BRIAN BRESS : He Doubled Himself as a Body of Colors

B R I A N   B R E S S

About BRIAN BRESS’s Video-sculptures and sculptures

— In Lieu of Flowers send Memes —
Cherry and Martin Gallery, West Los Angeles — May-June 2017

HE DOUBLED HIMSELF AS A BODY OF COLORS

by Rosanna Albertini

We commonly give the color of our notions of the known to our ideas of the unknown: we call death sleep because it outwardly resembles sleeping; if we call death a new life it’s because it seems like something different from life.

Hi, I am Rickybird, mint, hot pink, a wintergreen Members Only, and mister Still Life, orange to blue. Although you see three figures in separate frames, it’s always me, the replica of a human body, with three different heads. They bear the burden of intellectual effort, their failure to see through unknown realities.

To restore life to art, my artist looked for visual songs hoping to reverse the meaning of what we see. He choose to hide his body and especially his head in a rigid container that makes him blind and deaf. He is a master of collage. Don’t stop there, the word only speaks technique, or combination of styles, technique again. I am not a collage, I am a sculpture that rotates 360 degrees within a frame hung on the wall. Yes, I am a body of logarithms and pixels, with no weight and no senses.

BRIAN BRESS, Still Life (orange to blue), 2017
High definition single-channel video (color), High definition monitor and player, wall mount, framed.
40.75 x 23.125 x 2.5 inches, 21:32 Loop. Courtesy of the artist and Cherry Martin Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among the many things I can repeat, from my artificial mind, there is some Robert Musil: we live “in a period of civilization that had simply filled with rubble the access to the soul.” “The most important things take place today in the abstract, and the most trivial ones in real life.” Memory is as solid a part of me as my numerical soul. I don’t give a damn if humans are faltering, or losing the sense of self. I bring simple truths afloat: I spread silence, and around my invisible skeleton I display a rotation which is only my inner clock: free from night and day, far from shadows, brushing any subjectivity away from me.

Let’s make a fresh start: my heads can be severed, then reconstructed as classic monuments of cumulative clumps of ideas, resting in peace in their sculpted form. My severed heads are white, white and impersonal as if the hand-work of the artist was forgotten. They conjure up a variety of moods —a little like the verbs moods— that you can discover walking all around the heads. Some serious, others ridiculous, over all impenetrable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Men and things have the same destiny — because it is abstract — an equally indifferent value in the algebra of the mystery.
But there is something else… Oh how many times have my very own dreams arisen before me like things, not to take the place of my reality but to confess that they are equal to me in my not caring for them, in arising in me from without, like the trolley that turns at the far curve of the street.”

In all my dreams either you appear, dream, or, false reality, you accompany me.
With you I visit regions that are perhaps your bodies of absence and dishumanity, your essential body disfigured into a calm plain and a mountain with a cold profile in the garden of a hidden palace.”

BRIAN BRESS, Members Only (wintergreen), 2017.
High definition single-channel video, high definition monitor and player, wall mount, framed.
40.75 x 23.125 x 2.5 inches, 19:25 Loop. Courtesy of the artist and Cherry Martin Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is only one way my artist could see himself doubled like an alien looking at him from a distance, from a land of dreams in which my features do not have names, nor have a tongue on their own. He doubled himself as a body of colors: his unknown self.
I am his disfigured double, soaked in colors as a flower, an evergreen, a shiny fish luminous with scales, or a changeable mother pearl. Intention, decisions and the strength of will were melted, sent to another planet. Feelings remain, the certainty I exist, along with an eternal uncertainty about who am I.

I’m not the illusory image given back by the mirror: that really would be one exclusive way of seeing myself. No, I can feel my head navigating through time, embraced by million spaces. I wear the heroic, shiny helmets of Agamemnon and Achilles and Patroclus fighting around the walls of Troy, some futurist angles turning cubist maybe, some pop disguises as if I were pointing my tongue at the viewers, except I don’t have a tongue, nor eyes, nor ears, only my inner flame that makes me happy to rotate on my axis so slowly I seem still. Rush is banned in my space. I am as my artist made me, as light as a butterfly.

