Charity Coleman: Should we talk about the Whitney Biennial? Two years ago we started Write This Down TV and we talked about the Biennial.
Ariel Goldberg: Oh yeah! You went, I didn’t.
CC: There was a lot of war stuff and this year there was none.
AG: The war was not in the Biennial.
CC: No. This year’s is a toy fetish.
AG: The war is a myth.
CC: What was the first thing you saw?
AG: The 1st thing I saw was exactly what the Whitney wants. I was in the elevator and when the doors opened, the piece was in the middle of it happening and it was very spectacular- not in a sensational way- it just felt exciting. I felt a jolt like I got a positive electric shock. It was a deceiving moment because immediately the piece became less interesting. I think it was loud pop music that made it good. I got off on the 4th floor first. The performance space.
CC: That was closed when I went.
AG: That’s a bummer. It was the first time I walked into a museum with no walls, no art on the walls, just a rectangular stage. A hip hop dance song was playing and a team of dancers were doing basic moves and a schlubby mismatched group of museum visitors were watching who had haphazardly agreed to get a dance lesson. It was the Michael Clark Company. British choreographer. Sara Michelson had the space, him, then Richard Maxwell.
CC: The first thing I saw was Kai Althoff’s woven tapestry hanging with paintings and the ET baby plushy creature sculpture. That set the tone for me. Then I looked at the Moyra Davey photos, but it was the ET baby that set the tone. The Davey photos made me think of the Percy Shelley exhibit at the public library, where they have fragments of his skull.
CC: Because he was burnt in a funeral pyre. I think it was Lord Byron who took parts of Shelley’s skull and also his heart.
AG: There was a fire at his funeral?
CC: They burnt the body because it was all bloated because he drowned at sea but the heart wouldn’t burn, so Lord Byron took the heart and gave it to Mary Shelley and she kept it in a jar.
AG: Morgan library or Main?
AG: The last time I went there was a show about objects.
CC: That’s pretty specific.
AG: Maybe that’s not what it was. They had a Mac laptop in a vitrine plugged in you know with a power cord just showing a NY Times website that would refresh every so often. When you looked in you would just see the moment’s home page. They also had stuff like Emily Dickinson’s letters.
CC: I got a postcard there with a portrait of Emily Dickinson.
AG: I know someone that just got a tattoo with Emily Dickinson’s face on her arm.
CC: I think tattoos are maybe a bad idea but we shouldn’t talk about that.
AG: So, back to the Biennial…
CC: Parts of it meant making a mess and reveling in it.
AG: Forrest Bess was not a mess.
CC: I was thinking about…
AG: Becoming a pseudo hermaphrodite.
CC: Yes. Let me look at my notes. What do I have here. Do you want me to rattle off a few points and you can respond or not?
CC: I used the word fetish like three times in my notes and I don’t know what that means. Latoya Ruby Fraser was “political”.
AG: What was that—I missed it.
CC: Second floor to the left when you walked in. Written text on photographs of Braddock, Pennsylvania.
AG: Something about Levis right?
CC: This steel-mill town had fallen into total neglect and disrepair. Levis used Braddock as part of an ad campaign disguised as a humanitarian gesture. I was talking to my friend Mark So about how I hated that ad campaign that was O, Pioneers. Fake blue collar fashion. Latoya’s work addressed the exploitation in that campaign. Forrest Bess’s room was nice. It was fun looking at people’s faces while they were reading the wall text—expressions of mingled concern and fascination.
AG: That was the one time that I’ve stood captivated in front of wall text.
CC: I counted eleven people reading the wall text. Their mouths were half open and they looked worried. I couldn’t read the text because I was too busy reading their faces.
AG: Museums are so distracting. You could just watch the people.
CC: Before I went, my roommate mentioned Forrest Bess and he was like, “Yeah there were these nice paintings by this guy who cut his penis off”, and I was like…
AG: That’s so inaccurate. That’s not what happened. That’s like a bad telephone game. He had a lifelong pursuit for ecstasy.
CC: Right. And obviously when my roommate said that, I thought of Chris Burden getting shot and it’s like this thing, which it wasn’t at all.
AG: He wrote a letter to Dwight Eisenhower.
CC: What did it say?
AG: That he wanted his invention of pseudo hermaphrodite to be recognized as a national achievement. What did you think of the Dennis Cooper?
CC: I didn’t see it. They shut the whole floor down.
AG: Oh for the performance. In the Cooper piece there was this tableaux with a mannequin of a boy, it was like a stage, androgynous, the kid was white like the color not Caucasian. Icelandic looking. It was a robot that talked and at certain points the chest would pop out.
