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Artist Spotlight: Getting to Know Miha Štrukelj

Miha Štrukelj, who represented Slovenia at the 53rd Venice Biennale, created a two-story site-specific charcoal wall drawing for the exhibition Invisible Cities. Entitled “Melting Pot,” Strukelj’s piece combines several images of urban landscapes into one work. His ghostly, fleeting impressions leave viewers to fill in the rest, exploring both how the image and the city are constructed and perceived. We sat down to chat with him about his work for the show and his sources of inspiration.

How has it been working at MASS MoCA?

So far so good! I like it a lot actually. When I came to North Adams for the first time, I was really impressed by the museum. I really liked it and I thought “wow,” because I like these old abandoned infrastructures and old factories, and I think this museum works perfectly. I said to myself, “Oh I would really love to work in such a museum” but I thought “I’m so far from that, I’ll never come here.” And then just one year later, I got an email from Susan [curator at MASS MoCA] asking if I would want to do a project and I said, “of course!” You never know. I’ll just keep saying that to myself from now on.

And you got your start in painting and drawing, is that right?

Yeah, I’m actually primarily a painter. I finished my studies specializing in painting. In Slovenia, our academy has more traditional training, so the drawing is very much part of it. After school, when I was very much into painting after the academy, drawing became more and more an important part of my painting. For example I did a painting in a few layers, and the first part of the process was just a grid on the canvas and the outline of the image—pretty much the same process as it is in the site-specific works with the wall drawings. I use the grid as a base and then the outline of the image for basically every work.

How has your style evolved and how did you become interested in urban planning and architecture?

Immediately when I finished academy I started working with self-portraits, and they were made from CT scans. So I took the CT scans and used them as a reference for paintings, and I titled them as self-portraits. And then when I was more involved in this high-tech digital imaging, I combined images from computer games simulating wars, and actual photographs of smart bombs bombarding places like Iraq or Belgrade. But the reason I’m saying this is because it’s always about this grid system, and the outline of the image—it’s always the same process. And then I came to cityscapes, so I was using my own photographs I had taken in different cities, and I would discard the colors and put them in low resolution, and then make a simple black and white print, draw a grid on it, and use them as references for paintings. So this is how I came to the cityscapes. These first steps of paintings became more and more structured—much more information, much more detail. When I was drawing the first layer, when I finished it I always thought “this looks nice,” and I would leave it in its first stage.  That’s how I came to drawing, and then did drawing separately from painting. So it started with pencil and paper, then the next stage was drawing on tracing paper—several layers to get this illusion of perspective and 3-D space, and then in the last stage I came to wall drawings. I was a bit fed up with just installing paintings on the wall, I thought, “I have to do something with the space as well,” and this was one option. So I usually do exhibitions with everything together, because there’s so much connected—paintings, drawings and wall drawings; it works as a whole, as one complete work.

I noticed you included the physical cables from the room in this drawing, and I was wondering, has the architecture of the museum or the room changed your initial ideas for the piece?

It did to some extent, for sure. When Susan showed me this space for the firs time, I immediately noticed the ceiling structure and thought this would be great to work with. I use a lot of masking tape in the wall drawing, and the wooden structures usually work very well with the masking tape and kind of continues into the ceiling. And I was pretty sure I would use string, and attach some strings to the ceiling structure. But I didn’t know that I would actually try to simulate cables coming out from the wall and attach them to the ceiling structure as I did here. This came about during the process, with kind of me improvising. And I really like it, because I think that this structure is even more involved in the artwork. And the shadows [from the cables], they also came into the actual work afterwards—they’re so much present and luckily they work so well. So for now, everything is kind of in the right place.

What new ideas or projects are you excited about going forward?

Well, I always get new ideas with each site-specific work. There’s not another upcoming project as big as this one for now, but I’m sure it will come. I’m a city person; I’m interested in this human position within the cities, within the architecture, which is always there even though it’s changing.  The people are constantly moving; moving in and out.

Kind of like a museum.

Exactly.  This is also why on the wall drawing, it’s strictly architectural and there are some empty areas within it, which are written as dislocated humans. So the idea is to create some possible spaces where humans could be, where they could actually exist—or where they actually were in the original photograph. I didn’t include them so I just leave the empty spaces. And I usually put the humans on some smaller objects and put them outside the wall drawing.

Did you base this cityscape on any particular city, or is it largely from your imagination?

