FIONA CONNOR : THE BRICK

Heavy! With thoughts? ― A BRICK

by Rosanna Albertini

Los Angeles, UCLA School of Architecture and Design, Room 1020 B Perloff Hall

An art exhibit in a classroom confirming that art is a strange ritual sometimes involving understanding and feelings, but not necessarily. The story features:

FIONA CONNOR, the artist, SIMONE FORTI, artist and friend, ROSANNA ALBERTINI, friend and writer, ALLAN KAPROW, the father of lifelike art

The three of us met the first time sitting on the grass of the Barnsdall Park with a few artists of Made in LA 2012 who were curious to know each other. Fiona was there, stretched out on her belly, handling a tape recorder.
She had in mind an alternative catalogue, and the conversation was a good starting moment, and was printed as it happened as a flux of words voiced by nameless people.

Simone felt easily part of that book out of order, more a bottle of water than a collection of statements. Words were kept in motion, escaping from their temporary blockage in meanings. When she performs, Simone’s body in movement is a fullness of feelings channelled into a slow motion physical language, almost savoring the quality of each gesture.

“I held a large grasshopper in my open hand. It swayed from side to side as we gazed into each other’s eyes. We sustained this alignment of sight through an exact correspondence in our movements, which created a certain resonance between us. We danced together like this for many minutes. I had just saved his life and we were very curious about each other.” (Simone Forti, Handbook in Motion, 1974)

Kaprow “When you do life consciously, life becomes pretty strange … so … a new art/life genre came about, reflecting equally the artificial aspects of everyday life and the lifelike qualities of created art. For example, it was clear to me how formal and culturally learned the act of shaking hands is; just try to pump a hand five or six times instead of two and you’ll cause instant anxiety. I also became aware that artworks of any kind could be autobiographical and prophetic. You could read paintings like handwriting, and over a period of time chart the painter’s abiding fantasies, just as you might chart writers’ thoughts from collections of personal letters or diaries. Happenings, and later activities, being less specialized than paintings, poems, and the other traditional arts, readily lent themselves to such psychological insight.” (Allan Kaprow, “Performing Life,” 1979)

The brick should be allowed to raise his protagonist voice in the room. No way. Kaprow hasn’t be around for a while. He never died for me. He might be happy to see a sort of happening resurgent in a school room in 2016. The brick, the English name doesn’t help to describe it. Italian is more direct: il mattone. Tongue and palate must stick to one another before the weight falls on the tip of the tongue and the lips shape an oval for the second o, that receives the accent. Sure heaviness, a compact thing. Like two teenagers dancing very close for the first time: il ballo del mattone, the mattone dance we used to call it. Brick, instead, is a Teutonic and French hybrid name: a broken thing, and the form of a loaf. Therefore, a baked form of clay. Architects of that day mainly saw the practical usage, the stillness of facts.

Our brick, along with 74 brick friends, lies in a corner of the room. On the walls, some bulletin boards replicate the originals at the Pacific Clay factory. Some bricks are wrapped with a printed sheet about the history of  bricks of the UCLA buildings. The building itself, and most of the other buildings on the campus, speak unmistakably brick language. But to hold only one, naked, unfinished, is handling a rough unit, a number asking to be a body, a body that would like to be something else: “I want to be an arch,” the brick told Louis Khan. The architect accepted the challenge. But here, in the school room, the only challenge is “doing life consciously” and feel a solid piece of clay transformed into a book.

Maybe Fiona looked at the brick like Simone at the grasshopper, were they very curious about each other? Clay is the opposite of an inert material. Minerals trap water into their molecules. And, in this Happening at the end of day, because of all the elements orchestrated around the little heavy red rough block, the mind goes through walls and buildings, the mind can feel what happens: the brick is a catalyst like any book, a substance that increases chemical reactions in our brain without changing her own composition. Water is trapped in our brain’s chemistry.

Suddenly The UCLA buildings appear melted back to the original condition of the clay, which was entirely dug from a site near Lake Elsinore. Let’s pretend it’s a virtual reality experience: bricks meet from ancient China, India, Egypt, and Northern Italy of course, they shake hands with their California siblings and go back to their functions in the walls, buildings reappear intact. It wouldn’t be history without hands and tools of their makers at the factory, without the people who provide the loafs, architects designing the forms, others teaching how to build, and inevitably taking the bricks for granted, as we do with our legs and arms. Fiona Connor gave to the brick a day of glory knowing it wouldn’t last. “Life,” also “conscious life” absorbs everything: geology, fantasies. The brick, a human idea.

bibliography: 

ALLAN KAPROW, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, edited by Jeff Kelley, University of California Press, 1993

SIMONE FORTI, Handbook in Motion, An account of an ongoing personal discourse and its manifestations in dance.  Contact Edition, Northampton MA, 1974

Commentary by Charlie Morrow:  

bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS
bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS
bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS
bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi
mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS mAttONi bRickS

 

FROM THE SWISS ALPS TO THE CALIFORNIA DESERT

   MATZA AMBOY – DRYLAND LAB

2016: UNDERGROUNDS : Art, Land Use and Democracy

From July 5, 2016 to an unknown day, at the mercy of nature and other unexpected events.

