A review of
Dia Foundation's Sites in New York projects
With the advent of easily available consumer audio editing software there has been a proliferation of remixed music that deals with bizarre variations in time as a starting point. This trend can be traced back to several tracts of experimental music of the past 40 years, however it is the analog practice of the early 1990s Houston based, DJ Screw, whom I will expand upon. Screw is known as the inventor of Chopped and Screwed music. This form of remixing, actually more like re-presenting, takes southern hip-hop records and plays them back at a tempo slowed to around half speed. This tempo shift is coupled with skipping beats and, what can only be described as a sort of vocal stutter achieved by starting and stopping the vocals over a continuous background. The resultant music is eerie, sluggish and extra-human sounding. For one of the most constant aural registers a human has is the sound and cadence of a fellow humanʼs voice. This is essentially an example of an art form finding itself in a moment of self-reflexivity. As a time based medium, to examine and make the alteration of time essential to its concept is akin to post-war American painters examining the very material conditions of their practice, playing with flatness, surface, and support as subject matter as well as motivation.
This form of remixing brings out elements of the original songs that were barely perceptible previously. Now, what sort of unseen material would emerge if one were to perform a similar action to an exhibition? Also what would this look like literally? With the rise of curatorial masters programs over the past ten years and curating itself gaining proper recognition as an academic discipline and not simply something art historians end up doing, there has been a flurry of curatorial self-reflection. The nature of time is no doubt being pursued in this context but I wish to add this dialog. There have been a number of art works that consider time in the manner I am imagining, however artists are somehow miles ahead of curatorial practices, yet still subject to the technical constraints of the curator or institution. In 1964 Andy Warhol made Empire, a film that plays for eight hours and five minutes. The work consists of a single camera angle, featuring a cropped view of the Empire State Building filmed from the Time Life Building across the street. The footage was shot at 24 frames per second, but played back at 16 frames per second so the roles of film recorded for approximately 6 hours, but play back at eight hours and five minutes.(i) Similarly Douglas Gordonʼs 1993 project 24 hour Psycho takes Hitchcockʼs original film and slows the work down to play back over the course of one entire day. Although both projects push the boundaries of a works potential to be seen in its entirety, and therefore questions the logic and structure of the institutions that house them, they still interface with time as autonomous works, and so can be trumped by the hands of institutional time. Leaving the altered length of the work flaccid, performing a gimmicky head nod to radical structure.
There are two projects by the artist Walter De Maria that have been on view for over thirty years. The American Minimalist created two artworks upon the Dia Foundations request, sited in two locations in the Soho neighborhood of New York. These two projects exist in their own loft spaces a few blocks away from one another, and are considered seminal works in the minimalist cannon. Titled The Broken Kilometer (1979), and New York Earth Room (1977), respectively, the two pieces exist as slow meditations on material and time. Each exhibition space is dominated by one large work, consisting of a vast amount of a single material. The Broken Kilometer consists of 500 highly polished, round, solid brass rods arranged in five parallel rows of 100 rods each.(ii) The viewer has a fixed point of view facing the work, so the rods are aligned to be perpendicular to the viewerʼs body. If placed end to end the material would equal one kilometer in length, and collectively weigh around 18 tons. The rods are placed directly on the wooden floor of the space, a former tobacco factory. While New York Earth Room, presents a Soho loft space submerged in roughly three feet of dark brown soil. The architecture is in places obscured by the mass of earth spread evenly through out a defined are. Like The Broken Kilometer, this work has a fixed view, positioning the viewer in front of a glass partition showing a cross section of the compressed earth. The work has a strong olfactory component noticeable while climbing the flight of stairs to the loft space. The raw earthy scent introduces the work before your eyes are aware of its power. There is no overhead light source with only a small window providing a changing ambient light for the work.
Both Dia projects present a quiet radicalism in their persistence. These two shows have been witness to the so-called end of ideology, various wars, several periods of boom economies, several financial crises, globalization/ terrorism, the ubiquity of personal computing, the rise of the internet and ecological disasters among everything else history has thrown their way. The work is physically the same today as it was in 1984, the year I was born. However, as the altered tempo of a DJ Screw remix reveals the unobserved, or unheard nuances of the original composition, the extended play of these two projects exhibits the liquid like ability to absorb and reflect cultural shifts in the so called emptied structures of the work. As De Maria was included in exhibitions such as Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in 1966 he was part of a generation of artists who privileged a kind of reduced work (content wise) allowing the atmospheric conditions (light, space, and the dimensions of a room) of a works surroundings to influence the their interpretation.
