarco also has a show at Galleria Raffaella Cortese in Milan, “The Measures of Memory,” which is on view from November 29, 2017 to February 28, 2018.

THE FIRST THING YOU SEE when you walk into the exhibition at the Renaissance Society is a fifty-two-and-a-half-foot wall that horizontally bisects the room. On the entrance side of this partition is a faint pink silkscreen—The Dreams I’ve Left Behind, an image of the wall on which my bed rests. These two textures, my bedroom wall and that of the gallery, rub up against each other, signaling the apparent boundaries between the private and the public, the intimate and the institutional. The gallery wall appears to be blushing, a visual record of shame or embarrassment. In this case, it’s unclear whether the wall is blushing because of the nature of my dreams or because I’ve left them behind. The rest of the show is concealed on the other side of this wall.

This masking of feeling, this muted form of melodrama, is in itself a way of silencing or withdrawing, but it is also a methodological move. It is a way of keeping intimacy at a distance, of staking out a comfortable place from which to speak. This particular staging—one which is so artificial, so planned—is also a way to materialize and give form to a secret, in the sense of “know that I am concealing something from you.” 

As you head into the space, an excerpt of Everness, a video I made in 2008, plays on a monitor. In this excerpt, a young man, perhaps a literary scholar, recites a monologue on the meaning of tragedy. “I define tragedy as the arrival of an enigmatic and supernatural message that the hero fails to fully and timely comprehend,” he says. Almost ten years later, I reshot this excerpt using the same actor. The script is basically the same; the principal difference is a change of verb tense, from present to past. “I defined tragedy as the arrival of an enigmatic and supernatural message that the hero fails to fully and timely comprehend,” he now says.

This new work is titled Revision, and this repetition, temporal stutter, and self-citation return the finished work to a draft form. They open it up, call attention to the piece, and allow it to continue to unfold differently. In my work, I am interested in the act of looking again, repeatedly, from a different distance or perspective. Between Everness and Revision, I explore the idea of tempo, phrasing, duration—the musicality of looking. What we consider tragic has shifted in the past ten years, as have the power and usage of words and facts. So, to go back to the problems of reading and deciphering seemed rather timely.

Revision also ostensibly thematizes a frustration with the actualization of an idea—the balance between an ideal always beyond reach and what you end up settling for, the “good enough,” to put it in D.W. Winnicott’s terms. At the same time, it is also a pretty direct statement against the continuous demands for productivity and the banal exaltation of novelty and newness.

There are two other new works in the show, Interlude and Vanitas (From Remorse to Regret), that further address the “good enough,” the misreading of opportunities, risks not taken, and longing. Broadly speaking, I think “Song” focuses on the (apparent) loss of possibility as a means of eroticizing it.

 

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Rafa Esparza

11.21.17

View of “Tierra. Sangre. Oro.,” 2017–18, Ballroom Marfa. Foreground: Rafa Esparza performing Eamon Ore-Giron’s Talking Shit with Quetzalcoatl/I Like Mexico and Mexico Likes Me, 2017, atop Esparza's Raised Adobe Ground for Talking Shit with Quetzalcoatl, 2017. Background: Sculptures by Timo Fahler. Photo: Alex Marks.


Born and based in Los Angeles, Rafa Esparza “browns” the white cube through performances that involve bodies—his own and those of his collaborators. Recently, Esparza has begun using adobe bricks—traditionally made by hand with clay soil and other organic material—to build structures in galleries. His latest exhibition “Tierra. Sangre. Oro.” (Earth. Blood. Gold.), features pieces by Carmen Argote, Nao Bustamante, Beatriz Cortez, Timo Fahler, Eamon Ore-Giron, Star Montana, Sandro Cánovas, María García, and Rubén Rodriguez, and is on view at Ballroom Marfa until March 18, 2018.

MY INTEREST IN BROWNING THE WHITE CUBE—by building with adobe bricks, making brown bodies present, and collaborating—is a response to entering traditional art spaces and not seeing myself reflected. This has been the case not only physically, in terms of the whiteness of those spaces, but also in terms of the histories of art they uphold.

Adobe bricks are loaded; they signify brownness, the land, and labor. They also reference my own history: my father’s practice of working with adobe and my experience of adobe brickmaking as a collaborative process. By building with adobe in galleries I am bringing all of this—and the muddy history of American soil, colonization, and progress—into a traditionally white context.

