Is this BLOG an experiment? I doubt it. It’s not a reasonable, predictable space. Words can be heavy. Stones, they were called. How to love them?
A place of pleasure, that’s my goal. Encounters and exchanges about art and life. A selected group of people will come and play the thinking game. They will send their thoughts by e-mail. We might be read by the global village. Let’s give them pleasure! Let’s learn to be light. Fleeting and temporary, at least for one year. Personal, fearless, bringing out uncertainties, pauses and hesitations, conflicts and doubts. Most of the artworks reveal idiosyncratic states of mind that are not allowed to writers: no smoking in the toilette during the flight! Unless they are poets.
I was an Eighteenth-century philosophy scholar who turned into a journalist and a maker of hand-sewn books. So my hands give the books a body as the secluded princesses of the old tales, making their lovers’ body with flour and water. None of them have a beating heart. Lack of love makes me sick. Lack of confidence, same effect. Plaintive commentaries about climate and institutional collapse are a black mask on my eyes. Reality is painted black. But The Arts keep me alive. Meredith Monk sings without words, only voice and feelings. I wish we could write like she sings.
No yes, no, I like, dislike, no evaluations. Intelligent kindness. No aggression nor rivalry. Reading, writing, “an exchange of desire becomes possible, of an enjoyment that was not foreseen. Games are not done, let’s play.” (Roland Barthes) Wind and earthquakes shake our landscape. Los Angeles is luminous in the middle of April. We can wear the on-line dress, all the possible colors and shapes, because ideas have colors, if someone cares. The kite needs hands holding the thread as well as the winds and the sky; it needs tension, inside and outside.
“I play them on a blue guitar / And then things are not as they are. / The shape of the instrument / Distorts the shape of what I meant, / Which takes shape by accident. / Yet what I mean I always say. / The accident is how I play./ I still intend things as they are. / The greenish quaverings of day / Quiver upon the blue guitar. (Wallace Stevens)
ROSANNA ALBERTINI Painting is deceiving. I ended up loving being unsettled in front of paintings I see for the first time, almost lightheaded. Like heaving to burst a dam, a barrier: that is not my world, not even the same colors I see. Each brain is hit by light in a personal way, we have our own colors within. The artist has hers, I hope she doesn’t believe we see them. Something similar. That’s why I let my whole body exposed to the paintings and wait. I wait for the heart beat.
Rebecca Campbell paintings are the second skin of her life. She expands through the texture of time, feelings and light. Members of her family, the first boyfriend, images from the memory appear as her brush made them, as if guided by a state of mind that floats in midair. Gestures and tasks of every day are erased, what remains are symbols.
Feelings of the present wrapping an imags of the past: a friend passed away and the following day Rebecca made a painting of a family member when he was a boy, a beautiful boy holding four puppies, but the painting is the symbolic portrait of the dead friend’s kindness. The touch of pink beyond the edge of the house gives the mood of the piece: a twilight that once was dawn. “Purification and oblivion.”
“What texture is this
of will be, is and was?”
That texture can be painting. I thank you Rebecca, for the constant displacement and mysterious tension you gave to each of these pieces. Feelings remove from the scenes the certainty of only one moment in time. Time flows like light that makes the landscapes fluid, dissolved by colors, the seashore a repository of air and transparent secrets, almost ready to give birth.
Painted humans seem to keep their features steady; their visage, their body defies the pressure of time. Not their story, which remains untold. Children are almost swallowed by exuberant bushes or trees so luxuriant and dense they could hide them forever, or clasp them in the density of ponds. Marvel and fear are tight together. In real life children share with nature a surprisingly fast and untamed transformation. As if an act of magic had given life to them. As if their growth, their unique figure had been prepared by the same secret Dreamer who refuses to be detected in any physical configuration, except his creatures. Shells, trees or humans are the development of His/Her/Its nature. Each destined to the same kind of measure, the only thing we know says Carlos Williams, each trying an infinite number of dances.
The flower dies down
and rots away .
But there is a hole
in the bottom of the bag.
It is the imagination
which cannot be fathomed.
It is through this hole
we escape . .
(William Carlos Williams)
Is it the children presence in some paintings that makes the brush strokes lighter and lighter? melting foliage into soft clouds, spreading veils of luminous gold, a dry rain of painted light may be the artist wishing to preserve forever the beauty of a moment? It was, already. Is and will be. Shaken in the memory’s bag, at every instant they are not the same.
Patterns. Adult life. Search for an order of things. Everything that mind can build: good, rough, perverse, uneven, smooth, hard. Rebecca has recently introduced patterns into her paintings. Soft and benevolent. The white young men wearing a white shirt doesn’t care if colors and lines from the pattern behind him go through his body. A smiling face. The woman sitting on a chair wears the pattern in her silky dress, and the regular texture might help her to face the opacity of the black box she holds in her hands. A disturbing darkness sits on her laps. A man wears a blue pattern, the woman next to him had a sudden De Kooning style transformation. The contrast is striking.
