Pej Behdarvand‘s expansive photographs of the ocean are a symbol for dreams and aspirations. The exhibit, Dreaming California is on view from April 16 until May 21 at drkrm/gallery as a part of the month-long MOPLA festival in L.A. It was a pleasure to learn more about the work from him:
You describe these photographs as a longing for elsewhere, yet most people fantasize about moving to the west coast. Since you are originally from Tehran, but essentially grew up in California, do you see both the reality and idealized image of the Golden State from inside and out?
I was a child when we migrated here and my family did not fill my mind with hopes and dreams regarding the move, so I personally did not have an idealized image or fulfilled or unfulfilled expectations about the state. I use California more as a metaphor for a state of being that includes hope, doubt, idealization and fear. It is just shy of the moment of actualization taking place. Nothing is born yet and therefore, reality has not set in. No light, or very little light, has been shed.
California is such a wonderful magnet. People come here for the sunshine, fame, fortune and many other reasons. People come here not only to achieve their dreams, but they also come to America for basic survival. Most Iranians who came here after the revolution did so simply to not be killed. There was no time to dream.
The silver light on the water is beautiful and I am surprised to learn these images were photographed in bright sun rather than moonlight. Could you please share more about your intention to construct a nocturnal image using the ‘Day for Night’ cinematography technique?
Honestly, my technique was secondary as I never intentionally set out to do this project. I was in Guadalupe, California waiting for the sun to fall and the full moon to rise so I could continue to do my Full Moon series that month. I was at the beach and just hanging out and took some photos and was very unsatisfied as something looked “wrong” to me. I closed down the aperture, I think even accidentally, and bingo it looked great, but I knew I had to fix it more in Photoshop. The underlying ”unconscious” intent was to get away from reality in order to create a mysterious landscape. It was a desire to get away from day-to-day life, which in reality is what I personally enjoy most about photography. They are romantic landscapes—an escape from the banal world to connect with something larger than life. Aesthetically, I simply also like a lot of dark area in images.
I read that your interest in documenting African bodybuilders initially came from an assignment. It’s wonderful that you combine editorial and personal work in a way that is complimentary rather than divergent. Was this project also sparked by a story which you explored further from your own perspective?
This project came about while I was doing another personal series, Full Moon (above). I photographed the full moon every month for two years. I initiated that project as I wanted to create a series that required discipline. Aside from the structure that this series provided, I was interested in the moon as a protagonist in a contemporary landscape. Historically, this body of mass had been so significant in mythology, poetry and astrology and today it holds very little meaning for most people. I wanted to not only have my own relationship with it, but to continue to represent it photographically. Dreaming California came about while I was at the beach one day in Guadalupe, California waiting for it to get dark.
The light shimmering on the horizon appears to dissolve like diamonds into the open ocean. If there is glamour, you present it as understated and serene. How are these images meditative on the larger idea of dreams?
On a larger scale, I hope these images not only ponder upon dreams, but more specifically on the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. I am always fascinated by the parts of myself that drive me that I am not totally aware of as well as what may drive a collective movement. There is a magical place between light and dark that I hope these images convey.
Marianne Mueller, installation view of FreePort [No. 002], Seaman’s and Hilborn Galleries, courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.
Combining a contemporary perspective with classic works, Swiss photographer, Marianne Mueller responded to the historic Peabody Essex Museum by selecting, photographing and rearranging objects from the archive in Any House is a Home. The second of the museum’s FreePort series, the installation remixes the art historical canon by creating an unexpected dialogue between her work and the 212-year-old collection.
Guide to objects used in Marianne Mueller’s installation Any House is a Home: Balcony Level, detail of brochure.
Partitioning the gallery’s wall space in a cyclorama of 21 squares of color, Mueller grouped objects by Pantone (see brochure above) to create a non-linear play with works heavily classified in the archive. “I want to show everything with the same measure of distance and closeness, whether it is a human being or an object, skin or glass. Every image should have the same intensity. Thus my archive becomes a democracy of images, closer to the dynamics of poetry than the strictures of the novel,” said Mueller.
Marianne Mueller, installation view of FreePort , Seaman’s and Hilborn Galleries, courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum.
PEM plans to continue the initiative, inviting Susan Phillipsz to reinterpret the museum’s collection on May 7 and Peter Hutton later in the fall. “It’s a completely fresh approach to exhibitions at PEM. Through FreePort we’re able to work between departments to find the common threads that make the museum sing,” said Phillip Prodger, Curator of Photography about the series. Mueller’s Any House is a Home is on view until December 31.
Gwen Allen has devoted her time to the impressive undertaking of documenting independent art publications in her new book, Artists’ Magazines (MIT Press). Through her comprehensive research, she examines the social and critical underpinnings behind artists’ motives to publish from the 1960s to 1980s, raising awareness of how the printed page provided a vehicle for exchanging ideas outside the traditional gallery space. Highlighting several key publications, the book emphasizes the risks as well as the opportunities created by the pioneering medium. Also included in the appendix, Allen compiled a detailed directory of over 200 examples of magazines, each distinct in their experimental history.
