Trust is shockingly fragile, considering it undergirds our whole society. But then Margaret Thatcher said there is no such thing as society, just tribes. With attitudes like that, who needs enemies?
Lately I’ve turned to materials that break, shatter, coalesce, solidify, and fail at what they’re designed to do. Glass, clay, language, theater, money, mind.
These are all temporary conditions that seem so solid they’ll never go away or change, before they shatter into uncountable fragments.
This project, a full-length vinyl LP record titled Greatest Skips, more or less essentializes my response to how things are these days.
I started out making it as a response to my mother's increasing dementia, observing that her brain appeared to be at war with itself, which caused a fundamental internal confusion about her identity.
Of course I couldn't help but relate her condition to that of the country.
The record consists of two ~15-minute compositions of compiled record skips from my own LP collection.
This sculpture, titled Commutiny, accompanied Greatest Skips in a 2015 show at Western Exhibitions. I'd been wanting to make the piece for maybe 20 years... based on a vision of seeing an old green Milwaukee garbage can on a corner of Locust Street tipped over, but with its communitarian message staying upright.
Finally, with the help of an alderperson and my assistant Alec Regan, we procured not only an actual vintage city trash can, but the copper template for the anti-litter message.
For each showing of the piece, canned beer from every continent (that has beer) was chilled, piled into the can, then tipped over onto the floor. Gallery visitors were invited to grab a beer for free, as long as they agreed to throw the cans back into the sculpture.
4 cans held speakers with voice recordings, basically a philosophical argument among 4 competing points of view of what can, does, and should constitute community.
Fun fact: the curb was fabricated by Nicholas Romano, a former student who had actually worked for the City of Milwaukee making official city curbs. It was based on the actual dimensions and materials the city uses.
Commutiny (Communitarian Hypothesis), 2015
Vintage City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works (DPW) trash can and stencil, enamel spray paint, reinforced concrete, beer cans, custom audio, soundtrack readings by Andy Positive (Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis excerpt), Shelleen Greene (Chris Cutrone, The Marxist Hypothesis excerpt), Nicholas Frank (Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country excerpt), Polly Morris (What’s To Be Done? excerpt). Fabricated with Alec Regan (American Fantasy Classics) and Nicholas Romano.
St. Petersburg 1 (mid-Auburn), 2009/2015
Digital photograph, custom mat and frame
~29” x 21”
Moscow 1 (Pink), 2009/2015
Digital photograph, custom mat and frame
00” x 00”
These are pictures of people taking pictures of people. They accompanied Commutiny, as images representing multiple and hidden perspectives.
What I aimed for was for you to become aware of my perspective in addition to the point of view of the photographer in the image, and the self-consciousness of the person being photographed -- a triumvirate in that moment turned into a quartet in your present moment.
MIchelle Grabner recommended me for a winter 2017 national Artpace residency.
At the time, I was interested in positioning myself somewhere between artist and audience -- having made art, curated, written criticism, and engaging audiences for so long (and being an enthusiastic member of the art audience), I became most interested in all the betweennesses amidst those positions.
Everything changed in November 2016, and my Artpace project changed accordingly. Initially, I was interested to flip the normal residency situation, to make myself the audience of San Antonio, the place I would visit temporarily as an artist.
But I now saw "audiencing" as a political situation, on a spectrum between passivity and participation. How, as an artist, could I engage the new reality?
I like this image because you can hardly see my work. The photo was snapped in summer 2017 at the ACRE residency in western Wisconsin, where I had delivered the bleacher sculptures made during my Artpace residency. ACRE residents posed on the sculptures in their usable state, positioned near the backlot space ACRE transformed into a gathering place with firepit.
Here are the bleacher sculptures installed at Artpace earlier in 2017, titled Performing Audiencing / Audiencing Performing, in their "purest" state. When you stand on the floor and look at them, they are sculptures. When you sit on them, they are bleachers.
photo credit A Schreiber for Artpace
These are examples of how the usefulness, or bleachers state of the sculptures, was subverted during the exhibition. Each week, the bleachers were arranged into a new position, some usable, some not. I each case,
I saw them as regarding each other from opposite sides of the room -- different, despite their obvious sameness.
The 30' glass chain at the center of the space was meant as a deliberate divider. When you walked inside the gallery, you were on one side or the other. Here's a 1-minute video tour of the show, beginning with shattered glass prints I made with Hare & Hound Press.
The sound is a collaborative piece made with San Antonio artist Justin Boyd, lodged in the gallery's skylight using resonant transducers. Justin affixed a contact mic to the plate glass as it was sent through the printing press, recording its slow shattering.
The video is titled Credits Roll, and catalogues movie-credit style everyone behind the name "Nicholas Frank" on the wall of Artpace, who contributed efforts toward and supplied my residency period and exhibition.
The shattered glass was meant as an allusion to the potential for the country's highest "glass ceiling" to be shattered, but instead it was dropped on us, shattering our expectations. The clear acrylic barricades allude multiply to construction, as our democracy is always a work in progress, also to barriers between police and citizens, and to block parties and revolutions in the streets. The ceramics are closed clay vessels, which were smashed as closures to several participatory community events during the residency, including "2067," wherein I asked the Artpace Teen Council to imagine their world 50 years from now. Born in 1967, I was 50 at the time.
As I resettled in San Antonio and the nation confronted its new, highly adversarial and corrosive condition, I turned back to arguments as a primary mode of communication.
Amada Miller curated Hold My Beer at Sala Diaz, a dual exhibition featuring John Riepenhoff and myself. As part of John's ongoing Beer Endowment project, he brewed a delicious double dry hopped IPA with Freetail brewing's Jason Davis and George Brager and Roscoe from Company Brewing in Milwaukee.
As a response, I made several beer can sculptures, using the same speaker-in-can method from the Commutiny piece, to have 4-packs and six-packs arguing with each other about crucial issues. Round & Round You Go was a Flat Earth vs. round Earth debate about science and belief; and Constitution was immigrant voices reading texts about the foundations of the U.S.A.
Others were circular jokes & lonely laments.
(On Whose First), 2018
16-oz. aluminum beer cans (Budweiser “America” and “Liberty torch”), six voice recording, speakers, cork, bar stool :30 seconds
(Dawning On), 2018
24-oz. aluminum beer can (Schlitz “High Gravity”), 12-oz. aluminum beer can (Miller Lite), 12-oz. ‘slim can’ aluminum beer can (Michelob Ultra Light), sound recording, speakers, cork, cotton
Round & Round You Go, 2018
Five 12-oz. aluminum beer cans (Lone Star Light, Sol, Corona, Natural Light, Miller Lite), one 16-oz. ‘energy drink’ can (Rockstar Black- out), six computer voice recordings, speaker, cork
Knock Knock Joke Joke, 2018
24-oz. aluminum beer can (Schlitz “High Gravity”), 16-oz. aluminum beer can (Miller High Life), two voice recordings, speakers, cork
Lone Starlight, 2018
16-oz. aluminum beer can (Lone Star Light), voice recording, speaker, cork
voice: Amada Miller