Doug Aitken’s FLAGS AND DEBRIS: the other side of Los Angeles

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


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.

below: DOUG AITKEN, Digital Detox 2020 Mixed fabrics 115×102 1/4×3 inches

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. 


Hannah Kirby with open hand holding fire

Participants and materials

A Cat from 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 Owl from 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 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,

You are,

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,

His nose,

His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.

Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will,”

So they took it away, and were married next day

By the turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince and slices of quince,

Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

They danced by the light of the moon,

The moon, The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

In life and death the noble rider: JOHN OUTTERBRIDGE

March 12, 1933 – December 23, 2020

Photo: © Peter Kirby

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. 

Photo: © Peter Kirby

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. 

John and Peter

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.

Photo: © Ulysses Jenkins

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.

Photo: © Peter Kirby
Photo: © Peter Kirby

In this blog there is another post about John Outterbridge, from 2016:


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


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.



Francesca Lalanne, Lamentations 2020

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.  

Francesca Lalanne, Under Construction, 2015-17
Francesca Lalanne, Under Construction, 2015-17

Yaron Michael Hakim : SELF-PORTRAITS AS A BIRD

Mother, you gave me the days of my own death.

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.”




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

Wallace Stevens, THE NECESSARY ANGEL – Essays on Reality and the Imagination, VINTAGE BOOKS, New York, ©1942, 1944, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951 by Wallace Stevens

Edmond Jabès, Le Livre des Questions, Gallimard, Paris, 1963

Gerald M. Edelman, Wider than the Sky, the phenomenal gift of consciousness, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2004


Rubén Ortiz Torres : Alien of Exceptional Ability

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. 

RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Witness Protection Program, 2020 silverleaf, urethane, lead, candy paint, flake, one shot enamel, and Alsa chrome paint on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel 48 x 62 x 5 in Courtesy of Royale Projects, Los Angeles
RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Chota, Cholos, and Narcos, 2020 silverleaf, urethane, lead, candy paint, and flake on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel 48 x 62 x 5 in Courtesy Royale Projects, Los Angeles

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. 

RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Burnt, 2020 urethane and crystals on decommissioned Tijuana Police car hood 48 x 62 x 7 in Courtesy Royale Projects, Los Angeles
RUBEN ORTIZ TORRES, Glitter Protest, 2020 silver leaf, urethane, lead, candy paint, flake, and pigment on decommissioned Tijuana Police car panel 44 x 56 3/4 x 5 in Courtesy Royale Projects, Los Angeles

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



Nonaka Hill Gallery — September 2020

photos: Peter Kirby & Rosanna Albertini




by Rosanna Albertini

We have grown weary of the man that thinks.

He thinks and it is not true. The man below

Imagines and it is true, as if he thought

By imagining, anti-logician, quick

With a logic of transforming certitudes.

It is not that he was born in another land,


He was born within us as a second self,

A self of parents who have never died,

Whose lives return, simply, upon our lips,

Their words and ours…


(Try this: We have grown weary of the woman that thinks…)


Holes, holes! As I stepped out of the art gallery my brain didn’t hesitate. Holes like a whisper through my brain for no clear reasons. I had seen exquisite sculptures that one would call vases, cups, bowls, animals, beautiful objects. But for me holes as ideal bodies, almost an obsession, were not replaced by the physicality, the layers of petrified skin giving them a shape. Honestly, holes can’t be separated from their skin. At first, it was hard to even conceive them in words.

These notes about Masaomi Yasunaga, a Japanese artist ceramicist, are a bush of associations. Starting from the fact that his pieces are holes indeed, holes shaped by a temporary, soft skin of glaze rather than clay —combined with feldspar, glass and metal powders—  that melts and transforms during the firing in the kiln, absorbing or refusing sand or rocks or dirt that completely fill the container. Cracks and more holes define the finished work. The real sculpture starts when the artist liberates the new creature from incrustations, deciding what will stay and what will go. At least, this is what I have been able to understand from second hand descriptions, I wish one day I can meet Masaomi and ask more. 


Crawling through the mud:

Yasunaga studied ceramics under Satoru Hoshino, a second-generation proponent of the avant-garde ceramic group, Sodeisha (in kanji, 走泥社 literally means, crawling through the mud). Founded in Kyoto in 1948, in the aftermath of WWII, Sodeisha broke away from long-established conventions of Japanese ceramics, resolving to create non-functional sculptural works.” Art Viewer 2019.  








