Fault LinesNovember 20, 2013
An Exhibition, Postpartum is a series that examines the components of making contemporary art exhibitions in order to encourage readers and art practitioners to evaluate an exhibition as a process rather than simply as a finished product. Each installment includes an interview with the curator(s) and/or the artist(s) behind an exhibition, preceded by a review for context and critical analysis. Accompanying these texts is a slideshow of images of the exhibition, from installation to de-installation, as a way of diagramming its true lifespan.
The Kadist Art Foundation has become known for its robust and dynamic events-based programming. In March of this year, Kadist introduced a new element to its programming called the 24 Hour Exhibition, a series of thematic exhibitions that are each open for a cumulative and easy-to-miss 24-hour period spread over the course of two weekends. Fault Lines, the most recent in the series, was curated by Constance Lewallen, formerly the MATRIX curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and currently that institution’s adjunct curator. The exhibition was organized around a voyeuristic investigation and problematization of dynamics within the contemporary family.
Fault Lines solely included video artworks by Richard Billingham, Valérie Mréjen, Mona Hatoum, the Russian collective Chto Delat, Keren Cytter, and Ryan Trecartin that were projected or screened on flat-panel monitors and on older television monitors. All of the artworks in the exhibition deal with family dynamics from differing cultural, societal, and economic spheres in unusually candid and creative ways while manipulating the medium of video to heighten and complicate their narratives.
Shown as a large-scale projection, Richard Billingham’s Fishtank (1998) is shot as a home video and details the bizarre behavior of his own family. In Valérie Mréjen’s Pork and Milk (2004), the artist screens interviews with a number of young Israeli citizens about their transition from orthodox to secular lifestyles. Perhaps the subtlest and most isolated work in the exhibition—found in the space’s small hallway—is Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1989), in which Hatoum portrays how the Lebanese civil war affected a relationship between a mother and child in the mid-seventies. In the video, a series of still images slowly fade in and out while soft and earnest female voices narrate and converse in Arabic. However, the images and the voices are never synced, which serves to heighten and mirror the disconnection endured by mother and child due to the war.
Ryan Trecartin is known for his videos in which he portrays multiple characters, often through absurd costuming and makeup. In Kitchen Girl (2001), shown at the exhibition, Trecartin depicts the borderline mania of a frustrated mother. Russian collective Chto Delat’s A Border Musical (2013) is a humorous and witty musical about differing cultural expectations for family life. Keren Cytter’s Untitled (2009) also depicts a series of complex and confusing family relationships in the form of a play shot in the style of John Cassavetes’s 1977 classic Opening Night. While Cytter’s actors are onstage and backstage, the camera follows and documents all of their movements and interactions, a clever mirroring device that manipulates the viewer’s expectation of seeing a linear narrative arc normally presented on a stage. This in turn throws the viewer into a state of bewilderment similar to that of the characters that the actors are portraying.
The choice of exhibiting only screen-based or projected works was initially confounding and visually overwhelming, particularly because the relationship between video and the subject matter was not explicitly made clear by any written materials accompanying the exhibition. But after I spent some time sitting in the darkened exhibition spaces, Lewallen’s thinking became more apparent. Fault Lines offered poignant commentary on the connection between the seeming disintegration of healthy (although idealized) family dynamics and contemporary society’s obsession with a growing self-voyeurism that is mediated by television, movie, and computer screens. The choice of including only video art initially seemed to severely limit the exhibition’s scope, but as each successive artwork played on its featured screen, the connection between failing family dynamics and the rise of screen-based culture became remarkably clear. The screen, in its many forms, is the medium through which many people experience depictions (accurate or inaccurate) of cultural groups that differ from or are the same as their own. It has become the proverbial hearth around which families gather to watch the news and for entertainment, and often to watch other families—scripted groups—interact and act out idealized family units. It was a dead-on choice to feature works in which the complexities of contemporary family dynamics play out across a variety of flat surfaces, as contemporary family life continues to be shaped by entertainment and media culture.
A. Will Brown: What are some of the key differences for you between a group show and a solo show?
Constance Lewallen: The majority of shows that I have curated have been monographic. I find it very rewarding to do extensive research and to delve deeply into an artist’s work. With a group show, it’s an entirely different experience. State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970—that I co-curated with Karen Moss and which is still touring the country—included over 60 artists and about 150 artworks. Needless to say, working on this scale posed many challenges but also was exhilarating in that it allowed us to explore new connections among artists and artworks. However, sometimes I felt like I was only skimming the surface of a given artist’s work.
AWB: Can you briefly describe the exhibition? Who are the artists; what kind of work is in the show?
CL: The artists in this exhibition look deeply into problems besetting the contemporary family. British artist Richard Billingham’s classically dysfunctional family is the subject of Fishtank (1998), while the families in Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988) and Valérie Mréjen’s Pork and Milk (2004) are ruptured by war and religion, respectively. The Russian collective Chto Delat exposes clashing cultural expectations in A Border Musical (2013), and violence and emotional distress characterize Keren Cytter’s Untitled (2009) and Ryan Trecartin’s Kitchen Girl (2001). Two evening screenings continue the theme: Continuity (2012) by Berlin-based artist Omer Fast deals with the psychological ravages of war in a family context, while French artist Sophie Calle and Gregory Shepherd recount a failed attempt at a lasting relationship in Double-Blind (1992).
AWB: What are some exhibitions and artworks that have changed how you think about art and exhibitions?
CL: Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form, 1969, Kunstmuseum, Bern (although I did not see it); Rolywholyover: A Circus, LA MOCA, 1993; Europe in the Seventies: Aspects of Recent Art, Art Institute of Chicago, 1978; A Brief History of Invisible Art, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2006; Space as Support, Berkeley Art Museum, UC Berkeley, 1979.
AWB: How do you envision your role as an independent curator to be different than your position at the BAM/PFA?
CL: I am adjunct curator at BAM/PFA, which means I still have a connection to the museum. However, I am operating independently for the most part. As in anything, there are pluses and minuses to being independent. On the plus side, I have been much more productive not being involved in the day-to-day activities and administrative duties of a full-time staff member of the museum. I have written numerous catalogue essays; edited Exilée and Temps Morts: Selected Works by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, which was published by UC Press, 2009; written a book on David Ireland’s house, which will be published by UC Press when the house reopens; organized a major exhibition of Allen Ruppersberg’s work for the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2009; given several lectures and participated in panels, and conversations; and, of course, curated the current Kadist exhibition. On the minus side, it is difficult, if not impossible, to mount a major exhibition without institutional support. And at times I miss the experience of working closely with my Berkeley colleagues.
AWB: Tell me a bit about your relationship with Kadist and the spaces of the galleries.
CL: I have had a very satisfying relationship with Kadist. I participated in conversations with Al Ruppersberg on the subject of Al’s Café; Doug Hall, Diane Hall, and Chip Lord on The Eternal Frame; and Mike Mandel on Evidence, the book he and Larry Sultan created in 1977. Joseph del Pesco has done an outstanding job of programming and seeking out new models of presenting art. Kadist has also brought many significant international artists to the area. All in all, it has energized the local scene.
AWB: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the 24-hour exhibition model at Kadist, particularly in relation to the event and one-night programming they are known for?
CL: I am not sure how I feel yet. A lot of work goes into any exhibition, and this model guarantees that the audience will be limited.
AWB: What do you want this exhibition to accomplish for both yourself and your audience?
CL: I believe many of the artists in the show will be new to the Bay Area audience. In addition to introducing new art and artists, I hope the exhibition will stimulate new ideas and connections.