Artist Talk: Zarouhie Abdalian: notes


Visit us this evening at 7pm for a talk by Daniel Bozhkov, the last UNLV Visiting Artist of 2016. Below, please find some notes for the talk we heard two weeks ago from Zarouhie Abdalian.

  • her MFA project at the California College of the Arts “initiated the trajectory of the work I’ve done since.” The school occupied a series of old Greyhound bus maintenance facilities. Itinerants living in the dilapidated shelters behind the campus were virtually ignored. With adherent window film she blanked out jagged sections of the glass, disrupting the view (Set for the Outside, 2010).
  • she was at a gallery across from the city hall in Oakland. Protests while she was there. The shooting of a black man by a white officer. She made a window piece  – sheets of mylar, vibrating behind the glass so that it looked as if the glass itself was shivering. A phenomenon “observable but somehow outside the control of the viewer.” (Flutter, 2010.)
  • she’s interested in boundary points or spaces where the audience changes. These areas are charged. Different publics meet there. This can be highlighted by the artist.
  • the 12th Istanbul Biennial. Her space was new, clean, white: a generic box. She wanted to make a work that felt undeniably present but covered up, like Turkey’s past (Having Been Held Under the Sway, 2011). Behind the walls she set up a noise that was too low for human hearing. Bodies could feel it though. The room resounded. The space addressed the bodies directly. She set up a plumb-bob. It was unable to perform its function (measuring vertical true) because of the conditions of the space.
  •  Brutalist Berkeley Art Museum. A bell in a vacuum chamber. The vacuum is a stand-in for the museum vitrine in that it compromises the object inside.
  • a black vitrine making a tapping noise.
  • “The work I do is sometimes influenced by museums and conversations with museums.”
  • Maryanne Amacher. Unrecognized, look her up. Alvin Lucier.
  • Oscar Grant Plaza, a square in Oakland, a centerpoint for meetings. (Occasional Music, 2013.) She placed bells on the rooftops of buildings that did not represent “a specific authority” such as a church or city hall. At certain times they would ring. The piece doesn’t necessarily have to be understood as an artwork, she thought, but an art audience came deliberately to listen. They “became really important to the work because they were these obvious noticers.” Different kinds of people encountered the bells together. “If you’re there then you’re really implicated.”
  • Fluxus. Prose scores. She wrote scores of her own. Each score is written towards an unspecified ‘you’ and a public group ‘you.’
  • Amplified Audience (2008) by Philip Corner. She curates programs of music.
  • the nature of the signal she creates concerns her less than the response of the space.
  • a critique: Biennals are meant to say something about the place where they occur but most of them fail because they’re put together by outsiders who are curating “the hot new artists.”
  • an African-American museum in New Orleans; the buildings very old, shut, sealed. It was the oldest black neighborhood in the country. How do you draw viewers through a site that has no artwork or events?  Mirrors glinting on the sides of buildings. A recorded voice reciting a list of objects that have been used on this site. The list is long and exhaustive.
  • she cut up a security gate “to break up the space but not to prevent passage.” (Close of Winter, 2016).
  • “Many of the site-specific pieces I don’t repeat.” To recreate the mylar piece anywhere else would be “a gimmick.”

Visiting Artist Talk: Hannah Greely: notes.


Tonight at 7pm we will be hosting Zarouhie Abdalian in the second-last Visiting Artist lecture of the year. Next week we take a break for Thanksgiving.  On 12/1 it’s Daniel Bozhkov. Below: some notes from last week with Hannah Greely.

