Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dazed and Confused, October

My review of White Lightnin' was published in the October issue of Dazed and Confused. Check it out at a newsstand near you!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review//Modern Painters

My review of this Summer's Richard Artschwager exhibtion at Sprüth Magers has been published in the September issue of Modern Painters/
Check it out here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've recently started working as a Berlin correspondent for the art website Artslant. My picks this month were Romantische Maschinen at the Georg Kolbe Museum and Allora + Calzadillaat the Temporäre Kunsthalle.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Berlin on the Brink

Berlin on the Brink is an editorial about California artists in Berlin commissioned this Spring by the now defunct California art magazine, Art Week.

Berlin on the Brink
By Jesi Khadivi

My dreams of living in Berlin began in 2002. I was pursuing a degree in Art History and Theory, my apartment was both too expensive and too small, and Berlin’s burgeoning east side seemed like everything post-9/11 New York City was not: spacious, cheap and adventurous. I understand now that my feelings about the city were inspired by collegiate romanticism and disillusionment. New Yorkers at the time were obsessed by Berlin; the idea that German capital had the gritty charm of Manhattan in the 80s inspired a few of the 10,000 Americans that now live in the haupstadt to cross the Atlantic. But relating to Berlin solely through the guise of Nan Goldin era NYC is the equivalent of calling San Francisco “San Fran.” It establishes a false intimacy with the city that only illuminates how little the speaker knows about it. The same goes for Berlin mayor, Klaus Wowereit’s, oft-repeated “Poor but Sexy” motto, which the mayor used in an attempt to hype his financially ailing city to investors. When I moved to Berlin in 2007, I was surprised to not find a cheaper, utopian New York. But I did like what I saw: a laid back hybridization of art forms and practices. Everyone I met had a project (or three) and, even as a foreigner, I encountered an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm and genuine warmth for all sorts of creative endeavors.

After a year in Los Angeles, I returned to Germany in February 2009. Though Berlin is indelibly linked to New York in the American cultural imagination, my first night at O Tannenbaum, a free form bar that hosts electronic music, film nights, informal dinners and others arts oriented events in Neuköln, showed a growing migration between Berlin, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Berlin’s sister city. Although the director of O Tannenbaum is Dutch and the venue has an international following, the film night I attended had a distinctly Oaklandish feel, like a little Bay Area in exile. The night had all of the elements of a Bay Area DIY art event: no entrance fee, affordable and delicious vegetarian food and, most importantly, a dedicated and interconnected web of followers. The crowd at O Tannenbaum was mostly an audience of producers. One thing that has become clear to me on my second pass through Berlin, is that regional identity is nothing more than a shared experience. The bay area contingent that patronizes O Tannenbaum and some of its curators side projects are drawn together by friendship and mutual respect, but their reasons for being in Germany vary from marriage and grad school, to simply wanting a massive change.

Erin Weber, a recent CCA alum and the gracious host of the event, cooked a meal and presented the film Fantastic Planet. Weber has been in Berlin for a year and a half. She works in myriad collaborative capacities, running a small publication and audio-visual performance group called Pyramid Press and Dancing Pyramid, respectively, with the German artist Mella Ojeda. Many of the American artists based in Berlin pass through for only a year or two. One artist told me that Berlin was “the number one destination post graduation for CCA student” and “a pit-stop en route to American graduate schools.” Weber, however, plans to stay. When asked where she saw herself eventually settling down, Weber simply says, “here,” and went on to explain that she had worked so hard building a network of creative friends and collaborators, that it would be silly to pick up and move back to the states immediately.

Alicia Reuter, an American art-critic and curator who has settled permanently in Berlin, cites a lack of competition and an emphasis on continuing arts education as factors that compel Berlin’s art professionals to build bridges between different mediums and continents in ways that are not necessarily commercial. Telic Arts Exchange, the ambitious east side LA hybrid arts institution, is one of the newest international organizations to lay roots in Berlin. Conceived as a platform for art, architecture, media, and pedagogy, Telic curates exhibitions, stages live performances, and hosts the Public School, an amorphous committee-run educational experiment, in their Chinatown gallery. They selected their satellite location at Brunnenstraße 11 with the help of Berlin based architects SMAQ. The space, simply called Berlin, is a conceptual art gallery that will host exhibitions for at least one year. Their mission statement shows a nuanced understanding of the myths and realities of the German capital “Recognizing that art is experienced through so-called secondary formats of press releases, rumors, websites, advertisements, anecdote, and freely circulating images, Telic decided in 2007 to create a gallery within this particular place.” Even commercial gallerists are drawn to the promise and opportunities in Berlin, real or perceived. Gallerist Javier Peres, whose Peres Projects has branches in both Los Angeles, cites the city’s openness as a guiding impulse in maintaining galleries on both continents. “I like the freedom of Berlin, it is the most free city in the western world at the moment, one can do and not do as they please, and that works just fine for me.”

The Berlin based painter Ernesto Ortiz, another recent CCA graduate drawn here in part by the opportunities the city offers as the one of the largest art markets in Europe, cautiously agrees with Peres’ point about the freedom of Berlin. “When I first went back to San Francisco after being in Berlin for a year, I really felt the stark contrast of control in the street. It was as simple as noticing that people in Berlin ride their bikes wherever they wish, rules be damned. This includes sidewalks or wrong direction in the bike lane. There are no Parisian rules of dress or Italian bans on certain shoes. But then again, this is Germany, albeit a very free city in German with a strong American influence. There is still a very real German character trait of rule-making and passive obedience that is felt here.” While Ortiz enjoys Berlin’s cultural openness, like Telic Arts Exchange, he fully understands the myth of place propagated by the American art world. “This is city is a Mecca of social and historical myth,” he says, “I find ideas about Berlin to not be very developed as far as their complexity of understanding. Or simply put, they are quite superficial. Berlin is what Paris was for a long time. This image of European cultural and aesthetic superiority exist in a collective bourgeois basket of themes. Berlin is chic. And most people who accept this do not bother to question or understand why. For many artists I have met here, just the act of being here seems to be an accomplishment.”

Paul Tyree-Francis, a 26 year-old Berlin based artist via Los Angeles via San Francisco, believes the appeal of expatriating is especially attractive to artists and creative professionals. “The idea of being an outsider is a romantic notion, especially in Berlin. There is literally so much free and open space here. Everyone is hopeful that Berlin will culminate, but it continues not to. There was a piece in the New York Times recently about how the city has historically positioned itself to become a megalopolis and for myriad reasons it just never happens.” Living in a city in transition is undoubtedly appealing to artists and writers and is perhaps the key to the “freedom” that draws people here. But what will happen is Berlin ever reaches the pinnacle it is pushing for? Tyree-Francis laughs, If it ever did culminate it may just be an opportunity for everyone to complain about it and leave.”

