Notes on the Carnival.
by Lucas Baisch
Light from a December somewhere else falls through the gallery window of Hair + Nails, bisecting the nearest painting with its ray. In Book of Numbers, a circle of fiendish characters – costumed in clownish regalia, some butterfly-figured, some starry-eyed, others with faces doubled, upside-down, painted, muscly cheek sinews exposed – gawk at a snake coiling itself up a flagpole. Both bemused and entranced, the crowd gathers itself in anticipation. Some concern themselves with snakes. Some appear in jagged membrane. The Eye of Providence looms casually in the distance. A skull-masked barker waves their hand in presentation. The reptilian will forever coil, they suggest. For a moment, they’ve all succumbed to the spell of carnival.
An encounter with Shadowlands, the newest body of work by Andrew Mazorol and Tynan Kerr (of the collaborative duo AMTK) reveals itself as a pictographic venture into spectatorship, the prodigal return, some ship deck hypnosis. Everyone is made a journeyman within this canvassed hallway. The vast shimmy of porridge-bodied figures under moonlight mimic the plant dance of artist Rachel Youn’s downstairs installation (with soundscape by booboo). The upstairs gallery space suggests a microcosm of fantasy borrowing from folk art aesthetics; works built out in humbled color that angle toward the processional, the pageant wagon, characters who privilege movement as their only means to live.
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LUCAS BAISCH [LB]. I can start by asking about the genesis of this show. How did you and Andie come to these specific pieces?
TYNAN KERR [TK]. We hadn’t worked together for a fair amount of time. Right before COVID, Andie came out to LA and we spent a couple of weeks together, but the initial shutdown was looming. He was out here, he cut his trip short, we made some work, but it never felt like it had its full legs under it. Then, more recently going to New York, it was great. Andie had this fresh space to work in and we could really only be painting – recovering and painting. At that point, the process takes over. It’s one of the things in our collaborative relationship that’s so fun. When it works, it flies. At a certain point the wheels fall off and it’s like, “That’s amazing. That thing just happened.” I struggle with jumping worlds. In order to get into my art space, I need a lot of breathing room around it. We had everything we needed there.
LB. Right! It seems that in trying to make anything right now, a constant series of questions are: To what end? With what means? What are we making this for? Like, yes, it can only arrive in these bursts in which you have to trick yourself, your environment, to feel satisfied enough to even create.
TK. It was a short enough period of time that I could amp myself up with Andie and push a lot of the plaque that this world sticks to us away for a moment. It’s easy to get pulled back into the mud. One thing I think about alongside Rachel’s work: I try to imagine that when I’m making art there’s a moment of psychic abundance where I’ve made enough room to say, “Okay, now the flower can emerge.” The plant can’t be flowering all year round. It has to gather its energy, but then … it’s a temporary beauty, and the cycle repeats.
LB. Does the collaboration feel different this time? Prior to your five-year hiatus?
TK. I think so. When we used to work together we lived in the same city. We lived in Minneapolis. We had a lot of overlap and making art was a more natural part of our daily lives. I’m enjoying these short, bright, burning bursts of getting together. In some regards, it’s like riding a bike – you fall back into it. But there are some new things happening. The limitations provide these really beautiful islands of time.
LB. Its interesting thinking about “process” against these micro-residencies you gift yourselves. I start to hold that as some interpretation of time. I’ll read the paintings as eerie. You’re depicting figures that suggest celebration, swarming, movement, but the viewer is looking at something static. Something frozen in time.
TK. In the past, we’ve talked about how sometimes the characters in the paintings seem to be doing something for us, holding some space for us. When we’re painting them they’re so animate. They’re living. They show up and disappear. I really like working through this filter with Andie. If someone else is on the canvas, you’re working a living surface. It’s responding to you. In my own work, I try to chase some of that stuff by running it through filters, leaning into whatever marks don’t exactly translate. The thing is breathing while it’s happening.
LB. I take it you don’t plan too much then.
TK. It is improvisational, but there are definitely bones we lay down. There’s a skeleton that we’ll start with, but that might totally change. We get enough information up there so we can start reacting to what’s happening. At a certain point maybe we’ll both start protecting things. A lot of times its good to go, “Well, I’m not really feeling this. I think we should get rid of this half of the painting and start over here.”
