Danielle Sommer lives in Los Angeles. Her writing has been featured in Art in America, Textile, Art Practical, and Landfill Quarterly. For three years she blogged for KQED on visual art, and she currently edits the column #Hashtags: Viral Thoughts on Art for the arts website DailyServing. Recent curatorial projects include “The Collectors” at Monte Vista Projects and “If we don’t, remember me” at Little Paper Planes. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
True to its name, Simone Forti’s second solo show at The Box, “Sounding,” featured around a dozen works based on the artist’s renowned performance oeuvre, all with “a central element of sound.” Incorporating props and recordings from past performances, video documentation, photos and drawings, as well as several live performances, the exhibition engaged viewers on multiple levels, including aural. But to expect merely artworks with soundtracks underestimates Forti’s 50-plus-year love affair with phenomenology, as well as her quest to create the kind of awareness that brings the self and its tenuous relation to the rest of the universe into sharp focus.
The show’s centerpiece, Largo Argentina (Rome Cats), 1968/2012, consisted of a white sheet, hanging loosely and undulating in the gentle breeze of a fan. Toward the bottom of the sheet, a digital slideshow of Forti’s photographs of feral cats, taken at Rome’s Largo di Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, played in a loop. A wind chime dangled from the sheet, ringing softly and consistently. It was the only noise in the gallery that never ceased; the sounds associated with the other works played on individual headphones, although many were also timed to broadcast once an hour through various speakers, sometimes overlapping one another.
Viewers familiar with Forti may have recognized props from some of her more famous pieces, such as the loop of sturdy rope she created for Accompaniment for La Monte’s ‘2 sounds’ (1961). The rope hangs in a “U” shape from the ceiling and stops just a few feet off the floor. When Accompaniment is performed (as it was several times during this show’s run), a dancer steps onto the rope at the beginning of La Monte Young’s agonizing Minimalist score. The rope is wound tightly by another performer and then released. The unwinding happens quickly, after which the performer remains stationary, giving the viewer something to focus on, and through that focus, hopefully the discipline to stay still and listen to Young’s composition, a 12-minute cacophony in which one person scrapes a bucket against a glass door while another scrapes cans on a window. For “Sounding,” a recording of Young’s work played once a day.
It’s tempting to interpret Forti’s project as one of translating sound into movement, as with Accompaniment, or movement into sound, as with Song of the Vowels (2012). For the latter piece, Forti’s drawings of Jacques Lipchitz’s Cubist sculpture of a harp (The Song of the Vowels, 1931-32) hung on the gallery wall next to a video in which Forti performed the drawings by interpreting them as a score. Allowing herself only short and long vowel sounds, she used her entire body as she made sounds like “Eee eee eee” and “Oh-uuuuu,” activating Lipchitz’s rendition of the instrument.
Over and over in “Sounding,” Forti mixed stillness and focus with dissonance, or items with “soft” and “hard” characteristics, such as in Censor (1961), a recording of the artist singing an Italian folk song while rattling nails in a metal bowl. In her autobiography-cum-instruction-manual, Handbook in Motion (1974), she describes her interest as being less in simple cause-and-effect relationships and more in the “juxtaposition of qualities or concerns, from which would emerge a third quality.” Rather than replacing one sensation or action with another, Forti positions her materials-whether they are images, sounds, words or movements-atop and among each other, constantly willing her audience to notice itself noticing, and through this, to accept the magic of being in between.
Los Angeles-based artist April Street keeps track of her dreams. Moreover, she keeps track of the twists and turns she makes while she dreams, which she later reenacts in her studio. Street, who studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before leaving to finish her degree in Tennessee, uses her body as a brush, wrapping herself in hosiery fabric (similar to the kind found on the inside of swimsuits) and lying atop paint-pooled canvases, imprinting them as she re-creates her sleep gestures.
The resulting paintings look gestural yet controlled: Street repaints the body impressions with more intentional mark making. In her recent show, “Portraits and Ropes,” at Culver City’s Carter & Citizen, however, these original images were hidden from view. In the new work, Street covers the canvases with the paint-streaked hosiery fabric, like flesh over bone. She treats it as a drapery, which she sometimes pins, twists or pulls taut. She also sometimes lets gravity take over.
