Tag Archive for: New York City

Introduction & Index

Introduction & Index, silkscreened translucent banners and artists’ bookwork (1994): Printed Matter (New York); Artexte@MACM (Montreal); Bath Public Library (UK); Ridington Room, University of British Columbia (Vancouver), C Magazine (Toronto)

 

A meditation on censorship and the power of print, and on the editorial apparatus as a constraining device with a complex subtext, this work was originally conceived as part of the project The Spirit and the Letter and the Evil Eye (with Lyne Lapointe, Bath, 1994).  As a limited edition set of banners, it was shown in multiple venues in Canada and the UK through 1994.  As an artists’ bookwork, it was published that year in C Magazine, with ‘Introduction’ being the first page of the magazine, and ‘Index’ the last page.

The ‘introduction’ at the beginning of a book and the ‘index’ at the end are conventions which help us navigate both the text and the ‘body’ of a book, and which define at one and the same time the spatial and the intellectual ‘lie of the land’ between the covers.  They are also redolent of sensory experiences of handling and manipulating the book itself: the ‘introduction’ is a physical way in – a threshold – and the ‘index’ that cuts through the book’s text by subject can also refer to the finger turning the pages.

As all knowledge is powerful, powers over it are carefully managed: Index is also the short-form title for the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of books either censored or banned by the Catholic Church.  This list was active from 1559 to 1966, created as a direct result of the advent of the printing press, and the consequences of reading and circulating materials which appeared on it were at no time more draconian than during the Inquisition.

This was one of a series of works, large and small, that I made during this period using translucency in a two-dimensional format as a way of creating depth of field, relational structure and comparison between two discrete line images. Another example of these conceptual print projects is Metaphysical Subject, commissioned by the Laboratory at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art for the British Journal for the History of Science (1998).

What was particular about Introduction & Index was that it drew thoughts about book and print culture and convention together with the media of printing and publishing itself.  In a sense, the banners are as much bookworks as was the publication of the work in C Magazine, and both versions are spatial as well as graphic.

It was Julie Ault and Doug Ashford who invited us to display the banners at Printed Matter; Lesley Johnstone who invited us to display them at Artexte when it ran the bookshop for the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Antonia Payne and Angela Kingston in Bath; and Scott Watson in Vancouver.  Marie Fraser, then Montréal Editor of C Magazine, curated Introduction & Index into the publication.

 

 

Further Links:  Printed Matter New York; Artexte; C Magazine

[Image References: all images are of Introduction & Index, by Martha Fleming and Lyne Lapointe (1994)]

The Wilds and The Deep

The Wilds and The Deep: Martha Fleming & Lyne Lapointe, Battery Maritime Ferry Terminal New York City (1990, produced with Creative Time)

 

At the bottom tip of Manhattan, this large-scale site project explored the origins of museums in colonial practice. Next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, the Battery Maritime Building — then partially abandoned — was constructed on the site of one of the oldest sea landing points in North America. All manner of goods, animate and inanimate, would have sailed to and from that point, and by the 19th century, all immigrants who made it past Ellis Island would have had to come through its portal. The Wilds and The Deep was about nature and individuals caught up in historical processes of consumption that have produced everything from princely collections to the subjugation of entire peoples.

The Battery Maritime Building (1909) is a huge, sprawling site, and at the time it was loaned to Creative Time as part of a planning process for Lower Manhattan. Lyne Lapointe and I were commissioned by Creative Time to create this major site-specific public art project, and together we worked with The Mayor’s Office for Culture and The New York City Department of Transportation.

Focusing the crosshairs of research that we had already effected in the history of museums for Le Musée des Sciences (1984) and in the history of natural history for Eat Me / Drink Me / Love Me (1989), Lyne Lapointe and I created our fourth major site-specific project, under the aegis of Creative Time.  Between auto da fe and el dorado, between the devil and the deep blue sea, The Wilds and The Deep inhabited the building’s roof, ferry gangways, waiting rooms, piers and balconies.

 

 

From our original project proposal of 1988:

For over 300 years, that protected spot in the leeward crook at the bottom of Mannados has been a point of embarkation, and droves of people knew New York first through the glittering windows of The Battery Maritime Building.

But the building itself is an ‘outcropping,’ a majestic, resolute rune marking a site which also has a pre-history, a history of first peoples, told in a spiral rather than in a line, a history distant from the required cause and effect of the chronology of European expansionism. A history which did not care whether or not its shores were India. And even further back in time, though no further up the river than Newburgh, a mastodon gave up its bones to the millennia in the shifting banks of the Hudson, only to be ‘discovered’ by Peale at the dawn of the 19th Century. Perhaps, in its own way, The Battery Maritime Building, abandoned to all but tribal memory, recently ‘discovered,’ is itself a mammoth of a kind of pre-history, with its sturdy, serviceable legs sunk deep into the mud of the port itself, and two phantom tusks jutting out towards the water.

