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Spike Art Magazine by Robert - 1d ago
Out of State
by Natasha Stagg

Still from Buffalo 66 (1998)

Summer 2019, Part 2

Still from Buffalo 66 (1998)

A Summer Chronicle, part 2: NATASHA STAGG is in love, only wants to buy designer underwear and tells us why she enjoys going to strip clubs

A Summer Chronicle, part 2: NATASHA STAGG is in love, only wants to buy designer underwear and tells us why she enjoys going to strip clubs

 

Not to start out with a quote from my therapist, but my therapist apologised for an uncharacteristic “chuckle” this week when I said, “I don’t know where this comes from.” I won’t go into what it was about, but the answer was my father, obviously.

I’ve been looking forward to most of my therapy sessions since I started going, not because I think it’s helping my disposition, but because I can use an objective perspective sometimes, with matters of media. We talk about what is going on in the news in the most passive terms possible, saying “I read a thing, I don’t know where…” and then filling in each other’s blanks, or not, keeping it almost in hypothetical terms. And sometimes I do speak in hypothetical terms. She probably assumes, then, that I’m lying (the old “say I had a friend” tactic) but I never really lie.

It’s summer in New York again and I’m in love. The only things I buy anymore are designer underwear, dishes that are made to look like lettuce, and those sheets everyone loves that somehow stay cool longer. I want to sell every piece of clothing I have, not because I don’t like any of it, but because I want my room to be empty, just a bed and a movie projector and some postcards pinned to the wall.

A few weeks ago, in Atlanta, where one can smoke cigarettes indoors and order a beer for two dollars, I was at the Clermont Lounge, a strip club known for its sleaziness. A man was celebrating his twenty-first birthday at the table next to ours. I wonder what his friends, who bought him a semi-public lap dance from every woman in the vicinity, thought of my two visibly pregnant friends, out with their husbands. The dancers were bizarrely ungraceful, some wearing sneakers and jean shorts on the bar, others in impractical lingerie that got caught on heeled sandals as they peeled every piece of it off.

I love strip clubs, kind of, because they are so diverse in intent and aesthetic, an accidental evaluation of human sexuality, its inexplicable qualities and runaway tangents. In movies, strip clubs are light blue and red, lit from the floor. Blonde-wigged women in diamante chokers rock back and forth in slow motion, their beauty a thing in and of itself to behold. Police costumes, feather boas, and fans make appearances, and men howl while they slap their friends’ backs. All the dollars explode out of one person’s pockets at the end of the dance.

In a way, this most unconventional strip club was more like that depiction than most conventional ones: people seemed happy, even though the dancers were not as young or sexy as the ones in the movies. Not that it was utopian: I heard later that in the public bathroom, shared by the dancers, there was uproar about faeces on the floor.

In January of this year, I was in LA for a wedding. I had a fever for the ceremony and the following few days, but once I started to feel better, I rushed to show my boyfriend my favourite spots on our last night there, including Jumbo’s Clown Room, which, for all of the platform-toe slamming, is the least intimidating strip club I’ve seen. Some of them make me feel miserable, and I can never prepare for that feeling because I don’t know where it comes from. All strippers look sad in some way, a dancer desperate for single dollars, walking a fine line between controlling a room and appearing an afterthought. I have no interest in the politics of it, really, only the pure spectacle and its precarity.

I just watched Striptease for the first time, a terrible movie, but one that was unfairly reviewed when it came out: the big-name critics wrote that not only was the role Demi Moore plays jarringly disparate from the overall tone of the film, her stripteases are decidedly, objectively unsexy. The same was said of Showgirls, which ended up a formative image for many an adolescent. For all of our other flaws as a generation, at least we’ve developed a deeper understanding of what the mere presentation of a sex-identity can achieve.

My therapist never asks me about sex, but I would assume that her office would be the least sexy place ever once I started to talk about it. Because sexiness is ridiculous: an imaginary, ephemeral thing, like personal style or the English language. Everyone knows that trying to understand it is in direct competition with appreciating it.

NATASHA STAGG is a writer based in New York. She is the author of Sleeveless: Fashion, Image, Media, New York 2011-2019 (2019) and the novel Surveys (2016) both published with Semiotext(e). A new instalment of Out of State will be published online every Monday for 8 weeks.

 

Natasha Stagg
Out of State
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by Jeppe Ugelvig
Lizzie Fitch & Ryan Trecartin at Fondazione Prada, Milan

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Neighbor Dub, 2019
15 channel sound, Iron, epoxy powder paint, PVC, wood, stanchions

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Neighbor Dub, 2019
15 channel sound, Iron, epoxy powder paint, PVC, wood, stanchions

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Plot Front, 2019
4K video, color, sound, 1hr 45min approx. Wood, sheet metal, carpet, perforated metal acoustical panels, drywall, paint, PVC siding, bituminous sheath, rockers, lights, ambient sound

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin with Rhett LaRue, Property Bath, 2019
4 channel 4K video, color, sound. Wood, sheet metal, drywall, paint, PVC siding, bituminous sheath, fabric, stanchions, fans, lights, ambient sound

Production still from Whether Line
Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Production still from Whether Line
Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Production still from Whether Line
Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line”, Fondazione Prada, 2019
Photo Andrea Rossetti, Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Jeppe Ugelvig on the duo’s latest multimedia-installation ”Whether Line” after relocating their studio to rural Ohio to explore post-Trump American folklore through their neurotic and bewildering lens.

