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THE BEST IS YET TO COME
by Hannah Daly


Writing any kind of appropriate summation of this year seemed for some reason, particularly difficult. Maybe it was the riveting wave of political action that swept the globe. Perhaps the terrifying economic changes we’re still very much feeling the effects of. Maybe it is the much-repeated prophecy of the impending end of times, or all the ecological factors that make it seem like a viable possiblity. To think back about the events of 2011, is to look at a year in which “the real and the unreal, the historic, the mundane—this year they all rushed together, passing through the absurd en route to the grotesque,” as The Observer's Dana Vachon writes.

The visual was at the heart of it all. We watched people in the street, public space suddenly exhilaratingly reactivated. When Osama bin Laden was killed, some morbid part of us yearned so badly for the proof, the pictures that falsified, photoshopped corpses meme’d their way into our view. The screens that increasingly frame our lives did even more so. Children now roam the streets aimlessly asking their mobile telephones: “Siri, what’s the meaning of life?” Entire art fairs exist digitally. The nature of looking and its implications for how we relate to other people, and other nations, has changed. Artists, and the sometimes maniacal workings of the world and market operating around them, reacted and participated. It’s been a rough year, but like really important things happened.

When I look back on the year in contemporary art, what I remember best is what I looked forward to most. Things seem different now, though the world around us increasingly complicated. In this sense, here’s the best of 2011 in the New York art world, but really the best of what an overwhelmingly charged, exciting new year calls out.

To 2012.  


HANNA LIDEN’S OUT OF MY MIND, BACK IN 5 MINUTES

MACCARONE

In mid-March of this past spring, the Greenwich Village’s palatial Maccarone, the solo project launched in 2001 by the Michelle Maccarone, former director of recently, and controversially, re-located Luhrig Augustine, presented three distinct solo shows. Through the storefront windows of the gallery’s facade, green neon light illuminating Mark Floods’ boredly pessimistic text works, reading: Do The Math. Millions Will Die. Billions Will Die. You Will Die.

“A gallery is all smoke and mirrors,” Maccarone said in an interview for Vice Magazine, accompanied by a portrait of the gallerist by represented artist Hana Liden. Perhaps it is the illusory aspects of a gallery show Maccarone hints at that contributed to the magical quality Liden’s show conjured. In Out of My Mind, Back in 5 Minutes, Liden, trained initially as a photographer, presented a collection of sculptural works that filled the gallery’s industrially-tinged front room. Out of My Mind is of a starkly different tone than that of the work that first confronted visitors to the trio of shows. There was a kind of darkness, sure, a quality of an occult-like mysticism that has run through Liden’s work, across media. But the sculptures that seemed to naturally bubble up into the space emanated something else: Liden harnessed a sanctity present in the mundane icons of urbanity.

Black plastic bags, bulging with a confusing sense of weight, formed a forest of seemingly tenuous towers. Each bag is filled with plaster, then stacked in staggering vertical groupings. The effect is an odd one: there’s an acute discomfort to seeing inconsequential objects, more often discarded into the untouchable world of waste, replicated and used as building blocks. The towers lean, as if prone to collapse at any moment. Our sense of weight becomes discombobulated, yet there’s a kind of refreshingly precise aesthetic to the matte black forms. If the bag works make what was once hollow full, the t-shirt replicas achieve the inverse. The latex formed t-shirt structures a monument to absent bodies, to what was once there but is no longer. We are having a disembodied experience, as the shows title suggests.

In many ways, the Liden show is about about mortality, about time passing, what stays with us, and what fades away. By foundationally recontextualizing the very stuff of the urban landscape, objects so ubiquitous as to be invisible, Liden insists we see. Liden seems to be suggesting a mythology of sorts, the kind heavily palpable in the eerily dream-like photographs of some strange Scandanavian world, where masked, nude nymphs run through fields and black-faced swamp walkers carry fire through water, like the photographs included in the Whitney’s 2006 biennial Day For Night. There’s something to believe in within Liden’s work, yet a lingering darkness. Out of My Mind conjures up an unknown spell through disparaged relics of urbanity, keeping us on our toes as we wonder what exactly the magic does.   


