Artistry: The Case for Studio Visits by Candace Cui

Artistry: The Case for Studio Visits by Candace Cui

Let me tell you what kind of artist you shouldn’t trust.

Maybe mistrust is an extreme sentiment, but I believe there is a type of artist you should struggle to never become, no matter your success and no matter the size of your probably overly inflated ego.

I believe, and think many share this belief, that artists thrive in a community. That is to say, that art gets its power from discussion and change and mistakes and reflections. The best venue for this type of community to occur is not in the art galleries (where, let’s be honest, you’ll spend less time looking at the art and more time drinking while comparing your outfit to someone else’s), but in the studio visit.

One of my favorite places to hang out is in an artist’s studio, where you can see the development and discards of a life’s work. I want to believe in the power of work, which lends itself to that elusive but completely apt concept of “artistry”. Artistry is not the yellow resin cube by Peter Alexander I went on an intense rant about while perusing Art Market on its opening night.Courtesy of the artist, Peter Alexander

Courtesy of the artist, Peter Alexander

My main problem with said resin cube is that while it’s aesthetically pleasing, I can’t find evidence of artistry, of the uniquely personal touch of an artist. That is why seeing an artist at work is so vital, because seeing a piece of artwork without its context is like approaching a chimera. It has a physical reality but no purposeful birth, seemingly sprung into life as Athena. Artists are not, or perhaps should not be, magicians. There isn’t a trick, and whatever secrets exist become oftentimes the whole of an artwork’s impact. Of course there should be mystery or mystique, but there is also the firm understanding that an artist has a profession, which luckily doubles as a passion. Therefore, we should understand the artwork as work—it’s in the name.

For those close to home, Alyssa Block has started a website called Workspace for artists in the Bay Area. Alyssa happens to also be the co-director of City Limits Gallery, but she spends her free time documenting the studios and spaces of artists.

Courtesy of Workspace and the artist, Javier ArbizuCourtesy of Workspace and the artist, Javier Arbizu

These intimate and casual portraits of artist spaces reveal the nature of artistic production as stylistic in itself: the organization or lack thereof, the materials spread and gathered, the detritus, and even the areas of strain and comfort in ladders and couches. The images lend themselves to a deeper reality than the finished product, they are the nascent growth of a field of objects and ideas. More importantly, they implicate a sense of communication more direct than the hallowed space of an art gallery, where talk is murmured and often hushed. Like being in someone’s living room for the first time, you feel as if you have to comment on something or else run the risk of rudeness. In a studio visit, this is a compulsory and necessary anxiety because art should be talked about and unfinished artwork especially. I asked Alyssa to give me her thoughts on why this kind of project was important and appealing, and I paraphrase her responses here:

  1. For artists, seeing another’s studio is voyeuristic and informative, combining both thrill and lesson.
  2. For audiences, the amount of work that ultimately evolves into an art piece can be unimaginable; and for many artists, the work that doesn’t turn into a finished product directly can be just as important and influential to a comprehensive body of work. Artists like Lana Williams, for example, test and play with many different techniques before completing a painting and that playfulness or energy is ultimately infused into her paintings.
  3. The exposure is rewarding—our community depends on the same kind of networking and inter-connectivity that any other cross-cultural profession needs. In such an expensive city, it’s vital to show how hardworking artists are creating their own pockets of space and trying to improve daily.

 

Courtesy of the artist, Lana WilliamsCourtesy of the artist, Lana Williams

Brian Eno states in On Art, “stop thinking about artworks as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.” These experiences don’t only have to happen past the viewing of an artwork, they can occur before that completion. Like our fascination with seeing famous authors at their writing desks, we want to know concretely that real space and time colluded with creative genius to create the art we love; and in the case of visual artists, we can take pleasure in interacting with that space and time—sometimes before we even know we love them. In the way it’s impossible to love a person without visiting his or her home, love artwork by its final iteration alone is 2-dimensional at best. Of course, there is privacy in the work done but I know artists who experience real joy in sharing their progress with the truly curious. This is one of the ways that social media has helped artwork, spreading awareness of upcoming projects and shows, as well as digital exclusives and teasers: a Facebook studio visit.

Courtesy of the artist, Mie Hørlyck MogensenCourtesy of the artist, Mie Hørlyck Mogensen, in preparation for an upcoming show at Alter Space

So, back to my original premise, the kind of artist you shouldn’t trust is the kind of artist who seeks to be the Man Behind the Curtain, of finish and no toil. Of course, as a friend recently pointed out, it would be selfish of an artist to expect that each viewer should want to invest the kind of time and energy to explore the breadth of the artist’s portfolio. Instead, I’d ask that we become more developed audiences as we ask our artists to become more developed engagers.