Through Rebecca’s artwork, the order of things, geometry we rely on to make sure our feet are still on the ground and our head is not spinning, progressively adapts to the human body, expands and mutates. It becomes a cluster of bodies softly falling asleep on one another. The magic touch of her painted images. Not a crossing of straight lines: every shoulder is a pillow for a head giving up with awareness, heads become heavy, slipping into sleep. Geometry is only a mental thing, living bodies gladly forget it resting in their round, fleshy, heavy physical presence at the edge of light and dark, of black and white.
“Between dawn and dark lies the history of the world.” (Borges)
“Nature gave to Raphael the gift of painting the sweetest and most gracious expressions on faces” Vasari wrote a few centuries ago. I would write the same about Rebecca. Not only her skill equals the old masters, here and there she adds to these contemporary portraits a cut of the scene on the right side which brings into the painting the colors of time, in which eternity quivers.
JORGE LUIS BORGES, In Praise of Darkness, transl. by Norman Di Giovanni, New York, Dutton & Co., Inc., 1974
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAM, Paterson, 1946. A New Directions Book, 1995
GIORGIO VASARI, The Lives of the Artists, New transl. by Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peyer Bondanella, Oxford University Press, 1998
The Light and the Dark at Roberts Projects – Los Angeles
A slice of life, words of Brenna. They include the fact that each art piece is also cut off and detached from a bundle of experiences that everyone carries and burns, to feed the mysterious envelope of their body inside and around. The living life. Do paintings have it? No doubt yes. If the artist gave it to them. For how long it is hard to tell.
Brenna Youngblood 2021 is like a springtime blooming. A year of isolation and hard time made her hands lighter and witty, they can glue her shoes on canvas and tell them to walk away, drama is over. Remains of the reclusion enter the geometrical space of the canvas without embarrassment becoming the image of a headless garment, a bodiless, playable thing once filled and reshaped by a human sitting on a pile of darkness. The human vanished like Aladdin’s spirit quitting the lamp, and the tag remains, hung on the new prison of this object that strangely moves from wrapping a person to being framed, literally, as an icon of emptiness.
Robert Rauschenberg “When I lived on Broadway, I would go out to the middle of Union Square and take Polaroids to have made into silkscreens. I needed some very simple images, like perhaps a glass of water, or a piece of string, or the bathroom floor with a roll of toilet paper on it. They didn’t need to have any immediate emotional content. I needed them to dull the social implications, to neutralize the calamities that were going on in the outside world.”*
In the isolated time that’s what Brenna did: she unscrewed herself from the obligations of self-expression, maybe accepting to float among the clouds of the general uncertainty, and lifting from her artworks of 2020-21 the burden of showing what the public expectation asks for: coherence, continuity, identity, fear and rage.
What a relief to find her hands returning to the art manners of many predecessors with no drama and no affiliation. She takes walks into their fields as it works for her feet, as her mind rethinks them so her hands create an atmosphere she can breath. What we see is the visual outcome of Brenna’s conversation with Hammons, Magritte, Rauschenberg, maybe Frankenthaler, Mondrian, or herself of the past. Arbitrary references, my own incarceration in thoughts.
Only Hourglass is an oil on canvas. All the other pieces are mixed media on canvas, but they are all paintings. Single creatures telling their story, the artist gives them the energy to be an exuberant Jolly Rancher, an almost threatening Hourglass, a funny anti-geometrical field of rectangles incapable of keeping their edges clean, they are pieces of paper: Dirty Mondrian. Mondrian might be flustered in his grave trying to make the lines straight.
The most surprising encounter is Out the Blue. It needs a long, accurate visitation. Brenna places directly on canvas pieces of wallpaper that painter Kristin Calabrese has handed her years ago.
The thickness of life is made flat on canvas, and yet, because some layers have been scratched out, small caves appear with a few words of a love story, or the drawing of a dog, graffiti on canvas. And five vertical cracks, mostly painted, suggest other stories hidden behind the cracks in full contrast to the blue flowers on wallpaper, breaking the wall and pestering them. It is life’s squeezebox, opening and closing according to no choice, it just happens, nothing to do about it. Calamities are neutralized. Brenna, what a great work! If there is a group to which I would like to associate you, it’s the old group of “artists of the humble Infinity” —a group of artists of the early 70s, who were considered inconsequential: the artists of Studio Z.
You are a contemporary griot.