BRIAN BRESS, Rickybird (mint, hot pink), 2017
High definition single channel video (color), High definition monitor and player, Wall mount, framed.
40.75 x 23.125 x 2.5 inches, 24:18 Loop. Courtesy of the artist and Cherry Martin Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything around us become part of us, infiltrates us in our carnal or vital sensation, and the web of the grand Spider subtly ties us to whatever is at hand, binding us in a light bed of slow death, where we rock in the wind.”

Quotes are from Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, translated by Alfred Mac Adam, Exact Change, Boston, 1998.
And from Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, translated from German by Sophie Wilkins, Editorial consultant Burton Pike, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

 

 

METAMORPHOSIS OF A FOLK TALE

THE GOLDEN GOOSE    by   SEAN SHIM-BOYLE

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016 Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016
Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016 Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

SEAN SHIM-BOYLE, The Golden Goose, 2016
Wood, Flex conduit, 138 x 382 x 131 in Courtesy of the artist and Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Josh White

“Humans, like all living beings, have a special power, a power of transformation that is also suitable for things around us, as far as we make up our image of them. …

We are, first of all, a transformative organism more or less complex (according to the animal species) because life is necessarily given and taken, and modified, also between the persons and their environment.”
Paul Valéry, La liberté de l’esprit, 1939

The truth of this kind of statement is questionable; it’s Valéry’s positivistic intelligence of life as one bee house in which humans don’t have primacy that strikes me.

But, first of all, this is a New Year story: January 1, 2017

By Rosanna Albertini       A wall of a Los Angeles art gallery,* a few months ago, asked an artist to liberate his body from the white flatness between floor and ceiling. Nobody knew he had a body! An animal, hidden body. The more the artist opened up and moved out part of the geometrical forest of flat pieces of timber that keeps the wall steadily vertical, the more flexible the structure became, almost opening wings. The wooden surfaces became pieces of skin and bones pierced by nails, crying drops of glue, yellow tears but not like the gold the artist began to search for.

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As Ovid, and so many artists from the dawn of time, Sean Shim-Boyle made his fingers the magic tool able to unveil and amplify a structure already far from the natural trees she had been, covered with leaves, pushing roots into the ground.
“Scarcely had I swallowed the strange juices that I suddenly felt my heart trembling within me, and my whole being yearned with desire for another element. Unable long to stand against it, I cried aloud: ‘Farewell, O Earth, to which I shall never return!’” This was Glaucous, speeding from the surface of Ovid’s book, Metamorphosis, chapter XIII.

The golden goose as well could scream: ‘Farewell O Wall, let me fly to my artist.’

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And the artist changes an inanimate stiffness into a movable variety of organs. Although silent, the wooden limbs develop a language directed to the eyes, pages of a story made with textures, colors and cuts. They push feathers of course, always made of wood, to open our mind to the popular versions of metamorphosis like the ones told by an old aunt near the stove, or by the bed, to children ready to grab the thread of her words and sew it into their dreams. Close your eyes with them, dear reader. Your sense of reality could expand. You might wake up holding a goose with golden feathers like the Brothers Grimm story about Dummling, a simpleton who picked up the precious bird from the roots of a tree and collected the funniest group of thieves around the goose. Trying to steal the golden feathers, the thieves remained glued to the goose in an absurd carousel. Looking at them, the king’s daughter finally laughed and married the Dummling. Same laughter in Italy, where the tale didn’t bring golden feathers, only a fine goose. But magic! As soon as somebody tried to grab her, the beast screamed: ‘Quack Quack, stick to my back!’ Another carousel of stuck people made the sad princess laugh.

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No doubt Sean Shim Boyle felt in his own body a ‘power of transformation.’ Although The Golden Goose was supposed to be covered by something recalling a skin, the artist fell in love with the anatomical story. He gives us the pleasure to look at the inside of this sculpted body, and stop on his arbitrary ligaments. Back to physicality, veins in the panels, windows of connective tissues, spots of aging in flattened surfaces of bark. Changing colors. The signs of natural and artificial making are history and fairy tale at once. The gold is in the mind. His, mine, yours? Frankly, I couldn’t tell. Maybe it’s in the earth.
“A realm without perspective, a realm of sensuality and desire that gathers all into the lips’ uncertain space – uncertain because it straddles interior and exterior, self and other.
A space of fusion, of total osmosis.
A surface that envelops, that caresses the brain and the images that our thoughts produce.”
Giuseppe Penone, Branches of Thought, 2014

It’s a clear day, cold and without wind. Golden leaves are still on the trees in front of my window. I wish we could all laugh and mutate into our favorite imaginary body. Had this been possible we would have already started the journey. Instead, we start the day reading the New York Times.

