International Geographic: Interview with Nato Thompson

January 31st, 2009

Lize Mogel, Mappa Mundi, digital print, 2008. Courtesy Melville House.

Lize Mogel, Mappa Mundi, digital print, 2008. Courtesy Melville House.

Melville House recently published the exhibition catalogue for Experimental Geography, an exhibition of contemporary art that engages geography organized by New York-based curator Nato Thompson. It will be on view at the Rochester Art Center in Minnesota from February 7 to April 18 and then travel to other institutions. The following interview about the project was conducted with Thompson over email.

Daniel Quiles: How did the idea for the Experimental Geography exhibition come about?

Nato Thompson: I have long been a friend and colleague of the artist Trevor Paglen, who has been quite influential in the development of this practice. As an artist and geographer, he is often borrowing from these fields in order to produce methods for interpreting space. As much as the world at large still believes firmly in the categories of the Enlightenment, such severe distinctions between fields of study can be unhelpful if not absolutely misleading.

Looking around the contemporary art world today, we find numerous practices interested in experimental methods for understanding space itself—from the important work of the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Culver City, California, to the experimental walking tours of Francis Alÿs in Mexico City, to poetic interpretations confounding body and place such as with artist Ilana Halperin. The practices are out there and it felt as though the often used lens of art history was simply clunky in interpreting this work. So the exhibition is an opportunity to construct a new lens from an emerging form.

Trevor Paglen, The Salt Pit (Shomali Plains northeast of Kabul, Afganistan), Chromogenic print, 2006.

Trevor Paglen, The Salt Pit (Shomali Plains northeast of Kabul, Afganistan), Chromogenic print, 2006.

DQ: A number of the artists and collectives involved in the show trace their roots back to Chicago, in particular the School of the Art Institute of Chicago,and some of whom were featured in the recent group exhibition you curated at the Armory, Democracy in America. How would you say the Chicago milieu conditioned the formation of some of the practices outlined in Experimental Geography?

NT: Well I will admit I went to graduate school at SAIC and also remain an avid admirer of the non-object-based collectivist practices that have been maturing in Chicago for over a decade. Artist and activist Daniel Tucker started a phenomenal journal titled AREA, which looks at urban space in Chicago from a variety of lenses including art but also those of race, gender, policy, minority histories, and on and on. This magazine has allowed numerous communities to come together under the specific frame of the city they live in. It’s a compelling umbrella that has many associations with Henri Lefebvre’s approach to geography in the 1950s.

But I should also say that the Center for Urban Pedagogy based in Brooklyn is doing important work as well. In their case, they are focusing on pedagogy and urbanism. And then we would also have to look at the incredible work of the Italian collective Multiplicity, who utilize aesthetic considerations of contemporary art to interrogate specific spaces from the Mediterranean Sea to Israel and Palestine.

.The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Project Poster, Inkjet Print, 2007. Courtesy Melville House.

The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Project Poster, inkjet print, 2007. Courtesy Melville House.

DQ: What is the place of form in contemporary art that is so closely wedded to other fields, such as journalism or activism? Do you feel that the traditional opposition between “form” and “content” still holds, or that contemporary artists have found new ways to integrate them?

NT: As much as the onslaught of cultural production over the last fifty years has radically altered capital’s relationship to aesthetics, it has also made us much more aware that knowledge has a form, and that there are a myriad of forms for the delivery of information and the production of knowledge. Basically, knowledge is a performance, whether it is the stage of the classroom, or the aesthetics of a typeface in a book, to the performance in a street, to a multi-channel video projection. Now that many forms of anthropology and geography tend to be more reflexive, we find more room for ambiguity, which typically is the purview of artistic practice.

There are many types of work in the exhibition, ranging from some that are deeply poetic while others are slightly more didactic. These approaches can still remain under one umbrella but their sense of urgency and their techniques of information delivery vary.

