The press release for the At This Stage group exhibition gives little explanation. Bullet points are presented in lieu of an overall summary, eight half-formed notes for 10 artists speculating on history and violence, images and their reproductions. The show’s ambiguous title — the adverb clause of an unfinished sentence — vaguely gestures toward an idea still in development, a work in progress. There’s half a quote from Jean Baudrillard about an unknown thing intruding on the psychology of the individual and thus society, and a question from artist and writer manuel arturo abreu: “how can we consider the power of these images when we’re already under their influence?”
“(i dont know),” comes Olivia Barrett’s parenthetical response, curator and co-director of Los Angeles’ Château Shatto where the stark reds, whites and blues of Gardar Eide Einarsson‘s ‘Flag Waste (Stars and Stripes)’ sit in a pile at the center of the dimly-lit works on display in At This Stage from June 10 to August 12. The Australian expat organiser locates the show in the United States physically, if ambivalently, nodding to its national icons in the factory refuse of the aforementioned fabric pieces by a Norwegian artist, or the 1972 pop art appropriation of American Sturtevant‘s ‘Warhol Empire State’ video. A more sinister sign of the Republic’s past and also present sits in a bell jar on a pedestal nearby, Aria Dean‘s single cotton branch embalmed in polyurethane — a symbol of the country’s history of slavery, lifeless but eternal.
Perched atop a hidden signal jammer, the sombre though seductive piece recalling the rose in Disney’s Beauty & theBeastfaces across from Melbourne-based artist Hamishi Farah‘s ‘Aleeyah or Repatriation for Hypervisibility,’ a large-scale acrylic painting depicting a brutal video-gone-viral, where a vicious racial slur is met with physical violence. The complicated relationship between visibility and circulation that Dean outlines in the search for a “new collective blackness” in her writing bounces back from Farah and against Jordan Wolfson‘s ‘Con Leche’ video of animated Diet Coke bottles filled with milk, marching out of sync with a voiceover. The power of those pop cultural reference points continueS. There’s the instrumental Elliot Smith soundtrack playing from Bunny Rogers‘ story of white America in an alcoholic piano performance by a computer-generated image in ‘Mandy Piano Solo in Columbine Cafeteria‘ and Parker Ito‘s glossy sculptural reproductions of a grisly Los Angeles icon of pest control in ‘Western Exterminator / Kernel Kleenup / Little Man/ Pesterminator.’
It’s in this underbelly of American (see, global western) consumerism that At This Stage sits suspended, where the liberal freedoms of capitalism and laissez-faire produce the glitzy, smooth bars keeping would-be patrons out of Body by Body‘s ‘CAFE U.S.A.’ Or one where Chris Kraus draws the violent human impulses of sadomasochism, murder and filmmaking together in the milieu of a late-80s New York at the genesis of what would become a swift and aggressive push towards property development in the city for her film ‘How to Shoot a Crime.’ As in the Martine Syms‘ ‘Some what’ window display vinyl sticker facing out from Château Shatto — a low-quality black-and-white image of a nondescript sedan in a nondescript neighborhood — the show presents a degraded portrait of a future that’s yet to come. **
Before Kraus’ I Love Dick (a confessional epistolary novel detailing her relationship with Lotringer and her obsession with a man named ‘Dick’), she organized a “three-day philosophy rave in the Nevada desert called Chance Event that became known as “the Burning Man of French theory”.
Kraus joins her former partner and Semiotext(e) general editor Lotringer and artist Flannery (who is currently writing a book on the Chance Event) for a timely discussion on Baudrillard’s lecture for Chance and as part of the Hotel Theory exhibition running October 3 to December 20.
The new book, published by Semiotext(e), focuses in on the oddities and normalities of contemporary culture, moving freely between fact and fiction through “accidental stories”, made-up interviews and critical essays on a range of cultural figures, including Oprah, the Kennedy women, and Hilda Doolittle.
The LA launch brings readings by both Rutkoff as well as fellow writer Chris Kraus (I Love Dick).
“It’s been so intense, so I thought you could kick back and not think too much.” An optimistic idea from the lofty mind of artist and writer Chris Kraus. It’s the second day of Aliens & Anorexia: A Chris Kraus Symposium at the Royal College of the Arts and, following a day of new interpretations of her work by other artists, this one is reserved for Kraus herself.
The author of I Love Dick, Torpor and Where Art Belongs, and founder of theNative Agents series of semiotext(e) –the iconic independent publisher credited with introducing French theorists like Jean Baudrillard and Felix Guattari to the US –the focus for the moment is on her 1996 film Gravity & Grace, a rarely screened feature-length fraught with difficulties during and after production. Struggling to get a release for the work, based across New Zealand and New York, Kraus eventually gave up on finding a distributor, instead penning Aliens & Anorexia, a non-linear narrative following its protagonist’s struggle to produce the film and named after self-abnegating philosopher Simone Weil’s book of the same title.
Gravity & Grace, then, offers fresh perspective for readers of Aliens & Anorexia, while highlighting the follies of those human interactions Kraus details in print; the clumsy mating ritual of a one-night-stand procured in a bar, the absurd curator, played by Kraus herself, brow-beating artist Gravity with feminist theory before ending, “frankly, your work just isn’t shitty enough.” As promised, the film is less concentrated than her writing, while still delivering elevated ideas with a warmth and wit, much like the artist herself. Hard of hearing, Kraus walks across the auditorium to her audience when answering questions, while explaining that Gravity & Grace exists in two parts (one with funding, the other without). Respectively, they’re based on flying saucer classic When Prophecy Fails by social psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter and a candid portrait of the artist as a young woman, following the “great disappointment” of a doomsday prediction unfulfilled.
Kraus’ strength lies in bringing together superficially disparate elements to her work; be it in I Love Dick’s bold self-revelation of an infatuated polyamorist alongside the gender politics of Downtown New York in the 70s or her credence of writing as performance. It’s in this way that Kraus reveals herself as prefiguring contemporary modes of interdisciplinarity in art, and its something that Gravity & Grace –a film made on a budget of $500,000, using film, at the threshold of the video revolution –represents. That’s not least for the fragmented visual aesthetic, utilising text, surreal imagery and privileging music in a way that resembles that of modern video art, spurred on by YouTube culture and home software. It’s here that Kraus’ role as artist, writer, critic, filmmaker and performer becomes indistinguishable and an emblem of what she calls the “expanding art world” pervading contemporary culture.**