Saturday, April 1, 2017

Enrique Martínez Celaya’s “The First Kierkegaard”

Kierkegaard has been a constant source of inspiration for the Cuban-born painter Enrique Martínez Celaya, one of a number of philosophers and writers whose work he has studied, absorbed, and responded to.

Enrique Martínez Celaya, “The First Kierkegaard” (2006), oil, wax, and tar on canvas, 100 x 78 inches, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of the artist in honor of Klaus Ottmann, 2015 (courtesy The Phillips Collection) In the opening of his first book, the two-volume Either/Or (1843), Søren Kierkegaard asked “What is a poet?” and promptly answered his own question: “An unhappy man who in his heart harbors a deep anguish, but whose lips are so fashioned that the moans and cries which pass over them are transformed into ravishing music.”

Kierkegaard has been a constant source of inspiration for the Cuban-born painter Enrique Martínez Celaya, one of a number of philosophers and writers whose work he has studied, absorbed, and responded to (the roster includes Robert Frost, Joseph Brodsky, Mandelstam, Rilke, and Maeterlinck). Celaya has produced a series of paintings related to the Danish existentialist, starting with “The First Kierkegaard,” 2006, which is on view at the Phillips Collection through April 2.
Celaya’s painting portrays the spectral figure of a thin, naked adolescent boy standing both against and within a dark background, the surface of the painting resembling a blackboard that has been scratched and erased over and over. The boy’s body, painted in a soft brown tone, is lightly outlined, with his anatomy minimally delineated: facial features, collar bone, nipples, genitals, feet. His left arm rests by his side while the right is held straight and slightly away from his body. He wears a thoughtful expression on his face — something like resignation — while turning slightly to the left.
The figure stands just off center, with a circular scattering of small colored dots above and to the right of his head. In the middle of this circle the name “Kierkegaard” is inscribed in simple script. Is this an imaginary portrait of the Dane in his youth, beginning his quest to understand the world?

Dr. Klaus Ottmann, art historian and the Phillips Collection’s deputy director for curatorial and academic affairs, ties the figure in Celaya’s painting to Abraham in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (1843), which revolves around the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Asked to sacrifice his son, Abraham finds himself, in Ottmann’s words, “in the in-between of nothingness and anxiety, between the Imaginary and the Symbolic, the ‘disquieting supervision of responsibility’” — a kind of limbo such as Celaya depicts in his painting.

In 2015, Celaya gave “The First Kierkegaard” to the Phillips Collection in honor of Ottmann. He was subsequently invited to be part of the One-on-One series, for the third exhibition since Ottmann launched the series in the spring of 2011, shortly after his arrival at the museum. Learning that Peter Doig would be giving the Duncan Phillips lecture at the museum in April of that year, Ottmann invited the Scottish painter to select a work from the collection to hang alongside his own. Doig chose Georges Braque’s 1956 “Bird”; it was exhibited with three paintings of ravens he had made in Trinidad for the first One-on-One. The second One-on-One, in August 2015, featured Washington, DC-based artist Carol Brown Goldberg, who juxtaposed one of her paintings with Matisse’s 1948 “Interior with Egyptian Curtain.”

When Celaya visited the museum in 2015, Ottmann took him into the Phillips’s art storage and showed him a number of works, including several Albert Pinkham Ryder paintings. Celaya connected to the American painter on several fronts, including their shared use of tar (bitumen) in place of black paint. In addition, recounts Ottmann, the dark, mystical quality of Ryder’s works, with their religious underpinning, seemed “a fitting match for Celaya’s painting.”

Three of Ryder’s greatest works hang across the hallway from Celaya’s: “Macbeth and the Witches,” from the mid-1890s and later, “Desdemona,” 1896, and “Dead Bird,” 1890s. Without forcing a dialogue between Ryder and Celaya, you can make those aforementioned connections: the shared love of a richly worked surface and the ethereal quality of the imagery. (In 1926, Duncan Phillips, who was a champion of Ryder’s work, wrote that the painter was “always superbly plastic with simplification which contains powerful suggestions and persuades us to believe in the reality of his visions” — a commentary that could apply to Celaya.)

