Ilana Halperin: Minerals of New York
Issue 3 includes two ‘exhibition features’, introducing a further development to the relaunched magazine following Issue 2’s special insert. The intention is to respond to recent exhibitions and events, bringing them into dialogue with submitted works that respond independently to the magazine’s description. Ilana Halperin’s Minerals of New York (Blenheim Walk Gallery, Leeds, 29 March – 9 May 2019 and touring to The Hunterian, Glasgow) considers the possibility of a city’s mineral biography, an interaction between archaeology, geology and the everyday; the unravelling of a city’s narrative through time. William Mackrell’s LipSync series shown in Here is where we meet (Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna, May – 15 June 2019) explores the potential of performance to leave behind a trace of its movement, capturing the fragile process of language; the language which frames and censors our daily expression.
A tapestry of objects are woven together in Lauren de Sa Naylor’s text, through the movement of a fragmented narrative which omits people’s names, beginning with an almost empty bottle of wine and ending with empty beer glasses. Everyday objects appear in the paintings of Richard Baker, whose internal framings emphasise the absence of people and movement. The obscured windows of Eta Dahlia’s video poetry invite imaginary figures and objects to fill them with a presence, and considers translation over both language and medium. It questions how much might be communicated via a limited quantity of words and vague images. Kamila Müllerová creates a haunting dialogue between objects, cloth and light, with the occasional appearance of a figure treated as object; and sound is used to unite the images in a literal knot. Figures appear and disappear in the double narrative of Martha Stanford Campbell’s image poetry, emphasising their fragility against the contrasting sturdiness of objects, paralleled by the photographs’ stillness and the words’ movement.
Fragility of human presence is also suggested in Jean-Michel Rolland’s time-lapse, where people are noticeably absent from the construction of an urban landscape. Through its process, there is an ambiguity as to its medium: it is uncertain whether the image is painted, drawn or photographed. The play between movement and print is offered by Emily Evans’ construction of a new typeface inspired by dance. Here, motion becomes framed in the shapes of letters, an attempt to place wordless expression into print. There is a similar sense in Pierre Yves Clouin’s ‘found-drawing’, a film almost motionless like a drawing, its sound of a busy road revealing otherwise, and suggests that mundane sights or scenes might be frozen and reworked. In Kerry Baldry’s film, plastic bags are used to package stone deities, archaeological artefacts which appear to breathe with disturbing force within their containers. Such artefacts, minerals and objects are presented as framed and channelled through the endless collection of Google, an everyday means of research which invites both digression and distraction, given a narrative by Marion Menan’s hypnotic scrolling that also echoes Ilana Halperin’s museological research of geological samples.
In this issue, there is an interaction between objects and time; between the contrasting steadiness of objects and spaces as people appear and disappear within and around them. With the passing, layering and weaving of time, cities, objects and language tangle people up in their endless narratives. These narratives are a means to capture evidence of living presence, leaving behind frames that invite habitation, and the retelling of stories.
Derek Horton and Catriona McAra - Ilana Halperin: Minerals of New York
Ilana Halperin’s exhibition, Minerals of New York, curated by Dr Catriona McAra, was held at Leeds Arts University’s Blenheim Walk Gallery from 29 March to 9 May 2019, and will be touring to The Hunterian, Glasgow, later in 2019. Dr McAra is also editing a forthcoming essay collection on Halperin’s broader practice which explores the relationship between geology and everyday life.
At the exhibition opening, Ilana Halperin held a public conversation with Lisa Le Feuvre, Executive Director of the Holt/Smithson Foundation. Reflecting on that conversation, and on their own responses to Halperin’s exhibition, Catriona McAra and Derek Horton entered into the email exchange that follows, in somewhat edited form, here.
DH: Thinking about Ilana Halperin’s Minerals of New York, I’m reminded of something that, in a very different context, Gil Scott-Heron said: “The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things and see that there might be another way to look at it that you have not been shown.” That was the effect of this exhibition for me—a startling recognition that it’s possible to see and think of the city in geological terms and that, once that connection is made, a whole set of other connections open up, connections described by Halperin in her characteristically poetic way here: “A sparkling arterial system connects one island to another...A garnet from Scotland is much the same as a New York garnet, and my bones are the same as yours...We are humans, we are bone and muscle and brains and blood, but the iron in the subway garnet is the same iron that is in my body, and the marble floor of the Metropolitan is as carbonate as my bones.” The histories revealed by the archaeological layers of cities are familiar to most of us, but the deeper time embodied in their geological layers confronts us with the potential for a more profound and complex philosophical engagement with the relationship between our bodies, our city and our planet.