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I’m rereading Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World. He teaches me that the word ‘carnival’ comes from the Latin ‘carnelevarium’ meaning ‘the removal of meat.’ There is catharsis in a spiritual relocating from the corporeal to the metaphysical. Various cyanotypes showcase their own meatless feature. In Unspeakable, the familiar symbol of the human skull sits at center, under chimney, coaxing out the familiar adage, memento mori. Within the Shadowlands, death is in the home, death is in the sun. Mortality is domestic. It’s a symptom of the natural world.
Mazorol and Kerr employ the condition of the trickster through their characters’ choreographic enterprise – a role defined by a figure’s existence on the precipice, between worlds, as well as an always-insatiable appetite. Portals abound here. Disconcerted or grinning creatures lace themselves in the tip of a window, a doorframe, archways, the crease of a building. A lonely game of dice churns a hunger for chance. The cropping up of horned creatures builds a fluency for the supernatural. An abundance of stars suggest a community’s allegiance with the night. Hyde claims the thievery of the trickster gives way to cultural invention. In AMTK’s exhibition, the march of playfulness steals experience from the onlooker (those set within the picture plane, within the gallery space), motivating us to wonder what happens in the biding of time. What is that porous corridor between humor, apathy, and divination?
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LB. How was the name Shadowlands born?
TK. There are a few ways I think about it: from one perspective, the cyanotype is a shadow play process literally blocking the sun to make its mark. And then, I think of it from the perspective of a shadow within a half-baked Jungian sense; all of those things you carry with you, the things that are disavowed, the things we struggle with in the back of our minds, the things we’re reacting to in the world that we don’t even realize. In some ways, Andie and I can embody aspects of each other’s shadow.
LB. How do you mean?
TK. Well, we’ve had a very long history in which we’ve patched through a lot; we’ve held a bond together. We’re very similar, but we also have very different ways of approaching things. Andie brings things to the table that I can’t and vice versa, so what ever that third entity is that is “us together” – it has access to more. It’s a fuller person that is both emphasized and pushed down in each of us. There’s an interesting pushing and pulling in those spaces of polarity.
LB. Is it true that you use industrial paints?
TK. We still use some, but when we started working together it was exclusively enamel and latex. There was a hazardous waste recycling center in Hennepin County that we would go to all of the time to look for free paints. For a bunch of years that was all we used. We couldn’t really afford paint so it was liberating to use as much as we want. You could roughly mix colors together to get something else. We’d have seven pots of paint and say, “Okay, this is what we have.” It presented us with simultaneous limitations and freedom, which allowed us to push through and develop a visual language we were both into. Now we use a mixture of different materials.
LB. Do you find the found quality of material can hold significance in the work?
TK. Not being too precious with the materials allows us to not be too precious with what we’ve painted. Everything is fair game. Often, one of us will either out loud or silently think, “Damn, I wish that didn’t happen.” The paints can be really opaque which is great for collaborative stuff because you can totally go over something and it’s just gone. But then you can rebuild, and new angles come out of it.
LB. And what was the return to Minneapolis? After being in LA, in NY, shifting in your own right..
TK. Its good coming back to Minneapolis, we have a deep history there, people I love are there. I have a complicated relationship with the place, so its bittersweet. We left Minneapolis in the aftermath of loss and in grief and so it is kind of hard to come back as well. There are aspects of what I miss there that are more temporally based than spatial. Many of the landmarks that were enlarged in my experience of Minneapolis don’t really exist anymore. I have a lot of gratitude for my time there though, and my friends. The art community and music scenes that were happening were so mutually supportive. There were many utopian moments of collective creative vision. Currently, things can feel a lot more segmented, separated in my life. There’s a lot of transitional shock in between. I’m always jockeying for a position for my art to come to the front so I can go, “Okay, now you have some time to work.” But I’ve also had the space for new growth to occur.
LB. Last thing: I found myself looking at your piece The Visionary for a long time, wondering who that figure was being depicted. The head with six eyes.
TK. It was based on a bust of Aristotle. Such a stupid pun and also so perfectly aligned with my interest in thinking of ways we’re approaching consciousness, amplifying vision and perspectives. But you really can’t take it too seriously. It felt appropriate as a joke and also as seriousness.