It was a pleasure to learn more about the book from Allen:
What lead to your interest in artists’ publications?
When I was a graduate student, I was using art magazines from the 1960s and 1970s as more traditional, secondary sources in my research. In the process of tracking down articles in old issues of Artforum and other magazines, I began to realize that these publications were not just a means to an end, but fascinating objects in their own right with a history and a materiality that deserved attention.
Very little scholarship exists about the topic and each magazine must have been hard to find. How did you research such a difficult subject?
Through a combination of perseverance, intuition, and luck. I started with better known publications that I had access to–such as Aspen and Avalanche, but I soon realized that these were just the tip of the iceberg, and that there were hundreds of lesser known magazines, many of which seemed to have been completely forgotten, and I began to more systematically try to discover as many of these as I could. I mined the libraries and special collections at the Getty Research Center, the MoMA, and the SFMOMA. I also talked with artists and editors who were publishing magazines during the period, as well as collectors of ephemera from this time.
The pioneering spirit of these publications grew out of artists seeking autonomy from established galleries and the art press, yet this cross-current was not strictly reactionary. How did the printed page provide artists with their own platform to collaborate and discuss work informally in the community?
There are so many different ways in which magazines provide artistic communities with a platform for communication and collaboration. And yet the magazines in my book also reveal the fragmentary and socially constructed nature of these communities themselves. For example, Avalanche is often seen as a vehicle for an alternative art community in SoHo in the 1970s–which it was. And yet the magazine is far from a transparent document of this community, no matter how much we might want to read it this way, but a highly mediated representation. It presents one version of this community, perhaps, but it leaves other equally valid versions out.
Most magazines started as an experiment and an inexpensive medium to circulate ideas. Printed on non-archival papers, the artist-created documents also questioned the commercial aspect of art by celebrating the disposable value of magazines. Since many publications are now re-printed as box sets or sought out as rare and collectable, what purpose do they serve today?
They serve so many different purposes: they certainly foster nostalgic recollections of the past and fuel the accumulation of market value by ephemera of all kinds from this era; however, they also serve scholarship, and provide critical models for the present. And these various functions are not always mutually exclusive.
The barrier to entry involved with publishing is almost nonexistent with blogs and self-publishing. Do you see a similar interest in developing a conversation among artists through new media?
Yes, definitely–though I think blogs and other online forms of communication provide a very different set of conditions than the printed page for such conversations. I am also interested in the fact that in spite of the plethora of opportunities for self-publishing in a digital age, artists are still turning to printed publications.
“In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.” –T.S. Eliot
Robert Seydel, who passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at the early age of 50 in January, leaves behind a rich body of work to be published in Book of Ruth by Siglio Press this spring. As a poet of images and words, Seydel created an enigmatic space between literature and visual art where he could ”write an art, to make of the visual a kind of text.”
Book of Ruth captures a fictional reimagining of correspondence between Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. Through the narration of Ruth, Seydel drew a constellation between his interpretation of the bride (Ruth) and her bachelors through the frame of his own memories, associations and artistic perception. Read an interview about the book.
Seydel worked as a photography professor at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and served the photo community as a director of the Boston PRC for 5 years. His work leading up to the book was exhibited in a solo exhibition “Book of Saul” at The CUE Foundation. I never met him, but his dedication to life and art will be greatly missed. In his memory, here is an excerpt from his artist statement:
“Art as creation and as sign of primary Imagination, is not objects but a state, a kind of fluid. It is revelation of a sort that both objects and figures are the excess of. Nor is it happenstance that the face, the portrait, the animal, fantastic or otherwise, is central. Everything starts from there. Children always begin with it: two eyes, a mouth, animal or human – a round, split and trussed and multiplied and confused. The portrait is also artifact, collage of time, a token and remnant. In her work Ruth is always speaking to herself: ‘To collage night, against and for stays.’ The wind is what comes through, barely glued down, sign of what maker here.”
Pressing letterforms into the snow, Carol Hayes continues to make a beauty mark on book covers with her innovative design of The Zoo in Winter: Selected Poems by Polina Barskova (Melville House, Feb 2011). Carol has designed work for numerous magazines and book publishers, chiefly Melville, approaching each project with freshness and clarity. She also co-authored the book, Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) with Joshua Glenn and continues to experiment with photography, sculpture and design; reaffirming that everything is possible. It was great to exchange thoughts with her:
How did you come up with the concept for The Zoo in Winter?
I had been looking at some photos of wintery landscapes, and came across an image of a person walking through snow in a field. They left behind a trail of footprints and I guess that triggered the idea to set up a photograph using the title type to make an impression in snow, similar to the footprints. The other comp I designed used a photo of a cut paper sculpture by Jen Stark which was more abstract and vivid and had a much different feeling than the snow.
What do you like about photographing and arranging real objects?
