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