Friday, February 26, 2016

ACCOMPANYING TEXT: MIRROR ME

Text By Dana Buzzee for Niki Boghossian's exhibition Sacred Circle

It is important that we make sure we are prepared. Protection is a must, but we also need to rally up power for our task. We are here to scry - to fortunetell, to look, and to see. Intention is crucial. We will be seeing with a sight that is not often exercised and in order to access it we need to be transformed. This transformation that will tip the balance of power and grant us vision, comes in two parts: the site and the self.   


We must carve out a circle, to mark the ground as sacred, and separate it from what is common. The site becomes a place for magic by inverting the ordinary. To empower the space, we must acknowledge our own power. We can hold no quarter for presumptions about weakness, displays of normalcy and what is believed to be appropriate. Those things must be left outside.   


Walk the perimeter of the circle to set it. Cut it, with a little force, if the need is serious. Always seal it with salt. These actions need to be meant. When they are, we will have created a site worthy of ritual work, where channels between worlds run open. In this place, we can be fortified by shadows and spirits, and we –ourselves – will be transformed by admission into the circle.   


Seeing the future and the otherworldly is not very different from seeing the mundane. Fix your gaze and let it linger until you understand what it is all about. It helps if the surface is reflective - literally or figuratively -as it will cause the eyes stick. Drawing the mind in through the gaze, there is time for it to process the mystical imagery being seen. It is a simple process when it is stripped down to its essentials, however, the particulars are what set seekers apart from those without the aptitude for seeing.   


Divination and the grouping of domestic tasks deemed ‘women's work’ have grown up as sisters to one another. Objects made for scrying that are handcrafted are inherently subversive; their existence challenges conventions conceived from necessity, making the esoterica of soothsaying objects feminist creations. In the fog that lies between the many myths and many facts connecting women and magic, historical archetypes still persist. These mythologies affect how we understand craft, ritual, and our powers, but we have the choice to pull what we want from the history of women witches, discard what we know is untrue, and build our own meaning of identity with it.   


Holding all this in mind, the time is good to look. In our circle, the mirrored sight is telling and more potent that what might be expected. Pay attention to what is seen here and how you see it and you will be able to access the sight and meaning reflected back.  


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About the Writer:  Dana Buzzee graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2012, studying at the Alberta College of Art and Design, The New York Studio Residency Program and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Since completing her undergrad, Buzzee has enjoyed a nomadic studio practice with exhibitions and residencies in Canada, Finland, Iceland, and the United States.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

ESSAY: Veins

Exhibition Essay: Willfulness of the wild: deep listening with Rita McKeough

Are you sure that you are hearing every thing that there is to hear?
-Pauline Oliveros, 2005
 
My body bristles everywhere becoming attuned to the nuances of Rita McKeough’s Veins, waking up to it, searching for a pattern, itching, scratching, listening for a fragment of language to hold. My nerves are awakened by slippery motion of snakes at my feet and the snarls and growls that pierce the air of the exhibition. I’m immersed in Rita’s audio work Elk; a few days writing amidst her chorus of wolves, snakes, leaks, bears, rivers, leaves, and I’m finally arriving where Pauline Oliveros suggests that we may go when deep listening.
 
In Willful Subjects, Sara Ahmed suggests we can create a more ethical relation to “nature” when we recognize its willfulness.[1] To be willful, or full of will, might be to overflow, to exceed what is understood. Of course our fraught understanding and attempts to define the fullness of “nature” are too narrow, too simplistic to grasp its complexity. It is not a subject. For McKeough, it is a pounding, a persistent present knocking that wakes up the body, where each body is a hybrid, a combination of movements, twitches, gestures. Her Drummers beat by themselves, and they must be heard. As Oliveros seems to imply with her question above – we may not hear every thing, but deepening the will to listen is at the heart of it.[2]
 
A willful body might participate differently from normative ideas or social formations, actively resist them, or simply exist in a way that isn’t legible within such formations at all. At first, I read Stump EyesElk TongueSnarl, and Owl leaf as simple animated faces made of cutout pieces, not necessarily moving in synch. These willful parts confound the assumption that facial features should act in a unified manner to produce a specific expression. Instead, they are emotive assemblages: elk horns rise up, coyote ears shake with anger, big focused owl eyes stare us down, and cartoon-cutout teeth add menace, and each is at will to communicate a different signal. At one point McKeough and I attempt to discuss how her hybrid elk-bear-leaf creature feels—what they are “saying,” by fixing some meaning into familiar words, but in the next moment we give way to sounds. A complete “dog person,” McKeough knows sound is a language, and barks at me overtop of herself.
 
