Emily Mast: The Least Important Things

March 27, 2014

For The Least Important Things, Emily Mast stages sixteen poems by Joan Brossa (1919–1989), a Catalan artist and poet little known to American audiences. Mast’s performance unfolds in different parts of the museum before a limited, itinerant audience that follows the troupe throughout stairs, hallways, shortcuts and rarely visited spots of the campus. Brossa created his scenic poetry (staged poetry), hybrid creatures with one foot on the page and the other on the stage, in the Barcelona of the avant-garde and Franco’s dictatorship, well aware of the experimental theater developed by Surrealist and Dada artists. Brossa had a profound interest in popular entertainment, manifested in the frequent appearance in his writing of magic, mimicry, cabaret, and ventriloquism, along with other theatrical traditions like Commedia dell’arte.

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

In the trajectory proposed by Mast for The Least Important Things, the audience first encounters a poem written with toothpicks on the plaza and then goes on an excursion by the periphery of the theater: its corridors, its lobby, the small auditorium located underneath, the back garden, the adjacent grand stairs. The jaunt continues throughout various outdoor spaces to finally arrive in the Ahmanson Building for the conclusion. During this secular procession, the audience visits the dissimilar architecture of the museum, which serves as a background for the staged actions. But the intervals are as important to this project as the stations, the displacement embodied by an audience wandering through nondescript spaces connecting the dots among these open-ended actions precisely described by Brossa. Precision, however, does not mean plausibility. Most of the objects or poems created by Brossa are furiously literal. They allude to their most basic meaning creating the illusion of an immediate, unequivocal translation.  Some of Brossa’s poems are almost untranslatable to the theatrical grammar since they are caught in a cross-fire: they create a poetic image that promises to be fully delivered on stage but the image truly lies on the instructions, the verbal path created to grab it. Brossa’s voracity guided his work to a zone of continuous transference and in-betweeness. His poems are objects and plays and music and graphic signs and gestures and then poems again through a rigorous vice versa.

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Theater is often the subject of Mast performances. She interrogates theater as a construct, and fights against its invisible ways in a considerable amount of works. For Offending the Audience (2011), a project presented at the Panorama Theater in Los Angeles, Mast staged the famous anti-theater play written by Peter Handke in 1966, with a cast of children. Naturally, the actors—and the audience–struggled to make sense of Handke’s text and the expected confrontation resulted into a massive act of miscommunication. By shifting the focus to the actors and not the text, Mast magnified the disproportionate weight of Handke’s “manifesto” on the shoulders of the performers, creating a play inside the play that advanced its plot beyond the dogmatic spirit of the original text.

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Through a series of vignettes, B!rdbrain (2012) explored provisional connections between theater as language and language as a theater. There is no plot although the story of Alex, a case study parrot believed to be able to think and speak, permeates the performance. The set is reminiscent of Guy de Cointet’s sets for his performances in the 1970s, which also revolved around language as a fictive transaction.  Mast addresses the derailed structures of language and theater with a cast of performers from very different backgrounds: a theater director, a stuntman, a sign language interpreter, a stutterer, a stand-up comedian, a child actor and an auctioneer. All these theatrical languages and their gestualities are brought together to build a modest, faulty Babel tower that crumbles before the audience.

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Mast and Brossa share more than one misunderstanding but probably what drew Mast to Brossa’s work was his deliberate confusion between language and theater. In an effort to introduce Brossa’s work to American audiences, Mast enlisted the help of Débora Antscherl to complete a crucial aspect of her performance: the translation of selected Brossa works into English, in most of the cases, for the first time.

Translation seems to always be part of a performance: the transit from one body to another, the elastic arch holding them together. In I Remember, I Remember (originally published in July 2012 and available online at the page of the Poetry Foundation), American poet Mary Rueffle describes a poetry reading by Rafael Alberti she attended in her youth. It was a lesson on translation, performance and the least important things:

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

Photo by Amanda Jane Shank

“(…) Alberti read his poems in Spanish and his American translator, Ben Belitt, read them in English. Ben was sober, shy, outwardly conservative; he wore a tweed jacket and tie. Alberti gave Ben a toy pistol, what was called a cap gun, a toy capable of making very loud noises, and told Ben to shoot himself in the head whenever he, Alberti, gave the signal, and that is exactly what happened: Alberti would be reading in Spanish, pause, look at Ben, and Ben would reluctantly shoot himself in the head. But when Ben read the poems in English, Alberti had the pistol and from time to time shot himself in the head with real gusto. I felt it was a great lesson in translation (…)”

This is an excerpt from “Emily Mast Made Me,” an essay included in The Least Important Things, a publication edited by Mast in the occasion of her performance at LACMA.

