On the Threshold : Allan Sekula

In memoriam  

Doorway for Allan

Doorway for Allan


The end was written down by destiny for August 10, a few weeks from now. Waiting for Allan I leave the front door wide open, and raise the music so high that silence is defeated. Appearing on the threshold, he takes me by surprise: legs and arms kicking the air, each limb for itself, the whole body shaking. I can’t avoid seeing the accurate work of the sickle on his flesh, there is only skin.

“What’s this?” Allan asks. “Mozart, piano sonata K 533” I answer. As he walks in, stepping into the music, he stops shaking. The notes rush down their stream, float, almost gurgling in a long quiet laugh at the bottom of the throat. If lady Death laughs she’ s right, we are more surprised than scared by her. Spreading consonance and harmonic balance, the piano sonata brings the three of us in place, like trees that have found the good spot for planting their roots.

“Are you still working at The Lottery of the Sea? I thought MOMA had bought it.” “Yes, but I want to make sure that the sound is good. Peter will help me.” “Before you start, would you like a tea?” “That would be nice!”

Definitely, sounds are tuning the day.

At the kitchen table, I wish my sight could trace gently, by pencil, the plain, banal tapestry of normal gestures, hopes, art exhibits, books and flowers on the tablecloth, all surrounded by an invisible fog: the unknown. No inner vision, no vision at all. Only kindness. I’m stuck watching a cup, a spoon, and Allan’s fingers struggling with a yellow little bottle of pills. Nothing’s hidden, either. We really smile, both of us, we enjoy talking of the next openings. Life feels so strong that a breath of doubt passes over me, did he defeat the lady? Wrapped in his kindness, she might vanish away, along with the music, transformed into a black cloud of butterflies.

On May 3, 2014, at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Simone Forti and Jeremiah Day performed a short replica of Allan’s gesture of throwing steaks on to the highway, to be chewed up by the cars’ rolling teeth. 1972.

Did he know the “Poets hitchhiking on the highway”? Gregory Corso wold have liked to meet Allan and not for kindness, in a contest of absurdities:

“Of course I tried to tell him / but he cranked his head / without an excuse. / I told him the sky chases / the sun / And he smiled and said: / ‘ What’s the use. ’ / I was feeling like a demon / again / So I said : ‘ But the ocean chases the fish.’ / This time he laughed / and said: / ‘Suppose the / strawberry were / pushed into a mountain.’”

Not for moral superiority or protection of good feelings, Sekula’s photographs and films depicted colors and shapes of our capitalistic disorder. Not because Herbert Marcuse had been one of his teachers. “To include himself with others,” this is his art. Because “Acts of kindness demonstrate, in the clearest possible way, that we are vulnerable and dependent animals who have no better resource than each other.” (Adam Phillips)



Lucie Fontaine, "Servant? Slave? Master", 2012  10" x 10" Drawing on wood

Lucie Fontaine, “Servant? Slave? Master”, 2012
10″ x 10″ Drawing on wood

Hindsight suggests that this  image portrays Nicola and myself after a long, bloody argument about Hegel, on line and in Los Angeles.  We found an understanding and in the end were better friends than before. 

NICOLA TREZZI from Budapest

Dear Rosanna,

Because we first met in the cybernetic world – just watched a video interview with Sturtevant and that word ‘cybernetic’ stayed in my mind – I thought my contribution to your blog should mirror the letter format, similar to those we sent each other before finally meeting in New York – a meeting that started a wonderful friendship and didn’t stop the letter exchange, a kind of day-to-day epistolarium.

I am writing to you from Budapest where I will be based until July 18. I have been here already three times as a professional and once I came to visit Bianca – with whom I am friend since I was born – who was doing a student exchange here. I remember we rented bikes and went to Esztergom, the old capital of Hungary, and slept in the house of an old lady we found by chance.

Budapest is an amazing city, amazing because it resists tourism. I have been many times to Prague and you can see how tourism made the city looking like a cake. Budapest is different. In the city center you can find building falling apart and I always think of it as a place where you can hide. I guess I am hiding myself…

Before being in Budapest – ah! I just went for a week to New York, but this is another story – I was in Milan, before Milan I was in Stockholm and before Stockholm I was in Paris. I am not getting into Paris – too emotional, sorry – but I will tell you about Stockholm, one of my favorite cities. I was there to help Lucie Fontaine doing her second show at Fruit and Flower Deli, but I was also there to see my goddaughter Xenia and to visit my friend Alexandra, who is doing a residency there.

In my opinion Stockholm visualizes the Swedish mentality. Built on an archipelago, the city has specific hierarchies – the royal island, the posh island, the museum island, the hipster island – and yet everything seems united by the socialist utopia that ruled this country – at some point in history, one of the richest in the world – for many years. Another interesting aspect of the city is the fact that it is built on different levels with tunnels so that sometimes you think you are going to a crossroad but in fact the streets don’t cross each other because they run on different heights.