The final cityscape is imaginary, but it’s imaginary because it’s from different cities and different locations throughout the world. So I kind of created my own cityscape. And it varies from New York, to my hometown in Slovenia, to Dublin and Vienna and Manama in Bahrain. But when putting the photographs together on the computer, sometimes it works so well you couldn’t believe it. It’s a lot of fun.

 

By Cora Sugarman

Posted April 12, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Exhibitions, Invisible Cities
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2012 High School Invitational

We are really delighted to be able to highlight the work of area students with an annual art show. Its coming up next weekend — on view during regular gallery hours on Saturday and Sunday April 14 and 15.  Hope you can stop by and see the amazing art our local students are making.  Here’s our press release on the show.

(North Adams, MA) For the second year in a row, MASS MoCA is collaborating with high school art teachers and artists in the  northern Berkshires to invite local students to submit artwork for a temporary exhibition at MASS MoCA. Cash prizes will be awarded to the best works submitted. MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson said: “This event was a highlight of our spring last year, and we are delighted to be able to present this exhibition again. It is an honor for us to be a part of this celebration of the talents of the young people in our community. Athletic and academic achievements are frequently celebrated; this is a great opportunity to shine a bright light on the work of kids who excel in a completely different field.”

While many of the students participating in this high school invitational art exhibition have also taken formal art classes in school, the invitation is extended broadly: the goal is to reach all students who are engaged by art and who have made excellent work, inside or outside the normal curriculum.  The work will be judged by a panel of MASS MoCA staff, area artists and teachers. In addition to cash prizes, a special tuition credit is also offered as the grand prize by North Adams’ Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA).

Participating schools include Drury High School in North Adams; Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School (BART) and Hoosac Valley High School, in Adams; Buxton School and Pine Cobble School, in Williamstown; and Mt. Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, which includes students from Williamstown, Hancock, and Lanesborough.

The high school invitational exhibit will open at MASS MoCA on Friday, April 13, at 6 PM, with free admission. Awards will take place at 6:45 PM, with a reception to follow at 7:15 PM. The artworks will remain on view at MASS MoCA from 11 AM to 5 PM on Saturday, April 14, and Sunday, April 15 (gallery admission required).  After the run at MASS MoCA the exhibition will move to the gallery at the Eclipse Mill on Route 2, in North Adams, thanks to the support and courtesy of the mill residents, many of whom are professional local artists, where it will be on view from noon to 5 PM on the weekends of April 21-22, April 28-29, and May 5-6. A reception at the Eclipse Mill Gallery will take place on Friday, April 27, from 6 PM to 9 PM.

 

Posted April 6, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, High School Art Show, North Adams
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The Biggers They Come

Director of Exhibitions Planning, Dante Birch, reminisces about some of the (crazier) exhibitions past. There’s never a dull moment at MASS MoCA!

I was asked recently to provide a blog entry. Well, I always cringe when this time rolls around because I think “oh my goodness, what am I going to write about?” But it turns out to be a good opportunity to look back. Things are often so busy we spend our time only looking forward.

So this is what we’ve been up to lately.

De-installation of Katharina Grosse:

Installation of Sanford Biggers:

De-installation of Nari Ward:

Well I don’t know about you but I’m starting to see a trend….heavy equipment maybe?

It seems that we can’t do much of anything here at MASS MoCA unless it involves a 10,000 pound booming forklift, a handful of standard forklifts, a crane, and an endless supply of chain falls and staging. Maybe that’s part of the magic of MASS MoCA? We take on these unusual projects of scale. The artist wants to suspend a boat in the gallery? Sure…let’s do it. Compared to what we’ve done before…. What a minute, what have we done?

So, I dug a little deeper into the past and looked through the installation “happy snaps” from the last few years.  How about installing an airplane fuselage in a gallery?……….

Ok, we did that for Huang Yong Ping.

How about shoving an amusement park into a second story room with a crane?

Check! Carsten Höller, 2006.

Didn’t we knit an American flag with some bucket loaders….

Right oh!,….. Dave Cole’s Knitting Machine.

I wonder where we put that Airstream trailer Michael Oatman turned into a space ship? That’s right,  on top of that elevated steam pipe support out back……Sure thing.

And the list goes on….

So in retrospect I guess I work in an unusual place. It seems that with a little of that MASS MoCA “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, a pinch of “indomitable spirit” and an unbelievable staff, MASS MoCA gets to bring some wild ideas into being.

It’s definably changed the way I see the world. After working here, I think if an artist came to MASS MoCA and wanted to go to the moon, we could do it. Now getting them back, well that’s another matter.