CM: I like your opening gambit. For me the "thinking otherwise" occurs in the distinctly subterranean domain of the urban biography Halperin takes us on. Yes, New York's streets are "paved with mica" in a glittering and democratic way, but I am enthralled by the idea that a grapefruit sized treasure could be found beneath the grimy underbelly of a city––literally underneath the sewers. And this is not just any city she is excavating––this is Manhattan, the ubiquitous modernist grid. Halperin offers different dimensions to the known shape of this famous city. I wonder, does it become corporeal through her retelling? All veins, embolisms and kidney stones… I am reminded of Amelia Jones' interrogation of Alfred Barr's map of Modernist movements from 1936––she calls it "irrational modernism" and rethinks New York based avant-garde practice through notions of plumbing and transgressive flow. The psychoanalytic has to be dealt with here - the flushing of waste as a form of disavowal, not to mention psychic blockages! Forgive me, when Halperin's work is so elegant! But I am intrigued by the idea that the metaphorical excavation in Halperin's work cuts into such surface art histories (for example, Barr's one way system) to locate something more multi-dimensional that was wedged beneath all this time. The unknown becoming knowable…
DH: I’m intrigued by the subversive relationship you identify between the city and what lies beneath. The order of Manhattan’s streets in their modernist grid and its architectural archetype of capitalist power structures is designed to epitomise permanence—even as it is constantly physically redeveloped and rebuilt, its underlying ideology is reinforced in what Walter Benjamin called “the eternal recurrence of the same”. That such stability might be illusory and “irrational”, as Amelia Jones has it, becomes apparent in an exploration of the grimy underbelly you describe and in the direct connections that Halperin makes between the mineral composition of the earth and our bodies. I like your extension of the unsettling of the ground beneath our feet to the disruption of the teleological flow of modernist art historical narratives. And I sense in your invoking psychoanalytic metaphors and bodily understandings that you are bringing, interestingly, your particular preoccupations with Surrealism to bear on your reading of this work. The (under)belly is rumbling! The best art confronts us with contradictions; it shoves one way of looking and thinking about the world uncomfortably up against another. In this body of work by Halperin there is a ‘cool’ aesthetic in the thoroughly researched and elegantly presented artefacts, but underlying this, rubbing against the grain, is something much messier and, as you say, corporeal—the untidy and unpredictable chains of causes and effects binding humanity to its environment. What started as a journey of investigation into pure matter develops into an exploration of hidden human depths, echoed metaphorically in the discovery of glittering treasures in the effluent of Manhattan’s sewers.
CM: There seem to be two mutually reinforcing threads to our conversation––one around material origins and another around the archaeology of modernism.
DH: Indeed, as well as getting absorbed by the philosophical implications of Halperin’s understanding of the city through her geological and anthropological research, it’s important to engage with her material process of production. I think it’s interesting that she has chosen to document her mineral research through drawing. It’s a method that ties the artworks to their geological origins in two ways. Firstly, drawing is a time-based activity involving intense looking and the accumulative process of making linear and textural marks, an alternating action of hand and eye. It can be done quickly, in the form of a rapid sketch, but these drawings of Halperin clearly are intensely worked over an extended period. The human timescale of the process of drawing the minerals is connected with the unimaginable deep time over which they have been formed. Secondly, because these are pencil drawings, their material is intrinsically related to their subjects; graphite is a mineral formed in exactly the same way as all the other minerals it is used to depict.
CM: Moreover, the mineral origins of the screens on which these discussions might be read, and the keyboards on which they might be transcribed, possibly provide further room for reflexive pause. Jussi Parikka has written about this in A Geology of Media (2015).
