conceptual art

On Coat Racks and Scotch Tape by Malika Ali

Cindy Hinant ,  The Difference Between Me and My Sister , Wood, Acrylic, Plastic Horses, 2008.

Cindy Hinant, The Difference Between Me and My Sister, Wood, Acrylic, Plastic Horses, 2008.

When I first viewed Cindy Hinant's work, The Kissy Girls, it made me uncomfortable. There is a big void in the representation of girls discussing their own explorations of sexuality and intimacy, but books and movies of boys traversing the exact same subject matter exists ad infinitum. This project was unusual and that made me uneasy. My uneasiness led me to ask a lot of questions, both of myself and also of Cindy. 

During your research, you consume and digest the underbelly of popular media - reality TV, gossip magazines, and paparazzi tabloid shots of pop stars without makeup. How do you cleanse your palate between projects? Or does desensitization set in after a while?

I don’t feel desensitized to pop culture at all, and would actually say I’m overly sensitive to certain types of media. I do try to manage my media intake so that it’s targeted consumption rather than a continuous stream of information. For example, I almost don’t listen to music anymore because I can’t listen to it passively. When I listen to music I am always thinking about its function or structure, part of this comes from having been a DJ in my early twenties. Instead I often listen to television when I’m drawing or working on other things. I think listening to television is easier than listening to music because of the linear narrative. Reality television is repetitive, there are previews, recaps, and confessionals that recount plot lines so it’s nearly impossible to loose track of the story. In reality shows like Mob Wives, the plot escalates to a big moment or fight, and for the next two episodes all the characters do is talk to each other about the fight that already happened. I also like to listen to sitcoms because they follow predictable narratives that rarely stray outside of what is familiar. I find that listening to television rather than watching it is a good way to discover patterns and concepts that might be overshadowed by visual information. The reduction of information has been a cornerstone of my work and I’m interested in isolating moments from popular media in order to start a conversation about their social significance. 

I read that you once received “a coat hangar and scotch tape” for Christmas, which sounds like a good title for a short story about botched abortions. Describe your upbringing and how it has or has not influenced your work as an artist.

I should clarify that it was a turquoise coat rack from my grandparents, who thought it would help me “keep my clothes off the floor” and the scotch tape was from my mom so that I “wouldn’t have to borrow hers.” In their minds these were extra presents that they just happened to give us on Christmas day, but my sister Natalie and I (she received the same things) were both devastated and felt totally cheated by these functional gifts. My dad didn’t pay much child support, and my mom was in school so we were broke and generally had lousy presents, like the year our dad opened all the cards we got from relatives and stole all the Christmas money we had received. We grew up in Indiana and I have two sisters, Natalie is five years younger, and Bonnie is eleven years younger (our dad remarried to her mom). I think I was in first grade when my parents divorced, and after this we moved in with my grandparents. My grandfather was a minister and my grandmother was a secretary who also led the church hand bell choir. I identify as a “PK,” meaning pastor’s kid, which has the stereotypical extremes of being perfect and being a rebel or troublemaker. My grandparents are pretty open minded, but I still feel uncomfortable when they see my work; sex and pornography are not really acceptable conversation topics in the Christian retirement community where they live. 

Almost everyone in my family has some kind of craft or skill. My parents had a poetry zine called “The Unicorn” that they worked on together before I was born, my grandfather is a hobby glass blower, my grandmother sews, and I have cousins and aunts who make jewelry. It wasn’t really a surprise to anyone that I became an artist, I think what was strange or surprising for my family was that I decided to make a career out of it. Growing up, my sisters and I spent a lot of time unsupervised, none of the adults around us were very hands-on, and they all worked a lot, so we had a lot of time to ourselves for unstructured play which encouraged creativity. 

Cindy Hinant,  The Kissy Girls , Digital Video, Color, Sound, 2006.

Cindy Hinant, The Kissy Girls, Digital Video, Color, Sound, 2006.

Talk about The Kissy Girls, a project documenting your younger sister and currently showing in our exhibition "Bang Bang."  Why this is this important work?

This is an important piece to me because it was the first time I used one of my sisters in my work. My sisters both hold a lot of confidence in what I do and allow me to document and explore intimate parts of their lives. When Natalie got married a few years ago, she was an amazing sport and let me document her bachelorette party. Natalie is more often involved as an organizer, she edits everything I write and does a lot of manual labor for me. Bonnie is more often a collaborator or subject of my work. 