Enough reminiscing, we’ve got a full schedule ahead. There’s the upcoming show Invisible Cities, a high school student show which will be on view from April 13 – 15, and then we’re going to attempt to squeeze what seems to me to be the entirety of the Canadian contemporary art world into the first floor of Building 4. Hmmm. I guess I’ll see you in May.

Cheers,

Dante

Posted March 19, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions
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FREE Day Project: The Workers

What do you do? That was the question that inspired a community wall installation in our Tall Gallery on FREE Day last month. In addition to the many fun activities that took place throughout the day, one of the most interesting was the resulting wall collage of brown paper bag cutouts inspired by Mary Lum’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, on view as part of our exhibit The Workers (below):

Lum spent several years collecting the names printed on the bottoms of paper bags, after initially being surprised to discover that each bag is stamped by an individual person. This easy-to-miss detail underscores the human element of mass-produced items that we don’t often think about or stop to consider. On FREE Day, we asked kids and adults alike to write down what they do on pieces of brown paper bags and stick them on the wall. What began as a simple question evolved into a creative and oftentimes Post Secret-esque endeavor. Check out what some of our visitors had to say about their work and their place in society.

We loved reading all of these at the end of the day. Thank you to everyone who participated!

By Cora Sugarman/Photos by A. Elizabeth Berg

Posted March 5, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Free Day, The Workers
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Artist Spotlight: Hugo Hopping

Curator Susan Cross writes about one of the artists featured in our current show The Workers.

Hugo Hopping’s practice engages with the legacy of conceptual art while addressing social and political concerns. In his video for The Workers exhibition, A Few Thoughts on Resignation and Loss (2010), Hopping re-stages a 1924 chess match played between the influential artist Marcel Duchamp, who famously retired from his career in art to pursue his love of chess, and the Italian chess master Massimiliano Romi. Duchamp conceded the game in order to avoid an embarrassing checkmate, a move which became of particular interest to Hopping and prompted his subsequent ruminations on the multiple meanings of resignation and loss. In the video Lieutenant Hugo Alejandro Tapia Agustin of the Mexican Armed Forces offers his analysis of the chess match. Chess becomes a metaphor for society where the system of pieces on the board reflects class hierarchies, institutions, and positions of power. The pawns can be understood to represent the foot soldier but also the working class, who, like the pawns have the least power individually, are crucial – especially in their united movements – to the ultimate outcome of the game. Lt. Tapia sees a parallel in this metaphor to the position of the Mexican people in the hope of strengthening a collective national identity and a means to enact change.

Former curatorial assistant Rosalia Romero interviewed the artist about the video:

Rosalia Romero: You met Lieutenant Hugo Alejandro Tapia Agustin, whose letter is narrated in your piece, on an online chess forum.  Did you approach the Lieutenant specifically with this piece in mind? Or did the work grow out of your communication? 

Hugo Hopping: Between October 2009 and March 2010, I was organizing a solo show for Anne Barrault Gallery in Paris, France titled A Sugar Diet for Mystics. I had prepared some artworks that focused on the public life of Marcel Duchamp, specifically on his chess-related activities. I have come to understand that the game of chess is a public mental sport (often practiced in private) that results in public forms of exhibition, from the park to the tournament.

I was fascinated by the fact that Duchamp resigned from making art publicly to pursue the aesthetics of chess and its strategies. I, myself, had obsessively researched and played chess on a daily basis for over a year, so much that I was beginning to approach a fine line between chess and making art and had to decide which one had priority over the other. I could not believe how much I related to Duchamp’s “early retirement”.

Resignation took on a theoretical aspect that I had not really understood up until the making of these art pieces. In many ways the resolution of having made these artworks reveals that I listened to Duchamp’s imaginary advice to Bobby Fischer. (1)

“If Bobby Fischer came to me for advice, I certainly would not discourage him—as if anyone could—but I would try to make it positively clear that he will never have any money from chess, live a monk-like existence and know more rejection than any artist ever has, struggling to be known and accepted.”

Mastering chess is an all-consuming project and having made the world believe Duchamp had given up art for chess for nearly 25 years has to be understood, not as a gimmick but rather as a dynamic for managing public and private artistic activity/production as part of an artistic life strategy, like his final artwork Etant Donnés seems to disclose.