At the same time, Ryder turned to Shakespeare much as Celaya turned to Kierkegaard: as a source for models of worldly doubt. Macbeth and Desdemona confront their own existential situations; Ryder heightens their angst through the dark settings in which he situates them. Likewise, Celaya’s vulnerable youth seems caught in a moment of transition: in the transom of some invisible doorway between innocence and knowing.

Art historian Elizabeth Broun wrote of Ryder’s “Dead Bird” that it was “perhaps his single most affecting image” and noted how the image distills “pathos to a monosyllable.” She further remarked, “The extreme isolation of the image demands the most intense concentration from the viewer.” Pathos, too, is provoked by Celaya’s isolated individual, a distant relative of Giacometti’s “Walking Man” and other icons of modern dread.
One-on-One: Enrique Martínez Celaya / Albert Pinkham Ryder is hung in a hallway portion of the second-floor gallery space in the Phillips’s central building. Just behind it is the museum’s Rothko room, a fitting neighbor — the color field painter also found wisdom in Kierkegaard. As Ottmann has noted, the abstract expressionist “had Kierkegaard in his veins.” He points to Rothko’s biographer, James E. B. Breslin, who reported that the painter kept a copy of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling next to his bed.
In a conversation with Ottmann at the museum back in October, Celaya offered thoughts on what the act of art means to him. “Art is, for me (but I think not just for me), it’s not really a cathartic experience, but rather … you have a sense of clarity. What happens is, it reveals the luminosity of the secrets sitting underneath all things. And in some way that luminosity is some sort of guidance or clarity, but it is not an answer in the conventional sense. But there is a promise in there, that if you continue on, somewhere around some corner, when I am 175, I will actually have some insights into what’s really happening.”
Celaya is Kierkegaard’s poet, able to transform anguish into visual beauty: the tender boy on the brink of experience. The Ryder accompaniment only underscores that perception.
One-on-One: Enrique Martínez Celaya / Albert Pinkham Ryder continues at the Phillips Collection (1600 21st Street NW, Washington, DC) through April 2.
The following was copied from the website Hyperallergic written by Carl Little

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Teresa Murak - Bulrush

The following was copied from the website Filmoteka Muzeum, a sub-site of the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw. Please follow the above link to see the video referenced below. 

In January 1989, Teresa Murak carried out the performance Bulrush in Chełm. The artist diligently removed slime and grass from the River Uherka, which she later transferred to Gallery 72 at the Museum of the Chełm Region in Chełm. On the walls and floor of the gallery Murak spread an abundance of organic matter, which later died. Slime was sourced from rivers flowing through the city where the exhibition space was located, for example in Warsaw it was taken from a small river Bach in the area of Ursynów.

For the artist, the use of the slimy substance amounted to manifesting the properties of the natural ecosystem, where the forces of life and death clash in microscale: decomposition of dead plants and animals, transformation of grubs, clastic rock production, etc. Swamp is a natural living environment for various micro-organisms, but also a side product of great many natural processes. Teresa Murak’s activities with slime provide a liaison between actions beyond the galery or museum space and organic (therefore subject to metamorphosis) installations exhibited at art institutions. Consequently, they can be classified in Smithson’s terms as: site (real site, particular location on the map, inaccessible for the viewer – world undisturbed by humans), and non-site (“artificial site”, sterile, e. g. gallery or museum hall – “edited” world). The site can be represented in the non-site by means of samples of material (rock, earth, slime, etc.), as well as photographic and film documentation, notes or maps.

Another important term introduced by Robert Smithson, which comes in handy upon interpreting Teresa Murak’s works is displacement, which stands for the journey from the site to the non-site, in this case of slime sourced from the river to the gallery, where stands for the journey from the site to non-site, in this case of slime sourced from the river to the gallery, where it was dispersed on the walls and in the corners of halls. Slime became a conveyor for primitive energy – drying and flaking, the slime paintings “pursued labour”, an ongoing imminent metamorphosis of the organic components of the work. To refer to Smithson’s linguistic metaphors, the slime on the wall is a synecdoche that evokes the real world beyond the gallery walls.

