1.1 / Review

The Studio Sessions

By Dena Beard October 29, 2009

The studio is where the labor of art making takes its shape. Once a holy cave of cloistered study, it is now a transparent laboratory of observation as well as artistic experimentation.

Accessing the professional art world entails studio visits, promotional websites, and public conversations, so it is fitting that artists are politicizing their workspaces, putting their labor on display and reimagining the sites for critical interaction. The videos by Kevin Atherton, General Idea, Christian Jankowski, Mads Lynnerup, and Joe Sola in SFMOMA’s exhbition “The Studio Sessions” were beautifully flawed inversions of the artistic process, in which the studio became a crucial site of intervention and often self-reflexive critique.  The studio can be tenuous real estate, especially for a video artist. When even tiny, unheated, and remote studios are rented for a grand, it becomes less feasible to realize projects via the criterion of square footage. Video artists were some of the first to rethink the studio imperative, and as a result, their work reflects an interest in and an antipathy for the often-exclusionary tenets of artistic judgment.

Christian Jankowski. Telemistica.

Christian Jankowski. Telemistica, 1999 (still); single-channel color video projection with sound, 22 min.; Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Reenacting the press interview or public Q & A sessions that factor into careers of successful artists, Atherton’s work clearly demonstrated the level of premeditation necessitated by contemporary artwork. Twenty years after completing In Two Minds [1978], Atherton reinserted himself into his own self-interrogation, often antagonistically questioning his conceptual practice. In Two Minds—Past Version [1978/2006] is a performance in which the 55 year-old Atherton splices in his reconfigured responses to questions posed to him by his 27 year-old self, pre-recorded from the 1978 version of the piece. Staging the situation that puts the conditions that put an artwork to the test, Atherton’s 20-year project hinted at how time changes context, but also pointed out the contingency of art making standards on the shifting definition of a productive life.

This restaging illuminated how nowadays one finds the discursive armatures of art present not only at lectures and panels, but also in magazine and journals, online or otherwise, and through art blogs. Mads Lynnerup’s Presentation (2001) divulged how the artist’s mother reacted to his work vis-à-vis his website. The artist recorded her and her friend without their knowledge, and the voyeuristic inclusion of the camera allowed an audience access to the raw reactions that a formal studio visit so rarely offers. Lynnerup is an artist whose unanchored responses to situations necessarily exist outside of the studio. His website becomes the depository for his work, a portable studio that can be opened and critiqued at any moment.

Kevin Atherton. In Two Minds – Past Version

Kevin Atherton. In Two Minds – Past Version

Kevin Atherton. In Two Minds – Past Version, 1978-2006 (stills); two-channel video installation with sound, 25 min.; Courtesy the artist; © 2009 Kevin Atherton.

Christian Jankowski’s video Telemistica (1999) reflected the vulnerability of this post-studio condition. The artist asked Italian TV fortunetellers to predict his success in the upcoming Venice Biennial. His question, "What will people think of my work?” was indicative of an artist’s performance anxiety. Relinquishing the responsibility of being the sole-decision maker, Jankowski invited these psychics to mediate and mitigate the historically exclusive nature of the studio practice.

Confessions like these were at the heart of “The Studio Sessions”: public negotiations of a very private process. These artists positioned their studios as places for contemplation, conversation, and research, often towards site-specific works that were eventually created outside of the studio space. Making these confessions public, they highlight the different parameters required now of the artist’s studio than in its historical definition, compelling a more cognitive understanding of an artists’ work. As a result, “The Studio Sessions” reflected how artists have dismantled the boundaries of physical space in the same way that contemporary art continues to unravel its historical entanglement with the object.

“The Studio Sessions” was on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from July 3 through September 13, 2009.

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