Unboxing the Toolkit

Unboxing the Toolkit,” Toolshed (July 9, 2021)


Light and Looms and Libraries: Three Months in Galleries

The past three months have been quite a rush; they encompassed the end of the fall semester, a move to a new apartment, the holidays, another move to Germany for the first half of my Spring 2016 fellowship at the Bauhaus, a few completed articles (on information infrastructures, infrastructural aesthetics, and index cards), several public talks (on media furnishings, epistemological design, sensing infrastructure, and library design), lots of advising, and a completed book manuscript. Still, I managed to squeeze in a few hours in galleries:

First, to celebrate the submission of fall grades, I stopped by Little Sister (Is Watching You, Too), curated by my colleague Christiane Paul, @ Pratt Manhattan Gallery:




Augustine Kofie’s “Inventory” — office-supply assemblages and Charles-Sheeler-meets-the-Constructivists media-archaeological collages — @ Jonathan Levine:







Walid Raad — deconstructions of the exhibitionary complex, anti-archives, Baldessari-meets-Forensic-Architecture bullet-hole mappings, etc.– @ MoMA:












Some great “aesthetics of administration” stuff, especially from John Houck (whom I’d seen before at On Stellar Rays) and David Hartt, in MoMA’s “Oceans of Images” photography show:







Also in December: “Alternative Unknowns” (Elliott Montgomery + Chris Woebken) @ Apex Art:


Then in Berlin, in February: Anette Rose’s fantastic “Captured Motion” — the mechanical and human gestures of automated manufacturing — @ Haus am Lützowplatz:



Back in New York in February: Hiroki Tsukuda’s “Enter the O” @ Petzel:


Tauba Auerbach’s brilliant “Projective Instrument” — featuring a lovely assemblage of glass tools — @ Paula Cooper:



Lari Pittman’s “Nuevos Caprichos” @ Gladstone:



Penelope Umbrico’s excellent “Silvery Light” — which highlights both the indexical relationship between light and photography, and the derivative nature of iconic photos-of-light — at Bruce Silverstein:






Also: “From Minimalism to Algorithm” @ the Kitchen and Doug Wheeler’s “Encasements” @ David Zwirner


Then, Blooks — books that aren’t — at the Grolier Club and Gregory Crewdson’s “Cathedral of the Pines” at Gagosian:



Mark Dion’s “Library for the Birds of New York” @ Tanya Bonakdar:










The symbolism is quite obvious, but still charming. The gallery explains:

Central to the installation is an 11 foot high white oak, referencing a range of important philosophical and scientific constructs: the tree of life, the tree of knowledge, and the evolutionary tree, which serves to illuminate the phylogenic system created by man to understand the structure of the biological world. “The Library for the Birds of New York” also includes artifacts of capture such as bird cages and traps, referencing hunting for the exotic bird trade. Other imagery is symbolic of death, extinction, and the classification of birds as pests or vermin. These historical categorizations position man atop an implied hierarchy, and are juxtaposed with a subtle insistence that birds possess knowledge outside of the human experience, rendering them fundamentally unknowable by man. The birds are uninterested in these objects; thus underscoring the absurdity of a manmade library for birds, which purports to school them in subjects such as geography, navigation, and the natural world, of which they inherently have full command.

Finally, Taryn Simon’s “Paperwork and the Will of Capital” — photos of the floral centerpieces at tables of monumental negotiations and signings-of-business-deals-and-international-agreements — @ Gagosian. I love this idea of the “floral witness.”

In Paperwork and the Will of Capital, Simon examines accords, treaties, and decrees drafted to influence systems of governance and economics, from nuclear armament to oil deals and diamond trading. All involve the countries present at the 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, which addressed the globalization of economics after World War II, leading to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. In images of the signings of these documents, powerful men flank floral centerpieces designed to underscore the importance of the parties present. Simon’s photographs of the recreated centerpieces from these signings, together with their stories, underscore how the stagecraft of political and economic power is created, performed, marketed, and maintained.

Each of Simon’s recreations of these floral arrangements represents an “impossible bouquet”—a concept that emerged in Dutch still-life painting parallel to the country’s seventeenth-century economic boom, which ushered in the development of modern capitalism. Then, the impossible bouquet was an artificial fantasy of flowers that could never bloom naturally in the same season and geographic location. Now the fantasy is made possible—both in the original signings and in Simon’s photographs—by the global consumer market.

Yet I have to wonder: how much did it cost, and how much energy was expended, to source all those flowers?!





Goodbye, Old Friend, and Thanks for All the Frisbees


I’ve been here in Germany, on a fellowship, for the past few weeks. The people here are lovely, and the fellowship itself is a tremendous gift — but it’s a bit lonely in this small town. I’ve joked with my family that I should inquire about renting a dog.

Tonight, after a long series of cold, grey days, I looked out the window and saw a beautiful sunset — the first I’ve seen since I arrived. Shortly afterward I received a call from my dad: Dugan, the last of our Three Canine Amigos, had suffered some grave and sudden neurological damage and would have to be put to rest. He passed away at 3:45pm EST. He would join Rudy, who left us last October, and Roxy, who departed very unexpectedly this past July. Three great friends gone in 15 months. That’s a lot of loss.



Dugan was the only dog to whom I wasn’t able to say goodbye in-person, and I’m quite distraught that I wasn’t there to kiss him one last time. But he’s always responded to my voice over the phone, so I FaceTimed him at the vet’s (this probably sounds so ridiculous to any non-dog people) and told him how much we love him, and how grateful we are that he gave us 15 wonderful years of his life. Fifteen years is an exceptionally long life for a border collie.


