Thursday, December 04, 2008

Can you know a place by drawing it?

There are shoes between us

I recently started a series entitled ‘drawing the return’ through which I am exploring the question: “Can you know a place by drawing it?” I am specifically looking at my relationship to Nigeria. The series begins with the piece ‘There are shoes between us.’ The drawing is based on a pair of shoes I made for one of my first performance pieces over 10 years ago. They are leather, covered in white clay, modeled after a pair of Hausa shoes.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the ‘when’ of memory. About timing and recurrence. And that necessary moment of recollection. In 1998 I created this performance piece in which I wrapped myself in a raised structure of branches. I wore a mask with long flowing threads during the 2 days of the performance. When I was outside of the structure I wore hand-dyed blue clothing created specifically for the piece. And the Hausa shoes, which perhaps had been hand-made in a very similar manner hundreds of years ago by my own ancestors.

And so the return…

Lagos Island, Nigeria

There's a city between us

Try these

There are birds between us

How deep did you say this is?

How deep did you say this is? (detail)

We hid our birds

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

making fathoms

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sight is a feeling


shelter, ancestors, transportation (2008)
single-channel digital video
color, sound, 3:02

These video stills are from a series of performance works that I began creating in September, 2007, while at the Can Serrat Artist’s Residency in Spain. When I arrived, stories of global immigrations were very much on my mind. These changing cultural maps led me to consider the individual as the new nation. And all that that might imply about our connections to the history of a place and the land itself. I created belongings, marks, and earth puts on a mask during this time away. Upon my arrival back in Austin, I performed the return and shelter, ancestors, transportation. infinite return (bird on the sun) combines the landscapes of Catalunya and Texas; my body serves as the bridge between.

belongings (2007)
single-channel digital video
color, sound, 3:15

I begin with what we carry.

I am crawling along the foothills, making my way across almond fields, belly to ground. The land will not register my passing. The earth here is solid, compacted. I can walk in boots and leave no trace. I wrap stones around my feet so the mountain will remember: that I prayed and breathed it in and asked and listened and broke open and imagined. And what I saw. The people once fled into this same landscape of serrated mountains, running to and from, escaping. It is in the dust, as are all crossings: Gibraltar, the Canaries, the Atlantic. Our what ifs are immense. Our bodies makeshift rafts on open seas, and ladders pushing walls.

marks (2007)
single-channel digital video
color, sound, 1:15

earth puts on a mask (2007)
single-channel digital video
color, silent, 2:21

Is this the universal? Actions and shared actions? What one body invokes in another?

These performances are drawings, like Haitian Vodoun vévé—lines of cornmeal that mark the floor of ceremony. Vévé are how spirits enter the space; they are journey, possibility. What exactly is possible when body is our everything? How do we move through the world? What does our power look like?

the return (2007)
single-channel digital video
color, sound, :50

infinite return (bird on the sun) (2007)
single-channel digital video
color, sound, 7:03

You see these drawings. Sight is a feeling. Infiniphonic. Sonic and forever. And within that a drawing. And within that. And what if within that.


Friday, April 04, 2008

I lingered at the crossroads

I lingered at the crossroads (2008)

What if we do not feel brave? (2008)


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Is there rope or net or direction for falling?

It is lace it is landscape it is the undulations of our bodies. I am continuously moved by the ability of artists to invoke the body so viscerally without actually picturing it. I recently read a conversation with artists Ernesto Neto and Fernanda Gomes in BOMB magazine (winter 2008). Neto says: “Maybe that’s why people dance, as a way to be outside themselves; maybe not to be is more comfortable than to be—.” I am thinking dance is the place where we are completely embodied, so much so that we are able to be in irresistible connection with the spiritual, the sound, the lights, the sweat, the ether, where our bodies are synced with the communal body, so much so that it indeed feels like a leaving of self, a letting go of the individual. Is this what he means by not?

But now, of the being. I am looking at this work-in-progress from artist Lisa C. Soto’s Rodinia series. Rodinia, from the Russian родина for motherland, a supercontinent hovering on the surface of our spherish world, but before, in the beginning as we know it geologically, rodinia, rodinia, it lingers in the mouth like being in love, a supercontinent indeed, this graphite on mylar. Lace, necklace, the forest. Stones in a river. And so many islands. Or an almost dress, this new pangaea. Her fingers must be stained black from the making, from the stitching of country to country. And so many. There are 192 or 193 or 195 depending on how you count and who counts. And measures. Soto includes territories as well and perhaps other land masses unclaimed. (Are there?) Her project feels unending…that the line of her work may extend into outerspace one day…taking map-like notes on the ever-colonized stratosphere and beyond. The tracing on mylar and the cutting will likely be a forever part of her artistic process.

