Artists We Read (for Week 7

“I make seemingly old films in order to enter the lost world of the past from the inside, not to stand outside of it and see it as history. The technology of a film determines a large part of what the audience sees. A Hollywood costume drama holds the subject of the film at the conventional distance of representation. I want my audience to experience this world as if from inside — but at the same time — with a sense of the distance they have travelled to get there.” — Eleanor Antin

(writer/director/producer/Gypsy ballerina). In her book Beyond Modernism Kim Levin writes: “Impersonating the past, Antin personalizes the issues and dilemmas of the present. Her work is, probably more than we yet realize, a portrait of our time.” An artist/filmmaker working for many years in installation, performance and video, Eleanor Antin has built an impressive international reputation based in part on her historical impersonations. Her portrayals have included Eleanor Nightingale (a Crimean War nurse), the Black King (the leader of a Ship of Fools in a medieval passion play), Eleanora Antinova (a black ballerina of the Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe who hopes one day to dance in the classical “white” ballets), and now Yevgeny Antinov (the 1920s Soviet film director now exiled for the pro-Trotsky elements in his film THE LAST NIGHT OF RASPUTIN). The famous and imaginary Yevgeny Antinov is currently working on raising funds and writing the screenplay for a gangster film based on the classic Yiddish play, Sholem Asch’s “Mottka, The Thief.” In a recent interview, Yevgeny promises he will use all the latest technology including sound. Eleanor Antin will once again assist him in his latest work of art. Eleanor Antin is also working on another film, scripted by the real Kathy Acker.

In 1999 on a Dutch beach, Aleksandra Mir constructed a lunar landscape out of sand, erected an American flag on the highest peak, and declared herself ‘The First Woman on the Moon.’ The year before, in Norway, Mir teamed up with a local unemployment agency and showed a series of Hollywood disaster films, running them only during work hours, for the city’s unemployed. In Denmark in 1996, she set up twenty six speakers in a town square and broadcast the sound of men whistling as women walked by. Earlier this year, she proposed the building of an exact-scale replica of Stonehenge, only a few miles from the original site. Unlike the first, ‘Stonehenge II’ offers full access to visitors-down to a ‘Stonehenge’ soccer team that uses the rocks as goalposts.
Mir operates in the school of anthropology. She researches like a social scientist and travels the planet doing fieldwork for a single production. Probably her most famous series of works, ‘Hello,’ has thus far been made seven times, and each of them could be considered ongoing. ‘Hello’ is a photographic daisy chain that links people of all walks of life and times and circumstances together, shot-by-shot. In one photo we get Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner. In the next, John Warner and George W. Bush. Then George W. Bush—Bush Senior, Bush Senior—Björn Borg, until eventually a snowman is linked to the Duke of Windsor to Ursula Andress to an anonymous child vacationing in Switzerland to possibly you yourself. In another work, Mir has made it her role to give names to all the streets in Tokyo, collecting lists from friends and colleagues, and applying them to a Tokyo map. The project will only be considered complete when actual street signs of her Western appellations are put up and you and I are on vacation looking for the Mori Art Museum on a boulevard called ‘Sweet Black Angel.’ There is an old adage that says culture works best when we don’t know it’s working at all. If that is so, Mir drills holes in the world around us and exposes the conventions, hidden rules, and social politics behind everything from Stonehenge to the Concorde to Neil Armstrong’s walk across the Moon. (Christopher Bollen)

Danh Vo investigates the invisible boundaries between the public and the private, and the possibility of their porousness. He undermines the institutional (he curated an exhibition of works by well-known artists in his parents’ house in Copenhagen) as well as the personal (he has married and then divorced several people, augmenting his name with theirs but not sharing a private romantic life). He has collaborated on a project with Tobias Rehberger without declaring his co-authorship, and stolen an idea from his artist boyfriend for his own funding application. Vo adopts appropriation more rigorously than is often the case, to discover how much a person can actually appropriate. Another person’s idea? An art work? An identity? There is a constant back and forth that questions authorial status, ownership and the role of personal relationships that prevents the ‘appropriator’ from keeping the upper hand. (Frieze #109)

Matt Mullican’s art takes form as drawing, sculpture, video, painting, electronic media, and installation, but his contribution to the 2008 Whitney Biennial might be best approached under the loose rubric of performance art. Since the late 1970s he has used hypnosis in his work, and the process both informs and helps elucidate his practice, which explores the different ways we experience the subjective through media. In Mullican’s performances, which have recently taken place in settings arranged to resemble a studio and a home, his trance state can last several hours and encompass a range of behavior from the banal to the startling. Treating his psyche as a found object, he might pour himself coffee, pace the floor, grunt, sing, chant phrases (from curses to declarations about how he’s feeling), and—most tellingly—draw or paint in black acrylic ink on supports including large pieces of paper, bedsheets, and the wall itself. (Whitney 2008 Biennial)

The form that most interests Seth Price is ephemeral: the moving image and its migration from film to videotape to that mecca of dispersion, cyberspace. Along the way, he topples aesthetic hierarchies. Digital Video Effects: “Editions.” has been transferred to 16mm for Untitled Film: Left. at Spaulings, converting an unlimited edition into an “original” source. The ocean, which appears briefly at EAI and Spaulings, rolls for 15 minutes in another 16mm work, Untitled Film: Right., at Petzel. Not a drop of saltwater was involved—the dark sea is constructed completely from code. It’s a five-second, computer-generated clip, which Price purchased online and repeated 150 times for the film. Real or not, the ominous ocean, which shifts colors like a chameleon, is totally captivating—a black-light Caspar David Friedrich, with the viewer standing in for the lone figure. (Time Out New York)