ENTR’ACTE

March 8, 2009 - April 5, 2009
CCS Bard Galleries

Entr’acte looks at four artists who adopt and often invert elements of theater and dramaturgy in their work. By invoking an understanding of the entr’acte as an agile form that exists between and often in productive tension with more elaborate and established formats, the exhibition considers how such themes as persona, set design, and acting the other are upended and fragmented in the artist’s respective practices. Literally indicating the time in between acts in 17th century French Baroque theater [1]  —but also the moment between a given gesture or action—the entr’acte as a form stems from that moment when the stage is emptied out for set or costume changes during an opera or play. In order to fill the time so as not to completely halt dramatic action, or, to help transition the mood from one act to the next, an ‘entr’acte’ would unfold before a simple backdrop with a minimum of props; embracing the economy of the gap and the leverage of interval, the ‘entr’acte’ occupies a space between denouement and spectacle, effacing and dispersing the subjective identification and vitalist discoveries often associated with theater.

In bringing together divergent pairings, the group exhibition Entr’acte contrasts the overt yet compromised corporeality of Catherine Sullivan and Artur Zmijewski’s film and video works with the allusive innuendo of surface, anecdote, and décor in works by Cosima von Bonin and Tom Burr. As the set configurations and collage works of von Bonin and Burr invert particular aesthetic styles and art historical doctrines—including the supposed neutrality of Minimalism, the circuitous heritage of negative aesthetics, and the role of the artist as iconoclast, among them—Sullivan and Zmijewski adopt different versions of what philosopher Alain Badiou has argued is constitutive of cinema, namely “a procedure of theatrical sampling.”[2]


[1] The entr’acte extends back to the German: Zwischenspiel and Italian: Intermezzo, but most specifically to Giovanni de Bardi and Bernardo Buontalenti’s intermedi, a series of sited performances planned and elaborated in various guises throughout the city of Florence for the 1589 Medici wedding of Christina of Lorraine and Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.

[2] Alain Badiou (trans. by Albert Toscano), A Handbook of Inaesthetics, Stanford University Press (2004), p.82

 

Often imbued with the absurdist patina of plush set pieces for a performance forever postponed or an intimate scenario just passed, Tom Burr’s sculptural configurations hint at but ultimately displace the role of persona, including the artist’s. Black Slacks, 2008, for example, upends the cool remove of modernist design by making it overtly theatrical; propped on its side without a cushion, the leather straps across hard wood of a Mies van Der Rohe Barcelona daybed give the frame the appearance of a torture device rather than a napping place. A pair of man’s slacks, Burr’s own, are tossed upon a smoked black mirror that reflects back van Der Rohe’s ascetic design while also intimating the afterwards of a sexual act. Whether the transgression of one body charged with the conspicuous pleasure and pain of another, or a more self-flagellant act, is left open to interpretation in Burr’s opaque scenario—the viewer hovering above the sculptural incident—voyeuristic in their supposition. Modeled in part on the folding chairs and supine surfaces of Roman and Egyptian royalty, the severe yet opulent perfection of Mies’ 1929 design provides a perfect prop for Burr’s fetish-like assemblage.

The bulletin boards that Tom Burr has been arranging since the late 1990s reference not only art historian Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas strategy of employing a black panel backdrop in order to heighten thematic arrangements of photographic images—including reproductions from books, and visual materials from newspapers and popular culture—but also reflect a setting typical of early cinematic and photographic motion studies. Used to emphasize the act of viewing in Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey’s motion studies, a drape of black cloth effectively erased depth of field and accentuated gesture in early film experiments as well, including time-lapse films of plant and insect behavior and W.K.L. Dickson’s documentation of traveling players, pugilists, Buffalo Bill’s revue, and Sioux Ghost Dances captured in Edison’s Black Maria laboratory, also referred to as “the Doghouse.” That a similar neutral backdrop became a standard setting for film and photo shoots—from Warhol’s screen tests to countless music videos and fashion spreads—is evoked and updated in Burr’s adoption of the black backdrop.

As gossipy as it is reverent, Burr’s proclivity for sorting, cataloguing, and cross-referencing thematic subjects comprises what critic and art historian George Baker’s has succinctly described as the artist’s “not-exactly-dialectical cultural pairings” of appropriated imagery. For example, Brain Board, 2008, included here, sustains Burr’s erotic inversion as the partial view of a woman’s breasts from a 1972 Esquire fashion advertisement, is paired with similarly fragmented close-ups of a muscle car engine, both offset by blue-on-black computer illustrations of the human mind’s miraculous circuitry (taken from a LIFE magazine circa 1971); drawn in by Burr’s adjacent contrast, the collages return the viewer’s gaze in the reflection of LP-sized, blue plexi-mirrors placed at the center of each of the two panels. Tacked up with the unerring eye of a collector of both tabloid and first edition ephemera, the boards and hinged armatures support a push and pull curatorial approach that Burr has aptly termed “voiced objects.”