Today this leaves the work open as it were to the complex bodies of the viewer and schizophrenic contemporary thought processes. Running canonical Minimalist works through the machine of 1990s Houston hip-hop culture is perhaps an awkward operation however both forms privileged phenomenological experience, with an interest in the bodiesʼ literal engagement with form. Minimalism attempted this through a forced physical encounter with a works materiality and the experiential qualities of light and reflection. While Chopped and Screwed music is engaged in the bodyʼs literal and simulated repositioning through intoxication. DJ Screw has after all spoke on his desire to make music that put his listeners into an altered state that mimics the effects of codeine, the key component to a popular refreshment that goes hand and hand with the music, Drank.
It is difficult to imagine many shows I have seen recently hold up for twelve months let alone 30 years. Bringing me to the essential strangeness of reviewing and considering works that have been on view for the past three decades. What does it mean to witness a room full of loose earth in a now super gentrified neighborhood in Manhattan know for the consumer frenzy its range luxury and luxury-aspirational clothing and house wares elicits. How does the North Face store (an expensive outdoor recreation clothing brand), another portal for urbanites to experience nature fantasies located directly next door to New York Earth Room function in this comparison, and is there a difference? These considerations also bring to the surface questions about Diaʼs intentions (and the continuing interests of the Minimal artists) with these long run projects. As I am reading their function through a fairly optimistic lens giving credit to the ability of the works to mimic contemporary talking points through their open structure, there is also the argument that Dia is perhaps not looking for this sort of contextualizing of the works, which are in a sense hermetically sealed in their comfortable settings. As it was over course one of minimalism's goal to empty work of all a priori systems, essentially everything. As Robert Morris said of this sort of work, it “takes relationships out of the work” and “makes them a function of space, and light, and the viewerʼs field of vision”(iii) I suppose it is impossible for the contemporary viewer to approach the blank slate nature of a minimal sculpture and not use this as a sort of projection screen for shifting thoughts.
Currently there is a project located at 163 Eldridge St. in Manhattans Chinatown called The Artists Institute. The space is run by Anthony Huberman, a curator who has recently forged a relationship with the Hunter College MFA program (the institute is run in tandem with a seminar at Hunter). Interestingly this small storefront space functions like a gallery, however the program of shows is paced to match the semester schedule of a school. Each semester the Institute presents the work of a single artist, often an artist not extremely familiar to the New York audience. These shows that are essentially solo, or survey shows, are punctuated and complicated by a range of tangential lectures, presentations, and small group shows within the larger project.(iv) This interests me in the ability to destabilize the work presented over the course of the semester. The approach of the space also makes explicit what the Dia projects mentioned above have been able to do accidentally. That is to introduce interesting historical (or semi-historical works) to a contemporary relationship with content, or the mess which sits outside but never far away from the practice of making and exhibiting works of art.
When considering the work of an artist these sometimes unusual pairings of work and “supplement” provide another way out, or in for that matter. Currently there is a show by the artist Jimmie Durham. The artist is an American Indian who has been based in Europe for the past several decades. His work in sculpture and video has always sat with and next to his work as an activist with the American Indian Movement. Over the past few months to name a few examples, there has been a presentation by Jason E. Smith an American academic reading and discussing his translation of Introduction to Civil War, a text attributed to the French anarchist group Tiqqun functioning in the 1990s. Followed by a work by another French collective operating under a pseudonym, Claire Fontaine. The collective has produced neon signs with the phrase “foreigners everywhere” into various languages. For Durhamʼs show Fontaine has produced the piece in Cherokee.
The status of the venues sited above points to what is perhaps the ultimate driving force behind the regular schedule to which exhibitions adhere. As the Dia Foundation is a non-profit, and The Artistʼs Institute is run with funding from Hunter (with additional fund raising) I imagine the conservatism inherent in the run of an exhibition as a function of economic forces. Both spaces sit outside the market in a sense, while commercial spaces keep turning over shows as a form of maintaining the invisible, Post-Fordist conveyer belt turning new products out to the public. However as countries around the world enter massive amounts of debt and currency, as a concrete form seems to be dissolving, then possibly the same will happen to time. After all, as they say, time is money. As exhibitions continue to come and go with the turn of a calendar page, and the coverage of the global art community continues to expand, perhaps the notion of primary encounter with a work will cease to exist therefore eradicating their temporal fixity. This relationship has already taken place within the music industry, as the difference between witnessing a DJ playing records “in person”, and sitting in front of your computer listening to a recording of him performing the same routine becomes increasingly slippery.
ii) Dia Foundation web site www.diacenter.org/
iii) Art Since 1900, Robert Morris quote from Judd Morris and Minimalism, p. 493
iv) The Artist’s Institute website www.theartistsinstitute.org/