Tag Archives: installation

Los Angeles

Lost in the Work: Drafting Universes by Sara Schnadt

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

On Sunday night, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, a small group of believers gathered to witness the creation (and subsequent destruction) of the universe. After two cycles of the cosmos returning to nothingness (which took approximately 45 minutes) the crowd chatted and dispersed. Some visitors gently walked on the remaining (though temporary) universe, the silver “stars” hard underfoot.

Drafting Universes is a performance piece created by artist Sara Schnadt. The performance was the inaugural show of Adjunct Positions, an artist space housed inside a residential garage, in collaboration with Craftswomen House Temporary Residence, a project which organizes feminist, site-specific installations in domestic settings.

In our cultural imagination, the garage (and before it the garden shed, the attic, or the basement) is the home of inventors and eccentrics, tinkering away on something obsessively and repetitively, often at the expense of family obligations. Though the home laboratory is the location of the amateur, it is also the incubator of potential innovation (think Jobs and Wozniak circa 1976). Like the artist who is considered a feckless dreamer until she writes a bestseller, the inventor may go from crazy to brilliant in one ecstatic moment of discovery.

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installationa and performance, Adjunct Positions

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

Schnadt’s performance explores this space where repetitive action and unsophisticated equipment may lead to revelation. Here, the earnest explorer is a woman with a broom, a measuring cup, some shiny pieces of metal, and a knack for installing mirrors. She creates her universes through a tedious and simple process: standing on a black floor surrounded on three sides by mirrors, she picks up a cup of metal nuts, walks to a spot on the floor and tosses the nuts into the air. She repeats this activity until the universe feels complete—about 10 to 15 times—at which point she puts down the measuring cup and gently perfects areas with her hands. Once completed, Schnadt documents the universe from a number of different angles, then sweeps it clean and starts over.

As a spectator, it is a pleasure to watch the artist in action: Schnadt’s sense of timing, control, and composure all reveal her early training in dance, and the mirrored walls heighten the sense of choreography as the artist sweeps in sync with her own personal team of cosmic cleaners. Within the limiting boundaries that the artist has created for herself there is still chance and freedom as the nuts fall differently each time. Transforming from dancer to painter, Schnadt carefully examines the end product and makes slight adjustments of density and composition to the swirling galaxies at her feet. The resulting installations are visually simple but compelling.

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

Sara Schnadt, Drafting Universes, site specific installation and performance, Adjunct Positions

In this installation, science is handled crudely, aiming not to increase our knowledge about the actual rate of expansion of the universe or the number of stars in the Milky Way, but to give us a chance to contemplate the limits of our knowledge, the process of discovery, and the pleasure of looking at the night sky. The stars (when one can actually see them, a rarity in Los Angeles) are a reminder of our own smallness. To take on the creation of the universe in a garage is a gesture towards our self-importance but also an activity in perspective. To then sweep that universe away is a nod to our impermanence…and a reminder that one is definitely not supposed to sit around making universes all day long.

Schnadt’s piece is both gently laughing at our grandiose ambitions and quite seriously considering the potential for something moving and marvelous to take place in a studio, a laboratory, or wherever focused and curious individuals chose to get lost in their work.

New York

Stars explode around you…

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012 Nine channel HD video projection. Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012
Nine channel HD video projection.
Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

Pulling back the black curtain and stepping into the darkness, we were quickly enveloped by a lulling, melancholy melody.  “Stars explode around you, and there’s nothing, no nothing you can do…” sang a chorus of voices. My friend and I turned to each other with broad smiles on our faces. After this brief moment of acknowledgement that we had happened upon something wonderful, we each slipped among the crowd and into The Visitors.

The installation of Ragnar Kjartansson’s piece at Luhring Augustine gallery in Chelsea, is comprised of ten large videos that are projected into the gallery walls and onto both sides of a screen that divides the space. In nine of the ten videos, a single musician is alone in a room, playing their part of a collective melody. In the tenth video, a group of people mill around on the porch of a large, Hudson Valley farmhouse, seemingly listening to the music and occasionally adding their voices to the chorus. This group provided context, an internal audience, and a little distance: the haunting sweetness of the melody, the mournful poetry (by artist Ásdis Sif Gunnarsdóttir) of the lyrics, and the intensity of the visuals were almost overwhelming, so a retreat to the porch provided a welcome break.