If you know a bit about Swedish people you will understand why I am presenting such parallelism. But beside that I think Sweden is a truly fascinating country, the first to understand appropriation, cultural manipulation and intellectual propaganda. When I was there last time, to assist Lucie Fontaine during her residency at Iaspis, there was a Sturtevant show at Moderna Museet and a Claire Fontaine show at Index.

I really felt like navigating the Bermuda triangle of authenticity!

Link to Lucie Fontaine website:




BESANO, 1948: growing up in an artist’s family. I figli di persone fuori norma, vuoi artisti scienziati o che comunque non rientrano nella routine dei mestieri comuni, spesso si trovano a disagio nei confronti dei normali. Io non sfuggivo a questa regola, anche se mio padre, pur degno artista, non aveva atteggiamenti che non fossero più che in linea con la media. Il fatto che vivesse di un’attività atipica e in fondo un po’ eccezionale: esponeva le opere che erano valutate da persone lontane dal nostro modo di vivere, forse, venivano a farci visita, spesso avevano l’automobile, tutto questo mi induceva a pensare di essere anch’io diverso. In che modo non l’avevo ancora deciso però non mi sentivo come il figlio del droghiere o dell’impiegato.

A queste difficoltà se ne sovrapponevano altre, di carattere familiare, forse solo un pretesto per completare il mio personaggio ma, come secondo figlio, ero sempre il secondo: un po’ rachitico perché stavo gobbo, viziato perché mi prudeva il naso e me lo strofinavo, soprattutto era stata la mamma a rinfacciarmi, nei frequenti dialoghi con le amiche, la vita infernale che le avevo fatto fare quando ero ancora in fasce. Per giunta ero anche mancino. In sostanza mi sembrava di disturbare. Forse per questo ero solitario. Credo che accumulando ed elaborando interiormente e inconsciamente questi e altri reconditi complessi, ero riuscito ad anticipare di almeno quindici anni il personaggio incarnato da James Dean. È vero che durante l’adolescenza ho cercato di confrontarmi coi normali, che erano più avanti di me negli studi e quindi cominciai a capire che dovevo perlomeno fare i conti con questa realtà. L’evento decisivo fu però inaspettato, imprevisto e drammatico ma salutare: la disoccupazione contemporaneamente alla gravidanza della moglie. Tre giorni di disperazione per cambiare non il mondo ma me stesso. Con umiltà ho cominciato da zero e da qui può iniziare la storia del mio procedere come tecnico specializzato nelle colonne sonore, negli studi di registrazione: lavorando, studiando fino a costruire studi di doppiaggio e di registrazione discografica. BESANO, 1948.

Children of non-ordinary people, artists or scientists who don’t fit in the common jobs’ routine, often find themselves embarrassed in comparison with other, normal humans. I didn’t escape from this destiny even if my artist father, although rather well known, used to wear the most ordinary behavior. His activity wasn’t ordinary at all, I would say exceptional: the artworks he exhibited were evaluated by persons quite distant from our way of living; when visiting they often came by car, their own car; enough for me to start thinking that I also was different. I hadn’t yet decided how different, but I didn’t feel the same as a grocer’s or an employee’s son.

Other reasons of distress were coming from the family, perhaps made up by me to complete my character, but being the second son I was always the second: a scrawny boy with the bad habit of hunching the shoulders, spoiled, scrubbing my itching nose. Mother especially, while meeting her girlfriends, was throwing in my face the hellish life she had had because of me since I was a baby. Besides, I was left handed. To sum up, I felt I was bothering. That’s why, maybe, solitude was my escape. I believe that unconsciously processing in myself these and other hidden inferiority complexes, I succeeded in anticipating by at least fifteen years James Dean’s character. As an adolescent I tried to compare myself to regular young people, more advanced in their studies: a reality I had to deal with. In the meantime the decisive event came into my life unexpected, unforeseen, and dramatic: unemployment joined to my wife’s pregnancy. Three days of despair, not to change the world, but to change myself. Finally humble, I started from zero. It was the beginning of my growing as a technician, specializing in sound recording: working, studying to the point I was able to build full dubbing and recording studios.

Much later, 1980-85, discovering American cars and landscape (A.A. has been a photographer since he was 14. He is graciously going toward the end of his Eighties)


Alberto Albertini, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Alberto Albertini, Nashville, Tennessee

Alberto Albertini, ,Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Alberto Albertini, Fort Lauderdale, Florida


Rheum (Unconscious Material 7), inkjet print on cotton paper, 33" x 23"-1/2. Courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery

Rheum (Unconscious Material 7), inkjet print on cotton paper, 33″ x 23″-1/2. Courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery

Rheum (Unconscious Material 4) Inkjet print on cotton paper, 33" x 23"-1/2 Courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery

Rheum (Unconscious Material 4) Inkjet print on cotton paper, 33″ x 23″-1/2 Courtesy Christopher Grimes Gallery

Dane Mitchell Rheum, (Unconscious Materials), 2013.