Dugan was the least rambunctious one in a litter of eight-week-old puppies at the farm in Youngstown, Ohio. We drove out to get him in the midst of a severe snowstorm shortly after Christmas in 2000, and I held him in my lap for the duration of our four-hour drive back to Central PA. From then on, every time I came home from New York, he’d always come upstairs and sleep beside my bed (he was the only of our three dogs who preferred not to jump on the furniture; he opted for the cold, hard floor — ideally somewhere “cave-like,” where he could bury his head under a table or bed frame). My mom told me that each time I went back to New York, Dugan would still climb those stairs for another night or two before realizing that I wasn’t there. That mental image always brought a tear to my eye.


Dugan was a bit less emotive than our other dogs; he wasn’t as sappy or excitable or susceptible to getting his feelings hurt. He instead channeled all of his affective capacity — all of his corporeal being — into two extreme settings: full-on intensity, or out-like-a-light. The “intense” setting reflected his hard-wired working-dog inclinations. Dugan essentially had one mission: catching any brightly colored projectile. He’d be happy playing soccer or frisbee from sun-up to sun-down (and then some); we actually had to enforce rests every once in a while so he wouldn’t wear himself out.



Okay, that’s not entirely true: he had a neutral in-between setting, too — but that was merely an “intermission” mode during which he waited for the games to resume. During those hiatuses, he’d sit for hours in the grass off the back porch — even better if it were covered with a couple feet of snow — or amidst the bushes beside my dad’s workshop (yet another of his “caves”).

Dugan Snow from shannon mattern on Vimeo.


Other manifestations of that intensity were a tendency toward adventurous eating and an imperviousness to pain. He liked all kinds of vegetables, had quite a taste for ice, and dined on a range of stuffed animals (Poly-Fil was his great weaknesses), which necessitated several abdominal surgeries. The constant activity also caused a few snapped tendons, from which he snapped back as quickly as possible, so as to resume his rigorous training regimen. Those handicaps were never a hindrance; if we couldn’t run outside, we ran drills in the living room.

And that’s not all: he showed signs of epilepsy within his first year; a daily pill helped to keep that under control. And then he got — and beat — cancer. He always bounced back; just last week the vet told my dad that his blood work was perfect. So, despite the fact that a good quarter of his 15 years was spent either in a cast or stitches (or with some part of his body shaved and stained from surgery), he packed more steps, heartbeats, and thrills into his 11 Prime years than the Laws of Space-Time would seem to allow.



The flip-side of all that Extreme Awakeness: sleep. He did that with all-out intensity — and some athletic grace — too.


My brother and I always joked that if Dugan had a human personality, he’d be a jovial, lovable jock. I imagine that if he ever had to write a personals ad, he’s say that he liked hitting the gym, car rides, and good conversation (Dug had quite an extensive vocabulary and a tendency toward garrulousness). He’d probably also mention his striking heterochromia — one crystal blue eye, and one deep brown — and his increasingly chameleonic coloring: as he aged, his stark black-and-white coloring softened with a bit of amber, a long-hibernating genetic gift from his mother.

DuganTalking from shannon mattern on Vimeo. [password: dugan]



Dugan had a tough shell, but he showed tenderness in his own way. He reserved the hand licks and moments of stillness for special occasions — so when they happened, you knew you earned it. And you knew he meant it.

We were fortunate to live with a force of nature — a dog that lived longer and harder than any dog should or could. With his departure we lose a seemingly inexhaustible source of kinetic energy, a verve and jouissance, that seems to create a little hole in the physical universe.

And as I said to Rudy 15 months ago and Roxy six months ago (and Dexter and Opie before that): Goodbye, my buddy. Thank you for all the love and joy and vibrancy you brought into our lives. We’ll miss you terribly, and we’ll love you forever.

Dugan just last week. Sprightly to the end.
Dugan just last week. Sprightly and regal right to the end.

Letters, Landscapes, Textures + Topographies: I Saw More Art

These past few months have been quite a whirlwind — so many talks!, so much committee work!, so so so many advisees! — but I still managed to squeeze in at least an hour of aesthetic stimulation every week. Way back in early October, after giving a guest lecture on “13 ways of looking at infrastructure” (à la Wallace Stevens) in Bill Morrish’s class, I trekked downtown to P! to see Pangrammar, a show of alphabet art:

Pangrammar, my photo
Pangrammar, my photo
Pangrammar, via P!
Pangrammar, via P!

While in the neighborhood, I also caught Samara Golden’s “A Fall of Corners” — a gravity-defying installation of various fifth-dimension non-places: a wedding reception, a buffet restaurant, a hotel lobby — at CANADA.



A little later, I stopped by James Cohan to see Elias Sime’s Tightrope collages of recycled electronics from the Addis Ababa open-air Merkato. These accidental landscapes of e-waste — both sourced from a landscape of refuse and then, in their newly reconfigured form, resembling an aerial view of coded land-use patterns — could very well constitute the newest of the new New Topographics.







Then more scripts and codes at “Mark my Words” at Gemini GEL / Joni Moisant Weyl:

Allen Ruppersberg
Allen Ruppersberg
Ann Hamilton, wreathe
Ann Hamilton, wreathe

Everybody seemed to like Wolfgang Tillmans’s PCR at David Zwirner, but I found it rather ho-hum. The show’s installation was much more provocative than the work itself.


My favorite pieces in the Tillmans show: two tiny sky-views
My favorite pieces in the Tillmans show: two tiny sky-views

Then I happened to catch two pollination-themed shows: Kelly Heaton’s bee-stuffs at Ronald Feldman and Artie Vierkant’s AN ON MO SA NS — on Montsanto, seeds, genetic intellectual property and patented “life” — at Feuer/Mesler. From the press release: 

As early as 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a life form could be patented. According to The Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institute, over 47,000 genetic patents have since been filed, 3-5,000 of which are for human genetic traits.

The objects on view are thus intended to redirect a small amount of this regulated material into the space of exhibition. They exist at the intersection of the biological (material), the ethical, and the juridical, and reflect a contemporary sentiment towards nature that is more pasteural than pastoral.