José Luis Blondet, Associate Curator of Special Initiatives

 


Shigeyuki Kihara’s “Siva in Motion”

March 26, 2014

Shigeyuki Kihara’s work is deeply connected to her homeland, Samoa. While she currently lives in cosmopolitan New Zealand and recently completed a six-month residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York, Kihara continues to maintain a studio in the Samoan island of Upolu. Her work has been presented at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Auckland Triennial, and the Sakahàn Quinquennial. It has also been featured in many private and public collections internationally, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

LACMA recently acquired Siva in Motion, a performance video commissioned in 2012 by the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki of New Zealand.

In this silent performance, Kihara explores the ancient Samoan dance form taualuga. She wears a restrictive Victorian mourning dress in the guise of her alter-ego, “Salome,” who developed out of a fusion of ideas, which began when Kihara first encountered a photograph titled Samoan Halfcaste (1886). The picture—in the archives at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand—features a Samoan woman in a Victorian mourning dress photographed by New Zealand photographer Thomas Andrew. The woman in the photograph is anonymous, so Kihara identified her as a character inspired Oscar Wilde’s play, Salome, who used dance to manipulate political power. Salome became Kihara’s 19th-century muse in revisiting Samoa’s colonial history through her alter ego’s resurrection in the postcolonial present.

Title: Thomas Andrew, Samoan half case. From the album: Views in the Pacific Islands, 1886, courtesy of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand

Title: Thomas Andrew, Samoan half case. From the album: Views in the Pacific Islands, 1886, courtesy of Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand

Salome wears an impractical costume, which was introduced to Samoa in the early 19th century by colonial administrators. Her dance movements are informed by the taualuga and describe the Pacific tsunami of September 2009, which took the lives of more than 189 people in American Samoa, Samoa, and northern Tonga. Precise traditional hand gestures revisit the memories of ancestors, political negotiations, and activities of life, weaving past and present.

Kihara uses this complex ballet, fragmented as if in reference to Modernist works such as Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) by Marcel Duchamp or sequential photography of Eadweard Muybridge, to convey the wisdom and steadiness of indigenous belief systems while simultaneously echoing the destructive waves of the 2009 tsunami.

Her motions are multi-tracked in post production, creating an effect similar to the work of two 19th-century French photographers, Georges Demeny and Étienne-Jules Marey, who employed a “camera” capable capturing 12 consecutive frames a second, which could be used to record multiple phases of movement in one photograph.

Étienne-Jules Marey, Analysis of the Flight of a Pigeon by the Chronophotographic Method, 1883–87, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Étienne-Jules Marey, Analysis of the Flight of a Pigeon by the Chronophotographic Method, 1883–87, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Earlier work by Kihara, such as Fa’afafine; in a Manner of a Woman (2005), responded to studio portraits of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, taken by New Zealand photographers of European heritage. The photographs depicted young Samoan women, often in a state of partial undress as the anonymous subjects of a colonial fantasy.

‘Fa’afafine; In the Manner of a Woman’ (2005) Triptych 1/3 Shigeyuki Kihara Courtesy of Shigeyuki Kihara Studio and Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand

Shigeyuki Kihara, Fa’afafine; In the Manner of a Woman, 2005, courtesy of Shigeyuki Kihara Studio and Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand

By using her own body as part of the artistic material posing as the subject and serving as director, Kihara captures elements of sepia-toned ethnographic photography, yet looks outward with a penetrating gaze, reversing the roles of voyeur and model. She creates a palpable tension, as if to reclaim the standing of earlier generations.

