- Manal Abu-Shaheen
- Vahap Avşar
- Jesus Benavente and Felipe Castelblanco
- Brian Caverly
- Kerry Downey
- Magali Duzant
- Golnaz Esmaili
- Mohammed Fayaz
- Kate Gilmore
- Jonah Groeneboer
- Bang Geul Han and Minna Pöllänen
- Dave Hardy
- Sylvia Hardy
- Shadi Harouni
- Janks Archive
- Robin Kang
- Kristin Lucas
- Carl Marin
- Eileen Maxson
- Melanie McLain
- Shane Mecklenburger
- Lawrence Mesich
- Freya Powell
- Xiaoshi Vivian Vivian Qin
- Alan Ruiz
- Samita Sinha and Brian Chase
- Barb Smith
- Monika Sziladi
- Alina Tenser
- Trans-Pecos with 8 Ball Community, E.S.P. TV, and Chillin Island
- Mark Tribe
- Sam Vernon
- Max Warsh
- Jennifer Williams
- An Itinerary with Notes
- Exhibition Views
- A Distant Memory Being Recalled (Queens Teens Respond)
- Overhead: A Response to Kerry Downey’s Fishing with Angela
- Sweat, Leaks, Holes: Crossing the Threshold
- PULSE: On Jonah Groeneboer’s The Potential in Waves Colliding
- Interview: Melanie McLain and Alina Tenser
- Personal Space
- Data, the Social Being, and the Social Network
- Responses from Mechanical Turk
- MAPS, DNA, AND SPAM
- Queens Internacional 2016
- Uneven Development: On Beirut and Plein Air
- A Crisis of Context
- Return to Sender
- Interview: Vahap Avşar and Shadi Harouni
- Mining Through History: The Contemporary Practices of Vahap Avşar and Shadi Harouni
- A Conversation with Shadi Harouni's The Lightest of Stones
- Directions to a Gravel Quarry
- Walk This Way
- Interview: Brian Caverly and Barb Smith
- "I drew the one that has the teeth marks..."
- BEAT IT! (Queens Teens respond)
- Lawn Furniture
- In Between Difference, Repetition, and Original Use
- Interview: Dave Hardy and Max Warsh
- Again—and again: on the recent work of Alan Ruiz
- City of Tomorrow
- Noticing This Space
- NO PLACE FOR A MAP
- The History of the World Was with Me That Night
- What You Don't See (Queens Teens Respond)
- Interview: Allison Davis and Sam Vernon
- When You’re Smiling…The Many Faces Behind the Mask
- Interview: Jesus Benavente and Carl Marin
- The Eternal Insult
- Janking Off
- Queens Theatricality
Excerpted from a conversation between Melanie McLain and Alina Tenser, participating artists in Queens International 2016
I thought it would be a good idea for you and I to have a conversation for the Queens Museum catalog, in part because we've known each other for a while and our work matured together in a way. In the Queens International 2016 there are these wonderful parallels in the kinds of sculptural installation work we are presenting, the way it gets activated through performance and there's video included as well.
I feel like I've been thinking a lot about that too, about making sculptures in relation to the body, and our conversations about this kind of production in grad school.
Well, maybe we can start there, start at the body because I think that's perhaps the best indicator of where our practices begin, through body knowledge. Maybe somewhat differently from each other, but I know for me, starting graduate school and having a baby kind of informed this idea of a body, that's not a figurative body, but a body from within, like a mass. That was a very surreal place for me to start the sculpture, with this concept of body mass. Do you want to talk about your knowledge of the body and how it informs your work?
I think my knowledge of the body comes a lot from when I was younger, being a gymnast. When I quit being a gymnast, I was constantly looking for something to fill that void, that way of activating my body. That’s coupled with the fact that I’m highly sensitive to anything body related and interested in how we sense some of the smallest movements. In the acrobatics that I do now, that becomes really important, feeling the slightest shift in your hand or your toes or your fingers. I’ve been thinking about how these small shifts actually inform knowledge and how we process information, which has led to the presence of the body in my work.
One of the questions I wanted to ask you was about the presence of the trained body, whether dancers or gymnasts, in your performance work. Bodies that have a similar knowledge to what you just spoke about.
I have recently found that I really like working with both dancers and acrobats in a single performance, combining these two different styles of body knowledge. Yet, both disciplines share an understanding of the body that is similar to my own. When I am prepping performers, one of the things I talk to them a lot about is getting inside their own body and feeling, thinking about touch or how their own body is responding to a space or to another person in the audience. With trained performers, they already share that awareness and sensitivity. I also wanted to ask about your own approach to performance, how does the shift between your video work and live performance change in relationship to your objects?
In the videos, which I've been making for a while, I use green screen as a way to fragment. In the performative work, it's very similar logic, but all of it is revealed, there's no green screen, but I always have a reference to this screen. There's always a sense of what is in front of and behind in the environment for the live performances, referencing public and private space and experience, experiencing yourself in public and private. The capacity for fragmenting and feeling is important in the way I use video, I use it as a tool to focus, to show a detail of an object. So I can show myself holding something, perhaps a fragment of an object, without giving away too much. I can focus or emphasize a handle without showing what it's attached to. That's a frustrating thing in sculpture, since you can't really bring focus in that way. In sculpture, everything is in front of you.
I’m wondering if you could talk more about how the transition from performance behind the camera into live performance came about?