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It’s hard to tell if there is or there was Amboy, in the middle of the Mohave Desert (CA). It was an expanded station for travelers journeying on Route 66 by horse, by car or by train since the late nineteenth century. They called it a town because it had a train station, a post office, followed by a motel, a gas station, a church and a few houses. For awhile also a school, that died in 1999. Never more than eighty people were brave enough to spend their life in Amboy over a hundred and a few more years. The local monument is a volcanic cinder cone, bare as a Richard Serra sculpture cooked in the earth’s  belly, overlooking the driest land one can imagine. The whole town has been bought and sold as only one urban body more than once, maybe by charming the newcomers with a faded, modernist look.

“With the opening of the DRYLANDS LAB in 2015, Matza Amboy dedicates its program to the question of water and its distribution.”

ONCE A YEAR FOR FOUR WEEKS it “brings together a selection of artists but also researchers in social sciences, engineers (solar energy, water) and architects.”

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This is the exhibition I saw in Amboy, a population of art pieces shrunk by heat, covered with dust, transformed by the place. Maybe it also happened to the artist this year, more connected to the sense of loss and abandonment inspired by empty distances around the town, a space devouring the meaning of any direction except maybe imaginary lines between Amboy and constellations, planets, moons and meteorites so similar to the surface of this empty land that, at a distance, shines with salt.

There is no water on the moon”, writes Katharine in a beautiful text pinned on the wall. She describes the desolate rooms of the Amboy School, left as they were at the end of a normal morning, books on the tables and drawings and something written on the blackboard, as if a sudden disaster had forced everybody out, out in the sun, out of the inner spaces in which breath and perspiration were spread and absorbed by the skin, escaping the cruelty of being dispersed in open air. I should see Katharine’s textile banner twisted by the wind; it’s not there. School books, drawings and cyanotypes on display aren’t safe neither, the sliding back of the display cabinet is open: some papers move around on the floor. Peter and I felt entitled to put them back, definitely captivated by open doors, and lack of edges, while the heat sucked our brains out of the skull. Not completely though, we could still enjoy the ideas behind the desiccated or altered bodies of the art pieces. Our and their nostalgia hung to almost nothing, just enough to click on our cultural sensitivity.

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The six white rooms of a defunct motel open their door to the art of visionary strangers with a warm heart. Concepts turn into feelings, giving form to physical awareness of common challenges for all humans: the suffocating protection against global warming in a room; white curtains flying through the windows in another room, the white room that breaths and invites us to look beyond the walls. There is the Post Office in front of the cabins, on the other side of the road. An artist, Delphine, paints a white crosswalk. Illegal! For sure she didn’t know it. Now her white stripes have been covered with black paint. They remained stripes, not very precise on the sides, as if painted with a broom.

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Five weeks of solitude after the artists left, and the nails of democracy brought by Séverin have probably given to the locals the wish to be actively part of the installation, for better or worse. Although the Rain Book was stolen, somebody partially replaced it with two pages for a new rain book: writing about a day of rain near Amboy, and adding two photographs from her backyard. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe it was a girl. It’s great when the art expands beyond the initial, limited object, expanding the idea in other minds, through other fingers.

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Half of the art pieces are outdoors, not easy to identify because some local sibling keep them company. Dear friends from Switzerland, you have followers!
Maybe they didn’t grab the beauty of the Ghost Drops and even stole the water jar from the excavated hole, it doesn’t matter. The order you brought into the desert doesn’t belong there. That’s why it is striking to touch it, with long fingers from the eyes. The pyramid in small size, the windmill, the hole, the bridge are as basic as the wheel, one would believe that time has vanished, you remade in the American desert symbols of a culture exposed to failure, silence, misunderstanding. Maybe without wanting you all approached Allan Kaprow’s idea of un-art, almost becoming un-artists, “the offsprings of high art who have left home.”

