Posts tagged ‘installation’

This Is (Part of) America

This Is Not America: Protest, Resistance, Poetics, on view now at the ASU Art Museum, gives a startlingly fresh look at the intersection of art and social change through allowing works to converse with one another. Curated by Julio César Morales, with assistance from ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate student Indira Garcia, the three-part exhibition pairs works from the museum’s collection with those of emerging and established artists in a sort of “question and answer” format.

Part 1, on view now through Nov. 9, 2013, marries a painting by Cuban collective Los Carpinteros with an animated video by contemporary Seattle-based artist Paul Rucker, in an effort to “explore the power dynamics and political implications of oppression,” according to Morales.

“The exhibition title takes a cue from Alfredo Jaar’s seminal 1987 public art video intervention at Times Square in New York City, A Logo for America, a three-part video animation that plays off the notions of ‘America’ and its relationship to citizenship, homeland and borders,” says Morales.

Alfredo Jaar, A Logo for America, 1986

Alfredo Jaar, A Logo for America, 1986

On the east wall of the gallery hangs Dominar Bestias/How to Dominate Beasts, the watercolor painting by Los Carpinteros, whose name “derives from the historical term for skilled slave laborers,” according to Morales. Within the painting we are shown a number of household objects, such as dressers and chairs, shackled to a fence that corrals them, as though they were animals in a paddock. It is unclear whether they are being chained to the fence so that they do not escape, or whether it is the fence that is tied down to these material goods. One begins to wonder who or what is being dominated, and, beyond that, who or what the beasts are.

Across the darkened gallery is Paul Rucker’s video piece Proliferation, projected on the wall opposite the painting. Rucker was inspired to create the piece while at a “prison issues” residency at the Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks, when he discovered a series of maps created by researcher Rose Heyer that showed the growth of the United States prison system over time. Rucker, a musician as well as visual artist, created the durational piece from the maps and also composed the original score.

Paul Rucker, Proliferation, 2009

Paul Rucker, Proliferation, 2009

“A word that can refer to healing of a wound through rapid growth of new cells, Proliferation explores the evolution of prisons in the United States through an animated series of colored dots indicating location and number of prisons from 1778-2005,” says Morales. “The incarcerated are a relatively invisible aspect of American society… [but] the United States leads the world in the number of people behind bars.”

To Rucker’s score, each new prison appears on the projection as a dot of color, starting first as green specks and escalating in intensity into brilliant red and orange flashes. While viewing “Proliferation,” one is struck by how quickly the outline of the United States is formed, beginning first with New England, but quickly springing across the map to the West Coast. The colored dots, illuminated against a black background, echo other, similar maps, such as those illustrating light pollution from major cities, or urban sprawl.

As the piece goes on, the green dots begin to merge, turning yellow, and the music takes on a more ominous tone. The dots appear in faster succession, sprawling across the map, until there is no one section that is free of color. They evolve from isolated flashes of yellow into orange and then red masses, joining together with sharp, jolting regularity, like explosions. One feels like a cat, mesmerized, watching a laser dart around a wall. But with this feeling of not being able to look away, to stop chasing the flashes of light, the music suggest something darker, a sinking feeling in the pit of one’s stomach. This is not a game. This is serious.

The two pieces, poised opposite each other in the Americas Gallery on the second floor of the museum, both face off against one another and speak to each other. Their conversation occurs in the space between, where the viewer is invited to sit, to pace and to contemplate.

–Juno Schaser , Public Relations Intern

Part 1 of This Is Not America will close on Nov. 9, 2013, with Part 2 on view Nov. 16 2013 – March 15, 2014, and Part 3, co-curated with ASU MFA students, up from March 22 – June 6, 2014.

Artists include Facundo Arganaraz, Sandow Birk, Los Carpinteros, Juan Capristan, Enrique Chagoya, Binh Danh, Kota Ezawa, Eamon Ore-Giron, George Grosz, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Jon Haddock, Alfredo Jaar, Michael Lucero, Carrie Marill, Sanaz Mazinani, Ranu Mukherjee, Georgia O’Keeffe, Gina Osterloh, Raymond Pettibon, Michele Pred, Ken Price, Jerome Reyes, Paul Rucker, Rene Francisco Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez, Lorna Simpson and Adriana Varejão.