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January 30th, 2009

Mike Kelley, “A Dance Incorporating Movements Derived From Experiments Of Harry F. Harlow and choreographed in the manner of Martha Graham (video still)

Chez Bushwick, an organization based in Brooklyn, has launched a new art and performance series called CAKE. The weekly program offers “carte blanche” to an individual artist to present new work and ideas of his or her choosing. The program is designed to challenge the status-quo of performance presentation by questioning the conventional roles played by artists, producers, and audience members in public arts programming.

Two videos featuring Season 3 artist Mike Kelley will screen tomorrow, January 31: Pole Dance (1997), a collaboration between Kelley, Tony Oursler, and Anita Pace; and A Dance Incorporating Movements Derived From Experiments Of Harry F. Harlow and Choreographed in the Manner of Martha Graham (1999). The event begins at 7pm.

Unfortunately, there are no signs of actual cake at this event. has informed me that restaurants in the neighborhood have “a terrible selection of desserts,” though recommends the neighborhood’s Life Cafe for a “decent” treat following Chez Bushwick’s event. Click here for directions.

Chez Bushwick is located at 304 Boerum St., buzzer #11 (map).

Extimasies: Art, Politics, Society in Times of Crisis

January 30th, 2009


The Extimasies: Art, Politics, Society in Times of Crisis symposium recently took place on Saturday, January 10 at the Benaki Musuem on Pireos Street in Athens, Greece.

Co-organized by Costis Stafylakis and Yorgos Tzitzilakis, the symposium was an initiative of the Architecture Department, University of Thessaly.

Soon after the symposium, I met with Stafylakis to tell me about the occasion of the symposium:

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The panels:


Yorgos Tzirtzilakis, Vanessa Theodoropoulou, Aristides Antonas, George Ksiropaides


Zisis Kotionis, Elpida Karaba, Giannis Stavrakakis, Kostis Stafylakis, Panagis Panagiotopoulos

Associate Professor, Ph.D. Program in Art History at the City University of New York, Claire Bishop’s lecture focused on socially-engaged art and spectatorship. Here is an excerpt of her presentation where she discusses The Margate Exodus and filmmaker Christoph Schlingensief.

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Directed by Penny Woolcock, Exodus was made in Margate and was broadcast on Channel 4 and released in cinemas in 2007.



As Till Briegleb explains on Schlingensief’s website:

Christoph Schlingensief creates a permanent state of insecurity by blurring borders between reality and fiction, art and offense, intention and action. This often works brilliantly with his off-stage antics: most passers-by thought the Big Brother show with asylum-seekers in the centre of Vienna, where the last one to be ejected is supposed to win a residence permit, was real. There was also his staging of Hamlet in Zurich, for which he not only recruited officially repentant neo-Nazis, but also created a rehabilitation centre for their kin, triggered a heated debate on the credibility of this kind of stunt.

Extimasies: Art, Politics, Society in Times of Crisis was a call to the art community in Athens following the puzzling events of December 2008. The Benaki auditorium was packed from 10:30am, and that visually was a much stronger statement that any of the panelists could make that day.

I was a witness of excessive intellectual talk, valid efforts to assert historicity into December 2008, and attempts to contextualize isolated gestures and narrations of the events—without a period at the end. It was all necessary, respected and much needed, yet I got the sense this past December had left most panelists in an intellectual corner, unable to take a step into tomorrow. But it is also ok if they struggle to process the new conditions that constitute our society at the beginning of 2009.

But in my opinion, Extimasies: Art, Politics, Society in Times of Crisis accomplished three fundamental things:

The Christening
The symposium was the day of giving names to the events, the causes, and the month of December. A language that allows us to communicate the events among ourselves was established and that is IMPORTANT.

How left?/How right?
The symposium placed the Greek art world, as if it was a pawn on a charged political map at a light “left” position without provoking, offending, or talking on behalf of any of the attendees, and that is IMPORTANT at this stage.

Artists, architects, curators, sociologists, and art theorists kept on putting their thoughts on the table for an entire day and that is IMPORTANT for everybody’s mental and emotional well-being.

There is no next move, it’s up for grabs and that is UNCERTAIN.

Georgia Kotretsos was Art21’s first guest blogger of 2009. Find all of her posts here.

