The Unforgiving Minute

I’ve just returned to California and people are asking how New York went.
In a word: good.  The show looks sharp, and while the hours were limited,
I had a great time with the few people I saw.

For details, read on.

As you may or may not know, I had an exhibition scheduled to open in New York last November.
A hurricane however had its priorities.  As was the case for many a Chelsea space, Derek Eller Gallery was hard hit:
the basement storage completely flooded, many artworks destroyed, and the floorboards damaged
beyond repair.  Derek rolled up his sleeves to begin reconstruction
and to sift through waterlogged archives.  In January the gallery reopened
and we rescheduled The Unforgiving Minute for March. 

What an apt title!  Those cruel and speedy minutes ruled each day.
In this new time slot, my stay in New York was cut in half, because of work demands
waiting for me in California.  Having only one week in town,
the work period was twice as intense, and the social time ripped to nearly nothing. 

Because I lived in New York, I have a good deal of friends there,
so it’s expected that no matter how much time I have in town,
there will always be a few peeps I cannot find a good hour to hang out with.
This visit however was even more truncated.  I didn’t have the luxury to return even most text messages.
Buried in work: I woke at 8, and was immediately on the computer plotting out my trip to the gallery that day
and what stops I needed to make on the way to meet the crew by 11. 

I should explain that in every solo show I’ve ever installed there's a percentage
of work that comes together for the first time right there in the exhibition space.
So it’s not as simple as hanging a bunch of framed works on the wall
—though there's a good degree of that as well.  During the install
I make a series of creative decisions and buck up against the voices in my head;
voices on the verge of telling me to abandon ship.  They ride on waves of panic,
seeing every flaw as unfixable and screaming at me to either start from scratch,
or trash all hopes.  It’s like a reality show competition,
where creativity is forced to happen with insane deadlines
with the threat of being judged unworthy at the end
... except, in this case, I bring it onto myself. 

I’m not masochistic. 
I swear. 

I think part of me sets up these situations because for the show to be interesting for me,
there has to be an element of risk.  Though this time the voices tried their best
to make me promise to give up that game.  After all, why does it have to be interesting for me?
“You are getting too old for this shit.  You need to resign to being an artist
whose work happens in the studio.  Ship it in and let someone else hang it.
Your tightrope days are OVER!”

In my fatigue I hear that voice loud and clear.

But it’s not as if I do these works because I’ve decided ahead of time
it will be a fun challenge to create under a metaphorical blindfold.
The reason for it is born more out of poor organizational skills.
I’m not as anal as my drawing style makes me appear.
The sculptural work I assemble on sight is planned ahead, somewhat,
but it finds a million divergences and unforeseeable obstacles in the course of being constructed.

The good news is, for The Unforgiving Minute, I’m happy with the ends.
That happens more and more.  It's true I'm not up to the sort of stress
I could once take; toiling away in the gallery day and night.
These days I absolutely need a minimal of seven hours sleep a night.
But what else is true is I’ve gotten more skilled at trouble shooting,
as well as better at not succumbing to the panic. 

It doesn’t help however that the biggest champion of my doubt is Derek, my gallerist.
But during this install we realized this year marks our 15th anniversary.  In that stretch
I have learned how to take his extremely valuable off-the-cuff suggestions,
which are delivered with an honest concern that the work embodies exactly what I want of it,
without being riddled with insecurities by the tone and phrasing of those suggestions.
“It looks pretty lousy, frankly.  But, you know, maybe that’s what you’re going for?”

My insecurities are still there, but I see them for what they are
and move forward.  “Yes, it does look bad,” says my more rational inner-voice,
“but I think I see how to fix that.”

I really could have used that extra week in NY though.
I’ll be immodest and repeat it: the show looks great.  It’s not 100% boasting anyway,
because it was a group effort, and I have many to thank.
But I could have used that week after the install
just to BE in New York.  I left the East Coast yesterday with no decent photographs of my work,
not having seen some of the friends I really wanted to connect with, and
having seen a few others so minimally that it was like licking the crumbs of a cake
without being allowed to take a bite. 

