Monthly Archives: April 2009

An Anatomy of Melancholy

Jocelyn Meggait’s BFA show, “Melancholy Objects,” had its reception last night. She marvelously transformed the space — a bright jeweled beaded curtain snakes through the gallery, making a scrim that captures and seems to project light.

There is a chair entirely covered in jewelry and watches. It’s as if a Thrift Store had a case of indigestion and ended up belching out a throne. There’s something regal about it, and something marine about it too — it’s no longer fit for human comfort, and has the ragged outlines of a piece of coral, covered with an armor of varicolored barnacles.

The main recurring image is that of an old doll’s dress, or baby’s dress. Sometimes they show up in ghostly rayograms, sometimes they’ve been inked and printed on paper, sometimes they’ve been pressed into clay tablets, and a few of them are encased in wax, and made to stand like tiny, hollowed-out tipis. Jocelyn mentioned, in her talk, that she’d inherited the small dresses from her mother. She took them all for doll’s dresses, but then, going over family slides given to her by her sister, realized that she herself had worn some of the dresses as a child. There are two imposing life-size rayograms of adult dresses, as well. One is a wedding dress, in a state of dilapidation, that she bought off ebay for $10. Which she described as a fairly depressing transaction.

Above: a picture of the artist, seen through her own meticulous curtain.

It’s tricky to rummage through family detritus and show it off as art. It can be trying enough to be marched through your own family’s slides — being marched through some other family’s slides can amount to cruel and unusual punishment. In my eyes, Jocelyn actually pulls it off. There’s a feeling of repose and distance that carries the objects out of their cocoon of hermetic nostalgia. The objects are able to to stand in their own object-ness, with their own dignity and their own mysteries. They seem to play out (or in the case of the twisted dresses, to dance out) their own stories, related to (yet independent of) the stories of the people who wore them.

Two “pedestals” in the show are flat files, each drawer filled with more artwork, jewelry, and ephemera (I think Jocelyn, in this show, is trying to close the gap between artwork and ephemera). It gave the feeling of rifling through the drawers of a house you’ve broken into. That’s part of the pleasure of wandering through an antique store — a circumscribed permission of trespass. It’s particularly heightened when you find boxes of old postcards, or lines scribbled in the margins of a book.

The show’s title comes from a Susan Sontag essay, which describes photographs themselves as “melancholy objects,” since they necessarily mark people and places that are constantly rushing into the past, to obscurity and ultimately to non-existence. So take these photos as melancholy objects of “Melancholy Objects.”

Special Topics: Los Angeles- revisited

The Special Topics: Los Angeles field course is gathering again, after taking a few weeks to let the trip settle, to begin to put together a book about the course. I wanted to post more images of the trip. One of our tasks was to bring a work of art to L.A. and place it on site somewhere in L.A. Above is my color transparency of a video still. I placed it in the urban landscape of building tops downtown.

Cherie Louise Turner is on the far right. Cherie is an editor and writer of art criticism. She flew down to L.A. to meet with the students, talk about their work and their impressions of L.A. Cherie is going to contribute an essay to the book we are pulling together for the field course. The book should bring the evidence of the trip together and perhaps include little works of art. Russell Dudley and I will also contribute to the book.

This gentleman is showing Russell Dudley and Elizabeth Deer his collection of vintage slides. We saw a cardboard sign on the road in the Echo Park neighborhood that read: “art, antiques and smut.” He was selling many items out of his house. and around his house. I think he was on speed.

Outside of the Box gallery in Chinatown, just north of downtown (within walking distance of our hotel). We saw a portion of a kind of disparate retrospective of Stan Vanderbeek’s art. Stan Vanderbeek was another Black Mountain College student. A doctoral candidate and Stan’s daughter were there to answer questions specifically about Stan’s Movie Drome (1963-?) in Stony Point New York- his early multimedia experiences in the 1960’s. During the presentation a cat meandered thru the crowd making small noises. This mangaged to equalize the experience towards what seemed to be the casual experience Stan attempted to create with his work. Chinatown used to contain more of the stronger small exhibition spaces in L.A. Several remain there.

Babs in front of light box photos by Melanie Pullen at Ace gallery. Ace is a huge gallery, cavernous and imposing, that affords some of the photos their own private installation space. The Ace building had an elevator operator, small and missing teeth, who demanded about a foot of space around him for his comfort.

Jeff Mohr’s studio in the Inglewood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Jeff showed us his work- kind of acted as a warm up for a meeting he was set to have with a curator in his studio. He also took us to a great Japanese cafe.

Chuck Moffit’s studio/house in the Los Angeles hills. Chuck had all of us over for a bbq and conversation. He’s currently represented by Christopher Grimes gallery and has shown at the LACMA in the exhibition Thing that got him some notoriety.

Logan watching a video art piece by Charlie White at the Hammer Museum in L.A. This exhibition attempted to show work from 9 compelling artists working in L.A.

