NARRATOR: Find the wall of Moyra Davey’s photographs. She took these pictures and then mailed them to different places! She wants to show us evidence of the photograph’s journey. Can you see creases, stamps, or tears? What else can you see in the photos?
The artist talks about how she focused her camera’s lens on the page of an old book:
MOYRA DAVEY: I got as close as I could to this word “letter” and photographed it over and over again as it appears in the book. And it just seemed interesting to me to make a piece that says “letter, letter, letter” over and over again, but each one is slightly different. And then to take this photograph of the word “letter” and fold it up and turn it into a letter and mail it to someone, you know have it become a piece of mail art.
NARRATOR: To hear Davey talk about becoming an artist, please tap the screen.
MOYRA DAVEY: I decided that I wanted to be an artist when I was really young. I probably started thinking about it when I was nine, eight, nine, or ten years old.
I come from a really large family of seven kids. And I saw how these artists lived, and it was a lifestyle that really appealed to me, that you could kind of grant yourself this solitary time and creative time and that it was a way of giving yourself a voice. You know, when you’re part of a large family, I think you’re always looking for ways to distinguish yourself from your siblings.
NARRATOR: Take a look at these sculptures by San Francisco artist Vincent Fecteau. To create them, he uses different kinds of clay and plaster, and then paints them with bright, bold colors. Walk around the sculptures and look at them from different angles. Think about how the artist has transformed these different materials into works of art—by stretching, folding, and molding them.
Fecteau talks about how he gets inspired to make this work:
VINCENT FECTEAU: Well I usually start off thinking about a form that I’m interested in. So it could be something that I see like the shape of a car, or the shape of a building, the shape of a tree alongside a building, a line… And I usually start with that form in mind, knowing that it will change over time. And so I start with a form, I change that form, I change it again, I change it again.
NARRATOR: Take a look at LaToya Ruby Frazier’s photographs. Frazier takes pictures of her family and her community, Braddock, Pennsylvania. Braddock is a small town near Pittsburgh that was once prosperous, with a steel mill that employed many people. The mill is now closed. Today, Braddock has high rates of poverty and unemployment.
Here, the artist talks about taking pictures of her mother and grandmother.
LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER: It’s interesting to make these self-portraits, because I’m not photographing us as three separate women, I’m photographing us as one entity, one person.
And so, I often feel like my grandmother is the image, in my mind, of the past. And my mother would become the image of the present, and that I would embody the image of the future. And for me, it’s about understanding who I need to be, or what I’m going to become. And so, how do I make these portraits and confront myself with these portraits to see or learn who I want to be in the future? It’s always that constant question.
NARRATOR: To hear Frazier talk about how important photography was to her when she was a kid, please tap the screen.
LATOYA RUBY FRAZIER: In my home, we didn’t have a family album. And that’s the first thing you do, you know, when you’re making friends with other teenagers and other kids, you go over to someone’s house, you pull out your family album and you say, look at my family members. I didn’t have that to offer. And so, I wanted to take it upon myself to be the family photographer, but make these portraits of things that, again, were happening. And they might not have been the images of people smiling. It might not be of people at, you know, Thanksgiving Dinner or opening Christmas gifts. I was interested in the tenderness and the cruelty of what was really happening, to how my family was being dismantled and how I didn’t have any control, because I was just a kid, over what was happening. I was a helpless kid. So, again, I wanted to make my own family album that spoke to these types of painful realities instead of ignoring it. And I think that there’s a power in that, not that it would heal me or that it’s cathartic, but to be able to confront that.
NARRATOR: Werner Herzog is a famous German filmmaker. He makes films about all kinds of things, including a man who lived with grizzly bears, prehistoric cave paintings, and even vampires.
For his Biennial artwork, Herzog created a project focused on Hercules Seghers, a Dutch artist from the 1600s. Seghers worked at around the same time as Rembrandt. Today, most people haven’t heard of him. It was said that Seghers was so poor that he couldn’t afford to buy artist’s materials and had to paint on his tablecloth and sheets. Some of his prints even ended up being used to as paper to wrap sandwiches and fish in!
When you enter this installation, you will see projections of Seghers’s dreamy mountainous landscapes and hear haunting cello music by the Dutch musician Ernst Reijseger. Herzog has said that Seghers’s, quote, “landscapes are not landscapes at all, they are states of mind; full of angst, desolation, solitude, a state of dreamlike vision,” end quote. Take a look for yourself and see what you think!
NARRATOR: Check out Jutta Koether’s large, colorful paintings. They’re called The Seasons. Take some time to walk around and look closely at them. Can you guess which painting goes with which season? The more you look at these, the more you see. Can you find a cat painted with orange and red brushstrokes? A bunch of purple grapes? A basket of red apples? The words “bio gods?”
The artist designed this installation herself. She intended the paintings to be hung like this—on glass in front of this angled window. You can also see the back of two of the paintings. Usually at museums you only get to see the front of the painting.
What does it feel like to be inside this space, looking out the window, surrounded by paintings? The artist calls her installation, quote, “a window onto a window.”
NARRATOR: Look closely at Sam Lewitt’s installation. What do you notice? Lewitt uses a material called Ferrofluid, which is a liquid with magnetic properties that is used to make hard drives and music speakers. Lewitt says that he wants to show us a technology that is usually invisible, one that is hidden in electronic parts.