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Interview//Break On Through to the Other Side//SOMA

Originally published in the April issue of SOMA
Break on Through to the Other Side
Text Jesi Khadivi

Tom DeCillo has never made a documentary film before. The New York based director, who gave Brad Pitt his first leading role in the film Johnny Suede back in 1991, generally leans towards dreamy, darkly comedic filmmaking. Genre jumping is no easy feat and directing a film about The Doors, one of the most beloved rock bands in America, is a baptism by fire. DeCillo has emerged unscathed, however, presenting a fascinating look at the men behind the music, comprised entirely of archival footage and excerpts from Jim Morrison’s little seen feature film, Highway. “I wanted to make the film without talking heads,” DeCillo explained, “sitting in the editing room for months looking at this footage, I felt like I was truly experiencing The Doors and I wanted the audience to share that direct experience.” DeCillo spoke with SOMA via telephone from New York City about his new film and the respective challenges of narrative and documentary filmmaking. When You’re Strange was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and played to a packed house at the Berlinale in Germany. Since the film’s premiere on the festival circuit, Johnny Depp has signed on to do narration.

Where did Morrison’s Film Footage Come From?

Morrison went to UCLA film school back in 1965. He loved film, but his sense of it completely experimental and free form. Years after leaving film school and well after he joined the Doors, Morrison got some money together and went out into the desert with some old classmates from UCLA and a 35mm camera to shoot a short feature called Highway, based on a script that he wrote. What I loved about the film is how it portrayed a mythological loner figure wandering through the American landscape. Most people cannot believe that it’s Jim Morrison. We had a bizarre reaction to the film at Sundance. One distributor got up in outrage after and stormed out because he was convinced we used an actor.

Did he receive any recognition for the film within his lifetime?

Morrison was very proud of Highway and had real aspirations to be a film maker.
He went to two film festivals with it, but it was not very well received. Highway is a difficult film. As specific as Morrison with his music and the image he created, he did not quite understand that the same need applies to the visual medium. The film is like an extended tone poem that doesn’t make much sense, but I respect his effort. It’s the film he wanted to make.

Did you encounter any sour grapes or any resistance to telling the story of the Doors? Many former band members of these 60s bands are very bitter about their leaders stealing the spotlight and they resolutely want to avoid perpetuating their myth.

Each of the remaining band members had a different thing that they wanted to make clear and I had to honor that, but Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger all effortessly praised Jim Morrison as a great friend and had no resentment for him in any way. That being said, I didn’t want the band meddling or editorializing what I was doing. There is a possessiveness about the story that bugged me a little bit. One of the best documentaries I’ve seen in the past ten years is Some Kind Of Monster, about Metallica. They hire a shrink because the band is falling apart. I didn’t want to just make a puff piece about The Doors

It seems rare for an LA band in that era to praise each other as you describe, especially a flamboyant figure like Morrison. It was stereotypically the San Francisco bands who lived together and played together while the LA bands got together only to play gigs and fight.

Morrison was addicted to jumping out into the void and not knowing where he would end up. The group was an amazing safety net for him. They allowed him to go out into outer space and always have a place to land. I think they really cherished each other.

There were times when they got famous that the announcer at a gig would introduce them “Jim Morrison and the Doors” and Jim would get so angry that he would refuse to go on and would make the announcer reintroduce them as The Doors.

Your films Johnny Suede and Delirious feature performances by Nick Cave and Elvis Costello. Did working with musicians in your narrative film making influence your decision to work on a musical documentary?

I have a great love of music. The combination of music and the moving image is an incredibly powerful mixture. Nick Cave was in Kreuzberg living with my friend, who was in a German punk band named Die Haut. He had read my script because it was sitting on my friend’s table and he called me saying that he’d like to be in my movies. He had a larger than life presence that many serious actors never quite attain. The same goes for Elvis Costello.

Do you find that there are any parallels between your narrative film making and documentary film making?

I like the documentary film, but I’ve always been drawn to the documentaries that resist categorization, like Errol Morris. They have a mystery to them, a slightly surreal quality that isn’t just a presentation of fact. I discovered early on that the best thing for me to do that would help me artistically was to think of the film as a narrative feature with an epic angle. It is ultimately a tragic story. I don’t mean that in a depressing way, but every one knows what happened to Jim Morrison. A lot of my films feature characters that are struggling to understand something about themselves.

Can you speak at all to the respective challenges of documentaries versus narrative film making?

There was a sense of relief that I didn’t need to exhaust myself trying to eke out performances that were crucial to the success of the film. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with actors like Catherine Keener and Steve Buscemi, who relieve that pressure a little bit, but it can be quite difficult.

While the footage was a given, there were moments of terror trying to tell a story with a dramatic arc: surprise, revelation, joy, all of the things that go into a real film. I didn’t want to paraphrase everything that I had read about The Doors. I needed to find something truthful in it, my own perspective. Ultimately, I came to the realization that I just wanted to show the band as human beings. The footage of Jim Morrison just laughing at times or being like a young boy is, to me, one of the most beautiful moments in the film.

Open Rights Group: The Big Picture of BIg Brother//SOMA

originally published in the April issue of SOMA
Open Rights Group: The Big Picture of Big Brother
By Jesi Khadivi

In the wake of 9/11 and the wave of civil liberties violations that followed, ordinary citizens around the world have become accustomed to being viewed as guilty until innocent. Airports, bridges and monuments quickly become proving grounds of innocence when a slip of the tongue, snap shot, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time is construed as a dangerous activity. This system of surveillance and the performative gestures it inspires quickly spread to more intimate places, like telephone conversations and internet searches. While some view surveillance as an unfortunate, but necessary step in protecting other freedoms, an increasing number of concerned citizens are not willing to sacrifice their privacy to participate in the theater of innocence, claiming such violations damage the very fabric of democracy.

Citizens around the world celebrated Freedom Not Fear Day last October, a day of peaceful protest intended to counter some of the challenges facing democracy today. The response was especially spirited in England, a country where there is one CCTV camera for every 14 citizens according to the BBC. Londoners gathered beneath a statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament square to unveil a 4m x 5m collage comprised of UK surveillance images citizens uploaded to the website of the Open Rights Group, a grass roots technology collective dedicated to protecting an often over looked area of civil liberties, digital rights. Thumbnail surveillance photos coalesced to form an enormous portrait of UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, against a background of barbed wire and double helices. The Open Rights Group says, “Our message was clear: although as individuals we only see incremental invasions of our privacy, put together, these creeping changes constitute a wholesale shift towards a society predicated not on freedom, but on fear.”

Report//European Highlights from the Berlinale//SOMA

originally published in the March issue of SOMA
European Highlights from the Berlinale
By Jesi Khadivi

The usually tame Potsdamer Platz came alive when journalists, film executives, international a-listers and movie lovers descended upon Berlin’s postmodern quadrangle of hotels and movie theaters from February 5th through the 15th for the 59th annual Berlinale, one of Europe’s longest running international film festivals. While Berlin’s grey skies and frigid temperatures don’t leave much room for glamour (some stars were actually shivering on the red carpet), the festival is an industry favorite because the breadth of its competition films range from quirkily salable films like Mitchell Lichtenstein’s family drama Happy Teeth, starring Demi Moore and Parker Posey to films like Katalin Varga, a sumptuously shot revenge film set in the Carpathian mountains by British, Budapest-based director, Peter Strickland,. Although Hollywood favorites like Michelle Pfeiffer, Blake Lively, Renée Zellweger, Steve Martin, Gael García Bernal all walked the red carpet, the Berlinale provides a forum for international cinema that is less Hollywood-centric and swag oriented than Sundance and more manageable than Cannes. Keeping with the spirit of the festival, I offer my top four European film picks.