 

August 14, 2013 at 11:24 pm Leave a comment

Let there be light — and dark: “Turn off the Sun” at the ASU Art Museum

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Each piece in the exhibition Turn off the Sun, on view at the ASU Art Museum through Sept. 7, packs tremendous heat, power and impact. Drawn from La Colección Jumex in Mexico City, an incredible private contemporary art collection of about 2,600 works, Turn off the Sun displays two dozen of these searingly honest and beautiful pieces. This is only the second time that any of the Jumex collection has been shown in the United States.

The exhibition title did not come about from a concentrated brainstorm though, but rather from joking about the weather. During Jumex director Patrick Charpenel and curator Michel Blancsubé’s site visit to the ASU Art Museum in the summer of 2012, the two started an ongoing joke about how someone needs to “turn off the sun.” When curator Julio César Morales joined the staff in the fall and heard it, he pointed out how that’s not necessarily a joke—that’s a great name.

“When I heard this phrase, I thought it was a brilliant title, and the more it was discussed by myself and Heather Sealy Lineberry, the more we thought the title really connected with artworks in the exhibition and addressed ideas of site, adaptability and physical displacement,” Morales said.

ASU Art Museum senior curator and associate director Heather Sealy Lineberry said the museum staff became interested in the social and political implications of brining the contemporary art collection from Mexico to Arizona and how the content of the work would shift just by the very nature of having it here.

The artworks address several types of issues between Mexico and the United States, among them borders, landscape, lines, labor, politics, economics, faith and awareness.

One example is “Cuando La Fe Mueve Montañas” (“When Faith Moves Mountains”) by Francis Alÿs, a conceptual performance artist. In the multimedia installation, the artist has a group of people move a mountain with shovels to create a line, like a curious border. Another is “Security Fence” by Liza Lou, which explores dark psychological spaces of violence and confinement. Santiago Sierra’s artwork “3000 holes of 180 x 50 x 50 cm each” is a triptych of three photographs and a performance piece that he created while in southern Spain, looking across to North Africa where many immigrants come into Spain. On video Sierra highlights matters of struggle and immigration by showing the 3,000 shoveled holes, mostly dug by Senegalese and Moroccan day workers over the course of a month with a Spanish foreman overseeing the labor.

“These three pieces pulled at our imagination and were tremendous anchors for what we wanted to do with the exhibition,” Lineberry said.

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liza lou smaller by craig smith

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In an interview with San Francisco Arts Quarterly, Blancsubé also explained, “I generally don’t choose a theme and then look for artworks to sustain or feed it… I am seduced by artworks and imagine funny games between them. The theme or the discourse comes after or during the construction, and in a way it is suggested by the artworks themselves.”

Along with the choosing of the exhibition title, another unexpected aspect of Turn off the Sun is that there are no labels next to the pieces. Instead, there is printed material at the entrance of every gallery space that includes technical information, biographies and further text about the artistic process of all the artworks. This allows people who want to make their own relationships with the work to have that possibility. With each exhibition, the museum experiments with how to provide information for the visitor, and different kinds of exhibitions warrant different information systems.

Blancsubé said the information related to the artworks is accessible for curious visitors, “but not having plaques plugged on the wall near the artworks allows visitors to have a first approach of the artworks on their own without receiving from the beginning glasses that oriented their viewing.”

“We thought the design and artworks look so clean and beautifully installed that labels would interrupt the artwork itself,” Morales said. “I was more interested in the audience having a visceral experience of the work and engaging with it without any other materials to distract from that experience.”

Though some visitors are more comfortable with text panels, many are pleasantly surprised and enjoy the practice of making their own connections with the works.

Lineberry said she sees people relating to the artworks and broadening their thoughts about the border: “I think a lot of people are coming away with a pretty amazing experience of the works individually and the process of piecing them together as a narrative in their minds.”

