Moving Images in New or Old Formats: A New Curatorial Project Featuring the Work of Lily Sheng

Lily Sheng, Still from Mercurial Matter, 16mm to HD with sound by Michael Sidnam, 2014 - 2015, 6 min.

Lily Sheng, Still from Mercurial Matter, 16mm to HD with sound by Michael Sidnam, 2014 – 2015, 6 min.

As part of a curatorial residency at the AC Institute, a non-profit art organization focused on experimental media and performance, I had the chance to do several studio visits with artists working in video and the digital space last month. Among them was Lily Sheng, a Queens-based artist who makes films, videos, and hybrid moving images in her studio near the International Studio and Curatorial Program in East Williamsburg. Lily showed us a video work, Mercurial Matter, and a film work, Point, Line, Plane. In both, dense, abstract imagery moves quickly, sometimes at odds with the synthetic music that builds to a feeling of dissonance and unease.

Lily Sheng, Still from Point, Line, Plane, a film collaboration with Antonia Kuo, 16mm expanded cinema with live sound by Michael Sidnam, 2015, 11 min.

Lily Sheng, Still from Point, Line, Plane, a film collaboration with Antonia Kuo, 16mm expanded cinema with live sound by Michael Sidnam, 2015, 11 min.

Both the video work and the film projection she showed us were rich, multi-sensory experiences, deeply connected to the history of experimental film, although subsequent discussion revealed a different, purely digital mode she also sometimes works in (as seen in the image below). It was a pleasure discussing the many mediums with which she approaches the moving image and the technical processes behind her work. For example, Point, Line, Plane involved making photograms on the film itself to create a pair of black-and-white images, which she then showed as a dual projection, sometimes coloring the image with gels.


As a result of that studio visit, I am excited to be arranging an exhibition and screening of Lily’s work at the AC Institute. Lily is creating a new series of animated GIFs as an homage to experimental films by deceased female artists, taking advantage of the concept of an online exhibition that the AC Institute proposed as part of my curatorial residency. While animated GIFs are ubiquitous on the web, Lily’s thoughtful consideration of the transfer and degradation of information show how well the format can be adapted to artistic purpose as she creates GIFs that, inherently reductive, highlight the limited, ghostly nature of film on the Internet. Considering the uncertainty of film preservation as we move into a digital era, the exhibition “Lily Sheng: Avant-GIF” will go online November 10 and be complimented by a performative video and film screening of recent works by the artist on November 18.

Lily Sheng, Still from Kabukicho,

Lily Sheng, Still from Kabukichō, 16mm with live sound by Michael Sidnam, 2015, variable duration (5 – 8 min.)

Narrative, Fantasy, Artifice: Curating “Emerges VIII” at ATHICA

Winnie Gier, Last Summer, 2015, Archival Inkjet Print

Winnie Gier, Last Summer, 2015, Archival Inkjet Print

Flagpole magazine recently reviewed an exhibition I curated at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art (ATHICA) called Emerges VIII, of which I said “Rather than relaying an ordinary story, their works often suggested something artificial—perhaps with a hint of a darker underbelly, or something so removed from reality as to be in a fantasy land—thus with the clear suggestion that it is only illusion and not real. Both qualities are mildly subversive, and highly entertaining.” As ATHICA’s eighth annual exhibition of work by emerging local artists, I approached the exhibition as a chance to introduce exciting new work by younger artists to the local community. My three key words were narrative, artifice, and the fantastical.


Installation view of Saegan Moran’s Vinyl Forest (2015, Found objects, resin, vinyl) with Winnie Gier’s photographs behind. Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

I loved having the chance to show photographer Winnie Gier‘s saturated, strange environs next to Saegan Moran‘s Vinyl Forest, both turning the natural into highly artificial states. Work by Jessica Machacek also deals with ideas of artificiality and nature–often in terms of consumerism, as one can see in the blinds displayed on the left in the image below.

Installation view of (L to R): Jessica Machacek’s Privacy Plant (2015) and Aquarium (2013), Michael Ross’s Checkered Hearts (2015), and Cameron Lyden’s Of Those Who Call the Woods Their Home (2015). Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

Machacek’s scenic window dressing with a view to nowhere exploits the idea of the picture plane as window–something Michael Ross takes up in his large narrative oil painting representing an impossible scene of soldiers wrapped in a Christmas fantasy in the midst of a snowy landscape. Although historically based, elements of glowing tree and presents amidst the tundra seems unlikely; If this is a view, it is one onto a scene of magical realism.