To make this, the artist puts magnets on top of large plastic squares. Then he carefully pours the Ferrofluid on top of the magnets. Do you see how it glistens and shivers as the fans blow air onto it? The material almost has a life of its own. Lewitt asks us to consider, quote, “Who is the author of this work? Who creates the work? The stuff or the artist?”
NARRATOR: Check out this wall full of brightly colored abstract paintings by Andrew Masullo. Each one is different!
When Masullo paints, instead of using an easel, he sits on the floor. He holds the canvas on his lap or props it up in front of him. He usually works on five to ten paintings all at once. He also likes to paint with his TV on—it provides a distraction from the seriousness of painting.
Here is what he says about his artistic process:
ANDREW MASULLO: The real fun part is making the stuff, trying to figure it out, getting lost, getting frustrated, being happy when something goes my way, knowing that a mistake is just an opportunity for the next time.
NARRATOR: Masullo uses oil paints, which take a very long time to dry. Sometimes he just has to put what he is working on away until it dries.
ANDREW MASULLO: It’s much better to do some and then have to put it away, and sort of feel this little heartache like, “Oh, I don’t want to put this away right now, because I do kind of think I might know what I want to do next.” But I’m forced to put it away, which is a good thing, because then I can take it out and it’s completely fresh again once I look at it. Hopefully completely fresh again!
NARRATOR: Luther Price makes art out of what he calls “found footage.” He finds old films or slides. He takes these slides and then buries, paints, or squeezes ink onto them. Sometimes, he puts other stuff on them too—like ice cream sprinkles, tiny stars, and even his own snot! After he is finished, he projects the slides. If you look closely, you can see the layers of debris and disintegration.
Here, he talks about his artistic process:
LUTHER PRICE: Hello, I’m Luther Price. In the past decade, what I’ve been working on pretty much as a constant thing is found footage. Creating these original, handmade, 16-millimeter films, that are one-of-a-kind pieces, that are projection-ready. I also enjoy found footage. The manipulation of the footage whether it be painting it, burying it…I usually bury them in the spring and dig them up…no, bury them in the fall and dig them up in the spring.
For a lot of people who work in solitude, work alone, all you have is the process as your collaborator. That becomes your collaborator. You’re not working with another person, you’re working with the process. Which in a sense becomes your collaborator.
NARRATOR: Check out Lucy Raven’s player piano! If you’re lucky you might even hear it play music. Player pianos are old-fashioned instruments that play pre-programmed music by themselves.
Raven worked with another Biennial artist, musician Jason Moran, to program the piano. It plays the same song, “Dance Yrself Clean,” three different ways. Do you think it sounds weird to hear different kinds of music coming from an old-fashioned instrument?
Raven is interested in the differences between old and new technology. Here, she talks about how a player piano works:
LUCY RAVEN: There’s basically holes punched into paper, which run on a scroll through this pneumatic pumping system and the air is pumped through the holes. And so when you hear a sound, that’s air being pumped through a hole. There’s either a hole or there’s not, so there’s not a lot of nuance with how something’s played. That said, you can adjust the way the holes are, to create different sorts of volume levels.
There’s a moment in the longest version of the song, the transcription of “Dance Yrself Clean,” where you see a lot of keys going at once. It’s about five minutes in, and it’s actually more keys than two hands could play, and that’s one of the great things that you can do with the player piano.
NARRATOR: Did you get to hear the piano playing? We thought you might also like to hear the original version of “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem. Please tap the screen.
NARRATOR: Look closely at Elaine Reichek’s work. Do you notice that these are all embroidered? She is drawing with thread! Reicheck makes her works by hand or by using a digital sewing machine, combining the old practice of sewing with modern technology.
All of Reichek’s Biennial artwork is inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Ariadne, a mere mortal who also used thread to weave her exciting story.
Long ago in Greece, there lived a woman named Ariadne, who fell in love with a handsome warrior named Theseus. Theseus was sent to kill the Minotaur, a half-bull, half-man creature who lived at the center of the labyrinth. Ariadne helped Theseus by giving him a ball of string so that he could find his way out of the treacherous maze after killing the Minotaur. The two lovers then ran away together. While Ariadne was sleeping, Theseus sailed away, abandoning her on an island. Betrayed, she wept with fear and grief.
Reichek continues with Ariadne’s story:
ELAINE REICHEK: And then appears a handsome and courageous and fun loving Bacchus. He comes with his cymbals, and his dancing ladies, and his wine, and his animals. He comes in a beautiful chariot with—they haven’t figured out if it’s panthers or leopards, it’s really panthers, driving the chariot. He leaps out with this beautiful red cape, and he says to her, “What are you carrying on about this mortal? I’m a god. Get over it.” And she says, literally, “Oh. Silly me. Why was I crying about him, Theseus, when I could have a god, and not only that I’m going to be immortal. I’m going to reside in the heavens. A big, starry crown and people will remember me forever.”
You go, girl. You changed on a dime and got better.
NARRATOR: Walk around Tom Thayer’s installation. What do you notice? Thayer creates art that contains all sorts of things like paintings, paper puppets of people and birds, collages, and animated videos. During the Biennial, the artist will create a performance in this room using all of these different things.
Here, Thayer gives some advice:
TOM THAYER: It’s kind of like making artwork, you’re on this journey, and you don’t really know where it’s going. And it’s a collaboration between you and the art materials or you and like, you’ll do something and maybe what happens is a little unexpected. So then, that’s sort of the materials, making their move and then you respond to that and then the materials respond back to you.
I would maybe tell a young artist that probably a lot of the most interesting things happen through mistakes and failures. That seems to be where a lot of the magical things happen.