S. Cichocki, Earthworks. Teresa Murak and the Spiritualisation of Silt, in: Teresa Murak. Who Are You Going To, Galeria Labirynt, Lublin 2012.

Year: 1989
Duration: 4'39"
Language: no language
Source: © Teresa Murak

Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance

The following article was copied from The Brooklyn Rail

A single shot of an abandoned beach at low tide in jumpy, color super-8 film, Ana Mendieta’s "Bird Run" (1974) has a wistful quality of emptiness for most of its silent two-minute duration. A small white figure is barely visible along the horizon as the water gently laps at the sand and the low grasses sway in the wind until, in a flash, a naked woman covered from head to toe in white feathers runs towards the camera, across the screen, and then vanishes as the film loops to the beginning. The presence of the bird-woman is fleeting: watching the film over and over, I strained to get a better look at this mysterious body, frustrated by its elusiveness, trying not to blink as she ran by. It is this flickering between presence and absence that characterizes the best work in Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, the first large retrospective of Mendieta’s hybrid, yet truncated oeuvre.

Ana Mendieta has become something of an art world myth. Born in Cuba in 1948, but exiled to the United States as a child, she is the beautiful young multicultural woman artist working with ideas and forms of gender and culture in the heyday of feminist art and identity politics. She is also the beautiful young woman artist whose life ended mysteriously one night after a violent fight with her lover, the older and more established artist Carl Andre, as she fell to her death from the thirty-fourth floor window of their SoHo loft in 1985 (Andre was subsequently tried for her murder and ultimately acquitted). The particular details of her biography make Mendieta a tragically romantic figure and it is tempting to read her work through her life as her image reappears over and over within her work, a haunting reminder of her life and death. This problem is not unique: Francesca Woodman, Hannah Wilke, Diane Arbus, Eva Hesse, the list of women artists whose tragic biographies tend to overshadow their work is long. That Mendieta, like Woodman and Wilke, used her own body as an instrumental part of her artistic practice makes the distance between art and life appear to shrink even further. Although the current exhibition includes and sometimes highlights the details of her biography, it also allows for an unprecedented consideration of Mendieta’s art, fragmentary, stunning, and uneven as it is.

The earliest work at the Whitney dates to Mendieta’s time as a graduate student in painting at the University of Iowa where she was profoundly influenced by the dynamic avant-garde community and the rolling hills of the Iowa landscape. In 1969, her first year of graduate school, she began a decade-long affair with the artist Hans Breder, who founded the Intermedia program at Iowa, a special interdisciplinary arts program in which Mendieta studied and taught. The pieces from this period are truly inter-media, combining performance, photography and film, and conceptual art, without any genre taking precedence as the art object. In the series of headshots dubbed Untitled (Facial Cosmetic Variations) (1972), Mendieta grotesquely transforms her visage with stockings pulled over her head, torn in different places, caked on makeup, wigs, and distorted expressions; while the related series Untitled (Facial Hair Transplants) (1972) documents the transfer of fellow student Morty Sklar’s beard to Mendieta’s face. Although Mendieta appears in both projects, two of very few works in which her face is visible, she is not revealed in any traditional sense of a self-portrait. Rather these two works highlight indeterminacy—in individual identity and in the fluidity of artistic media—with a deadpan tone that verges on the absurd. The mocking film "Door Piece" (1973) limits vision to the gaze through a keyhole, an overly literal enactment of early feminist criticism of "the gaze" that ends in a humorous close-up of Mendieta rimming the peephole with her tongue. An odd and funny homage to Duchamp, the film casts the viewer into the space on the inside of the peephole of "Etant Donnés," limiting the viewer’s field of vision, and turning her into the object of the film’s blind gaze.

