During the flurry of the recent Armory Show weekend in New York, we had the amazing opportunity to participate in not one, but two, participatory artworks in a day.
The first was Jonathan Schipper's Million Dollar Walk (2015) at the booth of Pierogi Gallery. Accompanied by the artist himself, my fellow participant was able to take a walk with a suitcase full of one million U.S. dollars handcuffed to his wrist. Of course, there was a ritual involved before we were able to do so. My fellow participant was first asked to sign a document acknowledging his participation, and confirming that he would not attempt to make an escape with the money; dare I say it, the act of signing a legal waiver was part of the artwork! After he formalized his consent by inking his fingerprint on the document, he got handcuffed to the suitcase. Wincing at the handcuffs, and remarking how heavy the suitcase was, we gingerly made our way through the fairgrounds. Perhaps a comment on the fair being a physical space for monetary exchange -- where the value of the money in the suitcase can easily exchange hands for objects of desire -- my fellow participant surprisingly did not seem as fazed about the large amount of cash he was carrying around as I expected him to be. As we walked around, other fair visitors stopped us, asking whether we actually had a million dollars in the suitcase, and snapped iPhone photos. Impressions of participating in the work included the materiality that the bulk of money posed, the soreness experienced from being handcuffed for the first time, as well as the bold choices that Schipper and his gallerists made in exhibiting a non-tangible performance piece at an art fair.
No rest for the weary, as we then zipped uptown to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum that is currently featuring a solo exhibition of work by Japanese artist, On Kawara. Kawara's artistic practice evidences an extraordinary commitment to marking time and the act of declaring one's existence: who he met each day; where he went; what time he woke up; and so on.
We were able to participate as voluntary readers in Kawara's artwork, One Million Years, which is comprised of binders full of printed dates, some looking forward into the future, and others looking back to the past. One Million Years has been activated in a variety of venues, and is a continuous performance; one female reader and one male reader take turns reading the years off the page, switching between each other for 60 minutes. Then a new reader pair is substituted, and continues from where the last pair ended. The table for the performance is minimally set with the binders, microphones, a clock, and pencils and rulers to help the readers with their tasks. As I first sat at the table, I was exceptionally nervous about making a mistake in reading the numbers out aloud. I started to read each number, trying to focus intently on the page of numerical print, and heard my voice wavering as it reverberated from the microphone into the rotunda of the museum. Slowly, however, over the course of the hour, where I read the odd numbers from 795,859 B.C. to 795,369 B.C., I was able to focus less on the stress of reading, but became mindful of the sounds of our alternating voices and the ambient din of the museum visitors. In a very small, contained and directed way, we were doing what Kawara did in creating his art: recording and experiencing the passage of time.
Views expressed on this website, and especially on this page, are my own and made in my individual capacity.
In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room. The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace, and she was quite pleased to find that there was a real one, blazing away as brightly as the one she had left behind. ‘So I shall be as warm here as I was in the old room,’ thought Alice: ‘warmer, in fact, because there'll be no one here to scold me away from the fire. Oh, what fun it’ll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can't get at me!’
~Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Patrick Jacobs is brilliant in his masterful simplicity. Since the early 2000s, Jacobs has been creating diorama sculptures featuring views of natural environs. Walk up to a Jacobs oculus piece installed in an otherwise white wall of a gallery space, and one is instantly transported to a microcosm beyond the lens; in the foreground, Jacobs often places natural phenomena that owners of manicured gardens try hard to extract: mushrooms; stumps; rotting leaves; and dandelions. Further off in the distance, Jacobs’ universe opens up to green foliage, mountains, streams and roads. Without knowing the painstaking work Jacobs undertakes to sculpt each element in the diorama behind the lens, one could easily mistake the perfectly artificial composite scene for a photograph.
And yet, Jacobs’ technical skills allow him a freedom not often afforded other artists. Upon closer inspection, one realizes that Jacobs plays with distortion of scale, both with the foreground and the background as it edges toward the lens. One has the sense that one has an ant’s-eye view of the foregrounded natural objects, while also having the ability to levitate above and beyond, seeing far off into the distance. Each scene created by Jacobs is eerily devoid of activity, allowing the viewer to be serenely conveyed through the portal of Jacobs’ artistic practice.
In a time where many contemporary artists focus on abstraction, conceptual art, or performance, Jacobs has spent more than the last decade on figurative representation of relatively pretty natural elements (if one could refer to yellow dandelions and Fly Agaric mushrooms as such). However, Jacobs’ deceptively unassuming environments are subtly starting to feature some disconcerting subjects. The newest crop of oculi currently on view at the Pierogi Gallery features oozing slime molds in neon yellow, construction orange and Pepto-Bismol pink, and white puffy fungus balls. It is almost as if Jacobs is revealing a bit of his hand to his viewers, forcing one to confront the fact that he is portraying an entirely non-natural, non-existent place.
