Tag Archives: dance

On Making Studio Visits

Scheherazade is Leaving the Building

Alex C Moore, Scheherazade, 2012

Alex C Moore, Scheherazade, 2012

I have been working on the same painting for all of 2012.

For some artists a slow birthing period is standard, but I usually move rapidly through canvases. The large amount of empty space in my paintings, though it had a concrete reason to begin with, is probably a symptom of my devolving attention span nuzzling up against my desires for silence and speed.

I named the painting Scheherazade before it was complete, which should have alerted me to the fact that it would drag on for a thousand and one painful days. Considered in a certain light, this unfinished/finished painting might be my most successful piece to date: it feels unresolved, yet it somehow holds together; I have only a tentative idea of why I made it but it continues to intrigue me. Like Scheherazade herself, it tantalizingly keeps my attention, without letting me kill it and move on.

In another light it is just plain confused.

But I can’t completely blame Scheherazade. During the 9 months that I have spent not painting this painting, life has gotten in the way and painting has felt less important. A couple of days into the piece, I received an email that my grandfather was sick. A week later he died and I headed to England for his funeral. That was February.

Two months later, I became a U.S. citizen. Rather than joining my fellow Americans in joyful plastic flag waving, I not-so-quietly sobbed through the ceremony. Most people looked somewhere between thrilled and bored.  I probably looked like I did at Grandpa’s funeral. After the ceremony, my fellow Americans swarmed out into the sun, to be greeted by proud family members with flowers in their arms. Feeling ungrateful and alone, I biked home.

In June I managed to come into the studio and worked on this piece for a number of hours. But what happened in July, August and September? In July I visited New York and talked a lot about both portraiture and painting, but returned to L.A. and didn’t do much of either. In August a lovely muse of mine posed patiently for photographs meant to inform a new piece, but I can’t quite get excited about editing them. In September….nothing much.

Pinned to my studio wall during my long absence was a piece of paper with two typed quotes:

Dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom.–Lorrie Moore, Dance in America

Art is a method of opening up areas of feeling…A picture should be a recreation of an event rather than an illustration of an object.–Francis Bacon

At a time when some people would have found refuge in the studio, I am avoiding it. I am aware that if art making is my “job”, I should just be showing up every day and making it happen. But as much as artists like to emphasize that our job is very serious and real, I am going to publicly admit that it isn’t the same as showing up at the office. Art practices come in all shapes and sizes, varying from the traditional solitary figure in the messy attic  to the “post-studio” network of collaborators, with an array of hybrids in between. My focus has tended towards painting alone, with occasional forays into collaboration. Most of my paintings are personal and they are at their best when they are honest.

Maybe I’ve just had enough of honest alone time.

Scheharazade is a confused painting. If one thing is certain, it is that I am confused. So the painting that looks like a nice young lady doing yoga got stuck in a tumble drier and then hung from the ceiling, is probably the most honest painting I could make right now.

Perhaps I will stride my way back into an active relationship with my paint brushes, but I’m also ok if I don’t–if it turns out that other methods and mediums are a better way to get at the world beyond my own boundaries and feed my curiosity. Either way, this painting needs to get out of my studio, so i’m sending her off into cyberspace.

Hopefully  that will open up the space I need for something new to happen.

Los Angeles

Sometimes a car with flashing lights is just a car with flashing lights.

I don’t want to devote too much brain or internet space to art that doesn’t excite, disturb or intrigue me. But I have had a recent bout of disappointments and I need to talk about at least one of them so that my feelings don’t fester.

Cai Guo-Qiang, what happened?

I remember the first day we met. It was 2004 and I had driven from Middletown, Connecticut to Mass MOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. After two hours in the car, I was hungry for something spectacular.

The first gallery held a collection of paintings from the New Leipzig School; Matthias Weischer and Tim Eitel are the two that I remember most clearly. As a 21-year-old, I drank in every example of painting I could find, eager to explore the potential –and limits– of my new medium, and these calm, reserved works from Germany caught my attention. Weischer’s slightly decrepit interiors and Eitel’s solitary humans impressed me because of their technical precision, sparse compositions and suggestive narratives.

Left: Matthias Weischer, Zweiteilig (Bisected), 2003. Right:Tim Eitel, Boot, 2004.

In the following 8 years I have seen more of both these artists and continue to respect them, though my tastes have changed. But then apparently so have Weischer’s, as he recently exhibited a series of sunny, fragmented garden paintings, similar to Hockney’s current work. Is this a plein-air trend? The thinking painter’s excuse to let loose and use pretty colors? In the case of Weischer, it is refreshing to see established artists go through transitions and take risks: it suggests that they are striving to grow their ideas. I might not like every piece they create, but I respect the process and will wait to see what the work reveals.

But back to Cai.

In 2004 I walked into the main atrium at Mass Moca and WHAM! After the quiet, cool paintings meditating on emptiness, here was the definition of spectacle: cars, flashing lights, precarious motion on a grand scale. I read the piece as a commentary on the seductive pleasure of violence and disaster. Smart and sexy? I had an art crush.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Innopportune, Mass MOCA, 2004.