RYAN TRECARTIN’S ANY EVER

MoMA PS1

“I curocrat teen experience into loopform for archival setbacks in the market liability,” the artist yelps into the screen, his pitch glitchily twirked out to a gratingly amphetamine-paced degree. In one segment of the quartet Re'Search Wait'S, covered in patchy red-brownface make-up, and sporting a slightly askew orange wig, he writhes incessantly, spouting a non-sensical, vaguely corporate, broken-technic monologue. The video is emblematic of what has become his signature style: a kind of phantasmagorical collision of the spectacular of the aesthetics of late capitalism, part the mumbo-jumbo of marketing departments, part the hair flips and girl fights of reality television. The work is painfully edited, with unnerving and unrelenting mash-ups of imagery and sources, at a pace that is, to say the least, paralyzingly overwhelming. Yet, you’re numbed into a transfixed, consumptive trance, just watching the excesses of a world that seems so completely unbelievable, but so very familiar. This is Ryan Trecartin’s world. Once you take a trip there, you’ll never be quite the same.    

In June, MoMA PS1 presented seven of Trecartin’s movies -- a trilogy, Trill-ogy Comp and aforementioned quartet, Re'Search Wait'S -- as part of a Any Ever, a solo show. But Trecartin’s work, and the element of beserk transcendence his style induces, owes just as much to an elaborate installation. Each of the seven rooms of the show presented not only an overactive screen, but an oddly amalgamated landscape of Ikea-tasting furniture, of objects familiar, in some altogether other context. Airplane seating, conference tables, lawn chairs, increasingly worn couches form a hepped-up set for a television show, a wonky rendering of not a rendition of the real, but another universe all together.

It’s been a big year for Trecartin, Any Ever just one chapter: after dropping his New York representation, jetting off to Paris, and publishing his first monograph, Trecartin put the cherry on the party-planning-with-PS1 cake by hosting a much talked about Kim Kardashian-themed event thrown in honor of the artist and his collaborator Lizzie Fitch, presented by DIS Magazine during Miami Art Week. Any Ever is the complete fulfillment of a vision we first witnessed a glimpse of in the New Museum's inaugural triennial, Younger Than Jesus. The show was unsettling and exciting, drawing the same aura about those early video-installations but with the volume turned way, way up.

The thing about watching Trecartin’s videos is that they can’t really be contained, not even in painstakingly weird built environments. His characters jerk around the screen, wiggling in and out of a world full of indistinguishable digital detritus, speaking a manic tongue. Once you’ve looked, you can’t look away. Things around you -- on television, Subway advertisements, in pop-up windows and search bars -- seem to posses a Trecartin quality. Like some kind of addict, his work creeps into your dreams and seems more and more to be rendering of something very, very rational. Any Ever drew me back continually, hoping for a fix of the electricity of the first hit, whose traces perpetually ripple into reality.


ANDREW NORMAN WILSON’S VIRTUAL ASSISTANCE

PRESENTED BY HYPERALLERGIC

Get Friday is a virtual personal assistant service based in Bangalore, India. The company provides remote administrative assistance, providing men in suits in offices with virtual assistance from a real human they will most likely never meet. “Life gets better with Get Friday,” the organization’s website promises, employing a kind of emptily optimistic corporate language. When Chicago-based artist Andrew Norman Wilson subscribed to the service, he began paying his new assistant, a man named Akhil. Unlike most of Get Friday’s clientele, Wilson didn’t want his calendar managed, shipments scheduled, or data analyzed. In a complicated, long-term collaborative project Wilson attempted to throw a wrench in the transnational flow of globalization. Since 2009, Wilson and Akhil have learned about each other, sharing information as the two complete various art actions as part of Virtual Assistance. In August, in the Williamsburg headquarters of art blogazine Hyperallergic, Wilson presented a collection of documentation, reflection, and works in a lecture-based performance.