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All the detail photos are by R.A.
*Various Small Fires Art Gallery, Los Angeles
Italian Folktales, selected and retold by Italo Calvino, Translated by George Martin, Pantheon Books, New York, 1980
The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Pantheon Books, New York, 1944

BETYE SAAR : HER WONDER

An imaginary dialogue between

BETYE IRENE SAAR and WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

Paterson  New Jersey    and     Los Angeles  California 

BETYE SAAR, Every Secret Things (Almost) 1982 Mixed media collage on paper 20 x 13.25" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Every Secret Things (Almost) 1982. Mixed media collage on paper 20 x 13.25 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Note from the editor, Rosanna Albertini. This dialogue is based on my impression that her visual poems made with found objects and his poems made with words -we find them as well around us, since the time our ears could grasp them- are nothing but small machines endowed with an “intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.” (W.C.W.) Not only they are not sentimental, their subject is not their point. As works of art Saar’s visual poems are made as islands of perception, imaginary cages for human stories touched with gentleness, not to break their skin or alter their movable presence in her mind.

The price she pays to shape her land of wonder is distance: objects coming from other  lives, and fragmented images that were probably lost or hidden in her brain if she needs to add stitches to drawings and glue as if preventing them from vanishing, pinning them down. Time, in her art, seems to struggle against the eternal present of the art work when it’s finished, and becomes a still, impenetrable combination of feelings about all the things that stir our lives and do not have the same clarity of words. Directions, orientation, destiny, chance? They are cages for feelings before they solidify in concepts. Collages on paper, three-dimensional  assemblages are simply things living their own life.

They declare nothing. It is the hidden sparkle they surround with beauty that pulls our hair.

Their eyes look at us forcing us to wonder about what we do not, we can not see. The poet writes:

So let us love
confident as is the light
in its struggle with darkness

and the visual artist takes the wind in the same direction, through darkness and light. Darkness is time painted by history, and caged in words, but for her as an artist darkness is a fact that patiently, stubbornly, she brings back to light. Game of chance, or game of destiny: she is standing in the shadow of love. Which is the real step out of darkness, and makes each piece of her art a strong physical metaphor, a cage for magic, and a house for ideas.

(The poem is the second part of Shadows, in William Carlos Williams Selected Poems, (selected by dr. Williams himself), first published in 1949, New York, New Directions Books.

The images are from Betye Saar’s double exhibition: Blend and Black White at Roberts & Tilton Culver City, CA Oct.-Dec. 2016)

 

BETYE SAAR. Standing in the Shadow of Love

BETYE SAAR, Standing in the Shadow of Love  2000, Mixed media assemblage  18 x 26.25 x 1.50 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

 

BETYE SAAR, Destiny of Latitude and Longitude

BETYE SAAR, Destiny of Latitude and Longitude, 2010.  Mixed media assemblage  54 x 43 x 20.5 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Ripped from the concept of our our lives
and from all concept
somehow, and plainly,

the sun will come up
each morning
and sink again.

BETYE SAAR, To Follow Separate Stars 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 15.5" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, To Follow Separate Stars 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 15.5 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

So that we experience
violently
every day
two worlds
one of which we share with the
rose in bloom
and one,
by far the greater,
with the past, the world of memory,
the silly world of history,
the world
of the imagination.

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4 in Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Heartbreak Hotel, 2016 Mixed media assemblage 15.75 x 8.75 x 4 in Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Illusion of Freedom,

BETYE SAAR, Illusion of Freedom, 2009 Mixed media collage  8.5 x 18.5 x 11 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Which leaves only the beasts and trees,
crystals
with their refractive
surfaces
and rotting things
to stir our wonder.

BETYE SAAR, Always Just Out of Focus 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 13.5" Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Always Just Out of Focus 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 18 x 13.5 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Collecting Twilight Corners 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 19.5 x 14.75" Courtesy of the artists and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

BETYE SAAR, Collecting Twilight Corners 1982, Mixed media collage on paper 19.5 x 14.75 in   Courtesy of the artists and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Save for the little
central hole
of the eye itself
into which
we dare not stare too hard
or we are lost.

