Through January 4, the Brooklyn Museum will present a major survey of contemporary Brooklyn art, featuring more than one hundred works from 35 artists. Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond includes work in virtually every medium, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, video, and performance, linked only by place and by an engagement with the modern world. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be rolling out profiles of artists who appear in the exhibit. You can read the rest here.
We’re living in an age of public talks, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a lecture series more out-there than The Center for Experimental Lectures. Want a Power Point that “connects Russian painting and Tex-Mex cocktail culture”? (The correct answer is yes.) Or a presentation entitled “I want to be inside you Part II” that purports to “investigate masks, breath, organs, terrorism, balancing, urns, graves, dominance and love”? (Also yes.)
It’s inaccurate to call these simply “lectures.” The Center for Experimental Lectures dares to reconsider the public talk as a medium baggy enough to incorporate dance, video, sound, performance, and audience interaction. “I would love it if everybody thought about the format as seriously as they think about the content,” CEL founder Gordon Hall said, in a recent interview with the curator Orlando Tirado [PDF here].
Fittingly, Hall’s piece in the Crossing Brooklyn exhibition, “Read me that part a-gain, where I disin-herit everybody,” is a group of geometric structures that double as the set for an hour-long lecture-performance that will be presented four times over the exhibit’s duration. The title is drawn from a quotation in John Cage’s 1959 “Lecture on Nothing.”
“This piece explores the ways that knowledge is embodied, through the history of minimalist sculpture and lecture-performances,” Hall tells me. “It is sculptural and research-based and performed.” The performances combine the sculptural objects, sound (in the form of a text written and read by Hall), projected images, and physical action as Hall moves among, on top of, and around the objects.
To Hall, abstract ideas can be embodied in material or physical forms, like sculpture and performance. The visible and the conceptual do not differ. “I am not very interested in making clear distinctions between conceptual things and material things,” he says. “I don’t want to divide the world into the things you perceive and the ideas you have about them.”
It’s easy to imagine this divide collapsing during the four scheduled lecture-performances (the first was on Saturday, October 11; the remaining three are on Thursday, November 13; Sunday, December 14; and Saturday, January 3). But what about the many hours in between performances, when museum attendees who come upon Hall’s work will see a dozen geometric wooden objects arranged on the floor—nothing that much resembles a performance or a lecture at all.
Hall might say that the sculpture represents the potentiality of performance, and maybe a potential performance itself. In the interview with Tirado, the curator, Hall said: “I think that people can have two experiences with the kind of objects we are describing: you either look at it, recognize what it is, and walk right by, or you can take a moment, pause and be with the thing, and because it is not giving you very much to look at, you maybe are able to become more involved with it—with your body, as a shape, a relation.”
“All minimal work always immediately loses half of its viewers because they are the ones that say, “that is a ____,” and walk by,” he added. “I don’t blame them. We have to do that all day. But if we stay and we look at something or somebody longer, there is a lot more complexity there.” The best outcome of this sort of prolonged looking is a widening of attention, of empathy, and of understanding. We stereotype out of necessity, but to reduce the world to surfaces necessarily overlooks less readable identities and modes of being, specifically queer and transgender assertions of identity.
Hall wants to push against this impulse. The ramifications of not-knowing are not felt equally. “In the world that we live in now, there is a kind of perpetual perceptual conflict,” he says. “If you can’t be read clearly as a particular gender or sexuality people often get very upset.”
But, he adds, “the kind of multiplicity, ambiguity, and subtlety that one would need to employ in order to have a rich experience viewing the work we are discussing is the same kind of comfort with multiplicity and ambiguity that would make a more livable world for people with more complicated genders or sexualities.”
Hall is from Boston and currently lives in Stuyvesant Heights. His studio is in Bushwick, “where the tacos are the best.” Check out more of his work here.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.