Three Friends Walk into a Gallery – Adrienne Walser & Nicole Antebi Edition

stacy elaine dacheux at andrea bower’s exhibit . photo by nicole antebi . 2012

Stacy Elaine Dacheux: Our first stop in Culver City was Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. The front space held work and ideas from Andrea Bowers. What did this exhibition make you think about?

Nicole Antebi:  The large, beautifully rendered banners on flattened cardboard harken back to another time–the iconic, allegorical figures reference older social justice pamphlets dating back to 1910. The images are undeniably appealing for their stylized graphics and lineage to Women’s Suffrage and the Fair Labor movement now echoed in the strange inequity we are seeing today. I do love seeing cardboard used in unexpected ways. The low grade, Arte Povera material references labor and a shadow economy that collects and recycles cardboard.

Adrienne Walser: I liked the images and cardboard too, as a recycled material–it was a surprise; it was a strange material for that particular space, which felt, to me, big and white and formal, not intimate and a little alienating, to be honest. There was something about the incongruity of the feel and intention of work and the feel of the space that made it difficult for me to think about labor issues and the history of the figures… I did appreciate the re-use of the graphics and the notions of re-cycling that the art referenced–cycles of history, of figures, of issues around labor and women’s work that do not cease, that resurface in different historical periods, that we revisit and should revisit, return to, recycle and re-examine… The stylized graphics (art nouveau-ish?) of the pieces seem intentionally in contrast with the DIY cardboard thing going on, which was fun–as were the huge lively images of the female figures. But I think I spent more time looking at all the informational materials on the tables in the gallery that were from L.A. labor organizations. It was an interesting collection of brochures, images, pamphlets, and resources. I wondered whether this show, including these materials, would work better elsewhere and serve more of a purpose.
andrea bower’s pamphlet table . photo by stacy elaine dacheux . 2012
Adrienne (Con.t): Nicole clued me into the fact there there was a little room in the back behind a curtain. This work in this exhibit was immediately more interesting to me. Maybe I liked being in a smaller darker room? The art was Impulsive Control by Melodie Mousset. On the floor were video screens. A woman, a naked body of a woman, was the sculpture in progress on a potter’s wheel spinning around. Her body, cross-legged, was visible, not her face, and her head, seen from above, was a pot being formed by a man, whose hands dipped in and out of the wet pot, making, molding, forming it with his fingers– dipping in and spreading the sides of the “head-pot” out, pushing the walls of the “head-pot” in, pulling them out, the “head-pot” empty and malleable to his/the artist’s touch. I said aloud to Nicole, what did I say?–the pot is the head, his hands are in the pot–was that it? Or was it, I am the woman on the wheel, his hands are in my head? Or did I say that in my head? In my little notebook, I wrote, “Put your hands off me. Put your hands on me. Get your hands out of my head.”
melodie mousset’s video piece . photo by stacy elaine dacheux . 2012

Adrienne (Con.t): Multiple screens and multiple women and pots as heads and man hands are in motion around the room. In the center are the completed pots, the heads of women, in all shapes and sizes, thrown and fired and now “works of art” to be looked at and appreciated.

melodie mousset’s pots . photo by stacy elaine dacheux . 2012

Adrienne (Con.t): They are really graceful and lovely pots, these pots that are/were the women’s heads. I felt like we were all appreciating this in similar and different ways–me and Nicole and Stacy, who joined us. This is a good concept–and conceived and done well, I thought. I appreciated how it felt and all the things it was doing. We walked around, and I didn’t feel we had to talk about it. But we threw out some things–the head is empty, Stacy said, the head is so vulnerable, we said, it was hard to watch his hands go in and out of the pot, his fingers at work, it is like a vagina, Stacy and I said together. It is a vagina head. We laughed, but we knew what we meant by this. It seemed to me to be about woman as art object, and yet, Stacy pointed out, the woman who made this work is a woman. Oh yes, I said. Then we went out into the light of Culver City. Are you hungry? We took some pictures on a bridge and then got Greek food together.

Nicole: The collision of activism and art can be incredibly awkward and misplaced.  Seeing Bower’s work in Vielmetter’s pristine white cube did feel off.  Of course, the commercial gallery has its labor issues as well.  I can’t tell you how many artists I know who have not been paid for art sold through their respective galleries and don’t get me started on artist assistants.  But that is another conversation.  My question, and I don’t know that I have an answer, is whether we are more comfortable confronting issues  of gender rather than issues of labor in an art context?   I’m thinking particularly about our unanimous embrace of Melodie Mousset’s video pieces. The implication of an invasive male hand in the potter/pot’s head is not overtly about gender in the art world specifically, but all the ingredients of power and privilege over the underprivileged are there, waiting to fill the misshapen vessels.  I’m kind of seeing one piece explain the other.  Although, maybe that reduction is the limits of Mousset’s piece.