It’s been three years since the last video by the American duo Lizzie Fitch (*1981) and Ryan Trecartin (*1981), and how the (art) world seems to have changed since. In 2016, we had Obama, with Trump still looming in the seemingly powerless alt-right media-sphere; we also had post-internet as a still-relatively useful term to describe a generation of artists working through questions of image dissemination, technology, and capitalism in an age of web 2.0.

At the centre of this cultural movement were the hallucinatory videos and installations by Fitch and Trecartin: accelerated, post-digital, and humorously gender fluid, they seemed for many to encapsulate the very essence of the aesthetic zeitgeist of art of the 2010s. It’s therefore exciting to re-encounter the duo at the penultimate year of this decade, which has changed both America and art so vividly. And at the Prada Foundation, nonetheless – Italy’s, if not the world’s, most darkly shimmering corporate monolith of art institutions; a (globally growing) model allowing for mega-commissions of unprecedented scale, which Trecartin and Fitch clearly excel at.

 

_______INSERT_______

 

With poignant self-awareness of the dystopian exhibition context, the duo’s ambitious installation at Prada begins by visitors entering an absurdly long iron fenced tunnel, leading to another equally long maze of queue stanchions. After several minutes of circuiting this designated pathway, where fragments of intemperate conversations blast from speakers above, we finally reach a massive hobby barn constructed inside Prada’s vast exhibition halls.

Whether Line is the outcome of several years of the artists living, writing, set-building and shooting on a sizable piece of land near the small town of Athens, Ohio in America’s Midwest. Here, Fitch and Trecartin have – in line with past productions – kept busy enrolling friends to engage in their absurdist role-play in a self-constructed haunted house of rooms, porches and forest towers, subsequently editing the footage to procure a hyperactive, unsettling, and deeply hilarious two-hour “movie” Plot Front (2019). Their trademark cinematography, though noticeably less colour-saturated today, remains effective: the frantic cutting of scenes and sudden and violent overlays of pop music over dialogue feels eerily similar to the house style of reality television shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians or The Real Housewives of, where tight editing stands in lieu of actual narrative cohesion. Here, however, this highly polished strategy accelerates to finally collapse onto itself; clips get stuck in a loop, music plays in wrong times, language erodes, leaving behind only the harrowing sound of lips smacking. These techniques repeatedly throw characters into a kind of dramaturgical vacuum, exposing the simulated affects and hollowed dialogue of Fitch and Trecartin’s haunted but never unfamiliar media world. Or as one of their own characters brilliantly summarize the conundrum of narrativity of the contemporary: “It’s a story – and no one likes stories anymore.”

 

_______INSERT_______

 

With Whether Line, Fitch and Trecartin set out to investigate back-to-land ideologies that have flourished particularly in America in recent Trump years. Through a series of more or less connected scenes, the video unfolds as a nightmarish (and seemingly never-ending!) portrayal of a recently established cult, made up of Amish drag queens, cosmopolitan émigrés and local town freaks (who go to great lengths to make it clear that they’re not a cult).

By tackling Rural America, the duo gains access to a myriad of new dramaturgical and aesthetic vocabularies, which all manifest brilliantly in both the installation and video. The constructed barn is kept in classic Walmart-sourced “Carpenter Gothic” (a simulacra of architecture in its own right), while the video overspills with heavily familiar signifiers: town girls holding pumpkins while gossiping and twirling their hair, never-ending DIY carpeting projects, rocking chairs, guns, midnight graveyards trips, para-sexual group exercises in nature, and thick midwestern accents. As a piece of stylized and immersive piece of contemporary American folklore, Whether Line recalls the 20th-century paintings of Grant Wood as much as the reality classic The Simple Life – two disparate but great examples of American culture revelling in its own self-mediated absurdity. With punchy one-liners such as “fuck this community of queer gamer designers,” “you have a weird relationship to laughter – it must be because you’re in real estate,” “we’re really into privacy these days” or the already-iconic retort “I am not a museum, bitch!”, the artists speak to a particular contemporary American condition and affect so perfectly that it’s hard to really explain.

 

_______INSERT_______

 

But at the heart of the dizzying non-narrative of the main video Plot Front, a poignant commentary on land, property, and identity emerges. In their attempt to legitimize their newly established community in the countryside, the highly overbearing characters repeatedly rehash real estate lingo and local history trivia to the point of semiotic collapse. “My property manager recently had me registered as a historic element,” tells one member proudly in her explanation of how to succeed in local real estate speculation; “I still think I’m unincorporated,” responds another, somewhat without a clue; “My grandma STOLE this land!” boasts a third, as she begins to talk about the benefits of the regional harvest season.

Amish costume aside, Fitch and Trecartin expose the ghost of settler colonialism that still haunts contemporary rural America, where the improvised property laws of the first European immigrants still inform the idea of land ownership and property.