Playful in tone and less reliant upon the exploitative construct of the case-study scenario in such large scale video projects as Them, 2007, and Repetition, 2005, Artur Zmijewski’s earlier videos stand in contrast to these somewhat over-determined provocations; while recent Zmijewski productions have adopted a nearly formulaic approach to positioning cultural difference and conflict, and thereby seem to codify the subject as ‘other’ a priori—a risk that critic and art historian Hal Foster has insightfully called the “self-othering” of “the artist as ethnographer”—three earlier Zmijewski works engage a simpler, more agile approach. Taking the inherent drama of the walk or promenade as their model, the portraits included in Entr’acte offer a distanced yet intimate form of questioning within Zmijewski’s repertoire. 

An Eye for an Eye (1998) casts a healthy man as a surrogate “operator” for a man missing his right leg, and alternates their ambulatory collaboration with occasional close-ups of a woman caretaker helping a man without arms wash himself in the shower. Only nine minutes long, this early video begins with the naked male amputee hoisting himself up the staircase of an empty building.[3]  Encountering a bare room with only a mattress, he lies down and goes to sleep only to be awoken by the embrace of another man. The pair rises in tandem, exits the building, and walks down an empty country road before returning to the empty room. Having concluded their task-embrace, the pair lies down again and whistles a folk tune coda while miming the motions of one body in motion—as if swimming. Tender and absurd, the overhead camera captures the awkward negotiation of the men performing this last act in unison, exhibiting both reticence and a kind of joyous release. As with a number of Zmijewski’s early videos, a crucial factor lies in the artist’s convincing participants to perform their tasks naked before the camera. And while critic Jan Verwoert and others have argued for Zmijewski’s repeated use of nakedness as an espousal of Giorgio Agamben’s philosophical notion of “bare life,” this reading clearly misses the farcical undertone present in all of Zmijewski’s work.[4]  

A final video, Rendezvous, profiles Wojciech Krolikiewicz, a former actor suffering from Huntington’s chorea. Far along in a chronic ailment that usually occurs at the onset of middle age [5], the disease deprives the man of corporeal control, limiting his speech and turning the most trivial everyday activities into serious obstacles as the body is subjected rahcrachto ongoing spasms and tics. As Krolikiewicz prepares to meet his friend Danuta Witkowska for a lunch date and a walk in the park (she also suffers from acute Huntington’s and is shot in parallel preparation), the camera follows the former actor’s incredible ability to control the fitful outbursts of his body with just his breath prior to key moments of physical coordination. Scenes of Krolikiewicz pouring boiling water into a cup for tea or shaving his upper lip, shot matter of fact and without narration, take on a mesmeric quality in documenting each small success. Upon their arrival at the restaurant and walking in the street afterwards, the couple’s physical behavior attracts the gaze of others even as the intent physical focus and close friendship of the rendezvous creates an orbit of grace around their interactions. A document of remarkable choreography and self-awareness, Rendezvous is neither pitiful nor exploitative but rather patient in allowing a complex beauty to arise from the simplest of actions.


[3] The nod to Duchamp does not come immediately to mind but arises when you consider the simple structure of the piece, becoming a radical inversion of Nude Descending a Staircase.

[4] Jan Verwoert, “Game Theory,” Frieze, Issue 114, April, 2008.

[5] “Huntington’s chorea” takes its name in part from the Greek “choros” due to the exaggerated almost dance-like spasms and tics of the body when afflicted with the disease.

 

The excesses of a failed theatricality represent both the premise—and so the promise—of Catherine Sullivan’s technically sophisticated work, while also identifying perhaps the most fraught quality of her ongoing research into the irrational foundations of theater and performance conventions.[6] Borrowing readily from the serialized, often manic pace of task-based Fluxus performance, as well as the neutralized choreography of Yvonne Rainer, the rapid pace changes of Kabuki theater, and the facial grimace and body juxtapositions of Butoh, Sullivan’s large-scale works often come across as a catalog of discarded avant-garde techniques. However, by presenting trope after trope, Sullivan reveals her practice to be an emptying out of the socially motivated conventions of performative guise. Come upon rather than introduced in a timely manner—according to theater’s conventional edict—Sullivan populates her pantomimes and tableaux with competing and fragmented personae, keeping the subject in her work perpetually in motion, donning and discarding itself through a series of deferrals.