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Jardin å la Française, the only piece the goes directly from the mind of the artist to the visitor’s mind, is a revelation in the landscape, not less than the vision in front of a French castle’s over designed garden. There was a moment, after driving guided by your instructions, when I almost screamed “stop!” “It’s here!”
Maybe I was wrong au pied de la lettre, yet I was sure the whole dryland, the bushes and the far away mountains had assumed a sense of order, an imperfect geometrical perspective around an unpaved road whose end could only be imagined. Yes! A sense of enthusiasm made me almost forget the 110 degrees of the air, wind and dust. Not for long. A grumbling noise from the road woke me up. Twelve Harley Davidson’s with their riders covered in black leather stopped in front of the white little cabins, perfectly lined up. Language was French. Laughing, my midwestern husband exclaimed: “order is only cultural.”  Maybe art is not, not completely, and it is for the best.

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ARTISTS OF MATZA AMBOY 2016

Marie Velardi, Frederick Choffat, Katharina Hohmann, Thierry Maeder, Delphine Renault, Severin Guelpa, Delphine Renault, Thierry Maeder, Maxime Bondu, Daniel Zamarbide, Leopold Bianchini, Laurence Piaget-Dubious

http://www.matza.net/matza_amboy_2016.

Photographs: PETER KIRBY

BEGGING for a BOOK PRINTING and BINDING

 

THE STORY IS READ BY THE ARTIST
EXCEPT … PAGES ARE BLANK.

About AN ART BOOK by FIONA CONNOR edition of 100

(The art book was bound by hand by volunteers and presented in the gallery at Red Cat, Los Angeles, January 9 -10, 2016)

By Rosanna Albertini

“A collection of sheets of paper or other substances, blank, written or printed, fastened together as to form a material whole.” The Oxford English Dictionary             

 

Fiona-book

Unfolding the pages, one after the other, Fiona Connor lets the voice flow out of her memory. From January to March, some details have already disappeared. One can follow her journey through Los Angeles from Cloverdale to San Pedro, Santa Monica, Riverside, Ventura, El Segundo, Pasadena, Burbank, asking a few people she had met in the past, but mostly others completely unknown, the favor to print for her as many possible pages, if possible one hundred, of a book she conceived as an art piece made with collective cooperation. A family of printers are from Persia, a young woman is from Australia, and a guy, he just had a baby. Linda, Rich, Tiffany, Lynn, Jesus, Becka, Joyce, Damaris, Ed, Ben, Kat, and everyone else she asked, “kindly obliged” and printed at the bottom of each right hand page the template the artist requested:

‘name’ of the printing machine
address of the place where the printing happened
first name of the person who did the printing work

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I can’t avoid seeing her as a beggar, the artist who breaks the commercial ritual of buying the service. She becomes the person who serves the needs of the art piece: her feet on the sidewalks of the metropolis or on public transportation; her intention and desire to involve and obtain a certain amount of work everywhere she can find a printing device.

Downtown, while wandering around the gray brownish grid of pavements and buildings, she happens to find herself face to face with Harry Gamboa Jr., another artist who has made himself, for decades, a vessel against the lures of a power based on money. Fiona recognized him, his face often printed in art catalogues and books. It seems they looked at each other, did not talk. Fiona’s private persona is a shy one. For sure, he didn’t know who she was. This story is not in her reading.

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A conceptual art project in 2016.
The personal mark of the artist isn’t physical. Her name goes along with “the concept.” The © belongs to Red Cat. No author, no title. Therefore the book is left on his/her/its own nature: born from so many it could be an orphan. Or an outcast book mainly white, home of the white noise, unidentified presences. The artist dares to expose the absence of a traditional text as a value: although we see and touch that something is lost, it’s almost impossible to say or write what it is, even if the desire to express it is more than alive. In the XVI and XVII century Europe, this contradictory sentiment – the awareness of missing the point – turned into unfriendly attitudes toward beggars, women, the insane, hermits and illiterate humans: those who didn’t share the common knowledge, and failed to be heard.  Michel de Certeau called MYSTIQUE their lack of knowledge and made them the angels of the Mystique Fable (Fable Mystique, 1982).

I wonder if, unconsciously perhaps, Fiona Connor has reversed history as she often does in her work, so that readers and writers are the ones devoured by our contemporary Mystique Fable. They, we writers, are becoming the excluded from a reality in search of a different medium. Looking for something better than written words. In the meantime, artists try to keep on with ordinary things that have become furniture of the human landscape in our brain, we like to sit on them.

Let’s step back a few decades to the early seventies: Allen Ruppersberg calling for attention to the human matter that goes through words and pages: the living time, more significant than personality. He drew a book perfectly recognizable: Sanctuary by William Faulkner, and added: “Reading time: 12 hrs 43 min.” We shouldn’t forget his visual replica, word by word, by his own hand, of Walden 1973, and The Picture of Dorian Gray 1974.