  • “I’m interested in the way we have to whittle down our experience so that other people can comprehend.”
  • originally she worked in 2-D. The muffins (The Secret Life of a Muffin, 1998) were the first sculptures she made. The muffins open and close on hinges. This was the beginning of an idea she has revisited many times in her work – dissection, the “inner life” of objects; comprehension.
  • one of her drawings became the sculpture Rascal, 1999, a dog with two tiny people on its back. The dog has about twelve legs. One of the people in the drawing says, I think that dog has too many legs. The other disagrees, saying that the legs seem fine to them. Greely refers to this as an example of people forming opinions about the nature of things without understanding them.
  • Rascal is unstable, but problems can be fixed by smudging the material (plastalina modeling clay) back into place with a finger. In this sense the sculpture is still a drawing, a sketch that can be reworked. “It’s a drawing, it’s not supposed to stay.”
  • she made Weaver, 2000, during her junior year. The story: human culture has de-evolved and our relics are left behind, e.g., helmets. A bird comes across a helmet and squats there as if it’s an egg. Consider the alternative lives of things.
  • Assembly, 2001, is made of Elmer’s glue and newspaper. The surface has yellowed. It appears fragile, but is still strangely strong. She wondered: would bugs come to live on it after the devolution of humans? After she had added models of bugs to the newspaper surface she realized that people who wanted to examine the bugs closely would find themselves reading the news as well. A contrast.
  • some of her pieces come directly from the drawings, quickly. Others germinate over time. Once she became interested in the way her jacket was hanging on a chair. She stopped wearing the jacket, left it on the chair, and observed it. She was reading Eisenstein’s writings about montage. Putting unexpected things together to create a psychological charge. The jacket and a hooded child. Silencer, 2002.
  • she noticed that public sculptures from the ’40s and ’50s were covered “in bird crap.” The object had found an additional purpose. She made a statue that would deliberately accommodate birds.
  • created a tortoise carrying a reed boat on its back for the top of a rock in the High Desert near Joshua Tree (Scout, 2008). Taught herself basket-weaving to make the boat. Visitors would spontaneously leave objects inside: coins, flowers, and so on. Eventually someone knocked the tortoise’s head off.
  • she works out of garages and dining rooms, doesn’t really have a studio.
  • the mirror is set low in Dual, 2009, so that viewers can’t see themselves. This mirror seems to be giving the people on one side a window through to the other side of the piece — as if the nature of the object is being fully revealed. This an illusion.
  • how long did it take us to pass from the sight of bright dots in the sky to the word “starfish”? (Tracer, 2010).
  • she painted a landscape on a rectangle of cloth and rolled it up – the physical space of the landscape and the time it takes to cross it folded into one another: “trying to include experience in sculpture.”
  • feeling stymied, not knowing what to make, “I wanted something to tell me what to do,” so she tie-dyed a canvas, pinned it to the wall, and looked for a picture in the folds. (Jacob Wrestling the Angel, 2013.) Made small sculptures with biblical themes because the stories were already there for her. “I didn’t want to be responsible for the subject of my work.” Pointed out that Western artists in past centuries had a pool of ideas that they could always rely on: the Crucifixion, David and Goliath, etc.
  • made drawings instead of sculptures – felt “really free.” “It’s easier to find the freedom inside the rectangle.” The pictorial plane is a little closer to mindspace. Emil Nolde came to her in a dream.  “I felt I needed to make some changes in my work.” She made drawings with a Nolde palette.
  • currently she makes sculptures from clichéd pictorial ideas – e.g., a seascape.
  • she paints concrete over cardboard, enjoying the way it flops, buckles, and “looks more animated.”
  • she is working in an “in-between” scale – not small, not monumental – approximately the size of furniture or “like a child,” not big enough to overwhelm you, but too large to be completely dominated. This scale is “more uncomfortable, you don’t know what to do with it.” People have asked her to make them larger.
  • there are “so many problems that had to be solved that became part of the piece, and that is the most exciting thing about making sculpture for me.”
  • “Sculpture is always kind of framed, it’s always acting as a real object, but it’s not a real object.”
  • “I tend to use cartoon imagery because it’s the most pared down.” People can understand cartoonish works without having to recognize esoteric references to certain books, theories, etc. “I don’t want ‘me’ in there.”

Edward Burtynsky talk: notes


Join us tonight at 7 o’clock for a Visiting Artist Talk with the Los Angeles sculptor and painter Hannah Greely, who generously stepped in after the original participants fell ill. Next week we’ll have the pleasure of listening to the installation artist Zarouhie Abdalian. For now, we’ll jot down some notes from last Wednesday’s evening with Edward Burtynsky, whose Oil series is, as you know, on display at the Barrick until January 14 .