DH: Regarding material origins, and the process and materiality of Halperin’s drawings, I’m indebted to your academic colleague Garry Barker for prompting me to think further about this. In his blog about drawing, he recently wrote about drawing as a particular type of material transformation, suggesting that we might, “think of drawing as a temporary space for a meditation on the movement between organic and inorganic matter. Graphite, (it used to be called plumbago because it looked so much like lead), is a crystalline allotrope of carbon, an element that because of its high valency of 4, is very good at making connections with other elements, one result of which is that in science fiction we are often referred to as 'carbon based life forms'. Graphite is formed as veins within metamorphic rocks, and these veins are the result of the metamorphism of organic material in limestone deposits. I.e. graphite is a material made from a stone that is in turn made from organic materials...The slow time of a rock, if speeded up to the time awareness of a human, reveals it's complex entanglement into organic life.” It seem to me that Garry has summed up here something that is fundamental to Halperin’s drawings in Minerals of New York and the complex inter-relationship of her scientific interests, her philosophical concerns with time, nature and culture, and her material art-making process.
CM: As you say, her material processes are necessarily self-reflexive, just as her pseudo-museological presentation reflects on, firstly, the art historical readymade––a New York invention?––and, secondly, readymade curatorial strategies themselves. The American Museum of Natural History is located right at the heart of her endeavours, and her garnet/mica specimen is a mise-en-abyme (centre within centre) in this respect. I am, of course, also fascinated by the labour intensity of the 18 drawings and their twinned data of location and colour palette. It is a very wise practice, a deeply personal and highly narrativised one.
DH: The deeply personal narrative that you identify in Halperin’s practice opens itself, as meaningful art always does, to alternative narratives generated in the speculative conversations it provokes. We each bring our own intensely personal narratives to the work, and it is I guess inevitable that these will be determined by our individual experiences of the world which are rooted in both common humanity and bodily difference.
CM: Yes, this is apposite because, to reiterate, there are at least two intersecting conceptual and material threads within Halperin’s exhibition, the personal and the mineralogical, the urban and the organic. The process of discussing Halperin’s practice reveals how stuff matters, and reciprocally how narratives themselves metaphorically comprise such matters.
Barker, Garry. Drawing as material thinking, Fine Art Drawing Blog, February 2018. http://fineartdrawinglca.blogspot.com/2018/02/drawing-as-material-thinking.html
There is also a review by Barker of Halperin’s Minerals of New York on the same blog (April 2019), at http://fineartdrawinglca.blogspot.com/2019/04/ilana-halperin-minerals-of-new-york.html
Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Jones, Amelia. Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004.
Parikka, Jussi. A Geology of Media. London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Scott-Heron, Gil & Jackson, Brian. A Talk: Bluesology / Black History / Jaws / The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. https://genius.com/Gil-scott-heron-and-brian-jackson-a-talk-bluesology-black-history-jaws-the-revolution-will-not-be-televised-live-lyrics
Velvick, Lauren. 'Review: Minerals of New York,' Corridor8, May 2019. https://corridor8.co.uk/article/ilana-halperin-minerals-of-new-york/
Photo credit: © Jules Lister
Gertrude Gibbons - William Mackrell: LipSync series in Here is where we meet
When Mary Shelley referred to Frankenstein as her “hideous progeny”, it was as though the book itself was a monster. Pieced together from dead fragments, the monster has yellow skin and black lips. These two colours are constantly repeated, and the black lips provide the starkest feature and most striking contrast with his stretched yellow skin. As a reanimated corpse, the expectation would be for bloodlessly pale lips; instead, its “straight black lips” suggest the blood flowing beneath its parchment-like skin is black. As such, the monster might indeed represent the potential life of the text, his blood black like flowing ink, his mouth like the letters on the page, waiting to speak from behind their surface to the reader.
William Mackrell, pressing painted lips to paper in his LipSync series, provokes a consideration of the vulnerability of the spoken word and potential life of the printed word. Words, having left the speaker’s lips, quickly disappear; Mackrell challenges this fragility by immediately printing mouth to page. Three recent works from this series are shown in Here is where we meet (2 May - 15 June 2019), alongside other works by the artist.