Heaton @ Feldman
Vierkant, Plant expression constructs 4, Soybean MON89788 (Packaging text, Leaf) (Exploit), 2015
Vierkant, Plant expression constructs 4, Soybean MON89788 (Packaging text, Leaf) (Exploit), 2015


Then we spent a lovely fall afternoon at Russell Wright’s Manitoga.




And on my way home the next evening, I happened upon some folks projection-mapping onto the facade of the Brooklyn Public Library. I’ve never been a fan of the Githens & Keally building, but I must admit: its monolithic blankness does make for a great screen!


A few weeks later I caught the Jeff Wall / Rineke Dijkstra / William Kentridge triple-play at Marian Goodman. I particularly love Wall’s “Property Line,” which captures the processes and apparatae through which landscape becomes real estate.

Dijkstra (via Goodman)
Dijkstra (via Goodman)

Then I saw H.C. Westermann’s “See America First” — earnestly pragmatic artifacts and American Techno-Gothic talismans — at Venus Over Manhattan:



Then Matt Magee’s “Paintings and Textcavations” (ouch) at John Molloy: floorplans, diagrams, network maps, systems of arrangement:




Then, a highlight of my past few months’ gallery-going: Cynthia Daignault’s “Light Atlas,” one painting for each of the 360 degrees in the artist’s road trip around the circumference of the U.S.

The resulting document of the journey, the paintings, depicts the breadth of American light and land. Installed in the gallery, edge-to-edge, the canvases align by a shared center horizon, tracing the circumference of America. Light Atlas expands into a metaphorical filmstrip. A zoetrope. A cyclorama. Daignault defines its structure as long-form painting, akin to a novel, film, or epic poem. Often using serial forms, Daignault forges meaning across groups of images, opposing the nihilism ever-present in randomized picture streams of contemporary life. Humanist and non-hierarchal, no single canvas stands above any other and significance rises only from the meaningful whole. At a distance, Light Atlas paints a holistic portrait of America, revealing slow shifts in hue, atmosphere, typology, and topography—a color wheel mapping verdancy to desert, and forest to farm. Its images construct an index of American memes: plant and animal, architecture and industry, wealth and poverty, depth and proximity, wildness and domesticity. Yet up close, as the viewer glides down the row of paintings, as if trailing the long white line of a highway, the frames animate a more intimate, temporal, and filmic account. Daignault weaves a dense narrative, intercutting parallel stories of the journey, the creation of the work, and the grander fiction of America itself, all recounted with an unmistakable love of painting and place.




After that, Brice Marden’s Journals at Karma:




Then Corinne Wasmuht’s labor-intensive paintings of digital aesthetics — which of course “call into question painting’s status in the digital age” — at Petzel. Her subject matter — transitional zones, non-places — resembles Samara Golden’s (above), but the two artists’ divergent treatments of similar sites raise questions regarding how we perceive and experience the myriad pass-through regions we traverse everyday.



And speaking of spatial experience — and the potential to render the mundane fantastic or fanciful — we then saw “Things Around the House,” a Claes Oldenburg / Coosje van Bruggen show at Paula Cooper:


Pie sliding down a ravine. Just because.
Pie sliding down a ravine. Just because.

Also just because: Camille Henrot’s pills-and-cigarettes zoetrope at Metro Pictures (I tend to like telephone art, but didn’t get much out of her room of hotline phones):


Rachel Whiteread’s “Looking In” — concrete and resin windows, either bricked up or shielded with accordion blinds, whose transparency is only illusory — at Luhring Augustine:



Then, back to our textual theme: Zhang Huan’s “Let There Be Light” — ash paintings depicting, in Braille, passages from the Bible and the Star Spangled Banner — at Pace.




Holding the textual line, but moving from ash to neon — and bringing us full circle, back to alphabets and topologies: Joseph Kosuth’s magnificent “Agnosia, an Illuminated Ontology” at Sean Kelly:






Finally, while in Los Angeles, I stopped by the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, and the Huntington Library, where I toured the lovely gardens and marveled at Chinese typewriters and 16th-century volvelles.




Maps, Notations, Wave Forms + Flows: More Art

The galleries re-opened after their summer hibernation! Yippee! So, a few weeks ago, I saw a bunch of art — and, as usual, patterns emerged: maps, graphs, notations, diagrams, flows, waves.

First, Mishka Henner’s “Semi-Automatic” @ Bruce Silverstein: Henner aggregates data sets, images from mass media, and the stuff of the Internet. His best pieces mine Google Maps for examples of how the aerial view often reveals the accidentally sublime geometries of our man-made landscapes, and how those “objective” views are often convoluted by various commercial or security concerns.

Mishka Henner, Nato Storage Annex, Coevorden Drenthe, 2011
Mishka Henner, Nato Storage Annex, Coevorden Drenthe, 2011 (photo via Silverstein)
Mishka Henner; photo via Silverstein
Mishka Henner (photo via Silverstein)
Mishka Henner, 18 ways of looking at an oil derrick (my title -- and my photo)
Mishka Henner, 18 ways of looking at an oil derrick (my title — and my photo)

Second, Trevor Paglen at Metro Pictures: In keeping with his ongoing investigation of covert military and intelligence operations, Paglen examines the “geography and aesthetics of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) global surveillance programs.” We see maps of NSA cable-tapping “choke points,” photos of  undersea cables (see also Nicole Starosielski’s book and map on transoceanic cables), a two-channel video highlighting communications infrastructures and sites of covert intelligence operations, text crawlers of cryptographic codes, and other cool stuff.

Trevor Paglen (photo via Metro Pictures)
Trevor Paglen (photo via Metro Pictures)
Trevor Paglen Cable Landing; Choke Point Map (photo by me)
Trevor Paglen Cable Landing; Choke Point Map (photo by me)

Third, Sarah Sze at Tanya Bonakdar: Sze examines the materials, instruments, and conceptual techniques we employ to construct our senses of space — how we frame the fragments of an image (as we frequently do with composite satellite images) in order to grasp the “big picture,” how we rely on a limited set of visual tropes to understand our place within the cosmos, and how our desire for orientation translates across different scales.