As the discourse emerging from Trump’s America has shown in the past years, “history” figures here as nothing but a kind of politicized simulacra – much like a Fitch/Trecartin film – yet one imbued with heavy ideological power, legitimizing belonging through ownership. “An item – a site – a living location” is continuously repeated in the video by a dumbfounded Trecartin in Amish femme drag: eventually, individuals become the annexed plots that they’ve chosen to inhabit, paving the way for an aggressive appropriation of identity political discourse so as to legitimize their existence as “authentic”. When two local men come looking for their run-away sisters, a service-oriented cult member ends up confusing them for both products and urban areas: “Do you have receipts for your sisters?”; “So do you want to return them?”; “Was your sister gentrified?”

Surrounding the frantic activity and seemingly never-ending construction work of the settlement lies the looming American wilderness, dense and vast, as conveyed in the second four-channel video installation of the exhibition (Property Bath, 2019), comprised mostly of shots of nature and birds. Fitch and Trecartin’s treatment of “the pastoral” speak not only to rural America’s estrangement from its untamed surroundings but with cultured/urban America’s alienation with the rural itself. “What could be more natural – we’re IN nature?” observes one of the characters as she points to the surrounding forest, to which her confidante replies: “It’s as beautiful as one of the earliest iPhone screen savers out here – really makes you think”.

In the age of Trump, it feels that much can be mined from this social and aesthetic discontinuity, particular when explored through the neurotic and bewildering lens of Fitch and Trecartin – “stupid city kids thinking they’re playing a back-to-land game,” as they themselves acknowledge in the film. Yet, in playing this game, the duo manages to summarize the American media condition with a rare precision once again.

 

_______INSERT_______

 

_______INSERT_______

 

_______INSERT_______

 

_______INSERT_______

 

_______INSERT_______

 

_______INSERT_______

 

6 April – 5 August 2019

The project is accompanied by a book published by Fondazione Prada focusing on Fitch and Trecartin’s collaborative practice which began in 2000.

www.fondazioneprada.org

Fondazione Prada
Ryan Trecartin
Lizzie Fitch
Post-Internet
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by Jeppe Ugelvig
Ryan Trecartin + Lizzie Fitch at Fondazione Prada

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019
Foto/Photo Andrea Rossetti

Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin
Plot Front, 2019
4K video, color, sound, 1hr 45min approx. Wood, sheet metal, carpet, perforated metal acoustical panels, drywall, paint, PVC siding, bituminous sheath, rockers, lights, ambient sound

Exhibition view of “Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin: Whether Line” Fondazione Prada, 2019
Foto/Photo Andrea Rossetti

Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin
Plot Front, 2019
4K video, color, sound, 1hr 45min approx. Wood, sheet metal, carpet, perforated metal acoustical panels, drywall, paint, PVC siding, bituminous sheath, rockers, lights, ambient sound

Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin “Whether Line”
Production still from Whether Line Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin “Whether Line”
Production still from Whether Line Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Lizzie Fitch | Ryan Trecartin “Whether Line”
Production still from Whether Line Photo Fitch | Trecartin Studio

Jeppe Ugelvig on the duo’s latest work after relocating their studio to rural Ohio to explore post-Trump American folklore through their neurotic and bewildering lens:

 

It’s been three years since the last video by the American duo Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin, and how the (art) world seems to have changed since. In 2016, we had Obama, with Trump still looming in the seemingly powerless alt-right media-sphere; we also had post-internet as a still-relatively useful term to describe a generation of artists working through questions of image dissemination, technology, and capitalism in an age of web 2.0. At the centre of this cultural movement were the hallucinatory videos and installations by Fitch and Trecartin: accelerated, post-digital, and humorously gender fluid, they seemed for many to encapsulate the very essence of the aesthetic zeitgeist of art of the 2010s. It’s therefore exciting to re-encounter the duo at the penultimate year of this decade, which has changed both America and art so vividly. And at the Prada Foundation, nonetheless – Italy’s, if not the world’s, most darkly shimmering corporate monolith of art institutions; a (globally growing) model allowing for mega-commissions of unprecedented scale, which Trecartin and Fitch clearly excel at.

 

_______INSERT_______

 

With poignant self-awareness of the dystopian exhibition context, the duo’s ambitious installation at Prada begins by visitors entering an absurdly long iron fenced tunnel, leading to another equally long maze of queue stanchions. After several minutes of circuiting this designated pathway, where fragments of intemperate conversations blast from speakers above, we finally reach a massive hobby barn constructed inside Prada’s vast exhibition halls.

Whether Line is the outcome of several years of the artists living, writing, set-building and shooting on a sizable piece of land near the small town of Athens, Ohio in America’s Midwest. Here, Fitch and Trecartin have—in line with past productions—kept busy enrolling friends to engage in their absurdist role-play in a self-constructed haunted house of rooms, porches and forest towers, subsequently editing the footage to procure a hyperactive, unsettling, and deeply hilarious two-hour “movie” (Plot Front, 2019). Their trademark cinematography, though noticeably less colour-saturated today, remains effective: the frantic cutting of scenes and sudden and violent overlays of pop music over dialogue feels eerily similar to the house style of reality television shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Real Housewives of, where tight editing stands in lieu of actual narrative cohesion. Here, however, this highly polished strategy accelerates to finally collapse onto itself; clips get stuck in a loop, music plays in wrong times, language erodes, leaving behind only the harrowing sound of lips smacking. These techniques repeatedly throw characters into a kind of dramaturgical vacuum, exposing the simulated affects and hollowed dialogue of Fitch and Trecartin’s haunted but never unfamiliar media world. Or as one of their own characters brilliantly summarize the conundrum of narrativity of the contemporary: “it’s a story — and no one like stories anymore.”