If spots can be clean, this is the case. We can only see but would like to touch them as we do with scabs on our skin. As images, they were revealed by a microscopic eye. Here they float luminous, transparent, on a flat paper sky: body remnants, inscrutable. Tiny, dry particles we find as we wake up in the corner of our eye that we clean up quickly, anxious to shake away the buffer space in which the mind is still lingering, gray in confusion. To know the chemistry doesn’t help, they are more than that. At least for Mitchell, they could be the remains of dreams, different every day, secretions, secrets, secret us.

Natural decay is stronger than history. Dane Mitchell has collected and displayed dust, smells, star dust and remnants of the living: the atmospheric thickness we breath through. Here the unknown, the unperceived, is the human body. I’d like to go back into the place from which these crystals came, like an Alice in brain wonderland, looking for the sensory palace of emotions.

In 1843 Johannes Müller wrote: “It is probable that there is in the brain a certain part or element appropriated to the affections, and the excitement of which causes every idea to acquire the intensity of emotions, and which, when very active, gives the simplest thought, even in dreams, the character of passion; but the existence of such part of elements cannot be strictly proved, nor its locality demonstrated.” (quoted by Larry Swanson, in Brain Architecture, 2003) Contemporary neurobiology has made precise maps of the areas Müller had imagined.

1973, Heinz Von Foerster: “Because there are 100 million receptors and about 10 billion synapsis in our nervous system, we are 100,000 times more receptive to changes of our inner environment than to changes coming from outside.”

But in the end, I need to leave the palace of science for the hut of humanities, uncertain as they are. Each crystal has a unique form, like each human, and yet is impersonal; only an artist would archive them with the secret origins sealed in their bodies. Perhaps he reminds us of the secrets, and invites us to transform the intellectual frustration -inevitable- into a sense of tenderness.

Maybe Nico Muhly’s music I drink the air before me, is the vibrant equivalent of Dane’s crystals despite the dispersed nature of sounds, apparently the opposite of images that are prisoner of a piece of paper: freedom in a clear space, unpredictable tales that only our senses can develop and an intense wondering about every second of awareness, not to miss the pearls we let go, because to be alive is to feel the world, to see it is secondary.

“This is what death is, most of all: everything that has been seen, will have been seen for nothing. Mourning over what we have perceived.” François Wahl.

NAOTAKA HIRO – Four Legged (Toe to Heel) 2014

18" x 20" x 65" Aluminum Courtesy of Brennan & Griffin Gallery, New York

18″ x 20″ x 65″ Aluminum
Courtesy of Brennan & Griffin Gallery, New York

Four-legged (Toe to Heel), detail

My work usually starts with the body parts. I am essentially blind: the subject an unknown world.  It’s a depressing yet unavoidable fact that my body is only understandable to myself when considered through a mediated form.  My works thus are connected through an imagination resulting from my encounter and engagement with the unknown.

Despite the fact that I have to close my eyes in order to cover for the casting process, the closed/half opened eyes in Four-legged represent my working theme, “Unknown/Blindness/Awe”, the world of my body parts, which I am unable to see and thus unable to confirm.

I casted from my toe(s) to heel(s).  With both hands, I put cast silicon smeared on my body simultaneously.  This creates 2 physiographic paths drawn on the body, starting from a front toe – front leg – nipple – eye – head – shoulder – butt – crotch – back leg and ending to heel.

Like my previous pieces, in working solo in my studio, I am interested in the distortion of the body from keeping the awkward positions for the duration of dry time.  

The body is split in front and back, essentially creating 4 legs.  The cast under crotch becomes a curled-up “tail” as in feared/coward animal.


I had asked Nao to send me his notes in Japanese, if he wanted. His denial was serious: “I never thought my work in Japanese during the process.” It was my mistake to consider his mother tongue the best way to convey his thoughts. I was making up a Japanese ghost in his body, a completely abstract Japanese identity about which I don’t know anything. The real person I do know works in Los Angeles, and translates into art all the impulses he can import from an extreme variety of experiences. George Steiner says that

“We are ‘tuned’ by the music that possesses us.” “All messages, all shaping of significance, verbal, representational, in the widest sense, musical, do have ‘a palpable design upon us.’ They ask to be heard, they demand understanding, where neither reception nor interpretation can never be neutral.”