BETYE SAAR, Red Bone Black Scouts

BETYE SAAR, Red Bone Black Scouts, 2001   Mixed media collage on paper  17.5 x 25 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

The instant
trivial as it is
is all we have
unless-unless
things the imagination feeds upon, the scent of the rose,
startle us anew.

BETSYE SAAR, Dark Times 2015, Mixed media on vintage washboard 21.25 x 8.5 x 2.5"

BETSYE SAAR, Dark Times, 2015   Mixed media on vintage washboard 21.25  x  8.5  x  2.5 in   Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City LA

BETYE SAAR, Serving Time

BETYE SAAR, Serving Time, 2010  Mixed media assemblage  64 x 17.25 x 9.75 in  Courtesy of the artist and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

Laurel Doody : DEJEUNER SUR L’HERBE

Déjeuner sur l’herbe – Garden Lunch  
February 28, 2016

Los Angeles, 3632 Grand View Boulevard, LA 90066

Lucie Fontaine’s employees hosted the thanksgiving lunch of Laurel Doody, Fiona Connor’s non-profit art space that has been active in Los Angeles for about a year. March 2015-March 2016.

 

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FIONA CONNOR, plates   Photos: Fredrik Nilsen

The gallery was also Fiona Connor’s small apartment. Often she moved her bed downstair during the day and brought it back for the night. The exhibition space was rigourously empty. The table for the ritual dinner at each exhibition was improvised and built at the moment. Laurel Doody was not only a whimsical initiative of a single person. Values were at stake. Exhibition by exhibition, it became an offering to the art makers, and their friends. By choice, not a commercial experience. Cooking and eating were parts of the ritual. A little like the Maori who offer hot soup to the stars, sitting on the seashore. Curators, writers, gallerists, designers, photographers, filmakers, performers were part of the collaborative group.

Many people in Los Angeles can say they were there, In Laurel Doody’s space, experiencing sincerity, honesty, passion for art and joyful time. Fiona Connor is an artist who likes displacements of objects and of their common meanings. She brought from her apartment to the Garden Lunch materials for the table: a small cupboard and two doors. The table setting was displayed on the doors. The artist set the table with ceramic plates made by her and with old white and blue Ginori 1900.

 

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Photos: Peter Kirby

As Claude Lévi-Strauss  would say, “The same mind which has abandoned itself to the experience becomes the theater of mental operations which, without suppressing the experience, nevertheless transform it into a model to release further mental operations. In the last analysis, the logical coherence of these mental operations is based on the sincerity and honesty of the person who can say, like the explorer bird of the fable, ‘I was there; such and such happened to me; you will believe were you there yourself,’ and who in fact succeeds in communicating that conviction.”

Fiona’s plates are made by pressing clay on architectural surfaces and the ground, then peeling them off and letting them dry over moulds. They were fired at Laurel Doody. At the end of the garden lunch, the friends of the project received their plate as a present.

EDGAR PISANI: REBEL and MASTER

EDGAR PISANI: REBEL and MASTER in the art of politics

        C’est beau la politique! There is beauty in politics!

  in memoriam                by Rosanna Albertini

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Photograph by Peter Kirby

Twelve years ago. The old man has flown back to France. Los Angeles was the Pacific edge of his life, one more seashore after his native dunes in Tunis and after the Atlantic, flinging its rage against Normandie and Bretagne. I still see his silhouette on the sidewalk, his legs walking steady and brisk. Arms and shoulders don’t move, a walking statue. Even the long sleeves of his shirt look dignified. I don’t know if history or simply age, made him exiled from decades of active political life, among other things serving France as a minister for two presidents, Charles De Gaulle and Francois Mitterand. He knows what he was and still is: first of all, “serviteur de l’Etat.” The two leaders, in his words, became political artists (plasticiens): De Gaulle like a Rodin “travaillant le marbre a grand coups de ciseaux,” working the marble with strong strikes of chisel, and Mitterrand “caressant indéfiniment la glaise,” endlessely fondling the clay.*

His eyes barely contain the urging of thoughts and the pressure of projects he needs to achieve before his feet are pointed to the sky, I hope without socks. So far his eighty seven years move on his feet back and forth through a Los Angeles sculpture garden, populated by a number of bronzes by Auguste Rodin and some by Bourdelle. There he feels at home. Not so much among contemporary geometries or textures emptied of figures, or Mel Bochner’s interrupted lines: language is not transparent. Far from me the idea of guiding his mind through LACMA’s meanders, we both know too well that art and politics can speak only to unpredictable motions of a personal sensitivity. He connects instantly to Gerhard Richter’s abstractions, though: a tormented embrace of greens and reds, as if the canvas had absorbed an informal density, completely earthly. The viewer could wonder whether the sky had ever existed, not to mention the humans.