Sarah Sze, framing fragments of sky (photo by me)
Sarah Sze, framing fragments of sky (photo by me)
Sarah Sze, windows and shards and screens (photo by me)
Sarah Sze, windows and shards and screens (photo by me)
Sarah Sze, world on a string (photo by me)
Sarah Sze, world on a string (photo by me)
Sarah Sze, lines + spheres (photo by me)
Sarah Sze, lines + spheres (photo by me)

While Sze played with the conceptual and material frames of imagery, Dan Flavin’s “Corners, Barriers and Corridors” at David Zwirner explored (as it always does) light as a means of delineating spatial and perceptual boundaries:

Dan Flavin, untitled (to Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein on not seeing anyone in the room), 1968; photo via Zwirner
Dan Flavin, untitled (to Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein on not seeing anyone in the room), 1968 (photo via Zwirner)

Fifth, Gordon Matta-Clark’s “Energy and Abstraction” at David Zwirner examines the tree diagram, the flow chart, and other means of notating process, energy, movement.

Gordon Matta Clark, Energy Tree; photo via Zwirner
Gordon Matta-Clark, Energy Tree (photo via Zwirner)
Gordon Matta-Clark, Tree Forms
Gordon Matta-Clark, Tree Forms
Gordon Matta-Clark, Energy Tree (2)
Gordon Matta Clark, Arrows
Gordon Matta-Clark, Arrows


Gordon Matta Clark, Energy Rooms
Gordon Matta-Clark, Energy Rooms
Gordon Matta Clark, Calligraphy
Gordon Matta-Clark, Calligraphy

And speaking of notation: Paula Cooper featured Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, and Lawrence Weiner (all dudes!) in “The Xerox Book” — a show based on its namesake 1968 publication by Seth Siegelaub and Jack Wendler. Siegelaub, whose work partly inspired my 2011 article on experimental design publications, worked with the exhibition-as-book (or book-as-exhibition); for this particular project, each artist was invited to contribute 25 pages to the 8.5 x 11″ Xeroxed publication. As Siegelaub told Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1999,

The Xerox Book … was the first [projec]
where I proposed a series of ‘requirements’ for the project, concerning the use of a standard size paper and the amount of pages the ‘container’ within which the artist was asked to work. What I was trying to do was standardize the conditions of exhibition with the idea that the resulting differences in each artist’s project or work, would be precisely what the artist’s work was about.

Xerox Book; photo via Paula Cooper
Xerox Book (photo via Cooper)
Carl Andre's typewriter drawings
Carl Andre’s typewriter drawings (my photo)


Seventh, annotation and textual alteration — particularly process-driven, rule-based transformations — reappeared as themes and practices in “Marginalias” @ Field Projects.


Where to Find It! Brad Thiele's re-visions project
Where to Find It! Brad Thiele’s re-visions project
Gore Vidal's Point-to-Point Navigation (get it?!)
Gore Vidal’s Point-to-Point Navigation (get it?!)

Eighth, textual alteration was again central to McArthur Binion’s “Re:Mine” at Galerie Lelong. While Henner mines the Internet for source material, Binion mines the forms of Minimalism and representations — personal, bureaucratic, etc. — of personal identity. In “Re:Mine,” part of his DNA series, Binion uses his birth certificate and address book, with their regimented, linear forms, to create a gridded “under-surface.” He then applies horizontal and vertical strokes of paint, which serve both to “weave” the documents together into a tapestry, and to partly obscure their data. Thus, by “mining” his own textual DNA, Binion is “both hiding and excavating biographical information in his paintings, claiming and reclaiming personal and cultural history.”

McArthur Binion
McArthur Binion (photo by me)



Ninth, Christian Marclay’s “Surround Sounds”@ Paula Cooper employs text to dramatically different effect. Sharing Marginalia’s preference for puns, Marclay’s flatly onomatopoetic Pop-esque paintings and video installation constitute a mute cacophony.

Christian Marclay, Surround Sounds
Christian Marclay, Surround Sounds (photo via Cooper)

Tenth, Paul Sharits takes the opposite approach — pairing semantically-empty imagery with disjunctive sound — in “Dream Displacement” at Greene Naftali. Sharits’s work emphasizes the physical properties of celluloid and its mechanical apparatae. As he explained in a 1976 interview about this particular work,

I want the films to have a physical presence and there is also a kind of physical adjustment I want to get between the sound and the image. It’s not any rational measure or anything — I’ve just got to figure out how to get it to be the right balance so that one is constantly threatening the other. One element threatens with violence, the other with beauty.

Paul Sharits, Dream Displacement (photo by me)
Paul Sharits, Dream Displacement (photo by me)


Sound becomes physical in La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, and Jung Hee Choi’s “Dream House,” relocated to Chelsea. And in Hitoshi Nomura‘s show at Fergus McCaffrey, sound is employed for methodological, rather than purely affective, purposes. Throughout his career Nomura has sought to make the passage of time, particularly the longue durée, perceptible, in part by employing evanescent materials — oxygen, dry ice, bacteria — and, here, sound. Electromagnetic waves, sonified, index celestial motion.

Hitoshi Nomura (my photo)
Hitoshi Nomura (my photo)


Also seen, and warranting no comment: Mark Grotjahn’s “Painted Sculpture” @ Anton Kern; Robert Overby’s “Persistence. Repeated.” (No. Kidding.) at Andrew Kreps; Josh Smith @ Luhring Augustine.


French Facades, Floods + Forensics

I recently finished a an article on maps-as-media (inspired in part by the preparation for my new fall class) that should be be published soon in Places. Speaking of maps: I was quite impressed by the new interactive maps, built on OpenStreetMap, that AirFrance makes available in its seat-back entertainment systems.