–Mary Grace Richardson

Images, from top: “Overpass,” by Jeff Wall; “Cuando La Fe Mueve Montañas” (“When Faith Moves Mountains”), by Francis Alÿs; “Security Fence,” by Liza Lou, and “3000 holes of 180 x 50 x 50 cm each,” by Santiago Sierra. All photos by Craig Smith.

June 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm 2 comments

Recent NY Times article recognizes social practice art – something we know a thing or two about!

Last week in The New York Times, Randy Kennedy, arts writer, took a look at something the ASU Art Museum has been thinking about for many years: socially engaged practice.

In an article entitled “Outside the Citadel, Social Practice Art Is Intended to Nurture,” Kennedy examines the history and current exploration of social practice, whose “practitioners freely blur the lines among object making, performance, political activism, community organizing, environmentalism and investigative journalism, creating a deeply participatory art that often flourishes outside the gallery and museum system.”

“Leading museums have largely ignored it,” Kennedy writes, “But many smaller art institutions see it as a new frontier for a movement whose roots stretch back to the 1960s but has picked up fervor through Occupy Wall Street and the rise of social activism among young artists.” He highlighted museums such as the Hammer Museum, the Walker Art Center, and the Queens Museum of Art, all of which are working to extend their reach in the socially engaged practice sphere.

ASU Art Museum has been focused on socially engaged practice for more than 5 years, with the launch of our Social Studies initiative in 2007, which provides opportunities for artists working in various media to interact creatively and collaboratively with students, other artists, and faculty and community members. The social interaction of the museum-as-artist’s-studio setting encourages participants to explore new avenues of creativity and ultimately enhance their understanding of their world and each other.

The museum has hosted several social practice artists to date as part of the Social Studies initiative, including Jarbas Lopes, Anila Rubiku, Jillian MacDonald, Gregory Sale, Jennifer Nelson and Julianne Swartz, among others.  In 2012, the museum launched a new social practice speaker series as part of the Socially Engaged Practice Initiative at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and welcomed artist and dancer Elizabeth Johnson as the new Coordinator for Socially Engaged Practice for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Johnson is building a socially engaged practice certificate/focus at HIDA, and is housed at the ASU Art Museum  because of the museum’s work in this area.

Finger Dance between mothers and daughters

Above: Elizabeth Johnson, second from left, takes part in the “Mother-Daughter Distance Dance” at the ASU Art Museum on April 2, 2011, as part of Gregory Sale’s exhibition It’s not just black and white.

If you’re curious about the history of the museum’s dedication to socially-engaged practice, take a look back at some of our blog posts showcasing the art and artists we’ve had the pleasure of working with: https://asuartmuseum.wordpress.com/category/social-studies-collaborative-projects/

For Kennedy’s full New York Times piece, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/24/arts/design/outside-the-citadel-social-practice-art-is-intended-to-nurture.html

–Juno Schaser, PR Intern

March 28, 2013 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

Artist-in-Residence Christine Lee encourages artistic and sustainable consciousness

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Visiting artist Christine Lee stands next to one of her pieces at the gallery at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Elizabeth Kozlowski.

Christine Lee takes in the disregarded, salvages the thrown away and harbors the excess. For this wood-based artist, the original intention of a material is only a hint of a much more meaningful possibility, making Lee’s artwork a process-driven venture and a thorough material investigation.

Lee’s work crosses back and forth between sculpture, furniture, woodworking and installation. As part of the ASU Art Museum’s Crafting a Continuum series, Lee has given public lectures, taught classes and installed her own work at Combine Studio in downtown Phoenix.

The Crafting a Continuum series is sponsored by a Windgate Charitable Foundation grant, which has enabled the museum to attract and support craft-based visiting artists, such as Lee, who incorporate new ideas and technologies into their artwork.

“I think they were interested that I was working with a range of composite material and creating functional and sculptural work,” Lee said. “I feel like they both can happen in the same studio space.”