Outside, in the garden, a full size bronze emerges from the bushes, the legs are hidden. Look at that figure, “It’s enough to look at,” says the old man, “this is solitude.” My eyes follow his feeling. Yes, life is heavy on that man’s sculpted shoulders, it is a dress he/we wear every day, it gets heavier and heavier, and yet the person is the core, the kernel of the story: instead of being put down, the person keeps light, and resilient. I turn myself, staring at the face of the old man: the statue is his mirror, that’s him. “Poor Bourdelle!” — he says — “Il a la même énergie, pas le même génie.” Rodin comes first.

The old man runs the clock backward repeating thoughts he does not want to forget, writing in the air the wisdom he has distilled from the vapors of power. Democracy, he truly cares about it. Food for everybody, he cares even more. We walk for almost an hour and he doesn’t look tired. If I suggest to take the bus, “Don’t treat me like an old,” he replies promptly, dropping a smile into his throat. He likes to talk sitting on the benches by the ocean.

What are you doing here?” he asks me for no reason. “I keep myself Italian, and partially French: here everything I’ve learned makes more sense.” As a matter of fact, in a couple of months the old man has turned on in me strings I had kept silent during a decade spent adapting to American life, trying to. Observing his struggle to keep his life active and interesting, for the first time I look at my own aging, still an odd thing, hard to believe that everything will stop, and one day, a day that I will not be able to see, I will not be here or there, where?

So far, my heart is pumping well: it sends me to see friends and grandchildren, other people older than I, animated by a ridiculous energy like a sonata by Ludwig Van Beethoven. I wear a red shirt from my husband’s collection and look at myself in the mirror: It fits me well, I burst out laughing! although they had told me when I was eleven or twelve that red was not a good color for my complexion. I suspect they had in mind the untold idea that red is too appealing, maybe suggests illicit sex, but then, what about Santa Claus? I was five when I learned that Garibaldi’s shirt was red. Garibaldi Giuseppe, of course, like most of my family members bearing the same name, on his feet in an oval frame. This was the way children learned history: Romolo and Remo, Nero, Napoleon, Garibaldi, pictures of famous humans in an oval frame.

We were sure they were truly dead like all the people looking at us from the gravestones in pictures with the same kind of oval. Mysterious that the twins were represented as babies nursed by a mother wolf, as if they had never grown up. A short sentence about each of them…. done, we knew that ancestors had prepared the life we are in. Garibaldi was l’eroe dei due mondi, the two worlds hero: meaning Europe and South America, or the deeply parted Northern and Southern Italy. The red shirts invaded Sicily. They killed, robbed, raped, only one hundred and fifty years ago. Why should Sicilians feel proud of being Italians. Of course they don’t. I wish I could grow my legs in a Munchausenian fanfaronnade and put one foot in Naples, and the other in Los Angeles, which is as far from being a truly American city as Naples from being an Italian one. Displacement is my favorite habit. Will I be a displaced ghost in the afterlife? I wonder. Will I stop dreaming?

 

A NOTE on POLITICS, by Edgar Pisani

Politics is the refusal to be resigned to fate and fatalism, but also brings a wish to fight, build, and negotiate. A luxury for the affluent, politics is a necessity for everybody else. Giving rise to free examination, politics gives meaning to what appears to be inevitable.” (Translation R.A.)

As it is human, politics does not only obey laws of ‘reasoning reason” and it is not only subject to the rhythm of the moments. It sanctions the importance of a “sentient reason,” and of duration. It is based on a philosophy of the world and the species, it tries to be prophetic by bridging the present that is known and the future that is negotiable; it is a poetics, for it sings the human adventure out of dramas and catastrophes; it is an ethics, for it identifies the rules that make it possible and good to live together; it is a pedagogy, for it help us to read and understand; it teaches us curiosity and method; it also teaches us responsibility. Politics is an ethics, for it teaches mutual respect and encourages learning. It helps us to understand that liberty can only exist if linked to responsibility. It is wisdom and courage for, when it has to confront forces and passions, it does not claim to stop them through decisions, but to tame them by mediation.

