Published on the occasion of the 2009 exhibition Mike Kelley: Photographs / Sculptures at Wako Works of Art in Tokyo, this catalogue features color images of six photographic series and a body of sculptural works by the artist. A number of self-portraits from 1978 mimic 19th century spirit photography, and depict Kelley emitting cotton ball “ectoplasm” from his head.
The Ectoplasm series is linked to a project made in association with artist David Askevold in 1978, titled “The Poltergeist.” David and I shared an interest in the aesthetics of the occult which led us to make a series of photographic works that addressed that history. We did not work collaboratively, though we had numerous discussions about the project as it was developed. Each artist’s works were produced independently, but with the intention that they should be seen simultaneously to inflect the reading of the other. My portion of the project includes faux spiritualist photographs of a “medium” (myself) exuding the mysterious ethereal substance ectoplasm. The photos mimic the look of period spiritualist photography from the early part of the 20th century
Another photographic series depicts dancer Anita Pace through a Vaseline-coated lens, and two untitled groups of photographs capture amorphous globules and puddles through a combination of layered negatives and colored gels. Also featured is an essay written by Kelley to accompany the exhibition, and a number of poetic texts printed in conjuction with the photographs.
By WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ l The New Republic Dec.20, 2012
Never mind the writing, as superb as it so often is: as agile, as subtle, as witty, as funny, as brilliantly insightful. Never mind the breadth—a book about jazz, a book about photography, a book about a film, a book about D.H. Lawrence, a set of travel pieces, a study of John Berger, a book about the apparatus of memory that surrounds the Great War, four novels, and a couple of bushels of journalism. What I really admire about Geoff Dyer’s work is Geoff Dyer. Here is a man who decided a long time ago that he was going to follow the muse of his own curiosity, let the rest of the world be damned, and by God, he’s made it stick. No institutions, no apologies. A freelance, a vagabond, an aesthete, a latter-day bohemian and man of letters: I call that courage. I also call it culture.
Berger and Lawrence are obvious models. The former, the subject of Dyer’s first volume and the author of a long series of idiosyncratic works, many of them hybrids of criticism and personal reflection, showed him the kind of writer he wanted to be. “If something occurs that moves me deeply—the kind of experience that might provide inspiration for a poet—my instinct is to articulate and analyze it in an essay,” Dyer has written. With Lawrence, the kinship is a matter of background and temperament. Dyer also grew up working-class; his grandfathers were farm laborers, his father a sheet-metal worker, his mother a lunch lady at a local school. A scholarship boy at Oxford who has said that his real education began after graduation, when he was on the dole in Brixton and reading everything he could lay his hands on, Dyer has Lawrence’s restlessness, willfulness, truculence, and unapologetic sensuality. Not surprisingly, he also has the older writer’s rancor for their native country. England, to both, is a damp and hateful little rock to break the spirit on. Better to light out for more erotic latitudes, as Dyer, following Lawrence’s global trajectory, has done. Paris, Rome, North Africa, India, Southeast Asia—above all, as for Lawrence, America, especially the rawness and vastness of its western reaches.
But Dyer’s highest ideal can be found, I think, in a more obscure figure, the American photographer William Gedney, who died of AIDS in 1989. Gedney read incessantly, not only kept but physically produced his own notebooks, and exhibited relatively little of his work, even after he achieved success. In an introduction to a collection of his photographs and journals, Dyer writes of Gedney’s “program of intensely private, creative self-sufficiency,” which was driven by an autodidact’s appetite for illumination. “He lived out the ideal of the artist who produces—who works—for his or her own sake; more exactly, for the sake of the task itself.” Introducing a collection of his own work, Dyer echoes the sentiment: “I have always written without any regard for the presumed audience of a given publication.” His wandering career (a word he hates, by the way) is the itinerary of a mind moving freely through the world.
