Category: BOMB Magazine

Barbara Hammer in interview with Corina Copp

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Corina Copp interviews visual artist and filmmaker Barbara Hammer for BOMB Magazine, discussing her new show Evidentiary Bodies.

Corina Copp—How did this museum show come about? You recently said, “I’m not in the closet, but a lot of my artwork is.” How did your artwork gradually make its way out of the closet, so to speak? The title of the show, Evidentiary Bodies, could connect to an evidentiary hearing, like in the court system when—

Barbara Hammer—everything is brought forth.

CC Did you title it this way partly because you think of your work as evidence of a life lived?

BH I did. I’ve had lots of retrospectives but none that represented all of my output. They’ve always just shown moving-image work. So this broader survey enticed me right away—especially as an excuse to open up those boxes, and to get some eyes other than my own on the work. I was allowed to choose the curators, who became my close friends. And during this time the museum had a change of direction toward greater diversity, toward lesbians of color, queer people with disabilities, and so on. It was the right team for a survey several years in the making.

CC How was the work selected? Was any of it from the journal archives? I know they were recently sent to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale.

BH A lot of what was on display is from Yale. There were also drawings similar to those in the journals that mostly came from my studio. When I started out, I didn’t make things thinking of galleries at all. I self-identified as a filmmaker but worked in all these other disciplines. I’d lay boards out in the backyard and spray-paint them blue, then arrange them on the grass in a certain way, with some wires going across, to be photographed. It was perhaps conceptual sculpture, similar to Cady Noland’s work. But my discipline was filmmaking, and that became the main course because it could include painting—I paint on a lot of film and reshoot it—plus performance and installation too. Later, I brought in research. For example, it was a great delight finding out about Elizabeth Bishop for my most recent feature essay film, Welcome to This House (2015). I read every book about her and dipped into her archive to investigate aspects of her life—like the homes she lived in and how they influenced her poetry. I visited Great Village, Nova Scotia; Key West, Florida; Ouro Preto and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts.

CC You’re a big Elizabeth Bishop fan?

BH Well, my first master’s was in literature, and poetry was my love. I even wrote poetry for a while when I was young. But back to the show: the curators had free rein.

CC Whether it’s including loose ephemera in the new monograph—like a collectible trading card and a sticker by Vanessa Haroutunian that reads Barbara Hammer Says Yes!—or seeking-out audience members one by one after a screening, or building into your films direct conversations with strangers, lovers, and new friends, your affection for participation, or—I’d like a better word for it—encounter, or optimistic relation, is evident. But you can’t always be there engaging with people. The gallery work has a delayed sociality, whereas the films feel more immediate. Is it important for you to talk with the people who see these works in a way somehow similar to previous audience engagements at your films? I imagine you’re getting feedback from women about their experiences.

BH And men too. I just got an email from the artist Brent Green, who saw Truant, my recent show of photography from the 1970s. He wrote: “I knew you were a badass, but you were a badass way back then.” (laughter)

But you’re onto something here. I’ve sat in the museum a few afternoons, watching people look at my work, overhearing some of their comments. It didn’t give me the thrill of interaction that live performance, live film projection, and live audience snoring, grunting, or laughing in their seats does. They’re perceiving the past; and I’m glad there’s a past to observe in the art and artifacts, but it’s an intellectual pleasure knowing that. What grips my being is the dialogue, the confrontation, the smiles of direct engagement. That’s special—the emotional pleasure of person-to-person(s) gaze, touch, and talk. Did I say exchange? Do I have to say relational?

There was something different happening during the opening of Truant. It was like looking at vulnerability without design, camouflage, and pretense, even without that sacred art cow: irony. Innocence, joy, authenticity, agency, playfulness, and community encounter speak to me even now from those past records. The spontaneous—or so it seemed—feminist, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender revolution in the Bay Area following immediately after and often in conjunction with the vibrant, hopeful turmoil of the hippies and Black Panther movement was the zeitgeist. You couldn’t ignore it as a sentient being. You were a lucky sentient being to be alive and aware of this strength-in-vulnerability expressed by so many courageous beings damned sure doing their best to make a change in a rigid social structure.

When I look at those photographs, I still feel our energy and desire, and that leaves me in the open, wondering state of tenderness. Vulnerability is not a weakness in a computer system, a personal flaw in another, or an exposure to be covered over or protected. Our vulnerability to one another and to ourselves is our strength.

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Chance and Agency: Carolee Schneemann’s Use of Fire

Olivia Gauthier for BOMB Magazine
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For BOMB Magazine, Olivia Gauthier considers the role of fire in American artist Carolee Schneemann’s works.

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Schneemann’s studio burned in 1960 while she was a graduate student in Illinois. There is no readily available documentation of this fire, what it damaged, or what her studio looked like after the flames were extinguished. Two years later Schneemann would create several assemblages in small boxes, filling them with materials, fixing them with resin and paint, then drenching them in turpentine. At this point Schneemann would light a match and quickly close the lid, relinquishing control over the resulting state of the materials. Upon extinguishing the blaze, she was left with chaotic compositions, testaments to her collaboration with the flames. Schneemann furthered her exploration with fire as gesture in her iconic work in 16mm film, Fuses (1964–67). After filming, Schneemann manipulated the celluloid by cutting, painting the surface, dipping it in acid, and setting it ablaze. The presence of fire in the making of Fuses more directly connects the works subject with connotations of fire as a symbol of passion and creation.