Entering the ShowRoom at Galerie Krinzinger, the spectator is faced with two converging red arcs framed in white, At first blush (2019). From a distance, it appears like two waterfalls throwing red drops from top left and right, meeting in the centre of the work. The flowing red does not meet violently, but delicately, fading as it falls. Like a paintbrush losing paint as it travels, forgetting, in its purpose, to apply more. The spectator, stepping closer, identifies these marks as mouths. Coming from two directions, the title might suggest these are two mouths vulnerably searching each other for a wordless expression of emotion; yet the symmetry reveals these as one mouth in search of unity, a place where expression and emotion are perfectly equated. Framed in white and displayed on a white wall, the implication is of a barely visible internal battle; it is a fight between inward and outward expression. Mackrell describes these as “primal marks notating private thoughts” which “translate a universal sense of desire”. Their “primal” nature avoids limitations of developed language; rather than the hand translating thoughts and feelings into written expression, these marks attempt to notate and communicate with immediacy. Fading in this search, it is as though with each reiteration of feeling, the voice gets quieter, the makeup thinner, and the raw and real flesh is left exposed. But the trace this uncovered flesh makes is inevitably invisible; only the painted mouth leaves a visible trace, pointing towards the invisible and absent real mouth. There is pain experienced in these works, and in the production of them; the artist’s painted lips are chapped, skin bruised and bloodied by the process.
Another duality is displayed in A rush to the head (2018), with red diagonal marks starting from opposite corners and fading in the middle. These slanted streaks are more blurred and less articulated than At first blush; it seems a confusion of communication, given and taken, a simultaneous pull backwards and forwards. As red lipstick, there are connotations of overtly painted or masked faces, made-up for an appearance, again gesturing at outward expression. There is a suggestion of falseness; but, speaking directly to the paper surface, the artist as actor performs, and is exposed, unveiled, in the process. He signs the work with his made-up mouth, hinting at the unpainted mouth now absent. Does the artist wear a mask while making work? Who speaks to the spectator as they stare at the work? And who speaks to the work, gives it movement, animation?
Root of trust, 2019, Lipstick on Ultra black archival card, aluminium shelves, 410cm x 295cm (229 individual cards of 21cm x 15cm)
Earlier works in this series show black lipstick, commonly associated with gothic trends, printed on white paper (e.g. Lullaby (2013)). These seem reminiscent of Frankenstein’s proposal that the words of the page are like black lips, with awaited potential of voice; that ink and blood share a strange resemblance. In Root of trust (2019), shown for the first time in this exhibition, this relationship between black and white is negated, with white lipstick on black archival cataloguing cards. Here, the white (usually the background) speaks to the black (usually the foregrounded communication). In this work, the artist mouths a NSA document leaked from files released by former CIA agent Edward Snowden in 2013 prompting, as Mackrell explains, a consideration as to the “extent of contemporary global surveillance by U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies and their operational techniques to extort private information from foreign governments”. Like the red works, this plays with a duality of communication, private and public; it considers the idea of the “universal” in a different way to the emotive red. Broken down word by word, including punctuation and indentations, the fragmented document gestures towards the fragility of communication; the constant potential for error and misinterpretation. The smudged mouths capture the movement of the spoken word; they capture the performance which made them, framed instantaneously by the paper, frozen traces of sound. There is a question of censorship, of how recorded words do come to be framed and presented, highlighted by works beside those of the LipSync ones which show faded, vague figures, with patches of black providing a sharp contrast, as though paint censors the body.
Given the gallery’s history as the first platform for the Viennese Actionists, it is an effective site to consider performance’s potential and the fragility of interaction; and whether the movement of performance and communication in action might be encapsulated to wait in stillness.
Emily Evans - Typeface
These posters are part of a larger project involving the design of a typeface inspired by the movement of two people dancing and the connections this forms. The letter E was the starting point, based on a photograph of the dancers Alvin Ailey and Carmen de Lavallade. There is no symmetry in the typeface and the lines are not slick. Imperfections create the appearance of being hand-cut and some of the letters have features abstracted from the ways dancing hands and feet create angles and form. The design of the typeface has led Evans to explore how people describe their feelings about the intangible experience of dance. From such conversations she has drawn quotes that have been designed as posters intended to be installed at venues and events celebrating dance.
Jean-Michel Rolland - La Roue
A time-lapse constructed from 160 digitally manipulated photographic snapshots taken over ten days.