Artiste Avec Des Frontières

January 29th, 2009

Ana Blohm, West 171st, archival pigment print, 14 in x 9.3 inches, 2006.

On February 5, the New York University Hospital Library will host Interior Life, an exhibition of Ana Blohm’s photographs. They consist of geometrically organized shots of spare interiors, typically with beds and couches in the foreground and isolated details of decoration, such as framed pictures or light fixtures.

Ana Blohm, West 192nd, archival pigment print, 14 in x 9.3 inches, 2006.

Born in Venezuela and based in New York, Blohm’s work represents a complicated case. She is a working doctor at Mount Sinai Medical Center who trained in photography (with Jack Lueders-Booth and Chris Killip) while studying biology at Harvard University. Her images document the interior spaces, with their drably functional objects, of the East Harlem and Washington Heights residents who are her patients. Sinai is one of several institutions currently pioneering programs that restore the “house call,” or home visit by a physician, in an attempt to save resources and manage chronic illnesses outside of the hospital.

Ana Blohm, West 128th, archival pigment print, 14 in x 9.3 inches, 2008.

Blohm represents an important limit case for art. This is an artistic practice that is an offshoot of medical labor. Unlike the many practices of the past two decades that have been labeled “relational” or “service aesthetics,” the service here is resolutely in the category of “not art.” Art is only produced at the point at which Blohm feels the impulse to represent something, in a mode of representation that is not of conventional use for medicine.

Ana Blohm, West 187th, archival pigment print, 14 in x 9.3 inches, 2007.

In some cases, Blohm includes her subjects in the photographs. As in the above image, they are turned away from the camera, refusing its gaze. It is here that the difficulty of her project is most apparent. In the instant of the photograph, she is no longer a service provider, but a documenter of a normally invisible group. Representation is not, in the end, the beneficial service that medicine is ideally supposed to be; it is not “for” someone, but “of” him or her. Art takes something, and brings into view for others. It is in precisely this sense, however, that art might be of use for medicine itself, offering a moment of self-reflection on the who and how of treatment.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Internet…

January 29th, 2009

Early supercomputer, courtesy of Cedmen (

Early supercomputer part (CDC 160A) courtesy of Cedmen

Wes covered our iTunes coup already but here are a few other links worth perusing.

A double shot of art at NYFA Current, thanks in part to two of our regulars. Both Nicole Caruth and Hrag Vartanian have written extensive articles for the latest issue. Hrag considers the state of New York’s gallery world (outlook: rather grim), while Nicole offers a thorough take on Prospect.1. Check out Hrag’s 5-part installment in our archives here, here, here, here, and here. Read for yourself, and congrats to these talented writers .

In other news, it’s official. Jenny Holzer may have beat us to it but at long last, we’re tweeting. Join us.

What do Art21, NASA, and “The L Word” have in common?

January 29th, 2009

kissing iTunes

We’re all featured podcasts on iTunes! As in, as of yesterday. I’m sure there are other things we have in common…but that’s for the comments section below.

I spent most of the day yesterday rushing to finish titles for our latest batch of 30 Exclusive videos, so new that the artists haven’t even seen them….feeling delirious, depleted, doubtful that anyone’s watching these things anyway. And then this (scroll down).

And so I had an idea. Do you think if we all kissed our computers screens, sometime in the next few days…when we’re feeling the most metaphysically lost and worried about the state of the world…that iTunes will feel it? Go on. No one is looking.

Thanks to all of you out there who’ve been downloading and who’ve helped us break through the proverbial glass ceiling, putting contemporary art and artists on the front page. We’re sure you’re the reason iTunes took notice: 100,000 downloads and counting.

There’s no better time to tell your friends to SUBSCRIBE via RSS or by sending them this link to launch the Art21 iTunes channel:

Jenny Holzer | Programming

January 29th, 2009


EXCLUSIVE: Jenny Holzer discusses the programming of her LED sculptures during the installation of the exhibition PROTECT PROTECT at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Featured works include MONUMENT (2008), Thorax (2008), Purple (2008), Blue Cross (2008), Green Purple Cross (2008), and Hand (2008), among others. The exhibition remains on view in Chicago through February 1st, and will travel to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in March.