My point is that we should not only encourage artists to open up their studios to interested parties, but that we should become those interested parties. We should want to know where the magic happens, we should want to see the evidence of forgotten or abandoned projects, what makes the cutting room floor and what goes up on the wall/on the screen/in your face. We should want to find something in ourselves to say about art and stop leaving it up to museum typefaces to tell us.

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Candice_Cui_Head_Shot

Candace Cui rambled about in the fields of the Dirty South before receiving her BA in Art History at the University of Central Florida and a following MA in Exhibition and Museum Studies from the San Francisco Art Institute. Presently, she is an independent curator, writer, reviewer, and excels at holding her chin on folded arms while squinting at art.

Past Articles -

Sheer Boredom and James Franco 

Don’t Be That Guy – A Criticism on Criticism

Scenery, a Bay Area Perspective

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Basic Cable – I’m Good to Drive, Pressing Reset on Grunge

Words by Amanda Roscoe Mayo

Photography by Dan Jarvis

Basic Cable - Good to Drive

Sometimes you’re just drinking a beer on your porch in San Francisco, minding your own business when a full-length record falls out of the sky and hits you in the face. Thanks to the internet Chicago is just a click away from the end of the earth. I’m speaking figuratively of course, but that’s kind of what Basic Cable’s I’m Good to Drive feels like, a brisk and awakening blast of wind to the face, something both San Francisco and Chicago can relate to. The songs are packed to the brim with punch and quick, like jabs. The sound stems from two very particular genres but melds into more of a recognition of grunge rock and hardcore punk.  This is the band’s first full-length album, released on Chicago’s Permanent Records in November 2013.

On the heels of the 20th anniversary release of Nirvana’s In Utero, Basic Cable’s grunge rock can be heard not in tribute but as a contemporary perspective on the genre. Fused with the punk-rock likenesses of Los Angeles kings Black Flag, the sound is both determined and intentionally muddled. In an effort to unpack this seemingly obvious sound hiding behind something more complex I spoke with singer and guitarist Michael John Grant. He let on that when talking about the sound it’s really pretty simple. “They are the things I know most about…might as well do something you’re good at.” It essentially boils down to, “five dudes who just like drinking a lot and basically started playing music in addition to that.” These five dudes are Michael John Grant on guitar and vocals, Luca Cimarusti on bass guitar and vocals, Joel Bednarz on guitar, Ryan Duggan on drums, and Matthew Hord on synthesizer and vocals.  They’ve known each other a long time, spending their entire adult lives getting drunk and making music independently, sometimes together.  But there’s more to it than Grant implies.  Late 80s and 90s grunge, garage rock, and punk is making a resurgence as the generation that grew up listening to these genres revisits their ownership and asks; what does this music look like now? It looks like Basic Cable. The band is taking to task the grunge that defined their early listening, adding more power, more amps, and more distortion. With a tip of the hat to punk, Basic Cable is reigning in the grunge and claiming it with dark flags, black flags and giving it a place to call home on I’m Good to Drive.

Basic Cable_image 3The record came out about a year after they formed the band. Good to Drive is comprised entirely of brisk songs under or around 3 minutes.  With titles like “Blonde Ambition,” “Where’s Your Husband?” and “Winter Weight” I can’t help but wonder if it’s all inside jokes designed to add insult to injury.  Lyrics are either highly repetitive or unidentifiable, adding to the sentiment that Basic Cable has something to scream but not necessarily something to say, which is a refreshing turn to this contemporary sound. Sometimes we just need to thrash around and talk smack to keep the dark side in check. Grant quoted guitarist Joel Bednarz when asked about the content of the songs, “everything sounds pretty aggressive but every song pretty much sounds like two dudes not getting along.”

What makes these cuts most accessible to an audience who typically wouldn’t listen to an album like I’m Good to Drive is the instrumentation. There is a heavy amount of reverb but the songs, albeit terse, are laced with versions of layers. The music works for itself, complimenting each loud area rather than arriving at an overpowered electrical storm. The lead track “Blonde Ambition” sounds the most like a single. It has a hook and Grant does that requisite combination of yelling and singing. This song set the precedence for the band’s sound, “that was one of the first ones we wrote, it just kind of came out. Once we finished this song we were like ‘that’s what this band is going to sound like.’” Other highlights from Good to Drive are “I Drink Everyday,” which is pretty self explanatory and heavy on the noise, but a little more contained than say, “Where’s Your Husband?” flashing the boldest riffs on the album. “Winter Weight” represents my favorite kind of trash talk and something the Midwest is all too familiar with; “winter weight in the summer time.” I’m Good to Drive is no nonsense and all reverb.