Norman sat at a small table in the center of a room full of metal folding chairs, a projector and Macbook in front of him. In what might very well be a quintessential embodiment of the corporate visual aesthetic, the story of Akhil and Norman, of Bangalore and America, unraveled before our eyes via Microsoft PowerPoint. Wilson’s performance positions the artist as lecturer, a kind of guide leading captive viewers through a narrative that confuses the delineations between classroom, boardroom, and gallery in a fascinating way. Wilson twists the limits of privilege in Virtual Assistance, providing a glimpse of wiggle room in what often feels like the overwhelming, immovable hold of global capital. As the performance came to a close, Wilson fielded questions from an inquisitive audience, with direct help from Akhil himself, via the pinging window of Facebook chat. It became clear, quickly, that for all the nuanced criticism and practical push back Wilson’s project embodies, his work is part of a larger cross-disciplinary conversation. This is only the beginning.


BLIND SPOT

AIRPLANE

After much anticipation, in late October 2011 a newly formed artist-run space presented its first group show. As part of the bi-annual neighborhood-wide Beat Nite event, Bushwick based AIRPLANE, run by Lars Kremer, Liz Atzberger and Kevin Curran, Blind Spot presented works by eight international artists, integrated into the irregularities of the rough, near dangerous basement gallery space. The trio seemed to reminding us what well an artist-run space can do: subvert the limiting formalism of a traditional gallery, short-circuit the space between production and exhibition, as artists become curators acting on other creators’ art objects.

London-born, Miami-based Tom Scicluna presented a site-specific installation. He shipped a box of sand to the gallery, not just any sand, but South Beach sand. The powder ran the length of the gallery in a cocaine-like line. By removing a natural element from the highly stylized, and flashy locus of art world value, location of Miami Beach, Scicluna plays one on the art world -- hard. His contribution to AIRPLANE’s first show seems a fitting start for an exhibition space that will clearly play by its own rules. There are no white walls here, and no pretensions. Just artists, ideas, and really, really good work.

Blind Spot also featured Rico Gatson, Meredith Pingree, Erica Ando, Kate Gilmore, John Aveluto, Adam Parker Smith and Austin Thomas, a roster that highlights the best of Bushwick’s thriving art scene. As the space develops, we can only expect more vibrant, alternative, visions.


FATIMA AL QADIRI’S GENRE SPECIFIC XPERIENCE  

SCREENING PRESENTED BY NEW MUSEUM

In mid-October, the New Museum and Rhizome’s Lauren Cornell presented an installment of her New Silent Series exploring contemporary art engaged with technology. In the museum’s basement theater, Cornell presented a screening of music videos accompanying New York-based artist and musician Fatima Al Qadiri’s Genre Specific X-perience EP. The films -- created by Kamau Patton, Tabor Robak, Thunder Horse, Sophia Al-Maria, Ryan Trecartin and Rhett LaRue -- employ a spectrum of digitally engaged styles, painting vivid moving pictures to accompany the epicness of the collection's sound. For the track Vatican Vibes, a kind of dark techno-reimagining of Catholic imagery through Gregorian trance, Al Qadiri teamed up with Brooklyn-based artist Tabor Robak. The resulting video presents a mechanical saga filled with video-game versions of the human form, technology, military equipment. We move in and out of different spaces at a pace just as peculiar as the odd, yet entrancing bouncing ethereal vocals of the track’s sound. At some moments, we are clearly behind some kind of screen, the windows and jumbled symbols drawn from the interfaces of camcorders, CNN, and Xbox alike.

Al Qadiri’s music is really, truly unlike anything I’ve heard before, in the best possible ways. For that, she’s enjoying an impressive level of success in the precious overlap of the contemporary art world and indie music circuit. Her music draws from blindingly brilliant transnational cultural networks, conflating sonic icons in a kind of new global geography. It’s a Muslimtechno, Arabifuturistic, as much of the streets of Doha, New York, and London all at once. She engages with a kind of religio-techological sanctity as well, questioning the ways in which the screen has become our new altar, the internet our moment's salvation. “Religion was the first technology,” the artist said in a talkback following the screening, “magic has moved from religion to technology.”