RAUSCHENBERG An interview with Robert Rauschenberg by Barbara Rose, Vintage Books, 1987
At Regen Project, Los Angeles, January 16 – March 13, 2021
below: DOUG AITKEN Flags and Debris, 2020 Photo: Peter Kirby
Always about us: Act 2
by ROSANNA ALBERTINI
Ruthless as leopards, / sharper than wolves, / the powerful gallop / in the dark, /coming from on high / like a falling star / to destroy. / They always want something, their faces / hard as a coin, / contagious / as a dollar. / The powerful /scoff at power / and laugh / at regulations. / They are everywhere, / blind to boundaries. Then wind changes / and they dry up / and are carried away. / It is a mistake to worship power, / even your own.
From Unbuttoned Sleeves, by Forti, Johnson, Swenson, Wadle, 2006
The following images are stills from the excerpt provided by Regen Projects, the stills were selected and grabbed by RA
And, for once, an artist channels his own power through the sleeves of his old shirts, blankets and fabric of his home, looking through the fabric of his life. Oh, ronawave certainly blocked him, forcing his day in a contingent straightjacket like all of us all over the world. This is now normal life, almost, as it always should be: facing sister death as a constant companion who smiles at our aging and ailments, little things after all.
The artists, Doug Aitken, covered the many days of isolation with the same patience as Penelope waiting for Ulysses, cutting fabric and sewing the seams and hamming the edges of a population of words dressed with magnificent colors or gently depleted as if thoughts had dimmed the light on their skin. Paintings / Flags / Banners / Quilts? All of that. Some of them are hung at Regen Project, until March 13, 2021.
Others fell from the artists hands to start a completely different life. Sliding down the parapet of a bridge they fly for a short while until the water welcomes their flat body and caressing the surface of the fabric transforms them into translucent magic rags floating under the astonished eyes of birds. Homeless art. I hope the artist let them go away, for their natural polluted journey in the liquid realm.
DOUG AITKEN, Digital Detox 2020 Mixed fabrics 115×102 1/4×3 inches
The scenes Aitken prepared for the 3 channel video installation (Flags and Debris) deserve more than a description. They have to be seen in person, sucked into the light space and sounds of an almost empty city. Carried away by cars roaring on a freeway like dark animals with fire in their eyes stealing your eyes for a ride with no direction. The loud slaps of fabric, the emotional voice of fabricated blankets folding and unfolding over invisible bodies with no identity. Homeless art on homeless humans. Homeless artist? At least for a while?
Lack of identity becomes monumental. It moves the figures and their coats to unnamed places of our time and to others, centuries old, dramatically balanced as in the baroque paintings. This symphony of images and sounds —13 minutes 20 seconds long— reveals something that cannot be described: despair, pain, delusion, fears can be looked at as images of incredible beauty even on the most flat and gray beds of concrete. A whole day from morning to dark. The artist gives to walls, sidewalks and rivers of Los Angeles a down-to-earth portrait. Through a modest amount of time the dance of dispersed bodies that is the living city among cars, trains and bikes, shows what really those bodies are: simply humans, and wonderful. A foot emerge from the sidewalk like a classic pedestal. A hand raises from darkness and it feels like a tender flower breaking the ground after winter, naked and still colorless.
I don’t know if Doug Aitken ever worshipped his own power as an artist, I don’t think he let his flags out unprotected without a bump in his heart. Then he followed the estranged creatures with his camera and composed a videopoem in their praise, and in praise of the most surprising city. Frankly, ronawave started the process, but the artist brought it out of time, on the other side of the Acheron.
Sprüth Magers Los Angeles August 2020–January 2021
About us fabula narratur Act 1
By Rosanna Albertini
Macaronic latin, the morning light brings it to me, no reason to dismiss it. The new camellias drop tears of rain from the pink tutu of petals still swollen with water. Affection and admiration seem to be hidden in these flowers. Beyond the thick greenery of the fence a bunch of preschool children chirp names of things maybe for the first time and slip them into the fantasy game. How can I read the news? I don’t know where I am, walking through the garden first thing in the morning. It seems the other side of the world. News of the last six months condensed into a rock at the center of my body. Place undetermined. What’s wrong? History switched, it’s a new day. Something continues to feel wrong.
I have no more the desire to know everything from the political arena; it was at the tip of my mind until a few days ago. And now I am surrounded by the power of security operations: the functional castle of women and men of good will trying to remake the country healthy, prosperous and happy. I see the grapes like the fox of the fable, can’t reach them. But I won’t say they are not ripe. The fox in me is moved around by a tornado of voices, opinions, commentaries; such a dense cacophony that it becomes an enormous cocoon. Simple facts of every day end up obliterated.
Furthermore, it’s hard not to see that, as we search for certainty in this life, we avoid the sense of dread, the surprise that feeds the beauty of being alive. As we look for protection, we deplete the bag of energies moving our feet toward the unknown, inside and after the vanishing cloud that we call life.
