Archive for July, 2014

Pablo Honey

Monday, July 28th, 2014

SVA Summer Residencies alum Pablo Jansana is included in the summer group show at Eleven Rivington, always a go-to space for smart exhibitions.  Art in America describes Jansana’s work as “crisply geometric“.  Indeed, his sculptures are savvy and sharp (in both senses); aluminum slats slice through mysterious, fragmented photographic substrates.  Nearby, dry drips line the edges of his big, black diptych, which seems to stretch like a tar-covered tent over a stake.  (Pushing from beneath it must be the ghost of Steven Parrino.)  Especially when combined with Letha Wilson’s photographic sculptures, one can see welcoming context for Jansana’s work, beginning with artists like John Baldessari, Matthew Brandt, and Marlo Pascual.

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SVA Residencies alum Pablo Jansana at Eleven Rivington

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SVA Residencies alum Pablo Jansana at Eleven Rivington

Boom and Doom

Monday, July 21st, 2014

To follow up on my recent post about Warm Up 2014…

After a week of bad news around the world, Warm Up brought some good news: techno is here to stay. With a premium line-up of Robert Hood, Objekt, Rrose, Vatican Shadow, Container, and Young Male, the techno takeover made strong arguments for the genre’s durability and innovation.  This resilience and flexibility was reflected in the metallic silver and gold grid quilts onstage, designed by CONFETTISYSTEM, who also are included in NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial.

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Darth Vader: so techno (white socks: not so much)

I missed Young Male, but Container, Vatican Shadow, and Rrose explored the darker, dystopian, and dyspeptic corners of the genre. To hear these artists was to confront hours of rumbling, blasts, drones, and unsettling sounds of conflict that seemed to push PS1’s powerful speakers to the edge, no small task:

“The speaker system has a total power rating of about 40,000 watts. The speakers are my latest design, utilizing drivers from the best manufacturers in  the world. The main cabinet houses 20 high-power devices and the curvature is critical, using technology discovered by the Navy in the 1970s! The large subwoofers are 21″ in diameter and 4000 watts each. You may have noticed that some of the speaker cabinets were not painted yet – that’s because we just built them. We are currently comparing 18″ and 21″ subwoofer designs and tweaking the tuning each week. This is what we love about Warm Up, it is a fantastic event for us to run our latest designs through their paces.” -Jim Toth, acoustics sage

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Container at Warm Up 2014

Saturday’s performances, which generated a giddy and friendly vibe on the dancefloor, sounded like Detroit techno clocking in for its latest shift in a 30-year legacy, paved by industrial, electropop, and acid house (and pioneered by artists with names like Underground Resistance, who performed in ski masks and combat suits).

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Vatican Shadow at Warm Up 2014

Saturday’s crushing soundscapes were initiated by Container’s live set, featuring agile and elastic collisions of distorted thumps and hammering rhythms, and embodied by the visibly agitated Vatican Shadow, who accompanied his murky doom beats with physical headbanging, writhing, grimacing, and shouting, and even hectoring the audience for not dancing. Occasionally danceable, his 4/4 beats bubbled up from a noisy, growling morass signifying decline, dissolution, and doom. Wartime techno. The military industrial complex crushing museums and hospitals. On point!  His stage aerobics distracted me from his fluid, ambitious, and militant vision, especially among the other, more ice-faced DJs. Then again, who am I to judge someone else’s catharsis, channeling everything that is wrong around us, a catharsis I also envied from Container’s live set?

Objekt instantly transformed the scene and repopulated the dance floor with fecund, full-spectrum, and crackling dance beats. His acceptably peaktime jams sent many hands upward, but artists like Robert Hood are there to take us infinitely higher and higher. Hood, a Detroit techno pioneer now living in Alabama as a DJ/Christian minister*, opened with Floorplan (his alias) – Never Grow Old, brought cheers with The Bells by fellow post-Detroiter Jeff Mills, warmed it up with Chicago – Street Player, and closed with – what else? – Blue Monday.