Lee’s work stretches the standard associations and intended functions of ordinary materials. According to Lee, people now are looking at the material and how it is being used, but not in a way to determine which medium is better than another: “It’s not so much about the end result of what you make but how you take that material and transform it. It’s the process and where it goes.”

In this sense, public perception of what is craft art and what is fine art is changing. Lee says she believes the line between the two will either significantly blur or be completely nonexistent in the future. “People realize it’s not so much about categorizing everything,” she said. “It’s more about seeing what can happen when you start weaving things together.”

Last month Lee put together Piece by Piece, an exhibition at the ASU International Artist Residency facility at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix, for which she stacked slender individual pieces of wood to fan out over an entire wall. No glue, no nails — just balance. This wasn’t her first endeavor for a project like this, however. In other galleries she has created similar works on walls, spanning up to 26 by 12 feet.

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A closer look at Lee’s work. Photo by Elizabeth Kozlowski.

With her own art, Lee strives to create substantive art that is both useful and aesthetic. She added, “It seems these days there’s more exciting work out there that straddle those areas.”

Lee finds potential in material that people casually throw out, a trait she attributes to her family’s concern about not wasting and appreciating the value of things.“We would reuse things like aluminum foil and we wouldn’t throw it away unless we absolutely knew we couldn’t use it,” she said. “And that stayed with me. I’m always very conscious about what I use and if someone throws away a scrap, I’m like, ‘That’s perfectly usable.’”

As part of her residency  Lee taught a class for the Fall 2012 semester — ART 494/598, Sustainable Wood Art, an upper division seminar in the wood program of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — which she is teaching the Spring 2013 semester as well. Lee’s students use composite boards formed by collecting sawdust and fibers and putting the raw materials into processing chambers. Prototypical, a show on view in December and January in Wrigley Hall, home to ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and School of Sustainability, highlighted work Lee’s students made using a patent-pending interior composite panel developed by Lee and research engineer John F. Hunt of the USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory. The panels are naturally bonded without an adhesive binder such as urea or phenol formaldehyde and are biodegradable.

What Lee enjoys most about teaching is watching her students as they grow to understand the process and connect with what they make. “Teaching for me is really exciting because I like the dynamics between interacting with people who are very excited about learning something new, and I also like watching them kind of see that transformation of material happen,” she said.

By encouraging recycling and reuse, her students have initiated a sustainable practice in their work. Peter Held, the curator of ceramics at the museum, said the students’ work has evolved as they applied the lessons they learned in Lee’s clas: “ [She] is not only a talented and innovative artist but is exploring the intersections of art, craft, design and application of new materials in her artistic practice.  This interdisciplinary approach to the arts is an important initiative for the museum. When Lee taught the wood class, she brought fresh ideas and techniques to the students.”

Lee at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Elizabeth Kozlowski.

Lee at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Elizabeth Kozlowski.

Maren Romney, a senior sculpture major and former student of Lee, explained she more consciously considers the materials she uses when making art after taking Lee’s class.  “[Her] class… helped me to understand what I can do on an individual level,” Romney said. “She really did a great job of creating discussions about the importance of sustainable design and living and brought up points from multiple points of view, which I really appreciate.”

Romney added she feels privileged to have taken a class under Lee’s direction, and she hopes Lee makes Arizona a permanent home.

During her time in Phoenix and Tempe, Lee has found a wealth of possibilities.

“I feel like there is so much to tap in here,” Lee said. “I just felt it was very serendipitous that I could be here working on this.”

Mary Grace Richardson

To see more images of Christine Lee’s show at Combine, visit the ASU Art Museum International Artists Residency at Combine Studios Facebook page.

March 11, 2013 at 7:15 pm 3 comments

Penny for your thoughts: ASU Art Museum Spring 2013 Season Opening Reception

On Friday, Feb. 8 we celebrated the season opening for our spring shows: Cu29: Mining for You, a collaboration between Matthew Moore (Phoenix) and Clare Patey (London); Traces of Japanese Life: Selections from the Melikian Collection; and, at the Ceramics Research Center, Born of Fire: The Pottery of Margaret Tafoya and a companion show, Re: Generation: A Survey of Margaret Tafoya’s DescendantsWe also said farewell to artist-in-residence Miguel Palma, from Portugal, whose exhibition Trajectory closed Feb. 9.