I would have liked to have been able to visit the show again after a couple of days off from it.
It would have been great to have tea with Nao and a beer with Patrick, to cook a meal with Anthony,
to invite a few friends to meet me somewhere for an impromptu party, to go gallery hopping with Nayland,
to eat some Ukrainian food, or Indian food, or soul food ... to buy a new shirt or pair of shoes,
to attend some reading or performance or even a movie ... you know?  I was physically in New York,
but it all happened so fast the only spaces I really spent any time in
was Derek Eller Gallery and Betty and Patrick’s home. 

Don’t get me wrong, the trip was good.  Josh came with me,
and that together with Betty and Patrick’s hospitality was a godsend.
No matter how stressed I got during work, at the end of the day I would meet up with Josh
who would hug me warmly and we would go home to make dinner at the apartment.
Betty usually got home a short while afterwards and would have such hilarious stories.
Laughter really is great medicine, and because of that daily dose I slept peacefully.

We did get a few fun side trips in, as well.  On our first day there,
the gallery workers were busy with de-installing the previous show, so we took in MOMA
and met up later with my NY bestie, Anthony Viti.  We met up one night
after an exhausting workday with Jennifer Locke, Tad Beck, and Grant Wahlguist.
I probably wasn’t ideal company, but their company was invaluable to me.
Thursday I gave a lecture at Brooklyn College, and got to finally meet a long-time Internet pal,
the extraordinarily talented, intelligent, and charming, Mitch Patrick.
Mitch, a student at Brooklyn College, was the one to set up the event.

I honestly did not have time for that excursion, but am happy for it. 

Then there was the opening madness on Friday.  I saw so many good people,
most of them less than three minutes each.  We had fun, but it made me sad, too.
The most asked question was “How long are you in town?”  I had to say again and again,
that I was leaving Sunday and my Saturday was booked.
Derek ordered some Mediterranean takeout and we hung out in the gallery after closing.
After that a handful of us went to one of the last days at the Rawhide.

The Rawhide was nuts!
Jorge Cortiñas, his former student Joshua Javier Guzmán,
Christian Huygen, Mitch Patrick, Anthony Viti, my Josh, Nao Bustamante,
and a crowd of rowdy strangers.  One ridiculous and handsome man came by at one point
and undressed a few of us (top halves).  The bar was packed with people
there to give the bar a found farewell, and we were saying our own hello/goodbyes
with beer and catch-up stories.

Because my working needs had dominated the week,
I let Josh pick all our Saturday destinations.
It was a nice relaxing last day: a few rooms at the Met,
a walk through the park, a rest in La Monte Young’s Dream House...

I did duck into the gallery
to take a few installation shots, but I suck at photography, so not many pictures turned out.
Hopefully Derek can step up to the bat (again) and correct that.  It felt odd,
having put so much work into that show, just to leave it.  Likewise,
this was the first time I ever installed something for Derek without spending any down time with him.
Ironically, though I had been in his gallery the whole week,
he was one of the friends I didn’t get to have any social time with. 

Sunday morning I said goodbye to New York.  Sad to not have more time there,
but feeling at least the work shines bright, thanks to the wealth of talent behind it:
Kevin Killian’s great script, the wonderful Poets Theater actors, and a damn sharp crew.
Their performances (acting and tech alike) have been given a fun and handsome installation
to frame and highlight their skills.  And now it’s there for NY to enjoy.

I’ll be back New York.  Maybe next time we can just skip to the pajama party.


two wrongs


"In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty right into our homes," LaPierre (pictured) said.

The Race to the bottom is a capitalist race for the consumer dollar, and LaPierre is a front-runner.  The NRA might have the word “Association” in their title, leading you to believe these are citizens arguing issues of rights, but a more honest acronym would be the NRI, the National Rifle Industry.  Guns and ammunition are big business and they stand to loose a lot in the face of weapons bans.  Like the cigarette industry, another industry that profits through knowingly peddling lethal weapons, they are willing to invest a lot to get you to believe that it is somehow not their product that is harmful but its misuse. 