Lauren de Sa Naylor - BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Urban town somewhere north probably Leeds or somewhere I (think I) know. The house is terraced and built of red brick, there is scaffolding around its anterior side, upstanding in the back yard. I am in and out and so are _ & _, who is a friend of _’s from the southern place they both lived. In the period I was alone before I came to be with them, I was writing and drinking red wine. This place is outdoors and _, who stormed off on Wednesday, is present, carrying out building/construction labour. I am well pleased with my work when I arrive there but distressed by the amount of wine I have drunk; I hold up the bottle to the light: less that a glass remains; I should be drunk. They are preparing pumpkin for a meal; pumpkin slices are fanned out on a decorative china plate on the wooded kitchen table. I tell them the story of the flight to Texas that didn’t take off. I was inside the plane with approximately 60 other passengers, the flight had been delayed, all was calm in spite my fear of flying.
The plane taxis along a rural lane, miraculously. A colour/texture scheme: muted autumnal tones of ash, olive green, sepia, burnt sienna; grasses short and long in varying shades of ochre; burnished, mostly rough textures some entwined and spiked others more interwoven and suddenly branch-like. Clods of caked soil underfoot. The hazy skies’ barely blue and white/grey tonally interceding. A slight chill in the air that lands mostly on the cheeks, ungloved hands pressed deep in pockets and brows down. Whips of hair poke out of wooden hats on dog walks out of the plateau, where farmland abounds, up up into the moorland above where no plane can or will ever taxi. The engine falls short of peak pitch and maintains a steadily low hum as it takes normal angles with grace, swerving 90 degrees left, delimiting an oblong circumference. Sequentially are erected bright white plastic-coated (like ubiquitous white uPVC window frames) poles or staffs in the borders of the oblong grass-patches of ochre, with which the plane’s wings inevitably make contact. What happens next happens directly to the guts through body membranes, emotion being processed in that second, visceral brain. The poles flip the plane in slow motion, slow enough to proceed into the thought that positions one in the moment, slow enough to be conscionable as a choreography of weighty, occupied space, fortified, inflexible, a chitinous shell encasing soft innards, bodies like intestinal matter, transparent membranes, elastic sacks waiting to be punctured, picked apart, waters broken. The plane ricochets, broken down into one angle to another, splicing the narrow pathway, speeding up as it goes, its weight thrown against opposing poles that both contain and rebound this touching/mounting/pressing into of exoskeletal matter with matter, dentinouscarapacesnot cushioning these accelerating blows but instead bending the poles themselves, which flex backwards, and like the bow of an arrow shoot the plane out again into the next pole, opposite and ancillary, and so on. Eventually, by some intervention, the occupants are evacuated.
So how I got there is uncertain, I report. But eventually I did make a flight, eyes’ closed tight at take-off so I can pretend I am somewhere else, the mere thought of it producing such extreme bodily affects in me. The whole process of carriage, security checks and mass ushering in and out of this space and that, all looked over by police and pilots and cabin crew, are their perfumed masks supposed to reduce anxiety? At the table we don’t eat we sort of survey one another, three pairs of eyes independently rolling hither and thither in service to a catalogue of whims and desires of three subjectivities on which they attach. Surreptitious eyes and suspicious eyes and curious eyes. I don’t know the third person, I have only joined the crew that follows her on social media, and of course they are radically different irl than the image or mediated personae I have witnessed online or in her writing/criticism. Having doubted we would get along I am moved deeply by her warmth, a realisation that speaks more to my own capacity for coldness than to any connection between us.
D is holding the slim silver mobile phone in her fingertips in a gloating manner having pursued and obtained the very object of her desire I have most strenuously denied her at 9 years old. The phone has been stolen from a mother she knows well, who has taken my daughter under her wing, who has a daughter of 9 years also and who is older [wiser?] I. In my hometown/the town that made the early version of me, I go to the shop where this woman works to return the stolen phone to be met by an attitude of distracted ambivalence, the whole drama (she shows her suspicion) being a figment of my imagination, literally fling her nails at the checkout, daughter by her side, all straightened hair and impeccably made-up, a child in drag as a cis woman/a child whose every desire is met by this permissive mother, unlike me, an ethically bound reluctant occupant of the figure, ‘mother,’ which in turn becomes more loaded and impenetrable to this post-natal subjectivity, having only love and the ongoing work of self-healing to give: a burden, a massive obstruction to the proper development of a child in capitalism? Who made these rules and to whom, again, [the Jungian angle digesting the Freudian one through which this subjectivity was wrought in the bodily site of cognition]. The motion of bodies is frenzied, I have the psychic weight and actual personages of my entire extant family moving as one body in my wake. Me raging and it/them displaying wide-eyed/concerned shock and horror, the only possible response to this animal that brays at my borders, this desire that dare not speak-up, that is pushed to the margins and seeps out of pores congealed and mystified. Dread rings out in the empty streets of mid-century architecture in this post-industrial retail waste-land.