My obsession with holes, nevertheless, goes beyond the making process or historical roots. Why do I love those holes. Ten years ago Masaomi’s grandmother passed away. He collected the fragments of her bones after the fire and mixed them into the skin of some urns. The chemistry of life and death is the same for living and inanimate beings. Still, to move to art making, the artist needed to deal with holes. And we need them as well, when we have to deal with loss, deception and acceptance of all things we don’t understand, most of our life. 

“My Mother” is an installation Ko Nakajima made in the late 80s. I saw it in France. Two monitors were covered with two small mountains of dirt. Only the screens were visible, each of them a living luminous hole. In one of them the new life of the artist’s daughter, from birth to the first steps. In the other, the remains of his mother on the table, after the fire. Slowly and gently, the family including children collected them and put them in a vase. A group of children during a school visit set in front of the two mounds that vibrated with sounds and images unfamiliar to say the least. They stayed still, sitting on the floor beyond any reasonable watching time. I also stayed, behind them, waiting for their voices. They did come. “I’m scared” a girl started to say, “the baby girl could be suffocated by all that dirt.” A boy answered (they were 9, 10 years old): “No, nothing to be afraid of, look at the two mounds, look at their shape, they are the mother’s breast.” 

I had to talk in the evening about the installation, each invited writer was asked to do the same in public, free to pick a favorite. The artists in the room. I reported the children’s reactions and words. Ko Nakajima openly cried. 



Something more: a book in which every day I spend time digging my own holes, adapting to a slow pace. The book doesn’t know rush, doesn’t resemble a tumultuous streams jumping on rocks. It’s a journey into the cruel coming of age and life of a group of clones conceived like shells around organs they have to donate…until they are done, completed, says the book. As if death wasn’t conceivable for entities who didn’t have a birth. Growing up, they become aware they are not different from humans, with soul, inner life…aren’t humans today, at times, becoming as the clones were supposed to be, complying with social orders planned for absurd goals or worse? Obedient servants…

It’s an unpredictable world we are living in. Maybe we should linger in the emptiness of holes and wait, enjoying the beauty of natural imperfection, getting lost among nuances of colors, and surprising forms generated by heat and melting matter, curled up inside the many niches covered by skin we have inside, where the self disappears and we are only one thing with our body from birth to ashes, only one grain of sand, maybe this is the secret of happiness. 

 Thank you Masaomi Yasunaga, thank you Kazuo Ishiguro, please, never let me go. 



Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, First Vintage International Edition, March 2006. Published in the US by Vintage Books, Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose,  The Library Of America: Volume compilation, notes and chronology copyright © 1997 by Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., New York, N.Y.

KATE NEWBY : As far as you can

at Feuilleton  Los Angeles, July 2020


by Rosanna Albertini

the printmaking process – Marfa 2017

and this is the printed piece:

KATE NEWBY, I’m glad we’ve done it just to see 2018, Soft ground etching, 22.8 x 18.2 in Ed. 7/10. Printed at Hare and Hound Press, San Antonio, TX
Courtesy of Feuilleton, Los Angeles

Time itself, not the idea of it, brings these art pieces from a non-state to a presence, from the sculptor’s mind to a dusty, arid spread of the ground. I think the place sculpts her mind with smells and winds and infinite distances, her whole body could be altered, I don’t know, it happens to me in the desert. In this case, for sure, Kate Newby has asked the place to give her back the prize of her trust in a limitless space whose nocturnal life she can feel, rather than see. 

Each art piece comes from a physical relationship with something living, in the air or in the ground, something that disappears as the sun rises. During the time it is exposed outdoors, the sensitive body of the flat metal is entrusted to whatever can happen around and on its surface. Animal life, likely. 

Loneliness is its condition, along with freedom from instructions. Kate prepared the scene on the ground, the flat plate with bird seed around, some other food. Then left  for one or two long days and nights. The art piece yet to be born is detached from her decisions, taste, or control. The physical little theater belongs to the desert, dwelling in a world without humans, and a population of things with no names as they have been consumed and transformed by rolling and drying. It is an anonymous field of existence.