Street’s work straddles painting and sculpture, and it nods toward both Abstract Expressionism and ’60s and ’70s femi- nist performance art. The most striking pieces have a sense of tension, often created by the treatment of the cloth. Pink Rope (2012) consists of a large piece of fabric twisted into a single, slender ropelike form, which retains its shape solely through the weight of a cast bronze knot at the bottom and a pair of tacks.
The show’s anchor piece, Man has always doubled himself as a means of understanding himself (2012), induces a visceral response: two canvases hanging several inches apart are enveloped in and connected by a swath of hosiery, which droops between them like a wrinkled umbilical cord. The impressions of the artist’s body are evidenced in purple, green and orange smears of paint that accumulate where the hosiery sags.
What’s most fascinating about Street’s work cannot be attributed solely to the artfulness of the draping technique. Part of the recipe is the fleshy and troublesome nature of hosiery fabric itself, which has an enigmatic translucency and heaviness. The beige color contributes to a muddy overall palette, dependent on olive green, eggplant and midnight blue, with the occasional streak of a brighter hue. There was beauty to be found in “Portraits and Ropes,” but there was also a feeling of unease, or even disgust, which underscores the show’s involvement with the abject.
Like Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse and Carolee Schneemann, Street creates work of such confusing sensuality that it can be difficult to look at and hard to process, particularly as a viewer tries to parse the various distinctions between subject and object. The draping technique is a new step for Street, whose work previously foregrounded the painted surface that is now obscured. Though full of color, the older works are less interesting visually and less tight conceptually; one hopes Street continues in this new direction.
If we don’t, remember me takes its title from that pinnacle of noir cinema, Kiss Me Deadly. The film kicks off with private eye Mike Hammer winding his way down a dark and lonely road somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles. From out of nowhere, a woman appears—the terrified but caustic Christina Bailey, who asks Hammer for a ride to the city and demands he drop her at the first bus stop.
“Get me to that bus stop and forget you ever saw me. If we don’t make it to the bus stop…”
“We will,” Hammer promises.
“If we don’t, remember me.”
Bailey, of course, ends up dead, and Hammer spends the rest of the film chasing down who done it. The climax of Kiss Me Deadly shows Hammer with a box of radioactive material, staring at an uncertain future—in the process of keeping his promise to Bailey, he has been transformed, possibly even killed. Following the spirit of the film, If we don’t, remember me features a group of artists, each obsessed with “remembering” (literally “to bring to mind, again”), and each with his or her own relationship to the role of cultural detritus in the process.
Gustaf Mantel’s Tumblr, If we don’t, remember me, features animated gifs paired with quotes, snipped from films as diverse as The Conversation (1974), Suspira (1977), Ghost World (2001), and Sedmikrásky (1966). The most successful and haunting are those with only a whisper of movement, which somehow evoke the mood of the film without needing to restage it.
Alicia Escott describes her art practice as a way of connecting the speed of change today with the speed of change in the geologic history of the planet, at the same time retelling the stories of our civilization. Her series, Letters Sent Sometime After The Continents Divorced, contains love letters written to extinct species and sent to unsuspecting friends. Escott poignantly takes on the cumbersome task of blending collective and individual memory, armed only with stationary.
The San Francisco Guerrilla Opera stages impromptu and unpermitted public ‘operas’ using a variety of cultural texts as librettos, including 500 pages of leaked United States embassy cables provided by Wikileaks, the Wall Street Journal, and Verizon’s advertising mantra, “Can you hear me now?”
Liz Glynn rose to prominence with her work The 24 Hour Roman Reconstruction Project (2008 and 2009), which she’s performed three times, each time challenging her audience to build as much of Rome as possible. If we don’t, remember me includes excerpts from the less-well-known “Destruction Karaoke” (2011), in which singers destroy their possessions, and from the exhibition No Second Troy (2012), in which Glynn smuggled handmade, paper-mâché copies of actual artifacts into several museums and historical sites.
Kate Copeland’s Security Envelope Series is a multi-layered investigation of materiality, time, and memory. Copeland uses the outmoded technology of salt-printing to capture the delicate beauty of a series of used security envelopes, each of which shows the trace of many hands. Salt printing captures the fine detail in some parts of the print, even as it creates a loss of detail in other areas.