Whether questioning consumerist impulses, describing torture, or lamenting death and disease, Jenny Holzer’s use of language provokes a response in the viewer. While her subversive work often blends in among advertisements in public space, its arresting content violates expectations. Holzer’s texts—such as the aphorisms “abuse of power comes as no surprise” and “protect me from what I want”—have appeared on posters and condoms, and as electronic LED signs and projections of xenon light. Holzer’s recent use of text ranges from silk-screened paintings of declassified government memoranda detailing prisoner abuse, to poetry and prose in a 65-foot wide wall of light in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center, New York.

Jenny Holzer, MONUMENT, 2008. Thorax, 2008. Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica. Blue Cross, 2008. The  David Roberts Collection, London. Green Purple Cross, 2008. For Chicago, 2008. Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Lili Holzer-Glier

The exhibition PROTECT PROTECT is curated by Elizabeth Smith, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs at the MCA. In a two-part interview, Smith lends us her thoughts on the exhibition:

ART21: Jenny Holzer’s a fairly well-known contemporary artist, and yet it’s been a while since she’s had a major showing here in the U.S. How did that come to factor into your decision-making process behind the show?

ELIZABETH SMITH: It’s pretty amazing that Jenny Holzer’s work hasn’t been seen in a major museum in the United States in almost 20 years. She’s been showing in Europe quite extensively during the past few years, so we really feel like we are reintroducing her to the American audience. Especially because the show presents a lot of newer work that people haven’t seen. It’s a new Jenny Holzer, in many respects.

I think a lot of us who have followed her work, who are familiar with it, think about a certain type of work that she became known for — her LED signs, her benches — pieces that are somewhat smaller in scale. But with this current exhibition she presents a number of LED sculptures that are monumental in scale, that are architectural. She’s also presenting for the first time a body of silk-screened paintings that are based on declassified United States government documents.

It’s a good time for us to be showing Jenny’s work; not just because of the content, but because we are presenting a major figure at the midpoint of her career and showing that she’s moving in a different direction. I think that’s really important. I think it’s really brave for an artist to continue to develop and push the envelope with their work. In Jenny’s case, although she’s been moving into new media and new directions, I think what’s interesting to consider is the consistency of the messages within her work. She’s always dealt with issues surrounding abuses of power. And she’s always caused passive viewers to become active questioners, in terms of how they read and understand and react to the materials she presents. In that respect, it’s a very consistent show…but at the same time, it also shows us a new Jenny Holzer.

Jenny Holzer, MONUMENT, 2008. Text: Truisms, 1977-79 and Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Vassilij Gureev.

ART21: In the exhibition, there seems to be this emphasis on bodies or corporeality as a theme. Is that new in Holzer’s work?

SMITH: I think in this show those qualities are much more pronounced than ever before in her work. It’s really given her a chance to bring together a number of different references to the body. In the text that Jenny, herself, has written for a long time — particularly in the 1990s up until 2001— there has been an increasing emphasis on the body and on a first-person sort of human experience. I think that this really comes forward, too, in the text that she’s programmed into her current LED pieces that are from declassified documents. There are references to the body throughout those texts. The autopsy reports, for instance, give very stark and very chilling renditions of the trauma endured by individuals who have been killed as a result of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those references to the body are present throughout various texts in the exhibition.

But then also there’s this reference, sculpturally, that underscores that. You have that in some of the LEDs which are configured in a circular configuration reminiscent of a ribcage, for example. Or you have that in the images of hand prints taken from United States soldiers who were accused of war crimes. And then you have this bodily reference, presented very strongly, in a group of actual human bones that are laid out on old wooden tables. They’re chilling, sobering, and very startling, actual representations of the human body after death. So she has been able to interweave these different references — textually and sculptural, the object and the image, language and experience — in ways that all worked to intertwine and reinforce one another.