The video project presented, as the EP’s name alludes to, a Genre Specific X-perience. That is, as Al Qadiri says it, when she makes music, she undergoes “a genre specific experience,” not simply defying genre, but complicating it in fascinating ways. For the five-track EP, the musician also known as Ayshay, so many other worlds are written into the vision Al Qadiri presents. She thinks big, and you can feel this epic quality in this wholly new sonic-scape, whether in her music or as a DJ. It remains unclear what the radical changes the past year will play out in the political, economic, social, even cultural spheres. Yet, Al Qadiri’s work makes one thing crystal clear: this is what the future sounds like.


MYKKI BLANCO : THE MUTANT ANGEL
 


“I'm racing for my place among the gods. Each stride I roll the dice, I wonder where I fall....” writes Mykki Blanco, or Michael David Quattlebaum Jr, the gender-bending performer who has seemingly infiltrated the art world over the past year. After publishing a book with Los Angeles based OHWOW, participating in Performa’s Fluxus Weekend, collaborating with Terry Richardson, Blanco’s unquenchable hustle seems just to be gearing up.

Blanco’s work is absolutely exhilarating: whatever plane he operates on, and I still can’t quite explain it all the way, is one we’ve never quite seen before. Mykki Blanco as an icon creates and performs work through a multi-dimensional, queered dynamism. Blanco’s always on the go, taking us somewhere we may never have been before, but we, clearly, want to be headed. Mykki spits fire: “Mykki's on her A game, We not in the same lane, I don't have to drop names. But u droppin my name” Mykki preaches: “nostalgia can be empowering, but it's time to make sense of these times.” Mykki presents a radically reworked, cross-cutting vision of culture, as a field of study and industry, as one particular tweet attests to: he simply pairs feminist theorist of color Audre Lorde + with reality-television momager Kris Jenner. What is this place? This is the Mykki’s house.

I’ve now seen Blanco in full effect enough to get a sense of a fascinating spectrum of performance. There are gradients of Mykki, as he blurs the lines between disciplines, genres, industries, eventually conflating now-irrelevant delineates between rapper and artist, between the academic and the popular, between male and female. Sometimes, Blanco spits bouncing, relentlessly popping lyrics over ethereal, low-fi hip-hop beats. Sometimes Blanco wears a short wig. Sometimes Blanco goes full force, a capella, letting the prophecy drip off his lips. Sometime Blanco wears a brightly colored bathing suit, like at his performance during Miami Art Week in front of a glittering, lit-up screen created by AIDS 3D. Blanco calls himself the Mutant Angel, a pseudonym that speaks to his engagement with the spiritual, the transcendent, and the possibility of finding that within radical performance.

Blanco’s forthcoming mixtape is currently in production.


THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE

GALLATIN GALLERIES,  NYU

In direct response to the beginning of extraordinary #Occupy movement, head curator of New York University’s Gallatin Galleries Keith Miller rallied students and professional artists to collaborate in a renegade show. Within a few days the storefront gallery space was filled with ephemera, student projects, interactive collaborations, looping footage on a tv screen. As the title suggests, This Is What Democracy Looks Like, borrowing a phrase from canon of protest chants employed by the Occupy Wallstreet Movement, engages quite literally with visual. What does it mean that we’ve watched a radical reimagining of what it means to be a global citizen unfold, often spectacularly, before our eyes? The political power of OWS is as much in the Youtube videos, memeing images, and relentless tweeting as it once was in Zucotti Park itself.

Perhaps most importantly, the show committed an essential act of inversion, much like the Occupy movement has done in the political sphere. Where a gallery is traditionally a space highly contained both physically and conceptually, through layers of elites and specialization that bolster the art market, Gallatin’s front gallery space flipped the equation. Viewers were invited to enter, participate, then leave and take something with them.

One student-led project presents “an open forum community” entitled Occupedia. Through the distribution, in conjunction with the show and online, collaborators solicited participants to contribute to cards simply stating: Dear 1%, We need...Sincerely, The 99%. The project quickly expanded, compounding and developing into a visual representation of the 99% mass. The future of the movement is yet unwritten, a contemporary history that will continue to unfold in this upcoming year. This reminds us, however, to look, really look, at what has happened so far, and more importantly where we see ourselves within it.