Out of Sheer Rage, Dyer’s book about Lawrence, takes a swipe at the yoga cult; a subsequent volume, the collection of travel pieces, was titled Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. But Beautiful, his book about jazz, is built as much from photographs as music; later he wrote The Ongoing Moment, which bushwhacks a path through the history of the former medium. Both Yoga and The Ongoing Moment mention Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie Stalker, the subject of Dyer’s latest volume, Zona. One book draws forth another; one thought brings on the next. “Increasingly at ease with the vagaries of my nature, I came to relish the way that getting interested in one thing led to my becoming very interested in something else,” he remarks. “I’ve done pretty much as I pleased, letting life find its own rhythm, working when I felt like it, not working when I didn’t.”
All this hads made for a great deal of very good criticism. Since he really doesn’t seem to care what people think, Dyer looks at the book or the photograph, not over his shoulder. There’s no pretense and no pretentiousness. He isn’t worried about having the right opinions or scoring points off the conventional wisdom. He confesses unabashedly to skimming, and doesn’t mind if we know that he has never seen The Wizard of Oz. He’s clever, but he’s never “clever.” His writing is dense with quotations and allusions—you sometimes feel them stacked above the argument, like planes waiting to land—but not because he is trying to impress us. It’s just the way he thinks: with and through the totality of everything he has read, heard, and seen. “It is not easy to be unpretentious, simple, direct, honest and yet intelligent,” he quotes from Gedney’s notebooks—but Dyer consistently manages it.
His irony tends the same way. Coming at last to Lawrence’s house in Sicily, he writes: “We had found it. We stood silently. I knew this moment well from previous literary pilgrimages: you look and look and try to summon up feelings which don’t exist.” Culture, he knows, must continuously push against the carapace of its own extrusions. One person’s fresh response becomes the mental reflex of the self-respecting millions. A few pages later, “We went out on to the balcony: a lovely view of the bay, the sea and the sky. We looked at the view. That is exactly what we did; we did not look at the sea and sky, we looked at the view.” Relieving us of the burden of “culture”—the received ideas, the approved emotions—he helps to make a genuine culture, which is nothing, after all, but the effort to see clearly and feel directly.
Freedom from conventional and institutional expectations—freedom even from his audience—means that Dyer is also free to make it up, like jazz, as he goes along. Every book is different, and every book is different from everybody else’s books. Zona is a running commentary, almost shot-by-shot, on a single film. But Beautiful consists of a series of quasi-imagined episodes—vivid, textured, saturated with feeling—from the lives of the jazz greats. Out of Sheer Rage is memoir, travelogue, criticism—“about” Lawrence in the physical sense of the word: spinning around and around him with a manic, comic, centrifugal energy. The Ongoing Moment makes a poem of the history of photography by considering not artists or schools, technics or techniques, but, improbably, subjects (hats, benches, stairs): a ridiculous idea, it seems, until you figure out that Dyer’s real quarry is the relationships we have with those quotidian objects, the way they can be made to stand for the lives that move among them. “Spare me the drudgery of systematic examinations,” he writes in Out of Sheer Rage, “and give me the lightning flashes of those wild books in which there is no attempt to cover the ground thoroughly or reasonably.”
He is passionate or giddy, lyrical or cheeky, he can don a docent’s coat or come to us in pj’s, but he always writes from the self, from the whole of the self. If, as he says in But Beautiful, “an artist is someone who turns everything that happens to him to advantage,” then that is what he is. It comes to this: Dyer refuses to unbraid in his writing what is braided together in life, to take sensations out of thoughts or stories out of arguments. Friends, movies, crotchets, cappuccinos; flickers of annoyance and of memory, old loves and new epiphanies: all pass together through his writing, as they pass through our consciousness in daily life.
Since the tragic death of David Foster Wallace on September 15, 2008, we’ve seen a small but significant number of works by the author unearthed for the first time, or cannily repackaged. These include his incomplete novel The Pale King, his 2005 commencement speech for Kenyon College, and even his undergraduate senior thesis. Still out of print, however, and selling for hundreds of dollars used, is Wallace and Mark Costello’s 1990 book Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present. This book is often diminished by those studying Wallace, even though it is an early example of the author’s published non-fiction. According to 2003’s Understanding David Foster Wallace by Marshall Boswell, Wallace’s non-fiction career was based “on the strength of Signifying Rappers.” And so, it seems strange to treat a book about hip-hop co-authored by David Foster Wallace as barely even a footnote, especially when his college papers have been made available.