Through all the growling, barking, rough to the ear snarl that explodes from McKeough’s lungs, chest, mouth into the gallery, I’m thinking of Donna Haraway’s companion species. Though her work focuses on the joint lives of dogs and people, of “companion species” she says, “one must include such organic beings as rice, bees, tulips, and intestinal flora, all of whom make life for humans what it is—and vice versa.”[3] She calls the term itself “a composition that resonates… in which co-constitution, finitude, impurity, historicity and complexity are what is.”[4] So another willful, enabling, expansive voice joins us amidst the rising and falling resonance of Veins.
 
As an artist, McKeough is her own kind of willful creature, in the habitat of her installation full of hybrid companion species, doubly willful. This is what draws me closer to her work. To sustain a long career as a woman artist is to stick with it, to keep knocking, digging out the ideas that mean, and come to mean more, through persistence. To take up “willfulness” as an ethical, reparative position is an opening to different experiences of being; a mode that makes us more aware of how we fit (or don’t fit) the expectations of the social body outside of ourselves. If this sounds like the process of inhabiting other words, like “queer,” or “feminist,” it should. Ahmed says “persistence can be an act of disobedience…a deviation from a trajectory, what stops the hurtling forward of fate, what prevents a fatality.”[5] In Veins, the “hurtling forward” is a pipeline, a spurt, time, a highway, a leak, the anxiety of another kind of mechanical knocking, knocking oil up out of the ground.
 
The willful figure might pose an obstruction. Ahmed asks, “How do you know which way things are flowing? Usually by not going that way.”[6] We come to willfulness by being in the way, and thus like McKeough has, might develop a heightened sense of urgency that we cannot keep “going that way.” She implicates herself, as we walk the divided road to the back of the gallery. The route is necessarily limiting; it’s a bird’s eye and a sideways pan all at once. Traversing this road I become more aware of its constrained, sense-deprived view of the world, the way hyper-detailed leaves and articulated, minutely scaled snakes start to conform to the linear logic of resource extraction that forces all things to flow in the direction of the road. Following Ahmed, we might also ask by whose will has capitalism come to be understood as “a whole body,” a dominant circulatory system of minute control where “capital is identified as the lifeblood [that] must be kept in circulation no matter what”?[7] No matter what?
 
Veins documents McKeough’s position, which is not a moral one, but an ethical one that is willing to expand in all directions: a space for feeling, for being affected, and for sensory immersion, where she creates a stage for hearing every thing there is to hear. For being inside of Veins, writing in it, is a process of excavating gradually deepening layers of feeling, of deep listening, of being seduced by surfaces, and being called to look beneath them.
 

Essay By: Anthea Black
[1] Sara Ahmed, Willful Subjects, (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2014), 192.
[2] Pauline Oliveros, “Listening Questions,” Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice, (iUniverse, 2005), 56.
[3] Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003), 15.
[4] Ibid. 15-16, emphasis mine.
[5] Ahmed, 10.
[6] Ibid, 144.
[7] Ibid, 105.


Anthea Black is a Canadian artist, writer, and cultural worker. Her current writing approaches contemporary art, craft, and performance by women artists through fictocriticism and interview. Her collaborative writing with Nicole Burisch is included in The Craft Reader and Extra/ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art and their forthcoming book is Craft on Demand: The New Politics of the Handmade. She is a faculty member at OCAD University in print, publications, and criticism and curatorial studies. Black wishes to thank Rita McKeough, Mark Clintberg, Hazel Meyer, and Jeremy Pavka at TRUCK, for their generous support of the text.