WU TSANG’S FULL BODY QUOTATION

PRESENTED BY PERFORMA 11

It started with a caveat. After the New Museum’s skyroom was packed full of viewers anticipating LA-based performance artist Wu Tsang’s contribution to this year's edition of performance-biennial Performa, buzzing with the sounds of fellow Los Angelite and DJ Total Freedom, the space was lit up with night glow of the city below, pulsing with the innovative and exhilarating sound. Tsang, beautiful as ever in black heels and a unitard, slipped in and out of the crowd seamlessly, quickly, seemingly coordinating the final elements in preparation of performing. There was no confusion over when the piece was really in full force, however: before beginning the piece with a troupe of stunning young actors, the artist took the mic and directly addressed the audience: “We’re going to be channeling some voices from Paris Is Burning,” said Tsang, before distributing landed slips of paper listing the sources for those voices we were about to hear. Tsang is currently in residence at the museum as part of the upcoming second installment of the museum’s triennial, The Generational. Yet, as intimate as the artist’s relationship with the host institution clearly may be, we were swiftly reminded: “The New Museum is not necessarily a safe space,” particularly for the communities referenced in Tsang’s Performa work Full Body Quotation.

As both performer and filmmaker -- Wildness, his documentary exploring LA’s queer nightlife, is currently in post-production -- Tsang presents a refreshingly optimistic, yet ever realistic queervision of community, power, interrogating space and its limitations. With the help of four fellow performers, Full Body Quotation was just that: in a pile on the floor, limbs interlocking, hands touching flesh the group connected, quite literally, as they performed the appropriative script. The text was written on the body: movement together, in pairs, at points dance-like, others reminiscent of blocking on a theater stage, spoke just as much as the uttered words. Tsang places himself along a long history of queer performance, pulling the work’s canon of references from various relics and traditions of queer, particularly of-color, culture. But as Tsang’s preliminary remarks suggest, his work interjects queerness into the very institutional structure of the artwork. We will speak, Tsang insists, in our way, and you will listen.

In the upcoming year, Tsang will not only take part in the New Museum’s triennial, but also the Whitney’s biennial.

MATTHEW STONE’S OPTIMISM AS CULTURAL REBELLION
THE HOLE

During the overwhelming slew of art-related events that was this Performa 11, the hip Deitch-derative space The Hole, run by woman-about-town Kathy Grayson, presented a moment of stillness. London-based Matthew Stone showed a collection of new sculptural works he calls Optimism As Cultural Rebellion. Where the world around us moves overwhelmingly fast, pulling us farther from personal connection, his large-scale geometric, photographic sculptures take things slow, insisting we touch, flesh on flesh. Upon the intersecting surfaces of the Optimism’s work, we witness glimpses of seemingly orgiastic masses of flesh. The tone of skin takes on a whole new kind of aesthetic beauty, as the ever-so-slight nuances in the outerwear we all share are heightened and enhanced by their place along a collaborative gradient. There is certainly something erotic, something charged about Stone’s work, yet not necessarily sexual. He seems to suggest that, in the face of the alienating forces of our contemporary moment, we might just have to strip, all the way down, to remember how we fit together.

Stone operates the Twitter handle @artshaman, where he appropriately shares a running stream of philosophical thought, throwing deeply profound metaphysical questions into the digital world. As the title of this past year’s solo show attests to, Stone’s work is direct, as is his writing. In a world so steeped in cynicism and irony, there is something refreshing, potentially revolutionary, about believing. He throws questions to his audiences, developing ideas in the public-collaborative way the new media platform makes possibly. At times, he fades into a trance of philosophizing that preaches radical cultural ideas in a media that, increasingly, seems to be the most vibrant site of public intellectualism, most recently declaring what he calls a #minifesto: Everything is Possible and Love Changes Everything.