And speaking of Air France: I just returned from Paris — where it seems that everyone’s “gone fishin'” for the month of August, and where I joined a friend who had finished a grueling cross-half-the-country bike race. Despite the general state of urban hibernation, I did manage to visit — at long last! — Labrouste’s Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1850; I wrote a bit about Labrouste’s libraries a few years ago). Architectural historian Neil Levine (in Robin Middleton, The Beaux-Arts and Nineteenth-Century French Architecture) describes the literary ornamentation of Sainte-Geneviève — how decorative elements “appliqued or printed on the surface… [make] the building look as if it had just rolled off the presses.” The building itself is thus a book: the facade, with all its literary ornamentation, functions as a sort of library catalogue; and the interior, as one big, inhabitable bookcase (156).





Rather perilous stairs to the lower-level stacks; more user-friendly stairs to the the mezzanine stacks
Rather perilous stairs to the lower-level stacks; more user-friendly stairs to the the mezzanine stacks

Now contrast Labrouste’s biblio-centric facade with Jean Nouvel’s camera-like facade for the Institut du Monde Arabe (1987), not far from the library. Here, mechanical oculi, triggered by photoelectric cells, open and close in response to local light levels. The visual effect, Nouvel says, resembles the mashrabiyas, latticework-veiled windows traditional to Arabic architecture, and their geometric pattern is quite similar to that of the Alhambra, an Islamic fortress-and-palace complex in Granada, Spain.


Light was again a central feature in Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s Acquaalta, a boat-centric installation reminiscent of the annual Venetian flood, at the Palais de Tokyo.



Palais de Tokyo
Palais de Tokyo

We saw another fantastic exhibition, “Images of Conviction: The Construction of Visual Evidence,” at Le Bal, which seems to be a French cousin to the photo-focused Aperture Foundation. The show centered on the forensic image — in crime scene photography (e.g., Bertillon‘s highly regimented approach to criminal documentation), chemical analyses, post-conflict satellite imagery, archaeology (including as it’s applied in contemporary land claim disputes), Eyal Weizman-esque Forensic Architecture, legal testimony, etc. A brilliant show.




Another Four-Legged Goodbye

portraitYesterday, nine months after we said goodbye to our springer spaniel Rudy, we lost another beloved friend and family member. Our beautiful Roxy, yet another stray I added to the family’s menagerie, fought valiantly through surgery to treat her recently-diagnosed pheochromocytoma, a malignant tumor of the adrenal gland, but ultimately succumbed to kidney failure. The tail that wagged incessantly for twelve years simply couldn’t wag anymore — so we said goodbye to Rox yesterday morning, a gorgeous morning that she would’ve loved to have enjoyed from the front porch, at 8:27am.

Her story — at least the chapters that involve us — began on an equally gorgeous day in Philadelphia in 2003:

It was a cerulean and balmy March Saturday — the first foreshadowing of summer, the kind of day that draws everybody out of doors. At the time, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and I lived in an apartment in Center City, just north of Reading Terminal Market. I enjoyed the day with my then-boyfriend in Fairmount Park, then trekked back home in the mid-afternoon. About a block from my apartment building, we saw a shadow of movement on the far side of a dumpster. I swung wide, expecting to see a rat, but instead saw, from the corner of my eye, a much larger and more radiantly colored creature. There she was: a beautiful copper-colored, white-bibbed puppy tethered to the dumpster with a purple leash. We approached, and she cowered.

Aside from the horse stables across the street, there were no places of business along this stretch of North 13th Street. We inquired with the stable staff and other folks lolling about, but no one could claim her or account for her provenance. We then noticed that she had been sitting atop a lumpy white shopping bag, inside of which we found a ZipLoc bag full of kibble, another full of treats, and an extra leash. It then became apparent that I had found a dog in search of a home, and that this was her start-up kit.

For the next two days we set out food and water and lay on the floor near (but not too near) her, speaking to her in reassuring and encouraging tones, while she hid behind the bookshelves. By Sunday night, she allowed me to hold her, and I decided to call her Roxy. On Monday I took her to the vet on Spring Garden Street for a check-up and vaccinations, and I learned that she was likely a pitbull/boxer mix, probably eight to ten weeks old. We agreed that her imagined birthday would be January 1, 2003. It struck me that, now that a file labeled with both her name and my name was filed away in a veterinarian’s office, attesting to my responsibility for her care, she had officially become my dog.

Five-month-old Roxy
Five-month-old Roxy

I had grown up with dogs — mostly border collies — but this was the first dog for which I would assume primary care. Or so I thought: it turned out that scores of people and other animals — including another stray, my cat Pippilotti, who appeared a month after Roxy — helped to care for her and make her life the gloriously tail-wag-worthy celebration it was. This was also the first pitbull, a breed so often maligned and feared, that I would welcome into my home and introduce to my friends and family. I was so intrigued and humbled by the opportunity to allow this sweet and funny creature to decimate those unwarranted stereotypes — both for myself and for anyone else who fell prey to her charms.

I had been awarded a grant to travel the country in the summer of 2003, to do field research for my first book. I hated missing out on Roxy’s expanding repertoire of tricks and quirks, the emergence of her gregarious personality, and my integration into the weird world of urban-pet-owner socialization — but the then-boyfriend cared for her and loved her in my absence, and for that I am eternally grateful. I eventually moved to an apartment on-campus at Penn, where I served as a faculty fellow for the 2003-2004 academic year. We had a large fenced-in playground behind our building, but because there were no children in the vicinity who needed to use the swings and slides and sandbox with any regularity, the grounds belonged, for the most part, to Roxy and our only other canine neighbor, a joyous, drooling mastiff puppy. Roxy particularly enjoyed rolling her balls into the sandbox, then fervently and gleefully digging them out, stomping and furrowing her brow, and stirring up wild sandstorms in the process.