Meanwhile, I was feeding my own chess mania when I happened to meet Lieutenant Hugo Alejandro Tapia Agustin. We were randomly matched by the chess engine’s online program and had a very good game that resulted in a lesson. I found his comments about chess revealing and informative.  I suppose what was more engrossing in receiving advice from him was his background as a career soldier of almost 30 years in the Mexican Armed Forces. I approached him exclusively with the intention of having him analyze Duchamp’s tournament game and offer an analysis similar to what he had been offering in our online exchanges. This intention resulted from having made a series of art works over the years, which involved diverse individuals contributing content for my artworks through a collaborative exchange. This is how A Few Thoughts on Resignation and Loss came together.

RR: You have stated that in this piece you seek to examine the ambiguity of loss both real and theoretical. Is there a specific loss or theoretical loss you are referencing aside from Duchamp’s?

HH: I have for some time been concerned by the breakdown of Mexican society through the rise of narcocrime.  I spent my childhood living in a suburb of Mexico City, a relatively safe environment, and had been hoping to make a project that evidenced the contemporary social deterioration and that, of course, obviated its loss through the narratives of modern and contemporary art.  Duchamp’s game, in this sense, is a mise en abîme for staging ‘the other’.

His resignation as a chess player possesses a historical narrative between public exhibition and private practice. Lieutenant Tapia is currently caught in a similar dynamic: his role as a soldier and voicing an inaccessible narrative and private perception of Mexican society, without referencing directly the narcowar.  I found that in asking Lieutenant Tapia to be part of this piece, I was both allowing Duchamp’s public chess practice to be examined through the game itself and as a comment on a contemporary conflict offered by an unexpected examiner in the Mexican army.

If the resignation means the sidestepping of making art publicly and favoring a production strategy for the making art privately, then the loss may be a word of warning (which Duchamp suggests clairvoyantly) of a coming transition from a private practice to market-driven practices, thereby transforming aesthetics in contemporary art production.

In terms of a self-reflexive search for an understanding of loss as a way of overcoming historical disappointment and societal changes, the Mexican soldier seems to be searching for a way to modernize the Mexican mind in spite of his station as a public servant directly involved in the current conflict. Material and political loss in this case is a way of life in Mexico.

In the end, the soldier wonders if there ever was a Mexican hegemony and how it can transcend both its historical and contemporary aberrations.

 RR: The dilution of Latin American culture in the face of American influences is central to Lieutenant Hugo Alejandro’s text. He presents a parallel between the great power that a unified set of pawns possesses in the game and the potential inherent in uniting a country’s people. Building a strong cultural identity is mentioned as a means of accomplishing this unity. Do you share Lieutenant Hugo Alejandro’s sentiment?

HH: Mexican national identity has been displaced by the economic practice in Mexico since the early 1980’s, and it has been fully entrenched into modern Mexican society since the economic circumstances of 1994. In other words, Mexican national identity has also been deregulated.  In the preface to the 3rd edition of Lesley B. Simpson’s book titled Many Mexicos published in 1941, he suggests that the “study of habit gives meaning to history”…for “we cannot know ourselves without knowing the past”.

Lieutenant Tapia is caught in a generational shift in Mexico, where the political scandals, continued disappointments, and failed promises have abandoned the institutionalization of the Mexican Revolution. He still remembers the difference between Mexican and American identities.

I think Lieutenant Tapia is suggesting an advancement of this identity; however, he does not provide nor suggest how to achieve this.  I don’t know where he stands with many of my comments above, although he seems to share similar concerns.

I differ in many ways with Lieutenant Tapia in that I am Mexican and also American, I have a heritage in both nations, and I see myself caught as a subject of an emerging North American subjectivity, one which is increasingly merging into the other, meaning the U.S. and Mexico. However, a cultural identity is indispensable, especially a strong one, ideally, where the virtues of this said culture can absorb difference and heterogeneity and not succumb to xenophobia and racism. I am impressed that Mr. Tapia and I are on different sides of the aisle; no soldier in Mexico is unaware of the brutal violence that is happening at the moment or has not dealt with it, and I can safely say that no Mexican artist is unaware of the same issues or has suffered losses from the violence.

RR: And you mention the increasing presence of military forces in open civil society in Mexico and the then current national crisis as a framework for viewing the piece.

It is important to understand that Lieutenant Hugo’s letter is written in light of a planned build-up in 2010 of more than 45,000 Mexican soldiers, who were being deployed into Mexican society to fight narcocartels. To some, this military intervention into Mexican civil society is regarded as the first major operation since the revolution.