 

_______INSERT_______

 

With Whether Line, Fitch and Trecartin set out to investigate back-to-land ideologies that have flourished particularly in America in recent Trump years. Through a series of (more or less) connected scenes, the video unfolds as a nightmarish (and seemingly never-ending!) portrayal of a recently established cult, made up of Amish drag queens, cosmopolitan émigrés and local town freaks (who go to great lengths to make it clear that they’re not a cult). By tackling Rural America, the duo gains access to a myriad of new dramaturgical and aesthetic vocabularies, which all manifest brilliantly in both the installation and video. The constructed barn is kept in classic Walmart-sourced “Carpenter Gothic” (a simulacra of architecture in its own right), while the video overspills with heavily familiar signifiers: town girls holding pumpkins while gossiping and twirling their hair, never-ending DIY carpeting projects, rocking chairs, guns, midnight graveyards trips, para-sexual group exercises in nature, and thick midwestern accents. As a piece of stylized and immersive piece of contemporary American folklore, Whether Line recalls the 20th-century paintings of Grant Wood as much as the reality classic The Simple Life – two disparate but great examples of American culture revelling in its own self-mediated absurdity. With punchy one-liners such as “fuck this community of queer gamer designers,” “you have a weird relationship to laughter - it must be because you’re in real estate,” “we’re really into privacy these days” or the already-iconic retort,  “I am not a museum, bitch!”, the artists speak to a particular contemporary American condition and affect so perfectly that it’s hard to really explain.

 

_______INSERT_______

 

But at the heart of the dizzying non-narrative of the main video Plot Front, a poignant commentary on land, property, and identity emerges. In their attempt to legitimize their newly established community in the countryside, the highly overbearing characters repeatedly rehash real estate lingo and local history trivia to the point of semiotic collapse. “My property manager recently had me registered as a historic element,” tells one member proudly in her explanation of how to succeed in local real estate speculation; “I still think I’m unincorporated,” responds another, somewhat without a clue; “My grandma STOLE this land!” boasts a third, as she begins to talk about the benefits of the regional harvest season. Amish costume aside, Fitch and Trecartin expose the ghost of settler colonialism that still haunts contemporary rural America, where the improvised property laws of the first European immigrants still inform the idea of land ownership and property. As the discourse emerging from Trump’s America has shown in the past years, “history” figures here as nothing but a kind of politicized simulacra — much like a Fitch/Trecartin film — yet one imbued with heavy ideological power, legitimizing belonging through ownership. “An item - a site - a living location” is continuously repeated in the video by a dumbfounded Trecartin in Amish femme drag: eventually, individuals become the annexed plots that they’ve chosen to inhabit, paving the way for an aggressive appropriation of identity political discourse so as to legitimize their existence as “authentic”. When two local men come looking for their run-away sisters, a service-oriented cult member ends up confusing them for both products and urban areas: “do you have receipts for your sisters?”; “so do you want to return them?”; “was your sister gentrified?” 

Surrounding the frantic activity and seemingly never-ending construction work of the settlement lies the looming American wilderness, dense and vast, as conveyed in the second four-channel video installation of the exhibition (Property Bat, 2019), comprised mostly of shots of nature and birds. Fitch and Trecartin’s treatment of “the pastoral” speak not only to rural America’s estrangement from its untamed surroundings but with cultured/urban America’s alienation with the rural itself. “What could be more natural – we’re IN nature?” observes one of the characters as she points to the surrounding forest, to which her confidante replies: “it’s as beautiful as one of the earliest iPhone screen savers out here—really makes you think”. In the age of Trump, it feels that much can be mined from this social and aesthetic discontinuity, particular when explored through the neurotic and bewildering lens of Fitch and Trecartin – “stupid city kids thinking they’re playing a back-to-land game,” as they themselves acknowledge in the film. Yet, in playing this game, the duo manages to summarize the American media condition with a rare precision once again.

 

Fondazione Prada
Ryan Trecartin
Lizzie Fitch
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Spike Art Magazine by Robert - 1w ago
Out of State
by Natasha Stagg

Stella McCartney's 2017 Ad Campaign

Stella McCartney's 2017 Ad Campaign

A summer chronicle, part 1: NATASHA STAGG is back with her summer column and writes about the problem all this sustainability talk often misses

 

In 1980 the French newspaper Libération asked Marguerite Duras to write a chronicle for them over one year. The pieces could be as long or short as she liked, so long as she wrote every day. Duras said a year was far too long and proposed three months instead. "Why three months?” her editor asked. "Three months is one summer long,” she replied.
 "Agreed, three months, but every day!" the editor insisted. Duras didn't have anything planned for the summer and almost gave in. But then she suddenly became terrified that she couldn't plan her days as she wished. So she said: "No, once a week, about whatever I want." The editor agreed.