Jacobs is clearly experimenting with different mediums with much success these days. In addition to his oculi, Jacobs is exhibiting a series of traditional copper plate etchings created with master printer, Dan Waller, that feature abstract pattern-like renditions of fungal rings. Gallery visitors are also treated to Jacobs’ tour de force site-specific installation – Interior with View of the Gowanus Heights (2015). Jacobs has been working on this project for the past 2 years, attesting to the steadfast support and trust that Susan Swenson and Joe Amrhein, Pierogi Gallery’s owners, have shown in Jacobs’ development as an artist. Using photographs of a model made three years ago of a scene of Jacobs’ actual apartment, the room-size installation takes up the entire back part of the gallery in an area specifically created to house the work. Enter the area and one finds oneself staring into a fun-house version of an interior with windows overlooking the outdoors, complete with curved door, radiator and elongated furniture. One can literally start to see the reveal to Jacobs’ magic, with the contrasting differences in scale, perspective and dimension between the freestanding diorama sculpture of Gowanus Heights installed behind the windows and the interior of the apartment. Jacobs’ work, unsettling as it is peaceful, disturbing as it is tranquil, confirms that reality is in the eye of the beholder.
A quietly brilliant antidote to many trends in the contemporary art world, Patrick Jacobs’ latest work can be experienced at Pierogi Gallery until February 15, 2015.
Thanks to Susan, Joe, and Jen at Pierogi Gallery for their help. All photos, courtesy the Artist and Pierogi Gallery, unless otherwise noted.
The morning after (Turrell), I spent some time wandering around the village district of Honmura in Naoshima, taking in the historical townscape. Akin to a scavenger hunt, some of these old houses had been turned into permanent site-specific installations since 1997 when Naoshima’s town hall first identified an inhabitant who wanted to sell his old house and consulted if Benesse Corporation wanted to purchase it. A true experiment in installing site-specific artwork into real life, I was interested in seeing how art can effect change as a function of and in the everyday.
Out of the seven Art Houses, two of my favorites were Kadoya by Japanese digital artist, Tatsuo Miyajima (1998) and Gokaisho by Yoshihiro Suda (2006). Kadoya, meaning “Corner House”, was the first Art House to be created at one of the largest houses in the Honmura district, built about two centuries ago. For the project, Tadashi Yamamoto supervised the restoration, traditionally restoring the exterior, complete with charred boards and a tiled roof. Inside, there are two site-specific works by Miyajima: Sea of Time ’98 (1998) and Naoshima’s Counter Window (1998). For the former, a shallow pool was created in the main part of the house. LED counters counting from one through nine at various speeds were then submerged into the pool. Miyajima took the opportunity to involve the island inhabitants in this site-specific work; inhabitants with ages as varied as five and 95 set each counter with a speed of their liking, indicating how people uniquely view the passage of time. In a wall of another space in the house is Miyajima’s Naoshima’s Counter Window. This is a window made of liquid crystal display glass, with three large digital time counters. Set up to detect motion, the numbers on each pane move to reveal slices of the scenery outside as the numbers change.
Gokaisho is the realm of Yoshihiro Suda, a Japanese contemporary artist who has exhibited globally. (For a review of his show at the Asia Society in 2009-10, please click here.) The name of the house, Gokaisho (or Go Game Parlor), comes from the fact that island residents used to gather at the location of the house to play the game of go, a board game between two players using black and white stones. Usually Suda’s delicate sculpture work of natural flora is characterized by elegant and extremely subtle intervention. In this case, Suda decided to utilize the architectural space to prominently display his artwork.
Suda himself, together with restoration supervisor, Tadakatsu Honda, created a pair of identical rooms laid with tatami mats. Both rooms in the house face a serene, traditional Japanese landscaped garden in which a camellia tree is planted. In one room, Suda’s beautiful handcrated camellia blooms are strewn out on the tatami mats, with a bamboo stick demarcating the entrance to the space and the outer corridor of the house. The other room appears to be totally empty except for the tatami mats and the bamboo stick. Suda’s playfulness becomes apparent when I realize that the bamboo stick in the seemingly empty room has had Suda’s interventionist touch as it has been carved by him. For this project, Suda successfully works in pairs, questioning the slippery definitions of the “natural” and “artificial.”