In her 1991 performance Ask the Goddess, an audience member asked Schneemann: “What is the meaning of art?” to which Schneemann replied, “The meaning of art is destruction.” In the postwar period painting became an arena for action, as Harold Rosenberg explicated in his essay, “The American Action Painters,” published in ARTnews in December of 1952. Schneemann’s penchant for destruction was not simply in dialogue with other artists around her, the majority of whom were men, but rather came from a desire to dismantle control in an effort to attain liberation. Using fire was one way actively to remove or distort the artist’s hand in her own work, the very part of a painter’s body that is so coveted and admired. In this gesture Schneemann refuses the notion of individual authorship years before Roland Barthes would address similar concerns in his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author.”

In the spirit of experimental practices, especially the introduction of low materials into high art, Schneemann turned to an unlikely material, however rich in symbolism. Fire has a duality of associations, both positive and negative. It can be a source of warmth and light, but it can also destroy and bring pain. Ecologically, fire is a source of rebirth: when the earth is scorched, room is made for new growth; this fire often symbolizes purification, resurrection, and productive inspiration. Although we may not know what Schneemann felt upon seeing her singed studio, with the Controlled Burning series she found creative potential in fire’s ability to act as both destroyer and producer. This duality is not dissimilar from Schneemann’s use of her body to challenge fixed notions of the female nude, representing herself as both image and image-maker. 

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Sculpting Space: Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner

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Osman Can Yerebakan reviews the current exhibition of Ruth Asawa’s works at David Zwirner New York for BOMB Magazine

In contrast to her tumultuous biography, Asawa’s art contains a reclusive serenity, shrouding a life spent with struggle due to race and identity. California-born Asawa and her siblings grew up in a Japanese immigrant household that was devastated by a six-year separation from their father as the result of his internment along with many other Japanese Americans during World War II. Asawa herself was interned for a year in California and Arkansas. She later attended Milwaukee State Teachers College in order to realize her dream of becoming an art teacher, an attempt hindered by the systematic aversion for employing teachers of Japanese descent. A visit to Mexico to study art played a key role in the formation of her illustrious career. There, Cuban-born industrial designer Clara Porset introduced her to Black Mountain College, where Asawa eventually worked with Josef Albers, immersing herself in a modernist avant-garde that challenged the artistic norms of the time. For the twenty-year old artist, innovation manifested itself in wire, an everyday, humble material that rarely went beyond utilitarian purpose. In Asawa’s hands, lines of thin copper, brass, or iron transformed into harmony.

The premiere of Asawa’s grand oeuvre at David Zwirner does not disappoint. A generous selection of her wire sculptures suspend from the ceiling often slightly above eye level—just enough to let the viewer absorb their meticulous details and celestial presence. Visually, they separate into two categories: circular and vertical. However, at times Asawa blurs the distinction with upright pieces comprised of multiple spheres. In order to plunge into Asawa’s mystical universe, close inspection is essential. Her intricate braids of wire—a material associated with masculine and industrial labor as opposed to yarn’s pigeonholed femininity—float in the air as effortlessly as bubbles. The in-between aesthetic of knitted wire renders them ghostly, yet salient. The sculptures’ unobtrusive postures allow for transparency and fluidity, and they permeate space similar to a puff of smoke.

“Life is like a line: there is a beginning and there is an end,” explains Jonathan Laib, Director at David Zwirner, in his catalogue essay for Christie’s 2015 exhibition, Ruth Asawa: Line by Line, “and Asawa has shown us another truth, another illustrated concept; the idea that there is no beginning or end, that there is a continuation.” Ceaseless wire compositions—nearly all labeled Untitled with extensively descriptive subtitles—defy logic and labor, stunning the viewer with their unassumingly organic forms that in reality are the product of arduous repetition. Particular sculptures convey resonance with the human silhouette through their voluptuous curves and contours that seamlessly bend inward, as Asawa triumphs over her uncluttered medium, merging ardor with the ethereality of tightly woven wire.

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Three Poems

Andy Axel for BOMB Magazine
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New poems by Andy Axel for BOMB Magazine:

Canada Dry
 
How specific is neck to a woods?
Sleep-sick, the vehicle I operate’s full
of ears that fail to be pricked by the query
so I field it myself, “one for the road” in that
it keeps it under us because it keeps me awake
to the dark of what’s technically morning,
pierced by First Birdsong Award-winning
bird’s song. We’re trucking scrapple,
a regional meat for meat’s sake
and since back North you can’t get it,
quick since the further you take it
the less edible it gets.
 
No one’s a local at the tollbooth
because nobody’s from where we are,
but the robot’s there always,
taking a job and I’m asking
what can’t be trash
to a bin that says “Trash Only.”
Mirror I saw on the sidewalk,
I know this one,
“not trash, not free, $50 bucks”
it said in magic marker,
throwing up a plot of clouds slick
with the surface but empty of threat.
How much a 2-liter drained of ginger ale is worth
depends on which jurisdiction you redeem it in.
 
Listen—a border welcomes us to brittle glass,
meaningful chiefly in the units we use
to get away from it.
Wherever we’re going is home,
where I’m at my worst for loving distance.
Like a landmark, I steer by the loose-leaf
a Bambi Academy kid crayoned a big rose
and “no smoking” onto I found
stuck to an inner tube in winter
as it rolled free down Mermaid Ave,
navigating by values I can’t know.

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