CC: The whole entire floor was shut. Albino?
AG: Kind of. It had really creepy music. I forget the name of the person who made the music. Gisèle Vienne. The text was extremely heavy handed. The tableau had drawings on the wall that looked like really messy Sol Lewitt miniature floor plans of a house some trauma happened in. Micro level repeats all over the wall. The robot would come to life, in a sad cheap budget horror film robotic voice. The thing that was speaking was this puppet that was upside on the kid’s hand. It looked like a Chucky thing.
AG: It was all this muffled cheesy evil possessed murder stuff. Will Charlie ever be the SAAAAME?
CC: Was there a turntable?
CC: There were three instances of turntables.
AG: Dawn Kasper. The person who was there, the studio person.
CC: Also, Joanna Malinowska’s video involved records… and making a concoction in a pot. There was a dog. Beuys. Art referential…
AG: I just don’t remember that. I wish I had the program. I think Dawn Kasper’s work is un-judgeable. Because you would just be judging her stuff. I felt like all her communications are scripted. Like, I’m going to the bathroom now. She says that ten times a day. I don’t know maybe she’s a camel and she never goes.
AG: Everyone’s gotta go. She has to kick people out and rope it off when she pees. You know the first thing I thought when I walked in there, in to her studio was: I didn’t know she was a dyke. I mean in The New York Times article it didn’t mention it and I was like wow one step forward for artists who are queer.
CC: In the Nick Mauss Guerlain spa reproduction there was an Andy Warhol print on the wall. Why does he have to be everywhere? Can’t we exclude him for once?
AG: I ask that question all the time. The ICA in Philadelphia included Warhol in a show called “The Queer Voice.”
CC: You can’t get away from it.
AG: Do you know they just built an Andy Warhol sculpture in Union Square?
CC: The silver one? That’s been there for a year.
AG: I thought it was unveiled last month.
CC: They should put a veil on it. Someone asked me if it was a real person—you know, like one of the buskers in silver body paint. I should stand nearby and put a hat in front of him and get coins. I’m going to set up a boom box next to him. Playing something like Michael Jackson.
CC: And I’ll collect all the money from the hat.
AG: I have notes. I ran into a sort of friend who was wearing a pin that said “Give Poetry A Try.” Also, I had to wait on line then I found out I didn’t have to wait on line. The other thing I wrote down was about the no photography sign, which was shared with a watch your step sign. That was my favorite thing that I saw at the Biennial. But now I would like to hear the story about how you were at some party and some guy was reading their poetry from an iphone, and then someone read from a kindle?
CC: Oh, a reading at someone’s house. One person read from an iphone. Then the next person read from an iPad.
AG: Oh gawd.
CC: The crazy thing is they went first while there was still some daylight, but by the time it got around to the person who read from actual paper it was dark out so they had to hold these devotional candles at awkward angles in front of their pages. It was completely dark.
AG: Didn’t they have lights?
CC: It was in a backyard.
AG: Got it.
CC: The girl at the counter at the Whitney, when she gave me my ticket, she pointed out that my student ID had a sticker that said Fall and she said I didn’t have a Spring sticker.
AG: They are so nitpicky at that museum.
CC: She gave me such grief. I just kept saying look I’m enrolled, I’m enrolled. She’s like a bouncer.
AG: What does it matter to her, it’s not like she’s on commission from how many people get in to the museum.
CC: It was exasperating.
AG: I heard they changed their free day to a pay what you wish day.
CC: At the Met you have to pay something.
AG: I usually give them a penny.
CC: I don’t think they take coins. I was thinking about Tintoretto and 16th century paintings the other day.
AG: Did you go to the Met?
AG: I want to go to the Met.
CC: I like the medieval room. I like all the suffering.
AG: Yeah you like suffering.
CC: I don’t like to suffer I like to think about suffering. I like romantic depictions of suffering.
A FEW WEEKS LATER
AG: I think the other tape player never recorded.
CC: Are we recording? Do you want to test it?
AG: I know this one works.
CC: What I wanted to ask is why do you think Moyra Davey showed us walking around in her apartment in Les Goddesses reading aloud and speaking into a tape recorder.
AG: Right, it could have been a voice over.
CC: I understand that her apartment is part of her work, or it has been in the past, the interior, still I couldn’t help but wonder why. I felt distracted, thinking about her furniture and her windows or how much her rent might be.