4) Hilde (Kai Wessel)
The disarmingly beautiful Hildegard Knef went to acting school as a teenager during World War II, had a romantic entanglement with a Nazi official and fought against the Russians to remain by his side, married a Jewish American solider after the war, and (with different lovers in between) went on to make fifty feature films and record 23 albums. Kai Wessel’s film delivers a portrait of a talented and complicated individual with a level of artfulness few biopics ever achieve.

3) An Education (Lone Scherfig)
Sixteen year old Jenny sneaks Gauloises and sings along to French records trying to escape from the dullness of her tweedy prep-school-life. A bigger distraction comes from a charming older man who whisks her away from Twickenham and cello lessons to art auctions, horse races, and a Paris vacation that changes her life.

2) Alle Anderen (Maren Ade)
Maren Ade’s sophomore effort chronicles the fall out of a couples’ Saturn Return. While vacationing in Sardinia, the idiosyncratic lovers are grapple with their respective uneasiness about identity, success, aging, gender and social codes. The result is a hilarious, yet deeply felt journey into the heart of the 20s and all its discontents.

1) Katalin Varga (Peter Strickland)
Strickland captivates with a sparely elegant story about a woman who sets out on horseback seeking revenge for a crime that occurred 11 years prior. Mark Gyori’s camera conjures a primordial atmosphere for a timeless story to unfold. An impressive and intelligent debut.

Review//Katalin Varga//Dazed and Confused

originally published in the May issue of Dazed and Confused
Katalin Varga
By Jesi Khadivi

The moral landscape mirrors the physical in Katalin Varga, a minimal and elegant revenge film shot in Transylvania’s Carpathian mountains. The plot is straight forward: Katalin was raped before the film’s action begins, resulting in the conception of her son Orbán. 11 years hence, her husband learns her secret and Katalin sets off on horseback, seeking vengeance. It’s a timeless tale, set in primordial landscape of rolling hills and dank mist. Inspired by Werner Herzog’s unsentimental view of nature, Greek born UK director, Peter Strickland, has crafted a gripping feature-length debut brimming with complexity, intelligence and ambiguity.

Although the project was five years in the making, actual shooting time was only seventeen days and Strickland’s budget was less than 30,000. The film was made with his own money and without any professional backing “The fear of failure was huge,” Strickland admits. Katalin Varga premiered to critical acclaim at the Berlinale Film Festival in February. However, critics looking for pat commentary on rape or Hungarian-Romanian tensions were frustrated to find few answers from a director more interested in exploring the twin themes of revenge and redemption.

“The idea of revenge is quite compelling,” first time director Peter Strickland told me in a Potsdamer Platz cafe , “There are no resolutions. Revenge is the one crime we can all relate to.” The recent popular resurgence of genre filmmaking confirms Strickland’s point; its explosive popularity is largely due to directors like Quentin Tarantino, whose Kill Bill films mash-up elements of martial arts, western and revenge films. “I wanted to take a pulp genre and transport it into another context,” Strickland says, “You don’t need to be Tarantino to do that.” As a pulp inspired film, Varga has little in common with Kill Bill. Revenge is rendered in broad strokes and explored through ideas of causality, redemption and forgiveness. Varga’s characters are more morally indeterminate than their pop-revenge films counterparts. Throughout the film, the boundaries between right and wrong and justice and injustice are continuously blurred. Like the best noir anti-heroes, Katalin and Antal, the man who raped her, have complicated, fractured psyches. Katalin has suffered a grave injustice, but is also a murder. Antal brutally raped Katalin, violating the sanctity of another human being, yet over the course of a decade he evolved into a sensitive man and a loving husband.

Though Strickland says the story could be told anywhere, its Transylvanian setting is inextricably linked to the film’s artistry. Strickland wisely chose a location capable of evoking the beauty and terror of personal and spiritual transformation. However, he’s careful to point out that the film’s themes are universal. “This could never be an authentic Transylvanian film,” he told reporters after the film’s premiere, “I’m English. I didn’t want to go the Kusturica route, which is a bit bombastic. I wanted to make something more like a ballad.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Emergence Vernissage in Vice Deutschland

From Vice Magazine Deutschland Blog

Freitagabend fand die Eröffnung der Golden Parachutes Galerie statt und da die Vernissage einmal nicht im Kunstgalerien-Strich Berlin Mitte stattfand, haben wir uns tief hinein nach Kreuzberg begeben, um uns das Ganze einmal anzusehen.

Im Rahmen der Ausstellung „Emergence“, die bis zum 15.Mai läuft, werden amerikanische und kanadische Künstler unterschiedlicher Stile präsentiert, die irgendwie einer philosophischen Theorie zuzuordnen sind, laut der komplexe Systeme und Muster durch eine Vielzahl an relativ simplen Interaktionen entstehen.

Wenn Zach Houston gerade nicht am Strand von L.A. absurde Gedichte auf Trinkgeld Basis verfasst und Performances aufführt, macht er arbeiten auf Papier, von denen er als „Arbeiten auf Papier“ spricht.

Melissa Frost. Eine sehr nette Künstlerin aus L.A. die aber die vergangenen Jahre in einem Haus in London verbrachte, von der das Wasser aus der Deckenlampe kam. Nun lebt sie aber in Berlin und beschäftigt sich mit absurden Statistiken.

Paul Tyree-Francis. Das Bild entstand nach einem Zeitungs-Foto auf dem Julio Camera, der Bodyguard von Britney Spears, die Scheiße aus einem Paparazzi prügelte. Das Bild heißt "People take pictures of each other, julio camera", ha, Wortspiel und so.

Shaun Owens-Agase &Tyler Peterson. Scheiß auf das Kleingedruckte.

Dieses Bild hängt im Schlafzimmer der Galeristen, stammt aus einer Oper und wurde auf der Bühne von einem unbekannten Künstler gemalt. Ein Liebhaberstück, genau wie ihre einäugige Katze Odin, die mich zu Tode erschreckte, da ich urplötzlich die Todesmusik Richard Wagners im Ohr hatte.

Paul, der Besitzer der Galerie, mit einem Haufen Ballons. Später versetzte er viel Besucher in Schockstarre, als sie platzten und es sich anhörte, als würde er frei nach André Breton mit einem Revolver in die Menge feuern.