This work began when Clockshop invited me, in 2014, to perform on Michael Parker’s artwork The Unfinished, for which the outline of an obelisk—based on an unfinished ancient Egyptian obelisk—was excised into a pad of asphalt next to the concrete Los Angeles River. The artwork’s trench resurfaces organic matter (seashells, soil) beneath the asphalt. This made me think about the history of the land, and of laborers who have historically been exploited while working on building projects.

Following this experience, I realized I wanted to use soil—adobe—as a platform. For the last Whitney Biennial I made adobe bricks and used them to create a structure in the gallery that felt like a container. As you walked into it, you stepped onto an adobe-paved ground and were surrounded by a rounded wall made of adobe bricks; the ceiling was left open. Before the rotunda was built, I invited other brown artists to imagine how their work could exist in this adobe space. The white cube was transformed into a brown, round space that held everyone's works inside it.

Every time I have the opportunity to work with adobe I invite new questions, new ways of integrating folks and the material. This was the case with my current project, at Ballroom Marfa. Marfa attracts the white international art world, yet it is in one of the nation’s most impoverished counties and is situated on the border, in a state where 95 percent of land is privately owned. The town’s long history of segregation—the cemetery is still divided—is invisible to many visitors, as is the strong presence in Marfa, beyond its two main streets, of adobe and brown people.

Within this context, I wanted to experiment with working collaboratively in order to make present and amplify brown artists who might not otherwise have access to establishment art spaces. I wanted us to serve as stewards of the land and of each other. Instead of making a container, I made a foundation. I used adobe bricks to cover sections of the floor, but I also used them as a vehicle for having conversations and for inviting other brown artists and artisans to work with me and with each other to consider land and how to create within each other’s spaces. There is a performativity to this way of working; it informed what we made.

In the show there is a series of stacked hybrid structures that Timo Fahler “planted” in Marfa Ballroom’s courtyard; they include “his” materials (cacti, found objects) and “mine” (adobe). There is also an adobe brick portal—inspired by Mayan archways—which I made with Beatriz Cortez. Adobe is a material that Beatriz had not worked with before. For Beatriz, it is important to think of such structures, and the indigenous people they represent, as belonging not only in the past, but also in the present and future. For me, the structure and its material work against the way we essentialize people, particularly those who are indigenous and brown. This portal was the last thing we made for the show, yet it serves as its entrance: we placed it outside Marfa Ballroom and used it to reorient the way visitors enter the white-turned-brown cube, now facing south.

When I think of brownness, I think of an expansive and generative space of inclusion and amplification. Brown is a skin tone. Brown is a spectrum. I am not replacing the white cube with a brown cube, but building conflicting histories.

— As told to Kate Green

Beryl Korot

11.14.17

Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary (detail), 1976–77, weavings, drawings, five-channel video (black-and-white, sound, 30 minutes). Installation view.


Beryl Korot’s groundbreaking video installation Text and Commentary, 1976–77, inspired by the Jacquard loom and how it impacted engineer Charles Babbage’s invention of the punch card, was originally exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1977. As I wrote five years ago in the pages of this magazine, “An amalgamation of various genres—post-Minimalism, Process art, Pattern and Decoration—Text and Commentary has not yet been considered a key Conceptual work, though it should be, given its capacious reflection on the limits and capabilities of language and seriality.” The piece is included in “Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989,” which is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from November 13, 2017 to April 8, 2018. I’m happy to report the work has been given its due. —Lauren O’Neill-Butler

1974 WAS A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR ME. I found myself working in three communications media at the same time: in print (as an editor of the publication Radical Software), in video, and at the loom. It was a revelation to me that all three encode and decode information in lines. I was also drawn to the multichannel genre developing at that time because it most clearly challenged the traditional viewer-broadcaster relationship. The viewer had to leave the living room and go to a public space to view the work. And the loom—which was actually the first computer on the face of the earth, in that it programs patterns according to a numerical structure—was the most sophisticated technology I could find to understand the programming of multiples.

Conceiving of each monitor as a thread, I constructed the multichannel installation Dachau 1974 according to basic thread structures for binding a cloth, with channels one and three and channels two and four juxtaposing pairs of images as the work proceeded in time. In essence, I created a nonverbal narrative structure based on a visual, and not a literary, source. This distinction was very important to me. The visual structure of woven cloth, based on the buildup of lines, precedes human writing by thousands of years and holds a key to the organization of visual and textual information. The words text and weave share the same Latin root.

