Posts Tagged ‘Conceptual’


February 17, 2009


Via Amy Stein.

On Kawara: One Million Years

February 10, 2009

Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

David Zwirner

January 14 – February 14, 2009

Time is not abstract, per se, it is rather so concrete, so indelible as to be all encompassing. It defies easy representation. As a result we are left with a multitude of metaphors—a line, a river, a train—of varying degrees of usefulness. (Daniel Birnbaum’s book Chronology is a wonderful essay on the phenomenology of time and how contemporary film and video artists have created their own models of time.)

As theme (and medium) time is a basic concern for any artist. Yet few have taken it as their subject matter as unflinchingly as On Kawara. A monumental work in every sense of the word, Kawara’s One Million Years is currently being recorded live in an exhibition at David Zwirner gallery. The project is made up of two parts, One Million Years (Past) and One Million Years (Future), compiled in a 20 volume collection. Together these projects contain the written dates of 2,000,000 years, one million years each going back and forward. Thus the two volumes include the years 998,031 B.C. through 1969 A.D. and 1996 A.D. through 1,001,995 A.D. Each volume is comprised of 2,068 photocopied pages, each page containing rows of ten years.

The scale of One Million Years is almost unmatched by any contemporary artwork. Parallels might be found in Allan McCollum’s Shapes Project (2005-), where he produces unique graphic emblems for every person on the planet, or Douglas Huebler’s Variable series, in which Huebler attempted to photograph everyone on the planet. As the figures involved in each of these projects approaches the millions (and billions), there is an element of the sublime; the successes and failures to enact and complete these projects reveals the actuality of what those numbers represent, essentially moving from abstraction—in which these numbers are “beyond recognition”—to the concrete and comprehendible.

Although in its original form One Million Years is exhibited like archival records, the performed and recorded presentation places it within the conceptual framework of real, lived time. Moving away from the bureaucratic, to consider the bound volumes as scripts is to realize their true form, existing and unfolding in time.

The on-site sound studio records readers working in two-hour shifts, with the even years read by a female and the odd years by a male. My partner and I signed up to read about a week ago, on a Monday when the gallery was closed to the public. Coincidentally, gallery owner David Zwirner and his wife were the readers preceding us. Even without the distractions of a viewing public, performance anxiety was inevitable; I was concerned about growing bored, about making too many mistakes, about mumbling, about struggling through my cold. But once we started, all of that receded. We were dealing with immense, wordy numbers, the kind that get stuck in your teeth and roll on your tongue like cotton balls. Nine hundred forty six thousand six hundred thirty three. I had to focus. We would go long streches in perfect rhythm, and then suddenly make many mistakes in the course of ten years. One of us would accidentally read the other’s year. In counting, the numbers, despite their inescapable logic, begin to seem arbitrary. The scale of the task is so immense, why this number now?

Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

I couldn’t help thinking of the fact that the original volumes of One Million Years, given their creation dates, must have been hand produced on a typewriter. Today a programmer could write a few lines of code in a couple of hours and have a computer generate each of the dates. The same process could similarly enact a digitally generated “reading” of the dates. But human labor is an important component of the project as well, as it brings the geologic, monumental scale of the project to the level of human experience. My partner asked if many of the readers had accents, and the sound engineer replied that while Kawara wanted a sort of “level American accent” for the recording, in fact the readers represented a diverse range, with English readings accented by Italian, German, Japanese, Argentinian, South African readers. The result is inevitably a polyphonic, and populist, experience.

About Time and in time, the reading of One Million Years makes manifest this incomprehensible collection of dates. But in the litany of years, a caesura opens between the actuality of eons and their representation as a list of numbers. Each year takes a couple of seconds to read. At the ambitious rate of 27 CDs recorded per year, it will take 100 years to record the entirety of Kawara’s project; through this process of representation, two million years will be compressed into a single lifetime. Even compressed by a factor of 20,000, this conception of time astounds. Without a leap of the imagination, one stands over the vertiginous chasm opened by this representation. One wonders then why Kawara chose not to include the years 1970 through 1995 in either of the volumes Past or Future. This omission is clearly not incidental, and yet only partially overlaps the years between the creation of each volume. What was the intention—was it personal, autobiographical? A conspicuous absence, such a gap humanizes an otherwise overwhelming system.