We always drew, wrote and told stories from the beginning of human time to keep track of existence. They were often indirect, or suggesting a moral, parables or metaphors. Truth only sits inside a story, becomes tangible at the end of day, an inner sensation, mostly invisible. In this life of today we don’t wait. But, to know everything at once? Impossible, it doesn’t make sense.
Opening the file with Senga Nengudi’s installation images l finally find a visual story that is also, maybe, the other side of the world. Her collection of newspapers and the one of her mother, without separation. People of color and white, news, advertisements and portraits of the Pope and of Martin Luther King. “Bridging the gap”, “End the taboo, proceed with care,” “just hold on,” “See more love,” “an inside job,” “Remain Unshaken.” Isolated words with no context. You enter a room with a tapestry of papers on the 4 walls: a big mouth chewing words and images, inevitably throwing up the excess of BULEMIA from reading too much, as Senga calls it. She covered some areas with gold, painted over some sheets to establish a new space for mind and heart to recover, a space of undeniable beauty. Repeated, made of cut outs in different fonts, the word CLEARANCE goes through the gold like a river. Toward the floor, papers become an unreadable mass, the one human bodies had contained, and then expelled according to the laws of gravity. Yet they remain suspended on the walls like the news in our mind, bending their head and shrinking like a flower that has lost its ink. Small golden paper balls rest on a shelf, more are on the floor. Even discarded, they belong to the humans and shine, perhaps, of living particles.
“We are all part of the same tapestry. It’s important that we know as much as we can know, and be exposed as much as possible, and be motivated, inspired, and show interest in something that’s beyond our own personal history.” SENGA NENGUDI
That’s the real landscape of this time in history, a dejected and wounded land. Pain springing from forgetfulness and lack of care vibrates in the dark vertical creature near the wall, a body of spines in tension between two metal pieces. Not able to stand up by herself, the creature witnesses the miracle staged by the artist in her hopeful mind: little sandbreasts emerging from the desert bed, exposing their colored, bright nipples in the air.
It’s a disconcerting, attractive scene sowing colors and industrial metals on the ground. They are hardly compatible.
It’s a prayer asking for husbandry: “not a simple list of practices, but an attitude toward living that entails honesty and economy” (William Bryant Logan).
It’s a concert for crystallized physical evidence in the sand and the heartbeat of the artist, and ours if we close our eyes and listen to her voice
My ancestors I honor you,
I remember youI we need you
I we thank you for your guidance…
It is time. It is time… to chant the same song
Hum the same melody of Now…
Heart to heart, our blood still flows from your origin
Toes touching soil, muddied
1619, from human being to a commodity,
Soul of a nation, lost in an instant
Only love, still, only love can make it right
Only love can save the day
Colors on the wall around the vertical creature and on parts of the sand are light, almost vanishing shades of pink, green and blue. They might announce the beginning of a new day, or the end of any day.
Senga Nengudi does not spread illusions, nor tries to seduce bringing up mirrors of eternal utopias.
She is just here, as we all are, turning pain and dread into gold.
A camellia to her from my grateful, quivering fingers.
— A Catfrom Paris on Bianca Sforni’s computer, photo by Bianca
—The Moon, scientific image from Michal C. McMillen’s archive
— The Owl and the Pussy-Cat, poem by Edward Lear 1812-1888
from Michael C. McMillen remembrance of his grandmother reading it to him.
— The White Owlfrom my search of a title for a book about LA artists;
— Hannah Kirby with open hand holding the fire.
Introduction by Rosanna Albertini
Three friends are surfing the waves of distance. “There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the subject of anything,” said Gertrude Stein. In their hearts there is no distance at all nor an ocean or a hill: they see the same things since the beginning of time and after all they are pleased to be on the same wave without having to measure the distance, no need to count the money to cover the distance, either.
Black circles the cat’s eyes and turns around the moon.
One two three the white light removes them from the chair of identity. Pages flew away like magic carpets. The black and white remains clear in the written words but fades into the infinite grays of the images. A perfectly white camelia blooms the day of my birthday, pure whiteness still uncontaminated like the days in their undisclosed bud.
This is a black and white song repeating with Jon Batiste: “What a wonderful world” please don’t forget it. This is a song of silence for the contagious nonsense that is killing hope and joy and beauty all around the world. Like Torch Song, Alison’s Saar sculpture that wears a black and white keyboard like a vest of bullets and holds a burning torch in her right hand, I wear my pearls asking them to bloom flowers of light, and give them to the white owl to fight the darkness and announce a new year: a new, joyful, wonderful year.
THE OWL AND THE PUSSI-CAT
BY EDWARD LEAR
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the starts above,
And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl,
How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried.