If Mendieta plays with vision and surface in these early works, she also explores physical and material transformations through body-based works. With a matter-of-fact, almost documentary aesthetic, "Sweating Blood" (1973) is a single shot of Mendieta’s head, eyes closed and unflinching, as blood slowly beings to trickle from her scalp. Without any sense of violence, "Sweating Blood" dramatizes the process of thought as a physiological experience. Blood is also the medium of artistic process in "Untitled (Blood Sign #2/Body Tracks)" (1979), a silent film projected directly onto a bare white wall of a woman in front of a bare white wall, her back to the camera, her body pressed into the wall, arms raised in a "V" above her head. As the film rolls, she slowly sinks to her knees, dragging her arms on the wall, leaving blood red tracks in their wake. Her ghostly image is seamlessly integrated into the gallery space, a haunting reminder of the presence of her body as integral to the performance. Accompanying the film are the paper and blood remains of Mendieta’s Body Tracks project, reminiscent of Yves Klein’s Anthropometries, but fragmentary and marked not with the artist’s signature color, but instead with the literal material of her body. Mendieta’s use of blood in her performances and in drawings, photographs, and films has been connected to Hermann Nitsch and the Vienna Actionists, who were well known among the students at Intermedia, but although Body Tracks shares a ritualistic character with the work of the Actionists, the encounter is between the artist and her own body and materials; it is visceral, not violent.

But violence also fascinated Mendieta. The dark scene in an 8×10 color photograph dated 1973 offers an almost matter-of-fact crime scene image: harsh spotlight illuminates an impoverished apartment with broken dishes on the floor and a decrepit wooden table, with the artist’s body bent at a right angle away from the camera, ass in the air, covered in blood dripping down her bare legs and pooling in the white panties around her ankles, head invisible in the shadows. "Untitled (Rape Scene)" (1973) is the record of a performance/ installation Mendieta created in her apartment in Iowa to recreate the scene of a real violent rape-murder of a young woman that March that had been reported in detail in the press. Although the image immediately suggests a feminist politics, a statement against violence against women, when coupled with the series of slides shown in a vitrine nearby of Untitled (People Looking at Blood, Moffit) (1973), rows of mundane street shots of ordinary passersby in front of a doorway where Mendieta spread animal blood, the effect is not a condemnation of violence, but a sense of detachment and displacement. The absence of causality in these images, the implication of violence but never its depiction, works to displace the viewer’s ability to comprehend each scene as a narrative; rather the images seem to challenge the viewer, to heighten a sense of dislocation, mediating any sense of transparency in Mendieta’s use of her own body in the work. These are images are some of the most tempting to read biographically given the intimate violence that lead to Mendieta’s death, yet it is precisely in these images that the artist refuses that paradigm: her defiant stare in "Untitled (Self-Portrait with Blood)" (1973), bloodied face filling the frame is one of the most powerful in the show.

And then there are the Siluetas (1973-1980), begun in Mexico on a trip with Breder, and continued in Iowa, including Mendieta’s best-known images, and representing her most complicated and successful intermedia work. In the early Siluetas made in Iowa, Mendieta herself appears in films and photographs that record her process as well as the "finished" sculptures. In "Corazón de Roca can Sangre (Rock Heart with Blood)" (1975), the artist, naked, kneels next to an impression of her body that has already been cut into the soft muddy riverbank. She places a rock in the center of this bodily hollow, covers the rock with blood, and then places herself, face down, into the cutting, like a puzzle piece or a key in a lock. The film reveals the indexicality of the early Siluetas: like a fingerprint, they register the trace of the body in the world, as well as the chronological gap between action and image. The presence of Mendieta’s body, her performance of merging with the earth as her mark making process, registers the trace of the body in the earth, rendering the silueta more than a mere icon. The combination of Mendieta’s films and photographs of her first Siluetas in Iowa inextricably connect the images of bodily traces to Mendieta’s body, not a generalized female body, but the specific body of their maker, the artist’s body that is intimate with her materials. Yet the Siluetas are as universal as they are specific, metaphorizing the relationship between the body and nature, recording the unavoidable fact of human impact in the natural world, shallow and brief in geological terms, but beautiful and inescapable nevertheless.

The films and photographs of the Siluetas are tightly framed and mostly employ a single shot, containing only Mendieta’s body and the immediate material surrounding her figure. The straightforward documentary style is standard 1960s conceptual documentation, but replacing the white walls of the gallery with a lushly colorful landscape. The cool clear water running over her body, face down, head turned to the sky away from the camera in "Untitled (Creek)" (1974) captures a silueta of water, possible only by the body’s interruption of the natural flow of the creek. In The Tree of Life series that marks the beginning of the Siluetas, Mendieta incorporated her body into the landscape by covering herself with mud or flowers and grass, making a raised impression against a tree or in a field. The scale of the works never exceeds the scale of the body, and the effect is an overwhelming sense of intimacy: with the land, with the viewer, with her own body.