Originally produced within the context of a collaborative “Operavision” by Sullivan and composer Christian von Borries, LULU – Oder: Wozu braucht die Bourgeoise die Verzweiflung (“LULU – Or: To What Ends Does the Bourgeoisie Need Despair,” 2009), Sullivan’s newest film was shown in sections as part of a multi-media performance at the Volksbühn theater in Berlin in 2007. Re-edited as a single-channel work for the current exhibition, the silent version brings source material together with Sullivan’s theatrical elaborations, including an unlikely interlude taken from real life.

Having left London in disrepute, the infamous and once very powerful British theater critic Kenneth Tynan finished his writing career in Los Angeles penning occasional features for The New Yorker. One such piece, written in 1979 just a year before his own death due to emphysema at the age of 53, profiled an 83-year-old Louise Brooks who had been living uneventfully in Rochester, New York, since the 1950s.[7] The unusual paean that resulted, The Girl With the Black Helmet, is a remarkable chronicling of Brooks’ life in Hollywood, her tutelage under German filmmaker G.W. Pabst in Berlin, and the subsequent anonymity that cloaked Brooks following the Great Depression and her exit from filmmaking and theater altogether. And yet it is also a confession, on Tynan’s part, of an obsession with Brooks that he is rumored to have consummated in an affair with the elderly actress whom he repeatedly visited over the course of writing the piece. In keeping with the salacious reputation that Tynan earned for himself, including the renown of his incredibly successful theater piece Oh! Calcutta!—consisting of sketches written for a naked cast by Tynan but also Samuel Beckett, Edna O’Brien, Sam Shepard, John Lennon and others, and which was made into a film in 1972—the critic’s profile of Brooks delves into her much celebrated love life in great detail.

By layering footage from the 1972 film production of Tynan’s Oh! Calcutta! with Louise Brooks’ star turn as Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s silent film masterpiece Pandora’s Box, 1929, Sullivan provides the basis for her own elaboration of scenarios abstracted from each source. Interspersed and layered on top of appropriated scenes—including the notorious opening scene of Oh Calcutta! and the magisterial intermission episode of Pandora’s Box—Sullivan fashions figures based on the aging Louise Brooks and Tynan, as well as the swinging cast of Calcutta. As with past projects, Sullivan achieves a circular effect whereby partly formed characters implore and reach for some exit or release only to be brought back to their ineluctable task. A melancholy vision of restless flight and waylaid departure emerges that seduces in its display of vitiated power, stripping the most basic performance tropes of their context and forcing the viewer to confront the inherent and often inherited violence within each.

 


[6] In this respect, Sullivan continually moves between the extremes of theater’s original excesses, tragedy and farce, the orgiastic ritual and comedic feast, Aeschylus and Aristophanes.

[7] Kenneth Tynan, Profiles, “THE GIRL IN THE BLACK HELMET,” The New Yorker, June 11, 1979, p. 45

 

Quiet Lads, No Shouts No Calls (2005) exemplifies Cosima von Bonin’s balancing act of hermetic references, strategies of estrangement, and material pleasures. Having taken its title from the swashbuckling Hollywood film Master and Commander (2003), the banner-like textile work appropriates the words of a superior to his subordinates—in this case a tall ship’s captain (played by actor Russel Crowe) to his crew—while also simply having the cadence of a great title. A similarly nonchalant yet forlorn tone of humor and domination typifies much of von Bonin’s work, collecting fragments and piecing together a distinctive remove. For the viewer, however, a work like Quiet Lads is more about visual pleasure than getting each individual reference, as the patchwork backdrop of horizontal orange and blue stripes foreground the fanned out hands of a white-gloved entertainer and a “that’s all” or “there you have it” moment. Not unlike Sigmar Polke’s early textile canvases of patchwork patterns adorned with layers of figurative pop culture flotsam, the success of von Bonin’s ongoing textile series, called lappen (or “rags”) lies in their formal contrast and material ingenuity rather than any rigorous decoding or art historical alignment.

The artist’s delight in surface textures and fashion—as with von Bonin’s repeated use of Yves Saint Laurent as a touchstone appropriation and material surface in her work—implies a positioning of the dandy in absentia. Rather than directly embodying the role of the derelict iconoclast—as did Martin Kippenberger within the Cologne art scene of the 1980s that von Bonin came of age in—von Bonin’s role is that of the designer in seclusion, masking the artist’s “real” persona while nevertheless continuing to issue a new line now and again. Indeed, there is a travestying of high-end trappings that extends from the banners and platforms of her set configurations to the barriers and divisions that mark her installations as a branded territory of privilege and exclusive isolation; continually playing off an inner circle attitude in her work, von Bonin is both dependent upon a rarified eccentricity while holding out and even relishing the possibility of betrayal and devastation at every turn. 