THE WILDS AND THE DEEP is a project which we have been working on since August of 1987, about the ideological origins of museums and their vested interests. It concerns the relationship between mercantile interests and research by Old World ethnologists and natural historians through the colonisation periods, and how these interests meshed with the creation of object-museums in royal European houses. In a museum, this material is the booty of conquest, which is the hidden agenda of ‘voyages of discovery.’ With this fourth project for a building, we wish to dis-order and fragment the mercantile, possessive, accumulative and expansionist meanings created with objects in the name of History and the Natural Sciences.

Stated very simply, the project is about the traffic in nature, and particularly the active role of naturalists and men of science in the undertaking of colonisation, and the way in which the capture of nature in the 16th and 17th century ties into empire building. For example, the origin of the idea of museums was in fact a princely past-time, where European royal houses and later wealthy individuals would collect specimens, objects and living things which came from the places they were colonising.

 

In the intervening 20 years and more, my views on this have become more nuanced and more informed, of course. I have since that time had direct experience with the very collections amassed in this way, at the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum London, and tangentially at the Medical Museion in Copenhagen. The push and pull between questions of museological restitution to source communities and the kinds of ecological/biodiversity answers these historical materials can now, uniquely, give, is an important feature of current museum ethics debates.

And of course, in the intervening years, there have also been major developments in the field of the history of collecting and museums, and in the history of colonisation and the Atlantic which have charted much of the same territory but in a different way.  But in 1990, the phrase ‘cabinet of curiosities’ was recherché.  For Lyne and I, the major beacons then were Impey and MacGregor’s Origins of Museums (Oxford, 1985) and Adalgisa Lugli’s Naturalia et Mirabilia (Mazzotta, 1983); but also Candide by Voltaire, and Melville’s Moby Dick.

Living and working in New York for those few years at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, while Lyne and I were creating this project and also showing at the New Museum, was both demanding and nourishing.  There is more to come on all that.

 

 

Further Links:  Creative Time

[Image References: all images are of The Wilds and The Deep by Martha Fleming and Lyne Lapointe (New York, 1990) with the exception of the second image on this page, which is the earliest known map of Manhattan — Nieuw Amsterdam — from 1660, known as the Castello Plan, from New York Public Library’s digital repository. Colour photographs of The Wilds and The Deep are by Marik Boudreau]

 

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Eat Me / Drink Me / Love Me

Eat Me / Drink Me / Love Me:  The New Museum (New York, with Lyne Lapointe, 1989)

 

Invited in 1987 by curator Bill Olander to create a work for The New Museum, we devised a project about the interplay between social convention, literature, and natural history. Eat Me / Drink Me /Love Me took its title from a section of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, in an installation that simultaneously both domesticated and rendered ‘wild’ the white cube of the contemporary art museum. Cerebral and yet sensual, the project included mixed media works that are meditations on organic matter, animal life, female sexuality, Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae, and 19th century proto-feminist poetry.

 

Here is a quote from the artists’ statement we wrote for the exhibition:

Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me

Lizzie to Laura in Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti (1862)

Eat Me / Drink Me / Love Me proposes a quest for sites of pleasure, for the expression of pleasure, and for the acknowledgement of pleasure for women, inside the rigid cultural institutions which are available to us.

This project gestures to historical precedents in the search for pleasure against all odds by hearkening to similar strategies on the part of creative women within an entirely other institution: that of literature.

Eat Me / Drink Me / Love Me forays into natural history — botany, zoology and other ‘pastoral’ pursuits — and questions the hidden interests of its masculinist construction of ‘Eden.’ We believe that there is another ‘garden’ very different from this one, in spite of a partially shared iconography. It is the interior garden women create for ourselves, wherein we seek a complex sexual refuge, and which is a site of resistance.

 

In a sense, it was an extension of the approach we took in La Donna Delinquenta — seeking fissures for self-realisation inside dominant cultural tropes — but this time it was more pointedly feminist.  New Museum founder, the visionary pragmatist Marcia Tucker, dubbed the work and our approach ‘critical romanticism.’  Sadly, Bill Olander did not live to see the project installed: he died of AIDS earlier that year — one of many entirely unnecessary deaths that have left a very different cultural landscape than the one in which many of us had hoped we would now be living and working.

We went on to create The Wilds and The Deep with Creative Time, and to exhibit in several New York galleries during this period, including Curt Marcus Gallery, Jack Shainman Gallery, PPOW, Wessell O’Connor, and shows curated by Nan Goldin and Independent Curators International among others.  Work from Eat Me / Drink Me / Love Me was acquired by collectors such as Vera List, Richard Ekstract, Thomas Ammann, Joel and Zoe Dictrow, Pierre Bourgie, and others.  The largest elements of the project — a worked floor entitled Wild Nights / The Unswept Floor and its accompaniment, Miasme/Hyene et la Valve — are now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

Lyne Lapointe, who also has a highly regarded solo career, has recently exhibited at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York and at Galérie Pierre Francois Ouellette in Montreal (February and March 2012).

 

Further Links:  The New Museum; National Gallery of Canada Miasme/Hyene et la Valve; Lyne Lapointe at Jack Shainman Gallery

[Image References: all images are of Eat Me / Drink Me / Love Me, by Martha Fleming and Lyne Lapointe (1989). Black and white photographs are by Marik Boudreau.]