One problem, it seems, is that Wallace was candid in his dislike of his early work, and didn’t comment on the book very much. As a result, Signifying Rappers has garnered a reputation as insubstantial, or even a little bit of an embarrassment. In D.T. Max’s new biography of Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, Max dismisses the author’s interest in rap: “Wallace’s passion for rap was theoretical, verbal, abstract. The music never touched him as did the stoner songs of high school or the moody tripping songs of Amherst. His interest had the quality of a very smart kid slumming it.” Most slumming-it smart kids didn’t take the time to co-author a book about the then-burgeoning genre, though.
In the Village Voice , with the snarky glee of an Internet rap-blog commenter in the 2000s, Robert Christgau mocked Costello and Wallace’s inability to get their facts straight. Indeed, they did forget about Run-DMC’s King Of Rock when they moved through the group’s discography, and they hinged the book’s conclusion on misheard lyrics from Ice-T’s “The Hunted Child.” As the 140-page theory-soaked rant comes to a close, Costello and Wallace celebrate “a five-minute untraceable cut” with the “inscrutable chorus ‘Honeychild / I’m the honeychild.’”
Wallace didn’t like the book and “the dean of American rock critics” panned it, so most people decided that it wasn’t worth reading. Christgau’s criticisms are certainly valid, but they also seem beside the point. This is a book that works because its authors have more enthusiasm than knowledge, and don’t know any of the rules for how they’re “supposed” to approach rap music. That can be thrilling.
Signifying Rappers is also incredibly mindful of its whiteness, and even seems to predict the self-aware, open-source-inspired explosion of excited, amateur-ish blogging of the 2000s. The first part of the book is called “Entitlement,” and the book’s premise is pretty simple: Here are two dorks with “an uncomfortable, somewhat furtive, and distinctly white enthusiasm for a certain music called rap/hip-hop.” While their outsider-ness allows for goofy gaffes like not knowing an Ice-T song they probably should know if they’re going to write a book about rap, it also provides them with a nutty, ballsy freedom to riff and explore. A favorite is Costello’s dissection of Jesse Jackson’s lie about witnessing Martin Luther King Jr. die while sporting a shirt that Jackson claimed was splattered with the blood of MLK. Jackson wasn’t there, and this epic fib becomes (if you buy into Costello’s theorizing) one of the sources for hip-hop’s signifying and \complex wrestling between reality and “reality.”
Even if Signifying Rappers' obsequious style puts you off, it remains a fascinating artifact. It's quasi-juvenilia from one of American literature's best postmodern writers. And it's hip-hop commentary from a time when the genre was still forming, and the rules for how to approach this stuff critically, weren't established quite yet. It gives the book an unfettered freedom that couldn't exist at any other moment in hip-hop history.
In the 1970s, Resnais published a collection of his photographs, taken between 1948 to 1971, in the country of his residence, France, as well as places in which he wanted to make films, among them England (for a film projectbased on Harry Dickson stories), the United States, and Hiroshima in Japan. Jorge Semprún, Resnais’s writer in La guerre est finie and Stavisky, wrote an introduction to the book. The publication was called Repérages (Chene, 1974), a title evocative of the volume’s searching nature.
What is so fascinating about these photographs is their deep relation with Resnais’ films, especially in the way in which the nature of photographic image is rejected, or as the Iranian-French philosopher Youssef Ishaghpour has observed, Resnais’ refusal to work with the camera as an instrument for the representation of reality, but as “the best means to approaching the working of the mind.”1
For Resnais, as you will see in these photographs, each space, regardless of its function and position within a broader urban setting, serves as a museum; a museum of time where the textures and signs of decay and aging become vital elements of each shot.