Melissa Frost und Jesi Khadivi, die Künstlerin und die Galeristin. Die eine hat es in L.A. und London nicht mehr ausgehalten, die andere hat sich in Berlin verliebt.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Interview with Packard Jennings

Originally published in Soma Magazine

Destroy After Reading: An interview with Packard Jennings
By Jesi Khadivi

When I met Packard Jennings, a key player in the Yes Men’s recent New York Times spoof, I was stunned to see that he looked more like a sharp, young English professor than his molotov-cocktail wielding Anarchist Action Figure, the black bloc look alike the artist planted in big box stores. Surprising, because most of Jennings’ diverse oeuvre, which includes video, sculpture, print, and interactive work, is socially and politically inspired. His Business Reply Pamphlet, a hilarious step by step instructional illustration on how to overthrow the tyranny of a soul sucking office job, was recently exhibited at the Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. The piece has a second life as a piece of return direct mail; Jennings collects business reply envelopes and mails the pamphlet back to anonymous sorting centers.

Jennings sat down with SOMA for a leisurely Saturday afternoon beer and talked about the evolution of his work and the role of humor in political art before heading into the museum’s aptly timed exhibition, The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now.

SOMA: How did you start making political and socially inspired work?

Jennings: I’ve been making political and social art for most of my life, but the shift into the public realm started around 1995. I lived in a warehouse in Oakland that overlooked a giant, day-glo Newport cigarette ad. After I figured out that I could access the billboard by a ladder at the top of my carport, I went up there and blacked out a tooth on one of the models. I always knew that advertisements affected us in our daily life, but I never knew how strongly until that simple gesture totally changed the atmosphere in my house.

In a field that is usually defined by the preciousness of objects, the billboard work was a healthy, almost Zen, exercise for me as an artist. It reminded me of what’s really great about making work, just doing it and letting it go into the world and interacting with a broader, non-art audience. Preciousness can intimidate people. I’ve certainly been in museums where people have felt that they are not qualified to express an opinion about the art. When the work is public, everyone feels like they have the right to an opinion.

SOMA: Is your public work ever funded by arts organizations or community groups?

Jennings: A grant from Southern Exposure, a non-profit gallery in San Francisco, enabled me to make my project The Lottery, a scratch off lottery ticket that would reveal a local’s story about their neighborhood. The idea was to transform a moment of inward focus towards community. They were available at four stores in San Francisco and Oakland and were free with the purchase of a lottery ticket.

SOMA: Do you ever collaborate on these projects?

Jennings: I collaborated with Steve Lambert on the Bus Bench project, a series of advertisements intended to neutralize advertising tactics like targeting children or manipulating peoples’ fears. We created a series of ads to counteract these practice and illegally installed them on bus bunches in the Bay Area. The anti-advertising ad we put on the bench correlated to the prominent concern in the area, which we determined by handing out surveys.

Steve and I collaborated again on Postcards From Our Awesome Future, a series of bus kiosk posters for the San Francisco Art Commission. We met with local architects, transportation officials and urban planners to discuss utopian visions.

SOMA: What were some of the key ideas?

Jennings: Re-wilding the urban population with plant and animal life that used to live in San Francisco. Another was finding alternate uses for parked cars. For example, a commuter vehicle could double as a library car, gym car, or a farmers market. They posters were particularly effective because the ideas were crazy.

This is the way that I think humor works in art work with a social aspect. It gives the viewer an entry point into radical ideas. When you laugh, your guard slips away. The key concepts behind the posters are actually great ideas. Naturally, you’re not going to have a dog park in a subway car, but it would be wonderful to check out books from a mobile library on your commute to work.

SOMA: Do you have hope for society and the city? You work has both utopian and subversive influences.

Jennings: I have hopes and fears. My work is rooted in frustration and a desire for self- empowerment, but also a real desire for positive change. Sometime that takes the form of something imaginary and utopian and sometimes it takes the form of exposing social problems. I’m still adjusting and modifying my strategy.

SOMA: One thing that is refreshing about your work is that although it’s often shown within a fine art context, its participatory dimension doesn’t seem coercive, which is often the pitfall of participation based works. Do you feel that any of your participatory works have been especially effective?

Jennings: I made a creative dissent workstation for my exhibition at the Catherine Clark Gallery. The public had access to a computer and camera and they could make one of five projects. For the newspaper project I provided a template for people to write the news however they saw fit. One person even put up a newspaper headline that said “Subversive Artist Demanding High Prices.” They totally ripped on me and put it on the wall, but I left it there. Free speech.

Another part of the work station was the “What the Fuck” sign that could be checked out of the gallery. The idea is to go stand next to the people with the signs for things like Subway sandwiches. Steve Lambert and I were discussing that the only way you know something isn’t advertising today is if there is swearing in it. Everything else adopts a subversive strategy to sell something. It’s really hard to tell.

SOMA: A Dada artist once said , “With its victory over the mainstream complete the avante garde has ceased to exist.

Jennings: That sounds about right.

SOMA: I think about that every time I watch MTV on an airplane.

Jennings: Everything that can be absorbed, co-opted, and sold will. That’s what the Anarchist Action Figure is about. It’s about the ease of commodification of radical ideology. I knew that it would be desirable

jesi khadivi interviewed for whitehot magazine

originally published in whitehot

Noah Becker: You signed on with Whitehot from our Berlin office. After a great run in Berlin you moved to LA, now you are returning to Berlin. Can you talk a bit about your sense of logistics and how your projects fit into this migration?

Jesi Khadivi: Los Angeles was my “year on the mountain,” so to speak. My husband Paul and I lived in Ed Ruscha’s old art studio in the Echo Park hills where Ruscha made paintings of words being smashed or set on fire way back in 1964. Paul and I used our time there to make as much work as we could in relative isolation. Los Angeles has a thriving art scene, but is also one of the few places in the United States where one can experience country living in the city. As much as I enjoyed a peaceful place to work, Los Angeles is just too sprawling for me to live there long term. We love the energy of Berlin and its location in the center of Europe. It’s an amazing place to work.

NB: Tell us about your Gram Parsons project?

JK: I was working at the Edward Thorp Gallery in New York City at the time and was putting out feelers for extra work. I enjoyed working in the arts, but wanted a side project that was…different. I had graduated from Eugene Lang with a degree in Art History and Critical Theory in 2004 and after a year of working in a commercial gallery I wanted to do something more academic. I wrote to an old professor of mine, David Meyer, and asked him if he knew anyone looking for a research assistant. Much to my surprise he said, “Yeah, me.” I set out for something academic, but that’s not what I got. Instead I traveled between New York City and Los Angeles for two years interviewing musicians, guitar techs, and groupies for David’s biography of the late country rock icon, Gram Parsons. Basically I spent two years in cowboy boots immersing myself in LA rock and pop from the 1960s and 70s. It was a delight working with David and all of the hard work paid off, Twenty Thousand Roads was named one of the “Top Five Rock Books of 2008” by Rolling Stone and “#1 Rock Book” by Uncut Magazine in the UK

NB: You are opening a new space in Berlin. Is it top secret or can you let us in on some details?

