A little while ago I came across an interview with Rosalee Goldberg, queen of performance art, she was talking about text and poetry, and the audience that witness both, “some love language in itself, and some the written word. Theres’ a language that is read aloud and there’s a language that’s listened to. There’s language in the mouth. Language that’ is tasted. language on a wall, language in space […]”.
Once upon a time- 12 years ago- I lived in San Francisco. It was just for a year, fresh out of college, interning at a theatre, broke as all hell, living on fumes and alcohol, but it was one of my favourite years ever.
Because I loved that city. I loved how the people in San Francisco interacted with their city. London has great graffiti, edgy, unique. But San Franciscans talked back. They didn’t just paint murals but they used text. More than I’d ever seen before.
One of my favourite artists there is Rigo 23*- I used to pass this sign in Potrero Hill on the way to my wardrobe job everyday.
Stencils on the pavement, giant billboards with random signs and witty come-backs to the city bustling below them, the entire diary of this one girl who lived in my neighborhood who would add 3 or for lines to a lament running along the sidewalk in chalk, that would start to be erased as more and more was added, but ultimately left traces of her thoughts a full block long. And I loved that sense of talking back. Marking the streets up. Not down alleys, hidden from view, or in the tube tunnels, but arguing with the city in broad daylight, full force.
And the more I live in New York, I realize there’s also also a conversation going on.
So far I’ve discovered the Toynbee tiles in the pavement all across Midtown, tiny plaques that read “Toynbee Idea In Movie ‘2001’ Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter”. These tiles apparently exist in cities all over the States and South America, and appeared from the mid 80’s, as a possible reference to James Morasco concept of resurrection on Jupiter while calling a in to Larry King’s radio show in 1980. That’s explained better here,** if you’re interested.
Stencils of “Protect your Magic”***, a project started by Fadia Kader started popping up in April. They’ve appeared with images, against Frida Kahlo, a jumping off point for the project, and with other full size murals. But I love the simplicity and truth of the slogan. Keep a little for yourself of what makes you magic, not everyone deserves it, or all of you. As a creative person it’s a lesson I’ve learnt the hard way, to keep a little of my creative fire for me, my personal projects, and my sanity. Anyway, there’s a great interview with her here.
Another piece I just saw today at the New York Times Building Lobby, was not on the street, but a different use of media and text, from artists Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen. It’s a wall of tiny monitors, which, as people are reading the news online, steals clippets from their news and broadcasts them on these screens, adding sound, and also showing the text as a single strand that weaves it way across the multiple screens, messily, intersecting with others read text, criss-crossing over it and muddying it, much as the text graffiti above does with city streets. It’s the first time I had heard of either of these artists, but Ben Rubin, in particular seems very invested in the art using text in public spaces.
Another of his projects, “And that’s the way it is”,**** in the Walter Cronkite Courtyard at The University of Texas, projects snippets from the Walter Cronkite archives, with contemporary journalism new feeds from across the country, like text clouds across the building front. It’s both beautiful and thought provoking, in their unreadable clutter.* How much information is too much? And how do we pick about the tangles texts to determine what is important?
Anyway, the point of bringing up San Francisco, was that it was these first written pieces that made me fall in love with text as art and image, and want to explore and dissect everything to do with that, so it’s funny, and also fitting to find a city so embedded 12 years later. And it’s also making me wonder if I can call this city Home.
and for an awesome map of sf murals and art see this blog http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/wp-content/uploads/map2.php
** sourced from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toynbee_tiles
with more pictures here
*** see here for more info www.ataleoftwobiddies.com/2014/04/protect-your-magic.html
**** see here for more about this project and Ben Rubin
And this fantastic blog about the New York Times Building Exhibition, Artnerd.com
“Belief is tricky, because left to it’s own devices it can court a kind of surety, that fears doubt and destroys difference.” Barbara Krugar
I just came back from D.C, the first time I’ve been, and a nice change from NYC for 2 seconds. It didn’t resemble my collagescape from this blog months ago (which I completely forgot I’d made until I decided to write this). Strangely, it looked nothing like it and if I believed in vision boards at all, I’d be suing whomever wrote The Secret right now. It mostly just involved museums, bike rides and beers- which was great- especially seeing Barbara Krugar’s exhibition Belief + Doubt= Sanity at the Hirshhorn.*
It’s been on for a while- 2 years in fact- and will only close in December this year.
She may not show much in L.A, where she’s from (she recently resigned from MOCA’s board over the forced resignation of Paul Schimmel) but she’s honoured in a gigantic room- 6700 sq feet in fact- at the capital, and rightly so. The installation features her infamous slogans in red, white and black, each letter a foot to a foot and a half tall. A room of words so loud they ingulf you, that they are barely readable as you stand upon and amongst them. They demand puzzling over and reading out loud, slowly stringing words into sentences like pearls on a string. Everyone else in the room is doing the same, as you tumble of each other mumbling through phrases like discovering hidden keys.
The power of the words is enormous and intense, a giant brain box of jumbled slogans and questions and tidbits (as always she has a sense of humour), stark and harsh in their contrasting colors, demanding you listen and contemplate.** Too much at points, I left and came back a couple times, enjoying the feeling of being overwhelmed by language.