For the last two years, Spike has invited Natasha Stagg to do the same: one text a week, of any length, on whatever she liked. One summer long. For 2019 we wanted to it again, this is her first report:

 

 

At a lecture about waste management given by a sustainability consultant, our condition seemed hopeless. If we are going to continue functioning within capitalism (which, let’s face it), there is no point in imagining that individual behaviours will ever change drastically enough to shift the trash tides. But perhaps, in response to our societal addiction to consumption, the way products are consumed could change, said the consultant.

We have always understood that products “built to last” were the most eco-friendly, that large-scale manufacturers of easily destroyed furniture were the enemy. The thing is, as human animals, we move, refurbish, evolve into new aesthetics, update hardware, and send children off to temporary living situations as they mature into adulthood. At every stage, ephemera are discarded, whether antique hardwood, stainless steel, durable Teflon, or not. Crappy stuff and stuff that’s built to last alike is left on the street, to be swarmed by bedbugs, pissed on, soaked with snow, bleached by sun, rusted by rain, swept up by garbage collectors, or, best-case scenario, taken into a new home/resale shop.

A nicer product stays intact longer, but if it’s in a landfill, that’s not ideal. A shittier product will be more likely end up in a landfill than the nicer product, also taking forever to decay, but if it’s made with something slightly more biodegradable, like particleboard, maybe that’s a little more ideal. I mean, particleboard isn’t ideal for really anything, but maybe a more compostable type could be made?

Anyway, the guy was saying that most of these ideas come with cons: something that falls apart isn’t really recyclable, and maybe it leaks methane into the air, and paper bags are still made from trees, recycled paper made from pulp that requires water and energy, etc. But also we just can’t account enough for the demand for products: clothing per season, a new phone per break, a plastic coffee cup per day – who really cares about straws?

Not that I wanted to rant about sustainability. Actually, what struck me during this lecture was the idea that as a culture, we could start to favour items with short lifespans over dependability. It seems related to the other things that characterize the current moment: sort of an intangibility of identity, a disposable subjectivity, succumbing to the singularity. Instagram Stories (the Snapchat model) as opposed to posting to the permanent feed.

If we could spread our own hoards of things and garbage over the planet like cream cheese on a bagel, and if everyone who didn’t have a job became a tailor or a carpenter or a mechanic of some kind, there would surely be enough raw material for everyone to have everything they need forever, even enough to pass down to their offspring for generations.

But that isn’t the problem, really. It’s that we love to shop. It makes us feel good. We also like to receive and give gifts. I sometimes start to think about how awful it is that we are so addicted to spending money and that thought reminds me of the rush it gives me, and I open an e-com website on my phone like I’m lighting up a cigarette. I want to shop right now. I want to buy something that will fall apart, so I can buy it again.

 

NATASHA STAGG is a writer based in New York. She is the author of Sleeveless: Fashion, Image, Media, New York 2011-2019 (2019) and the novel Surveys (2016) both published with Semiotext(e). A new instalment of Out of State will be published online every Monday for 8 weeks.

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by Dean Kissick
The Downward Spiral: a Philosopher’s Boat in Skjolden

Bonfire, Olsok St Olav's Day, Skjolden

Bonfire, Olsok St Olav's Day, Skjolden

Old poscard

Marianne Heske, from the Mountains of the Mind series (circa 1983)

Marianne Heske (right) and Hedvig Skjorten (left) by Sognefjord

View from Wittgenstein's house in Skjolden

Wittgenstein's boat

This month Dean goes to the Norwegian countryside, contemplates Wittgenstein’s retreat from society and sees art’s return to its pagan origins in Marianne Heske’s latest project

This month Dean goes to the Norwegian countryside, contemplates Wittgenstein’s retreat from society and sees art’s return to its pagan origins in Marianne Heske’s latest project

 

Art takes us to unlikely places in search of some meaning for our lives, if we want it to. This week I’ve come to Skjolden, a picturesque village at the end of Norway’s longest, deepest fjord, Sognefjord, 200 kilometres from the sea, where I’ve been invited by local artist Marianne Heske to come walk in the footsteps of Ludwig Wittgenstein. It was into this wilderness that the Austrian philosopher retreated, looking for a respite from modern life with all its noise and phantasms of progress, in 1913. The following year, he began building his house on a secluded, wooded slope above the lake behind the village, a short row across its milky opal waters, among the wildflowers and trees, in search of a simpler life, and a quiet place from which to dismantle our understanding of reality. Having given away most of his wealth and Viennese bourgeois possessions, he picked strawberries and apples for money, or sometimes worked in a lemonade factory nearby. Possessions are disturbing for the mind, he thought, and regardless, nothing belongs to anybody anyway. Conversations could also be a distraction; but round here, Marianne explains, people don’t talk so much, don’t say so much, just yes or no. This was the calm, laconic valley, where the wind hardly touches the water, where the sun hardly sets or rises, he’d been looking for. “There,” he once wrote, “my mind was on fire.”