DOCUMENTATION: A Conversation

Roselina Hung & Mary Porter's A Conversation at the +15 Project Window







Friday, January 15, 2016

ESSAY: two eyes gleaming pictures of windows

As humans, we all wish to connect with others, to be known and to share our experience, and yet we know that truly sharing an experience with another is often fraught with missed connections and misunderstandings, and that we often simply fail.  For Steven Cochrane and The Walled Garden, this critical failure is at the crux of his whole endeavour.  Recognizing the tenuous objective, Cochrane’s installation offers a speculative conversation about both his own memory and also the relative impossibility of recreating for your conversant the intricacies and subtleties of a memory, a dream, something that you experienced or a feeling you once had.  Describing the scene only goes so far.   

Cochrane layers and repeats drawings, prints, photographs, and familiar-but-unsettled objects alongside signs bearing fragments of text, intentional lighting, and larger installation elements in a multivalent but non-verbal description of something elusive and yet very concrete. The memory is real.  This immersive exhibition tells the parts of a story that words can’t convey and casts the viewer as interlocutor, puzzler, witness.   

Untitled (Screen wall) (2011) is made up of a series of unique rubbings, each repeating graphic components within a gridded frame to create irregular patterns.  They are regimented enough to make a person think there’s a formula here (on this wall, and also in this room) but further investigation seems to suggest otherwise. Can you crack the code?  This careful looking, eyes darting over the grid to compare this here to that there, is similar to the mind’s project of persistently revisiting different aspects of the memory/ies of a traumatic moment in an effort to make sense of it/them.  The mind continues puzzling, despite the possible endlessness of this pursuit.   

Plants drawn from memory with invisible ink (2012) is a series of blind contour drawings Cochrane’s made by relying on his own memories of botanical illustrations of plants that grew around his childhood homes,^ and they’re drawn with a medium that disappears as you work and then reappears when it’s dried.  He explained, “you can see sometimes that I'd accidentally draw…over and over again in the same spot…I was trying to build the struggle to remember into the making of the work”^ —again, a metaphor for the mind’s project of working it out, whatever ‘it’ may be.  Explaining, repeating, defining, exaggerating, leaving things out, forgetting, but you get the gist.   

Two jewels gleam on the wall, yellow-green and blue-red eyes surveying the space.  Together they are After Evening Thunderstorms, June 2002 and June 2007 (2013), a pair photographs from Cochrane’s personal collection, each mounted behind an acrylic prism—a paperweight?  an award?  a crystal ball? These two snapshots were taken in the same room, five years apart, each an attempt to capture and reproduce “that quality of light—a very particular kind of hyper-saturated yellow-green.”^  Windows in particular have a specific job: letting the light in, framing the view. Windows are contemplative by their very nature, conjuring ideas about reflection, longing, escape… Cochrane’s pictures of windows here, now viewed from a distance in time through a bevelled crystalline filter, put us in that room looking out those windows.  Viewing the rest of the exhibition from this position, we might feel that we’re looking through Cochrane’s own lens.  Is this the key?   

Cochrane’s visual and sensorial narrative seems to reveal intimate details about a moment in his life, if obliquely, and at the same time The Walled Garden presents a perfect illustration of the frustration inherent in such an undertaking. Communicating a  subjective experience, whether profound or traumatic or both, can be tremendously difficult.  The artist is sharing something with us here, and whether we scrutinize the clues or simply absorb the impressions, or/and walk away feeling stumped/bemused, curious, betrayed, or touched, we are participating in a conversation.   

Lisa Benschop 
July 2015         

^ refers to details shared by the artist in email correspondence, April 23, 2015. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

DOCUMENTATION: Finding Ana

Documentation from Elise Rasmussen's Finding Ana















ESSAY: Finding Ana

“The ghost is not simply a dead or missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life.”
- Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters
In the summer of 1981, after a long exile, artist Ana Mendieta returned from New York to her native Cuba, where she created a series of sculptural silhouettes entitled Rupestrian Sculptures in the limestone interior of the caves in Las Escaleras de Jaruco National Park.

Guanaroca & Iyaré (1981), a photograph Mendieta produced of the resulting Rupestrian Sculptures series, is now in the possession of the Guggenheim. On the institution’s website, curator Nat Trotman describes Mendieta’s photographs as the “haunting documents” of a search for the “one universal energy which runs through everything: from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy.” He continues to explain that the sculptures, though meant for discovery by future visitors, were ultimately destroyed by the elements. He concludes: Mendieta’s work now lives on only through her films and photographs.