The Siluetas are the quintessential "Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance" referred to in the exhibition’s title, which belies the complexity of Mendieta’s relationship to land art. While the comparison to Smithson and Heizer is certainly historically appropriate, the Siluetas have a quality similar to Richard Long’s and Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral natural sculptures: both artists build forms out of natural materials in the landscape without permanently transforming the environment, but "fixing" these delicate, ephemeral impressions with photography. Rather than altering the landscape in the usual sense implied by the categories "earthworks" and "land art," Mendieta’s work at its best centers on the sensations of landscape, the physical experience of the world through natural elements that shapes, transforms, and even erases identity.

As the Siluetas progress, their forms spin further and further from the outline of Mendieta’s petite figure into round primitivized goddess forms. With bulging hips and arms raised like tree branches, her cipher reappears in the leaf drawings, tree and twig sculptures, and Rupestrian Sculptures carved in the Cuban landscape and documented in large black-and-white photographs, creating a prehistoric, fossilized quality through iconography and materials. While the resulting images register the trace of Mendieta’s hand, the forms themselves are not the indices of the early Siluetas, but rather symbols for a generic earth goddess. The catalogue includes exhaustive discussion of the various sources of this imagery, and while Mendieta’s references were vast, the images themselves lack the personal force of her earlier work. Aggressively pursuing grants and gallery representation after leaving the seminal feminist collective A.I.R. Gallery in 1982, Mendieta’s interest in creating lasting objects that could be sold is obvious. The growing force of identity politics and postmodernism in the 1980s is also manifest in these later sculptures that fixate on subject matter—femininity, fertility, death and rebirth—rather than the processes of earlier intermedia projects that foregrounded experience rather than issues. At the time of her death, Mendieta was exploring one set of possibilities suggested by her early work. Although it is pointless to speculate about what might have been, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance presents the gorgeous fragments and sketches of those possibilities. At its best, Mendieta’s work has a quality of displacement and longing, of indeterminacy and potentiality, which transcends identity politics and opens up the possibility of intimacy in a vast landscape.

Why Art and Science?

Note: This article is interesting because it addresses the usefulness of Art/Science collaborations from the scientist perspective.

Why Art and Science?
Posted June 19, 2013 by Johanna Kieniewicz

Linkages between art and science are proliferating, and fast, but to what end? Whether it is a formal collaboration between artists and scientists, a call for artists in residence at scientific institutions, or a simple ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ to present a gallery of research images as ‘art’, there is something in air. Some of this work is truly brilliant, some is genuinely good, and some is well intentioned, but some may well be detrimental to both art and science.

So, what exactly is the point of this art and science movement? For those of us who are involved in this area, and generally see collaborations between artists and scientists as a good thing, what exactly do we hope for from this brave new world? Here I present what I view to be the most compelling reasons for collaborations between artists and scientists and my vision for where I hope things might go.

Exciting art

Science and scientific ideas have long inspired art and artists, from Leonardo DaVinci and Picasso, to Turner and Kandinsky. In harnessing the scientific zeitgeist of their times to the making of their art, they showed how scientific ideas can inspire great art. So in some sense, this is nothing new: science is simply part of a larger cultural discourse with which art can engage. However, more recently the ways in which artists are engaging with science are deepening.

Science offers a range of new media and methods for artistic exploration. Who ever said that the tools of the artist were limited to the paintbrush, pencil, or chisel? Good artists, particularly those who are conceptually rigorous, will choose the medium that is most suitable for the questions that they are interested in exploring. Bio-artist Anna Dumitriu, frequently uses bacterial cultures in her work, as well as robotics and interactive media of all sorts. What better way to explore cultural and ethical implications of modern microbiology than with microbiology, itself? More radically, Susan Aldworth’s most recent exploration of human consciousness involves not only brain images, but also brain tissue. This was not done cavalierly: it was done with utmost care and in partnership with the Parkinson’s Brain Bank at Hammersmith Hospital. But, by using the tools of neuroscience as part of her pallet of media, Aldworth is able to provide an insight into ourselves that science itself cannot manage.