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Objekt at Warm Up 2014

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Robert Hood at Warm Up 2014

And then it was over. Back to earth. Back to Detroiters without water.  Back to South American kids stranded in Texas.  Back to Eric Garner dead in Staten Island.  Back to MH17 scattered over Ukraine.  Back to “Israel uses its missiles to protect citizens, whereas Hamas uses citizens to protect its missiles.” -Till next time.

*Robert Hood on the hope of techno: “If you picture yourself as a young Luke Skywalker, with no Jedi training, and you meet this guy Mojo, or Obi Wan Kenobi, and he’s training you to use the force—at first you’re clumsy with it, you don’t know what you’re doing, but once you learn to harness the power of the force, when an adversary is coming against you, the enemy, he don’t even know who he’s messing with. So I guess the sinister strings and the power in those Detroit techno strings, that’s the force.”  -So techno! 

A Dozen Surprises

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Through his career of over 20 years, Robert Melee has famously combined objects, performances, and environments that he augments with his signature, and often disfiguring, Midas touch.  Central to this oeuvre are his photographs, but this fact might not have been obvious before a dozen roses, his new solo show at Higher Pictures.

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Robert Melee, “Facelift,” 1997 (l), “Penthouse,” 2002 (r)

In most of their prior appearances, Robert’s photographs have been integrated into his excellent “Units.”  In those compartmentalized, multi-media structures, Robert’s photos are almost indiscriminately crammed together with videos, party decorations, bric-a-brac, and disposable goods.  In this visual forcefeeding, the photos can get subsumed into the swirling marbleized surfaces and rigid planar geometries of the hosting Unit.  They remain within, unlike Freudian slips.

Yet, on a closer look, the photographs decode valuable scripts written through our Melee-ology.  Collected together, they are like a Rosetta Stone.  They are capsules of Robert’s performative values, which include bare flesh, movement, fetish, and unflinching sexuality.  One individual emerges as their champion.  The undisputed queen of Melee-mania is his mother, Rose.  “Mommy” is the star and muse of Robert’s suburban glamour, and of this selection of photos from his photographic catalog.

Most of these shoots with Mommy have been spontaneous: Robert visited her in New Jersey, the tempo quickened, and Robert whipped out his camera.  He styled her and arranged props and lighting.  He gently directed her, but Mommy seized the moment and improvised her role.  From looking alone, we don’t know enough about what these shoots have meant to Robert and Mommy, so we can’t comment on the power dynamics.*

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Robert Melee, “Kitchen Table,” 1998 (l), “On the Road,” 1993 (r)

Indeed, if we didn’t know the story, would we guess that she is the artist’s mother?  The woman in these photos is mercurial, vivacious, clownish, and licentious.  Those qualities suit a cabaret performer or movie star.  But a mother?  Aren’t we culturally conditioned to seek other signs of motherhood, even for an adult son?  There are fictional precedents for all kinds of outrageous, discordant, or even villainous mothers: Norma Bates in Psycho, Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, Livia Soprano in The Sopranos.  But for artistic glimpses of real-life mothers of adult sons, many of us are accustomed to being fed mothers with domestically acclimated postures, tempered gazes, perseverance, and quiet dignity, despite the rocky pluralism of actual mothers.**

What drives these photos, among other things, is how we see Robert’s mother perform and behave in ways we don’t ascribe to mothers, and that is a chance to ask ourselves when our own mothers surprised us by stepping out from behind their motherly veils.  Whose mother hasn’t ruptured the patterns of motherhood with an unexpected opinion, outburst, or act, or even an unprecedented habit?  And maybe those surprises aren’t as extreme as Mommy’s misadventures, but is extreme degree the only difference?

*John Mendelsohn interprets Robert’s work with his mother as reenactment.  He writes of Robert’s Mommy videos, and I see no reason to exclude Robert’s photographs here: “These ‘home movies’ were in a sense caricatured portraits of a fraught relationship performed as farce or psychodrama.” Sculpture Magazine, November 2010

**Luckily, Richard Billingham, Leigh Ledare, and other demographically comparable artists have helped to diversify this field of imagery.