I. Three Artists
I was given a list of historically important artists whose works surround memory or memorials. After briefly researching about everyone from the long list of diverse artists, I picked Lorna Simpson, Bill Viola, and Kerry James Marshall to study deeply about. I studied their works, philosophy, and life, and then wrote shortly about each of them.
i) Kerry James Marshall
Kerry James Marshall is an American artist born in Alabama, raised in South Central Los Angeles. Marshall’s personal experiences as a young African American during his early years deeply influenced his works, both his style and his subject matter. Marshall’s big, mural-sized paintings and dark-skinned figures depict mundane moments in African Americans’ lives with incredible vibrance. In 1998, in an interview with Bomb Magazine, Marshall stated:
“Black people occupy a space, even mundane spaces, in the most fascinating ways. Style is such an integral part of what black people do that just walking is not a simple thing. You’ve got to walk with style. You’ve got to talk with a certain rhythm; you’ve got to do things with some flair. And so in the paintings I try to enact that same tendency toward the theatrical that seems to be so integral a part of the black cultural body.”
School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012. Acrylic and glitter on unstretched canvas.
ii) Bill Viola
Bill Viola is an American new media artist whose works focus on video, sound, image, and technology.
Moving Stillness: Mount Rainier 1979, 1979. Color videotape playback with rear projection reflected off water surface of a pool in a large, dark room; aquarium aerator with timing circuit; amplified stereo sound.
(On his recent exhibition Moving Stillness: Mount Rainier 1979)
Bill Viola’s <Moving Stillness: Mount Rainier 1979> was displayed for his recent exhibition <Moving Stillness> at James Cohan gallery. <Mount Rainier 1979> consists of a photograph on a screen, water in a tank, and lights on the water. The photograph of Mount Rainier is on a big, thin screen, which is located above a shallow, wide, rectangular-shaped water tank. Behind the flailing screen is three strong lights—red, green, and blue—that are projected on the water. The room is extremely dark—so dark that people were bumping into one another despite their very slow walking.
The water is constantly stirred, so the three lights on the water are constantly moving in curvy distortions. The photograph of Mount Rainier is also in a constant motion, as the screen moves like a flowing stream, distorting the image in round, gentle curves. The image of Mount Rainier very dim, although the shape of the mountain is visible, so its reflection on the water behind the screen looks more vivid than the original image.
All elements in the exhibition—the photograph of Mount Rainier, its reflection, the projected colors—are in constant motion, but none of them relocate. They constantly move in their still positions. However, ironically, the water in the tank, which is the source of all the “still motions,” is the most invisible element in the display. Although the water is in constant motion, its movement is not as visible as the other elements whose motions it has caused.
I was fascinated by the coexistence of the extreme obscurity and the powerful presence. Every single element of the piece is very blurry and dim, but the collective presence of the whole piece is very strong and affecting. Moreover, the ironic coexistence of stillness and movement is also intriguing. I felt as though I was peeking into someone’s memory piece that has become a blurry dream.
<Mount Rainier 1979> captures and distorts time in a confusingly interesting way. The sequence of time is non-linear, as the still image of the mountain froze one moment and extends it as long as one looks at it. The time of the piece contains simultaneous as well, because the image of the mountain moves along with the screen, while the water on which the image is reflected also moves. Different elements of the piece move at the same time, and one image on different positions—screen and water—moves simultaneously but in slightly different manners. Furthermore, the time(s) of <Mount Rainier 1979> is repetitive, as the images on different elements repeat the similar motion of flowing and flailing, on the screen and the water.
iii) Lorna Simpson
Lorna Simpson is an American artist born and currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Simpson’s subject matter centers on the identity and politics of African American women, and her primary media are photography, film, and video. Simpson’s early works are mostly documentary photography, which she explored while travelling in Europe and Africa after receiving her BFA in photography from School of Visual Arts. Later, she explores conceptual photography, which combines with text. Simpson continues to involve various media in her creative works, making film and video arts. Her collages study the identity of African American women through visually conceptual portraiture. Simpson recently started working on paintings, which contain both photographic features and nostalgic abstractiveness.
- study on her and her art in depth follows in the next section, II.
II. Art of Lorna Simpson
I decided to work on Lorna Simpson’s art. I gathered some of her most inspiring works from many. I researched Lorna Simpson’s life, philosophy, and art in depth with a book as well as online resources. The greatest help was <lorna simpson> by Okwui Enwezor, Curator’s Forward by Helaine Posner, Essay by Hilton Als.
Lorna Simpson’s art practice centers on the identity of African American women. This “identity,” as her continuous subject matter, includes race, gender, cultural representation, politics, and history. The art of Lorna Simpson predominantly portrays Black women, captures their cultural features, such as fashion or hairstyle, and references the relevant history. In the past, she has stated that “[she does] not feel as though issues of identity are exhaustible.”
i) conceptual photography
Lorna Simpson’s early works are mostly documentary photography, which she explored while travelling in Europe and Africa after receiving her BFA. But her photographic world soon adapts abstractionism. Lorna Simpson’s most celebrated works are conceptual photography that combines with text. Mostly from the 80’s and 90’s, her simple, repetitive photographs are arranged along with concise, broken texts. She arranges photographs of Black people, mostly Black women, which are realistic in their image but abstract in their meanings. They’re clear, usually zoomed-in, simple portraits or body parts, often capturing features specific to Black people, or specifically Black women. Or, they’re objects that are highly relevant to bodies living and working in human society. Her texts, in extreme brevity, speaks of cultural representation and socio-political images of Black people. The texts subtly but directly talks about the oppressive factors against them. These works leave a large space to the viewers’ interpretations, but do not forget to state what should be at the core of any explorative interpretation. Her collages study the identity of African American women through visually conceptual portraiture. Lorna Simpson’s conceptual photography, however ironic it might sound, is certain in its indications. It is as firm as it is elegantly reserved.