Jenny Holzer, Left Hand (Palm Rolled), 2007. Text: U.S. government document; Right Hand (Palm Rolled), 2007. Text: U.S. government document; PALM, FINGERS & FINGERTIPS 000406, 2007. Text: U.S. government document; PALM, FINGERS & FINGERTIPS 000407, 2007. Text: U.S. government document. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

ART21: What were the challenges in putting together the exhibition?

SMITH: I think I was probably naïve going into the project — because I should have realized this — but I didn’t until we actually started to work together: Jenny is very precise about language. And so when I was writing my essay for the catalog, I did what I do usually when I work with an artist: I share an early draft with them of my thoughts. I usually use that as a way to have a discussion, a dialogue with them back and forth about, about how to further develop the argument.

In this case, I wished I hadn’t done that. I should have given Jenny a much more polished, final version, because she’s incredibly precise about everything. So in retrospect, it took me a really long time to get my essay right, but it also did engender a really great back-and-forth between the two of us. Jenny really wanted to clarify a lot of the points that I was addressing rather cavalierly. So that was one interesting challenge. (LAUGHS)

Another challenge, of course, is the technology of her work. We are so dependent on programmers and fabricators and individuals from outside what is customarily considered “the art world” to make sure that the pieces are right and functioning well, especially because some of the works are new and are being made here on site. A large team of people has to be involved with the production of the works. That’s an area that’s not my forte. I’m more about content, not so much about the technique or technology. So it really has to be a team effort, but that’s actually a good challenge.

Jenny Holzer, Blue Cross, 2008. David Roberts Collection, London., © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Lili Holzer-Glier.

ART21: Do feel like any of the works in the exhibition date themselves, by virtue of the period when the text was either written or appropriated? Or do the texts have a more timeless quality for you?

SMITH: Several pieces in the exhibition are new works that are programmed with older texts. It’s very interesting to read these texts and to think about them in relationship to the newer information that you find in the exhibition. I think there is a real resonance.

We can read a lot of the statements that Jenny wrote earlier in a way that underscores how current they still are, especially her series of texts called Inflammatory Essays (1979-82). Those were based on or inspired by her readings of manifestos by political figures, ranging from Mao Zedong to Vladimir Lenin and many others. She adopted the same kind of incendiary tone in those readings that appear almost hysterical and hyperbolic. When we think about the rhetoric, it’s so apparent and just everywhere in our country today — particularly at this moment, so near to a presidential election. It’s very interesting to relate or to think about her earlier words from the perspective of today. They seem very current and very fresh.

ART21: Do you ever find the references to violence in the work off-putting? What do you find redeeming about art that tackles such serious subject matter?

SMITH: Some of the content is certainly scary, and it’s horrifying. If you really take in what is said in some of the pieces that she presents — it scares you to death. You can’t believe how people can do these things to one another. But yet, that’s what’s recurred throughout human history. When you consider very recent occurrences in the world, like the current violence in the Congo, it is just absolutely excruciating. It sounds, to me, even more traumatic than what went on in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere. I think it’s really scary and it makes you question human nature.

I think what Jenny’s demonstrating is that the concerns she’s dealing with now are not new in her work. She has always concerned herself with challenging abuses of power and with presenting different points of view about a subject and highlighting the confusion that surrounds us in the world today. To my mind, her work succeeds so well on the level of presenting or revealing uncertainties rather than truths.  And I think that the way she causes us to reflect on these uncertainties is really powerful for us as viewers and as citizens.

PHOTOS | Jenny Holzer (from top to bottom) MONUMENT, 2008; Thorax, 2008. Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica; Blue Cross, 2008; The  David Roberts Collection, London; Green Purple Cross, 2008; For Chicago, 2008. Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago. Photo: Lili Holzer-Glier. | MONUMENT, 2008. Text: Truisms, 1977-79 and Inflammatory Essays, 1979-82. © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Vassilij Gureev. | Left Hand (Palm Rolled), 2007. Text: U.S. government document; Right Hand (Palm Rolled), 2007. Text: U.S. government document; PALM, FINGERS & FINGERTIPS 000406, 2007. Text: U.S. government document; PALM, FINGERS & FINGERTIPS 000407, 2007. Text: U.S. government document. | Blue Cross, 2008. David Roberts Collection, London. Photo: Lili Holzer-Glier. |  All works © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

VIDEO | Producer: Wesley Miller, Nick Ravich & Kelly Shindler. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera & Sound: George Monteleone & Alexander Stewart. Editor: Jenny Chiurco. Artwork Courtesy: Jenny Holzer. Special Thanks: MCA Chicago & Karla Loring.

