Tag Archives: performance

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

An Existential Survival Kit

First Work Set (1963–69)

First Work Set (1963–69)

This past Friday, the Museum of Modern Art presented a demonstration of First Work Set (1963–69) by Franz Erhard Walther. The piece is a collection of canvas bundles, suggestive of army tents or boat rigging, complete with an over sized life vest. The bundles are labeled with simple directives or descriptions such as “for two people,” or  “standard object.”  But as I looked carefully, I noticed that one is labeled “to forget” and another, more ominously, “to understand brutality.” What knowledge could be wrapped up in that deceptively simple package?

This is early “relational” art, in the best sense of the word. Franz was among the artists in the sixties who pioneered our current trend for art that examines the space between individuals or art that is “activated” by an interaction with the viewer. For some of the elements, the rules of engagement are clearly determined by the piece’s shape—such as the cloth covered masonite that hung from the neck of two intimately connected strangers (an early forebear of Liz Nurenberg’s wearable sculptures for two), or the long strip with a forearm shaped pocket—but some of the canvas shapes are more ambiguous, requiring invention from the viewer/audience.

The need for invention, and the viewer interactions that arose out of the demonstration exemplified why this kind of work is important–it jostles the brain, makes people feel a little silly, and presents very simple suggestions for seeing the world differently.

Though not technically a drawing ( a work on paper), this piece was in the Recent Acquisitions in Drawings exhibit because it is accompanied by a lengthy series of sketches. These pieces work symbiotically with the canvas objects, serving as a guide for use and a record of “the inner view” of the work–as Franz noted, “what happens within the person who experiences the piece, cannot be recorded by a camera.” The drawings were visually interesting and playful, giving an insight into Franz’s inner logic and mental meanderings.

For many artists the definition of drawing is less about the materials used and more about the intention: a drawing is an idea, an impetus in its most direct or basic form, or the process of seeing clearly. I have heard artist’s refer to a sound drawing, or been shown a drawing made of hair. By this definition, Franz’s canvas pieces were themselves drawings: activities for seeing clearly the elements of sculpture; actions that revealed their internal logic with no frills attached.

At the end of the two hour demonstration I approached the artist and asked him about the brutality bundle. He gave me an enigmatic smile but brushed my question aside saying that it “marked a moment in time” but really had nothing to do with the piece. I felt deflated, but not totally surprised–what sort of explanation or intimate revelation was I imagining I would receive during the rushed, post-performance hub-bub?

Since the performance, I find myself inventing canvas-bound scenarios which could potentially reveal the meaning of human cruelty, the mechanics of love or how to forget unwanted pain. And I try to imagine the circumstances of the brutality bundle’s creation. Did Franz experience brutality personally or was he at a safely contemplative distance? Is the sculpture dangerous? Or is the brutality totally abstracted? The art continues unfolding in my head, though the objects themselves are back somewhere in MoMA’s vast vaults.

This circling of thoughts, this potential for poetry, and possibility for answers that will always be just out of reach– that in itself is a survival kit.

Los Angeles Studio Visits

Some Say Ice

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

What can one artist do, in one day, to save the planet?

For Dai Toyofuku’s performance piece Glacier, which took place at the Eagle Rock Recreation Center during the height of the summer heat wave, the artist temporarily turned himself and his car into “glaciers”—structures draped with tarps that were then painted white. Over the course of the five hour performance/experiment, Toyofuku stayed inside his “human glacier,” and carefully recorded the temperatures inside the human glacier, the car glacierist, a control car and outside. At the peak of the day it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler inside the human glacier than outside, and 30 degrees cooler in the car glacier than the control car.

For five hours, Dai Toyofuku successfully contributed to the cooling of the earth. It was an absurd yet earnest act.

The absurdity was inspired by the very real claim of Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu that painting roofs white and manufacturing “cooler” colored cars could dramatically reduce global warming. Within this context, Toyofuku’s gesture becomes a way to raise awareness, make scientific theory approachable and render the specter of climate change less abstract and overwhelming.

The execution of the glaciers was quick and dirty, more a child’s sketch of a glacier (a big white triangle) than something scientifically or visually accurate. Placing these homemade glaciers in the Southern California landscape, Dai drew attention to their foreignness. Though they hold a strong role in our cultural story, glaciers remain unreal, almost mythological, to most people–especially on a hot summer day. However, we have to be able to hold multiple landscapes in our minds simultaneously, imagining the totality of our planet and the long term consequences of seemingly harmless choices, if we are going to start really digesting what climate change does and could mean.

This cognitive collapse of space and experience also happens in the Parts (un)known collage works of Sara Schnadt. She created these collages for an installation and performance work that tracked her personal travel history through found images, but now Schnadt is beginning to explore the collages as works in their own right.

One that caught my eye, and acts as a nice visual accompaniment to Dai’s performance, is a juxtaposition of a glacial landscape with what looks to be a piece of farm equipment, obscured by a tarp, sitting in a hot dry landscape.  My focus is magnetically drawn to the single tentative point of contact—the impossible space which connects hot with cold, the untouchable arctic and some obscure, unreachable past.

This flattening of the world is not a new concept, but Schnadt’s personal approach creates compelling fictive spaces from the fragments of experience.  I am a fellow nomad–someone who’s friends and family are regularly stretched over the globe and who’s working life happens in the intangible data-space between L.A. and Cameroon–so this bittersweet work hits home.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

A particularly haunting collage in the series connects together Berlin, Inverness, Afghanistan and Jerusalem. The way the spaces transition into each other is artfully done–the experience of viewing recedes into mist just as memory allows places and experiences to blend and soften. There are very specific and painful histories lying just below the surface, but these snapshots and postcards see the world through a tourist’s idealized and apolitical lens, speaking not to specific places but to the melding of longing and familiarity that permeates the experience of ex-pats and wanderers.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Though with very different agendas, these two artists are addressing the ways we conceptualize and understand our relationship to the globe in its entirety. I want to be optimistic and claim that as we become more familiar with far away lands and people, we become more empathetic and have a larger sense of responsibility. But on the converse, the more information we have, the more overwhelming and hopeless things seem to feel. It is at the nexus of global responsibility, frustrated activism and instant gratification that Toyofuku’s performance makes sense.

So, just what can one person do, in one day, to have a positive impact on the planet?