JK: The space is on Kreuzbergstraße. My partner, the painter Paul Tyree-Francis, and I just signed the contract, so obviously the opening date is still in flux. The name of the space is Golden Parachutes. We'll be showing work by emerging contemporary international artists. In addition to a solo and group exhibition we'll host weekly film screenings and other assorted events. Although Golden Parachutes is a commercial gallery, Paul and I are both really inspired by hybrid venues that offer space for critical reflection and investigation. Ideally, we intend to offer our space to reading groups and plan a few ourselves. We've begun to plan our exhibition schedule and a few events, but I'd prefer to keep those details under wraps until they are closer to finalized.

NB: Do you drive a car or a bicycle in Berlin?

JK: Bicycle, of course.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

clui: Examining America's Infrastructure

The Center For Land Use Interpretation, or CLUI as it is more commonly known, resists moralizing about the environment. Founded in 1994 by artist Matthew Coolidge, the organization functions at the nexus of art, urbanism, and environmentalism. Not quite an art collective or cordoned off group of scientists, the Center for Land Use Interpretation has enjoyed tremendous acclaim within arts communities (the organization was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial), due in no small part to the organization’s conceptual underpinnings and tendency to mine the look of vintage Americana in the service of conceptual art and science. CLUI’s aesthetic is more like a dusty old office full of cool books, pictures, and maps than the organic, streamlined shapes of much contemporary eco-inspired architecture and design. Harkening back to the institutional penchant for instructional films in the 1950s and ‘60s, the center presents dispassionate yet informative photo presentations on environmental themes, such as waste management and oil production, at its Culver City office, an unassuming ground floor space on Venice and Bagley adjacent to the equally mysterious Museum of Jurassic Technology. Their recent exhibitions, “Post Consumed: The Landscape of Waste in Los Angeles,” which opened last May, and “The Trans-Alaska Pipeline,” which opened November 14, 2008, both garnered high praise.

The peripatetic organization uses the entire United States as its playground. The center currently has six sites in the United States: the main office in Culver City; a satellite office in the graying factory town of Troy, New York on the Hudson River; the impressive and expansive American Land Museum, on the periphery of the salts flats of Wendover, Nevada; another office housed in an old junk yard in the industrial fringes of Houston; and finally, the Desert Research Station in the Mojave, a research and exhibition facility that functions as a satellite to the Culver City Space. CLUI supplements their extensive infrastructure with touring shows: “Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry” is currently on view at University of Houston and “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes” is showing in Pittsburgh.

At first glance, CLUI’s exhibitions can seem ambiguous and difficult to gauge. Their detached stance borders on mysterious, partly because CLUI is not trying to push an explicit agenda other than “understanding the nature and extent of human interaction with the Earth’s surface.” Rather than directly lambasting social ills or positing utopian visions of the future, the organization explores America’s infrastructure and developed landscapes in rigorous detail. Everyday objects are presented on pedestals and classified with placards in their exhibition spaces and video, and their photo-presentations are always devoid of leading commentary. While the guise of complete objectivity is naïve, if not impossible, CLUI’s mode of presentation does enables its audience to understand post-industrial landscape as an ecosystem in its own right. The main interest of Coolidge and his team of geomorphologists, environmentalists, scientists, architects, and scientists lies primarily in cataloguing industrial ruins and the hidden places that nonetheless greatly impact our daily lives. In other words, CLUI does not seek to bring nature closer, but to explore human interventions in natural landscape.

They do so through a diverse program that encompasses multiple exhibition spaces, site-specific works, a quarterly newsletter called The Lay of the Land, and a thriving publishing series dedicated to exploring the urban fringes of the United States and military test sites. Think Mike Davis makes field guides. “Overlook: Exploring the Internal Fringes of America,” one of CLUI’s most popular titles, is a curated guide to the American landscape that explores sites they believe are “windows into the American psyche.” You may be able to find some of the show caves and ghost towns CLUI visits on tourist maps, but you’d be hard-pressed to find the pit mines, soap factories and landfills that comprise most of the journey. As “Overlook” suggests, CLUI doesn’t shy away from a good old-fashioned field trip. The organization has orchestrated trips to potato chip factories, abandoned launch pads, and power facilities and a visit to a waste facility was offered as part of last year’s “Post Consumed,” which chronicled the life of consumer waste from curbside to landfill through documentary videos, and by isolating and classifying common pieces of garbage. One of CLUI’s slyest site-specific works is Suggested Photo Spots, an ongoing riff on Kodak’s signs at national monuments and parks. Initiated by artists Melinda Stone and Igor Vamos back in 1997, the project involves installing signage at such unlikely points of interest as wastewater treatment centers and the Kodak headquarters.

CLUI exists in the hazy area between art and pedagogy that is becoming increasingly popular both in Los Angeles and internationally. Their stark, holistic approach could alienate viewers looking for an easily digestible call to action. However, their rich investigations of industrial, urban and suburban spaces is minimal, direct and revelatory, without the sensational or trendy modes of presentation that we sadly find so often in socially or politically based works.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


My review of George Tillman's biopic of Biggie Smalls was published in issue 171 of Dazed and Confused, available on most newstands.

Christopher Wallace balled hard. Better known as Biggie Smalls or Notorious B.I.G., Wallace’s pop-gangster storytelling and exceptional lyrical prowess almost single handedly galvanized the East Coast hip-hop scene during a time that the genre was largely dominated by West Coast artists. By the time he died at the age of twenty-four, the father of two and award winning rapper had two platinum albums (His second album, Life After Death, debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts fifteen days after his murder).

Notorious follows Wallace from his humble beginnings as a teenage drug dealer through his meteoric rise to fame and untimely death. George Tillman’s (Soul Food/Barbershop) biopic attempts to expose the man behind the legend, subjecting the rapper’s woefully brief life to a literary treatment that largely fails; A deeper understanding of the artist’s life and times can be gleaned from his Wikipedia page. Still, we go to most big budget films to be entertained and Tillman and his cast don’t let us down. Melodrama and humor coalesce to paint Biggie’s story in broad strokes, dutifully chronicling the rise of Bad Boy Records, his troubled relationships with Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim, and of course, his falling out with Tupac Shakur and the ensuing East Coast-West Coast feud that ultimately cost him his life.

Tillman fleshes out his cast of seasoned professionals with a few young upstarts and the . rookies steal the show. Although the excessive joviality he brings to the role borders on Big-lite, first time actor and rapper Jamal Woolard (known on the mix tape circuit as Gravy), captures Biggie’s swagger and charm. Naturi Naughton imbues Lil’ Kim with a tantalizing mix of fire and vulnerability, outshining Puffy (Derek Luke) and every dude in the entourage.

Notorious isn’t ground breaking, but it’s fun—a bubble-gum guilty pleasure full of wise-cracks, spot-on period mise-en-scene and (best of all), lots and lots of music.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


originally published in the January issue of The Magazine

Narrowcast: Reframing Global Video 1968/2008
6522 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles
(323) 957-1777

By Jesi Khadivi

In a recent episode of Planet in Peril on CNN, correspondent Lisa Ling met with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger River Delta, also known as MEND, on the banks of a remote shore on the delta. Adrenalin was high and gun-fire filled the air as Ling gave a straight forward analysis of a region whose ecosystem had been virtually decimated by big oil companies.