Hunting with Mark Dion

January 28th, 2009

Mark Dion, “Concerning Hunting: Hunting Bling-The Gutton”, 2008. Courtesy of Galleria Civica di Modena.

Concerning Hunting, an exhibition of work by Season 4 artist Mark Dion, opens at Galleria Civica di Modena’s Palazzo Santa Margherita in Modena, Italy on February 1. The traveling exhibition expresses Dion’s interest in hunting in terms of the sensitivity of the hunter and the profound knowledge he has of nature. Dion’s work, writes curator Verena Gamper, is “entirely dedicated to the fascination of nature that turns man into a collector, a researcher and an adventurer. [His] installations, interventions, representations and photographs…appear most of all as a form of criticism of the careless and cruel relationship that man often has with nature.”

The exhibition includes five hunting blinds: The dandy hunter whose elegantly furnished blind is reminiscent of a noble hunting house; the librarian hunter who has put together his blind with maniacal care; the glutton hunter who shoots (and kills) with food in mind–game hangs from his ceiling and his walls are papered with nude images; and The Ruin, a blind where everything is abandoned or broken. The exhibition also includes six felt portrayals of animal prey, and Men and Game, a series of around 100 photographs of hunting scenes from different times and places that comprise a large wall installation. See images in the online gallery.

Concerning Hunting is on view through April 26, and accompanied by a bilingual catalogue, featuring critical texts by Dieter Buchhart, Verena Gamper, Martin Henatsch, Angela Vettese and Jacob Wamberg.

Ping Pong Night

January 28th, 2009

Rirkrit Tiravanija, “Untitled (The Future will be Chrome)”, 2008. Courtesy Nyehaus.

The Gramercy Park exhibition space, Nyehaus, will present its first-ever invitational table-tennis tournament tonight. The private event is held in conjunction with the exhibition Rirkrit Tiravanija: Reflection.

The mirror polished aluminum table, Untitled (The Future will be Chrome), is the centerpiece of the exhibition. Behind the table, perched on a small grandstand, are puppet versions of the artist and friends Phillipe Parreno, Pierre Huyghe (Season 4), Liam Gillick, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, all “poised and waiting for the match to begin.” Joining the puppets tonight are real ping pong celebrities Marty Reisman (the U.S. men’s singles champion in 1958 and 1960), and the identical twins Brad & Brandon Belle, who will play matches against one other and with spectators.

For the general public, table tennis star Ernesto Ebuen is available for individual or group lessons for the duration of the exhibit. Rirkrit Tiravanija: Reflection is on view through February 21.

[via ArtInfo]

Bruce Nauman in St. Louis

January 28th, 2009

Bruce Nauman, Double Poke in the Eye II, 1985. Collection of Lois and Steve Eisen. © 2008 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Just opened this week at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is Dead Shot Dan, an exhibition exploring the element of humor in the work of Bruce Nauman. The title takes its cue from a character in a Buster Keaton movie, with the actor/filmmaker and artist sharing a comic take on the tragic.  Both “tell tales of violent acts tinged with Sisyphean traps, bodily contortions, linguistic slip-ups, and misunderstandings. Like Keaton, Nauman’s sense of humor comes with a sour after-taste… [that] makes us laugh and cringe.”

Dead Shot Dan runs through April 19 and includes a selection of neons, drawings, prints, photographs, and videos by the venerable Season 1 artist, who will also represent the U.S. in the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Image credit: Bruce Nauman, Double Poke in the Eye II, 1985. Collection of Lois and Steve Eisen. © 2008 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.