Me and _ work in a bar. Also we are live-in lovers soon to be married. _ serves customers while I sweep the floor/collect glasses/clear the decks anxiously because of awkward triangulations circulating around this place of which I am bodily aware, and a litany of strained dynamics that thread through this dream like the foul intestinal vein in a crustacean. The table of men my age by the fireplace is sombre and I wish I didn't know the backstory of MJ. The men he drinks with are not his band and I feel hollowed out by this new reality of modern sex and love that has revealed itself to me, via the abuse narrative of a stranger played out online, attaching to my reality of uncertainty, grief and eroticism. I can’t cleave to it somehow, can’t position myself though I know I should (be able to).
Out front to the pavement exterior I go to collect empty beer glasses; I am intercepted by a man who wishes to question me on the presence of MJ, (is he hiding out? Nobody has seen him since the eruption). I am extremely casual with the man, who entwines the drama I know of with an ideation of expanded or potential abuse: aren’t those your children out there/how safe are they? I know my daughter and her friend are in the vicinity and somehow the trials of earlier have severed from the narrative (on waking I will reattach these disparate though threaded affects into a tapestry in which power and control are called to account in this psyche). The girls play out back in the yard that resembles that of scenario 1. The journalist’s name is Tim; I have watched and enjoyed his documentaries. His identity comes to light right at the moment of articulating my antipathy towards the public trial of MJ, complicated by the fact that I have no clue as to his guilt or innocence. Tim’s thinly veiled suggestion is that the girl-children are under threat from a specific masculine presence, of which there is not a shred of suspicion. The malignant contagion of an accusation thus spreads across borders into unrelated imaginary monstrosities. As in the car crash, providing vicarious enjoyment. ‘Decentralised hive mind’ primed ‘nebulous ominous presence’.
Richard Baker - Four Paintings
Richard Baker’s paintings are formally structured in frameworks of mostly parallel lines and right angles that make multiple rectilinear subdivisions of the overall rectangle of the painting. These straight lines separate the paintings objectively from the outside world, even as they simultaneously define the real world subjects the paintings depict. Often these are objects of desire, design icons of modernist furniture for example. But mundane objects have as much compositional value, and resonances of modernist order and minimal form are just as likely to be found in the cheap generic furniture of an empty office or the shelves of an empty fridge.
Dining Table with Mirror, 2019, oil on calico, 46cm x 60cm
Unit 2, 2019, oil on calico, 46cm x 60cm
Fridge, 2017, oil on calico over panel, 20cm x 15cm
Cupboard 2, 2017, oil on calico over panel, 31cm x 24cm
Kamila Müllerová - SELFSHE
Eta Dahlia - Song (Сонг)
The video poem Song (Сонг) is part of an album of thirteen compositions called Tsvetochki, which combine spoken word, images, colours and music. The name “Tsvetochki”, meaning “Little Flowers” in Russian, alludes to the poems’ size, sometimes only three words long.
Martha Stanford Campbell - Distance and Duplicity
grandmother always said distance was
more than a measurement
it was the space between thinking and doing
the emptiness between solitude and companionship
the span between happiness and despair
the depth between memory and time
grandfather had a mistress
he announced it through woofers and tweeters anchored to trees and outbuildings around the farm
the north wind carried it around the neighbourhood
shadows from the sun exposed the excruciating reality
he left without a goodbye
Kerry Baldry - Deities
Marion Menan - Search
This is an extract of a longer film project Search, formed from video-screenshots of searches on Google Images. The only evidence of the researcher, or narrator of the research journey, is the movement and scroll.