Artist Mark Boulos also explores the indignity suffered by Nigerians in the hands of companies like Shell oil. His two-channel video, All That is Solid Melts into Air, which posits footage of Nigerian rebels preparing for battle against the frenzied activity of the Chicago Stock Exchange trading floor, offers more nuanced insight into dispossession and power than the Planet in Peril team could dream of. All That is Solid…, which derives its title from Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto, beautifully encapsulates the radical potential of video art, as well as its capacity for non-linear story telling.

Narrowcast revisits LACE’s seminal 1986 exhibition, Resolution: A Critique of Video Art. It is less a critique and more a celebration of video’s possibilities and the evolution of the form, especially as a political tool. In Political Advertisement I (1952-1984) Antonio Muntades and Marshall Reese show political ads transform from direct address to feel good sloganeering, and finally, to outright manipulation and scare tactics. Natalie Bookchin’s video Trip, comprised entirely of found footage from YouTube, explores international borderlands and the binaries that blossom there. Shot primarily on low grade consumer video devices like phones and cameras, Bookchin’s video consists of home made road movies from over seventy countries. Artur Zmijewski’s Game of Tag takes on a heightened significance when it is revealed at the end of the video that the naked game of tag is being played in the gas chamber of a former concentration camp.

In All That is Solid Melts into Air, a Nigerian militia member sternly advised Mark Boulos, “Make them remember us.” Though typically a concern associated with documentary film making, all the artists in Narrowcast engage with issues of memory and representation that are subtle, incisive and fresh, whether the film was made in 1986 or 2008.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

wear your love like heaven

Much to my surprise, the proposal I wrote for 33 1/3's open call about Donovan's Gift From a Flower to a Garden made their short list. Not the shortest shortlist in the world, but I'm happy to have survived the first cut. Out of over 500 applicants about 20 book deals will be offered. Check out the series.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Chinatown Land

Originally published in Fabrik Magazine

By Jesi Khadivi

Few cities are fortunate enough to have a gallery district as unique as LA’s Chinatown. This cozy, outcropping of garish pagodas and paper lanterns is a hyper-real version of a Chinese village, hence artist Andre Yi’s riff on the iconic Hollywood sign, Chinatownland, a sculpture which was displayed in a vacant lot on Hill Street until fairly recently. Chung King road, a kitschy pedestrian mall that houses many of Chinatown’s contemporary art galleries, was built in the 1940s as part of “New Chinatown” after plans for Union Station led to the razing of the original Chinatown. Long home to Chinese specialty shops and importers, the area’s store fronts began to be settled by art galleries in the late 1990s. Now teeming with cutting edge galleries and hip shops, all elbowing up against Chinese social clubs and restaurants, the area is home to a diverse range of art spaces, ranging from the experimental to the more established (many of the neighborhood’s galleries are nationally, if not internationally acclaimed). As can be expected of such a dynamic area, the neighborhood is in flux. Long time Chinatown denizens like Javier Peres (Peres Projects) and David Kordansky (Kordansky Gallery) have jumped ship for the West Side’s contemporary art hotspot, Culver City. Other galleries have been playing musical chairs with their locations. Katie Brennan of Sister Gallery took over one of the two Peres Project store fronts, and numerous other spaces have taken up new leases mere blocks away, or in at least one case, across the street from their original space. The folks who have stayed put, however, are keeping Chinatown’s collaborative spirit alive.

Telic Arts Exchange and the Public School
972B Chung King Road

Telic Arts Exchange, one of the most ambitious east side hybrid arts institutions, was founded by artist/architect/educators Fiona Whitton and Sean Dockray in 2004. Conceived as a platform for art, architecture, media, and pedagogy, Telic curates exhibitions, stages live performances, and hosts the Public School, an amorphous committee-run educational experiment. Recent course offerings have included The Economy of Giant Ass Sculptures, The Democratic Museum, and Sado-Masochism: Theory & Practice. The Distributed Gallery, a series of video monitors installed in various art and commercial spaces throughout Chinatown, debuted in December to maintain the Telic’s public presence after their October move from a Chung King store front into a basement space across the way. Video projects by Geoff Manaugh and James Merle Thomas are next on deck.

Ooga Booga
943 N. Broadway, #203

New York City has Printed Matter for cool art books and ephemera, Angelenos have Ooga Booga. Wendy Yao’s tiny, well curated store is filled to the brim with clothing, artist editions, books, and records by venerable artists, musicians, and designers. Yao started the boutique to showcase the work of friends and contemporaries and it has expanded to a veritable who’s who of art, music, and fashion featuring clothing by Opening Ceremony and Bless, and editioned work by musician-artist Bjorn Copeland and German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. An artist in her own right, Yao will exhibit video work in May at the Distributed Gallery. Ooga Booga occasionally brings the party to the porch, hosting live music events in the stairwell adjacent to the shop.

The Mountain Bar/Mountain School of Art
473 Gin Ling Way

A collaboration between sculptor Jorge Pardo and gallerist Steve Hanson (owner of China Art Objects), the Mountain Bar is Chinatown’s go-to for post opening cocktails. Stiff drinks, an opium den-like atmosphere, and the bacon-wrapped hot dog cart around the corner keep folks coming back for more. Each winter, the bar’s backroom houses the Mountain School of Arts, an eclectic, artist initiated free school founded by artists Piero Golia and Eric Wesley. Admission is by application only and past seminar leaders have included artist Franz Ackerman, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, and curator Bob Nickas.

Cottage Home
410 Cottage Home Street

Steve Hanson has his hands in multiple pots. The China Art Objects owner is a collaborator in one of the neighborhood’s newest galleries, Cottage Home, with fellow Chinatown big-wigs, Katie Brennan of Sister and Thomas Solomon. The 4,000 square foot former movie theater opened in July with a group exhibition entitled I Can See for Miles. The size of the gallery is unusual for Chinatown, known for its quirky storefront spaces and will allow the gallerists to show larger works than their solo spaces allow, a boon for their artists and an inspiring model for upstart contemporary galleries dealing with market challenges.

Via Café
451 Gin Ling Way

Via embraces its status as the resident arty Asian eatery by decking the walls floor to ceiling with paintings and drawings by local artists and hosting a video monitor for Telic’s Distributed Gallery The service isn’t always the best, but the food is delicious and the crowd is vibrant and good-looking. Stop at Via after your gallery crawl for mouth-watering, reasonably priced bowls of rice vermicelli and spring rolls, and other Vietnamese specialties.

The Box
977 Chung King Road

Box director, Mara McCarthy, recently presented an exhibit by LA based artist Kirsten Puusemp in which the artist traveled the furthest distance possible from the gallery, leaving the exhibition space filled only with the things she couldn't take with her-- paper bags filled with canned goods, musical instruments, and a few wrapped presents. Not exactly salable stuff, but McCarthy, the daughter of LA art royalty Paul McCarthy, doesn't seem to mind, as she conceived the space as an educational project as well as an exhibition space. Like many Chinatown galleries, The Box is an interdisciplinary affair. McCarthy is dedicated to conceptually rigorous and challenging works that defy a conventional gallery model.