  • he remembers taking nature photographs as a boy in Canada. He was about ten years old. Observing the flattening of the three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional image, he thought, It changes. 
  • growing up in Canada made him acutely aware of the natural world. So much of the nation is covered by undeveloped land – “chaotic space.”
  • nature is more intricate than a city. It has incredible detail. Somewhere in that chaos there’s a picture that should always have been a picture. A photographer looks for the place where the picture comes together. Framing is vital. Six inches either way changes things.
  • at university he began using a large format camera
  • he financed his career by opening a photo processing lab. The experience and knowledge that he gained by printing photographs professionally “hands-on” for fifteen years, was “key” to the work he was doing.
  • approaching railway lines running along the sides of steep cuttings, he consciously shot them in a non-heroic way, “flat on.” (Railcuts, 1985.)
  • in the past we have had the natural sublime. He was struck by “the industrial sublime.” The superhuman scale of a copper mine near Salt Lake City. We have created the things that dwarf us.
  • shows us a photograph of a mine in Chile. Points to something that looks invisibly tiny against the scale of the hole. Says it is a bus. So much ore was exported from this mine that each person in the room probably interacts with it at least once per day, he assumes.
  • the deep mines … we have built “inverted skyscrapers.”
  • he wouldn’t have started the Oil project if he hadn’t already tackled the scale of China. He shows us photographs of the Three Gorges Dam. It’s so large that they measured a wobble in the rotation of the earth while the Dam was filling.
  • a huge field of pump jacks in the California desert. (Oil Fields #19ab, Belridge, California, USA, 2003.) An erie landscape, he says. No people. No birdsong. The repetitious squeaking of the jacks.
  •  he had been following the Oil project for years before it took him to the SOCAR fields near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Until then he hadn’t really seen oil, he said. He had photographed tankers, pipes, machinery, but the liquid itself was always inside those things, not exposed.  It was “like blood: if you see it, something’s wrong.” Now he saw it lying in pools on the ground; now he could use the reflective qualities of the oil surface in his images.
  • he was inspired to photograph the tire pile in California (e.g., Oxford Tire Pile #9ab, Westley, California, USA, 1999) by John McPhee’s 1993 New Yorker article, Duty of Care. He contacted the author, who connected him to the owner of the pile.
  • the people dismantling obsolete oil tankers in Bangladesh were dragging the hulks ashore with winches salvaged from the ships themselves. Handheld blowtorches. They were being paid one dollar a day for an eight-hour day.
  • he has used a number of methods to lift himself into the air to take his photographs. He prefers a helicopter with the door off. Since 2010 he has been using drones. He worked with a company in Seattle to stabilize his Hasselblad in the air and beam a signal to the ground so that he could control the shot.
  • he used to use 8 x 10 film. Digital helps: you lose so many shots with film. Currently working with 1000 megapixel imagery.
  • nitrate loadings in the water systems are “the worst thing we’re doing [to the environment] right now.”


The image at the top of this post is an installation shot of Edward Burtynsky: Oil at the Marjorie Barrick Museum, taken by UNLV Photo Services / R. Marsh Stacks.


Visiting Artist: Mike Calway-Fagen; notes


This evening’s Visiting Artist talk by Aram Moshayedi and Shahryar Nashat has been rescheduled due to illness. It will take place next Thursday at 7pm, replacing Yunhee Min. Min will not be speaking. Until then, here are the notes from last week’s talk by Mike Calway-Fagen.

  • “We all share ‘the body’ in common, a site for making meaning.”
  • the skin is a barrier, an armor, a sensual direct contact point with the world
  • he shows us a picture of the following words along with photographs of rocklike fragments and a rope barrier: ‘Improvisational thresholds. Barriers. Liminality. Contingencies. Provisional empathy. Latency.’
  • he plays a clip of the British ventriloquist Nina Conti at the Royal Albert Hall. By the end of the video Conti has transferred the ‘source’ of her performance voice from a monkey puppet into her own body. Calway-Fagen says that he likes to watch the way she traces the flow of energy between human and object. “The moment when the unliving becomes the living.”
  • a picture of the characters from Spaceballs breaking the fourth wall.
  • a Saturday Night Live clip of actors breaking character and cracking up. The moment of vulnerability.
  • Teaching as an extension of studio work — a process of engagement, experience, encounter, and play.
  • a list of instructions from his class on Radical Empathy, e.g., Three minute observation of an animal followed by Three minutes being observed by an animal. In other instructions the word animal is replaced by mirror, object, and so on.
  • he shares information about Chang and Eng Bunker (1811 – 1874), famous conjoined twins. The body as sculpture and “a strange kind of sharing.” The twins’ furniture, specially adapted to their needs, constituted its own genre of uncanny sculpture.
  • Antiques Roadshow is “like object porn.”
  • comedy – Whose Line Is It Anyway? — the  serious adult becomes irreverent, silly, undignified, playful. Here adulthood is, in a sense, being ‘queered.’ (Also: skateboarders.)
  • adults rely on their eyes. Children use hands, mouth, everything.
  • kidney stones: “a geological formation that the body produces.”
  • the 2008 Canadian thriller Pontypool. People infected by a self-generated outside agent: language.
  • language. What does grapefruit juice taste like? What is ‘sour’?
  • Authors. Maggie Nelson. Rebecca Solnit.
  • Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs.
  • he quotes Bruno Latour: “Things don’t exists without being full of people.” He responds: “People don’t exist without being full of things.”
  • when we discovered a system of measuring time … this is the moment when we became cyborgs.
  • “I think what underpins much of the world is mortality and a defiance of mortality.”