A precondition of this greater engagement with science is that artists themselves be literate in science. Well known for their reading of philosophers such as Proust, Foucault and Deleuze, should art students not read Stephen Hawking and Charles Darwin as well? I am not saying they need to become scientists themselves or ditch the philosophy (quite the opposite). Rather, by immersing themselves in the ideas of science, artists expose themselves to the big questions of life from a different perspective and add new and exciting set of media to the toolbox with which they are able to explore these ‘big questions’.

Better Science

In collaborations between artists and scientists the payoff for the artists may seem the more obvious: a piece of art. So, does science benefit? Or is this simply something for scientists who are also passionate about art or public engagement?

I would probably argue that both are correct in different circumstances.

The most obvious benefit to a scientist may well be be better communication skills resulting from prolonged engagement with a non-specialist. This should not be sniffed at: speaking at the British Science Association’s annual Science Communication conference, Brian Cox noted that many scientists are so used to playing to their peers as an audience, they tend to still do so when speaking to non-specialists. Rather we should speak at the level of which our audience is capable and prolonged engagement with non-specialists can help in this respect.

However, there is some evidence to suggest that engagement between scientists and artists may even result in better science. At the recent State of Matter symposium, Ariane Koek, who leads the Collide@CERN programme, reported that the scientists involved in the programme find that artists often ask questions they would never think to ask. Sometimes this is because they are very basic questions, but it is also comes from a different way of thinking.
Chemist James Gimzewski began collaborating with artist as he was looking for fresh ideas, pushing out reductionist thinking, and interested in being exposed to a different way of questioning. Rather than taking the direct way to solving a problem, artists may pay more attention to the potential detours that scientists are often trained to ignore.  Botanist Stephen Tonsor, who has collaborated with Natalie Settles, notes that an artist in residence explores areas that are related to the area of scientific practice, but do not get readily addressed by the scientific method. The artist thinks and acts upon ideas in ways that challenge and permeate their engagement with the world, enriching their scientific process.

Often unacknowledged and impossible to manufacture, serendipity plays an enormous role in scientific discovery. While there is no guarantee that the collaboration between an artist and scientist will lead to that ‘Eureka!’ moment, at least some scientists hope this sort of engagement may help them to approach their science in a slightly different way. Although the pay-offs may be less immediate than the production of an individual piece of art, they are potentially more enduring.

A vision for the future
I would like to hope that the art and science movement isn’t just about the production of art and science in their own rights, but also about a more integrated society. Writer and historian of science Arthur I Miller has suggested that we are on the verge of a ‘third culture’ where art and science feed back and forth to each other, enriching each other [ed: this was my understanding of Third Culture, but please see comment below from Arthur Miller]. I’d like to hope this comes to pass, but also that it doesn’t result in a homogenization or dilution of what art and science individually bring to the table.

Good art and good science necessarily require high degrees of specialization. If we were to create large numbers of scientists who didn’t think ‘like scientists’ this would be problematic. And the same goes for art and artists. But, by creating spaces in which both scientists and artists can work together, communicate and learn from each other, both science and art can benefit.

While recognizing the degree of specialization required in both practices, I also hope that the art and science movement goes some way to addressing the way that we identify ourselves as ‘artists’ or ‘scientists’. Many of us begrudge our secondary education, where we were forced to pick one or the other, without an opportunity to continue the music alongside the chemistry. I’d like to hope that, as scientists increasingly collaborate with both artists and designers, being literate in both art and science becomes, once again–as it was, perhaps, in the Rennaisance–a critical element of being an educated person.

I don’t claim any of this will be easy. Along the way, some fairly bad art will undoubtedly emerge, as will scientists and artists who find themselves jaded by the whole experience. I suspect that in most cases, some sort of shared praxis is needed for the collaboration to truly be successful. But with all manner of collaborations bubbling away, with art and science programmes in higher education, and with increasing recognition of the mutual benefits of art and science, the future is bright.

What else would you hope for from art and science?