KATE NEWBY, Just be prepared (backyard, birds, Southtown) 2017. Soft ground etching, intaglio, 22.5 x 23.7 in. Ed. 5/10. Printed at Hare and Hound press, San Antonio, TX
Courtesy Feuilleton Los Angeles

KATE NEWBY, New Guy, Shadow, Carrots and Carrots Two, 2018. Soft ground etching, 22.8 x 18.2. Ed. 7/10. Printed at Hare and Hound Press, San Antonio, TX
Courtesy Feuilleton Los Angeles

Kate withdraws, avoids to be vigilant. Her awareness – a philosopher would call it consciousness – goes to sleep. Paradoxically, she flees into the fullness of the unknown. (thank you, generous Levinas)

After a day or two of rising suns history is written on the plate. Language? Impossible to decipher. Understanding is a vanishing effort. On each piece signs are different, Sparse little marks near the edges, and emptiness in the middle are the outcome of a big desert storm. The printed piece is proud of its clarity: a beginning is undeniably there, you can touch it.

KATE NEWBY, Between Flavin and the Horn 2018. Soft ground etching, 22.8 x 18.2 in. Ed. 7/10 Printed at Hare and Hound Press, San Antonio, TX
Courtesy Feuilleton Los Angeles

The artist looks at the spectacle on display, she doesn’t need to draw attention to herself. “Life is impoverished, it looses in interest, when the highest stake in the game of living, life itself, may not be risked.” (SIGMUND FREUD) It doesn’t matter her life as an artist is at stake. The physical universe teems with wildlife, her plates are pregnant with traces of intelligent actions, surprisingly intense, formally well organized.

Their formation cannot be questioned, yet there is rhythm and precision in each set of ‘drawings?’

KATE NEWBY, But still LOVE this 2020. Porcelain, silk thread, handmade wool rope, 13.5 x 10 in.
Courtesy Feuilleton Los Angeles

C’est là voir de la musique — There is a sight of music  (VALERY)

A visual music following her own time. What about if Kate Newby is a bird, a unique species making her nest with pebbles. She doesn’t pick them up. She sculpts them and paints them, secret treasures for pockets. I can imagine her flying over Brooklyn in the night, looking for directions on her portable phone. 


KATE NEWBY POCKETS WORKS, a project for writing, Portland, lumber room, 2019

Emmanuel Levinas, Le temps et l’autre, Paris, PUF, 1979

Sigmund Freud,”Thoughts from the Time on War and Death” 1915, quoted by Adam Phillips in Equals, Published by Basic Books  ©Adam Phillis 2002, 

Paul Valéry, L’homme et la coquille, Paris, Gallimard, 1937



In isolation like everybody else, Alberto hears voices from the past, sometimes in his village dialect, which is Lombard Besanese. Also his English takes a funny twist. 



Alberto Albertini, yesterday at 2:24 PM

there’s here amannn — ghe chi unomm

when I entered the house looking for Marisa, there was a woman I did not know and who did not know me: “Marisa, there’s here amann!”  Strange to tell, it was me, and never had I thought about me as a man! What else would I have thought I was? A non being?  Yet I was, but believing maybe I was still a boy, adolescent, a bodiless entity? Slightly stunned, as if suddenly I had fallen into reality. Because I’m constantly living inside myself that was a shock, a call to enter the real, but, what’s the real?

ghe chi unomm    there’s here amann

quando sono entrato a cercare la Marisa, c’era una donna che non conoscevo e non mi conosceva: “Marisa, ghe chi unomm!” Che strano, ero io, non ci avevo mai pensato di essere un uomo! Che altro pensavo di essere? Un non essere? Eppure ero, ma credevo di essere ancora bambino, adolescente, un ente incorporeo? Un piccolo stordimento, come essere caduto improvvisamente nella realtà. Forse vivo costantemente di dentro e quella fu una scossa, un richiamo ad entrare nel reale, che poi che cos’è il reale?


“We don’t want to be free, we dream it”  

           The earth is what has remained for you.

           The next door, the street.

           And you open it by such a disfigured sight that it can’t go far, a sight dragging itself.

           And you open it with a heart so consumed that it won’t support you for long.

           And you open it with such a rusty key that barely enters the keyhole. Also the keyhole is rusty.

           Walls pursue those who abandoned them.

           You were the palm that gave shade to the walls.

Edmond Jabès, Le livre des questions, 1963

(Text and images by Alberto Albertini}