Thanks to everyone who made the shows possible — to the hard-working artists, to our donors, to our magnificent staff and advisory board, and to Target and Tempe’s own Cornish Pasty, for helping make it such a great party.

Coming up on March 22: The opening of Turn off the Sun: Selections from la Colección Jumex. Be there!

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Photos by Matthew Corbisiero

February 14, 2013 at 11:06 pm Leave a comment

Time capsules and popsicles: Ant Farm Media Van at the Ceramics Research Center

What are three things you could not live without? What are you looking forward to for this year? What is your obsession?

These are some of the questions pondered at the ASU Art Museum last Saturday, the 25th of August. Each of the buildings in the Arcadia Residential Community was given a blank filing box and told to build a time capsule out of it to be opened at the end of the year.

We were given sticky letters, tape, markers, oil pastels, anything we wanted to beautify this box with the other residents of our building. Each team deliberated on how they would make their time capsule stand out from the rest. Some people went crazy with tape, and others even wrapped their box in gift wrap, like they were assembling a present for their future selves.

Across the street at the Ceramics Research Center, art museum staff (clad in their awesome AMUSEUM shirts) gave away popsicles from AZ Pops and handed out pages with questions to be answered and put in the time capsule.

Some questions were easy, like the ones I mentioned above. But some really made me ponder: What do you expect to accomplish this year? In what ways do you hope to grow this year?

These were remarkably deep questions for the atmosphere of popsicles and friends in the Ceramics Research Center. But it was as good a time as any to take stock. What DO I expect to accomplish this year at ASU?

After deliberating on those questions, we left the classroom and found the Ant Farm Media Van. Now, this was interesting: an interactive exhibit dedicated to collecting donations from cell phones, camera sticks and other electronic devices.

Now, it looked just like a hollowed-out van with the windows painted over, but inside sat a small green computer, called the HUQQUH (pronounced “hookah”), with cords to fit cell phones sticking out in every direction. The goal was to plug in your cell phone, iPod, or camera, and the HUQQUH would randomly select a file, then copy it to make it an electronic piece of the exhibit. For the most part, it was just taking photos and occasionally songs.

On the wall behind the media van hung a huge poster with little thumbnails of the pictures, songs and files taken during the media van’s time in San Francisco.

It was an entire wall of memories, just little digital files, each randomly taken from someone, making up a collection of images from people’s lives.

I decided that I had to give it a shot. I sat down inside the Media Van and plugged my iPhone into the HUQQUH. It sat for a small time before a picture from my phone appeared on the screen on top.  A computer voice came from nowhere, thanking me for my donation and instructing me to unplug my iPhone from the HUQQUH. It spit out a receipt, thanking me for my donation with a little copy of the picture I donated.

The picture taken was a photo of my grandfather, with my little cousin — the last time I saw my grandfather before he passed away last fall.

And now that picture is stored inside the HUQQUH, to travel the country and become a part of the exhibit.

So on the day that we were decorating and putting items into our own time capsule, we were also contributing to a larger time capsule, set to continue its tour and continue to collect small bits of people’s lives. So while the HUQQUH wasn’t pressing us for personal questions, like what am I passionate about, it was still going through my personal phone and pulling out a very personal work about who I am and what I do. In that regard, this was a great day to take stock, and look at ourselves and ask, who are we and where do we want to be?

Oh, and my building’s time capsule? I think it turned out pretty cool.

Colton Robertson, Community Assistant for Arcadia Residential Community

Photos by Colton Robertson.

August 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm Leave a comment

We knew her back when: Lekha Hileman Waitoller

Last week, our friend and former colleague Lekha Hileman Waitoller began working at the Art Institute of Chicago as Exhibition Manager in the Department of Contemporary Art.

