Artist Talk: Hardly More Than Ever
March 07, 2004
Domestic Arrangements. This phrase sums up the work of Chicago-based photographer Laura Letinsky whether it is one of her highly intimate portraits of heterosexual couples or a delicately composed still life. Letinsky constructs allegories of love, and labors lost, out of personal settings, from a tender exchange between lovers in their bedroom, to reflections upon the fleeting nature of life prompted by a vanitas composed from an abandoned place setting at the dining room table. Hers is an elegant voyeurism, whose visual references range from the school of candid photography dating back to Walker Evans to a handling of light and atmosphere associated with pre-Raphaelite paintings. The photographs are formally stunning, deriving their intelligence from a sensitivity for moments when questions of beauty, representation, and modern love avail themselves to being seen.
Artist Talk: Of Poems and Prophesies
January 12 – February 23, 2003
January 12, 2003
The Renaissance Society is pleased to present the work of New Delhi-based filmmaker Amar Kanwar. A particularly timely exhibition, in light of resurgent nationalism in the region, Kanwar establishes that Kashmir is merely the tip of an iceberg, the brittle and crystalline precipitate of a border anxiety that runs throughout India.
Kanwar has established a distinctive voice, having directed and produced over 40 films, and through them studying the economies and psychologies of power as they direct the evolution of health, ecology, labor, development, politics, philosophy, art and law. For Kanwar, questions of national and personal identity do not revolve around an essentialized Indianess or Hinduness ground in geography, religion or language. Instead, they are synonymous with tensions, now historic, generated from differences between groups. The exhibition will feature three of Kanwar’s films which are a mixture of documentary, poetic travelog, and visual essay.
Narrated by Kanwar, A Season Outside (1998) uses India’s northern borders as the inspiration for a personal and poignant meditation on the source of violence. Ritual military patrols and ubiquitous coils of barbed wire mark a cease fire zone where “only the butterflies and birds are free to cross or rest on the wire as they do not disturb the circuit.” A Night of Prophecy (2002) was filmed in several diverse regions of India (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Kashmir) and features music and poetry of tragedy and protest performed by regional artists. The sources of anger and sorrow vary from inescapable, caste-bound poverty to the loss of loved ones as a result of tribal and religious fighting. The footage is a stunning glimpse of India’s diverse ethnic groups and topography from the rural mountains to its crowded urban centers. Produced specifically for this exhibition, The 30th of January (2003) is a portrait of Birla House, the site of Gandhi’s assassination which will have occurred 55 years ago to the day for which this work is titled. Situated in downtown Delhi, Birla House has become a gallery and shrine attracting hundreds of visitors daily. This short silent film is an homage to Gandhi as well as the visitors who embody the spirit of his legacy. Against the backdrop of a surge in militant, Hindu nationalism, Kanwar’s work is particularly telling. India’s current president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was a key figure in the development of the country’s nuclear weapons program, the start of which was taken to signal the failure of pacifism. This historical turn of events, from non-violence to nuclear armament does indeed suggest a circle. Then again, when Gandhi said turn the other cheek, he didn’t specify to the left or right.
November 14, 1999
November 14 – December 24, 1999
This is the newest museum debut for this young South African artist whose work explores the poetic aspects of expatriation. Langa, currently a resident of Amsterdam, is a restless scavenger who uses a wide range of materials and media - string, photography, drawings, collage, video, painting - all on a needed-as-found basis. His rather bumble aesthetic is at the service of an abrupt and broken wit fueled by displacement turned desire. Incorporating maps and appropriated text, Langa's drawings are charged with the sentimental voice of the émigré caught between new places and nostalgia, the familiar and the absurd. For his exhibition at The Society, Langa will draw upon Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca to create a palimpsest-like installation juxtaposing camp and Classical Civilization.
Langa's exhibition was organized in collaboration with The Centre d'Art Contemporain, Genova. It is also in collaboration with the School of The Art Institute's Visiting Artist Program, which is sponsoring Cry of My Birth, residencies and related exhibitions of live contemporary African artists.
Darren Almond Artist Talk
May 9, 1999
Summing up the work of British artist Darren Almond is difficult. He is a sculptor and a video artist whose work by all outward appearance, even when grouped by medium, remains incredibly disparate. What distinguishes it as a body of work, however, is his fascination with time. Time, whether addressed directly or indirectly, is the content of artists far too many to mention. As for Almond's investigation into the subject, his work neither aspires toward the purity of mathematics nor the poetry of metaphysics. Instead, Almond aspires toward the existentialist mechanics of man-made time. It hardly matters if time is systematically differentiated into seconds, minutes, hours and days, or subjectively undifferentiated as in the process of waiting or forgetting.
The subject of Almond's work -as monumental as the holocaust or as ineffable as boredom- all fall before the clock's indifference whether the clock is as small as one found on a hotel nightstand or as large as the one we call history. According to Almond's work, time is the ultimate institution whether it is captured through a video portrait of an inverted, floating train as in Schwebebahn (1995) or the sculptural works using digital clocks and ceiling fans or his real-time, live-feed videos - A Real Time Piece (1996) set in his vacated studio and H.M.P. Pentonville (1997) set in an empty prison cell.
For his exhibition at the Society, Almond will present a group of videos and sculptures from the past few years and will feature the debut of Traction, a new video work starring the artist's parents. The title is a play on the two meanings of the word -to grip and to suspend one's limbs following an injury. The video features an interview the artist conducted with his father while his mother listens in a separate setting. Son asks father: When was the first time you saw your own blood? This frightening question begins a recounting of Almond Senior's injuries acquired through work and play, reflections that recall Sartre's famous statement from Being and Nothingness that the body is not so much the place of being as it is the alienated property of being. With a thick, northern England, working-class brogue, Almond Senior relives each scar on his body as the site of an event, the body becoming a kind of geography. Traction is ultimately a mixture of tender mercies and hard knocks as tales involving breaks, fractures and missing teeth are transmitted from father to son while a mother listens at times astonished and at times amused. Although Almond Senior's sounds like a hard life, Traction does little to undermine the life-as-game metaphor. The final impression is that it just happens to be one along the lines of a very harsh rugby match. After listening to Almond Senior it is not a question of whether there are winners or losers against the game-clock of life, but whether there are days when one ought to count oneself amongst the players or instead consider oneself the ball.
Shahzia Sikander Artist Talk
March 8, 1998
interviewed by Homi Bhabha, cultural critic and Professor of English at The University of Chicago.
The Renaissance Society presents the midwestern museum debut of Pakistani artist Shahzia Sikander. Trained in the art of the Indian and Persian miniature, Sikander uses traditional materials and techniques such as vegetable dyes, tea stains, burnished wasli papers, and watercolor to address issues of gender and heritage. Exploring new formats and scale, her unorthodox self portraits investigate the personal and psychological spaces between cultures. Her exhibition at the Society features a few dozen of her innovative miniatures as well as large-scale wall paintings.