Kihara has repeatedly assumed her Salome guise in live performance, video works, and still photography, often with the intention as she describes, “of exposing the inequalities, and complexities within the structure of power associated with sexuality, gender, race, and colonialism in the Pacific.” Her black-and-white series of 20 photographs from 2013, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? expresses somewhat more universal themes. Images from this series were photographed at several locations shortly after 2010 Cyclone Evan tore through the island of Upolu in Samoa, and reflect the severe damage of the event. As part of the series, we see Salome in a roofless and abandoned abandoned school structure carpeted with blooming plants.

‘Saleapaga Primary School after Tsunami Galu Afi, Saleapaga’ (2013) Shigeyuki Kihara Courtesy of Shigeyuki Kihara Studio and Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand

Shigeyuki Kihara, Saleapaga Primary School after Tsunami Galu Afi, Saleapaga, 2013, courtesy of Shigeyuki Kihara Studio and Milford Galleries Dunedin, New Zealand

Three years earlier, the town of Saleapaga had been the center of the devastation of the 2009 tsunami, with substantial loss of life. Residents had reluctantly abandoned their seaside town to rebuilt on safer, higher land, yet distant from their coastal life. Kihara captures the beauty of a space reclaimed by nature and seemingly reflects on the resourcefulness and future of Saleapaga citizens. Standing as a witness to the aftermath of the devastation of the 2009 tsunami, Kihara embodies a subject that runs through her work, the merging of a seamless yet challenging past, present, and future.

Siva in Motion is currently on view in the Art of the Pacific Gallery located on the first floor of the Ahmanson Building.

For more on Shigeyuki Kihara’s work visit, shigeyukikihara.wordpress.com or vimeo.com/channels/shigeyuki.

Nancy Thomas, Senior Deputy Director for Art Administration and Collections

 


Behind the Scenes of “Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible”—Visualizing a Work of Art in Progress

March 24, 2014

How do you represent a work of art that doesn’t yet exist? For LACMA’s upcoming exhibition Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible (March 30–June 29, 2014), the artist is making a new large-scale sculpture consisting of 12 molded acrylic columns that will be displayed in the special exhibition galleries of the Art of the Americas Building. Before the work is installed on-site at LACMA, however, no one—not even the artist herself—will be able to see the sculptural installation in its entirety. Due to the space and lighting conditions it requires, only a portion of the work can be assembled in the artist’s studio at any one time.

For the staff at LACMA, projects like this one pose interesting challenges. One question, for example, is what photo or image we should use to represent the work of art in our advance publicity materials (such as our website, press release, and exhibition announcement), considering that it can’t be photographed until it is on view. To work through this question, members of our curatorial and communications departments recently came together to talk about how we should represent the exhibition in the absence of the artwork itself. Here, you can see for yourself some of the images we looked at and considered.

One possibility is to use another work by Pashgian as a stand-in. LACMA owns Untitled (1968–69), a small sculpture made of cast resin with an acrylic insert. This object, from early in Pashgian’s career, shares important traits with her upcoming installation despite its differences in scale and form: both investigate the physical properties of their respective materials, and both have the ability to enthrall the viewer through their mysterious refraction and reflection of light. Another sculpture in LACMA’s collection, Untitled (2011), relates even more closely to Untitled (2014). The 2011 work is a two-part column similar in form and construction (although not color) to the columns that will constitute the exhibition. Neither of these permanent-collection pieces will be included in Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible, however, so using an image of either object runs the risk of being misleading about the content of the show.

Helen Pashgian, Untitled, 1968–69, purchased with funds provided by the Hillcrest Foundation and the Modern and Contemporary Art Council Acquisitions Endowment

Helen Pashgian, Untitled, 1968–69, purchased with funds provided by the Hillcrest Foundation and the Modern and Contemporary Art Council Acquisitions Endowment

Helen Pashgian, Untitled, 2011, anonymous gift

Helen Pashgian, Untitled, 2011, anonymous gift

Another option is to use a photograph showing the fabrication process for Untitled. In 2012, curator of Modern Art Carol S. Eliel accompanied Pashgian to her fabricator’s studio to observe how the artist makes her molded acrylic forms. LACMA photographer Peter Brenner took a series of photographs that day documenting the fabrication of a single column. While these photographs provide an illuminating visual narrative of Pashgian’s working methods (a selection of them will be included in the book accompanying the exhibition), it is hard to choose a single image from the series to represent the installation as a whole. 

