Monday, 13 August 2012

12 - Pages Issue 9 : Terror

Introduction by Laura Davidson

For reasons that should by now be self-evident, bearing witness does not imply special access to the essential meaning of critical events. Nor does being in a position to see those events with one’s own eyes privilege the testimony of any individual, no matter where they stand in relation to the presumed center of the drama, since so many other eyes are trained on it from so many uniquely revelatory positions. Logically, this observation is elementary, but as soon as discussion moves from the abstract to the concrete, agreement vanishes in the so-called “fog of war”, that atmosphere of crisis and ambiguity in which opposites confront each other only to lose their bearings, that moment of truth in which sharply defined antagonists begin to resemble each other in their confusion and desperation and truth vaporizes and indiscriminate death has the final word.

Robert Storr September: A History Painting by Gerhard Richter (2010)

On September 11th 2001, Gerhard Richter was en route from Cologne to his opening at Maria Goodman Gallery in Manhattan. He was due to arrive at 12.30pm, almost 4 hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Centre. Richter and his wife were diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia and like the rest of the world, became restricted to watching the unedited narrative stream continuously from TV screens. For those who count themselves amongst the most cynical disbelievers in fate, it must be hard not to concede it was Richter’s destiny to be thrust somehow into the sublime horror of one of the defining moments of the early 21st Century. 

The events of that September day are accompanied by a very specific and saturated imagery. It was a horror of an intensity not witnessed on the American homeland since colonial times. Ironically in the latter half of the 20th Century, it was America that had been responsible for creating the subject of such sublime imagery. The H-bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War 2 are a subject matter not unfamiliar to Richter. Unlike the atrocities committed in Japan in 1945, images of what happened in Lower Manhattan were unveiled in real time and then replayed continuously to a worldwide audience. 

The string of words “nine eleven” has a meaning so intense in Western nations that it obliterates all that defined it before. Primarily it marked an increased aggression in US and European foreign policy. Retrospectively it is coming to represent a turning point in how media captures our memory of an event. What occurred in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on the 11th of September 2001 is etched into the collective memory of North American and Western European culture. When discussing the event, the attempt at grasping a meaning behind it often begins with a personal account, as if ‘we’ were all there. As if we all saw it played out in reality. The relentless media coverage for almost two weeks after the event placed us in a 360-viewing platform. We were fed images that gave us the impression of being in Manhattan above all, when everything unfolded across the ubiquitous clear blue skyline. 

Over a decade later, we have become more accustomed to taking part in collective events that we are not physically a part of. Nine eleven was a trigger of this phenomenon. The removal of physical self in the Web 2.0 era has somehow come with a natural ease. It seems logical to concede that there has always been a concealed science fiction desire to be in two places at once. A strong trend has emerged in which major news stories are broken on Twitter by amateurs, often more rapidly than the conventional broadcasters. Major news events are also increasingly made out of something minor. The continual stream of news that is attached to each person through personal computers and smartphones maybe gives us more of a physical sense of being somewhere when we are in fact completely absent.

An absence of physical presence is what defines North America’s 9/11 as equally as an inability to articulate the true terror of those who did witness the events unfold in real time, without constant replay. On Gerhard Richter’s painting September, the art historian Robert Storr remarked that he himself finds it difficult to separate his personal account of the day and the images he saw on the television. In fact, a continual question that arises is how to begin the task of staging the representational on something already so represented? On something so concrete yet buried in the effervescent nature of the photograph? The occurrences in the aftermath of the event in particular, the whole of Lower Manhattan buried in a Pompeii-esque ash of office papers, seemed in themselves a poetic legacy that no artist could ever create. The political fall out has agitated some artistic response but, the decade of the War on Terror seems eerily quiet in contrast to, for comparisons sake, the Vietnam War. It is curious that an event that was so staged and so visual has barely any visual response to it. 