I love the blackening of materials. The rubbing of graphite into plastic. To proclaim territories and understandings and non-nation nations Palestines Kosovos Puerto Ricos the Lakota Sioux. Though rooted in land, Soto’s Rodinia describes a landlessness as well, where these shadow nations are primary, where darkness is everything, the blackening divine.

There is a whole set of questions I want to ask the artist, a whole set of imaginations that I want to have embodied and explained. Can she tell me how this flesh and bones will look when rome falls, when the disintegration of borders takes hold, when the sea no longer eats us? Is there a motherland even after the first? And will we be whole when we see her? Are we shapeshifted enough? Or not? Is there rope or net or direction for falling? Should we slow and linger? Or disco nap? But I already have…

And is this what we do to remember? That Pluto is not a planet? Pluto, that smallest and coldest and once-farthest from the you feel? Hear the shadow? This looking is dancing, you know.


Monday, February 25, 2008

And then there is into

I visited Annette Lawrence’s studio to view her recent installation entitled Free Paper. The artist saved her junk mail for 13 months from November 2005 through November 2006. She tore the stacks of paper into two-inch wide strips which she then stacked on top of each other. Each month of free paper stands on a small table-high shelf. Lawrence speaks of the 11 years it took her to feel comfortable with the horizontal orientation of work, having moved from New York to Texas where, as everyone knows, the sky is bigger. These works spread out along their shelves like faded horizon lines stacked upon each other. Simultaneously, they stand high like architectural models, quiet skyscrapers pushing up against the white sky of the studio walls.

Evidence of marks and their maker. The strips of newspapers, glossy inserts and hard coupons speak of the internal as well—into earth and body. There is up down, the four directions, inside outside. And there is into. This invocation of the geological suggests a contemporary sedimentation: greys, reds, so many reds, an orange edge, but not quite. Strata of capitalism. Made beautiful. The weight of the thin strips of paper makes the stack curve fall at the edges, as the horizon line always bends in our peripheral vision. We should always remember the curvature of the earth.

These were once trees, this free paper. Lawrence has created rings of age, movement and breath. I can imagine the artist’s hands holding the metal straight-edge against small stacks of paper, then ripping, the sound hypnotic. I am looking at evidence of 13 months in a small room—November through November, an almost-lunar counting system. The overlap of months makes me think of a spiral. And infinity. Though they measure a specific beginning and end, there is really none to speak of. Though unintended, there is a lovely reference to the Jamaican saying “free-paper burn”. When free paper (a slave’s pass or documents of freedom) burn, our vacation is over, we must return to work. But here I imagine free paper could again become earth, trees, ash, air, breath.

I walk closer to these forms, remains and want to breathe them in, smell them, want them to smell like wet earth and clay, something alive. They are curiously absent of scent. I peer around the edges and am reminded of what exactly this is, this free paper: a Target logo, the blonde hair of a department store model, a coupon for 10% off. Must sacred always require the profane? And the liminal the ordinary?

I am in love with these bodies these forms and their spines—the squarish spaces that run through the middle of the stacks, devoid of color, that place in the fold of the newspaper the ink cannot touch. They are crooked vertebrae. Her body, my body, the neighbor, the mail carrier, whose free papers, whose bodies. They are all of us and absolutely gorgeous. I am again convinced that we live in a time of artists. Who else can transform junk into such beauty and reverence. I am reminded of Paul Chan’s My birds... trash... the future, a two channel digital projection that occupies two sides of a flat screen, all futures are possible.

2004. Two channel digital projection installation, front view. 17 minutes.

And they can indeed emerge un-apocalyptically.

It is humbling to stand before a work that makes me want to move slower, to savor and embrace my own actions, the rise and fall of my own breathing and voice. I am so moved by the what remains. It is photographic. Pre-photographic. Ancient as fossils. Rectangles of colored light that reflect up against the wall, a field of red or purple or blue. A kind of camera obscura, as if the light will remember the piece after the paper’s disintegration. (I think of Rothko here. Is it possible that works of art speak to each other regardless of our presence before them? Is the sound between works something we cannot hear? Does it surface as light? Is it the space before—in front of—the painting?)