Stereo Styles, 1988. 10 Polaroid prints, 10 engraved plastic plaques:
Flipside, 1991. Two gelatin silver prints and engraved plastic plaque, diptych:
Counting, 1991. Photogravure with screenprint:
Lorna Simpson’s collages explore physicality and non-physicality, visuality and conceptuality, seriousness and joyfulness of identity. Simpson uses realistic, direct, black and white photographs of portraiture, which are combined with abstract and colorful drawing. Her collages depict bodies of Black people, especially those of Black females, in a way that is realistic but also impressionistic. The paint as hair of the photographed portraits in the Ebony Collage series is placed as hair, but describes various images and impressions, such as smoke, waves, fireworks, or indescribably abstract shapes. The abstract shapes add senses of infinity, ethereality, and divinity to the portraits of collages. Simpson not only depicts beauty of Black women through abstract painting, but also suggest the non-physical beauty, intelligence, and power that is shared by Black women. Lorna Simpson has stated in her interview in 2017 that “[she] always think[s] in series, not individual works.” Most of her collages are series works, and they a whole create even more powerful senses of depth and infinity.
Unanswerable (detail), 2018. Found photograph and collage on paper.
Ebony Collages, 2011-2012. Collage and ink on paper.
Simpson continues to involve various media in her creative works, making film and video arts. Her cinema are all extremely short and abstract. Simpson, just as in her other works, depict bodies of Black people, but in motions, whether it is physical or verbal. Those actions include dancing, eating, conversing, or whistling, and no matter what they are, they do it rigorously. While her characters and images enthusiastically take motions, her frame usually stays still. Her cameras rarely move, and when they do, minimally and efficiently so. Simpson’s cameras focus on observing; They are patient, persistent observers of active motions taken by her figures in the frames. As Hilton Als beautifully puts into words, “Simpson is resolute in her belief in, and collaboration with, the frame—be they frames that move or not. But no matter the genre, Simpson’s images are linked to the cinema in what they convey to the viewer ceaselessly, hungrily, rapturously.” As much as her active figures represent the busy brain of Simpson’s, her still cameras show the calm persistence of Simpson’s artistic mind.
Lorna Simpson Animation Compilation, 2016. Single channel video.
The Institute, 2007. Double screen projection video. 5 min 14 second.
Cloudscape, 2004. 6 minute loop.
31, 2002. 31 channel video installation. 20 minutes.
Simpson recently started working on paintings, which contain both photographic features and nostalgic abstractiveness. She said in an interview last year: “All this painting that I’m doing is closely related to photography.” As her comment states, Simpson’s paintings invoke a very strong feeling of nostalgia like a documentary photograph would do. But she’s also clarified the distinction between her recent paintings and her old photographic works: “I’m not trying to talk about photography through the medium of painting. I don’t know what [classical painting] is, and I don’t think I want to know.” Having a very concrete background as a documentary and conceptual photographer, Simpson seems to have a unique way of approaching painting. Her sharp eyes depict beauty and emotions through colors and textures, which she can’t capture but instead control. As Hilton Als beautifully verbalizes, “in Simpson’s world, nothing is ‘whole’—not blackness, not femaleness, not photograph, not a video. What interests her are the limitations to be found in beautiful forms.”
Ice 4, 2018. Ink and acrylic on gessoed wood panel.
Ice 7, 2018. Ink and acrylic on gessoed wood panel.
Shift, 2016. Ink and screenprint on claybord.
III. Imitation Work
I imitated Lorna Simpson’s multimedia painting piece Three Figures, 2014. Lorna Simpson used ink and screeprint on 12 claybord panels, and I used acrylic and regular print on 12 unprimed wood panels. As I worked on my panels, some of them were painted flipped, in order for me to create the visuals of dripping ink as in the original work.
ProColor print of Lorna Simpson’s Three Figures, 2014:
My imitation process:
IV. My Work
iii) ursa any b an. cinquepalmi
i hate the word passion
because it’s not an atlas
it’s a good hate
hate & hater
yr no hater
which is part
of why i
to say which spoon
do you wish to be sounds
weird but i miss you you know?
iii) installation design
V. yr no hater
i) yr no hater: performance + video
I created a multimedia piece about longing, writing, and being. yr no hater includes performance, video, soundwork, and poetry. I collected white, used papers and spread them around my backyard. I twisted them, folded them, and put them in between stones. I dressed all in white and sat behind the pile of papers and stones. I contemplated, and wrote “is it a good hate?” on my small, black notebook repeatedly and slowly. The phrase “is it a good hate?” is from a poem given to me by a poet friend, and has been resonating with me. I took various footages of my performance, and edited them with old voice messages between me and my poet friend. While I edited the video in my own style, which is aligning rhythms of the video footages and the audio messages, I also used Lorna Simpson’s technique of reversing the clip and persistently pushing long wide shots. I also aimed to create an emotionally rich but peaceful piece, just like Lorna Simpson’s cinema.
ii) ursa any: poetry + sound
I recorded myself reading ursa any, a poem that includes the phrase “is it a good hate?” from my performance. I edited the audio by distorting the speed and tone of my voice, and therefore othering my own voice. I also edited and added a short portion of Arca’s Piel as the background noise and humming in my audio piece. In my presentation, I placed my audio piece at the opposite end from the screen, across the room, and played it right after my video.
iii) is it a good hate?: writing
My notebook, which states “is it a good hate?” was placed above this sound piece, recreating the emotional scene of my performance.