Fiona Connor instead replicates steps, walls, museum benches, fountains, bulletin boards, bricks. The reverse engineering of the objects, that are very accurately remade, makes it hard to distinguish them from the original. The original could be surprised facing the archival translation of it’s body.

“Art should be familiar and enigmatic, just as human beings themselves”
“Art should make use of common methods and materials so there is very little difference between the talk and the talked about”

Ruppersberg’s thoughts are his own conceptual coat that strangely fits quite well with Fiona Connor’s art. Keeping the similitude between the two artists suspended on the acrobat’s rope, I add one of Allan McCollum’s observations ― about Al Ruppersberg reproducing or even embracing America’s banal traditional rituals ― that I particularly love and feel appropriate to Fiona Connor and our present time:

“In my memory, it was Al who reminded our troubled generation that simple, normal, everyday rituals of human commerce (horrors!) contained a significant complement of decency and joy that needed to be recognized and appreciated ― not in spite of, but along with whatever else might have been wrong with the world in those especially uneasy years.

Our years are not less uneasy, they are only uneasy in a different way.

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Photos: Peter Kirby

A CONCEPTUAL CHURCH

ROBERT BARRY’S Installation at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mid Compton, Los Angeles.
A Thomas Solomon exhibition

ART CONCEPT OF NOW

by Rosanna Albertini

EVERYTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS PAINTING
BUT ART, NO IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK

Acrylic words on canvas by John Baldessari, 1966-68. I would love to replicated them today, but I can’t. They would become:

NOTHING IS PURGED FROM THIS TEXT ABOUT ART
IDEAS HAVE ENTERED THIS WORK WEARING THE LIQUID DRESS OF THE PRESENT

 

Conceptual art and minimalism have been the thread sewing my philosophical training in contemporary art, still they light in my mind either the joy of understanding or the certainty that understanding as an abstraction has exploded, and more and more words have become images. Ideas themselves might be hung in Plato’s cave, obscured by a big rock blocking the entrance. We want to live first, think sometimes, maybe, and replace explanations with sensations. The artworks, enhancing our conflict between reasonable goals and inner demons, reveal the immense variety of possible worlds, and signal at the same time the power to regenerate, to expand the very idea of language.

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church, Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

If the page is no longer the privileged garden, other sensory experiences expand the conceptual struggle in different mental spaces. The term conceptual sounds odd because it’s mostly an aura, a breeze around the translation from vague intuitions to physical signs, from calculations to a possible visibility: the new planet, ten times bigger than the earth, has not yet been seen: conceptual astronomy? Why not?

Capital letters grouped into words appear like phantoms on the walls of Los Angeles Bethlehem Baptist Church. I don’t know whether those white words on white walls are a text or not. They climb the walls and seem to be there to be seen, not read. Reading is possible, not mandatory: the art piece has been conceived and realized by artist Robert Barry. The displacement it creates in the visitors, quietly, indirectly, is of the best conceptual texture. Come, recreate yourself in the piece.

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

The small church was built by Rudolph Schindler in 1944, abandoned and recently restored by Thomas Solomon to become, temporarily, an art temple. The original building was painted red, blue and black; now it’s white. Words turn around the corners, walk up or down in diagonals, or enjoy being upside down. They become luminous limbs of light, while the church functions as a buffer space between the age of books and the time of a phoenix which is still difficult to describe. A virgin landscape in which the idea herself of a church is condemned.

This church is a house, an open place bringing in from the windows the other houses around, flying birds and airplanes, trees, street noise and voices: the opposite of the isolating, hiding place of the past. The human signs on the walls aren’t very different from frescoes, or from the little white hands painted on the walls of a cave by the vanished Anasazi. (See in The Kite https://albertini2014.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/little-white-hands/) Nevertheless, these almost flying words so light, so out of grammatical or syntactic order, are a pulsing image of our beautiful thoughts in a day of freedom, having lunch on an urban soil. Scattered, luminous shadows of the mind’s children, they show the absurdity of our days: vulnerable and obstinate, broken up but shining like the tail of a comet. After all, as the food plates of Allen Ruppersberg’s Cafe made with dirt, leaves and pebbles were uneatable for the mouth, although devoured by the eyes, Robert Barry’s words slip into the eyes to be chewed by the brain, maybe reinvented.

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory Photo: Peter Kirby

ROBERT BARRY, 2016 Installation at Bethlehem Church Los Angeles
Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Solomon Art Advisory                   Photo: Joshua White / JW Pictures