Charles Gaines: Manifestos

December 5, 2008



Kent Gallery

October 20 – December 20, 2008

Manifestos, Charles Gaines’s first exhibition in New York since 2000, is composed of a suite of drawings and videos related to the artist’s transcoding of four manifestos into musical scores. Beginning with seminal manifestos from the Black Panthers, Socialist Congress, Zapatistas, and Guy Debord, at every point in the texts where a letter corresponds to the letters in musical notation (a-g, and h for b-flat), that note is written into the musical score, with all other letters scored as rests. This Cage-ian methodology is consistent with earlier projects in which Gaines exploited dissonances between visual and textual (or aural) representation. The resulting music, performed by a piano quintet and played on four video screens that scroll the source text, is eerie and unsettling. Watching and listening, I could not help but try to glean some metaphorical meaning that Gaines’s system had transcribed from the source texts. But my desire for meaning was answered only with absence: The Zapatista Manifesto exclaims “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” in bold capital letters. But the musical iteration marks no distinction comparable to this typological embellishment—the same simple notes roll along without remark.

Faced with an opportunity to contemporize these historical texts, nostalgia could only be stifling. The desired metaphor was displaced by Gaines’s chosen metonym of the contiguous graphemes in written music and written language (the letters a-g). But ultimately these semantic parts signify different things. Comparing music and language, Gaines sets the stage for the irresolvable dialects of experience and logic, sentiment and intellect. Indifferent to these machinations, the manifestos remain tied to specific historical and social moments as artifacts. If we are to treat Gaines’s installation as a hermeneutic allegory, then we can move beyond this discursive dead-end. After each of the scores and videos has run consecutively, they play simultaneously in a layered, arranged composition that is complex and mature. Strangely, what the musical manifestos lack alone, they gain together through complexity, but at the loss of the simple, legible connections to the original letters and words. The music feels full, but it required the integration and degradation of these four canonical manifestos through an additional degree of abstraction. The transcoding opens these systems to expose our desires for transcendence. Gaines’s epistemological investigations are inherently political, and if we accept this model of interpreting history, then no text is sacred.

Mark Wyse, “Disavowal,” Wallspace

May 5, 2008
Christopher Williams / Nan Goldin, 2008

Christopher Williams / Nan Goldin, 2008

April 4 – May 10, 2008

An endless propensity for quotation is endemic to photography. Such potential can be crippling for an artist, ever aware of the politics of “referring to.” With Disavowal, photographer Mark Wyse uses appropriation and curatorial strategies to express his own conflicted relationship to the burden of art history. Primarily photographic images by contemporary and historical artists—excised and reproduced from Wyse’s personal library—are hung in tight groupings of one, two, or three images throughout the gallery. Wyse acknowledges that he set out to curate an exhibition, but instead took up the mantle of artist-producer. Yet the press release includes what appears to be a list of artists in the exhibition, and proposes relationships between them, for instance: Roe Ethridge / Edward Weston and Martha Rosler / Jan Groover.”Rather than an artist roster, this is better understood as a checklist, suggesting the images on display be considered as discrete objects (authored by Mark Wyse) as well as curatorial propositions among existing works of art.

Amusing juxtapositions occur throughout. Christopher Williams’s photograph of artificial corn below a Kodak three-point reflection guide appears alongside a self-portrait of Nan Goldin with plum-hued black eye. The primacy of color in each image humorously levels the differences in photographic registers. Elsewhere a Roger Fenton photograph of a waterfall is paired with documentation of Charles Ray’s Plank Piece I, in which the artist’s body is pinned against the wall by a leaning board. Made over 100 years apart, they share the timeless awe of humanity beholden to gravity.

Wyse’s work has frequently mined the aesthetic histories within which it functions, and Disavowal portrays an artist grappling with historical precedence. But what might otherwise seem an undergraduate exercise is elevated to a generative process in the alchemy of unexpected collisions. This recombinant mode has a strong parallel in web activity, whether it is traditional bloggers or more recently advocates of Tumblr, collecting disparate JPEGs across the Internet. To mention this proliferation of images and what that means for the contemporary photographer is not incidental. In an amusing essay distributed at the gallery during the course of the exhibition, Wyse aligns the photographer with the neurotic; tellingly, the title of the essay is “Too Drunk to Fuck (On the Anxiety of Photography).” Seen here, the anxiety of the neurotic is ultimately productive.

Roger Fenton / Charles Ray, 2008

Roger Fenton / Charles Ray, 2008