I have been thinking about what constitutes an aesthetics of bravery. Is it the into? The vulnerability of the dirty, the truest truth of junk, trash, books, bibles, ships at sea, returning and returned, free paper burning. Not because of endings and apocalypse. Perhaps bravery is a future, a red light on a wall that is only sometimes there. A spiral. A chapel...I haven’t even spoken of the boxes that Lawrence builds for mailing these works, perfectly fitted for each month’s variations, rarely to be used, but waiting. More layers in the strata, crossroads become mathematical, between boxes and stacks, between shore and ocean, free and burn, between quick and linger there is into.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

thinking about Ana Mendieta

Monday, February 04, 2008

as I begin a new set of drawings…

Nok terracotta sculptures, 290 BC, 7 inches high

How does the artifact occupy the space of the paper: can its power be invoked by the drawing itself, so that we may understand it more fully through the act of drawing, by embedding the image in paper with thread, by tracing our own forms into the page as well, as a way to dialogue with the mask that is now hundreds of years old? What does that invocation look like? How does it sound? (Is the sound present in the performances I make with my own body? Is this how the sound of a drawing emerges, in the space of breath and movement?)

How does the drawing allow us to visit the historical record itself, to return to Nok civilization (in the Jos Plateau region of Nigeria) and actually try on a terracotta sculpture as if it were a mask, as if it were a familiar face, as if an ancestor during ceremony, as if I were the ancestor, as if it were my own face that I was able to try on hundreds of years into this future, as if I were the sculptor, as if I were the one who pulled clay from earth sometime between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D., as if dates and time didn’t matter, as if the inevitability of beauty and connection could change everything and all that was asked of us was the deep vulnerability that pencil to paper requires…

Nok terracotta sculptures, 810-511 BC, height 19 inches

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


What does the line of a drawing invoke?

What is the significance of the collective process? Talk about collective deep knowledge.

Is that collective working process important for your work to grow, expand?

What is the significance of scale in your work? What is monumental, epic? What is the poem? How do you combine the poem and the epic?

What role does the camera play and why? Dancer, participant, witness?

Why is the video necessary at all? Is it documentation? Or, as Pato Hebert asks, is it as important as the performance/ritual/gesture? (Pato Hebert)

What is the significance of place? Is it specific, diasporic, liminal?

What is the significance of time in your work? (filmic, Hopi concepts of time as cyclical, ancestral, etc)

What is the significance of the body, what does it represent, stand in for, site, nation, collective?

Why this body? As Samiya Bashir says, whose body is this?

What is the role of sound in the performance/video work? Silence? How does that affect aesthetics, form?

What is the movement between silence and the infiniphonic? How is silence infiniphonic? What is your relationship to extended versions? (Fela)

What happens at the crossroads? 'This river was once a road' (Ben Okri…this road was once a river)

How do you picture parallel dancers?

What would it look like to dance in an earth skirt?

What are your tools and offerings?

Who are your gods? (asks Sharon Bridgforth)

What is the significance of the story?

What does the story change? And how?

What is the line back to the body?

What does the camera witness?

What does it mean to wrap your head with fathoms? When would this be necessary?

The wrapping of feet, the walking in the dry riverbed.

How do the dancers unwind from the camera? Return to the camera.

How is the camera the 8th dancer, multiple dancers?

How do the dancers make sacred space in which to dance?

What do the spirits see if they are watching us dance? Where do they watch from? The trees, the altar, the river bed?

If the dance were sound, how would you mix it?

How would you play the off-key?

What is the weight of lovers (in fathoms)? (Felix Gonzalez-Torres)

Describe the color of your deepest power?

What is your flesh offering? (Sundance)

How is the prayer sent?

What is the place of sacrifice in the work coming to life?

Do you believe in sacrifice?

What are your primary gestures and rituals?

What are the gestures (of the body) that demonstrate the expression of your power? What does it look like to make them over an extended period of time? What does it look like when a group makes them over an extended period of time? What is invoked, remembered, released, forgotten, conjured, healed, explained, started, stopped, created?

What is it to wrap your head in fathoms?

Whose eyes?

What is the slow motion dance?

How do you take the sweet road? (Sharon Bridgforth)

What do you want to say about the crossroads?

Describe the lines from there to here.

What do you want to talk about?

What do you know?

Describe how time functions, what is your concept of time in the work?

What is the presence of sound, how is the visual full of sound?

What does the work want?

What wants to happen?

What are you scared of?

What do you need to surrender?

What are the resources that this work already has, what has it shown you?

What rituals do you need to do for yourself in order for the work to happen?

What do you observe when you observe your artmaking process? (Record the journey)