In Finding Ana, Elise Rasmussen presents a hard rebuttal to the Guggenheim’s somewhat shiftless error. In 2012, retracing Mendieta’s footsteps, Rasmussen returned to the site of the allegedly destroyed sculptures. With the generous assistance of local residents, Rasmussen was able to locate sculptures, their bodies persisting on the limestone walls of the caves. Rasmussen took her own images of the sculptures, some of which she titled after Mendieta’s originals; she gave others—careful documentation of the surrounding area—more evocative titles. At night, they go amongst the living, one title announces. They Believe there is a Place Where the Dead Go, another. Heavy leaves surrounding, overgrown and obfuscated, Rasmussen’s images of Mendieta’s sculptures and their sustaining environment create a spectral projection, a pitched dialog between past and present.

On 8 September 1985, allegedly drunk in her 34th floor Manhattan apartment and quarrelling with her partner, Carl Andre, Mendieta, somehow, “went out the window”. Remitting a jury, facing three separate indictments, Andre was tried before a judge and acquitted, on the grounds of insufficient evidence toward his complicity in her fall. During the trial, Andre’s jaundiced lawyers cite Mendieta’s performance and other work as evidence toward her possible suicide.

In the second work in Finding Ana, entitled Variations, Rasmussen employs four cameras, an audience, and two actors cast to the approximate size and weight of Andre and Mendieta. They play the night of the defenestration, as told by the three perplexingly disjointed statements delivered by Andre to police and media. Rasmussen directs, interjecting facts, weather reports, interrogatives. A recreation of the window and its sill sit centre stage, built fastidiously to scale, its height becoming a curious obstacle to Mendieta’s small surrogate. All parties break in and out of character as they investigate the testimony, responding to each other, inserting themselves into each other’s roles – audience-cum-player, director-cum-audience, cast-cum-jury.

In a slight revision of the Guggenheim’s misstatement, it is true that much of Mendieta’s work lives on only through documentation. Through the fogged-out history of female-identified, “precarious”, and ephemeral practices, Mendieta’s work can be traced through multiple bodies; new artists and authors play cipher to her story, haunted in new and different ways by her absence. Writer Nasrin Himada, in a longer text on the possibilities of poetry, finds herself thinking through one such haunting she experienced while viewing Mendieta’s films. She includes the following citation from Brian Massumi’s book, Semblance and Event: “We never register what’s actually in front of our eyes. With every sight we see imperceptible qualities, we abstractly see potential, we implicitly see a life dynamic… because something has happened: the body has been capacitated. It’s been relationally activated. It is alive in the world, poised for what may come.” Himada then poses her own question: “How do we examine a situation from the point of view of its possibility?”

As a consumer of media in an era reliant on ephemerality, it’s possible to feel like an unwitting character in an ongoing flash procedural, an amnesia-inducing episodic. As such, we’re often remiss as viewers to locate the narrative, to find the path that leads to the “dense site” of history, discovery and recuperation.

Writer and educator Avery Gordon, in her book Ghostly Matters, uses the term haunting to describe the “singular and yet repetitive [instance] when home becomes unfamiliar, when your bearings on the world lose direction, when the over-and-done-with comes alive, when what’s been in your blind-field comes into view.”  In Finding Ana, lost paths are activated, reconnected. Rasmussen calls her audience to task as repeat viewers, co-detectives, engaged in a lineage, set as pro- and antagonist, participant, spectator, culprit and body and ghost. “Haunting raises specters,” Avery Gordon continues, “and it alters the experience of being in linear time, alters the way we normally separate and sequence the past, the present and the future.”  Rasmussen’s spectres and viewers collide; we are not a separate order. We are enlisted together, either in the task of building another perspective, or the patient wait for its arrival.

Essay by Danielle St Amour
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 Gordon, Avery F. “‘Who’s there?’: some answers to questions about ghostly matters” (2007)

— Talk presented at UnitedNationsPlaza (Berlin) for Seminar 6: “who’s there?—an interrogation in the dark,” organized by Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Ines Schaber, Anselm Franke (22–26 October 2007)

About the writer:
Danielle St Amour is an artist, writer and curator currently based in Toronto, Canada.