Edgar Pisani, A Personal View of the World, Utopia as Method, New York, Ottawa, Toronto, LEGAS, 2005 Translated and edited by Paul Perron
*This quotes were reported in Patrick Roger, Mort d’Edgar Pisani, résistant et ancient ministre de De Gaulle et de Mitterrand. LE MONDE 21.06.2016

EILEEN COWIN: MAD LOVE n. 3

Text by Rosanna Albertini

 

EILEEN COWIN, From the series Mad Love, Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the Mad Love series,  2014    5.5″ x 8.2″                  
Courtesy of the artist

I lost my mother!
The young man sits at my left side on the bus, dirty nails ―in Italy we say che porta il lutto al gatto, that he is mourning the cat. At least mentally, he could cling to the window but he doesn’t. Medium long, greasy hair covers half of his face. His head and face are nothing noticeable except for the voice, a harsh sound like a badly played violin cord. The traffic from Westwood to Wilshire Boulevard makes the bus an island on wheels shaken between dry waves. The exhaust stinks whatever the brand. I can barely think, the inside air is cooled down and stays dirty, perspiration mixed with fragrances sent off from shoes, Mexican cooked beans’ flavor hidden in plastic bags and the stale breath of sleepers.
The young man decided for me that I shouldn’t get lost in my own thoughts, the brain lulled by dreams of clean air. And the story began as if he were the girl and I the pasha, in the thousand and one days of Los Angeles. Once upon a time there was a boy from the midwest. He now works at the Trader Joe’s.

Why did you come to Los Angeles?
My boy friend lives here.
And your mother?
She just died.

It was like to lie across a bare road erased from the map. Right, mother left us here to float in finitudes. Why my brain insists on thinking? Drawing parallels and circles? Adam and Eve lost the Paradise, so we keep falling, far from happiness and perfection. The young man didn’t look distressed. His hands, though, were agitated in a continuous finger torture, his nails could break.

She died and was cremated and I brought the ashes to Los Angeles.
Yes?
And I went to a restroom. It was this morning. And somebody robbed my backpack, I had put it on the sink. I tried to grab it back, I was not strong enough. Mother was in the back pack. I lost her.

Feelings brushed against me like branches of biancospino, a prickly spring bush so full of white, tender flowers that thorns disappear covered by petals. Good to look at, without touching. I couldn’t avoid sympathy for my traveling companion. Keeping visible my  understanding, payed attention not to mingle with the personal spines surrounding his hands like a crown. Besides, my own spines started to fill my talking throat: whatever one says, go to the beach, take it easy, sounds so hypocritical, a screeching noise.

       If it wasn’t for the ashes transported in it, the backpack would have disappeared from his memory like the semi-transparent and light bags we bring home from the market filled with salad and carrots. Empty, they would fly far away, toward the faded circle of the moon still visible in the morning, a white ghost on the blue of the sky. They would be like moon lovers lost in her distance. The young man’s love for his mother, maybe, was no different. Dead, converted into ashes, she is so close to him he doesn’t know what to do with her. To know her wasn’t the point when she was standing on earth, for love had nothing to do with knowing and that was normal. But when it comes to death, he cannot get rid of something that looks like awareness, and it is not. It’s only the violent storm of all things never known about mother, an enormous empty ghost of memories that had been missed, or maybe, never existed.

Sitting next to him, I was daydreaming a chain of absurdities:  breakfast with ashes on the table, bus with ashes on the shoulders, ashes at Trader Joes underneath the check out counter, than home again. Mother’s ghost glued to his back. I was not really surprised, since I carried my mother inside my body for months, after she passed away. Almost an unspeakable feeling. The lost backpack made me smile.