If LaPierre seems to be pointing the blame at his best advertisers, it’s because he knows the film and the video game industries will receive no more than the sort of verbal slap on the wrist he himself is dolling out, and in times of crises one needs a scapegoat. 

His solution to solving school gun shooting sprees is unsurprising; he says we should place more guns in schools, in the hands of the “good guys” (his words).  By “we,” he means taxpayers.  That’s the greatest irony in this; LaPierre says “...can’t we afford to put a police officer in every school?”  This from a man whose political party has put into question the expense of teachers, textbooks, and educational television.  Obviously they (the NRA and the GOP) have a very altered view of the function of schools, since they think we waste money invested in improving education, but that investing in increased security is a no-brainer. 

The real scapegoat here is our schools.  In spite of how little is invested in education on a government level, schools are pictured as a drain on the economy in hard times.  While military spending (the largest investor in the NRI) balloons larger and larger regardless of the jobless rate.  And now LaPierre wants to ask that school budgets be divided even more to dole out for full-time police presence in every school?  If he believes that is an answer, and that it is a small price to pay for our children’s safety, why doesn’t he and the NRA/NRI foot the bill from the huge profits made off guns? 

Why?  Because he wants cops in schools so that there is more people to sell guns to (SELL not GIVE).  They will sell guns to the cops, and then to the parents and teachers who see the cops and think, “Is one armed policeman really enough?”  And then they will sell guns to the students, who learn from the cops, teachers, and their parents that guns are good in the right hands.  So then there are even more guns being sold, and if a few fall into the wrong hands, well, all the better to test the theory that an armed public is a safe public.

The truth is glorifying the gun’s power to solve the problem, will only make guns more present and increase the problem.  The problem being not only that guns are weapons that could murder you versus the notion they could defend you from murder; the problem being that the people profiting off of gun sales really don’t care who buys guns, only that they are bought, and in great numbers. 

LaPierre could have made any statement he wanted to today, including simply expressing sympathy to the victims and their families.  Instead he gave his first pitch in a plan to sell more guns.  This is capitalism at its ugliest: a man capitalizing on the fears that his very product is largely responsible for, and showing no remorse

blue ball





Tehching Hsieh

One Year Performance 1978–1979 (Cage Piece)

In this performance, which lasted from September 29, 1978 through September 30, 1979, the artist locked himself in a 11′6″ × 9′ × 8' wooden cage, furnished only with a wash basin, lights, a pail, and a single bed. During the year, he was not allowed to talk, to read, to write, or to listen to radio and TV. A lawyer, Robert Projansky, notarized the entire process and made sure the artist never left the cage during that one year. A friend came daily to deliver food, remove the artist's waste, and take a single photograph to document the project. In addition, this performance was open to be viewed once or twice a month from 11am to 5pm.

Jennie C. Jones

With Absorb / Diffuse, her fall exhibition at The Kitchen in New York City, Jones uses actual sound and brings it into the physical realm with an arresting composition that is accompanied by a series of so-called acoustic paintings. From the Low is a powerful, affecting, and, at times, discomforting sound piece that emphasizes low-frequency samples gathered and appropriated from a number of sources from jazz, contemporary minimalism, and orchestral compositions to modern electronica. The low end in a song generally refers to the sonic space filled by a bass guitar or synthesizer. It is often the glue that joins the various instruments and voices together. The low end can be a subtle bed of warmth. When pushed to higher volumes, those same frequencies can tap into darker (i.e., foreboding) territory, subtly or not so subtly affecting the listener’s emotional state, and even his or her breathing. As I write this, an unseen car passes by, leaving a low throbbing bass line in its wake. The walls rattle, as do my inner organs. Bass frequencies are pervasive and potentially invasive.