Text and Commentary is a handmade work created for the camera. Five weavings hang from a dowel facing five video monitors built into a freestanding wall. As I wove at the loom, I hung a camera from the ceiling to record the process at varying distances. The images became quite abstract. I edited the piece by drawing all the images I shot on three-by-five cards and spreading them out on the floor to come up with a sequence of images. The work produces a dialogue between an ancient technology and the then-new medium of video. When it is exhibited, there’s also a pictographic score for the five channels of video as well as five weavers’ notations. All elements of the work coexist and provide varying perspectives of virtually the same information, but within the limitations of each medium.

Currently I’m working on “Curves,” which is a series of abstract drawings on paper, made with ink, pencil, and thread, that reference the human torso. As these works develop, threads are sewn on the surface of the paper with a digital sewing machine. The relationship between the handmade and the machine-made is basic to this work. Instead of oil or watercolor, here the programmed structure of the threads allows the original drawn markings to be seen in a new way and adds texture, color, and depth to the surface of the work. The sewing machine is programmed to sew on the surface of the paper in pre-designated areas. The kind of stitching, with its shape and degrees of being open or closed to the surface beneath, is another example of the impact of the computer on something as basic as the sewing machine.

— As told to Lauren O'Neill-Butler

Timo Nasseri

11.07.17

View of “I Saw a Broken Labyrinth,” 2017, Ab-Anbar, Tehran.


Over the past decade, the Berlin-based artist Timo Nasseri has drawn on a diverse array of mathematical and philosophical influences in his work. His current exhibition at Ab-Anbar in Tehran, “I Saw a Broken Labyrinth,” runs until November 23, 2017 and marks a decisive moment in his career, as it is the first time he has had a solo exhibition in Iran. Nasseri will also have a major solo show at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah in early 2018.

I’VE ALWAYS HAD MIXED FEELINGS about being termed an Iranian or a Middle Eastern artist, mainly because I’ve never seen myself as localized to any one culture. My mother is German, and my father is from Iran. So, my name is an odd hybrid. When Ab-Anbar approached me about doing an exhibition, we decided to introduce my work, even though much of the audience in Tehran may already be familiar with it. It’s been interesting for me because suddenly I’m seeing different works together and new connections between them, and there’s a real fusion of Eastern geometrical motifs with constructivist elements from my German background, as well as this fantastic aspect of my interest in storytelling.

I grew up with the tradition of storytelling; my father would invent fairy tales for me. On the one hand, my works refer to real stories about real people, but, on the other, they are abstracted. It’s like a conversation, a transportation of ideas from one person to the next. That’s what makes it so interesting to me. Every time you retell a story, something new gets added to it. I want certain narratives to unfold within the viewer, but it’s up to you to take the time to really look at a work and think about it. They are personal—there are tons of stories there. It’s just about which one finds you.

In general, I think my works are becoming more narrative. There was one point when I felt like I was done with all the mathematical aspects of my muqarnas, all that geometry, and it was hard to wrap my head around the ever-increasingly complex equations I was dealing with, so I decided to invent my own mathematical language instead, kind of like how kids invent fantasy languages. This is where my love of Jorge Luis Borges and, in particular, his story “The Library of Babel” comes in. For me, this story connects with so many different aspects of my work—it’s a fantasy about infinity, mathematics, quantum mechanics, and legibility. In it, there is an infinite library with an infinite number of books comprising the twenty-six letters of the alphabet in all possible combinations. Yet, these combinations of letters don’t make any sense, to us they are unreadable. However, in one book, on one page, there is the phrase “O time thy pyramids.” Maybe it’s the key. Maybe everything is legible if you hold the right key.

I am intrigued by this idea that a slight twist on reality can make something illegible, yet can retain a sense of inner logic, a truth that may not be immediately obvious. For example, for my series “O Time Thy Pyramids,” as well as the accompanying drawings, “Nine Firmaments,” I invented a language—there are letters but they don’t necessarily build words, just like in the Borges story.

Think of our Latin alphabet—you can kind of read French if you know the letters, but you won’t understand the words. It’s the same with my mathematics; I use familiar numbers and symbols, but you can’t understand the combination I’m using them in within my little sketches. Yet, if you stand in front of them, you have the impression that there’s something going on, that there’s a story there, a map to some hidden treasure, maybe an explanation of something like gravity in a different universe—it could be anything, if only you held that key.

