September 13, 2015

Marjorie Schwarz at Goss-Michael Foundation

(You can click on the images for larger versions; and apologies to all for the hasty photography.  Also, fwiw, Google's replacement interface for Blogger has been greatly improved since the last time I posted, but at least for me remains more difficult to work with; e.g., the layout of this post is not all I'd like.)

We’re looking at thirty-five paintings of photographs.  Concerns regarding media and translation are of course invoked.

The photos are mostly head shots.  Many look like annual school photos; but the figures are often off-center.  This could in some cases be because the original photos were casually or amateurishly shot – e.g., the top half of one figure’s head may have been cut off in the original photo – but in at least some others, it must have been a choice by the artist, e.g, when a disembodied head floats off-center within the picture space.  The odd framing reminds us that we’re looking at an artifact, as well as enhancing a sense of disjointedness and displacement in time as well as in space.

More noticeably, nearly all the figures are literally decontextualized, their backgrounds distinctly if not solidly blacked out, with the edges of the figures sometimes limned sharply against the background and at other times blurred; or, in two paintings, the figures appear, sharp-edged, against winter white-ish backgrounds.  But the figures nearly all look relatively “cut out” or separated from their background.  One effect is not just to focus attention on the “subject,” but also on the insistent focussing on it, i.e., on the choice or process of over-emphasizing the distinctness of the figure.  This might refer in part to our cognitive and psychological operations or predispositions in viewing “portraits”; I also found it difficult not to read the overall effect as suggesting alienation and/or dysphoria.

Yet efforts to bring into focus the figures themselves are defeated by carefully calibrated degrees of blurriness which obscure the details, to a greater or lesser extent, or prevent recognition altogether.  Sometimes the blurriness consists in an explicitly painterly roughness; at other times, it’s “photographically" blurred or smeared in a manner reminiscent of some of Gerhard Richter’s work; and the colors used in the subjects’ faces are often muted.

Emotions and idiosyncratic features sometimes seem nonetheless poignantly clear; but in some cases, the subject is rendered monstrous, or even abstract.

In contrast, some of the clothing is rendered in relatively crisp detail or heightened color.  The often subtly colored blurriness of the faces contrasts with the “cut out” aspect of the figure and the relative crispness or vividness of some of the clothing.

The color palette is subtly luscious, sometimes seeming muddy at first glance but on closer inspection satisfyingly sophisticated, occasionally spiked with odd or firey hues in ways that seemed both substantively suggestive and aesthetically inspired.

There is also a pronounced juxtaposition of disparate painting techniques, which might be considered postmodernist but again calls attention to itself, although the different techniques also seem strategically selected for the particular areas in which they’re used.

A number of the paintings are variations on the same photographs (see many of the images above, including, e.g., compare the outline of the figure with red sleeves resting along the bottom of the picture frame with the outline of the “floating” baby head shown near the beginning of this review); but the clothing, hair color, and facial features are morphed to greater or lesser degrees, as if suggesting, e.g., different realities in alternate universes, or realities that might occupy the same space at different times, or just different aspects of the subject (or the photo of the subject) as conjectured and/or expressed by the artist.  It should be mentioned, however, that the paintings seemed to be hung in an order that obscured shared photographic sources.

Many of the images are of children probably too young to be self-conscious, but others seem more aware; and the poses of adults in two paintings seem almost theatrical – as if both heads were cut out from a photo in which a man looked down at a seated woman who looked up, returning his gaze in a stereotypically loving pose – but an uncertainty as to the full meaning of their facial expressions seems emphasized by the manner in which they’re presented.

A last piece hung by itself around the corner is all but impenetrable – I was reminded of Rembrandt’s self-portraits; but this is much darker and murkier, as if the blackness of the backgrounds in most of the other paintings had finally engulfed the figure.  At first glance, the head does not seem “cut out” from its context – it’s barely distinguishable at all, from its background or otherwise – yet closer inspection reveals a relatively sharp edge of darker paint delineating at least part of its outline – although both head and background are further obscured by sheer, lighter streaks hanging like haze between the painting's "subject" and its viewer, an effect atypical of this group of paintings.