This sense of the intangible is what the brief for the Terror issue was based upon. In the years leading up to the Iraq War, the apocalyptic visions of September 11th were pulsing through the veins of the world media when the Invasion of Afghanistan was announced. These representations were continually recycled to justify the War on Terror. The world had become a place saturated with hyperactive illustrations, replayed over and over, filling the citizens of predominately western nations with a fear of this unknown, slippery, indefinable enemy known as Terror. The Invasion of Afghanistan was only the beginning of this stretching decade of conflict. The War on Terror left in its wake a trail of imagery, of spectacle, of war and of the sublime that is so dense in it’s recording (coinciding with the new digital era) that grasping the concept of the conflict: Terror, is still difficult a decade later.

Contextualising these events within the realm of art has not been forthcoming –Richter began working on September in 2004 and even he struggled to grasp how to proceed with his initial drawings. In order to allow a basis for response to the Terror brief, 12-Pages directed the respondents to consider wide resources from the imagery of war to the poetic mechanisms of the sublime, to begin to render a dialogue that describes the preceding decade. 

Terror will be published on 12-Pages, Thursday August 16th. Featuring new work by Beverley Bennett, Charley Peters, Gudrun Filipska and Laura Davidson.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Project News: A Message To... Marfa

Marfa, Texas, located at 30°18′43″N 104°1′29″W

TBC members Laura Davidson, Charley Peters and Beverley Bennett are currently working together on a collaborative project, A Message To... Marfa. Marfa is a town in the desert of West Texas, founded in the early 1880s as a railroad water stop. Marfa Army Airfield was located east of the town during World War II and trained several thousand pilots before closing in 1945, the abandoned site still being visible 16km east of the town. In 1956 the film Giant was filmed in Marfa, famously the last film featuring James Dean, who died before filming was completed. The city is now best known for housing Donald Judd's Chinati Foundation, occupying more than 10 buildings and permanently exhibiting work by artists including Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Richard Long and Roni Horn. 

A Message To... Marfa involves Peters and Bennett, in London, providing Davidson with a list of instructions for actions that she must undertake in Marfa. These actions will generate material that Davidson will send back to Peters and Bennett, which they will curate and interpret to generate a remote 'drawing' of Marfa. The project will be realised over the next two months, and published online shortly afterwards.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Beverley Bennett, Laura Davidson, Paul Mendez and Charley Peters, Along the Line (2011/12)

TBC have recently collaborated on a book project on the theme of 'Along the Line'. Part of a large project involving artists from around the world, the book will tour to 14 international venues in 2012  before joining the collection of the Brooklyn Art Library. The first show of the tour opens in April in Brooklyn and will then travel to Chicago. The tour will reach London in late 2012.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

12-Pages Online Project Space Call for Submissions: Issue 9

Tacita Dean Chère petite soeur (2002)

12-Pages Online Project Space invites submissions from creative practitioners in response to the theme of ‘Terror’. The release of this brief has been directed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Invasion of Afghanistan. 12-Pages is committed to promoting contemporary drawing practice and requests that submissions demonstrate the drawing process in some way. 12-Pages additionally asks that new works be made in response to the brief. In order to inspire critically engaged responses a rough introduction to the thinking behind the brief is provided.

Submissions deadline: 29th February 2012
E-mail responses to:
Submissions guidelines: viewed on our website

Outlining Terror

The Guernica myth was established on the 15th of February 2003, when rumors began circulating from the UN Security Council Chamber that a tapestry copy of Picasso’s seminal painting had been draped with a blue cloth to shield it from view. It became apparent that Guernica was an inappropriate backdrop for the impending announcement. When America’s intention to invade Iraq was announced by Colin Powell, viewers from around the world saw him framed by the UN’s pale blue, rather than the disjointed horrors of Guernica. It has been said that the UN was put under considerable pressure to conceal the tapestry as screen tests before the live announcement showed the horse’s head rear up above the person talking. The concealing of an artwork on the eve of such an historical announcement would inevitably be perceived as a gagging of free speech. The covering up of this artwork during the early stages of the War on Terror would come to represent metaphorically the lack of government response to the mass protest of their citizens (in the US and UK) against the impending invasion. The concept of an enemy named ‘Terror’ seemed somehow mythological. How is it possible to wage war against a verb? In a cultural context, how does the art community put such an elusive concept into a critical framework? In other words; if art cannot have Guernica to represent sheer terror, then what is it entitled to claim?