Her first big project: an upcoming exhibition of work by Steve McQueen, opening in October.

We’re impressed, but we’re not surprised.

Soon after arriving at ASU in the fall of 2008 to pursue an MA in art history in the School of Art, Lekha sought out opportunities at the ASU Art Museum and started as curatorial assistant. She worked closely with Senior Curator and Associate Director Heather Sealy Lineberry on a number of exhibition projects, large and small, from the collection and featuring international artist residencies and loans, exploring a range of disciplines and community programs and partnerships. In 2009, she curated the exhibition I Never Saw So Clearly, from the Museum’s permanent collection. The lively, smart exhibition focused on issues of identity and hybridity in contemporary art, informed by the research for her Master’s thesis on the work of Lorna Simpson and Steven Yazzie.

Then Lekha stepped in as interim curator in the fall of 2011. Her first big project was artist Jennifer Nelson’s Social Studies exhibition, Securing a free state: The Second Amendment Project.

Lekha handled the project’s challenging content and ambitious scope (both hallmarks of our Social Studies exhibitions) with her usual aplomb, demonstrating grace under pressure whether she was helping lead a tour of a sniper school in the desert or facilitating a series of intense, and intensely moving, workshops involving people whose lives have been radically altered by a violent encounter.

The Museum also benefited from Lekha’s curatorial vision and organizational abilities when we revamped the Americas Gallery, on the second floor, which showcases pieces from the permanent collection.

We look forward to seeing what Lekha does in Chicago — the Art Institute is lucky to have her!

June 6, 2012 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

MoMA acquires Brent Green film

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has just added Brent Green’s film Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then to its permanent collection.

Congratulations, Brent!

The ASU Art Museum is proud to have premiered the complete Gravity installation in 2010, with the film, videos and four houses in our top gallery. (Installation shots are here.).

Here’s a link to Brent’s blog — and watch for a new acquisition to the ASU Art Museum’s collection of a sculpture by Brent.

Heather Sealy Lineberry, Senior Curator and Associate Director

Above: Installation shot of Brent Green’s Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then at the ASU Art Museum, Fall, 2010. Photograph by Craig Smith.

February 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm 3 comments

Looking for miracles at the ASU Art Museum

Julianne Swartz and Ken Landauer are looking for miracles at the ASU Art Museum this January. As the Social Studies artists for the spring, they will be in residence much of January exploring the miraculous through people’s perceptions of it in their lives. Julianne and Ken will interview school children, ASU students and community members of all ages and backgrounds to gather a range of definitions and life experiences. Their findings will be combined in an installation of fleeting vignettes in video and sound playing on all of the Museum’s available equipment.

Andrea Feller, Nicole Herden and I have been doing advance work talking to teachers, faculty and community members about the project. We just received more than 100 student projects back from Tesseract School and ACP (Academy with Community Partners) High School, grades 5 through 12. The written stories, guided by questions from the artists, are heart wrenching and compelling. They include a child telling the story of his great grandmother dancing with the ghost of her late husband in his wedding suit to a child’s story of the miracle of her own birth to teenagers with siblings surviving near-fatal war injuries.

An incredible start to Miracle Report, the eighth Social Studies project at the ASU Art Museum.

Heather Sealy Lineberry, Senior Curator and Associate Director

For more information, or if you would like to schedule a session with the artists to retell your own miracle, contact Nicole Herden at Nicole.herden @asu.edu.

Here are the dates of the project and the artists’ mission statement:

Artist Residency: December 26, 2011 – January 20, 2012

Exhibition: January 21 – June 2, 2012

Reception: Friday, January 20, 5-7pm; Julianne Swartz will speak at the opening.

Mission Statement:

-We will spend our Social Studies Residency looking for miracles.

-We will locate the miraculous through other people’s perception of it in their lives.

-We will interview many local residents and ask them to “describe a miracle you have experienced”.

– Interviewees will be of varied ages and backgrounds. We will gratefully record anyone who wishes to retell his or her own miracle.

-We will record audio and video from these interviews, but identities will be obscured.