I was 21 years old when I made The Kissy Girls (2006), and was barely post-adolescent myself.  This is actually the first video art piece that I ever made. The Kissy Girls was a club Bonnie started in kindergarten where the kids in her school would play kiss-tag during recess. Bonnie was interested in boys and exploring her sexuality from a young age, a topic which is suppressed and mutilated by our culture. For example, in Wisconsin a few years ago, parents of a five-year-old girl took a six year old boy to court for “playing doctor.” It’s totally absurd. It’s also hard to separate what’s “natural” and what’s a product of our youth and sex-obsessed media. This video also shows my sister at eleven years old defining her sexuality through pop music videos, an issue that still important in my work.

Because Bonnie is so much younger than me she can function as a mirror to my younger self and I was looking to her as a means to process my own adolescence. In 2008 I made a series titled The Difference Between Me and My Sister, which was made with toy horses that we took from her room.  I wanted these works to reflect on how alike we were, and also her refusal to function as my shadow.  At the time her parents who had been separated for two years were finally divorcing. I lived alone and she would spend weekends with me while her mom was working. She was struggling with their divorce and at 13 was just starting to sneak out of the house and smoke pot. It was hard for me to see her unhappy, and she often refused my support thinking we didn’t relate or that I wouldn’t understand. We would rent videos on the weekends and this is how I first watched The Girls Next Door. I had never heard of the show and was shocked that this was what my sister had selected, one of the first episodes we watched was about the girls doing a nude photo shoot for Playboy. She idolized Holly Madison and Kendra Wilkinson and imagined their lives as the ultimate fantasy lifestyle. Watching my sister consume media is really what inspired the work with celebrity that I make today.   

Cindy Hinant,  Grids Next Door,  Installation View at Visual Arts Gallery, New York, 2011.

Cindy Hinant, Grids Next Door, Installation View at Visual Arts Gallery, New York, 2011.

How do you define revenge porn? Why do you animate this brand of celebrity sex tape? And what significance do your color fades have to the consideration of the aesthetics of violation?

The aesthetics of violation is what I define as media materials that seem to have been released without consent of the subject, regardless of the actual agency of the subject. This is most clearly evident in media genres such as revenge pornography, upskirt photography, and leaked celebrity nudes. Revenge pornography are videos or photographs produced by a couple for private use which has then been publicly released by one party without consent of the other in order to cause harm or humiliation. This is a problem, in itself, but what I am most interested in is how “revenge pornography” has become a common keyword or tag used to promote pornography that was filmed professionally and how this contributes to the degradation of women. It’s just another of many niche portals you will find on the Internet, and it becomes difficult to distinguish between actual leaked photos and professional work. 

With my sex tape series I wanted to consider the reception and social function of celebrity sex tapes as well as the level of agency or control the women had over the release of these materials. I made three videos that are slow animations that each fade from a color to white over the duration of the original sex tape, keeping the original audio in tact. The colors come from the branding of each respective celebrity so Kendra Wilkinson is blue, Paris Hilton is pink, and Kim Kardashian is black. I am not sure if I would classify these videos as revenge pornography because the intention of their release seems to have been for monetary gain rather than humiliation, but that does not mean they are not abusive. Many states have now passed laws that restrict revenge pornography and the release of sex tapes, but a few years ago the general rule in most states was that photos or video that were produced consensually between adults could be released by one party without consent of the other. Kendra Wilkinson, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian, all stated publicly that these videos were released without their permission, but they all have a cloud of speculation around them because of the way each of them profited from their release. Kim Kardashian, in particular benefited from the release of her sex tape as it was leaked just before the first season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians aired. I don’t want to speculate too much about which celebrities were involved with the release of leaked or supposedly leaked tapes, but I do think that the grey area that emerges is interesting as is the public’s interest in vulnerable images of women. 

Cindy Hinant,  1 Night in Paris , HD Digital Video, Color, Sound, 2014. Installation View at Can't Complain Gallery, Guelph, Ontario, 2015. Photo Credit: Kenneth Jeffrey.

Cindy Hinant, 1 Night in Paris, HD Digital Video, Color, Sound, 2014. Installation View at Can't Complain Gallery, Guelph, Ontario, 2015. Photo Credit: Kenneth Jeffrey.

Online commentators often respond viciously to the personas of media villains when they are women. People have asked Farrah Abraham, whom you feature in your video work, “Why are you such a rude and disrespectful c--t?” or they’ve called her a “porn star looking, plastic surgery addict, bitch.” Is this type of Internet violence in some way cathartic? Do people need this release? As human animals do we crave blood, even if it’s digital?