Detail, Cameron Lyden's Of Those Who Call the Woods Their Home, 2015. Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

Detail, Cameron Lyden’s Of Those Who Call the Woods Their Home, 2015. Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

Guns lean together on the right of the composition, abandoned, and recalling the functionless yet beautiful tools Cameron Lyden has hung from the wall to its right. His installation features carefully fashioned objects of brass and wood, resembling but not quite functioning as tools.

Ben Rouse, Untitled series, 2015. Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

Finally, Ben Rouse presents a series of 10 black and white prints that range from the whimsical to the serious. Viewers are left to construct their own meaning from the mysterious symbology of eggs and contorted body postures.

Emerges VIII is on view at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art in Athens, GA through August 23, 2015.

Installation view of Saegan Moran's Salivia Diamonds (2015) (L) and (2015) (R). Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

Installation view of Saegan Moran’s Saliva Diamonds (2015) (L) and Vinyl Forest (2015) (R). Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

Installation view of Jessica Machacek's (2013). Photograph by Emily Myerscough.

Installation view of Jessica Machacek’s Aquarium (2013). Photograph by Emily Myerscough.


Curating “do it UGA”

Installation view

I had the chance to give a gallery talk last week about do it UGA, a show I curated with fellow art history graduate student Brooke Leeton at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, and it gave me a chance to think back about the whole process. I first came across do it at a one-night event hosted by tranzit in Budapest; I was fascinated by the artists making food, drinks, drawing on walls, and dancing—all based on other artists’ instructions. do it is a curatorial project of Hans Ulrich Obrist who, beginning in the 90s, began to ask artists to write instructions by which other artists could make a work of art. The instruction-based art project has spawned many iterations around the globe, functioning as a kind of open-source, proliferating and ongoing project. Working off the 2012 do it: the compendium book, my co-curator and I asked seven artists to select an instruction from this collection of 200+ instructions by artists from Marina Abramovic to Franz West.


One of the questions I was asked was about the amount of trust we put in the artists, as we planned a show with no idea as to how it might materialize until the very end. And in a sense, that’s true, and at times was a cause for anxiety. Normally, a curator might do studio visits and ask for specific works or pieces from a body of work to be shown. Not only were we not starting from objects, we framed the project to the artists as a way to step outside their normal practice and experiment. In doing so, I feel we were working better with the nature of the project: instructions-based art is totally different from the normal, self-driven approach to making and it offers a chance to play and reconsider process.


Instructions might seem like rules, specific and limiting to creative freedom, and thus against the grain of art itself. On the contrary though, the works the resulted from this show speak more of interpretive freedom and the inevitable personal mark attached to things we make. We placed an orange photocopy of the instruction from the book next to the artwork interpreting it, so viewers could see for themselves both the starting and end points. In the photograph above, on the right, is a board with two telephones that connect to a total of six telephones, part of Courtney McCracken‘s installation that provides elaborate mechanics for communal performing of Stephen Kaltenbach’s simple instruction: “Start a rumor.” All of the works have a similarly interesting degree of separation from the instructions.


Many of the works were performative in nature, and the presence of the artists during the opening helped activate the space and suggest the freedom to interact (that even got, rather gloriously, misinterpreted at one point as guests started drawing on the walls). Above is a photograph of a dance performance by Hilary Schroeder, following Joan Jonas’s instruction that begins “dance with a large piece of chalk.” Below is a photograph of Allan Innman, who created the beauty mark that accentuates both the wall of the exhibition and his own face, adding a bit of wry humor to the Beauty Marks instruction by Hreinn Fridfinnsson.


A final performative aspect of the opening occurred when I and my co-curator picked up brooms and swept confetti “evenly distributing it along one wall,” to signify the end of our contribution to the show, Amalia Pica’s do it (party). This instruction appealed to us, because, as we rather cheekily say in the exhibition hand-out, throwing a party and cleaning up afterword is “curating in a nutshell.”