 Curator of Modern Art Carol S. Eliel (center) discusses the fabrication process with artist Helen Pashgian (right) and her fabricator. Photo by Peter Brenner

Curator of Modern Art Carol S. Eliel (center) discusses the fabrication process with artist Helen Pashgian (right) and her fabricator. Photo by Peter Brenner

Finally, a partial mock-up of Untitled was photographed earlier this year in Pashgian’s studio. This detail offers a tantalizing preview of the LACMA installation, but it is definitely a photo of a work in process—in addition to showing only four of the installation’s 12 columns, the spacing between the components is different from how it will be in the final presentation.

Helen Pashgian, Untitled, 2012–13, detail of work in process in the artist’s studio

Helen Pashgian, Untitled (detail of work in process in the artist’s studio), 2012–13, © 2014 Helen Pashgian, photo © 2014 Josh Morton

As you can see, each potential image has its strengths and drawbacks. What image would you choose to represent Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible?

Jennifer King, Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow, Modern Art


This Weekend at LACMA: LACMA9 Art+Film Lab Departs Hacienda Heights, Nowruz Rings in Spring, Final Weekend of “See the Light,” and More!

March 21, 2014

Warm up to spring with LACMA this weekend. To start, take a quick jaunt to the traveling Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab during its last days at Steinmetz Park. On Friday evening polish up on international films with a free screening of Even the Rain (Tambíen la Lluvia) at 7 pm; learn video editing techniques during the free Instant Film Workshop on Saturday at noon; or contribute your personal story as a Southern Californian to the Oral History project on Friday at 3 pm and Sunday at 12:30 pm. This mobile art space has been going around the county, providing opportunities for neighboring communities to interact with art and film in exciting ways, and will make its next stop in Montebello starting April 4.

LACMA 9 Art+Film Lab, photo by Duncan Cheng

LACMA9 Art+Film Lab, photo by Duncan Cheng

Meanwhile on campus, we’re rolling out the red carpet for the 2014 Farhang Foundation Short Film Festival taking place on Saturday at 6 pm. Celebrating Iranian heritage, this event showcases emerging filmmaking talent from around the world and includes a reception after the awards have been handed out. Then, all day on Sunday, celebrate the arrival of spring at the Nowruz Celebration with a full day of free activities at the museum. Guests will be treated to a traditional costume parade, live musical performances, storytelling and calligraphy for children, and a traditional Nowruz display, Haft Sîn. The weekly edition of Sundays Live keeps the festivities going with a performance from L.A.-based Lyris Quartet on Sunday at 6 pm.

Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012, Mandisa Dumesweni, purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012, Mandisa Dumesweni, purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

Around the galleries, make it a point to see the history of photography in See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection before it closes on Sunday. This exhibition showcases over 200 images from one of the world’s most extensive photography collections and gives viewers the insight into the medium’s position between art and science. Across campus check out truly gorgeous artworks from Japan in The Color of Life: Japanese Paintings from the Price Collection. And, from our permanent collection, discover how Hassan Hajjaj: My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012 blurs cultural boundaries through a three-channel video featuring nine performances from an international array of musicians. Spring has sprung.

Roberto Ayala


Before It Was Art

March 20, 2014

Photography is a ubiquitous part of our modern world. And art, itself, has so breached every aspect of our seeing that to imagine that the earlier photos weren’t considered art seems unthinkable. And equally so, it would have thrown into question the very nature of how photography has informed our ideas of beauty, information, and reality itself.

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Fruit Sellers, c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

The exhibition of See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection is a beautifully conceived adventure and journey through science and art. The show provides a unique and transformative focus to which I am drawn.