In an adjacent room, stuffed tigers twirled through the air pierced with arrows, mirroring the cars pierced with light. Upstairs hung a collection of simple circular gunpowder paintings which added weight to my admiration: this was a serious artist, referencing ancient Chinese forms with a contemporary and daring twist. I have since seen his pieces in other museums and though nothing has replaced that first thrill, until last week I had not seen anything to make me reevaluate my initial read of Cai as a contemporary master.

But then last week I went to his exhibition Skyladder at MOCA in Los Angeles. To be fair, the work was housed next to Transmission LA, an exhibition that included a Mercedes Benz bathed in light that flashed to the beat. Macho, excessive and completely impersonal, this “art” (I have a very open definition of art, but even I don’t think it can stretch to a car advertisement and I think it’s an irresponsible choice by a museum to suggest otherwise) represented much of what I dislike, so it didn’t put me in the most receptive or meditative of moods.

Skyladder contained three large gunpowder drawings and a crop circle installation the whole length of the room. The crop circles were nice. The drawings were literal and boring. One dealt with childhood fantasies of space, another the chaotic destructiveness of nature, and the third told the story of humanity’s desire for flight. These could all be compelling starting points, but the images didn’t provide any further insight or fresh discoveries. The desire to defy gravity is fertile ground for discussions of freedom and hubris, but Cai doesn’t take us there. This lack of a “so what” made the gunpowder feel like a gimmick, which in turn threw my whole previous understanding of Cai into question. Had I been seduced by a car with flashing lights and no conceptual backbone? I hope not.

Maybe this installation is a result of over commitment or of working with volunteers to create the piece. Perhaps Cai is burned out and exploring new avenues and he has yet to hit a new rhythm.  I am willing to give this work the benefit of the doubt, but I expect better next time.

Short & Sweet

Short & Sweet: Nederlands Dans Theater

Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Photograph by Chris Nash

As an early birthday present I was treated to a performance by the Nederlands Dans Theater 2 that had me completely spellbound. The evening included three 30 minute pieces: a strange interpersonal drama, a meditation on the edge of sanity and a charming, self-aware extravaganza. Motion, emotion, seduction, humor, the human body, and an intimate wrestle with personal demons — I can’t think of a better way to mark the beginning of a new year.



Dance me through the Musée

This week I had an unexpected 32-hour layover in Paris (trust me, my life is not as glamourous as it sounds). With the mental and monetary resources for only one museum, I chose the Centre Pompidou. Their current special exhibition, Danser Sa Vie, interweaves elegant works by the likes of Rodin, Matisse and Warhol, with videos, photos and sketches of dancers such as Isadora Duncan, Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer. The contemporary works that were part of the exhibition happened to be some of the more interesting video pieces I have seen in a while –either that, or video art is ideally viewed through the haze of jetlag.

Still from Movement Microscope, 2011(c) Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson’s Movement Microscope, made especially for this exhibition, is a 15 minute video that documents a day in the life of his studio. Interspersed with the regular routine, were moments of synchronicity between  people, conversations through gestures and the occasional body going refreshingly awry.  Throughout, the line blurred between performative movement and the measured motions of practiced craft and habit. Though not a new idea, Eliasson’s piece captured simply the ideas of much of the modern dance pieces in the previous rooms: the link between interior and exterior; the body as machine versus the body as natural force. The video also provided an interesting insight into the contemporary art studio as a collaborative space, where technology, nature and humans all collide.

Another piece that had me hypnotized, was French artist Nicolas Floc’h’s Performance Painting #2. In this piece, dancer Rachid Ouramdane stands in one spot, under two steady drips of black paint. The tension mounts as the black residue builds up on the performer’s clothes and skin, growing more menacing with each drip, and his gestures progress from small reactive twitches, to refined responsive motions and then to aggressive flinging of his limbs.

Video Still from Performance Painting #2, 2011 (c) Nicolas Floc’h

Performance Painting #2 played opposite the iconic video of Jackson Pollock at work and a still of Carollee Schneeman’s  Up to and Including Her Limits, underlining the obvious ancestral link between these pieces: all three artists use a very simple set-up to trace the movements of their body through space, and document the drama that evolves within one solitary human. Perhaps the black paint within which the performer dances and flails represents the anxiety of influence; perhaps it is a reference to forms of seemingly innocuous torture; or maybe it is just an excuse to watch the human body do it’s thing. Whatever the artist’s intention, the  quiet darkness had me entranced.

Towards the end of the exhibition were a pair of Felix Gonzales-Torres works, Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) 1991 and Untitled (Arena) 1993.  Arena consists of a square of lights, strung in a corner, with two headsets on the adjacent wall. I watched as a middle-aged German couple put on the headsets and started to dance together under the lights.  This piece provides the conditions for intimacy and, similar to his well-known Perfect Lovers, emphasizes the transience and vulnerability of a harmonious union–once the dancing couple stopped, the square of light became an active emptiness, eerily peaceful but longing for human occupancy. I don’t know what music the headsets played as I didn’t venture into the work, but I imagined something poetic and bittersweet: Gonzales-Torres was painfully aware that humans don’t run like clockwork and all dances come to an end.