Alas, the relationship with the boyfriend didn’t last — but Roxy and I persevered. Others fell in love with her, too. Resident assistants (thanks especially to you, Endel, wherever you are!), students, and security guards volunteered to take her for walks or dog-sit during my occasional weekend trips back to New York. When I went away for longer periods — to conferences, for instance — my parents gladly drove two hours to meet me in Harrisburg — the half-way point between Philly and Central PA — to pick up Roxy and Pippi and take them back home for a stay in the country with the two canine cousins.

stickWe seemed to have a stormy spring on the east coast that year, because I recall that the sidewalks of Penn’s campus were frequently strewn with downed leaves and branches. Roxy became particularly well known around campus for her post-storm acrobatics. Sticks were too easy; our girl wanted to play with limbs. She ambitiously sought out massive eight- or ten-foot tree branches, which she’d balance between her powerful jaws and proudly display for all to see, as she trotted, head held high, down the sidewalk.

I later moved back to New York, which, sadly, my two girls hated. We missed our convenient outdoor space and our green campus, and regular visits to the park during off-leash hours simply weren’t sufficient. Rox and Pippi had become fast friends, and Rox was obviously depressed. Pip’s playful torments didn’t work their normal magic; Roxy barely responded. So, when we went home for Thanksgiving, and we witnessed a rapid and dramatic improvement in Roxy’s temperament, we decided that she and Pip needed to stay in the country, where she had lots of wide open spaces and Pip had a big house to roam, and both had a family that loved them as much as I did.

The house built by my woodworker father, with all of its hardwood surfaces, proved a bit of a hazard. Roxy’s vigorous tail-wagging — it was more than a tail-wag, actually; her whole body got in on the action — resulted in lots of whacks against right-angled joints and un-upholstered table and chair legs. As her body oscillated to express her intense excitement about everything(!!!!), all those tail-against-wood impacts ultimately produced gangrene in the tip of her tail, necessitating its partial amputation. Ah, the liabilities of uncontrollable happiness.

The wagging tail
Roxy + Dugan

Despite her obvious self-satisfaction in the branch-balancing business, Roxy initially sucked at catch. Try as she might, she missed even the softest, easiest lobs by at least four feet. Yet she couldn’t have found a better coach: Dugan, our border collie, is a world-class catcher and soccer player (now emeritus). After a couple summers of practice, Roxy developed into quite an athlete — fast and agile and tenacious. Sometimes her skill inspired feats of bravado — and sometimes those feats tried our patience. Roxy had an uncanny knack for knowing precisely what terrain you’d traverse with your next pass on the lawnmower, and she’d strategically position her frisbee directly in your path. You had no choice but to stop or divert the machine, pick up the frisbee, and give it a good toss before continuing on your way. This cunning strategy worked for her — she got what she wanted — so it was repeated ad infinitum until the entire lawn was shorn.

I lost my patience only once. On one sweltering August afternoon of yard maintenance, after three dozen frisbee tosses, I had had enough of these stop-and-go mower detours. So I, being a horrible person, ran over the frisbee with the mower, chopping it into a dozen ragged pieces. Roxy stared at the carnage with her signature furrowed brow, looked up at me, as if to say, “It disappeared!”, then she stepped aside — seemingly in defeat. I was racked with guilt for that entire loop of the lawn, but as I re-approached the scene of the crime, I saw my girl standing in wait. She deposited a sad, mangled two-inch-square piece of purple plastic — all that remained of her toy (rest assured: there were plenty more intact frisbees inside) — in my path, then inched slyly backward, assuming her standard preparatory posture. She would not be deterred. Fun would be had.


Her favorite treasures, though, were shoes. To chew and nibble on and shake and protect (playfully) from ever-present threats of theft (who knew there was such a demand?); to sleep beside and carry around, like a security blanket. Everyone’s old sneakers went into Roxy’s stockpile, which she then deployed strategically in and around the house. There were shoes in the bedroom and living room and under the kitchen table, in the front yard and backyard, and especially in her favorite spot on the lawn, just outside my dad’s workshop. She had a shoe ready for all settings and all occasions. Nearly all pictures of our girl involve a shoe (and now that she’s gone, those maimed objects, some of which we simply can’t bear to remove from their stations about the lawn, are worth their weight in gold for us).




Those shoes provided much pleasure and humor and a much-needed sense of accomplishment when severe arthritis ultimately limited Roxy’s ability to run. When Rox was a little over a year old, I noticed that she frequently held up her front-right leg and occasionally hopped along on three legs. Vets determined that a bone deformation was causing her severe joint pain — so my Christmas gift from the whole family that year was arthroscopic surgery for Rox. It solved her problem for several years, but we knew she’d suffer from arthritis in later life. Over the last few years, that arthritis has spread throughout her back hips, transforming her once-long, powerful strides into ginger steps. Thanks in part to effective pain management, those tentative steps were still, invariably, accompanied by a vigorously wagging tail and an unfailingly pleasant disposition. Footwear was part of the remedy: a gently tossed, and easily caught, shoe — or a shoe that’s pretend-stolen, which she then has to steal back — was a great source of satisfaction.

Roxy after surgery
Roxy after knee surgery


Roxy embodied cheer. I recognize the supposed naïveté of assuming that animals possess “human” emotions — but, dammit, I’m going to make such assumptions: I do believe that animals feel and express emotions, and that they’re capable of feeling and expressing love. Roxy was an exceptionally loving and convivial and social dog. She craved touch: when she sat or slept beside our other dogs, she almost always wanted some part of her body touching theirs. When she sat beside us on the couch or floor or grass, the same was true — and if you temporarily removed your hand from her back, or paused in your pats, she’d look up at you, pleadingly, as if to say: “Let’s keep going!” When she sat at your feet, she typically sat on your feet. Again, she wanted — needed — to know that others were there.