My day job (radio production) can complement my night job (arts writing), but there are times when weeks pass without the twain meeting. At our Los Angeles-based talk program, MOCA’s loss of former curator Paul Schimmel did not go unnoticed, but neither did it tantalize, at least not until my senior producer saw the following headline: “Museums Are About the Art, Not Racking Up Big Numbers on Crowds and Revenue.” The article, written by Blake Gopnick for The Daily Beast, rails against a recent op-ed by Eli Broad in the Los Angeles Times, in which Broad defends MOCA in the language of a business institution striving “to grow its client base” (Gopnick’s wording), or “make MOCA a populist rather than an insular institution” (Broad’s wording).
Gopnick argues “that museums should make [great] art available—to the absolutely largest number of people who are looking for that kind of thing, and not for something else.” And while Gopnick’s thinking has issues of its own (elevating some forms of art and artists over others), I agree with his overall point. Showcasing great artwork should be an art museum’s first goal, even if it draws fewer numbers and leaves the institution open to a charge of ‘insularity.’
I don’t think it’s the art institutions that are manifesting signs of insularity, however. Oh, sure, I understand and even agree with the logic behind wanting to make MOCA more “populist,” which for Broad apparently means accessible, but the adjective “insular” is misapplied. The word, from the late Latin insula, or ‘island,’ means “uninterested,” at least in cultures or ideas outside of one’s own experience. If anything, it is the population that MOCA hopes to attract which time and again proves itself insular, only interested in the most spectacular art exhibits, or exhibits immediately reflective of its own experience, instead of those that attempt to open a window into a different (and perhaps more challenging) way of thinking about the world and its surroundings.
Curators like Paul Schimmel are the middle ground, not a force for insularity. In fact, the saga of Schimmel and MOCA reminds me of another curatorial conflict from the early twentieth century, that between art historian Aby Warburg and his librarian and assistant, Fritz Saxl. The eldest son of three, Warburg was born into a well-to-do Jewish banking family in mid-19th century Hamburg. As such, his role should have been to take over the family business for his father, but on his thirteenth birthday, Warburg offered this position to his youngest brother, Max, in exchange for the promise that “Max would buy him all the books he ever wanted.” Max kept his promise; by 1914, Warburg had amassed somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 volumes, most of which were related to history, art, psychology, and religion. These volumes became the Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg – a research institute located in Hamburg that attracted scholars from all over Europe and America – and, eventually, the Warburg Institute, one of the more important art-historical think tanks of the last century.
Before Saxl stepped in, however, Warburg’s project was just too messy, too overwhelming – an unfiltered investigation of “the role of the coining of images as a process of civilization,” with no order outside of Warburg’s own “law of the good neighbor,” which he used to organize the thousands of texts in his library. “Although grouped under such general rubrics as anthropology and art history, both the various sections and the books within them were arranged according to their ability to engage with the books on either side of them. A line of speculation opening in one volume was attested to or attacked, continued or contradicted, refined or refuted in its neighbor. Each book was to answer or ask a question of the one next to it.” Warburg’s system — though inspired — was a nightmare to negotiate, and alienated many of his visitors until Saxl imposed a cataloging system of his own.
A romantic might read the tale above and extrapolate that I mean Warburg to stand in for Schimmel, but in reality, Schimmel has more in common with Saxl: known for shows that offered “critical, scholarly investigation[s] of contempoary art,” Schimmel helped provide context to contemporary art, arguing for its relevancy and providing the inroads that allowed visitors to make intellectual (and emotional) connections to the artwork on display. In these ways, curators like Schimmel are the true antidotes to the stubborn insularity of American popular culture. While I agree with Eli Broad’s desire to see a financially stable MOCA, he should be just as concerned with the museum’s potential to churn out less challenging exhibitions based solely on spectacle or supposed confluence with mainstream culture — while it might draw higher numbers at first, this kind of curatorial plan could also backfire, leaving the public even more disinterested in contemporary art than they are already. We haven’t run the piece on what museums are for yet, but based on past experience, I predict the sound of crickets from our phones.
 Manguel, 200.
 Leland de la Durantaye, “Preface: The Law of the Good Neighbor,” in Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009).
 Ibid., 302.