-The recordings will be edited into fleeting vignettes that attempt to establish “the miraculous” through many entirely subjective perspectives.

-We will seek to use all of the available audio and visual equipment in the museum’s possession to display the recordings.

-Our installation will strive to embody some beauty, some hocus-pocus, and some unexplainable magic.

January 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm 2 comments

A funny thing happened on the way to Diablo…

Above: Juan Downey: The Invisible Architect at the ASU Art Museum. Photo by Craig Smith. 

I was taking a quick break, heading up to the third floor to visit the infamous Diablo, when this thought occurred to me. The first floor gallery of Downey’s work is a segue to the second floor gallery of Downey’s work.

Now, bear with me here, I’m definitely not claiming you can’t appreciate one without witnessing the other, but it’s enjoying the individual parts instead of the whole. The move from the first floor gallery to the second floor gallery is like taking a step forward in time. It’s a transition, an evolution really, from Downey’s earlier experiments in performance art to his work as a pioneer video artist.

While the gallery on the first floor contained mostly drawings, sketches, and diagrams, the second floor, containing Video Trans Americas, is a multi-media mash-up of video and drawing. TVs are arranged in pairs across the floor while Downey’s art, again only graphite and pencil on paper, is displayed on the walls. As I walk around the gallery, each set of TVs stares like a pair of tireless eyes, watching you while you watch them.  The monitors flash images, snapshots of Downey’s journey. For several minutes the landscape rolls by, shaky and unstable, sometimes seen from the window of a car, sometimes from the side view mirror. A woman sews, pulling thread and needle through a piece of fabric with painstaking effort. Children play soccer in the street while protesters march across yet another screen, vehemently waving signs and banners.

Regardless of changes in media, the themes remain the same. Far from arbitrary, every detail plays some part in Downey’s grand design. I feel like Downey wants to trick us, the viewers, into letting our existing assumptions about what must be complex (technology) mislead us. Without reflection we focus upon the TVs and miss the finer points of Downey’s saga. I mean, in the presence of several sets of TVs playing different videos, who would think to look at the floor? However, the TVs only make sense once you do. What initially appear to be squiggly, winding lines of tape between televisions proves to be, upon inspection, a map: a map of North, South and Central America, the very region Downey travelled through while filming Video Trans Americas. The movie clips too, taken singly, out of sequence, out of context, seem disjointed and confusing. However these are not individual videos, but segments of a whole. Dispersed over the map sketched on the gallery floor, they are the text and the illustrations to the tale of Downey’s travels.

Think that’s all? Just a deconstructed video exhibition? Where’s the fun, the whimsy otherwise found contrasting the depth of Downey’s work? On the wall, directly to the right of the gallery’s entrance, Downey plays his trump card, and it isn’t even his work.

While filming Video Trans America, Downey and his family spent nine months living with the Yanomami in the Amazon. This bright, vibrant, color-pencil art is theirs. One day, after they had spent a significant of time watching him meditate and draw, Downey gave the Yanomami colored pencils and paper. And they drew, without any prior coaching or instructions. Now, this might just be me, but I honestly can’t think of a greater and more profound contrast. Especially because one of these drawings depicts an airplane flying over two brightly color structures with a rainbow in the background.

Where did the inspiration for that even come from? There is, in my mind, an almost unfathomable distance between a video anthropology discussing invisible energies, political discourse and the Latin American identity on the one hand and the color-pencil drawings of an indigenous Amazonian tribe on the other. But for all its magnitude, this unfathomable distance does not invalidate that both Video Trans Americas and the Yanomami drawings are not only culturally significant, but also art.

Actually, I’m honestly so flabbergasted right now that I’ve run out of words. So, while I’m sorry if I’m disappointing anyone, that’s really all I have for now. I can promise more to come though; I owe that much to Diablo. Due to my preoccupation with the second floor gallery, I never even got around to visiting him. So look out for blog post three, where Diablo will get the spotlight!

Karen Enters, PR Intern

November 22, 2011 at 6:58 pm

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