In the years leading up to the Iraq War, the apocalyptic visions of September 11th were pulsing through the veins of the world media when the Invasion of Afghanistan was announced. These representations were continually recycled to justify the War on Terror.  The world had become a place saturated with hyperactive illustrations, replayed over and over, filling the citizens of predominately western nations with a fear of this unknown, slippery, indefinable enemy known as Terror. The Invasion of Afghanistan was only the beginning of this stretching decade of conflict. The War on Terror left in its wake a trail of imagery, of spectacle, of war and of the sublime that is so dense in it’s recording (coinciding with the new digital era) that grasping the concept of the conflict: Terror, is still difficult a decade later. 

As perhaps suggested in the Guernica myth, art’s engagement with terror is a relationship defined through centuries of academic discourse. Most famously, the epic engagement of the sublime by J.M.W Turner and Casper David Freidrich distills to us the intangible qualities of terror and fear. The sublime could be an art historical tool to represent the elusive contemporary conceptualisation of Terror. Turner and Freidrich use painting to render the panic of the human condition to something with, of course, a peculiar aesthetic contradiction we recognize as the sublime. This contradiction was inevitably echoed in the rhetoric of the War on Terror during the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. Had this phrase not been coined in earnest by the Bush Administration it could easily be applied to Freidrich’s painting The Chalk Cliffs on Rügen (1818). Taken out of context, shock and awe is in so many ways a concise description of the sublime. In Freidrich’s painting, the man stumbling towards his renegade top hat on the edge of a cliff frames the ultimate power of the natural world over the small stature of man. For a humble man, the fear of nature is awe-inspiring. With a media so full of pseudo apocalyptic imagery it comes as no surprise that an interest in the sublime has come to the fore of art thinking once more.

The 2009 exhibition Compass in Hand at MoMA, New York, presented newly acquired works from the Judith Rothschild Contemporary Drawing Collection. The exhibition meant that MoMA’s Curator of Drawing, Christian Rattemeyer, could concede a small victory as keeper of the medium. For the first time MoMA’s history a drawing was displayed in the public areas of the museum. Tacita Dean’s Chère petite soeur (2002), a colossal diptych measuring 243.8 x 487.7 cm, was hung in a space normally reserved for the departments of painting and sculpture. Dean’s chalk on blackboard piece had staged an insurrection of the curatorial hierarchy.

Chère petite soeur (2002) is a replay of a Marcel Broodthaers film based on a postcard he found of a boat being tossed around in a storm. The interest in the piece lies in the year of production, a year after September 11th and the Invasion of Afghanistan and a year before the Iraq War. The immersion of the viewer in a dusty, churned sea instantly brings Turner to mind.  One observes the boat’s futile attempt to triumph over the inevitable terror of nature. In retrospect the work serves as a cultural talisman, produced in advance of any announcements of ‘Shock and Awe’ by the previous American government. The apocalyptic wind depicted in the drawing was perhaps capturing the atmospheric terror experienced in the west. The reference of the sublime in Chère petite soeur evidences the growing engagement with Terror in contemporary practice.

Rattemeyer would later comment on the selection process for Compass in Hand. The exhibition, curated by conceptual and aesthetic relationships instead of chronology, revealed drawings depicting severed limbs and collaged bodies. However, what these works unveiled to him was a drawn response to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which he had not considered previously. It came as no surprise that these works were produced around the 2002-2004 period. These comments were made during a panel discussion at the conference Travelling Lines: Drawing as an Itinerant Practice, 22-23 September. Co-Curated by the Drawing Room, London and TrAIN, University of the Arts, London

The contrast of the collage on paper works with Dean’s chalk board diptych, should hopefully give you, a potential respondent of the brief, an insight into the far reaching context of terror in relation to contemporary drawing practice. Responses to ‘Terror’ can be plotted anywhere from the imagery of war to the poetic mechanisms of the sublime.

Further Research

Monday, 19 September 2011

Slice at Rich Mix

Slice at Rich Mix, London, September 2011

Currently on show at Rich Mix, London, is Slice, the international art project including new work from artists in London and Lahore. TBC Artists' Collective performative drawing Khoros can be seen in the exhibition, an interactive installation showcasing the work made by the ten artists or art collectives in both cities, shown in the context of the geographical locations in each city which inspired the works. By moving the pointer along the maps of London and Lahore, the artworks are activated and can be viewed on the screens in the gallery space.