Basic Cable_image 2

Even though I’m Good to Drive just came out the band is constantly adding new songs to their arsenal and plan to put out another record of some kind this year. They are pretty productive drinkers. Wannabe rock stars, take note. If you are in the Midwest vicinity catch their lively show at Empty Bottle.

To read my full interview with Michael John Grant visit Places We Don’t Know  . To hear some cuts from Basic Cable’s I’m Good to Drive visit their bandcamp page or catch them in Chicago.

Basic Cable plays Empty Bottle (Chicago) on April 12th for 12 bucks. For more info visit Empty Bottle’s website.

 

Amanda Roscoe Mayo is a curator and music writer based in Chicago; she received her MA in Curatorial Practice from CCA. Pressed Flowers: Collections and Their Keepers is a series for mosshouse in which Mayo visits collections and interviews the collectors or those who manage the collections in depth. She also contributes music and art reviews for several other local publications, as well as in the Chicago area.

amanda_mayo

Past Articles:
Pressed Flowers: Collections And Their Keepers – September 4th, 2013
One Show, One Piece: Chris Fraser, Incline Gallery, SF. – October 18th, 2013Pressed Flowers: Collections & Their Keepers – Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum – 12/05/13

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Scenery, a Bay Area Perspective by Candace Cui

At what point do we begin categorizing a group of events, places, and people within a geographical area as a “scene”?

I have no idea. I knew, however, when I moved to the Bay Area to pursue a fabulous and almost assuredly penniless career in the arts, that I would be stepping into such a vague, tantalizing concept as the “metropolitan art scene”. Four years later, only recently returning to the idea of engaging in the arts beyond eating crackers in galleries every other weekend and after securing a non-arts related/actual paycheck-generating job, I still can’t define what a scene really is or means.

But I can tell you what a drop of it looks like right now.

Granted, in the scope of a city with millions of people cheek-to-cheek, I am acquainted with a relatively small number of artists and thinkers. Those to whom I do owe any invitations are, as a group, pretty interesting people with a wide scope of creative pursuits and dietary restrictions.

I’ll work backwards so that you might still be able to catch some of these events before they close, just in case you get too bored to finish reading everything.

On Saturday, I took a trip to the San Francisco Art Institute Graduate Studios in the Dogpatch for a studio visit with Li Ma, who more frequently goes by Mary Ma. It was an occasion to introduce her and her work to Scott Jennings of Mosshouse fame. You may have heard of it. Mary is a prolific artist, having worked in both 2D and 3D mediums over the last few years since leaving her former pursuits as a chemical engineer, maintaining her uniquely colorful, whimsical aesthetic and systematic thought-process. We agreed it would be exciting to watch her practice expand and evolve as she balances the delicate and the fantastical of her works. I can guarantee she will produce a fantastic show at the SFAI MFA/MA exhibition at the Old Mint this May as part of her graduation. This is important, because she has been newly invited into the Mosshouse family as its newest, most adorable, and most Chinese addition.

Image courtesy of the artist, Li MaImage courtesy of the artist, Li Ma

On Thursday, I had the chance to take a sneak peak at Root Division’s 2014 MFA Now show while visiting the space to discuss an upcoming project with current resident Jon Gourley, mentioned by me in other rantier articles. He was late (and just got called out on it) so I passed the time looking at works both great and boring. I also helped set up the still life for a drawing class taught by Brooke Westfall, an accomplished draftswoman in her own right who is still blowing my mind with her watercolor skills.

Image courtesy of artist, Brooke WestfallImage courtesy of artist, Brooke Westfall

 The reason for my visit with Jon Gourley was his current project, a digital residency at Manifesto-ish.com. Planning a video conversation via webchat, we discussed the future of digitized simulacrum and art based on current iterations, specifically the Google Art Project. Having written my thesis on the site, I hold a great many opinions on the debate of real versus simulated experiences. As his residency focuses on the mimicry of art objects online and in video games, Jon Gourley is keen on exploring the idea of substitutions and representations. At his residency project tumblr, Video Game Art Archive, you can scroll through the vastly entertaining social media baby born of his obsessive collecting as he prepares to unveil the Video Game Art Museum.