In von Bonin’s domain, art is a process that repeatedly approaches the destabilized condition of a pun while never indulging in the punchline.[8] Dann Aus Neigung (“Then Out of Inclination”), for example, implies the heroic presence of a cowboy hat stitched in silhouette only to be offset by the cartoon profile of Walt Disney’s Goofy character, creating a “gone to the dogs” ambience, while Hand von rechts (“Hand from the Right”), 2008, references a clear trajectory of influence extending from Polke and Blinky Palermo’s fabric paintings from the mid-1960s and the early-’70s, through to Kippenberger’s checkered “price” or “prize” paintings (“Preis Bilder,” 1987–94); featuring a gnomic fragment of borrowed text alongside additional cartoonish figures, the quilt-like backdrop advances—in white stitched outline—a band of simian musicians perched atop mushroom caps, with the balled fist of the entertainer’s white-gloved hand thrust toward the viewer, and the phrase HARMONIE IST EINE STRATEGIE (“harmony is a strategy”) summarily crossed out. For von Bonin, resolve is canceled even as it is extended.


[8] As with many of Kippenberger’s works, the cue to laugh is always present but misplaced and so uncertain and discomfiting.
Above: Cosmin von Bonin, Die Fröhliche Wallfahrt (“The Merry Pilgrimmage”), 1991. Super-8 film transferred to video, 14 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery.

THE ARTISTS

Tom Burr was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1963. He lives and works in New York, NY. He received his BFA from The School of Visual Arts (1986) and studied in the Whitney Independent Study Program (1987-88). His sculpture and installation work has been exhibited internationally, including the following selected solo exhibitions: Addict Love, Sculpture Center, NY; Moods, Secession Vienna (2007); Extrospective, Musee Cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne (2006); Relapse, Modern Art, London (2006); Complete Breakdown, Galerie Neu, Berlin (2005); Deep Purple, Whitney Museum of Art, NY (2002); and Low Slung, Kunstverein Braunschweig (2000). 

Catherine Sullivan was born in Los Angeles, California in 1968. Sullivan lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a BFA from the California Institute of Arts, Valencia (1992) and an MFA from the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California (1997). Sullivan films and live performances have been exhibited and performed internationally. Among her awards, Sullivan received a CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts (2004) and a DAAD Fellowship (2004-2005) to work in Berlin. She has had major exhibitions at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2007); Tate Modern, London (2005); Vienna Secession, Austria (2005); Kunsthalle Zurich, Switzerland (2005); Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut (2003); UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2002); and the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2002). She has participated in the Prague Biennial (2005), the Whitney Biennial (2004), and La Biennale d’art contemporain de Lyon, France (2003).

Cosima von Bonin was born in 1962 in Mombassa, Kenya. She lives and works in Cologne. Von Bonin was awarded the Scholarship of the Günther-Peill-Stiftung, Düuren from 1998-2000. Her work was featured prominently in documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, and von Bonin’s first survey exhibition in the United States, Roger and Out, was exhibited at MoCA in Los Angeles in 2007. Von Bonin’s work has further been exhibited at the Koelnischer Kunstverein, the Kunstverein Hamburg, the ICA in Philadelphia and the Vienna Secession among other solo exhibitions.  Her work has also been included in numerous group shows internationally.

Artur Żmijewski, born 1966 in Warsaw, Poland where continues to live and work. In the 1990s he worked and studied (along with Pawel Althamer and Katazyna Kozyra) in the master studio of the artist and professor Grzegorz Kowalski at the Sculptor Faculty of the Warsaw Academy of Arts. After receiving his diploma, he changed his medium to photography and film. He has had numerous solo and group exhibitions, including among others: Artur Żmijewski, Kunsthal-le Basel, Switzerland (2005); Das unmögliche Theatre, Kunsthalle Wien, Austria (2005); Irreducible: Contemporary Short Form Video 1995–2005, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, (2005); Artur Żmijewski. Selected Works, 1998 – 2003, MIT List Visual Arts Centre, Cambridge, (2004); Under the red and white flag. New art from Poland, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poljska, (2004); Manifesta 4, Frankfurt on the Main, Germany (2002); in freiheit / endlich – Polnische Kunst nach 1989, Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Germany (2000). In 2005, the artist represented the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and he recently he participated at the documenta 12. 

Entr’acte is curated by Fionn Meade as part of the requirements for the master of arts degree in curatorial studies.

Student curated exhibitions at CCS Bard are made possible with support from the Rebecca and Martin Eisenberg Student Exhibition Fund; Mitzi and Warren Eisenberg; and the Patrons, Supporters, and Friends of the Center for Curatorial Studies. Special thanks to the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

 

 

 

 


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