This also builds on my interest in translating the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional and vice versa, as if my drawings were notations for my sculptures. My muqarnas were born out of the ornamental drawings I made for the “One and One” series, which became blueprints for those mirrored cupolas. Now I’ve added the elements of time and music. My new video work Expansions, which I made especially for this show, takes the elements of my drawings and deconstructs and rebuilds them. Drawings already have a certain rhythm of their own, so I thought perhaps this could be reflected in a musical rhythm, in this case, that of stars. I took materials from NASA—recordings of the rotations of planets, the rhythm of pulsars, and the explosions of stars—and put them into single tones to build a soundtrack. You can layer these tones rather like the way you can layer words to make a poem, or images to make a collage. It’s still just a beginning. It’ll never be complete, because it’s a fragment of an infinite library.

— As told to Anna Wallace-Thompson

Xavier Cha

11.02.17

Xavier Cha, Buffer, 2017. Performance view, Brooklyn Academy of Music, November 1, 2017. Cassandra Freeman and Babs Olusanmokun. Photo: Rebecca Smeyne.


Xavier Cha is a New York–based artist. Her latest work, Buffer, 2017, was made during her Harkness Foundation for Dance residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) this year, as part of Performa 17. The piece is on view at BAM through Saturday, November 4, 2017.

IN A STRUCTURAL SENSE, Buffer is an analog representation of consuming digital media, but it doesn’t have to be that specific. That’s just the surface structure of how it’s built. It alternates between three channels, or switches between tabs on a viewing device, and some of the scenes buffer or pause or loop or freeze. Then it alternates between the different scenes.

When I got asked to do this piece, I immediately thought about the proscenium format. Because usually in my pieces people can just enter and leave as they please, the work is often non-narrative. So, I thought about the experience of sitting and viewing a work for an hour and how that’s pretty unusual now. When do people do that? Usually it’s when they’re in front of a screen. So, I really wanted to superimpose and conflate those moments of viewing into one—the attention spans that we have for viewing privately and publicly, and the thresholds that we have for certain things.

The title made sense to me because it refers to the literal buffer that happens when you’re viewing things online and they freeze. You have the patience for it, for some reason, at home—I guess because you can go and do something else, like check your phone. I began thinking about how that would feel in a public viewing experience. But then buffer, to me, also implies this weird alien space between humans. I think of it like this puffy sac between us, like we’re negotiating these weird buffers between humanity.

There’s a very lonely theme that runs through the piece. Even when you’re really intimate with someone, in the scripted conversations and the dance, there’s still this alienation that you feel, this loneliness. You’re trying to make connections, but somehow they are just barely missed, even when they are right in front of you. That is just addressing what it is to be human. What are real, authentic feelings, anyway, when capitalism and all these other things manipulate everything? Even the idea of following a single narrative thread doesn’t really exist anymore; everything is so fractured. It’s hard to identify what is actually you.

I wanted to include this almost banal conversation between a couple. Well, not banal, but when the woman’s sharing her dreams—that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t usually translate. When you tell someone about a dream it never really matches up to what you experienced. So that kind of conversation usually only happens with someone you feel really intimate with. Otherwise it just sounds dumb or flat. So, there’s this conversation that really pulls the viewer into a private world. And there’s always a sense of searching that the performer has. And they never physically touch, but you do feel this intimacy between them; that’s the kind of energy I wanted to create there. And then the dance-opera scene, to me, is like the subconscious dream world. There’s a detached feeling in the dances that’s almost heart-wrenching. The love scene is supposed to be a relief, to make you feel like these people are truly connected and sharing their love. It’s supposed to be a transcendent, beautiful moment that gives you a relief from viewing, like, “Ah! I’m not trying to unpack this other stuff.” That’s a reason for that channel, and then you get to switch back between the three.

It was all kind of conceived simultaneously. I knew I wanted to choreograph, and I knew I wanted there to be channels that it switches between—it just felt pretty clear what they were going to be from the start. I wanted a movement scene. I wanted a private conversation. I guess it was fulfilling a desire I had of wanting to delve into the process of writing the script. I was really excited about doing that, and I knew I wanted to choreograph movement with opera, so I guess I decided on things I wanted to work with. I built those into Buffer pretty immediately.

I don’t know that I would say that this alienation is a technological problem—that I’m anti-internet or that we’re all losing touch. That’s not the conversation I’m trying to have. I wanted this work to come from a sincere, vulnerable, and emotional place, and that’s definitely an emerging necessity with creative voices. Irony doesn’t have a place now.

— As told to Grant Johnson

Jimmy Robert

10.31.17

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