This richly complex body of work certainly complicates portraiture, while evoking thoughts about the accidents and deteriorations of photographic records and memory, as well as of intramedia translation; the relationships among subjects (that peculiarly ambiguous term), grounds, and contexts; processes of cognition and recognition, including our efforts to identify and define ourselves and others in the moment and over time, and how the results are intensified or contorted by emotion; the complexity and ultimate unknowability of individuals even when with us in person, and how a well-focussed photo seems to freeze reality in the moment, yet how even within the instant, Heisenbergian uncertainties swirl while a non-existent present continually passes; the seeming impossibility of ever penetrating to some more stable, underlying reality . . .

Schwarz's paintings seemed to me beautifully strange and among the most interesting I’ve seen in a long time.  Thanks to Goss-Michael for bringing them together and providing an opportunity to get a fuller appreciation of Schwarz’s multiplicitous methods and concerns.

(The exhibition ran May 7, 2015 - June 30, 2015 at Goss-Michael Foundation, 1405 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas.)

September 12, 2015

Belated, Shameless Plug: The Dallas Medianale

The Dallas Medianale 2015 comprised installations, screenings, and intermedia performances at the MAC, Dallas, showcasing works by internationally renowned artists.  Works ranged from iconic achievements in early video art to immersive performances radically repurposing obsolete video technology, curated by Michael A. Morris, Danielle Avram Morgan, Charles Dee Mitchell, and moi.

Artists included !MedienGruppe Bitnik, Francis Alÿs, Cécile B. Evans, Kyle Evans + James Connolly/Cracked Ray Tube, Harun Farocki, Gary Hill, Liz Larsen/LZX Industries, Dani Leventhal, Jodi Mack, Sean Miller, My Barbarian, Bruce Nauman, Tara Nelson, Laure Prouvost, Sheila & Nicholas Pye, Jennifer Reeder, Michael Robinson, Lillian Schwartz, Joe Sola, Micah Stansell, Deborah Stratman, Harm van den Dorpel, Stan Vanderbeek, Addie Wagenknecht & Pablo Garcia, John Whitney, and many more.

Details including press here.  Look for the bi-annual event to reappear in 2017. 

January 13, 2013

Sayonara for Now

As expected, Grrrgle has not relented and restored the Blogspot user interface (see here); so, for that and other reasons, I've decided to take an indefinite hiatus from this blog.

If Grrrgle had any real imagination or intelligence, they'd have offered bloggers the opportunity to purchase access to the old interface for a monthly fee.  I'm sure a lot of bloggers would have taken them up on it, and Grrrgle could have made more money than they do on whatever cost savings or data mining they hope to exploit by forcing us onto the new interface.

This blog was begun in April, 2007, this is my 1,426th post on it, and Grrrgle tells me that, as of when I more or less stopped posting last fall, c-Blog was averaging some 4,000 unique viewers per month.

Thank you for your valuable attention through the years.  I'll continue to work on various other projects, of course, and hope that you too will keep up the good work of helping to re-create our mutual art project, the world. 

To the Batcave! 

November 21, 2012

Dan Colen, TBT, 2012, concrete filled whoopee cushion, 16.5 x 13 x 7 inches. At OHWOW's It Ain't Fair 2012, Art Basel, Miami.

October 14, 2012

Critical Art Ensemble

You can tell I'm researching for a curatorial project.