Image courtesy of the creators of Samurai Showdown 2 and the Video Game Art ArchiveImage courtesy of the creators of Samurai Showdown 2 and the Video Game Art Archive

On Wednesday, Jenny Odell’s solo show at Intersection for the Arts, Infrastructure, opened in SoMa. Around the holiday season, I had previously attempted to write an article about Jenny in which we discussed the class she teaches at Stanford, marking the end of her first semester as a visiting lecturer. Suffice to say, it was an incredibly interesting conversation fueled by her thoughts on the role the Internet and digital forms are playing in regards to documentary art processes, particularly photographs. Jenny, possibly as a result from her former life as an English major, is deftly analytical of the nuances that memory, time, and an anxiety to leave behind small legacies coalesce in the aftermath of our Instagram selfies. There was more to it (about 3 hours of recording actually) but as my life got more hectic and Jenny bunkered down to prepare for her Intersection show, that article didn’t happen. Is this article a soft concession to the writing gods in apology for not having the mental wherewithal to type up that conversation rather than the interesting snippet of current Bay Area arts commentary that I hope against hope this is? I will not dignify that with an answer. Instead, I can tell you that the latest exhibition of her work was successful in both its scope and as a visual story of her artistic progression. Jenny creates collage-like collections of systematic structures such as waste treatment plants from Google satellite images, cut and arranged painstakingly. I use that word because she showed me the intense carpal tunnel bandage device she wears when at her computer. In preparation for the show, she also had to jimmy-rig another out of an apple-print sock that she tied to her other hand. The pain was worth it, because the works were comprehensive and striking in the space, the first of Intersection’s new season of exhibitions themed on systems. Also, they have generous bartenders.

Image courtesy of the artist, Jenny OdellImage courtesy of the artist, Jenny Odell

The week prior, I took a short walk from work to the Spare Change Artist Space located in the Financial District for Jennie Lennick’s show, Come and Get It!. The artworks were arranged within an office: an illustrative exploration of one vintage photo displaying various gourmet French cheeses juxtaposed with the mahogany desks and marled carpet of personal wealth managers. Many local businesses are opening their doors to artists who circulate their artworks on their walls, breaking away from traditional gallery spaces. It’s interesting to see commercial and corporate worlds collide with the artistic, and Jennie’s use of kitsch through repetitive cycles of mediums such as paint, ink, and fabric add an element of fun she always invests in her artworks.

Photo courtesy of the artist, Jennie LennickPhoto courtesy of the artist, Jennie Lennick

What can I say about what is or isn’t happening in the Bay Area? I know that there are a great deal of artists and makers who just seem to try a little harder than in other, more easily praised artistic capitals. There is a freedom in low expectations, perhaps, and an attitude that invites quickly changing trends driven by the creative who are willing to break them for new ones. There’s a certain trend now towards repetitive practices, possibly a holdover in emerging artists from graduate works; as well as a focus on the simulated object contrasted to its original iteration. I am gratified to know that there are other shows opening soon at small/new spaces operated by friends who are quickly growing them into consistently interesting places to see local art, like Et Al. near SF’s Chinatown and City Limits in Oakland. Others are providing necessary cultural outlets like the Aggregate Space Photography Lab now being built after a successful crowd-funding campaign or the ceramics classes being taught at the Crucible. Additionally, there are countless thinkers writing about artwork and its meanings, bloggers exposing the studios of artists and their processes, and bookmakers churning out the analog blogs of our hearts. I can’t, and no one should, tell you how a scene or a city or its people are defined. I can only tell you that there are places to go, people to know, and that they are all worth knowing. Don’t just go for the free wine.

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Candice_Cui_Head_Shot

Candace Cui rambled about in the fields of the Dirty South before receiving her BA in Art History at the University of Central Florida and a following MA in Exhibition and Museum Studies from the San Francisco Art Institute. Presently, she is an independent curator, writer, reviewer, and excels at holding her chin on folded arms while squinting at art.

Past Articles -

Sheer Boredom and James Franco 

Don’t Be That Guy – A Criticism on Criticism

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Pressed Flowers: Collections & Their Keepers – Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum

Pressed Flowers, Collections and Their Keepers by Amanda Roscoe Mayo

Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum

As discussed in the previous Pressed Flowers column with Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher of SFMOMA, collections have personalities and identities. They could be those of the institution, or those of the individual assembling the collection. In the case of the Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum the collection, collector, and its history inhabit the same singular personality.