His photographs, like most of his early films, are filled with the uncanny silence and tranquility of the mysterious spaces, even if the subject is one of the busiest underground stations in the word, London’s Tube. It feels as if Resnais is observing the essence of a space, or what Juhani Pallasmaa, the Finnish architect and thinker, calls “the drama of construction silenced into matter, space and light.” In this regard, Resnais’ task in his still photography—parallel to his films—is decoding that “petrified silence” architecture has created.2
In Repérages, human beings are barely seen. Instead, dingy spaces, museums and architectural monuments, shot in the most untouristic manner, are the most repeated themes throughout the24 years the book covers. Nevertheless, Resnais is not in theleast interested in space and architecture as symmetric or geometric forms. He is examining the architecture as a living space, or to borrow from Pallasmaa, as the “Lived Space,” a space beyond the rules of physics and geometry that dreams, ideas, fears and desires are reflected into, whether a quiet alley in London or a deserted junction in New York City. If for Pallasmaa art is the act of giving mise en scène to memory, for Resnais evacuating that space from its inhabitants and studying it barefaced is the first step in recalling memories and rearranging them like an ingenious décorateur.
Ten examples you will see from the long out-of-print Repérages are some of the most enigmatic, haunting images ever created by Resnais in any format.
POOLS (Dashwood/Stüssy, 2013) provides an intimate look at a late 1970‘s pool skating session, captured by Craig Fineman who is well regarded for his artistic approach to photographing the burgeoning late seventies surfing and skateboarding scene. Unique angles and compositions, intertwined with an almost architectural feel were hallmarks of Craig’s work.
Continuing in the same vein as his original Seventeen’s Map published in 1988 (cue obligatory Parr/Badger reference — Volume 2, p. 300) for which Hashiguchi traveled throughout Japan with the very specific intention of taking portraits of people who were 17 years old at the time of shooting, 17: 2001-2006 documents 17 year old youth living in Japan in the early 21st century.
George Hashiguchi is we suspect not a household name for our overseas readers. But to our mind, even though he’ll never get the love that someone like Hiroh Kikai enjoys, he’s one of the finest portrait photographers in Japan — a modern August Sander of Japan, if we may be so bold. His portrait collections are so ubiquitous to the point where you may actually be inclined to think he was a hack, churning out book after book like he was a professional cat photographer. It must be said that Hashiguchi hasn’t necessarily helped himself in this regard, since most of his portrait projects — senior citizens, couples, fathers, workers, and 17-year olds like we have here — all follow roughly the same formula: a very specific group of people, full body portraits in black and white, an accompanying page of text featuring the same type of questionnaire presentation (eg. the subject’s favorite music, what they ate for breakfast, how much their monthly allowance is) along with a paragraph or two of commentary from each subject. However, like more famous typologists, this standardization goes a long way toward highlighting the individual idiosyncracies of the subjects and countering what could be mistaken for homogeneity. (via)
When Zeev Aram staged his first exhibition of the work of designer Shiro Kuramata, more than 30 years ago, Japan was still seen as a mysterious place. It was understood, much like China was until recently, as a country of copyists and low-cost production. At the time Kuramata was a complete unknown, and the exhibition was a revelation: Japan was a place that was capable of leading new ideas on design and not just a follower.
Twenty years after Kuramata’s death, Aram is restaging that exhibition in central London. Kuramata is now one of a handful of 20th-century designers – alongside Carlo Mollino, Eileen Gray and Jean Prouvé – whose exquisite furniture is sought after by collectors around the world. His Miss Blanche chair – named after Tennessee Williams’ character Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire – goes for six figures at auctions.
Along with fashion designer and friend Issey Miyake, architects Arata Isozaki and Tadao Ando, and film-maker Akira Kurosawa, Kuramata belonged to the remarkable generation of talented young Japanese who transformed the way that Japan was viewed by the world. All of them were born just before the outbreak of the second world war and grew up under the grip of an authoritarian militarist dictatorship that demanded obedience and conformity.
After the war, their generation was the first to come to maturity with a chance to express itself. Kuramata’s work was clearly modern in the way that it used materials, and specifically Japanese in its simplicity and elegance. Yet Kuramata was always prepared to experiment. He explored the potential of commonly-used materials as if they were precious, using humble acrylic or chipboard, or the kind of steel mesh used to reinforce plaster.