Rox + Rudy; Dugan, Roxy + Rudy
Dugan + Rox; Pippi + Rox
Dugan + Rox; Pippi + Rox
The three amigos
Why’d you stop petting me?
Roxy + 2-week-old Natalie; Natalie demonstrating “safety first!” to Rox, buckled into the front seat, and Dugan, on the floor in the back

IMG_8766And she let others know that she was there, ready with affection. Anyone’s tears brought her running and compelled her to lick your hand or face. Roxy was a lightning-fast face-licker; one second, she could be sitting calmly beside you as you read, the next second, you’ve got a tongue on your cheek. When my niece and nephew came into the world, Roxy frequently bathed them in kisses — and I honestly believe that sloppy welcome (and the ensuing years of companionship and lessons about care and responsibility) helped make them into the compassionate kids they are today.

Roxy loved us. I know she did. She relished her life. She cherished both touching and being touched by the people and other animals in her life. And we cherished — and will always cherish — her. She was a tremendous gift to us, a model for how to love and appreciate the many blessings of life: shoes, frisbees, peanut butter, potato chips, kisses, sunny days, green grass, children. I will desperately miss having the privilege of touching my girl’s beautiful face, with her vibrant, dark-rimmed eyes (our relatively make-up-less family joked that Rox always wore eye liner); floppy, expressive ears; and thoughtfully wrinkled forehead. I am certain that’s she’s left this world, and gone on to a better one, knowing that she has touched us profoundly and will continue to enrich our lives — not least for having simply given us the privilege of caring for her. I hope that we, in return, have given her every opportunity to live the best possible life she could’ve lived, too. I know we have — my wonderful Mom and Dad, in particular. Roxy’s vets have been tremendous, too.

I thank the stars that I walked past that dumpster — and that baby-Roxy’s quivering shadow led us to twelve years of joyously wagging tails. That tail, if you’ll pardon the saccharine simile, is like those beating butterfly wings that supposedly change the course of history. One little dumpster-dog’s life has made an indelible mark on the world — my world, my family’s world, and my family’s friends’ worlds, at least.

And just as I said to Rudy upon his passing nine months ago (and to Opie and Dexter before him): Goodbye, little buddy. Thank you for all the love and joy and gentleness you brought into our lives. We’ll miss you terribly, and we’ll love you forever.




Scaffolding, Scribbles, Poemfields, Garden Sculptures Ontologies: More Art

Yes, more art. In late May I saw David Byington’s The New City @ Leslie Tonkonow: etching-esque oil paintings depicting scaffolded cities of extraction and naked infrastructure.



Then Christopher Wool paintings and sculptures @ Luhring Augustine:

Christopher Wool
Christopher Wool


Cildo Meireles @ Galerie Lelong

Ceilo Meireles
Cildo Meireles (via Lelong; my own images were terrible)


Pam Lins’s “model model model” @ Rachel Uffner

Pam Lins
Pam Lins (business in the front)
Lins (party in the back)

In the 1920s, the golden age of rationalized labor and assembly lines, abstract models of all types suffused artistic and architectural culture. Soviet artists especially embraced model making, and nowhere more zealously than at VKhUTEMAS (The Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops), the school of art, architecture, and design founded in Moscow in 1920, renamed VKhUTEIN (The Higher Artistic and Technical Institute) in 1927, and dissolved in 1930. Opening three years after the October Revolution, the school was known for its radical pedagogical approach and Constructivist connections. Student models from the “Space” course, taught by the architect Nikolai Ladovskii, investigated formal and spatial relationships, but far from being useful designs to be built later, elsewhere, at a larger scale, they invoked works by Kasimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, and Vladimir Tatlin—all of whom taught at VKhUTEMAS. Aiming to replace outmoded bourgeois art forms, avant-garde Soviets turned to models: objects defying classification that promised a utopian dissolution of the categories of artistic production.

Stan VanDerBeek‘s Poemfield series + prints @ Andrea Rosen



VanDerBeek first worked on Poemfield at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey and then as an artist-in-residence at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Originally conceived as a multi-screen installation,Poemfield was eventually included in VanDerBeek’s ambitious, moving image and sound environments such as Movie-Dromeand Cine Dreams. In each individual film, powerful sequences of words gradually emerge from, and back into, kinetic mosaics of glittering geometric graphics.  The images seen within each projection are the visual manifestations of unique poems written in a specific computer language, then processed by an IBM 7094, and ultimately output onto the surface of a cathode ray tube and filmed.

As a pioneer collaboration between artists and scientists, Poemfield was realized by VanDerBeek with the Bell Labs computer programmer and physicist Ken Knowlton. One of several programs developed by Knowlton, BEFLIX (short for Bell Labs Flicks), was used to make Poemfield and is considered by AT&T as one of the first computer animation languages.

Black Mountain. An Interdisciplinary Experiment 1933 – 1957″ @ Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

Black Mountain College @ Hamburger Bahnhof
Black Mountain College @ Hamburger Bahnhof


And away with the minutes. Dieter Roth and Music” @ Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

Dieter Roth
Dieter Roth
Roth, Gartenskulptur
Roth, Gartenskulptur

Museum der Dinge: Werkbundarchiv, Berlin, with its gleefully mixed-up ontologies of classification: plastics, measuring tools, imitations, Turkish everyday things…

Museum der Dinge
Museum der Dinge



Superkilen Park, Copenhagen, by BIG Architects, Topotek 1, + Superflex 


Iwan Baan's much better image #1
Iwan Baan’s much better image #1
Iwan Baan's much better image #2
Iwan Baan’s much better image #2

Terry Winters @ Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen

Winters, "Influencing Machine"
Winters, “Influencing Machine”

Africa: Architecture, Culture, Identity” @ Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen



In May/June I also saw “Everything Is Design: The Work of Paul Rand” @ the Museum of the City of New York; Nina Beier @ Metro Pictures; Candida Höfer @ Sean Kelly; and Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian @ Callicoon Fine Arts (ugh). I regret missing William Larson’s “Fireflies” at Gitterman Gallery.

Upon my return from European adventure, in July, I saw Wolfgang Tillmans’s “Book for Architects” at the Metropolitan Museum. Then I visited “All Watched Over” [by machines of loving grace], featuring arts of information processing, @ James Cohan.