Stacy: Nicole, I find it interesting that you bring up the issue of artists not getting paid for their work. I did not know this to be an issue, but it is certainly an important point to note. Did you see that the Bowers exhibit had this pamphlet regarding a union for artists on display as well? I picked it up because I wanted to learn more. I wonder what your thoughts are here? Is this a subtle act of protest, in the spirit of Warholian irony?

pamphlets from andrea bower’s exhibit . photo by stacy elaine dacheux . 2012

Stacy (Con.t): If so, I think this makes the exhibit much more interesting. It shows us all on equal playing fields– we are not artists standing on an elite platform, informing the public about activism on the streets, although this is what it looks like at first. As we dig at the materials– the flyers, zines, and pamphlets scattered around the table, as artists, we start to see a mirror. We see ourselves. Artists as workers. Workers as artists. How we are similar, and if we are mistreated or exploited, we can unionize like these other workers have in the past. We are not above or outside of activism, reporting daintily on its plights, we are also trying to find our own voice in the rubble. We are all on the front line and we all have the opportunity to organize and create change in our working conditions.

Like Adrienne, Mousset’s work really impacted me, much more so than Bowers, but I don’t feel as though this is the result of one body of work being stronger. They are both engaging. My response is completely biased. In art, I am drawn to what I identify with or what scares me about what I identify with. Those man hands scared me and I hated them. I felt like I wanted to punch the pottery off the wheel. Oh, my goodness, Adrienne and Nicole, I was mad at the woman for being empty for letting those man hands touch her. It felt good to be mad. I can’t really explain it because it was a truly visceral experience. One that was immediate and primal, but also probably very relative to women and art and history.

As far as your question goes, Nicole, maybe people are shy talking about labor in an art context because they don’t identify as laborers. Maybe artists don’t identify as laborers either, and maybe this is why Bowers work is so important in a commercial space.

Nicole:  Of all the materials scattered about, I’m curious why you chose these two pamphlets to take.  Did you see them as having value as art objects (a la Warhol or maybe Gonzalez-Torres) or because you were interested in what participation in an art union could offer you?

I want to hold on to and think more about this idea about artists not identifying as laborers.  Artist as laborer shifts the focus from ideas to labor itself–which is something artists have been challenging since post-war era and earlier with Duchamp.

Stacy: I took the pamphlets because I was curious– I had never heard of such a thing and I wanted to learn more. When I think of unions, I think of industrial plants, teachers, or actors. I think art and money can have a guilty relationship at times. I also think teaching and money has a similar guilty relationship. We do what we do because we love it– how could money disrupt or interfere with our love affair? It complicates the love. Pollutes the intention. Much is exploited in the name of identity here when art and money mix– but maybe this is not true– or, it doesn’t have to be true. It is, unfortunately, how I think sometimes, or what I worry about. However, teachers do have a union, and this union is known. Teachers get paid to teach. It’s only fair. Unions help level the playing field. However, I am a teacher, but I am adjunct, so despite sharing a similar craft as other teachers, I remain union-less. Is this fair? What does this make me?  In addition to teaching, I am an artist, but I feel outside the system there too– meaning, I am not with a specific institution. So, what is an artist? How do I gather? How am I an artist and when do I know if I deserve to be unionized? Is this about what we deserve? Is this about being “good enough” . . . ah, it’s all blurry.
stacy and nicole just outside the gallery . photo by adrienne walser . 2012

Adrienne: In regards to Stacy’s comment about engaging with Mousset’s  work as a visceral experience, I would agree . . . I am moved emotionally and made to think by how something feels, by the play of art in a space, by its colors and shapes and material, by the light and the environment, by what the work of art seems to be doing to me–by how it succeeds in tapping into an experience or feeling or idea or interest of mine. I have been thinking about hands and bodies and how we touch and form each other as people–about the impact of physical interactions and how they do things to us… And I always think about gender dynamics. The gender implication of Mousset’s felt very palpable, given the gendered history of art production, the problematic and uncomfortable history of woman as (viewed, shaped) object and man as artist/creator/shaper… This conversation was happening across these shows, the conversation about artist as worker, paid or unpaid, as part of a system, as outside a system… This resonated in the work in both shows… But I wasn’t feeling it so much with the Bowers pieces, except I did when I looked at the table of pamphlets, which were interesting to me because they were useful, colorful, various, and because they reflected a diverse community people doing real things in Los Angeles in regards to work issues.

Stacy: Well, I want to thank you both for accompanying me to this gallery and allowing our conversation to be documented. Dialoguing makes me stretch my brain and think about the work in interesting new ways. This experience, in particular, has allowed me to contemplate and illustrate my own guttural relationship to art, gender, and industry– or at least, it’s made me lose my mind about it all for a bit– which is, actually, a great feeling. Isn’t this what art should do and do more often? I wonder what other people think about the concepts put forth by these artists? Feel free to add your opinions below.
Adrienne Walser likes to wander around Los Angeles with her friends. She also likes to think and write about modernism, travel, art, film, bodily interactions and questions of intimacy. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Literature for Bard College. 
Nicole Antebi makes short, animated, biographies about historical figures who diverted water to the west in grandiose and destructive ways.  She likes to misbehave with friends.  
Stacy Elaine Dacheux is the proprietor of this website. She looks forward to having more art adventures with Adrienne and Nicole.

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