 

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Marianne wears baggy black trousers, shirts and jackets, round glasses, and plum-strawberry Nike Air Maxes. She was born in Alesund in 1946 and has been looking for inspiration along Norway’s winding roads, below the waterfalls and snowy crags, for a long time now. Every decade or so, she’ll find an old historical object, pull it out of its valley, and send it off on a journey somewhere. In 1980, she asked to borrow a small 17th-century wooden hut from a farmer in neighbouring Tafjord for a year, and drove it to the Pompidou Centre in a Citroen van. The roof was covered over with grass, which had to be watered by the Parisian gallery attendants every day, and flourished under the gallery lighting suspended from the deconstructed ceiling. Some Norwegians were angry that this traditional pastoral building had been spirited away to decadent France. Pictures of the installation bring to mind Beuys’ lard-smeared rooms of stories. Was she interested in Beuys? She says she used to bring dried fish to him in Düsseldorf. The night before we’d had baby goat terrine in our hotel by the water’s edge. A year to the day she’d taken it, Marianne returned her borrowed hut to the farmer, who needed it for sheltering his goats. “This is art,” he lamented upon its return. “It’s nothing to do about it.” Which is to say, the curse cannot be undone. Objects stay the same, or turn only very slowly, but we come to see them in radically different ways.

 

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In 1999, Marianne was invited to exhibit at the Venice Film Festival and decided she’d like to contribute a large stone. She walked around Tafjord for days. Gossip floated over the valley that the artist was looking for a stone. Local farmers would come and offer her theirs, telling her about candidates they’d just noticed, wanting to sail a fragment of their small part of the world to Venice; but also, they often didn’t notice these stones until an artist came around looking for one. This reminds me of a Wittgenstein quote I found printed out and nailed to a woodshed by the meadow yesterday, “The aspects of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity”; also of how the dying step out of their houses and are blown away by the beauty of the light in the edge of the clouds, the trembling of the leaves on the trees. I have been reading lots of accounts of what it’s like to know you’re going to die, on Quora. But none of these rocks were right for Marianne.

 

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Three weeks into the search, one bright day, with her lover sat off to one side, bored, leafing through Vogue, Marianne found what she’d been looking for: a round, 17-tonne boulder delivered from the mountain on an avalanche. She held and kissed the stone, just once, transmuting it into art. Queen Sonja of Norway came to visit and Marianne and her clambered on top of it and had their photo taken together. Then it was brought to Venice, to the Lido, and on the red carpet for Eyes Wide Shut, which opened the festival that year, as he dallied arm-in-arm with Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise kept, Marianne says, looking off to one side, confused or unsettled by the presence of the giant boulder. This was just one of many disconcerting moments that couple would have to go through. The stone’s still outside the storied Hotel des Bains today, and sometimes locals gather around it for a glass or two of wine before dinner.

 

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After breakfast in Skjolden, Marianne brings us to an old, broken boat on a rocky patch of shore. This is her latest project, Wittgenstein’s Boat. The idea came one evening when a friend called to say they were about to light a bonfire, to drink and dance around it, “You have to come now because we’re burning the wooden boat,” and right away she thought of Wittgenstein rowing across Eidsvatnet, and told her friend to stop; which he did, and dragged the wreck from the pyre on a tractor. It’s good to see art returning to its pagan origins. Although this isn’t really the great philosopher’s boat, which is lost somewhere, probably under the lake, it’s close enough, and gets along well. “All boats are the same,” Marianne says. In the afternoon we hike up to Wittgenstein’s house, where it used to be, and the valley becomes like a mirror, with the cosmos and its mysteries reflected in the still turquoise water below. Who doesn’t want to run away to a place with some peace and quiet, some fresh air and summer strawberries? To make good art, and see things clearly, says Marianne, one has to be in balance with nature; which is to suggest that post-industrial society might not just destroy the climate, but also culture, and our minds, and this may well already be happening. People, she says, are like fireflies, flying with open eyes into the fire.

 

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Wittgenstein’s Boat will be presented at Frankfurter Buchmesse, for which Norway is this year’s Guest of Honour, from October 16th to 20th.

Dean Kissick
Marianne Heske
Norway
The Downward Spiral
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Portrait Jana Euler
by Tenzing Barshee & Fabrice Stroun

Jana Euler, Under this perspective, 1, 2015

Oil on canvas, 190 x 150 cm

Photo: Stefan Korte. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Neu, Berlin

A conversation between Tenzing Barshee and Fabrice Stroun

Jana Euler, Under this perspective, 1, 2015

Oil on canvas, 190 x 150 cm

Photo: Stefan Korte. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Neu, Berlin

Installation view, Galerie Neu, Berlin, 2019

Left: Jana Euler, GWF 8, 2019

Oil on canvas, 300 x 200 cm

Right: Jana Euler, GWF 6, 2019

Oil on canvas, 300 x 200 cm

Photo: Dianna Pfammatter. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Neu, Berlin

Jana Euler, Whitney, 2013

Oil on canvas, 190 x 300 cm

Courtesy the artist and dépendance, Brussels

For the past ten years, the German artist Jana Euler has worked an eclectic lexicon of styles to dissect the mechanisms by which value is assigned to art. For her recent exhibition at Galerie Neu in Berlin, she presented eight tall paintings of sharks. Swiss curators Tenzing Barshee and Fabrice Stroun met to talk about the ideological implications of her work and the unique place it occupies within the field of figurative painting.