But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at he end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
John Outterbridge. The sower moved away from earth while the seeds he has planted keep cycling through the seasons well beyond racial and cultural differences. Mostly among artists who probably don’t even know his name or tentatively grasp the secret of the ancient art John Outterbridge shared with all his friends as a normal way of living: the art of storytelling. His sculptures are his hands recombining simple remains of used materials, or traditional rituals mysteriously repeated and contained in pieces of fabric, glass, leather, metal, and his hands were remaking a new life for them not because they were coming from dumpsters, or they were found at the corner of a sidewalk — damn the mythology of artists as scavengers of garbage — but because they were consumed and altered by unknown lives, broken stories without a leash.
I remember him shaking in a big smile without stopping to inquire about the person in front of him with no words, looking into her eyes. It was like being shot by his dark interrogative pupils: who are you? From which stories are you coming from? See? I wear African hats and colored shirts, what are you bringing to me which is not only words? Can I trust you? John had the same fierce, commanding request of authenticity I found meeting Maori tribal members. You can’t lie — the direct physical communication speaks before words. Once the threshold is passed, and earned, a river of stories can flow for hours.
Lunch with John. A pervasive smell of sweet potatoes soup had filled every corner of his studio-house. It had already boiled four hours — John told my husband Peter — he loved to cook and feel the vegetable and the human bodies merge into unique organic transformations. Interior sculptures, for sure. Never would he have competed with the succulent plants’ creativity: he proudly took care of his grandfather’s cacti, trying to maintain the family husbandry.
Never was his art separate from the feeling that things and people could be lost and broken down forever if someone wasn’t caring for them, giving them a personal, surprising place in their lives.
Skeletons of broken cars were a passion for him. He could spend years rebuilding and restoring them. On the evening of an opening downtown he picked me up in West LA with another friend who was already in the car. The blue little Volkswagen was not complete. I sat behind John on a piece of cardboard, there were no back seats, and I had the most exciting drive to Downtown: there was not car on the freeway whose driver wasn’t bugging their eyes at the arrival of the little shiny monster that was us.
Art was for John an offering to life asking for clemency, hoping for inclusiveness. Universe isn’t an audience, doesn’t listen, cares even less. If it wasn’t for humans, lady earth wouldn’t have a face, the many faces she shows to the sky who still cries tears and storms over their eternal separation.
The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer. As examples of such obstacles, I give (among others) memory, history, and geometry.
Mark Rothko, 1949
THE LENGTH AND BREADTH OF NOSTALGIA
by Rosanna Albertini
I wonder, what happens with the progression of a writer’s work? Just the same I think, as objects and humans share the same destiny: “an equal indifferent value in the algebra of the mystery.” (Pessoa’s voice) I don’t know why I kept for 6 years UMAN paintings’ files – regularly sent by the artist, and I didn’t write. Perhaps they were a treasure I didn’t want to share. I’m not John Ruskin, criticism was refused by my heart since day one of my journalistic journey. But all this is memory, history, therefore to be discarded. Geometry applied to human reality reached sublime peaks only with Spinoza and Wittgenstein, the art of their minds. It floats like a flock of thin and parallel clouds for a moment, then vanishes. Obstacles removed.
UMAN paintings, I observed them year after year trying not to dissect them with thoughts, for fear they could bleed. Now, in the middle of isolation and pandemic threat, I chose my favorites, grouped by year. I made a new year small exhibition showing the artist’s progression toward clarity, which is the opposite of simplicity. My Christmas present to unknown readers. UMAN painter is a homeless spirit as I am, transplanted in a new landscape far way from the native place. Over time, the two homelands merge in each of our bodies but nostalgia remains.
UMAN doesn’t paint what she sees, the work unfolds and makes visible the living world of many organs that have ingested myriad sensations in Africa, European countries, and North America, upstate New York. Paintings are life filtered through colors. The artist’s body, as anybody else’s, is porous like a colander. At each instant absorbing the mood of the day, temperature, palm leaves or pine branches swaying in the breeze, a blow of dust, the concert of traffic, preschool children laughing next door, the smell of food on the stove, constantly we are transformed, all life long. And things that happen underneath the skin, things we don’t see nor control, have a story on their own, only some of it becomes words, or paintings. There is no day that UMAN doesn’t think of Africa, when nostalgia shrinks her stomach it is not pain, it’s a sensation of missing something that is strangely already within the person and is eager for more, more of the old home. To be an immigrant is to be forever homeless. Memory is not enough, she also changes when triggered. Spoken stories never the same. Although, watching birds in migration UMAN “wants to be in that moment with them,” this a permanent thorn, and a rose at the same time.