Open File ChChristian Marclay 1
Guitar Drag  (2000)


Bruce Nauman, Mapping the Studio I (Fat Chance John Cage) 2001


Meshes of the Afternoon   (1943), Maya Deren
blue ball

over there

Dear LJ, and more to the point, dear friends who actually have followed this journal,

I haven't posted here in a while, and there are a couple of reasons.  One being that the summer has been so busy (Berkeley Museum solo, a film project, a gallery show, teaching, work, and so forth...).  Though being busy in the past has seldom stopped me from posting at least a bit now and then, so I come to my second reason:

My posting need has been satisfied lately by making "albums" on my artist FB page.  They are like little curated exhibitions of work I like or at least find interesting and I post one to two a day.  Not only is it somehow, and I'll admit strangely, satisfying, but it's also turning into a fun exercise.  I'm posting a lot of artists whose work I know
(Matt Connors, Clair Barclay, Anthea Hamilton, Vincent Fecteau, Robert Kinmont, Josh Faught, Jo Baer, Mel Bochner, Glenn Ligon, Joep Van Lieland, Scott Hewicker, Jeff Burton, Elizabeth Zvonar, Adam Jeppesen, Paul Thek, AIDS-3D, Theo Michael, Tauba Auerbach, Allen Ruppersberg, Jo Jackson, Rachel de Joode and Evan Gruzis...)

but at the same time doing research and finding new artists every week
(Matthew Connors, 
Jean-François Lauda, Eben Goff, Karl Haendel, Julia Schmidt, Katja Novitskova, Timur Si-Qin, Michael DeLucia, Melanie Bonajo, Wafae Ahalouch el Keriasti, Mateo Tannatt, Nina Canell, Donna Chung, Nazafarin Lotfi, Virginia Overton, and Jane South...)

I don't know what the ends will be, or how long I'll keep it up, but for now it's working for me.  I'm not abandoning my journal here quite yet.  It's nice to have a place to throw up some thoughts as well.  But for now I guess I'm resigning to not being here much in the near future.  Appologies to those of you who have no interest in joining or following a Facebook page.  I'm not even sure why I started doing this there, as opposed to say here or a tumblr page.  Maybe no reason at all except for the ease of it: I already had the FB page and it just started
happening naturally.  

If you are on FB or course you have the option to "like" the page.  Once I figure out what I'm doing there, and if it turns out to be anything I want to continue, well ... we'll see what happens.  In the meantime, I guess that's going to be my main internet ACTIVITY (as opposed to my hours of internet-passivity).  I have to find some ways to limit my time on here, or I'd get nothing done IRL.

blue ball

Berlin Berlin

On my first Halloween in San Francisco since returning from Berlin (2009), I spent the morning witnessing a man interact with his youth. The man was the self-fashioned gay icon of the 70s, Peter Berlin.

Going against most fashion trends of the time, Peter, in the role of model, photographer, fashion designer, stylist, and after-effects man (which back in the day required hand painting and double exposures), and sometimes also publisher, honed a look that was a foil to the mustached clone. Peter's attitude towards sex--he wasn't much interested in anything other than being looked at--also went against the grain of his generation, even while he was portraying a symbol of sexuality.

It's hard to even describe him without making more than one reference (example: "He has the esprit of a Tom Of Finland leatherman, meets a highly-stylized California beach boy, capped with a Dutchboy haircut.")

The man performing Peter's youth was a London-based model and fashion photographer. The youth has Peter's facial features, his body and endowment, and with a little work he also managed to duplicate the clothing style, he straightened his curly locks, and he worked with a photographer (Donatien Veismann) who brought a perfect 70s light to the shots. He even shares a very similar name: Peter Breen.

I'm retelling this story three years later, because one of the people who attended my opening last night was the very soft-spoken Peter Berlin, who now dresses in loose clothes and hopes that people don't recognize him, as he prefers to be remembered as he was in the 70s.

He was thrilled to meet Peter Breen, and encouraged the boy to BE Peter Berlin if he wanted the title.

And, I confess, I was thrilled to have Mr. Berlin there at the opening last night. It was a fun evening, with old and dear friends, as well as new friends and collegues I admire. The work sits well in the trapezoid-shaped room. When Peter said, "You should be proud," I answered, "Yes, I'm going to do that."