For the past ten years, the German artist Jana Euler has worked an eclectic lexicon of styles to dissect the mechanisms by which value is assigned to art. For her recent exhibition at Galerie Neu in Berlin, she presented eight tall paintings of sharks. Swiss curators Tenzing Barshee and Fabrice Stroun met to talk about the ideological implications of her work and the unique place it occupies within the field of figurative painting.

 

Tenzing Barshee: When did you first encounter Jana Euler’s work?

Fabrice Stroun: In early 2012, when you and I started talking about her paintings, it seemed to me that each of her works was about something. Some of them highly skilled, others much less so. She was working with a whole bag of painterly tricks. Every mark seemed to serve an analytical purpose. Painterly effects seemed to be a means to an end rather than just for show. I remember we both appreciated how unprecious they looked.

TB: True. They brought a well-timed take on issues of representation. What about this seeming lack of preciousness? Can you elaborate and, looking back, do you still feel that way?

FS: The paintings have gotten more articulated with time, which could become a problem, but in essence, yes. Content over Haltung (attitude). Part of this sentiment was circumstantial. When I started looking at her work, a lot of other German painters her age were still considering artists of Kippenberger’s generation as plausible models, thinking their stylistic misgivings and dandyish personas could somehow be aped. She didn’t put her foot into that hole. Her paintings were smart, very funny, and in their own peculiar frozen way, quite beautiful.

TB: Do you relate her work to so-called Bad Painting, a concept you’ve often made reference to?

FS: Not really. Bad Painting refers to a specific moment in the reception of essentially formalist, neo-Expressionist practices that coalesced in the late 1970s in the United States. Today, the use of this term only makes sense within a hyper-regional North American context. The one contemporary artist I’m really interested in who possibly still fits that bill is Gina Beavers, who also has a show up in Berlin right now [at GNYP Gallery]. I’m sorry to miss it. In Germany, a number of artists were also working in similar veins in the late 70s, albeit for radically more political reasons. In retrospect, they are the last European generation to give an explicit painterly form to historical anti-establishment positions that have since waxed and waned.

TB: I’d like to go back to your judgment of Euler’s contemporaries. What you are talking about, if I understand correctly, is the academicisation of a punk ethos.

FS: Yes, but by the time Euler’s practice emerged, this issue was already twenty years old. By the mid-1990s, the vast majority of the original punk artists had already classicised themselves to death. And then you have the whole “Spirit of Cologne” thing, which, as far as painting goes, cemented this process of academicisation for good. In 2012, Euler seemed to offer a relative analytical respite from this dead-end narrative.

TB: Right, but I don’t agree with you that Euler’s practice is that analytical, that cold. There is a performative dimension to the work. For me, it doesn’t simply represent an idea, positions or intention. She weaves levels of meaning by modulating different painting techniques. Euler displays a real sensitive and conceptual intelligence in the ways she constructs an image from within painting’s history. In the show we saw earlier today, there are fish paintings that include spray paint, that look like something at a fun fair … 

FS: … like the facade of a haunted house.

TB: But you also have a painting that is rendered in a 19th-century neoclassical style, and another looks almost expressionistic. The heterogeneity is remarkable.

FS: Her virtuosity is elastic.

TB: In Germany, painting culture is essentially gendered. There’s the prevalent myth that an expressive gesture contains the violence of history or, alternatively, its alcoholic/anarchist negation. Both of these traditions are embedded in an essentially masculine narrative. So now, we have a younger artist who’s claiming a position of power, even if only size-wise. The fish paintings are really tall things.

FS: It’s mind boggling that this phallocratic perception persists. Despite the historical fact that in the last decades in Germany the most formidable paintings were all made by women. First and foremost, Jutta Koether, for whom I have a quasi-religious awe. There is no work of hers I don’t unconditionally love. And then you have artists like Monika Baer or Amelie von Wulffen, who are, I believe, truly forward-thinking. And more eccentric voices, such as Katharina Wulff’s, are just as interesting. The list goes on.

TB: Michaela Eichwald or Heike-Karin Föll come to mind.

FS: I’m talking specifically about representational painting, which carries its own historical burden.

TB: Obviously casting a long shadow. So here we are. We enter Galerie Neu and we see eight huge paintings of marine life. But in fact, they look like hard cocks. Eight giant explosive cocks. They look scary in the most caricatural and ridiculous way.

FS: Many of them actually look kind of pathetic.

TB: It’s funny that she made them explosive. Unlike an actual penis that distributes fluids, they burst out of the water themselves. They aren’t here to inseminate anything, they’re being spewed out by the ocean. I’m wondering if this can be read as a metaphor for the adolescence or advent of power itself. The thing is, Euler is astutely aware of how contemporary images come to be and how they are distributed, and how that relates to the dynamics of social life. I’ve always appreciated the way she deals with the anticipation between language and images. What I first heard about the exhibition was that she had made paintings of sharks and that the title of the show was “Great White Fear”.

FS: So funny.

 

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TB: Vittorio Brodmann, our painter friend, told me that the “Great White Fear” makes him think of the white canvas. The question of how one goes about finding a subject to paint.

FS: The fact that these works are so obviously, among many other things, about painting might be, for me, their greatest Achilles’ heel. Do you remember the scene in the movie Superbad (2007), when Seth fills his entire notebook with dick drawings?