Every day is surprising with the passage of light, sound, as we go through a carousel of scenes melted into one another, our legs are the stitches, the eyes the most selective and capricious camera, while the brain doesn’t always do the work. So much of the process is unconscious. No theories are needed to understand that the major incongruous ingredient in the salad of life is the human being, each single person different from the other like the leaves of the same tree.
Every person sends out her own, digested, or badly filtered, unique world. In home-made short films from all over the world during this pandemic a popular message is repeated: art opens a different way to look at reality. But, what’s reality? if not the singular, peculiar perception of everyone. Artists do not envision a better reality. They are a musical instrument introducing resonance and vibrations into parts of our reality at times ignored, other times dismissed. Most of all, they don’t ask permission to express basic human emotions as they want and can. That’s what UMAN does every day, along with the many usual chores.
Progression toward clarity is undeniable. UMAN paints how Mombasa and her Somalian origins made her, as well as Vienna and New York City. Never followed rules here or there. Indian Ocean, stars in the Northwest desert of Kenya, stars over child UMAN on a mat, outdoors. A pickup truck full of empty water jugs goes to the village twice a day to refill them. Turkana the beloved place for vacation with an aunt. No electricity, except for a generator one hour a day, in the evening, to listen to the news on the radio. Now lifted in her mind, Africa is not distant. Nothing but movement drives the artist’s fingers. Obstacles disappear for mind and hands digging into life and resurfacing full of presents: whatever you see in the paintings is a messenger of the living, in its fullness of pleasures pains and nostalgia almost choking my throat how beautiful and more and more clear they are.
Did I reach my clarity? I don’t know. Merry Christmas to you all.
At Galerie Lakaye, specializing in Haitian Art, Los Angeles
September 26-December 26, 2020
to be with them
by Rosanna Albertini
The artist scratched lines of feeling into the metal. The metal is flat like a page. It has natural colors as if earth and sky had been absorbed by the implacable stillness of the surface that doesn’t bear any resemblance to any living space. Francesca Lalanne followed her feelings during the many months of ronawave, let them work through her hands grabbing and carving the outlines of human bodies she never saw, they were numbers, massive clouds of names and addresses. She carved the memory of their presence. Giving legs to the coffins, or placing the coffin on human shoulders, without place. They move in the emptiness of a non-lieu, tableau vivants (as the artist calls them) of the dead peoples lives, or maybe after-lives, because emptiness is great, and beautiful, escapes description.
She had to cross the line of the unknown and, in so doing, gave form to an imagined flow of gentle, elegant movements for flat bodies and their flat houses, carrying other bodies with grace and silence, a dance in the void sometimes becoming one thing with the house. She freed the figures from the heaviness of memory.
“Description is revelation. It is not
The thing described, nor false facsimile.
It is an artificial thing that exists,
In its own seeming, plainly visible,
Yet not too closely the double of our lives,
Intenser than any other life could be….
WALLACE STEVENS, Description Without Place vi, in Transport to Summer, (1947)
Yet the plague is a burden on our hearts. The artist is one of us. Heaviness must be in the scene. And it is, completely out of the scene carved on metal: a piece of granite hung with a white thread seems to cut vertically each picture in the middle, and ends beyond the lower edge of each tableau. Images open a sense of balance, pain that is contained, almost hidden.
Francesca grew up Catholic in Haiti. Left the island at age 8, a very young political refugee. The more I dive into the scenes she recently carved, the more I recognize the same style of the rituals of my childhood in an Italian village. Catholic culture is a master of controlled, staged actions inducing the many to pour themselves into a common moment of grace, in which routine, fatigue, chores, despair are lifted, even only for a little while. As I opened my mouth for the communion, the mystery was so overwhelming that I had to shut down rational questions and try not to feel I could hurt Jesus with my teeth. For a seven year old, the issue was serious. Confession was an inner trial. During the ritual and after, personal feelings were not allowed to leak out. Balance and composure disclose a non-invasive sense of beauty, the art of sharing without words, giving to the body the primary role. Such a mysterious gift of life! One by one, like leaves of the same tree, each is one. If to face death without place brings back a sense of debt for the unique story we are one by one, I mentally give back to this artist a deep thanks, my mouth never opened.
You gave me the day because you could only give me what you are.
Since then, I live and die in you since you are love.
Since then, I‘m reborn from our double death.”
I D E N T I T Y D R E A M S
by Rosanna Albertini
Since birth and death are the edges of the same stretch of what we call life, I bring poetry here to fill the middle space with all the range of surprises I encounter every day as I struggle to find words to unfold the ungraspable mystery in each human, starting from myself. Artists spur me on this infinite search of meanings… We call them so, but they are just sparkles of life we dress with words as if giving them a form to share with other people. They aren’t clear when we experience them, clouds of sensations.