AG: I think she wanted to show how provisional it was; she wanted to show that she wasn’t reading from some script, but then again she was sometimes just reading from books she found on Mary Shelley. Moyra Davey could have been doing something else while she was pacing through her apartment. Maybe she wanted to show the getting of ideas of what to say?
CC: Or she was going through the portfolio of the photographs.
AG: I was thinking about the photographs–how there was nothing really in the text of the video about the photographs. There was no explaining or excuse. They sort of explained themselves by her just sorting through them. Here are these photographs I took twenty to thirty years ago. Of people. I’m assuming a lot. That’s what happens with photos.
CC: But they were tied together…
AG: I appreciated how it wasn’t discussed. Some of the photos were teenage looking girls, or couples lounging on grass, black and white fiber prints, like a band’s headshot or hairy nipples. Wait, the ones in the film were also on the walls of the gallery. I think she wanted to show that she was listening to the audio of the text in order to read it. She had headphones in. Actually, I don’t know her process.
CC: (Walking past the Rubin Museum) You been in there?
CC: You could buy a dishtowel.
AG: I also think the stakes…
CC: You could buy a dishtowel. A dishtowel.
AG: No I don’t want a dishtowel from the Rubin Museum.
AG: I thought about not liking the fake snow in the video–I think it wanted to be a very ambivalent work.
CC: The fake snow, was it not supposed to be like shredded paper falling…
AG: Oh I didn’t think of that. It’s weird some of her photographs are so…
AG: She doesn’t care about that kind of stuff. I think it was like oh I took a video of snow from my window but you cannot really see it so I’m going to make snow as a special effect. I liked how she kept the stumbles in with her reading and speaking. I think that was connected to when she showed herself walking around the apartment recording her voice.
CC: Oh I agree, and I also thought of how strained a reader can become when reading something out loud. It is really hard to listen to because you notice the concentration and how it is consuming all their energy and effort. Like their veins are popping out…
AG: I think ultimately she wanted the video to be like a book so the text was really important. It was a video of her reading a little pamphlet she wrote. It sounded though like she was reading a book-on-tape biography of Wollenstonecraft.
CC: [repeats to emphasize correct pronunciation] Wollstonecraft.
AG: Ugh we are walking so fast.
CC: I like it. This is how I walk.
AG: You’re made for New York.
CC: I moved here so I could walk this fast without impediment.
AG: It’s the type of place where you should be walking fast. But I’m sick of walking fast.
CC: I find it invigorating.
AG: It’s because you just moved here.
CC: No, I always walked fast. When I lived in LA I would walk fast.
AG: Did you feel at home walking in LA?
CC: No! Look at the tower.
AG: Is that the new World Trade Center?
AG: I’m glad that Ricky’s had batteries. That’s the thing about New York. The minute we realized we needed batteries there was a store right in front of us.
CC: And we got ‘em.
AG: It wasn’t even a battery store.
CC: And right behind us was a Duane Reade, which I’m glad we didn’t go in to.
AG: No, that would have been depressing.
CC: It was good to start with Harry Dodge and end with Moyra Davey.
AG: They’re both wanting to tell stories.
CC: There was a lot of storytelling and a lot of text.
AG: A lot of text.
CC: Language is kind of cool again.
AG: I think people are trying to figure out how to make things a mostly language show. And that is going to be a struggling with the materials.
CC: …struggling with the materiality of language and trying to capture that. There was a lot of that today. It’s constantly problematic but you just exist in that troubled space and navigate it. Even if it fails, that’s beside the point.
AG: Yeah, like what was that moment when Moyra Davey was going through the page of this book of Wollstonecraft’s letters and it was like a fan page documentary like on YouTube. You know how there are sources on the Internet when it’s just a fan and they give nascent information about the figure?
CC: Well I kept thinking about the parallel universe at the Schwarzman library, like I was saying earlier–
AG: There’s a red dress hanging on a fire escape!
CC: There’s a strapless red party dress from like the 40s or early 50s that’s all tulle, just layers of tulle.
AG: Just hanging.
CC: It’s this wonderful coral washed out salmon color.
AG: It’s red. It’s not salmon.
CC: It’s not red though. It’s completely washed out. Maybe it was red, once.
AG: It’s hanging there to be discussed. This is the perfect example of something that would make a bad photograph but a good story.
CC: I want the dress.
AG: You wouldn’t wear that.
CC: I would wear that!
AG: Just to defy me.
CC: I find myself sentimentalizing Davey’s photographs in one way or another. Or reading into the person’s eyes in a photograph.
AG: The pictures of people reading and writing on the train—people were acknowledging the camera. They were part of her mailing photos series. All pictures of people writing, which clumped together a sort of unusual thing to make the activity seem like it was happening all the time. What did you think of those, Charity?