In Optimism, it becomes clear Stone is grasping for the spiritual through the very tactile human: our flesh, our bones. He suggests that through this kind of sanctity of humanity we might just be able to build completely new structures through which to relate. Stone lays bare a map that, as the Times review of the show suggests, preaches a revelatory “new, mystically inspired choreography of how to be human.”

MAN BARTLETT, @OCCUPYMAN
DIGITAL PERFORMANCE

“The entirety of my Twitter feed is my 'Artist Statement,'" Brooklyn-based artist Man Bartlett broadcasted through the now-ubiquitous micro-blogging network itself. He regularly uses the new media tool, for research, documentation, and often, the very vehicle of his work. Bartlett’s tweets run the gamut: he’s charming, open, often political, occasionally swelling into the prophetic. In Bartlett’s hands the digital platform becomes a network of production, as his projects are charted, developed and often displayed through the running record of his feed. It’s one of the most dynamic artistic engagements with technology I’ve seen, that manages to make the critic’s unproductive bickering over the delineations of inadequately titled genre of “internet art” irrelevant. The work is in part made about, often through the digital world, yet transcends being only a reflection of that. Something else is happening here.

Beginning on October 19th, Bartlett began an endeavor. Inspired by the refreshing energy coalescing around the Occupy Wall Street movement, he launched @OccupyMan, which takes its name from handle where Bartlett has publicly tracked his finances for the past few months. The complete record is presented in a public Google Doc, where we can see every bottle of kombucha, every Metrocard, even the occasional White Castle binge, on which the artist spends money. @OccupyMan is, in part, a kind of performance piece, as the artist makes public and precious the consumptive actions he takes everyday. But something is different here: Bartlett’s project inverts the flow of value of the self-defined, self-contained economy of the art market. The project simultaneously dissolves the need for physical space, as it runs without needing a gallery or museum, yet very much occupies the public sphere. By creating an art object that isn’t, a performance that isn’t quite, and a wholly new kind of intervention into the market, that nonetheless has been recently sold to a collecter, we are forced to consider so many of the not necessarily positive or effective tenets of art economics.

Bartlett committed to a practice, a regimen that would make his consumption spectacle, recorded and reenacted in its every moment, in a very public way. “Twitter really redefines our notion of public space,” wrote Bartlett in a recent interview with BOMB Magazine held via tweet. For an artist whose practice in general operates in a structured, segmented, if very much conceptually related sphere -- Bartlett recently showed his vintage magazine-sourced collages at Bushwick’s Norte Maar and continues to slowly mark away intricate, long-in-production drawings -- it makes sense that @OccupyMan is rooted in method. Man bought groceries on New Year’s Eve, and they cost $42.51. What kind of new relationship does this knowledge form between Bartlett as an artist, and us as viewers? @OccupyMan leads by example, insisting that to interrogate our collective consumption, we must change the way we act. Keep record, be diligent, Bartlett suggests, and of course, tweet.
Images: 1) installation shot of Hanna Liden's Out of My Mind, Back in 5 Minutes, 2011. Courtesy of Maccarone, New York. 
2) Installation view of Ryan Trecartin's Under Sided, 2011. Any Ever, MoMA PS1. Courtesy of Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York. 3) Akhil's office, image used in Work Station Task, part of Andrew Norman Wilson's The Virtual Assistance. Courtesy of the artist. 4) Tom Scicluna, "Miami Line", sand mailed from Miami Beach, 2011. Courtesy of AIRPLANE, Brooklyn. 5) still from video for Fatima Al Qadiri's Vatican Vibes, 2011 by Tabor Robak. Courtesy of the artist. 6) Mykki Blanco performs at The Good Kids' Performa party, 2011. Image by Hannah Daly. 7) Michelle Persad's Occupedia project, 2011. Image via Hyperallergic. 8) Wu Tsang's Full Body Quotation, 2011. Image by Hannah Daly. 9) installation shot of Optimism As Cultural Rebellion, 2011. Courtesy of the artist. 10) screen shot of Man Bartlett's @OccupyMan, 2011. 








Posted by Hannah Daly on 1/2/12 | tags: digital landscape photography conceptual performance mixed-media sculpture

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