“The words that matter most are the ones we don’t understand.”
“How will our lives be better if we entrust ourselves to mystery, rather than to intelligibility, to understanding?” ADAM PHILLIPS
Yaron Michael Hakim paints his own face becoming a bird. I don’t want to explain that. It happened to me that a few days after I met him in his studio, still stunned by the big human birds prisoners of a canvas that is wrinkled and irregular, a piece of sail made to catch the wind and propel the boat, I started to leaf through one of my favorite books, for no particular reason. I could barely believe my eyes: “Look at his face becoming a bird, Reb Elfer said to Reb Yod. And the squirrel trying to recognize himself in that face. Look at the face becoming a branch. And the branch blooming for the face… For us too, time of transparency will come.” Oh, Jabès, how did you know what I was searching for? I let these words simmer through my life for months. Transparency of these words is beyond the words, now I can see the artist’s heart sailing the random winds of his life, in a marvel of wonder.
Two Israeli parents went from Australia to Bogotà (Colombia) to pick up a one week old boy. One of them was from Jerusalem the other from Haifa, but they grew up outside of Israel: mother in India and father in England. They met the first time in Ethiopia. Moved to Australia where they stayed for twenty years. Adopted Yaron’s sister from New Zealand. Left Sydney for a year in England then moved to Geneva, Switzerland. Yaron spent his adolescence there. At the end of an International High School he studied in the US, at the Maryland College of Art. Life was good until September 11th. He went back to Switzerland, hoping to save enough money to try New York one day. Lady life had different plans. He stayed in Geneva working in a Franciscan institution fundraising for human rights. Graduate school was in his wishful thinking. When he saw Paul McCarthy’s Parody Paradise in Munich his feet grew invisible wings: with no hesitation he landed in Los Angeles. His heart, in my fantasy, was fluttering like the wings of a humming bird.
No surprise that he dug into his DNA testing multiple times, every time finding some numeric components impossible to explain, discovering an intricate texture of geography and human lives from which he couldn’t extricate himself. He found thickness, rather than transparency. Phantoms of ancestors in a space he can’t explore, proliferating over the void of eons of time. But traces of them operate hidden in the core of each of his molecules, maybe they never rest, names are lost, they multiply, create proteins, virus, oh my god how disconcerting it is to conceive our body as a secret chemical engine definitely out of control. Every body a different mystery.
Yaron the artist paints in parrots a metamorphosis of himself almost unfolding his own personal state of nature, prehuman, reversing the evolution from the present to the past. A mythical time appears, something we conceive and spit out in words as if words were something that really was. Statistical precision (only apparently perfect) about personal DNA history kills the myth and the slow movement carrying the artist away from the present. Words, images, are only “brief little dreams.”
“Myth is the name of everything that exists and abides with speech as it’s only cause. Whatever perishes from a little more clarity is a myth.” PAUL VALERY
Yaron needs to see as if his eyes were able to detach from their sockets, and observe the impossible: the fable of sailing what we call space, for the term void is scary. The most striking bird he made is a boat shaped like the Pacific Islanders’ hand-carved boats. One of those boats that natives considered a living entity asking for respect and honor, a natural deity. The spirit of wood in unison with the hands’ desire. Yaron built it, gave her a name: Unutea, and left the seashore sailing under a pressure that was not only wind in the air, in big part coming from the unknown within him that is nothing he can visualize or think. In a word, he navigated the myth of myths, his own identity. Too bad, just a word.
“The journey is in the space between two spaces.” YARON MICHAEL HAKIM
THURSDAY, JUNE 13, 2013 From Newport Beach to Dana Point on a 22-foot outrigger sailboat built by the artist: UNUTEA
The spars are constructed out of bamboo, teak and Douglas fir. The vessel is steered by oars: one of poplar, mahogany and aromatic cedar; the other made with African mahogany and teak. The waka, (main hull) and the ama (outrigger) are fiberglassed marine grade plywood. The cross beams connecting waka and ama are made of African mahogany and Douglas fir. Hawaiian elder Thomas Kalama blessed UNUTEA with tea leaves before the first journey.
But words are a precious tools. They suggest, for instance, that transparency for humans is possible. Yaron the father can look through his baby son and see the sky.
“Reb Isaac: “I listen to you, my son, and through you I see the sky.” Edmond Jabès, who else? My heart flutters reading his words.
Paul Valéry, The Outlook for Intelligence, Bollinger Series XLV, Princeton University Press 1989
After the exhibition ‘Plata o plomo o glitter’ at Royale Projects, Los Angeles, July 2020
All the drawings were made by Rubén Ortiz Torres for his journal of the ronawave period: Ahi viene LA PLAGA, 2020. A selection is published here courtesy of the artist.