Vladimir Nabokov:
“Hullo, person! Doesn’t hear me.
Perhaps if the future existed, concretely and individually, as something that could be discerned buy a better brain, the past would not be so seductive: its demands would be balanced by those of the future. […]
But the future has no such reality (as the pictured past and the perceived present possess); the future is but a figure of speech, a specter of thought.
Hullo person! What’s the matter, don’t pull me. I’m not bothering him. Oh, all right. Hullo, person . . . (last time, in a very small voice.)
When we concentrate on a material object, whatever its situation, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of that object. Novices must learn to skim over matter if they want matter to stay at the exact level of the moment. Transparent things, through which the past shines!”*

 

EILEEN COWIN, From the series Mad Love, Courtesy of the artist

EILEEN COWIN, Untitled from the  Mad Love series, 2014   5.5″ x 8.2″
Courtesy of the artist

*VLADIMIR NABOKOV, Transparent Things, @ 1972, New York, Vintage Books, First Vintage International Edition, 1989

SMART DEAR PLATITUDES

by Rosanna Albertini

About THREE FUNERALS AND SOME ACTS OF PRESERVATIONS

a film by JUDY FISKIN, 2016

It’s a film because images move, but after months of simmering this art piece in my mind, now I see it as visual music, very much as John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes: simple as dripping water, unassuming textures of reverence for a life we cover as a mysterious distance.

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How not to be elusive about death? How to be personal and elusive, personal and intuitive, wearing a dress of courtesy, some hints of humor. Judy’s film is a visual score. Lines of people moving horizontally and of cars rolling on the freeway. Notes are replaced by stories in a natural flow from which rough edges are smoothed out.
One funeral at the beginning, two funerals in the end, and stories of physical care in the middle: the statues’ maintenance.

That’s Fiskin’s quite unique art: to keep courtesy in the face of death. To clean the artwork of most intellectual rules, making art like a veil lifted from life, tied around her face often laughing at modernist obsessions, maybe at any kind of mental constructions. How long do they last? Is there knowing or believing?

Time is the body of films and music. Images and sounds are surfers in a pond of time, they exist as a savor, a perfume. We can only “integrate that savor into the fabric of our own identity.” George Steiner*

Once we have arrived to a certain life degree, by experiencing and understanding other humans, every relationship, even with our wisest or lovely friends, is only valuable in the atmosphere soaking them completely; and conversations, profound as they can be, have lost the power to give us intellectual happiness; they rather work in us like musical melodies.” Arthur Schnitzler**

 

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In the film, the sculptures by Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, Arturo Martini and others artists of the modern era (only with the exception of Charlie Ray), scattered in the gardens of the Getty Center, are washed and dried as if the Getty Museum conservators’ hands engaged in a caress because they must. There is no love, just periodic maintenance. The sculptures are rigid and heavy forms from day one, corpses. Don’t be mistaken. Judy Fiskin presents them as a trickster would: shiny, perfect, wonderful images that vanish through time. Death is the cord that ties them all, one more string of the music. I remember Homer: shoulders and muscles described as the pride of the living hero, seen at once like future shadows, lifeless, as if Achilles and the other warriors were already dead. This was then, in the ancient times, but now? Art history is a strange museum by itself, calling for veneration, offering exceptional and surprising specimens… do we really care?

 

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In the countryside house where I was born there was a bronze, the head of Jesus sculpted by a local artist, maybe Celeste was his name but I’m not sure. Jesus was sad. When grandfather died, I was seven, the family put a pillow embroidered by me under his head and the bronze on his grave. It is still my favorite sculpture. Facing death, Jesus was hiding his deep feelings, had a quiet expression. I can still see that face as I think, my eyes open. Grandfather used to say that life is so marvelous, something must continue after the threshold is passed. It was faith in a non religious artist.

Judy Fiskin lights a dim lamp at her window. People and words and images are a simple parade of acts and speeches we modulate without thinking in our daily journey. Common senses, platitudes. I’m not the first naming the aesthetic of courtesy, George Steiner is the master, but as far as I know very few artists of our time place this secret, inner feeling at the core of their work as Judy does. I love it because it’s not only about her, it unravels with grace the way she addresses the viewers, all of us. We are in her she can be in us. Platitude is not flatness, it is life as it is, true and fake, modest and grandiose, a little scary, mostly impossible to fish by words. Not without values.
Civility, courtesy and kindness in these days more reliable than truth.

JUDY FISKIN,Three Funerals and Some Acts of Preservation, Film, 2016 (excerpt)

*George Steiner, Real Presences, The University of Chicago Press, 1989
** Arthur Schnitzler, Relations et Solitudes, Aphorisms (Original title: Beziehungen und Einsamkeiten, 1967) Editions Rivages, translation from German by Pierre Deshusses, Paris,1988. Translation from French of this quote by R.A.