The BGLHM is the life, work, and home of contemporary artist Bean Gilsdorf; a private collection made viscerally public and performative. Their website states: “The Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum in San Francisco, California is the world’s smallest living history museum and a site where visitors may sense the immediacy of the past. Here we interpret the life of Bean Gilsdorf and the origins of her work as an artist on the West Coast of America. In all ways and in all details, the museum provides an authoritative impression of the lived experience of Bean Gilsdorf.”

Flier Detail

The formal and professional nature of the museum is found in all aspects of the BGLHM, from legal signage to a roped off bedroom (period room perhaps), to a closet gift shop, and even the nametag that Gilsdorf herself wears as an interpreter. There is a detailed map outlining the exhibition of artworks in the apartment, and an informational pamphlet explaining the mission of the museum.

What is the significance of presenting one’s own collection through performance while adhering to the requirements of a living history museum? There are two major aspects to this collection; one is the artwork in the private collection of Gilsdorf, and the other is the home she occupies along with all of her possessions. By inviting guests into her home and opening quite literally everything to display, Gilsdorf is enacting the spectacle.

The only true boundary in the museum is the red velvet rope enveloping the bed, otherwise a visitor may investigate the identity of Gilsdorf to their heart’s content by observing her objects, reading her books, looking at her work and the work of others, and drinking her tea. By offering her own past and present, Gilsdorf is eliminating invisible boundaries to how we think about museums and collections.

Linear perspective is not always the best record of history as the past may reenter the present through events, or even new knowledge. One person’s experience of living in this very moment is different from another. To become conscious of how one is enacting their own history and the objects they have inherited is no small feat.

The West Wing

Amanda Roscoe Mayo: How did you come to decide to make a Living History museum, and one that details the immediate history of your own living space?

Bean Gilsdorf: Living history is the practice of re-presenting the trappings, actions, and attitudes from former times—traditional living history museums include sites like Colonial Williamsburg and Plimoth Plantation—but what if that past time was a month ago, or a week, or even ten minutes ago?I opened the BGLHM in late June 2013 as a way of getting at a few notions at once: first, with the rapidity of information flow, our sense of time has sped up and so the whole idea of “looking at history” isn’t something that has to be done at 100 years’ distance. Also, my previous projects have considered history through images, and I wanted to examine history from a very personal perspective. The BGLHM poses more questions than it answers: What is history? Who gets to decide? What is a museum? What information is presented?

AM: Living History is always performative, as it includes costume and character building to represent that particular time period with as much accuracy as possible. How does performance come into play when you take on the role of yourself as a guide?

BG: Living history “guides” are called interpreters—they provide an informed view of the past. Who better to interpret the life of the San Francisco artist Bean Gilsdorf than me? I’m uniquely qualified.

AM: Tell us about the exhibition currently on view. How often do they change and do you have plans for the next one?

BG: The exhibition on view now is a selection from the permanent collection. The exhibitions change 2-3 times per year, and the next show considers official documents that are produced by artists or that pertain to art practices; the one after that will be a compilation of videos produced in domestic spaces.

AM: There are two major facets to the BGLHM–that of you and your living space, and that which is a rotating exhibition of artworks–both of which function as personal collections. Why did you choose to mount art exhibitions as part of the museum?

BG: From trades with other artists and from my personal practice, I own a lot of art. A lot of this art is on the walls of my apartment, a.k.a. the Museum. As with everything else in the Museum, the program of rotating exhibitions is a presentation at the same time as it is an enactment of my own conditions.

The East Wing

AM: You yourself are a very didactic artist who is interested in moments in history that are often remembered with ease. Sometimes these are important and sometimes they are just memorable. Do you consider the undertaking and upkeep of the BGLHM an extension of your practice as an artist? How do the items in your collection inform the museum?

BG: I wouldn’t characterize my work as didactic per se, because it’s not intended for instruction. I’m just interested in the way that historical images make up a public record of events, and how the image comes to shape a future understanding of the event. For example, more people see images of Washington crossing the Delaware than will ever read first-person accounts or even scholarly interpretations of that act. The BGLHM is my practice, and so everything that I produce from here forward is an extension of it. Since the Museum is about living history, and I am, in the strictest sense, living a history all day every day, then the Museum goes with me wherever I go.

AM: Is there an underlying commentary on art museums/collections here as well? I wonder this only because the museum is to reflect your lived experience, and since you are an artist, writer, and organizer of exhibitions yourself, I imagine you frequent these spaces often. The language on your website is written in true deliberate museum fashion.