I think I’m more of a 3-D person than a 2-D person. It took me a while to realize this but over the past couple of years it has become clear. Arranging or setting up still lifes for photos are tangible and sculptural and ultimately more satisfying to me than moving type around on a pre-existing image. Incorporating the typography into the photo usually feels like the most simple and concise solution. Of course, it’s not always possible to go in that direction.
I love how you designed a poster, hung it in a shop window and then photographed it for the cover of Stuffed & Starved (Melville). Do you try to observe the way boot soles mark imprints in the snow or how a discount sign looks in a supermarket and then recreate that language into design?
For me, the content of the book (or the title) usually determines the concept. As I’ve described above, for The Zoo in Winter, I had already been researching imagery depicting winter scenes, mostly because of the title. Since Stuffed & Starved is about global food systems—from farming to consumers—it made sense to use a supermarket sign as the cover. The aesthetic of that type of window signage is usually very bold and urgent which felt appropriate for the subject matter.
There’s something very simple, but elegant about your work. Do you intentionally experiment with typography while maintaining a certain restraint?
I’ve always been a firm believer in simplicity. I think simple solutions can have complexity without being complicated. I went to see the Balenciaga exhibition at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute recently and on one of the description cards was a quote by the great former editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Carmel Snow. In reference to Balenciaga’s work she states, “Nothing is so mysterious as simplicity.” I believe this to be true. I also think simple type is experimental.
What direction do you hope book design will go in the future?
I was in a bookstore the other day and it was very crowded, which made me feel optimistic about the future of books and book design in general. It’s a format that works and does not rely on external technology to function (except the person reading it). People still buy and read books in print. Obviously tablet technology (Kindle, iPad, etc.) has dramatically changed the publishing world. What that means for book design, I’m not sure. Maybe it means adding bells and whistles like animations or videos or some interactive elements like hyperlinks that take you to various websites. Maybe each book will have several different covers the buyer can choose from. Perhaps publishers will start selling ad space like magazines are doing on the iPad. Or, maybe when the dust settles, the industry will conclude that people just want the information as quickly and simply as possible without the extraneous ballyhoo.
Spinning concentric circles around art, music and design, The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl unites 41 contemporary artists in an exhibition documenting the past 50 years of vinyl. According to Trevor Schoonmaker, Curator at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, the show reinforces the importance of the record as an ever-relevant medium “at a time when downloadable digital files are replacing the once-popular compact disc and vinyl sales are experiencing a significant resurgence.”
From Laurie Anderson (below right) to Carrie Mae Weems, artists in the exhibition respond to the influence of the record as a timeless, cultural icon through sound, sculpture, video, installation and other multi-disciplinary work. The show will be traveling to the ICA/Boston on April 15.
Featured works include David Byrne’s original Polaroid montage for the Talking Heads(above left), a photo essay by Xaviera Simmons, and Jasper Johns’s ”Scott Fagan Record,” along with fictional album art by Mingering Mike.
“Making a picture of a vinyl record was enlightening in the sense that it is such a beautifully and perfectly round subject,” wrote Ed Ruscha of “Unidentified Hit Record” (above), which also will be on view.
While the show will certainly interest record collectors, artists insist the record should not be fetishized as an object solely to be preserved. Christian Marclay, who has worked with records for over 30 years and recently tiled the floor of P.S. 1 with vinyl last spring, will exhibit his cracked and reconstructed, “Recycled Records” from the 1980′s with Dario Robleto, who melted and molded Billie Holiday’s music into tiny colorful buttons.
Accompanying the show, artists will also select a crate of records to tell a story for the “Cover to Cover” project. Carlo McCormick raised a key point about the show noting that, ”what is rarely conveyed when we look at art is that artists rarely work in silence.”
If you cannot see the exhibition in person, check out the 216 page illustrated-catalog with essays by Piotr Orlov, Carlo McCormick, Charles McGovern, Mark Anthony Neal, Josh Kun, Vivien Goldman, Mac McCaughan, Jeff Chang, Jennifer Kabat, Barbara London, Dave Tompkins and Luc Sante. For more, visit the exhibition site.
Image credits: 1. Jeroen Diepenmaat, “Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines,” 2005. Record players, vinyl records, stuffed birds, sound. Dimensions variable. 2. David Byrne, “More Songs About Buildings and Food,” 1978. Polaroid SX-70 prints (photomontage for album cover), 90 x 90 inches. Laurie Anderson, “Laurie Anderson Playing Viophonograph,” 1977. Black and white photograph by Bob Bielecki, 11 x 14 inches. 3. Ed Ruscha, “Unidentified Hit Record,” 1977. Pastel and dry pigment on paper. Framed, 28.5 x 34.5 inches. 4. Christian Marclay, “Recycled Records” series (one of eight), 1983. Collaged vinyl records, 10 inches diameter. 5. Dario Robleto, “Sometimes Billie Is All That Holds Me Together,” 1998–99. Hand-ground and melted vinyl records, various clothing, acrylic, spray paint.