The Company
946 Yale Street

Providing hope for aspiring young gallerists paralyzed by market woes, curator Anat Ebgi and artist Annie Wharton's opened the doors of their Chung King road adjacent gallery in November with their inaugural exhibition, Human Resources. Following in the footsteps of other east side hybrid arts venues, The Company employs a diffuse approach to programming hosting screenings, talks, and other events in addition to their rotating schedule of exhibitions. Rhizomatic, indeed!

Farm Lab
1745 North Spring Street

Located on the banks of the anemic LA river, Farmlab began as an extension of the Not a Cornfied Project, an Annenberg funded living sculpture by LA artist Lauren Bon in which 32 acres of industrial brownfield was used to plant corn for one agricultural cycle. Farm Lab shares Culver City’s Center For Land Use Interpretation’s (CLUI) investigation of land use issues within an art audience, demonstrating the multi-striated connections between art and urbanism, The warehouse space, located just north of Chinatown, hosts a wide array of talks, exhibitions, and special events.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

Orginally published in the film issue of SOMA

In the summer of 1982, Israeli soldiers invaded Southern Lebanon with the intent of “stabilizing” the civil-war-torn country used as a strategic missile range in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. As Israeli forces waited to enter the capital city of Beirut, a treaty was signed between Israel and Palestinians stating that if PLO combatants were sent by ship to Tunisia, Israeli’s would remove the threat of a surge on Beirut. In the midst of this delicate cease-fire, Lebanese president elect (and Sharon favorite), Phalangist militia leader Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated while giving a speech in East Beirut. In an orgy of retaliatory violence, Phalangists stormed the refugee camps of West Beirut to avenge the death of their beloved leader. As is all too often the case with military blood debts, the victims of the brutal massacre that ensued in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila were exclusively civilians, many of them children and elderly.

Fast forward twenty-five years to two former soldiers sitting in a bar. Ari Folman, a documentary filmmaker, has been summoned by his friend, Boaz Rein Buskila. Visions of war have crept into the soulful accountant’s dreams. But Buskila is not plagued by apparitions of fallen soldiers or decimated battle fields. Twenty-six dogs have been chasing him since he left occupied territory, and they’ve finally tracked him down at his office. Because he had difficulty killing people, Buskila was assigned to shoot barking dogs. And he remembered each and every one he shot.

Unlike Boaz, Ari remembers nothing. But after leaving his friend, a solitary recollection of wartime comes flooding back to him a dream. Three soldiers awaken in the ocean, illuminated by flares from above. As they head into the devastated streets of Beirut, grief stricken Palestinian survivors of the Sabra and Shatila massacres swarm around them in a hallucinatory procession.

Folman’s encounter with Buskila and the sole memory it elicits provided the impetus for his feature length animated documentary, Waltz With Bashir. Waltz follows Folman as he attempts to unravel Israel’s role in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and by extension his own involvement. He interviews old war buddies, acclaimed war correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai, and a psychologist in his quest to locate and understand his missing memories. Untraditional as it may seem, Folman felt that animation was the only way to tell his story. And he’s right. In many ways, Waltz is a story without images. At least photographic images. According to Folman, very little decent archival footage of the first Lebanese War exists, and even if it did, news reel footage and army generals couldn’t begin to tell Folman’s story . With its focus on the spaces between memory, forgetting is a vital aspect of Waltz’s story. As is the dynamic nature of memory; At least three different animation styles and color palettes are used to evoke its ambiguity.

Waltz with Bashir is Folman’s third feature film and his second animated work. He experimented with the form in the animated introductory sequences for The Material that Love is Made Of, a documentary series made for Israeli television about the substance of love, based on American chemist Helen Fisher’s discovery that love is actual hormonal matter. Though the bold visual style that Folman honed in Waltz With Bashir is evident in its germinal stages in Material, his early animation cleverly riffs off of animated educational shorts, while Waltz mines the medium’s capacity for pathos (which is heightened by experimental composer Max Richter’s original score). Although Waltz’s casual format of folks sitting around talking about issues like dreams, repression and memory have prompted many to draw comparisons to Richard Linklater’s animated jaw-fest Waking Life, Waltz was drawn using a mixture of Flash, 3D and traditional animation techniques, rather than the rotoscoping used for Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. A favorite at the Cannes and New York Film Festivals, the film is a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and an official Academy Award entry for Best Animated Feature and Best Foreign Language Film.

Folman does not wield the documentary form as a pedagogical tool, nor does he create a comprehensive contextual framework for the viewer to understand Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. He shuns traditional documentary’s fixation on experts and verisimilitude, which can desensitize viewers. By positing war at a dreamlike distance, Folman brings its atrocity closer. “War is so surreal,” Folman says, “and memory is so tricky that I thought I had better take the journey with the help of very fine illustrators.” The personal is political in Waltz with Bashir; In focusing on the non-linear and oft fantastical stories of fellow Israeli soldiers, Folman resists using documentary in the service of an official history, instead delving into the highly subjective and fragmentary testimonials of his peers. Waltz With Bashir impressively navigates the cross-currents of anguish, fantasy and war, all the while reminding us through the veil of post-traumatic reverie that war’s vagaries are very, very real.

Lat den ratte komma in

Orginally published in Dazed and Confused, issue #130

Text Jesi Khadivi

“Are you old?” a young, cherubic-faced Swede asks his new dark, androgynous friend. “I’m twelve,” the child responds, “but I’ve been twelve for a long time.” Meet Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson), two pre-teens living in the anonymous block suburbs of Stockholm in the early 1980s, a far cry from the drafty Transylvanian castles of vampire lore. Despite this, Let The Right One In, a minimal Swedish film about a twelve year old vampire and her budding relationship with her neighbor, Oskar, is one of the most outstanding experimentations with the genre in years. Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the best selling novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist is light on the gore and heavy on the pathos. Oskar, a pale and friendless young boy, is repeatedly tortured at school. When a gaunt child and her much older caretaker move in next door around the same time that grizzly murders start happening in the neighborhood, Oskar forges a friendship with her over a shared Rubik’s cube. Already a bit of a gore fiend, Oskar soon discovers that his girl-next-door is actually a vampire and not even a girl, forcing him to choose between his nascent sense of morality and love for his only friend.