For both houses, I had wonderful guides walk me through the houses and the site-specific works. At Kadoya, an intern from Benesse Holdings, Inc. explained the genesis of the Art House Project and Fukutake’s motto for the Naoshima project, “Use What Exists To Create What Is To Be.” The intern also articulated her own views on how art and culture can effect economic change. At Gokaisho, I met a lovely retiree who travels from Okayama prefecture by ferry to volunteer as an art guide throughout the various art sites. Standing by the camellia tree with a twinkle in his eye, he asked me what part of the house I thought Suda had worked on, thoroughly enjoying the big reveal. I was excited to have a chance to interact with these guides who were clearly passionate about Naoshima’s various art sites and art’s ability to rejuvenate and re-invigorate the island.
Special thanks to Mitsue Nagase of Benesse Holdings, Inc. and Yoshino Kawaura of the Fukutake Foundation for their kind assistance.
The word chichu in Japanese means “deep within the ground” and Ando Tadao’s museum building, Chichu Art Museum, is just that. Within Naoshima’s southern hills where salt terraces had once been active, Ando has created a bare concrete wall structure that has been embedded into the ground, with geometrically shaped apertures allowing light to enter specific areas of the building. In this way, the manmade building avoids altering the natural scenery and the views afforded by the Seto Inland Sea, but also takes in abundant light sources, allowing the viewer to experience the liminal boundaries between the inside and the outdoors.
Ando’s building, created in 2004, is an artwork in and of itself, but within its corridors, Chichu Art Museum is the home to permanently installed works by three artists, each of whom showed a keen interest in exploring light, and the spectrum between the natural and the artificial: Claude Monet (1840-1926), represented by a series of his late Water Lily works (created between the years of 1915 and 1926); Walter De Maria (1935-2013), represented by his site-specific installation, Time/Timeless/No Time (2004); and a number of James Turrell’s works.
On the evening that I arrived at Naoshima, I had signed up in advance to experience a special private viewing of Turrell’s Open Sky (2004) at sunset. Prior to the start of the program, I entered Turrell’s Open Sky in the late afternoon. Cool to the touch, the work—encased in marble and plaster and reminiscent of the insides of a ziggurat—opened up to a square of slightly overcast sky that resonated with Ando’s other apertures. I could hear the wind and see its effects on the wisps of cloud passing over the opening, an occasional silhouette of a bird randomly coming into view. On that afternoon, Naoshima’s sky was an opaque shade of smoky grey, tinged with a hint of icy blue.
After the museum was closed to the public, a small group of us was led back into Open Sky around 5:50 p.m. Open Sky’s parameters change with and reflect the seasons; the natural light from the aperture affects the start time and color transitions so that no two Open Sky experiences are the same. Early dusk was upon Naoshima, and the temperatures much cooler than earlier. Snuggled in blankets, silence washed over the room as the participants waited in anticipation, the quiet occasionally punctured by late season crickets calling out in the dusk. LED lights and xenon lamps complementary to the changing colors of the sky were projected within the room in order to make even brighter the shades of the physical sky. At the start of the program, the sky was grey, lit with an intensely blue light. Then, as the light slowly turned an intense shade of emerald green, the sky became concord grape purple. The light next became deep blue, and the sky turned blood red. And so on over a course of 60 minutes. The hallucinatory illusions that the artificial light played on the physical sky were alternately surreal and discombobulating, as well as calming and tranquil. By the time the lights turned from bubble gum pink to a penetrating shade of white, the sky outside was pitch black, as if a velvet blanket had covered the opening. The range of colors the sky turned, and the different textures and opacity were mesmerizing. Walking back through the museum and into the Naoshima night after the program ended, I could not help but feel that something around me had changed, even though nothing had, and my Turrellian experience had only been temporary.
Special thanks to Mitsue Nagase of Benesse Holdings, Inc. and Yoshino Kawaura of the Fukutake Foundation for their kind assistance.
Earlier this fall, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Naoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea that belongs to Kagawa prefecture, Japan. Measuring about 10 miles in circumference with approximately 3,000 island inhabitants, Naoshima—with its gently rolling hills and sandy coastline of green pine trees—used to be a fishing village back in the day. Then, in the name of modernization and progress during the post-war period of economic growth, refineries were built on Naoshima and a neighboring island, Teshima; soon, toxic emissions and the dumping of industrial waste affected the balance of the ecosystem. In the late 1980s, these islands were apparently but barren wastelands. Enter Soichiro Fukutake of Benesse Holdings, Inc., who sought to bring life back to Naoshima in an attempt to actualize his idea that culture (and its material objects) should and could become effective economic drivers.