It is important to note that the Mexican Armed Forces is one of the few armies in Latin America that has not staged a coup in the last 75 years and that a blossoming anti-militarization, anti-corruption movement in Mexico is on the rise, led by the Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, who, after the horrific assassination of his son among six others by organized crime earlier this year, has begun to build national support with other fed-up citizens who can no longer bear the societal deterioration.  This social movement, called Red Por La Paz y La Justicia, believes that society should seek new forms of coexistence and order without the imposition of an army and as such it is demanding a social revolution to gain back Mexican civil society. Here are Sicilia’s own words from a document written in the aftermath of his son’s assassination.

“We have had it up to here with you, politicians –and when I say politicians I am not referring to any one in particular, but to a whole lot of you…because in the midst of this corruption that shows the failure of the State, every citizen of this country has been reduced to what the philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls, with using the Greek word, zoe: an unprotected life, the life of an animal, of a being who can be raped, kidnapped, molested and murdered with impunity, we have had it up to here because you have only imagination for violence, weapons, for insult, and therefore, a deep contempt for education, culture and opportunities for good honest work, which is what makes nations prosperous.”— An Open Letter to Politicians and Criminals, Javier Sicilia, April 3, 2011. (2)

 

Javier Sicilia has resigned from ever writing poetry again.

 

——

1. Brady, Frank: Bobby Fischer: profile of a prodigy, Courier Dover Publications, 1989; p. 207.

2. Carta abierta a políticos y criminals. Javier Sicilia

 

Posted March 1, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, The Workers
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Catching Up with Joe

Museum director Joe Thompson blogs about the latest goings-on at MASS MoCA.

I love mud season because it kicks off MASS MoCA’s most intense season of making art. It’s our sugaring season. Our performing arts stages are booked solid with residencies, and the galleries are abuzz with visiting artists.

I caught Gisele Amantea in the act of converting our Hunter foyer into what may end up feeling a little bit like a Canadian bordello (which is to say polite, and rather chic), riffing wildly on a Louis Sullivan decorative motif from the tomb of the wife of one of the architect’s greatest Chicago patrons, Ellis Wainwright.

But Gisele (seen here in the middle, with black shirt) is also riffing on the “MASS” in MASS MoCA — her finger poking gently in our ribs for our penchant for large-scale work — by elaborating the delicate fleur-de-lis designs into man-eating dimension: every part of the design that is now white will soon be flocked into light-sucking blackness, and extended for the full 90’ length of the space.

This is the powerful first contribution by a Canadian artist to our upcoming Oh, Canada show, opening this Memorial Day.

On a more precipitous timeline is Making Room, the Space Between Two and Three Dimensions, which just opened Saturday.

 

Claire Harvey was in town this past week for Making Room, doing an extraordinary series of tiny paintings on small pieces of glass and acetate, which are then projected on the walls and other provisional surfaces using old-fashioned overhead projectors, like your teacher used to do in fifth grade.  It’s startling how much modeling and complex space she can generate in renderings that in some cases are only ¾” high, but which gain extraordinary presence when projected and enlarged to a height of 5’ tall.

Continuing the theme of utilizing obsolete techniques with new media technology and inventive presentation,  Chloë Østmo was also in North Adams this past week, fastidiously suspending over 200 photographs on a grid of cotton thread. The amazing effect is that of a single image. Here is a shot showing Chloë’s process midway through installation.

This is going to be a sleeper of an exhibition, full of engaging art, rich narratives, and interesting cross-references: a true show. It is superbly selected by Caitlin Condell and Ali Nemerov, both now students in the Williams College-Clark Art Graduate Program in the History of Art, and MASS MoCA graduate interns. The eleventh in our series of exhibitions organized by up-and-coming curators, and realized with the support of the Clark (and, in this case, the helpful guidance of MASS MoCA curator Susan Cross), the exhibition is a fascinating bookend to the previous iteration of this series, Memery, which celebrated the internet’s capacity to propel strange bits of otherwise forgettable popular culture deep into our collective memories through sheer repetition and the power of web-buzz.  Making Room, on the other hand, focuses on work that celebrates and rewards careful looking through creation of complex visual spaces and thoughtful forms that feel, at times with a wisp of nostalgia, like an antidote to online frenzy.

Posted February 27, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Making Room: The Space Between Two & Three Dimensions, Making Room: The Space Between Two & Three Dimensions, Oh Canada, Work-in-progress
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