He always played with joyful irreverence in the house of life
by Rosanna Albertini
October 2020. Like children jumping rope, training their feet to forget the obstacle and go fast, move, until the counting grows to the exciting discovery of a new ability, almost a different personality invisible to adults, but easy to share with the other little aliens lost in dreams of cheeseland or other outerspaces, all the art pieces by Rubén Ortiz Torres jump rope over borders: between Mexico and US, popular icons and sanctified boxes for arts, baseball mascots and codified symbols. His alien toys are incredible rope jumpers, some of them as big as real cars stripped of heavy organs, so they can move their limbs in the air like mechanical puppets, try to fly, and fall down on the stones where they finally dance the music of freedom. Why should they keep going straight?
Why should artists abandon the dirty dusty bumpy roads through the house of life and condemn themselves to the freeways? As Allan Kaprow says, “art tends to lose itself out of bounds, tends to fill our world with itself…” hard to believe he wrote it in 1958, if I say more than half a century ago it seems farther away, a long time ago. Kaprow was one of those wanting to put a bit of life into art. He was also saying, indirectly, modernism is not covering the whole of life, restrained as it is in the room of art.
Rubén’s reality, which is also our ground and background since humans appeared, starts in ’64, when he was born on a planet still licking wounds after half a century of wars. Damage, pain, destructions, children deformed by nuclear radiation, people orphaned by the myth of eternal progress, by the cult of ideal forms. Trash, ruins and low price objects replaced the cult of human exceptional creativity. The idea of commodities became dominant. Although trained in a traditional art school in Mexico City, Rubén has dedicated his hands and mind to these disgraced creatures — artifacts in large numbers uncovering dreams and aspirations of most everyone trying to escape the pressure of reality. Artifacts and their producers, after all, are no different from the children of the Titans, the giants disgraced by Zeus. Titans stole fire, the fire that never ceased to burn and be cherished among us. For an artist of our days, this fire is the powerful, dense central region releasing the will to fight back against brutality and stupidity. A new enlightenment is necessary and heartfelt.
Ortiz Torres: “I replace money with silver, and bullets with lead. I add glitter over layers of paint. Glitter is for me another form of power: power of seduction. Maybe more powerful what we do with culture, we fight back, making life something worth.” 2020, on the phone.
That’s the difference between now and 1958: the house of art has exploded. Every fragment moves and brings beautiful flowers to the house of life which, instead, is shaken by disbelief.
Rubén picks up and reproduces images and objects when they have been disfigured, offered to the public in their cheap and funny version, winking to assure us that to be illegal is not a sin. Or he dismantles and remakes a lawn mower to let it perform like an artist, in honor of the immigrant gardeners in Los Angeles.
But recently, under the pressure of the ronawave, the magic transformer who had painted and transferred into art pieces Darth Veder, Ninja Turtle, Piolin, —marionette puppets for sale on the Tijuana border— calling them “Aliens of Exceptional Ability” (1998), has started to paint himself as an alien. As we all are, forced to distance, defaced, warriors. The ronawave needs it, for us it’s survival. No distance between the artist and ourselves. “The world goes round and round / In the crystal atmospheres of the mind, / Light’s comedies, dark’s tragedies, / Like things produced by a climate.” (Wallace Stevens)
The face Rubén shows, at the same time, are his paintings. Luminous mirrors of California colors and pictorial traditions, they mix pixels and crosses, innocuous splashes of silver and light, lots of light first of all. As if the paintings were telling us: look at yourself in our surface, and bring up the best of you. They were all painted on broken police car panels found in a junk yard in Tijuana.
“It is easy to see how underneath the chaos of life today and at the bottom of all the disintegrations there is the need to see, to understand: and, in so far as one is not completely baffled, to re-create. This is not emotional. It springs from the belief that we have only our own intelligence on which to rely. This manifests itself in many ways, in every living art as in every living phase of politics or science. If we could suddenly re-make the world on the basis of our intelligence, see it clearly and represent it without faintness or obscurity, Ortiz Torres artworks would have a place there.”
Wallace Stevens, Briarcliff Quarterly, October 1946
(The last line is altered by me replacing “Williams” with Ortiz Torres.)
RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Red Skin, (in 3 parts), 2020
Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose, The Library of America, New York, NY, 1997
Allan Kaprow, The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press, 1993
Rubén Ortiz Torres, DESMOTHERNISMO. Catalogue of the survey of work from 1990 to 1998 at Huntington Beach Art Center, curated by Tyler Stalling, Huntington Beach, CA Smart Art Press, 1998
Rubén Ortiz Torres–THE TEXAS LEAGUER, Catalogue of the exhibition organized by the Glassell School of Art of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, curated by Valerie Loupe Olsen, 2004