TB: Yes! The character, played by Jonah Hill, admits to how as a younger boy he’d obsessively drawn pictures of dicks. The scene is set up well. When he confesses, his best friend asks with astonishment: “Dicks? Like a man dick?”

FS: There is one of the fish paintings where the two eyes are looking right at you, going: “Duuuuh”.

TB: The self-portrait?

FS: You call it that?

TB: I was told it was one.

FS: It’s the one work in the show that obviously invites you in on the joke.

TB: Last fall, I met John Kelsey in Berlin. I asked him, “How’s New York?” He said: “Paralysed”. I guess he was talking as much about how the current political climate makes it feel like we are living in a caricature as to how the overheated conversation around identity politics affects people’s language and the work that artists make. People are scared of doing or saying the wrong thing. With “Great White Fear”, I feel Euler is forcing us to reflect on this situation.

FS: Sure. For decades and decades, moral censorship came from the political right. Now it comes from within our midst. It’s a complex issue. This self-censorship is a toxic side-effect of a struggle you and I actually believe in. We need to tackle systemic behaviours of oppression. The question is, how do we get rid of the bathwater without throwing out the baby? I’m wondering what these eight gigantic cocks are trying to tell us that we don’t already agree with.

TB: I’m not sure they are as righteous as you make them. Her humour opens up an array of interpretative possibilities. There are obviously preset punchlines, but these are so deadpan, they cannot be considered authoritative. For example, I love the fact that she exhibited a Whitney Houston portrait at the Whitney Museum in 2013. “Whitney at the Whitney”. It’s too deadpan, far too flat to be authoritative.

 

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FS: In this respect, it’s interesting to make a comparison with the works of Mathieu Malouf, which we also saw today [in a show at Lars Friedrich in Berlin].

TB: You’ve referred to both of these artists as moralists. What do you mean by that?

FS: They’re both satirists, they are both toying with our respective moral misgivings. But the way they wield irony is quite different. I’d identify Euler’s as critical or constructive. It is meant to articulate something, to reveal a structure. Malouf, on the other hand, has more of a scorched-earth approach. His work doesn’t even pretend to explain anything. I agree with you that, in the end, Euler’s works are not authoritative. But – and it’s part of their appeal, and their beauty – they are so self-assured. In Malouf’s case, and that’s his appeal, the minimum amount of self-possession required for any kind of authoritative pronouncement is out of the window from the get-go. It is obliterated along with its targets.

TB: Euler states correctly in her press release that, if left undescribed, there’s nothing in the fish paintings that you wouldn’t see or miss. Again, super deadpan, whereas Malouf is mildly hellbent, to say the least. His practice is a form of trolling.

FS: Trolling is a means to an end, you have to look at his actual paintings. The sense of dislocation I experienced in his recent survey at Le Consortium in Dijon, curated by Stéphanie Moisdon, was intense. I felt like a Philip K. Dick character who, as reality disintegrates, isn’t sure whether he’s standing at the edge of a new world or already on his deathbed, hallucinating.

TB: For you, seeing both exhibitions on the same day was a real treat, wasn’t it?

FS: Seeing two legitimate figurative painting shows in one go? It hasn’t happened to me in a long time. I kept thinking about a David Salle interview I read in the late 80s, where he compared his relationship to Morandi and de Chirico. If I remember correctly, he said something to the effect that standing in front of Morandi’s works, he found them ravishingly beautiful, perfect, but then when he left the room, they vanished from his mind. On the contrary, he found de Chirico painting always highly problematic and far less attractive, as they kept the traces of all his squabbles with the artworld of his time, with whom he kept petty score. But once they were out of his sight, he couldn’t stop thinking about them.

TB: If I buy your earlier distinction, I’m more inclined to keep thinking about art that is critical or constructive instead of scorched-earth tactics. But we should not oversimplify either of these artists’ practice. In Euler’s case, you have to agree that her work is more perversely polysemic than you give it credit for. I would say it’s interesting to look at her exhibition, the shark-cocks, the representations of power and their silliness, in combination with the title, and how they’re tapping into a larger conversation around morality.

FS: They are certainly teasing us into having this discussion.

TB: Like being honey-trapped.

FS: They are three-metre-tall cocks. If that’s not a honey trap, I don’t know what is.

 

 

TENZING BARSHEE is an independent writer and a curator at Sundogs in Paris.

FABRICE STROUN is an independent curator based in Geneva, Switzerland.

 

JANA EULER was born in 1982 in Friedberg, Germany, and lives in Frankfurt and Brussels.

Recent solo exhibitions have taken place at Galerie Neu in Berlin (2019), Dépendance, Brussels (2018), Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and Cabinet Gallery, London, both in 2017. Among other group shows, she participated in “The Violence of Gender”, JC Contemporary (Tai Kwun), Hong Kong, and “January”, Dépendance, Brussels, in 2019; “Optik Schröder” II, Mumok, Vienna, in 2018; “The Absent Museum”, WIELS, Brussels, and “Infected Foot”, Greene Naftali, New York, in 2017; and “Painting 2.0” at Mumok in Vienna in 2016.

JANA EULER is represented by Galerie Neu (Berlin), Dépendance (Brussels), and Cabinet (London).

Jana Euler
Tenzing Barshee
Fabrice Stroun
painting
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