“Pictures and words seem to become the rallying points for certain assumptions. There are assumptions of truth and falsity and I guess the narratives of falsity are called fictions. I replicate certain words and watch them stray from or coincide with the notions of fact and fiction.” ***
Especially in this exhibition, where the proximity to the capital, could easily put the slogans into a political context, Barbara Krugar is happy to question us on what do we really believe? “She was intrigued by the idea of creating an exhibit that questions power in a museum with such proximity to power.” A museum, in D.C ” ‘ she was intrigued by the idea of creating an exhibit that questions power in a museum with such proximity topower. ‘It is a museum, but it is also in D.C.,’ Kruger says. ‘That brings its own information, context and baggage.'”****
Another artist I was introduced to this weekend also using text as him medium is Christopher Wool. He carried on the tradition of having to step back to understand, but also really played with audience grappling for meaning in his texts, by deliberately adding spaces in odd places, or not- having words join together, so that as the audience read, they have to put in their own spaces and punctuation.
It’s the reading equivalent of trying to draw with your left hand, with a stick.
No amount of staring magically made it make sense, it’s a slow process of figuring it out, which ultimately, when you’ve got the hang of it is quite satisfying.
I don’t think all his works are this way- there are simpeliar ones- but I enjoyed these. Besides, who said it always has to be easy?
** for more images of the installation- and the texts see The Hirshhorn Musuem
*** from Bomb Magazine
**** quoted from this great article from The Washington Post
And The Guggenheim
It’s been a while, in fact 4 months since I’ve made any collages of my own, and so in a fit of creativity, I made 2 small collages in an old 50s history book, with doubles as a sketchbook, and forces me to interact with the existing text and images, giving context to both, whether I mean to or not.
Today I checked out an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which was phenomenal, and so inspiring to see. Wangechi Mutu is a collage artist, working with fabric, beads, magazines- from fashion to pornography to medical journals, spray paint and glitter on mylar. It’s a fantastically broad and messy mix of media which she uses to create portraits of women, in fantastical stories, which bring to mind fairy tales, myths, new versions of Adam and Eve, and a reclaiming of the stories of African American Women.
“Sampling such diverse sources as African traditions, international politics, the fashion industry, pornography, and science fiction, her work explores gender, race, war, colonialism, global consumption, and the exoticization of the black female body.” *
She plays with the idea of past and present, and or perceptions of what those terms mean to us, challenging traditional notions of the set time line, and the idea that the past is set in stone. She is looking at them from a very afro-centric perspective, looking at African history and creating a modern vision for the future as if the past had played out differently. Her imagined future is completely fresh, an original look at sci-fi and steampunk, coming from her unique Kenyan vantage point.
“Mutu encourages audiences to consider these mythical worlds as places for cultural, psychological, and socio-political exploration and transformation.” *
I love her use of magazine spreads, and fashion photography, particularly in that she uses these depictions of women- which in their original context create images of women that barely eat to stay thin and are all about sex, to create women that are creating their own mythical journeys and stories outside of the box the media wants to pop us neatly into.
“I always look at how women are represented [in the media],” […she says…] “I look at how we are composed and where we sit and what we wear. I think it reflects not only how people feel about women, but [also] how society feels about itself … I’m obsessed with it.”**
This is woman creating stories for women, and in a time the oral tradition of women’s fairytales have long been forgotten, or neatly written down and turned into moral tales by men (thankyou Charles Perrault), a much needed reminder of how we can create our own future.
“Once Upon a time she said, I’m not afraid and her enemies began to fear her”
For more info also see:
All other images from
I saw an exhibition this weekend, a collection of words in a gallery, which I discovered are more at home on the street. Robery Montogomery’s work is reaction to advertising, and he has often taken over billboards and advertising space to put up poetic text, “like ghostly lyrical interventions” + that talk about modern life.
His words are quite beautiful, and are often rambles, wax lyrical on ghosts, what it means to life through late-capitalism, and preserving a sense of self within it. Inspired by Guy Debord’s writing, Roland Bathes and Baudrillard, his billboards question our love for product, and make us turn inwards instead.
Guy Debord’s writing on advertising “draws an equivalence between the role of mass media marketing in the present and the role of religions in the past. The spread of commodity-images by the mass media, produces “waves of enthusiasm for a given product” resulting in “moments of fervent exaltation similar to the ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism”.” * and it is this reserve Montogomery plays with.
He has said, particularly of his piece, WHENEVER YOU SEE THE SUN REFLECTED IN THE WINDOW OF A BUILDING IT IS AN ANGEL, “[i]t is about trying to find a sense of the sacred in the everyday, a sense of God in the mundane […,]” ** a statement that I think can be applied to a lot of his work, as sort of an antidote to capitalism.
He has said, about his work, “I feel like I’ve been sort of forced into it, because billboards drive me mad. I don’t have the psychological armour to protect myself from them. They get me down and make me feel yelled and shouted at, so I felt compelled to work out a way of talking back in that space so I didn’t feel insane.”+
His way of talking back is more conscious and poetic than most, “trying to write about our collective unconscious in public space [… or] what it feels like on the inside to live in “Late-Capitalism” as Theodore Adorno and Frederic Jameson would call it. What it feels like to live in our cities, what it feels like to live with our privilege of wealth and our poverty of time, our privilege of material goods and our poverty of reflection, our anxiety as the systems of economy and ecology we rely on falter, revealing economic injustice and a future that’s more fragile than we thought.”***
It’s a fragility that is reflected in his poetry, that creates a nostalgia in the viewer for a time when we were less jaded about the world/ times we live in, for a time when it was o.k to be a little more wistful and vulnerable, and not have to protect our interests against corporations through every move and every purchase.
Much like Barbara Krugar, Montigimery has worked in magasines, at Dazed and Confused’s commercial side, experiencing first hand the “cultural paranoia and fear – the mechanism of advertising”+, “see[ing] the existential trauma that the capitalist machine creates[,]” inspiring him to create work, that thankfully, provides some beautiful, and haunting, relief.
for more about Guy Debord’s The Society of Spectacle see here:
for more about Jean Bauidrillard’s The Consumer Society see here: