Video, photography, installation AND performance. By Thomas Hollingworth
Clifton Childree, DREAM-CUM-TRU opening. Image courtesy of Locust Projects.
I think most in attendance will agree that this Second Saturday art walk, which opened the fall season here in Miami, was one of the best yet. With a veritable smörgåsbord of exhibitions and a volume of human traffic more synonymous with early December, there was a lot both inside and out to take-in.
Interiors were hot, crowded and for the most part boasted chaotic configurations from sculptural installations and sound work to theatrical design and performance art. The two exhibitions that I would like to focus on today share many of these elements.
Within easy walking distance from each other, Spinello Gallery and Locust Projects provided the majority of the night’s entertainment. At Spinello a multi-media exhibition by Federico Nessi entitled Emotional Response Can Be Deconditioned, which featured a live street performance at 9PM, contrasted and coordinated well with Clifton Childree’s sprawling installation DREAM-CUM-TRU and its accompanying performance at 8PM and 10PM.
Federico Nessi, White Light / White Heat, 2008. Diptych, Archival Digital Prints. 24″ x 36″. Image courtesy of the artist.
Using just mundane everyday materials like flashlights and hand mirrors and fostering a burgeoning regression from digital to analogue Federico Nessi’s Emotional Response Can Be Deconditioned, though scented with a host of universal and metaphoric meanings, talks simply about being haunted by the sense of someone. Arising from interpersonal situations and the play between two people, the works hark to the shame of loss; to reaching or searching for that specific something outside of one’s self – perhaps enlightenment or forgiveness.
Rather than burdening audiences with symbolism and explanative content, Nessi’s work serves plainly to summarize; simplifying emotions into images, representative of feelings and ideas for experience. Not so much sexualized as awkward and aggressive the images which depict symbolic light elements and a claustrophobic blow-job scene are paired or arranged into a series that allow narratives to form.
The exhibition’s title is ironic but also hopeful; this combined with the unusual decor and the masochistic references evident in the work amount to a rare sense of exposure. Through dealing with the power of human feelings and the limitless, dark potential of the mind Nessi creates a specific emotional environment, one with great imaginative potential, where a rope light could be anything from a trusted tether to a tool of torture.
There is a present sense of insecurity in this new work which could be mistaken for self reflection should not the pictures tell a different story.
Federico Nessi, Patience Is Brutal No. 1, 2008. Archival Digital Print, 30″ x 36″. Image courtesy of the artist.
Federico; this show really galvanizes what we can expect from you.
This show is obviously an extension of everything I’ve done. When I finished Wire Wire Wire I just felt that it was something I wanted to keep working on. Most of Wire Wire Wire was all these different images that had been recurring in my head for years and that was their first incarnation really but, its ideas, universal and metaphoric for experience. In this show there’s a lot about the play off of two people as opposed to being completely directed into the self– how certain emotions arise from interactions with other people.
So you’re continuing to crystallize and evolve your ideas from Wire Wire Wire?
Wire Wire Wire was all about the insecurities that arise from the tensions within relationships. It could have been interpreted as moments of self reflection but they all kind of arise form these interpersonal situations– like the following the person on the map. Really simple imagery to go with these really heavy feelings; just kind of summarizing and simplifying.
The materials you work with and even the film you use seem very basic, is this intentional?
Since Wire Wire Wire I’ve been using these mundane objects like hand mirrors, rope lights and flashlights and representing them as simulations or illusions of energy; a self profane energy I guess. It’s all about this idealized reaching for something – enlightenment or awareness – but on the flip side being completely conscious and aware of it at the same time.
What about the look of the exhibition? It’s not exactly your typical white cube.
No, it’s a black cube in a black cube! After seeing the last couple of shows at Spinello I was really interested in completely fucking with the space, like I didn’t want it to be just stuff on a wall, I wanted to create this interactive very heavily installation based show.
All of your images, the people in them, are fairly decent; I mean there’s no gratuitous nudity.
Ah, no, no nudity but this is one of the images from the series:
Federico Nessi, You Held Me Like A Crucifix No. 3, 2008. Archival Digital Print 24″ x 16″. (3 in series of 9). Image courtesy of the artist.
Is that you undoing someone’s zipper?
Yeah, its series of nine images and it’s very real! None of the images are really meant to be too sexualized; it’s supposed to be this awkwardness and aggression. This is the calmest one and while its compositionally more linear and symmetrical, the others have a lot more motion.
And the title “Emotional Response Can Be Deconditioned”, where did that come from?
I started getting really interested in aversion therapy and the notion of shock therapy and how up until the ’70s it was completely common, you know if you got caught being gay somewhere you were automatically sentenced to aversion therapy which included weeks and weeks of shock therapy and with the gay rights movement there was a doctor that was tried in England for subjecting people to aversion therapy and within one of his statements he says: “Emotional response can be deconditioned.” So, you know, the title is this kind of ironic, hopeful..
In terms of you deconditioning the emotional responses of the general public?
No, just in terms of being able to change a feeling you know, like re-direct where and how emotions affect you, or to have that control. I quite like to question the possibility of that control. And that’s what all this is about. Some people will view it as this reconciliation with yourself and other people will feel it’s completely ironic and that’s what the title is for me.
Let’s talk a minute about the live performance.
We covered a song that I used to listen to a lot by love and rockets called haunted when the minutes drag. I don’t know if it tapped into many people but I was really interested in tapping into a personal nostalgia with this performance because for me this song just brings back so much. It was basically an 8 minute song that we pushed to twelve minutes, almost, so we made it extra slow and gave it our own kind of flip– all of us performed and sang different specific parts, kind of like abstracting the song a little but its was perfect for the show because it talks about not being able to get rid of the ghost of someone, basically; and that’s what all my work kind of ends up being. Like trying to get to this place where I can just be comfortable with myself and not be so tangled up in someone else.
It was a one shot deal right?
Yeah, well, I was in a daze, all cracked out and crying, and your reaction was really the first that I paid attention to, and you were like “awww the technical difficulties” and initially I thought, yeah, that was a bummer, but the more I’ve thought about it since, the more appropriate it was.
Federico Nessi, Haunted When The Minutes Drag, 2008. Live performance. Dimensions variable. Image courtesy of Spinello Gallery.
For me the warm up was great. There was this long period where nothing much was happening until Victor Barrenechea started hitting his guitar. Then when Alex Senf sat down to the drums and Ana Mendez began trailing her microphone on the floor it all started to come together. The ‘music’ got progressively tighter, the sound got deeper and then when you started to sing I could feel attentions were turning in but when the initial crescendo was supposed to hit you lost the sound and I perceived a tension that carried through a few minutes. During that time there were moments that you almost got it together and then the power would fail again. The momentum felt as thought it had gone from a steady build-up to a lurching stop-start affair; staggering and faltering when I felt that it should have been this great push of a wall of tortured sound and desperate rapture. This is what I thought you were heading for and I could see that the potential was there to create it but after the initial crescendo was gone it appeared as though members of the band were just kind of doing their own thing– which I understand now is exactly what was supposed to happen; however, in light of people perceiving some kind of fuck up, the intentionally sporadic feel to the performance was perhaps misinterpreted. As a result the audience maybe didn’t key into ‘the band trying to find each other’ angle. But when you started screaming you really came to the fore! That’s when people started to focus in again. On the surface it was just novel to see an artist screaming in front of his gallery, but for everyone that had made the effort understand your intentions then the haunted wailing, the veins popping out of your neck and even the initial fuck up really gave a lot of power to the desperate emotions that you were aiming to convey. At that point everything formed this kind of golden triangle and started to work with itself a lot better. Part of me still longs to have seen the initial crescendo but on the whole it definitely worked in the end.
For me, that yearning for that moment that didn’t come was what I was aiming for and it’s interesting because in the end the power failing helped provide for that reaction—ironically I don’t know if I would have gotten that reaction so good if the technical difficulties hadn’t happened.
I also liked the fact that it was also a group of people as opposed to a Sonny and Cher type affair.
Well, Ana Mendez and I had our moments but yeah, I wanted it to have a presence and I liked how the audience spilled into the street and blocked it off with human force. That part of the performance was really important to the whole interpretation of the show; it was a very aggressive performance which compliments many of the photographs. Plus what’s fascinating to me is that the group was made up of its really strong personalities, everyone playing is like the front men of their bands kind of thing, so it was alse like this battle of egos thing in a very positive way because we all love and respect each other but when we get together we all want to shine in our own way, you know?
And it adds weight to the argument, to your thesis, because rather than it being one artist with one idea it’s a performance with a number of people saying: “look what we think.”
Right and that’s what I am really excited about right now. I feel that there’s this turn within this neo-romanticism you know like there’s this whole new wave of new romantics in Miami I mean I feel like I’m into that myself personally with my art but also within the music that I am listening to now that’s happening a lot[.]
Federico Nessi, He Is He And He Is You Too, 2008. 2-channel Digital Video,10:24 minutes. Image courtesy of the artist.
It is often ambiguous as to whether much of Nessi’s work is sadistic or masochistic and also whether his various lighting effects are designed to be life giving or life sapping. His characters appear trapped in a looping limbo of love sick languor that speaks again to the cyclic flow of energy we see throughout the exhibition. The images are very simple; simple language to explain the way that the artist thinks and feels, and simple symbolism exploring how the burden of people on our minds affects us and our interpretation of the world.
Its not that we try to make things deeper or more complicated than they are but rather that situations naturally become less superficial. Its not that you enter into a relationship saying: “Im going to make this one count” but as you get hurt and as you love, things take on a certain poignancy in a ‘the fundamental things apply as time goes by’ sort of way; as you live you learn and you take that with you.
Moving away from the somewhat unnecessary romantic tone that some of his previous works have been interpreted as projecting, and the ever present drone of Ryan McGinley comparisons, Nessi, with this exhibition finally found his dark obsessive place. The mind can be beautiful and radiate light energy that transforms us and gives us guidance but in reality the mind is a dark place – at least for people like Nessi who can get completely lost within their own romantic purgatory.
Left: A mock circumcision machine – Sir Komsician – entails rusty shears in an open box. Right: Nuttin’ Tu It, a carnival funhouse containing a glitter filled maze with holes at crotch level designed provide visitors with the opportinuty to grab anonymously at oneanothers nethers. At the top visitors can poke their heads through a cut out hole, becomming the face of a video projection of a man with huge balls. Image courtesy of Locust Projects.
With its turn of the century aesthetic and stridulatory animatronics reminiscent of a stop-motion Brothers Quay animation, Clifton Childree’s installation DREAM-CUM-TRU is another one-of-a-kind show. Heavily influenced by the vaudeville genre, Childree has spent over a year gleaning, preparing and constructing his latest creation – a miniature, ramshackle version of Coney Island made from salvaged wood and antique curiosities.
“What I wanted to do with this installation is create the look of an abandoned carnival, There’ll be sand all over the floor, with rotting wood and vines wrapped around the booths, and the sewing machine is part of the Old Kipper’s Widow ride. This is a carnival where the machines are kind of like animatronics figures at Disney World, but they’ve gone out-of-kilter with decay and have taken on a strange new life.”
And the exhibition is a landmark in more ways than one. As well as launching the 10th year anniversary season of Locust Projects, Childree is also the first winner of the Hilger Artist Project Award, a generous initiative by the non-for-profit to support Miami artists made possible by collector, gallerist and scholar Ernst Hilger.
Of Childree, who was selected from 32 applicants, Hilger was quoted as saying “Childree’s work is based on bits and scraps of autobiographical material which he recycles, reflecting the current state of contemporary art. He’s a visionary who looks back to look forward.”
Claire Breukel, Locust’s executive director adds: “We were founded as a place to take risks, and while Clifton’s work has a certain shock value; it also touches on common experiences with a charming sense of black humor.”
Clifton Childree (left) and MAM curator Rene Morales (right) in front of the shooting gallery. Image courtesy of Locust Projects.
The unusual exhibition also featured an equally unique live performance by Childree who dressed in a one piece red thermal jumpsuit and a top hat. Playing the part of drunken carnival barker, Childree staggered around with his penis out, threw liquids and attacked the audience; all the while keeping up his mock-critical banter regarding the film he was screening. At times he would appear to manipulate the film dragging objects or removing people’s trousers with a swish of his cane. It was clearly just an illusion made possible with familiar editing and deft timing but done with a grace and technical prowess that belied Childree’s otherwise manic havoc. At one point Childree jumped inside the movie (and almost immediately exposed himself). Childree in fact played the roles of all the various characters as is the case with his movies. Childree’s is influenced heavily by history, the incongruity of vintage life and his own unique experiences growing up in Plantation, Florida.
“I love how out-of-place people were at the start of the Industrial Revolution in London, when these ladies in elaborate clothes would be having garden parties next to huge scary machines. And the early pioneers of Miami were so amazing too, these adventurers in formal clothes fighting the heat and mosquitoes of the jungle. That must have looked so weird.”
The brief semblance of a narrative often present at the beginning of Childree’s films quickly gave way to abstract and nightmarish content featuring sailors, mad scientists and axe wheedling maniacs– generally a very clear display of Childree’s rampant penchant for full frontal nudity, penises and shit references.
Clifton Childree, Choo-Choo Train Tootsie Roll , 2008. A twisted version of Disney’s It’s A Small World, viewers riding a pile of mock, plaster-and-expanding-foam feces. Image courtesy of Locust Projects.
The performance was officially scheduled twice at 8PM and 10PM but due to its popularity Childree was forced to double his output, arranging extra viewings at 9PM and 10:30PM to accommodate the voluminous crowds.
With so many venues firing on all cylinders there was certainly a lot to digest. There were many great ‘conventional’ exhibitions that we will no doubt cover in due course, however, those that stood out as being least normal yet most successful were the ones in which the artists reached out to their audiences. Whether it was the personal touch, the luxury to be able to be drawn into the artist’s world as a silent observer or just the pleasure of seeing someone put themselves on a plate, these shows prevailed in respect of engendering a sense of shared experience. It was nice, for want of a better word, to be entertained. Not that criticality should be shunned, or that these exhibitions lacked exclusivity, or that not enough effort was required to understand them, or that exclusivity and a prerequisite of effort is admirable, but the experience of being amongst friends whilst enjoying engaging, amusing and provocative shows was great! I don’t know if that’s an art-thing, but it certainly should be.
After such an explosive season opener institutions will have to work pretty hard to keep up their game in the run up to Basel, but I guess that’s mostly down to the caliber of their artists. Thanks to the efforts of Nessi and Childree, their respective institution’s have high bench marks and the momentum to carry them forward[.]
For more information about Federico Nessi please visit: www.spinellogallery.com
For more information about Clifton Childree please visit: www.locustprojects.org