Working with a cast of stellar, largely unknown actors, Alfredson drains the bravado out of an essentially hyperbolic genre to create a film of unparalleled restraint and tenderness. Vital back stories in the novel, Oskar’s father’s alcoholism and the troubled relationship between Eli and her caretaker Hakan, are only wordlessly alluded to in the film, but the adaptation isn’t slighted at all by their absence. Far from it. The reliance of Let the Right One In on the suggestiveness of rich, visual storytelling lends the film an ambiguity that accounts for much of its charm. Alfredson depicts a world of losers: a lonely boy, a shrill single mother ashamed of her broken home, a gaggle of drunks, a grubby vampirette and the broken old man who takes care of her until his untimely death. Let the Right One In is a horror flick without a clearly delineated evil, other than repression and provincialism--byproducts of Blackeberg’s brutal landscape. Aggressors and victims alike are depicted as every day folk just trying to get by. Those looking for blood in the film will find it, but the gore factor is so subdued that it appears fantastical rather than gruesome. The trauma and violence of adolescence—the sensuality of bullying, the shame of being monstrous, and first pangs of sexual desire—are treated more in depth than any nocturnal blood letting. With a keen eye for nuance and elegiac pacing, Alfredson deftly probes his characters’ capacity to love and feel pain through intimate, revealing moments. The solemn hug a bloody-mouthed Eli gives Oskar after he watches her kill a man beautifully encapsulates the limitations of Eli and Oskar’s fragile relationship. Adolescence is depicted as a long Scandinavian winter, steeped in darkness and ice. While Oskar will eventually make it to Spring if he chooses to, Eli will continue to inhabit the dark, cold night.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Failing Up

originally published in the January issue of whitehot

Failing Up: Or, vergangenheitsbewältingung
Martin Kippenberger: The Problem Perspective
By Jesi Khadivi

The Problem Perspective, Martin Kippenberger’s first retrospective in the United States, is a lot to take in. The artist worked in an exhaustive array of media including sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, and book art. Kippenberger built complex relational webs encompassing the role of the artist within cultural production, issues of authorship, Germaneness, shame, and guilt--all filtered through a caustically irreverent sensibility. Curator Ann Goldstein presents the breadth and depth of the artist’s extensive oeuvre, showcasing favorites like the photorealistic series of paintings Lieber maler, male mirseries (Dear Painter, Paint for me, ) and the sprawling installation The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s Amerika (1994), in addition to lesser known works. Kippenberger was nothing if not brash. For better or worse, his braggadocio deemed everything he touched a work of art, from paintings (sometimes painted by Kippenberger, sometimes others) to doodles on hotel stationary. His post-humous popularity is due in equal parts to his emphasis on the conceptual aspects of art and his fecund creative impulse. His extreme self-consciousness about his role as an artist (played out in his innumerable self-portraits) and his consistent exploration of art and value (the series Preis is perhaps the most succinct articulation of this impulse), have been hot topics for contemporary artists. Still, some of most compelling works in the exhibition are deeply rooted in the political history of his motherland, Germany.

Words are constructed like trains in the German language, strung one after the other to form compound words that elicit meaning so precise that they virtually deny translation. The well known word-train, Vergangenheitsbewältingung, or “coming to terms with the past,” was a highly loaded concept in Germany following World War II and the fall of the Berlin wall. Many Germans grappled with how to retain an understanding of their country’s exceptionally violent and traumatic recent history while building a new future. Though it doesn’t exclusively inform his sprawling, multi-faceted practice, shame, embarrassment, and failure of vergangenheitsbewältingung is a central theme in much of Kippenberger’s work. He pursues these tangled threads in works like Ich kann bei besten Willen kein Hackenkreuz entdecken (With the Best Will in the World, I Can’t See a Swastika, 1984), an abstract painting of fractured lines that allude to a fragmented swastika (the work was made during a time that depictions of swastikas were verboten). Put Your Freedom in the Corner and Save it for a Rainy Day (1990) is a direct response to the decision to tear down most of the Berlin wall upon the reunification of Germany. Equating the wall’s removal with an act of historical erasure, the sculpture consists of a broken vase shoddily glued back together displayedin front of a replica of a segmentof the Berlin Wall covered in Robert Gober’s wall-paper Sleeping Man/Hanged Man. Martin, ab in die Ecke und Schäm dich (Martin, Into the Corner, You Should Be Ashamed Of Yourself), a life-size sculptural self-portrait of a man facing a corner wearing the artist’s clothing, is a more generalized depiction of shame and repentance. A gentle poke at history, as well as the artist’s well known drinking and carousing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Culture Jam

Culture Jam
By Jesi Khadivi
Originally published in artnet

Two months ago, undeterred by the flailing economy, art dealer Charlie James and curator Dane Johnson teamed up to open the Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown in Los Angeles. Their first exhibition, with the straightforward title "Western Front: Inaugural Group Show," featured works by three Bay Area artists from the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco -- Packard Jennings, Ray Beldner and Kara Maria.

Despite current market woes, or perhaps because of them, "Western Front" delighted in cold, hard cash. The suggestive political and economic undertones in the exhibition (some more subtle than others), succinctly articulate the gallery’s post-pop conceptual focus, which mixes agit-prop, conceptual high jinks and bawdy imagery.

Packard Jennings, a collaborator with the Yes Men on last month’s New York Times spoof, contributes several bitingly acerbic culture jams, including his Anarchist Action Figure, the Molotov-cocktail-wielding toy-sized sculpture that has already gotten a certain amount of critical attention. Another standout is his Business Reply Pamphlet, which provides step-by-step pictorial instructions on how to refashion a soul-sucking corporate office space into a nudist utopia, a work that was originally designed to be "shopdropped" in junk-mail sorting centers. The action figure is $2,800, while the pamphlet is $850, framed.

Ray Beldner, a Bay Area sculptor and installation artist (who also shows with New York dealer Caren Golden) offers a sly exegesis of the intersection of art, commerce and appropriation in his "Counterfeit" series, recreations of contemporary blue chip artworks made out of dollar bills. His hanging quilt, Golden Rule (Hollywood -- After Ruscha) (2003), is a version of Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood Sign made out of sewn U.S. currency, while his 6 Squares of Cash (after Carl Andre) (2002) is an Andre floor piece redone in flattened singles.

Beldner’s work fuses the appropriational impulse of Sherrie Levine -- among her first works were presidential portraits taken from coins -- with the obsessive, craftiness of contemporary collagists like Jonathan Herder and Mark Wagner. Prices range from $950 to $12,000.

Like her colleagues here, Kara Maria could be called a political pop artist. Her work explores the popular, well-trodden symbology surrounding U.S. engagement in the Middle East in a series of paintings devoted to the obscene links between petro-commerce and war. In The Muddiness of Right and Wrong, a towering skull wearing camouflage and RayBans gives a toothy grin while two scantily clad women vamp in the foreground.

One figure, naked except for her hijab, throws a seductive glance over her shoulder while the BP petroleum logo encroaches upon her bare ass. The work is available for $8,500. While the relationship between pornography and violence is fertile ground and the cultural context of violence warrants discussion, Walker’s powerful paintings run the risk of inspiring the very "war fatigue" that she seeks to combat.

"Western Front: Inaugural Group Show: Ray Beldner, Packard Jennings, and Kara Maria," Nov. 15, 2008-Jan. 3, 2009, at Charlie James Gallery, 975 Chung King Road, Los Angeles, Ca. 90012.

JESI KHADIVI is an art and film critic based in Los Angeles and Berlin.