Parents' Day

[The following is a brochure text, written for the MATRIX 243 exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum, by curator Dena Beard. The show runs July 18–October 7, 2012]

Some say that the utopian experiment of the 1960s ended with the first news of the Manson Family murders. The decade of testing authority, redefining domesticity, and countercultural idealism had found its nemesis, and Americans grew wary of social outliers. Horror films featuring extreme, Manson-like transgressions drew audiences, supplementing the more subtle psychological thrillers of the sixties. Hollywood canceled long-standing sitcoms focused on the harmonious nuclear family and introduced a wave of new television shows and films that suggested the instability of the domestic unit. D-L Alvarez’s work mines that breakdown, drawing attention to the ways that we are conditioned, by family conventions and the media, to understand the boundaries of human behavior.

The drawings in Alvarez’s series The Closet (2006-07) read as film stills, sequentially from left to right. The drawings are based on images from the low-budget slasher film Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), in which a psychopath returns to the childhood home where he had murdered his teenage sister to kill again. Carpenter’s use of shadows and stalking camera movements were startling at the time. Especially shocking was his choice to set the action in seemingly innocuous domestic environments. These stage sets mirrored, detail for detail, the surface reality of the typical American home, which now, in the advent of home video, also doubled as the movie-watching environment. As the killer, Michael Myers, creeps in and out of the shadows at the edges and corners of the shot, he seems to be moving alongside the viewer’s own peripheral vision, in the space of the home.

Exploiting Carpenter’s active use of the frame, Alvarez’s graphite drawings deftly convey the horror of the intended victim, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). The initial drawings in the series hone in on the critical details: her hand, as she repels his attacks from inside of a closet; the killer’s mask; and the hangers she uses in defense. Beyond those few moments of recognition, however, Carpenter’s realism breaks down and Alvarez’s abstracted compositions take over, fracturing the carefully edited montage into grainy sections of gray tone. Like a degraded VHS tape, copied over and over, or low-resolution surveillance footage, the lost bits of information frustrate the drama and conceal the picture behind a silver screen. Carpenter’s subjective camera angles, switching from inside Myers’s mask to the victim’s point of view, made the viewer both complicit in his evil acts but also terrified of his aggression. Alvarez uses pixilation to obscure the physical details of the images, suggesting both electronic and digital fragmentation. Laurie’s hand reaches out from behind the matrix of gridded boxes, seemingly as much afraid of her impending virtual entombment as she is of Myers’s knife.

Alvarez also transforms the domestic psychology of Halloween. Carpenter paid homage to the master of the genre, adapting Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful build-ups and voyeuristic camera angles to compel the story into a more subconscious arena. He even cast a young Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Psycho (1960) actress Janet Leigh, as the protagonist. This conflation of the actresses, mother and daughter, is epitomized in the closet scene, which mirrors the editing and soundtrack of Psycho’s infamous shower sequence. Both directors conceal the killers’ faces and employ disorienting camera angles and Eisensteinian montage; audiences watch from the aggressor’s point of view. Each scene is sexually charged, either by Janet Leigh’s nudity or by Jamie Lee Curtis’s innocence and, as the narratives build up around Norman Bates and his mother and Michael Myers and his sister, the knives imply a taboo familial penetration. But Alvarez isn’t interested in replicating conventions of Hollywood horror. His technique masks the identifying features of both victim and perpetrator but, more importantly, it extends to the surface of the screen itself. The screen, a fixture in the contemporary home, becomes the new closet of terror. Pointing to that ultimate mediator, Alvarez fractures his surfaces into abstractions, subjecting them to the same treatment given the masked assailant in Halloween.

Alvarez recognizes another cinematic device in Something to Cry About (I) and (II) (2007), patchwork bodysuits made of children’s clothing arranged over wooden armatures. They call to mind children’s footed pajamas, but are draped ominously to look like the grisly costumes that psychopath Ed Gein fashioned out of his corpses’ skins in order to make a “woman suit” that resembled his mother. Gein was the model for cinematic murderers such as Norman Bates in Psycho and Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and both characters mimic the actual serial killer’s chilling methods and psychology. Together, Alvarez’s fabric works and drawings recall the terror of watching a horror film as a child on the TV in the living room, but also to the social and domestic unease following the Manson Family murders. In both works, Alvarez points to the aesthetic guises that conceal us from greater horrors.

--Dena Beard