BG: The explanatory text on the BGLHM website is written in a way to signal its museum-ness. In general, I’m keen to explore ideas of institutional access and presentation, essentially dealing with the question: Who decides? I’m less interested in making a meta-comment about museums and more interested in making my own institution(s). When you make your own systems, you don’t have to rely on external acceptance or endorsement.

AM: In that vein I have to ask about the “printable lesson plans for K-12 teachers that conform to the California Visual Arts Curriculum Framework Learning Standards.” Why is education important to BGLHM and what is included on the lesson plan?

BG: The lesson plans are a way for younger visitors to understand the mission and aims of the Museum. For example, the objective of the plan for grades 5-6 is to get students to describe how museums, including living history museums, contribute to the conservation of art. The lesson objectives for grades 9-12 ask students to identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in works of art.

AM: What are the long term plans for BGLHM?

BG: In no particular order, we plan to hang the next exhibition, finish ordering supplies for the Museum Shop, and apply for funding so that we can start partnering with other institutions to put on events such as lectures and screenings.

BGLHM is open by appointment only on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday during the hours of 10am to 3pm. Visit their website for more information or to make an appointment, www.bglhm.org.

Bean Gilsdorf is an artist and writer. Her recent art projects explore systems of history that appear as both individual accounts and as unified public narratives. Gilsdorf received her MFA from the California College of the Arts in 2011, and her work has been included in exhibitions in the United States, Poland, England, Italy, China, and South Africa. Gilsdorf is the Managing Editor of Daily Serving, an international publication for the contemporary fine arts. Currently she lives in San Francisco, where she operates the Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum.

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Amanda Roscoe Mayo  is a curator based in San Francisco; she received her MA in Curatorial Practice from CCA and currently curates for Needles & Pens in the Mission. Pressed Flowers: Collections and Their Keepers is a series for mosshouse in which Mayo visits Bay Area collections and interviews the collectors or those who manage the collections in depth.

amanda_mayo

Past Articles:
Pressed Flowers: Collections And Their Keepers – September 4th, 2013
One Show, One Piece: Chris Fraser, Incline Gallery, SF. – October 18th, 2013

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Feature: Introducing the photography of Berlin based Stefan Ruitenbeek

Stephen Collage

Interview by Scott S. Jennings

I was introduced to Berlin based Stefan Ruitenbeek through a mutual friend. We’ve never actually met, but I was struck by his work; the immediate impact it made on me, the saturation, the compositions, the textures. I wanted to see more, learn more about what was happening behind the scenes. Rather than a SKYPE interview, or some other means of recording an audio interaction, we settled on a Q&A format. Perhaps not the most comprehensive way of getting into the meat of the work or the artist, but it’s enough of an introduction to build on for now. Stefan and I are interested in pursuing a further conversation, beyond introducing him to a new audience, in which the possibility of collaboration may exist in the future. It’s exciting to learn of new artists, share their work with the mosshouse audience base, and expand awareness of artistic communities abroad. Stefan is the first European connection we’ve conducted an interview with, and we hope you’ll find the work and ideas behind it as fascinating as we do.

SJ. Give us some background. Where are you in the world right now? What’s happening around you? Why are you there? Where are you from? What is your educational background?

SR. For me portraiture, making pictures and videos, has always been a way to engage with other people. I was making a lot of abstract stuff with human bodies, but I’ve gone from more abstract pictures using the human body to focusing on portraying people, mainly women. Because of what they mean to me, but also because they seem to serve as a metaphor for art itself. About the state it is in. Sometimes I’m under the impression that certain themes are only allowed in art when they are problematic, related to politics, like gender issues or feminism. Some themes seem to be totally confiscated by the industry of fashion, entertainment and advertising, and the only way an artist can use these themes is by making them into a problem. Art may feel the need to dissociate itself from categories like fashion and advertising, but I don’t think art has to be afraid, or should shelter in the safe sets of criteria set by the institutional realm; or, as Dave Hickey says, the ‘therapeutic institutions.’ In a way, the women in my pictures are a way of relating to the status of art in our society, as it has to constantly reinvent and prove its position, or, maybe a way of relating to my own position. Doing this very old-fashioned and archaic thing of making female nudes feels also to me a means of protest.

Hammerhead Iris - various sizes, c print, 2013 Foot - various sizes, c print, 2013 Female Nude - various sizes, c print, 2013

I spent the last 10 years mostly in Amsterdam before I moved to Berlin in the beginning of 2013. I moved mainly because it’s a big city that is still open, growing, exploring, with lower rents, bigger studios; a better place for an artist like me. I studied fine arts at the Rietveld academy and was a resident at De Ateliers, a fantastic post-academic residency for artists in Amsterdam.