CC: Oh on the train? People are just using their time wisely. They get on the train and they get something done. Someone takes a picture of it and it’s a moment.
AG: Charity, look it’s the Andy Warhol sculpture.
CC: Who is it who thought he was a human?
AG: You imagined standing next to it painted in silver.
CC: No someone actually thought the statue was a person.
AG: Look someone is playing their guitar in front of it. He’s playing jazz in front of Andy Warhol, on an expensive guitar.
AG: There’s ash over here too.
CC: Oh so do you know what’s burning? There’s ash falling on the ground. For hours. We saw huge plumes of black smoke. From the northwest. Where was it, in New Jersey, Ariel?
AG: I don’t know. (Looking at Marcia Hafif’s contact sheets): where’s Pomona, Charity?
CC: About 45 minutes from LA. Palm trees and dead grass.
AG: When were these taken?
CC: In the 1970s. Marcia Hafif found out her childhood home had been torn down, destroyed forever, so she started taking pictures of all of those houses in Pomona.
AG: So what did you think about Harry Dodge’s mask [in his video Unkillable]?
AG: A cheap-y Halloween-y.
CC: The mask hadn’t been painted. And the box tilting off his head was some art world white cube thing? But then I thought oh god, like thinking outside the box.
AG: That’s what you said as soon as you sat down.
CC: uh, get it?
AG: I think it referenced those miniature hats people wore in like the Twenties or something. You know? It’s a clownish thing to wear a little hat.
CC: Vivienne Westwood. But there is something very specific about the cube…
AG: You think it’s talking to Donald Judd. It was also not shot on like High Def.
CC: No. The quality was important. And the lighting changed.
AG: It was shot over different periods of the day as if the story took all day to tell. At first I thought it was porn he was narrating but then it was not porn.
AG: There was a car accident. Then there was surgery. Then there was supposed to be a sex scene. There was a boner.
CC: And foreskin.
AG: And the verb tense it was being told in, one of the videos, the first video, they switched into being like the director of this film that we couldn’t see we could just see Dodge talking about it. I was like oh is this some Neo Benshi moment. But then it turned into this is a film I would make.
CC: Then this happened. Then that happened.
AG: Yeah, he wasn’t watching the film, he was just talking about it. It was very detailed. Kind of giving instructions to a camera crew. Idiosyncratic details throughout to keep the listener engaged. Right?
CC: Yeah. I liked the drawings and sculptures.
AG: Those drawings were like better versions of Raymond Pettibon. But that room in between the videos was like the solution of language—make it a cartoon-length snippet. Something you could read while standing right in front of it. Nothing more, nothing less. This is just some weird cock, deal with it.
CC: Very much a one-liner situation. A penis is one-liner… so to speak.
AG: There was this fleshy meaty penis with veins and it was on a plate with some yellow sauce underneath.
CC: But it was severed. It wasn’t really a penis on a plate.
AG: It actually looked like it could have been.
CC: It was skinned.
AG: A surgically attached raw penis from like Thailand. I could also see someone constructing it from different meats at the market. It was very disturbing. There were mucus membranes.
CC: Those were testicles.
AG: It was like the only color photograph.
CC: I enjoyed the speech bubbles or captions under the drawings.
AG: They looked like they were over a long period of time.
CC: It was storyboarding. And that’s what was going on in the video with the clown. A sort of verbal storyboarding. Then we’re going to do this, then we’re going to…
AG: Yes. I’m going to shoot a low budget film and on it describe a super high budget Hollywood film.
The other video had found footage interspliced, unfortunately with definitions.
CC: Don’t you hate it when they show definitions of words?
AG: I’m so sick of definitions.
CC: Like an excerpt from the dictionary, ugh.
AG: It’s a deal breaker.
CC: Like “sublimation.” And what’s that word for “suggested immanence”.
AG: Part of the found footage was this old guy at the beach trying to put pants on his arms. Maybe it was a shawl.
CC: Or a shirt he was putting on backwards as if it was a straight jacket. And this other man came up behind him and helped him. They were wearing Speedos. And I kept thinking maybe this one guy was rubbing his dick on the other but it wasn’t sexual because maybe they’re men who prefer women but it was sexual to me.
AG: It was very sexual.
CC: Homosocial. There was this bondage moment with the garment that was oblique in nature. And they are on the beach in this public place. But men are allowed to perform that in public places.
AG: Yeah sure. I was trying to find a synonym for immanence. But it didn’t happen.