Languages in this process are more than a filter, they are the dust put down by the human efforts of saving some, few voices that time would have devoured. Like a living dragon, each language spreads a different common sense. I tried to give my title to Naotaka Hiro’s sculpture in three languages:

L’inconnu qui est mon corps – Words sound like a public announcement sculpted by a prominent movement of the lips. The voice starts from the throat to gain power and volume.

My body, the unknown me – Requiring precision, the English meaning changes; words move to a more intimate game between the lips and the tongue; the voice is quiet, mumbling away.

Corporeità sconosciuta – Words became so abstract they start from the throat and flip down into the chest, disappearing.

Julie Shafer – THE WIND OF THE OWENS VALLEY (Inyo County, CA)

There is a smell I can’t get out of my mind. It’s mainly a mixture of developer, fixer, water and plywood. And once you get past that smell you have hints of gorilla tape, metal and plastic sheeting. It is a distinct smell that can’t quite be compared to anything, but I smell it when I pass by the plywood sheets that are the pieces of my camera, and I smell it even when I think hard enough about the smell. Either instance immediately transports me to the back of the U-Haul. It’s kind of like if you stuffed a dozen hardboiled eggs into a bleach-stained towel, and wrapped that in plastic sheeting, and left that in your trunk, in the middle of August for a week. Imagine opening the sheeting and whatever smell you sort of imagine might come out, it’s kind of like that. I have it in my shoes and socks tonight, and it soaked into my hands. No amount of washing takes it away.

JULIE SHAFER, Conquest of Vertical: 600 miles from Eureka!  2012

JULIE SHAFER, Conquest of Vertical: 600 miles from Eureka! 2012

There is a sound I can’t quite get out of my head. There were insanely strong winds today. I am not sure how strong they were, but there were times I thought the container of the U-Haul was going to rip off and my lab and me would go tumbling across the desert. I was able to pick up a radio signal on the drive out to my shooting location in the middle of Owens Dry Lake Bed. The signal ended about 10 miles from where I ended, and just before I traveled beyond that sound wave I heard a voice crackling through the speakers saying strong winds were expected today, with gusts anywhere from 35-50 m.p.h. Then there was nothing but crackling and high-pitched squeaks and squeals coming from the speaker.

For ten hours the wind didn’t let up. It went in ebbs and flows, but it was always present. The whole truck would rattle back and forth, and when a particularly strong gust would come through I could feel the cargo walls, me and my camera brace into the wind, hoping not to buckle. I think since it’s completely dark when I am working the sounds of the desert become amplified. I couldn’t hear anything else, not even my own sounds as I clumsily clanked around in the dark running into tables, and chemistry buckets, and trying to feel my way into my camera, all while the while truck would shake back and forth. I count in my head to know when my developing times are done, and I couldn’t hold my concentration long enough to count to 2 minutes. A strong gust would through, and my attention would switch to waiting out the gust. All I wanted was for the wind to stop, even for 5 minutes, and it never did. All day long I heard howls, and squeals and metal clanging against metal. I couldn’t manufacture a sound to compete.

I noticed I had been holding my breath for long periods of time. I don’t know why other than I was waiting for the wind to die, and it never did. The only way for me to get out of the back of the U-Haul was to yell “O.K.!!!!” and Marya would come running and roll up the cargo door. She’s only on the other side of the wall so it’s never been a problem, except today she had to protect herself from the elements and she sat inside the cab of her truck. My “O.K.s” were swatted away by the wind, and she couldn’t hear me. A few times I was sure she had had enough and left. Each time just before full-blown panic would set in I would scream “O.K.” as loud as I could, and about 10 seconds later I heard the softest crunch, crunch, crunch and didn’t know if I imagined her running to the door, or if it was real. Eventually the door flew up, blinding white light flooded in, and a huge gust came swirling through. I shimmied my camera to the edge of the truck and angled it toward Cerro Gerdo. There were huge dust clouds swirling above Owens Lake. It is still called that even though it is a dried out lake bed. The valley I was shooting in is a man-made dust bowl of toxic dust.

I have become really good at reading light, and I was guessing my exposure was going to be somewhere around 30 minutes. I pushed the camera out as far as I dared, and removed the tape covering the lens to start my exposure. As soon as I did, I saw sand getting sucked into pinhole. Lots, and lots of sand. I heard it pelting the back wall of the camera, which is where my photo paper was pinned. I couldn’t believe it. After all the work I had done setting up the darkroom, and getting the camera loaded I was now going to be outdone by the wind. This print, and any other print I had made were going to be scratched. I wanted to quit. I was barely holding it together as it was, and this just about tipped me over the edge. There was no waiting the wind out. It had been blowing all day, and according to that report was going to be blowing all week. I proceeded, out of principle, but in the back out my mind I envisioned throwing these in the dumpster behind my hotel room.