SJ. Given your locale, what are the forces affecting your creativity? What’s influencing your work?

Pre-Soup Person - various sizes, c print, 2013

SR. The Germans are really interesting. They are easy with their naked bodies. They don’t look at the naked body necessarily as objects of desire, in an erotic fashion. Nudity is not as problematic as with most of, for example, North American and Arabic countries. To the Germans the naked body is something basic, very functional. I think their nudist culture has something to do with that idea. A few weeks ago I discovered this fantastic woman. She is a wrestler. Very impressive. Totally able to crush me. But at the same time she looked like a sweet and innocent toddler to me. So I photographed her this way, I think. I find inspiration in the people that I ‘discover’ in my surroundings. That’s the main influence. Other than that, my work is influenced by my thoughts about painting and my affection for the rendered image, in which the image is processed by human perception and brush strokes, it’s intentions and sentiments traceable in every stroke. I try to evoke some of that in my images. I like to approach photography not as a mere tool for documenting situations or acts or performance. Something needs to happen on the surface of the image as well. Like the layers of paint. So that your eyes linger over it. That’s why I prefer still images to moving images. I like that you can take your own time to look at them.


SJ. What projects are in the works right now, and what is currently going on in your studio?

SR. I’m working on a new series of female nudes. They are different than my previous pictures. You can really see the people now. They are like portraits. Before the pictures were more abstract. The bodies merged and sometimes unidentifiable with studio materials. Now I want to show something of a personal identity, an act, a personal mentality has to come through. I want to keep the entity of the people intact, not submerge them. My studio contains various platforms and tools for the people to pose on or under. It’s a big mess. I like the chaos. There are layers of paint everywhere. I don’t want things to be to clear. The clarity has to happen in the images, not in the studio. I want to create my own surprises. To put myself on track, so that I can discover what I want from an image or a person every time, all new. I think total chaos is the ultimate blank. It’s an interesting starting point.

SJ. Your work involves a lot of preparation. Do you do all the set design, art direction, post work, etc.? What do you illicit from your models, and what are the conventions you observe, ignore, rely on etc.? What’s the process like for you when you’re working through an idea? Do you find one medium more communicative than another when setting out on a project? For example, do you see installation and photography as a means of interjection and confrontation, which facilitates a particular aesthetic and ideology? I’m trying to get into your process and decision-making.

SR. I spend a lot of time prepping my studio. But it’s very liberating to see everything as a prop for the pictures. It doesn’t have to be something in itself. I don’t want to deal with the physical world too seriously. I become very nervous when I look at the stuff I make in my studio as if they were pieces of sculpture or an installation. I get too much into the details of things. The limitations of working with people, the fact that they can become impatient, that you are forced to be in the moment, works better for me. It generates urgency. Furthermore, I like the idea that my pictures basically only consist of information. They are pixels that you can print. There’s not too much physical matter involved: it’s kind of apocalypse proof. When the world starts to collapse, I can pack up and catapult into space to be saved and found by aliens. I want to see my studio as a shadow world from which true pictures emerge. Like Plato’s cave, in which the material world is only a shadow, and the only true realm is ideas. I think Plato’s philosophy expresses a desire for something beyond the limitations and the imperfections of the material. In the end it’s a fantasy for an eternal truth beyond our mortal reality.

Ground Action - various sizes, c print, 2011 Further Away - various sizes, c print, 2013 Ground Action II  -various sizes, c print, 2011

SJ. Do you work with other artists on projects? How do you feel about collaboration? What’s the community of artists like where you are?

SR. I see a lot of artists who are trying to deal with the Internet situation. The idea of the virtual. Also a lot evolutionary science seems to inspire artist these days. They move from Freud to neurology, so to speak. I kind of feel for that. I think in a way I’m also dealing with some kind of virtual sensibility. I transform my models into avatars, which serve as some kind of identity entity. And I can get very enthusiastic about evolutionary science. I’m a symptom of my time. I tend to explain my world in a peculiar mix of Freudian and evolutionary neurology. I say things like ‘I think we are wired to be like this’ and I like the super stimulus as an idea, as an interesting product of evolution that is important for our artistic and subliminal experience. I want to collaborate as long as I can have the last say. So that makes me a very bad collaborator I guess. My work is about what I am, it’s very individual. To be able to do that is why I make art.

diepenheim-installatie5 copy 12 copy
diepenheiminstallatie1 copy diepenheiminstallatie4 copy

 

 

 

Images from ‘He Moved Outwards From Himself Into The World Which Contained Him,‘ curated by Hanne Hagenaars / Gijs Assman, at the Kunstvereniging Diepenheim, The Netherlands, 2012. Solo show.