I like Farrah Abraham because of the transparency that she maintains while desperately climbing up the celebrity ladder. She is known for having been on MTV’s reality shows 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom and is infamous for her two pornographic films Farrah Superstar: Backdoor Teen Mom and Farrah 2: Backdoor and More. Her pornographic films were promoted as leaked sex tapes despite their obvious production value and despite the inclusion of her co-star James Deen who is well known in the adult film industry. These were marketed as “the private tape made public” and Abraham publicly stated that these had been released without her permission. Eventually documents became public proving that this was not a leaked tape and was in fact a commercial pornography, but this did not stop Abraham and the production company Vivid Entertainment to continue to promote this as a leaked tape. To me this case exemplifies an aesthetics of violation where a selling point for this film was that it was somehow ‘stolen’ from Abraham. I find the public’s interest in images of vulnerable women really problematic. 

Abraham’s brand is built on being unlikable. In the MTV series’ she was the bratty, spoiled, party girl who fought with her parents and was an irresponsible mother to her child. Every drama series needs a villain, shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Girls Next Door aim to uphold a sense of family values, so the story peaks and drama in these are circular and minimal, but in most reality television shows featuring women, one character is designated as the sassy, loud-mouthed, unlikable character, maybe they ‘tell it like it is’ but they also might be a ‘back-stabbing bitch.’ I don’t really understand the mentality behind internet abuse, I think for many people Abraham must serve as a stand-in for what is wrong with America, or women, or whatever. Abraham invites scandal as it seems to be the only way for her to stay in the media and has started feuds with Kim Kardashian, Amber Portwood, and Nicki Minaj. It’s a strategy used by minor celebrities, the first time I heard of Chanel West Coast, my other favorite D list celebrity, it was because she had started a feud with Miley Cyrus. I wonder if this strategy works for artists. I’d like to use the public platform of this interview to officially announce my feud with Rihanna. 

The Art of Smelling Art by Malika Ali

Artist  Jedediah Johnson  testing his work  This Tent of A Body,  on view through March 19, 2016.

Artist Jedediah Johnson testing his work This Tent of A Body, on view through March 19, 2016.

The day before our interview, Jedediah Johnson stands in the gallery performing a sensory ritual with his work. A sort of laying on of scents that evokes old world alchemy and medieval philosophy. In another time and space, we might discover him in a dungeon lab transmuting base metals into nobler versions of themselves. But it’s 2016 and he is a conceptual artist applying perfume and cologne to a series titled This Tent of A Body, four 30x 22 inch works on paper that challenge his audience to partake in a more intimate experience with art. He’s very good at this. Internet famous for making out with his subjects and using photography to document the immediate aftermath, he began by asking politely at parties, “Hey, you wanna make out for art?” and was turned down repeatedly. Now he only makes out by appointment. Call him and he may be able to squeeze you in!

We sit together, Jed and I, filling the quiet room with laughter and articulating profound thoughts on smelling art, black Beyoncé, and why theory makes him sleepy.

What was the impetus for putting on make-up and making out with folks?

I’m really interested in intimate interactions being art or using it as a source material to make art. Just because I really like for art to have an emotional response as well as an intellectual one. So I try to start in an emotional place. And I had a lot of anxiety about kissing people. I’m still, to this very day, not a good starter of intimacy. I don’t initiate intimacy very well. And this was sort of like a...I thought this would be a thing people would be able to relate to, that people would get...and also I would get to make out with some people that I wanted to make out with.

Did you have a list of people that you wanted to make out with?

No, I didn’t have a list. The first person that I ever kissed for art was a girl that I had a crush on in the ’90’s that worked in the same mall as me. I was at Baskin’ Robbins. She worked at the record store. She got me my current job in the thrift store, so I work with her now. But yeah, it wasn’t like...you know when you kiss someone for an art project, you’re not really... the moment is real but the reason why we want to kiss people is not necessarily for that moment, but for the subsequent moments. Like when I’m on a date with someone and I kiss them, it’s like, “Yes I want to do this right now, but I also want to do this again tomorrow and maybe forever." This project, on the other hand, is often, very clearly, a one time thing. There are some people who haven’t thought of it as a one time thing. I kissed someone once in the attic of a party and the next time I saw her she was like, “Listen, I can’t make out with you again.” And I was like, “We already did. That’s cool. I don’t need to...” and then I realized, “Oh, that was real for her." Then it was a bummer, because I’d only made out with her for art. 

So you hadn’t prefaced this attic rendezvous?

No, she knew that it was for this art project, but like a normal person, it wasn’t so easy for her to separate the art idea from the actual idea. Cause you do, in that moment of kissing somebody for art, you do enter into this intimate space. So it is real, but it’s a different kind of reality, if that makes sense. And she was thinking it was regular reality not art reality. 