Slice is at Rich Mix until 22 September 2011.

Slice at Rich Mix, London, September 2011

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A Message To... Houston

Charley Peters: A Message To... Paul Neal 'Red' Adair

Peters' piece of work is inspired by the legendary firefighter 'Red' Adair (1915-2004) who, during his career extinguished and capped oil well blowouts, both on land and offshore. The project involved collaboration between Peters and TBC's Laura Davidson, based on Davidson's interpretation of a set of instructions supplied to her with relating to a series of drawings made for the project. The instructions to Davidson and Peters' drawings - made from folded paper, reminiscent of flame forms - are below.

  • I have made six drawings out of folded paper.
  • The drawings are now on the wall of my studio in London.
  • On sheets of white paper I have recorded each fold as a line, thereby producing six new line drawings.
  • I have given these line drawings to you and they are to be taken to Houston, Texas.
  • In Houston the lines should be turned into folds and the original drawings recreated.
  • The six recreated drawings should be burned and their ashes scattered on Houston Heights, the area where Red Adair spent his childhood, to commemorate his career extinguishing hazardous oil well fires until his retirement at the age of 77.

On the 25th of August the works were recreated and scattered along the park in the middle of Heights Boulevard, which divides the lanes of traffic travelling across town. 

Beverley Bennett: A Message To... Ima Hogg

Some persons create history.
Some record it.
Others restore and conserve it.
She has done all three.

Allan Shivers former Governor of Texas

Ima Hogg (1882 - 1975) known as "The First Lady of Texas" was an American philanthropist, patron and collector of the arts and one of the most respected women in Texas throughout the 20th century. Hogg donated pieces of  avant-garde European art to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) during the 30s and 40s. Additionally she donated the Bayou Bend property to the MFAH in 1957 and it now showcases American decorative and fine arts from the 17th to 19th centuries. Even in death she is a key figure of art patronage in Houston, which the home of some of America's most important collections. Works donated by Hogg and other collectors during her time are still loaned to museums and galleries internationally. Evidently Hogg's role in giving Houston a rich cultural heritage impacts on the popularity of the Museum District today. 

Bennett based her drawing on the Eastern Massachusetts Easy Chair, (1760-1800) a gift from Ima Hogg to the MFAH. The geometric needlework cover served as an inspiration for Bennett's drawing. The crosswalk beside the MFAH also touches on the Glassell School of Art and the Contemporary Arts Museum. This was an ideal location to install Bennett's work as often the lamp posts here are used to promote other cultural events in the city.

Laura Davidson: A Message To... Terry Hershey

Terry (Therese) Hershey (1922- ) is a well known and celebrated American conservationist. In the Houston area she is most closely associated with 6 miles of Texas parkland that bear her name. The Terry Hershey Hike and Bike Trail would not exist if it were not for her relentless campaigning to stop the Buffalo Bayou from being paved. In the 1960's the bayou was to be stripped of vegetation, straightened and filled in with concrete, a government sponsored project that set to use this method of engineering as a flood prevention measure. Hershey, who lived in the area at the time, campaigned with the proposition that this would lead to flood transference rather than flood prevention. Her fight was eventually taken to the then Congressman George H. W. Bush who eventually succeeded to Hershey's hypothesis that there is a better way to control flooding than destroying the natural habitat. She would then go on to establish environmentalist groups throughout the Houston area and become a founding member of the National Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. She is still actively involved in conservation to this day.

For A Message To... Davidson constructed a small paper boat to be floated along the Buffalo Bayou, buoyed by the natural meander and current of the river. Prior to folding up the boat, a drawing was produced on the paper. Drawing and the botanical have a long history together and with that in mind Davidson undertook research into the endangered plants of Harris County the area, which the Buffalo Bayou dissects. The geometric shapes of the Texas Trillium were chosen to be imprinted on the boat, which glided down the Buffalo Bayou in homage to Hershey.