SJ. What do you see for the future? Where do you want to be, and what do you see as being creatively possible? What are you looking forward to and what are you dreading?

SR. I’m on a certain track but I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year. I would love to be able to pay my models. At the moment I’m depending on their enthusiasm and their spare time. The work I sell and show doesn’t leave much besides covering the basic studio costs. I would love to be able to photograph people all day. I only want to work. There are some extreme people I would love to photograph. Maybe that will become possible, as my work becomes more widely known? The body of work has to become a system or a monster that grows by itself.

SJ. We’d love to be able to facilitate more discussion from your perspective.

How can we best develop a mechanism for the transmission of ideas and art to our audience base? We want to ask questions, but also provide answers. Somewhat open-ended question but lets start the conversation.

SR. I think showing the work and talking about it is a good thing already. Maybe it would be helpful if I visited you guys? I would love to set up a studio some time in your area and work with the people there. I am very curious about it.

SJ. How do you see your work being received by American audiences? Do you think there’s a critical body and audience base?

SR. I definitely have my ideas about the Americans, it’s inevitable with such a dominant culture. But I haven’t been much further than New York, so I wouldn’t know about your area. I would love to ask you actually! What can you tell me? How do you think my work will be received and seen?

SJ. Who are your favorite artists right now? Who should we familiarize ourselves with from your artistic community? We’d love to know more about the global community of artists you are associated with.

SR. The last artist that gave me an epiphany was Ryan Trecartin. He was a major discovery for me when I found his films online. The work is very global but it could only have been born in contemporary America. Its obsession is with consumer hysteria and a certain kind of middle class and trash culture. The totality of it, the morality and absurdity. The work is exploiting certain clichés we Europeans have about Americans. That’s why it surprises me that he is not more famous than he already is in Europe right now. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam lately showed a giant retrospective of Mike Kelly. (I think this show is now in MoMA). I’m a big admirer of his work, and it would have been great to follow this up with a big Ryan Trecartin show, to put things in perspective.

SJ. I see a lot of theatricality in your work. Where do you find the balance with subject, meaning, obsession, and interest? Are you making work you want to see, or are you compelled to make it?

From the Series 'Pictures from the Male Central Axis'  - various sizes, c print, 2013 Duck - various sizes, c print, 2013, from the Pictures from the Male Axis Series Kiss - various sizes, c print, 2011, from the Pictures from the Male Axis Series

SR. Both. I try to maneuver the stuff that I’m compelled to make into something I would want to see, into something that communicates or is beautiful. It has to be worthy of the fascination that drives me to make it in the first place. The theatrical can become very real and the real can become very theatrical. I think I’m fascinated with that. The theatricality of my models shows how they see the world, how they see themselves in front of the camera. It’s like a mirror. It shows their concepts and sensitivities. It’s the real thing. Besides that, the aesthetics of my work are a means of creating some kind of parallel universe. So the viewer can look into another aesthetic paradigm. I read this article about how people start to experience time in a different way, depending if they look at an image of something that shows gigantic scale or miniature. If they look at a miniature world, like a dollhouse or little clay figures, the time seems to go faster, an hour seems shorter. I want to create something like that as well. I want my pictures to stand separate from the world in a way.

SJ. Last question. What do you think about the Bay Area? Are you into artists here or in the US in general? What’s your perspective on the art world?

SR. I’m don’t know the area. Please tell me all about it.

SJ. Is there anything you’d like to add or address? What’s next for our collaboration?

SR. It would be fantastic if some kind of discussion could emerge from just taking part in your website, your operation. Maybe people will react to my work and share new insights about what I do. That is what an artist always wants when showing his/her work. It’s a form of condensed communication and conceptualization. Maybe a fantastic show will come from it? It’s always good to show the work in the flesh.

Stills from Skopia Contemporary Art Stills from Skopia Contemporary Art Stills from Skopia Contemporary Art

Still images from Skopia Contemporary Gallery, Geneva, 2013. ‘Ancient Amateurs‘ Skopia Contemporary Art Geneve group show.

Many thanks to Stefan Ruitenbeek for his participation in this interview. We greatly appreciate the time and energy and we look forward to future collaboration and discussion. You can see more of Stefan’s work on his artist page or by visiting his website.

All images are courtesy of the artist

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