Installation View. Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012 Nine channel HD video projection. Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

Installation View. Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012
Nine channel HD video projection.
Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

Each musician infused the simple words and melody with their own sensibility, a detail that the artist retained by keeping the sound tracks separate. As a viewer, I was free to roam within the space, finding a sweet spot where I seemed to be in the room with both the emotionally raw accordion player and the grounded, bluesy pianist, or allowing myself the voyeuristic pleasure of watching the guitarist (who, it turns out, is the artist) forlornly strumming in the bath. The videos are carefully composed, full of interesting visual details (birds flocking across a bedroom wall, the curve of a wooden banister, the bright blue inside of full kitchen cabinets) that seem to echo the tone and body language of the separate room’s inhabitant, enhancing the sense that the musicians are in their own little worlds.

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012 Nine channel HD video projection. Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors, 2012
Nine channel HD video projection.
Image courtesy of Luhring Augustine.

Though the musicians played alone, they were all connected via headphones and wires that snaked around the wooden furniture and delicate antiques. At one moment, one guitar player set down his instrument to go share a cigarette and a drink with his buddy in the next room, where they then harmonized as the music swelled around us. The freedom of the performers, the “in-the-round” set-up,  and the single, unedited take, gave the video(s) a feeling similar to live theater–a living, breathing spectacle, rather than a video to speculate upon from a safe distance.

The choice of an upstate farmhouse was perfect, not only because of the warm, ramshackle decor, but because upstate is where so many New Yorkers (artists or otherwise) go to escape the city. This felt like a little slice of an artist’s retreat, smuggled back into the heart of New York’s gallery scene

The show closes March 9th. Go see it if you can.

London

Nowt so Queer as Folk: Jeremy Deller’s Social Surrealism

David Shrigley Banner, The Southbank Center,London  

David Shrigley’s smartly satirical banner, revolting against the dreary London sky, is a fitting prologue to Jeremy Deller’s sincere and political mid-career survey, Joy in People. Shrigley’s work, which is also on view at the Hayward Gallery in London’s Southbank Centre, is humorous and mildly disturbing –watch this video to see what I mean– and was well worth the visit. But it was Deller’s work that I have found myself discussing, questioning and digesting over the last two weeks.

Valerie’s Snack Bar (2009). During the show visitors can enjoy free cups of tea while watching a video of the procession Deller organized in Manchester. Photo by Linda Nylind

The show Joy in People documents Deller’s “social surrealism” projects from 1993 through the present. A definitive relational artist, Deller’s role in his works shifts between collaborator, facilitator, patron and documentarian. He interweaves the quirks and questions of daily life (bathroom stall graffiti, struggling with an unruly deck chair, “whatever happened to Bez from the Happy Mondays?”) with the larger arcs of social history and politics that we all play a part in. Unlike relational artists who have used interaction as a  metaphysical tool (think Felix Gonzales-Torres or Rikrit Tirivanija), Deller’s work is useful: empathy and dialogue are direct results of his historical reenactment, the greasy pole monument allows a town to continue one of their folk traditions, and his London Bat house project provides protected species with a replacement for habitats destroyed by development.

In The Battle of Orgreave (An Injury to One is An Injury to All), 2001, Deller reenacts one of the more violent confrontations of the 1984-85 British miners’ strike.

One of the last sections of the exhibit documented Deller’s failures, including his rejected proposals for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and the London Tube map. In one of the plinth proposals, scientist David Kelly -who killed himself after being accused of telling the truth about Weapons of Mass Destruction to journalists- sits with his legs hanging over the edge of the plinth, trying to edge out of the spotlight that history has given him. His story echoes that of the Yorkshire policeman in The Battle of Orgreave (2001), who joined the force to serve his community and ended up “helping to destroy it”. In that same film, MP Tony Benn quotes the adage “In war, truth is the first casualty.” But the stories of these two men suggest something darker and more complex about the ways truth and morality can be manipulated by those in power, and the casualties that result.

Rejected proposal for the Fourth Plinth, with David Kelly. Copyright Jeremy Deller.

Though all Deller’s plinth proposals failed, he did eventually design a successful cover for the Tube map: a portrait of the longest serving TfL employee, executed by artist Paul Ryan.

In an interview recorded when Deller was a nominee for the 2004 Turner Prize (which he subsequently won), he confidently declared that he does not care whether what he does is art or not, and I agree that this debate is not interesting. However, it is interesting to look at how Deller has navigated through his projects, both using and expanding the position of “artist.” This position gives Deller access to various cultural and political institutions, and allows him to come into charged situations as a somewhat unbiased outsider. The fact that he is an artist, and not a scholar or journalist, also gives him the latitude to explore ideas backwards and inside out, focusing on the details and characters that peak his interest. He is not the first artist to use the role this way, but his playful disregard for the boundaries of art making, and the ranging scope of his interests, felt fresh. And as an artist, it felt like a call to action.