Sure. I think when we were in school together, one thing that would often come up with sculpture was autonomy, the autonomous object. While I like thinking about autonomy, I don't fully believe it. I know an object has conditions, I know that these things are dependent on their materiality and they're dependent on their maker. My videos are a nod to this consideration of autonomy. They're denying any sort of tethering to me, to architecture, to the structures that hold object details up behind the green screen. With performance I felt that I was acknowledging the other side of this autonomy, that these things are incredibly tethered and that tethering is important and fragile. That was the pull to do performance. In the Queens International show, the proximity of this video – Chances (2015) – to the performance set – Selections From Sports Closet (2015) – shows this relationship between concealment and reveal. The performative set and performance reveal the action and outcome of that action that is hidden by the green screen in the projected video, where the fabric cut outs are falling repetitively. In the video, they just keep falling, they keep cascading and they almost read like a neon sign or like signage. They're continuous and they're without end. Whereas in the performance, they fall and they remain on the ground. In the performance there is a certain type of failure that feels final, the pieces don’t circle back around in a loop. This is the first time I’ve shown these two pieces together that were created around the same time, it’s exciting to have the works take on the idea of autonomy in such close proximity to one another.
I’ve been thinking about how the sculptural sets work in your performances, how they literally unfold, with different compartments opening up to reveal other surfaces. This reveal feels like it has a very specific relationship to your videos and the kind of untetheredness to an object you were referencing.
Yeah, I think of these things unfolding like a silent sentence, like a silent logic. It's actually in a way quite linear. This part unfolds, then this transforms, this folds back up, this falls, etc. A lot of the visual language in the performance takes reference from magic tricks and early childhood development educational videos, slow and steady visual sequences that often don't provide language or very minimal language. The work is about noticing and acknowledging transformation.
And I think it's very successful at that.
To segue into your piece in the Queens International, it seems like for this work you’ve begun developing sculptural surfaces in a different way than I've seen in your previous constructions. It seems more playful, very personal, maybe less informed by industrial design. I was wondering how you arrived at these new surfaces? Which came first in your process, the structure or the surfaces?
I thought a lot about the new kinds of surfaces you’re referring to when I was conceiving Prepersonal (2016); the silicone casted form on top of the shelf and the kind of grooves in the back wall that are covered in a resin. Lately I had been making a lot of big work and one of the struggles I kept having with these very large pieces was trying to build an architectural structure that could support bodies in a very short amount of time. I was always hoping to have time to incorporate some of the more tactile details, but the clock always ran out. So for this piece, I consciously decided to work smaller so that I can have the opportunity to focus more on some of the more detailed moments. For the last several years I've been doing a lot with silicone and thinking about grips and grooves and places to lean the body on, but they were all just these small material tests that never made their way into the finished sculptures. I knew I wanted this kind of tactile shelf that would draw the viewer in to get closer, touch the work, and watch the video. However, the structure still came first, it’s always a part of my thinking about how the viewer is relating to other people in the space, and how the sculpture can influence that in some way. So the idea for the panels that come out from the wall to create a cubby was something that was very prominent in the piece from the beginning.
There's something about Prepersonal that sits somewhere between therapy and education. I was thinking about the experience of encountering a type of Braille, or a therapeutic Braille, and a keyboard. In Montessori schools, one of the staple educational tools is a box with many different types of fabric, sandpaper, things that have a variety of textures. It's such a simple thing, but the children are really attracted to it as a learning tool.
That makes sense, because I feel like I still do that.
In past works of yours that I’ve seen, you’ve been influenced by the aesthetics of the spa or locker room. This one at the Queens Museum was a little different and I was curious about what kind of space may have guided your aesthetic for Prepersonal?
Right. For this one I've been looking a lot more at interior furniture design and office spaces. I was thinking about cubicles and waiting rooms and how, and you mentioned this as well in relation to your own work, we distinguish between public and private. I'm interested in these spaces that create a private moment within a public setting, so it almost creates a sense of safety or security while still in public view. I knew I wanted to make something that could give a person a sense of individual space, making the experience of watching the video on the iPad a personal interaction for one at a time, with their peripheral vision blocked by the privacy dividers. But then I also knew that I still wanted parts of them exposed to other visitors, so you can still see their back when they are watching.
Yeah, I think by delineating space even the smallest bit, such as the the divides on a subway platform or on a bench between seats, there is a certain sense of privacy, a prompt to behave differently than if the divide wasn’t there. I’m also reminded of the experience of going to an ATM, and the construction of a one-on-one moment when you’re using the machine, a private moment.
I think that’s also how our work connects, because your screen is very much that mediating object. The folding screen operates and moves between you and the audience in your performance Selections From Sports Closet and there are moments of partial visibility and invisibility. Do you want to say more about the function of public and private moments in your work?
Well, the notion of public and private, is very important for me in thinking about my personal life. When I look back at works, I often think that they're autobiographical. For Selections From Sports Closet, I was referencing a kind of closeted domestic life and the way self-care, or self improvement gets spliced with domestic chores and repetitive actions. In creating this performance, I wanted every movement to be a repetitive action, similar to exercise reps, but ones that involved more domestic things like climbing a step ladder, changing a light bulb, unfolding something like an ironing board. In the end, the object unfolds as much as it can, and there's a bit of a mess left over.