Of course, photography was not always considered art. Its birth through technology and science would alter the nature of what was accepted as creativity. At the Salon of 1859, Charles Baudelaire stated, “As the photographic industry was a refuge of every would-be painter . . . too ill-endowed or too lazy to complete his studies, this universal infatuation bore not only the mark of a blindness, an imbecility, but had also the air of vengeance.” But of course there were others who saw its profound social implications, and how it echoed the new age. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, wife of Royal Academy director, wrote in Quarterly Review in 1857, “photography is made for the present age, in which the desire for art resides in a small minority, but the craving, or rather the necessity for cheap, prompt, and correct facts in the public at large.” Science was to be its authority. To quote Britt Salvesen’s beautifully concise description, photography is “a dream of the mechanical transcription.” Though it must be said that even earlier, at Crystal Palace, in London, in 1851, the exhibition had “established looking as a form of consumption.”

Edward Steichen, Steeplechase Day, After the Grand Prix, Longchamps Racetrack—Paris, c. 1906, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Edward Steichen, Steeplechase Day, After the Grand Prix, Longchamps Racetrack—Paris, c. 1906, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In a very real sense, photography and art were inextricably the phenomenon of perception, and the exhibition’s survey of the science of seeing suggests an evolution and clarification of visual understanding. And yet, the notion of factual accuracy would shimmer in its own radiant presence without the label of art.

It is these early images, which merely capture an enduring moment in time, that most interest me. For me, this is a past without artifice—a deep past where the very nature of the lives they were living is palpable, in spite of a mountain of literature and paintings. In the Edward Steichen’s Steeplechase Day, After the Grand Prix, Longchamps Racetrack—Paris (1907), the beau monde is caught in mid-action. There’s an energy, which is utterly tactile in the mesdames’ gathering of their sumptuous white frocks as they prepare to stroll.

The swish of fabric can be sensed in their steps, their aristocratic gestures, with Proustian airs and expectation, just behind the black-lace veil and umbrella, their white shoes, their flowered and netting-festooned wide brim-hats demand our attention. The image bristles emotion; a kind of kinetic energy of reality—one can practically smell the fresh dirt and perfume. They are moving around the carriage’s large back wheel, and the servant in the foreground recedes as if in the clutter of grays and blacks of background. The mesdames in their world of detail and anticipation, are locked in time. And for those split seconds, a way of life is illuminated—it’s alive. It is not a movie still; it is a photograph of fact.

Carl Christian Heinrich Kühn, Hans Kühn, c. 1906, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © Estate of Heinrich Kühn

Maybe it is the clothing, the uncontrived there-ness that the earlier images possess, for we know the science could be exhaustively involved. Heinrich Kuhn’s Hans Kühn (1906), features a boy, in white collar, standing wide legged in black-flared shirt and knickerbockers, with his father’s walking cane with a silver ball top sparkling in his hardly visible fingers. The perfection of the wide-brim hat shading his eye, but not the pleasure seen in his mouth, seems to offer a kind of sweet authority. Wild flowers scattered around his leather high tops and the sense of the spring walk in the countryside gives the viewer an entry into the image, and in spite of its overall softness and the craft of printing, there’s slight time travel, so to speak, as innocence prevails.

David Octavius and Robert Adamson, Newhaven Fishermen, c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

From the beau monde, to innocence in a country field, to David Octavius and Robert Adamson’s Newhaven Fishermen (1845), salt print of the weather-beaten demeanor of fishermen in their stovepipe hats and broad frames, all the photos in their moments expressing a realness that sits solidly in the early present, connecting us in a time-honored fact, or truth, like nothing else.

As we go back in time, these images of a bygone era, where science and the practitioners have laid before us what on the surface seemed simple, but in truth, were profound philosophical and physiological developments. A host of psychological investigations were spawned over the nature of the subjective and sensation, the very structure of consciousness in the picture making—or Pictorialism, the term of the day, was made the center of attention.

Of course, when considering that some thousands of years of understanding was the background for all that followed, one should hardly be amazed. Nevertheless from the position in viewing them now, it’s as if the very nature of perceived image in this mechanized form, photography, has within it an organizational beauty that needs no affirmation. It created its own idiomatic aesthetic. It added another dimension to the human perception and with it an entirely new equation of perceived beauty, memory and reality, a reality whose democratic reach was beyond the imagination. I would say that photography was the brave new world. Or as Robert Demachy, a leading French representative of the new direction said, “We have slipped into the Temple of Art by a back door.”

Hylan Booker


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