Just came across this from CAE, re- their 2012 project, Winning Hearts and Minds, presented at documenta 13:
War zones are as instructive as they are destructive. Since Vietnam, they have beautifully illustrated the contradiction between capitalism and democracy. . . . The establishment of global democracy has never been a goal of global capital. Its preference is for an authoritarian plutocracy that can be labeled a democracy. This is why the psy-ops principle of “winning hearts and minds” could simultaneously exist with the military strategy of “search and destroy.” Now that winning hearts and minds is not just US policy, but NATO policy, we can see it at work in every conflict in which NATO members have a stake; in every case, the idea of winning over the people through the alleged establishment of democratic institutions never has to be reconciled with unprovoked invasion, house-to-house searches, assassinations, torture, or drone attacks . . . .

Cultural institutions in capitalist nations reflect this same disturbing set of contradictions and relationships. In the field of visual arts, museums tend toward a support of plutocracy through collection building and maintaining the value of collections by functioning as a parallel track to the art market. Institutes, Kunsthalles, and major festivals function as corporate alibis for good cultural citizenship, and too often function within the frame of research and development of cultural products in the service of profit and enterprise. At the same time, these institutions have their democratic side, which usually appears in the form of community outreach, public programming, or education programs. These programs are generally the most impoverished, but are staffed by those who genuinely want to create events promoting social change (and are willing to accept poverty as a given condition to do it). This blend of having few resources together with a strong sense of volunteerism leads to the development of low-cost public events that are subsidized by the free labor of those who create them. Or to put it another way, the poor subsidize the creation of a false alibi that signifies the beneficence of [the] plutocracy. And yet, on an immediate person-to-person level, the results of such performances, exhibitions, and events can be inspiring and culturally valuable.
 * * * * *
Two weeks before the festival started, we issued a call for proposals to use the space for one hour each day at noon; there would be one hundred lunchtime events over the one hundred days. Proposals poured in from around the world. Even though we told those who applied that there was no financial support, and even worse, that they would have to bring all their own equipment, the program filled in a matter of weeks. Most of the events we chose were not curatorially viable (which is not to say we didn’t think they were good projects). As usual, the poor and the marginal were subsidizing the wealthy with free programming.
More at Critical Art Ensemble's website.

Soda_Jerk Re- Copyright

Soda_Jerk's site is here.

To Google and My Readers

The new blogger interface imposed by Google is an unmitigated disaster.

I'd have liked to post my curatorial essay re- Expanded Cinema here, but it's apparently become impossible to format it correctly unless I first take the time to learn whatever code it is that Google's now using. Searching for help, I get 11,099,961 hits of "I hate the new blogger interface."

Since I won't be blogging much during the next couple of months anyway, I've decided to defer any drastic action 'til year-end in the hope that Google might perhaps either restore the Blogspot interface or fix some of the biggest problems created with the new one.

But bottom line: if Google doesn't fix the problems by then and I'm going to be forced onto a more Wordpress-like platform, I might as well port to Wordpress, where I can at least have my privacy.

October 8, 2012

R. Luke DuBois

Doing some curating for my next project, Co- Re-Creating Spaces, an exhibition opening on Nov. 17 at CentralTrak (in Dallas, TX), and enjoying the research.

The artist explains,
Kiss takes 50 iconic embraces from the history of cinema and re-animates them through a non-photorealistic rendering technique developed by the artist. The technique analyzes the footage by looking at details in the source that resemble the lips of the kissing actors and redrawing them with points tinted to match the colors of the original film. Because the computer schematizes lips in a mathematically abstract, and not particularly accurate, manner, all sorts of details fit this criteria, causing the software to highlight not only lips but hair, details in clothing, and portions of the cinematic backdrop. The artist then creates a vectorization of these 'points of interest' akin to a cats-cradle, connecting all the dots to create a work of moving string-art that entwines the actors performing the kiss in a new, geometric embrace of connecting lines. A deliberate misuse of computer vision, Kiss evokes the embrace-as-viewed, tracing the trajectory of our gaze with an abstract connectivity akin to our mirror neurons firing when we feel the romance underneath these cinematic objects. The soundtrack of the piece subjects the non-diegetic soundtrack of the kissing scenes to an auditory time-lapse effect, creating a feedback network that underscores and propels the imagery.