So when you take the photographs. When you kiss, how immediate is the capture of the image?

In less than a minute. They’re taken with 8x10 film. The camera is a huge thing on a tripod. I set up the camera. I compose. They stand in front of it. I have a stick behind their heads, so they can touch their head to the stick and know where their head is supposed to be to focus, which is an old photography trick. And then they lean away from the stick, we make out and they put their head back on the stick. I put my hand on them and take the picture.

You’re interested in art as an emotional response as well as an intellectual one. You’ve also spent a considerable amount of time in art schools, first at Art Center in Pasadena and later at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. People with that much immersion can easily find their work suffocating under the weight of theory. How did you escape that plight?

Certainly, there were some professors who were really bummed that I never bought into theory. But then there was Robert Clarke-Davis, this grumpy old man kind of a professor. When I confessed in front of a full auditorium that theory makes me sleepy, he pulled me aside afterward and said, “I didn’t like you before, but I really like you now.”

The biggest part of going to grad school, really, is learning how to separate yourself from your work. So when someone says something they don’t like about your work, it doesn’t totally destroy you on the inside. I would almost prefer to be the kind of person that gets five likes for every one hundred hates. I saw a t-shirt once that said, “If they ain’t hatin’, you ain’t doing shit.” There are certain art works that people like so universally, that I wonder if they’re actually good or if it’s just human nature. Like if you built a fire in a gallery and people were transfixed by it. Are you a genius? Or are humans evolutionarily drawn to fire? 

I’m evolutionarily drawn to Jedediah Johnson’s Worthless Websites. This collection of gifs you created are pretty brilliant, if not fire-genius status worthy. Who are the women in GuessWhoHadABirthdayToday.Me, a work that could have been in our current show “Bang Bang.” How do you find these co-conspirators?

Click image to view gif.

Click image to view gif.

Well, the woman on the right is Lauren Dodge. And the woman on the left is Leslie Dodge. They’re sisters. Lauren Dodge is a good friend of mine. She worked at the coffee house where I went all the time. She’s kind of a smart mean girl and I’m into that. One day I was with my friend Austin. He does the blog, Things Organized Neatly on Tumblr and he was stamping tags. He has these little tags with the Things Organized Neatly logo stamped on it that he leaves around town. He’s got like 100,000 followers and I guess he wants 100,012. So he’s stamping these tags and Lauren comes up, grabs one of the cards and says, “Oh, this is you. I’ve seen this before.” And Austin is like, “Ooooh, yeah that’s me.” He’s always like that and it works for him actually. But the reason why I love Lauren Dodge is because her response was, “I don’t want your fuckin’ tag. I know where the blog is. I just told you I’d seen it.” And I was like, “She’s awesome!” So we became friends. My very first gif work was LaurenDodgeHasaBoyfriend.com. And from there I was like, I should do a bunch of gifs and do url’s for all of them and buy domain names for all of them. And I did.

What’s your process for asking people to participate in art making with you?

It’s pretty much just, “Hey, do you wanna make some stuff?” Leslie Dodge is a ballerina in Little Rock with the Arkansas Ballet. So with her it was like, “You do ballet and I do photography, let’s make some stuff.” And she was like, “Cool, I’ll come over Friday!” I was lying in bed that Friday morning...in bed is when I do all my good thinking. And I was like, “Aha! Ballet lap dance. That’s what we’ll do.” And so we set up the living room of my parent’s house and we made IAmJustCulturedAsFuck.Com.

Click image to view gif.

Click image to view gif.

Tell me about your preferred mediums. There’s photography, there’s performance, but the performance is unintentional, no?

Yeah, I used to hate performance artists until I got to grad school and found out that I was one. Me and my friends used to be like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be awesome if we brought bean bag chairs to the mall and just hung out by the fountain in these bean bag chairs. Wouldn’t that be funny?” The only difference between post-art-school-Jed and the pre-art-school-Jed is that pre-art-school-Jed would say, “Wouldn’t that be a great joke?” And post-art-school-Jed would say, “Wouldn't that be a great piece?” 

Art can be super academic but when you look at somebody like Marcel Duchamp, who was like the first big conceptual guy, he was doing stuff that was intelligent but were also jokes. A lot of artists think it doesn’t need that humor. Or that art doesn’t need some kind of emotional hook. Humor is an emotional hook, sadness is an emotional hook, intimacy and all of these things are emotional hooks. For me, art that has no emotional component is like a fishing line without a hook. A fish could grab a hold of that and probably go with you back to the boat, but why would it? 

Clever. What other media have you joked around with?