Performatica: Performance

Here’s some video and video caps of the performance. We had a disastrous tech — a lift that crumpled, and the video wasn’t working for the first 2/3 of the run-through. But the performance itself went fairly smoothly. The video wasn’t really set up to capture the performance — it’s actually the video I was shooting to provide the live feed for the projection. It’s very vertigo-inducing to shoot; I have to look at the projection itself to orient myself to the bodies of the performers.


Performatica: Day 1

Here are some pics from our first full day at the festival. These are from the tech rehearsal. The show itself was at the Teatro Complejo Cultural, a really terrific space at the Complejo Cultural Universitario. The other dancers in the pics are Megan Harrold, Chung-Fu Chang, Christina Mullenmeister, Cari Cunningham, and Susan Rieger’s company.

Rehearsals for Mirrors

Monday, I’m leaving for Puebla, Mexico, to participate in the PERFORMÁTICA festival. Kristin and I are staging a dance/multimedia piece called “The Mirror Has Six Billion Faces,” which will be danced by Cari Cunningham and Rick Southerland. There’s a brief article about the piece in the UNR Nevada News.

The piece was inspired by an article in the New York Review of Books, which discusses, among other things, the recent discovery of “mirror neurons”:

The importance of body image and motor activity for perception, physical movement, and thought is suggested by the recent discovery of “mirror neurons” by Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues. They observed that the neurons that fired when a monkey grasped an object also fired when the monkey watched a scientist grasp the same object. The monkey apparently understood the action of the experimenter because the activity within its brain was similar when the monkey was observing the experimenter and when the monkey was grasping the object. What was surprising was that the same neurons that produced “motor actions,” i.e., actions involving muscular movement, were active when the monkey was perceiving those actions performed by others.

The “rigid divide,” Rizzolatti and Corrado Sinigaglia write in their new book, Mirrors in the Brain,

between perceptive, motor, and cognitive processes is to a great extent artificial; not only does perception appear to be embedded in the dynamics of action, becoming much more composite than used to be thought in the past, but the acting brain is also and above all a brain that understands.

We can recognize and understand the actions of others because of the mirror neurons; as Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia write, this understanding “depends first of all on our motor neurons.”[5] Our abilities to understand and react to the emotions of others may depend on the brain’s ability to imitate the neuronal activity of the individual being observed.

These are some photos from an early rehearsal. Some of the work was developed through exercises where the dancers mirrored each others’ movements. It was a strangely intense experience for them. Particularly in the beginning, they were sensitive to moments where one person seemed to be “leading” the mirroring activity, and their subjectivity seemed to be spilling over the mirror line. Hopefully some of those destabilizing qualities will be activated by the finished piece.

The rehearsals, at UNR, took place in an appropriately mirrored studio. Three walls (and even the plate for the light switch) are mirrored, providing melting glimpses of infinitude.

Fractured Phobia

Melissa Swanson’s BFA show, “Atychiphobia,” opened today. The show featured prints, animation, and installation pieces composed of dried rose petals.

The prints hanging on the wall were “reduction prints” — which also go by the name “suicide prints,” if the printmaker is in a black humor mood. The printing block is gouged for the first color, then gouged away further for the second color, and so on, until eventually getting whittled down for the final pass. It’s a bit of a tightrope process, since there’s no going back. The block has to get killed for you to reach the end of the print.

For Melissa, the technique is tied to the show’s title, which means “fear of failure.” As Melissa put it, “Atychiphobia” isn’t your everyday run-of-the-mill fear of failure — the kind of fear everyone has, “the same way everyone has a fear of falling out of an airplane” — but rather, it’s a paralyzing fear. A fear so pronounced, it negates the ability to even try. Because if you try, there’s that chance you’ll fail, and then it will be confirmed: you really weren’t good enough. It’s better to not even put that on the table.

The floor of the gallery was strewn with rose petals that had images or words printed on them. They crunched nicely underfoot.

Three sheets of rose petals had been sewn together and printed on; at the opposite end of the gallery there was an animation, composed of several printed rose petals that had been scanned before they were discarded for the floor. The same image was printed on several petals, and the animation ran through the printed petals frame by frame: the repeated image remained fairly stable, while the rose petal forms themselves flickered out around them, their veined textures leaving faint impressions on the eyeball as they ran headlong through the projector. The printed imagery revolved around forms of birds and cages. Their silhouettes pulsed with a kind of brittle insistence.

Mirror Scrap


It was interesting to see Mickey’s disturbingly symmetrical portraits in the Junior Art Portfolio (see some of the pics in the blog post below) — I’ve been playing around with some symmetrical concepts for a multimedia/dance performance piece I’ll be staging in Puebla, Mexico in about a week, with Kristin as artistic collaborator and Cari Cunningham and Rick Southerland as the dancers. Above is a 5-sec clip of me playing with some live feed interlacing of video; the performance will include both live and pre-recorded clips that will fracture and combine the dancers’ bodies.