All Watched Over
All Watched Over
Michael Riedel, Untitled (Form)
Michael Riedel, Untitled (Form)


Hello Walls,” a group exhibition of wall painting, with fantastic juxtapositions, @ Gladstone



Angela Bulloch’s “Topology: No Holes, Four Tails” @ Mary Boone

I'd like to think that these electrical cords are the "tails" they're referring to.
I’d like to think that these electrical cords are the “tails” they’re referring to.

Objects Food Rooms” @ Tanya Bonakdar, an homage to Stein’s Tender Buttons: “All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. / The difference is spreading.”

Objects Food Rooms
Objects Food Rooms


Gordon Harrison Hull’s “Department of the Interior“: “emotional landscapes” @ Bryce Wolkowitz


Doris Salcedo @ the Guggenheim

via ArchDigest
via ArchDigest

And more recently, other beautiful things, back at home in Pennsylvania:





Aesthetic Bounty — or, Binging on Artstuffs

John Currin, Thanksgiving, 2003. Our perverse Norman Rockwell.
John Currin, Thanksgiving, 2003. Our perverse Norman Rockwell.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank New York for always having a ready supply — an embarrassment of riches, actually — of art that I can stuff into my eyes an ears and brain. Some days when I leave Chelsea, I feel literally drunk: simultaneously buzzed and blissed out and all “ohmygod I love you guys!”-kind of grateful (which translates to, “thank you, artists, for making such beautiful and amazing things that help to make the world such a gorgeous place, so pregnant with fascinating ideas and so deliciously complicated).

November was particularly bountiful.

At the Swiss Institute we saw Descartes’ Daughter, which, as one might expect with such a Cartesian title, explored representations of the self as both intellectual and physical. I particularly enjoyed (as I always do) Hanne Darboven’s work, which combined mathematics and script (coded representations of identity) with photos of taxidermy and trophies (talismanic representations of identity and memory), as well as Jason Loebs’s  Anthropomemoria, which juxtaposed MacBook batteries and the fingerprint (rendered in anti-counterfeiting ink) as representations of identity (so many layers of self-definition here — I love it!).


Fragrance and Fracture

This past weekend we attempted to see the Doug Wheeler show at David Zwirner, but were discouraged by the insanely long line. We did, however, manage to catch Christophe Laudamiel’s Phantosmia show at Dillon Gallery. There really wasn’t much to see here, but that’s the point. It’s not about seeing; it’s about smelling. Laudamiel makes scent sculptures.

The gallery looked a bit like a sad bazaar, with red and white plastic tents set up around the periphery and in the center of the room. Each tent enclosed a scent-space, and posted outside each was a lengthy wall text that described, in remarkably evocative language, what awaited us inside (below images via Dillon Gallery).

I don’t have any strong personal associations with Marlene Dietrich, and I really don’t know what strawberry, cucumber, and linden blossom would smell like all mixed together, so while I found Remembrance of Things Lost pleasant, it wasn’t particularly, uh, shall we say redolent for me. With Fear, however, I really came to appreciate the dimensional, sculptural qualities of these scents. Unlike tastes, whose multiple layers are often sequential, or temporally unfolding, the complexity of the fragrances unfolded themselves into multiple spatial dimensions. I was so aware of my existence in an olfactory…uh… — I don’t even know what to call it — any-space-whatever?, heterotopia?, non-space? that I momentarily forgot I was standing in a plastic tent inside a gallery in Chelsea. The only sense-of-place that mattered to me at that moment was the one whose identity, whose boundaries, were defined by my nose.

My favorite scent, for its spot-on realization of the promise on its wall text, was the Banana and the Monkey. it was just that: sweet banana with an undertone of simian rankness. It ruined my appetite. Perfect.

I’m all the more excited to see what comes of the Museum of Art & Design’s Center for Olfactory Art.

And now, in a complete non-sequitur, I’ll summarize Aaron Betsky’s “Architecture Beyond Building” lecture at SVA last night. I forgot my notebook, so I had to type notes on my iPhone — which means this synopsis is bound to be sloppy and impartial.

  • Apple, in its retail spaces, has reduced the architectural envelope. Now in Grand Central, there are no walls to demarcate boundaries between retail space and the rest of the station.
  • See also David Chipperfield’s renovation of the Neues Museum in Berlin
  • Many retail spaces are loft-like spaces partitioned into zones designed to market and make money
  • Dissolutions of objects, emergence of gridded modules
  • We live no longer in a grid, but in a cloud — in the ether — not connected to objects, but connected to one another by “magic”
  • Physical dimensions of these new systems are removed from the physical sensations of our bodies/ this is why the grid is disappearing. Architecture must respond to this new condition — via parametrics, proposal of “absurd forces” (wha?), fractures
  • Architecture must “stand witness” to the disappearance of humanity and the self. This requires looking at and through the grid and the screen.
  • Approaches and actions that represent this new “standing witness” approach to a new spatial reality:
    • Sarah Sze (my favorite!), who work is “reassembling bits and pieces of our reality”
    • Matthew Day Jackson
    • Artists, architects concerned with reuse and reassembly, like Doris Salcedo (I really enjoy her work, too), Rural Studio
    • Architecture that’s unstable — e.g., the installations of Do Ho Suh (yet another artist I admire!), who presents architecture as a ghost, as memory
  • Betsky’s not a fan of architecture exhibitions, because what you’re limited to showing is photos of buildings, process drawings, etc. It’s like “showing postcards of the Mona Lisa.”
  • For his work on the 2008 architecture exhibition at the Venice Biennale, he worked with the premise that architecture is “everything about buildings”; once a building is built, it becomes a “tomb of architecture.” In present society, buildings are defined more by codes (zoning finance, etc.) than by architecture. To find architecture we need to “look beyond buildings.” If we’re searching for critical architecture in particular, we need to look far beyond buildings.

I’ll leave it there, without comment.