Screen printing mostly. I do some video. I used to write and record songs but I put that as a separate thing. I’ve never incorporated music into my fine art. Though, that might come some day. It’s a weird thing, right? It’s oddly a separate thing. There’s no music art, it’s sound art. Imagine hearing the new single from Jeff Koons.

Ai Weiwei made an album.

I feel like I’m never going to a Guggenheim retrospective to listen to Ai Weiwei’s album. It’s like music is not for museums. Music is for the shower.

I always think about music as the purest art form because it’s so well integrated into our daily lives. I can imagine life without a painting, but I can’t imagine life without music. Speaking of music, have you watched the Beyoncé video?

No, but I did watch The Saturday NIght Live parody. That was funny.

So you saw from watching SNL that people lost their minds. There was think piece after think piece after think piece about Beyoncé’s brand of blackness.

Humans as a whole like to compartmentalize. We like to categorize. And it’s super useful when you’re in the forest and you learn that red berries will make you sick and blueberries are good to eat. Or you learn, “that is a pig and it’s delicious, but that is a tiger and it will eat me.” Categories are super useful in those situations. But when you get into civilization and you’re like, “That is a Black guy and he will rob me.” That’s where shit breaks down. So if you are in this situation where you file Beyoncé away as female empowerment but also really danceable. I can see, with somebody like that, where the confusion and outrage comes into it. It’s like somebody has knocked at the door and they’re like, “Oh would you like to buy these nice shiny things? I have this silverware that’s really very nice?” And when they get inside they’re like, “Now, lets talk about race.” I can see why somebody would be like, “What’s going on? I did not sign up for this!”

Why am I dying from laughter right now? It all makes sense now.

I actually did a piece that was one of my only race pieces. I wanted to make a pie, put it in a gallery with forks and plates and see if anybody would eat it in the gallery. So I started working on pie recipes. Then one of the recipes was like, put a pie bird in the middle of your pie.

A pie bird?

A pie bird. It’s a little ceramic figure that is often just a little bird with it’s mouth open that vents the pie so you don’t have to cut holes in the top of it. It’s like a little funnel. It has slots at the bottom and a hole at the top and it lets the pie vent. And I was like, “That could be a cool thing to put in my pie in my gallery.” So I went on eBay and I was like show me some pie birds. It turns out that a lot of pie birds are like this little lady right here...

And so I was like, “Ok, umm that’s crazy.” Then I bought a pair and made a pie with them. As I spent time looking at them, I began to ask myself, “What’s racist about this lady?” And it made me think, “Could this ever just be a Black baker woman? Like if this were White, it wouldn’t be weird.” And it has the whole history behind it, yes, but kinda my point is that this object itself, if you erase the collective memory of the entire world and put this object on a pedestal. People would just be like, “Oh, that kind of looks like you.” I just had that thought. Let’s say then that if we do decide that this is always racist, then what’s the situation for if I want to make a pie bird that’s a black woman? Do all pie birds now have to be white because that’s neutral? That’s way more bullshit I think. This Black woman is gonna be the pie bird in my pie. And the whole entire idea of the piece is going to be, “Welcome to the gallery, have a piece of pie and in return I want you to have to think about race for a second.” It was called A Slice of Americana. Because Americana is the code word for all of this stuff. Go on eBay and search “Americana Pie Bird” and it’ll be a lot of this stuff. 

Did people eat the pie?

Yeah. I only showed it at a very unorthodox space. New Capitol in Chicago was closing. They wanted to get rid of their gallery. So for the last month they were open, they asked twenty-four artists to do twenty-four-hour exhibits. And yeah, people ate the pie. 

We should talk about the work that’s actually in the show. This Tent of A Body which is paper and scent. When I described the work as paper, scent, and embossed text you corrected me. Why?

It’s really just a matter of simplicity. When you sample perfumes they give you these little pieces of paper. They spray the perfume on it and then you smell it. The paper is just the thing that holds the scent and holds the words. The words are not printed on the paper. The words are the paper. There is a purity to it. 

Do you want people to come to the sensory part of this work themselves? Or do you want them to be told to smell it?

It’s interesting to see someone read, “She smelled just like this... She smelled just like this... She smelled just like this...” and watch them stand there and think, “Yeah, I can imagine what she smells like.” Without thinking, “Maybe I should be smelling something for real.” People don’t always know much about art, but they know for a fact that they’re not supposed to smell it.

Well people, I invite you to visit us On The Ground Floor to sniff some of Jedediah’s art. “Bang Bang” is on view during events and by appointment through March 19th, 2016. Visit our Calendar for more information.