Despite the regularity with which Kuramata was described as a minimalist, he was able to work with strong colour, bold forms and even decorative and figurative elements. He continually found ways to explore the tension between surface and transparency and to deny the materiality of objects and spaces.
As he became better known, Ettore Sottsass asked him to work with the Memphis group at the end of the 1980s. Kuramata came up with a table made from concrete, with broken shards of glass added to the mix.
Kuramata designed sushi restaurants in Tokyo remarkable enough to prompt British collector Richard Schlagman to preserve at least one of his interiors, taking the unusual step of acquiring not just the furniture and fittings but the whole thing.
Of his architectural work, there is very little left. A freestanding staircase in the open courtyard of the Axis building in Tokyo, built in 1982, rises up through a grey void as if it were a piece of sculpture in space, sheathed in a cloudy curtain of curved etched glass. When I was researching my monograph on Kuramata, I went to one of the few surviving Kuramata interiors, a tiny sushi restaurant by the name of Ume-no-ki, which is still run by the same chef who commissioned the design in 1978. Although the restaurant is only large enough to take 12 people, it is one of the most powerful architectural spaces I have seen. Issey Miyake also maintained the first shop that Kuramata designed for him, in Tokyo, for as for as long as he could in tribute to his friend.
And it was Kuramata who persuaded Englishman John Pawson to become an architect. Pawson was determined to meet Kuramata after reading a magazine article on his work. He spent several months in Japan, hanging around in Kuramata’s studio or, as he puts it, trying not to get in the way. When Pawson returned to London and designed his first flat in a stucco-fronted Victorian terrace, he telephoned Kuramata for advice on which particular shade of violet to paint the cornice.
In terms of sheer beauty, few, if any, designers can match Kuramata. The objects that he produced in his short career before he died at the tragically early age of 56 include vases made from colour-saturated pink and orange acrylic that turned function into an optical illusion; metal mesh chairs that left their mark on bare flesh; clocks that measured time with feathers and twigs for hands, which were extraordinarily sensuous, inventive and even poetic.
Kuramata took design to extremes. For one project he wrapped a traditional bentwood chair with wire, and set fire to it – not an easy task. The resulting design was a burnt-out ghost of a chair with a metal mesh frame. He also made a chair, entirely out of glass with no visible joints, using invisible glue.
Perhaps the most exquisite of all of Kuramata’s designs is the Miss Blanche chair that he made in 1988.
It is the quintessentially minimal chair: a seat and back made of clear acrylic, supported by anodised aluminium legs. The acrylic is almost invisible, existing only as the atmosphere in which a tumbling cascade of roses can survive, weightless and apparently effortlessly. Producing the chair, however, was the exact opposite of effortless. The primary ingredient is acrylic resin, a material that comes in liquid form in four gallon drums. Kuramata’s team of craftsmen made a mould for the liquid in order to transform it into a usable solid sheet. Liquid acrylic is like water, and needs the addition of just the right amount of hardening agent, a procedure that requires considerable skill. If there is too much hardener, the acrylic goes cloudy and opaque as it solidifies. Working by trial and error, Kuramata’s team found a method of pouring acrylic to half the depth of the mould, putting in the flowers, waiting eight hours for the acrylic to harden and then pouring in the rest to the top of the mould.
Apart from achieving the right degree of transparency, Kuramata’s key concern was making sure the roses looked right. The first idea was to use real roses, but the acrylic just burnt fresh flowers, and turned them black. Then he tried the most expensive artificial flowers he could find. But that didn’t work either. Expensive flowers were made with a dye that tended to bleed into the acrylic, leaving a permanent stain. Finally they tried the cheapest artificial flowers, which was the right solution. The first batch of rose-studded acrylic sheets yielded just eight usable chairs, with one failure. The edition was extended to 56, reflecting Kuramata’s age at the time of his death.
At the original exhibition Kuramata and his craftsman came to London to supervise the installation. The pieces on show this time, including Kuramata’s sinuous white cabinets, and his glass chairs, belong to Aram’s personal collection.
Deyan Sudjic is director of London’s Design Museum. His monograph on Shiro Kuramata will be published by Phaidon on June 27