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There is a delicious eeriness in the Shadowlands. Mark Fisher says “the eerie” comes in a failure of presence. A lacking present: the moving image. The image that suggests movement, but instead features a Vesuvian consecration to lost time. The memory of departed agency. Figures set in amber, stuck inside the uncanny.
In Night Light, a man’s gut conjures the image of a Jack-O-Lantern. A carved smile reflected in a seemingly disfigured balloon. If not balloon, orb? If not orb, planet? Scale and definition skewer. The featured occupant of Mazorol’s Never Alone, coils themselves in fetal position, cigarette aflame, enacting a death drive in tandem with pleasure principle. A stand off with the six eyes of Kerr’s mutated Visionary. Aristotle, whose offering of a unity of time has been counteracted by his own fractal-ed power of sight. His own anatomy at the mercy of a newfound insect-logic.
The self-described plaque of the world has left AMTK’s hand and glued itself to a speculative community. They’re not so different than us, these inhabitants. We sing the same song. “There is decadence within uncertainty.” Through frozen carnival, we all retch at the meat of time gone missing. Our flesh has escaped us now. Our sense of identity hungers for sustenance. The party’s going on, but it’s somewhere else. It’s Halloween all the time. Everything re-braids in the obfuscation of light.
Lucas Baisch is a playwright and artist from San Francisco. He is currently a Jerome Fellow through the Playwrights’ Center (Minneapolis) and a Princess Grace Fellow at New Dramatists (New York City). His plays have been read and developed at The Kennedy Center, The Goodman Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Clubbed Thumb, First Floor Theater, The Bushwick Starr, The Neo-Futurists, etc. He is a recipient of a Steinberg Playwright Award, The Kennedy Center’s Latinx Playwriting Award, the Chesley/Bumbalo Award, and the Princess Grace Award in Playwriting. Outside of writing for theatre, his artwork has been presented at Elsewhere Museum, the Electronic Literature Organization, gallery no one, and the RISD Museum. Lucas’ plays have been published with Bloomsbury/Methuen Drama and in Yale’s Theater Magazine. He holds an MFA in Playwriting from Brown University.
On Rachel Youn’s UNDERPARTY
by Arwen Wilder
The set up is simple: A basement gallery space. A bunch of plastic plants are wired onto taken-apart massage machines. The machines are plugged in and the plants wave and shake and rotate. There is some lush dance music, some gelled clip lights which throw intensely-colored light and plant shadows on the white walls. There are fake flower bits strewn around the room. The mechanisms are bare and visible, the cords and power strips snake and daisy chain through the room. There are so many in such a small space that they knock and bump against each other and the walls and water heater adding a polyrhythm of thudding and whirring to the dance music.
The set up is simple, but the effect is fantastic. A few months into the pandemic I started fantasizing about a crowd of sweaty people dancing and breathing close together in a dark bar, and making out with everyone. And here it is for me. Almost. Walking down the stairs I feel like I might have descended into a basement sex party, the groupings of plant-machines like clusters of people.
My first response is giddiness. It is sublime to be in all that silliness of shaking cactus, vibrating palms, spinning hydrangea, all that movement. And oh, that saturation of color. It is easy to anthropomorphize them and attribute intention. It is easy to decide they are dancing or reaching to touch each other. They could be over-made-up teens at a school dance. They could be victorian ladies flirting using the secret code of flower meanings. They could be what happens post-anthro, when the plants all come up through the cracks in the concrete and turn the world into a blooming rave.
Some of the plants in this exhibit seem like a whole person dancing or a face or head, branching stems like arms and hands. But, let’s be real. Flowers hold the sex organs of the plants. Flowers are for seduction of pollinators and the sex organs are visible. This installation is basically so many ever-erect nipples waving, gyrating labia, and phalluses spinning around, the ultimate vegan dick. There is a particular stem of orchids caught in the loop of water heater hose so that it pulls in and out in the raunchiest porno-rhythm.
The installation is so Queer. Flowers are hydrogenderastic: swishy, flamboyant but also stoic and tough. Their pink and plump and bursting contains both stamen and pistil, both ovule and anther. And here they transcend form, transcend species. They seem to have self-determination, and they make out with any other plant they want.
The installation could just be levity, just a moment of floral disco-ball fabulous escape. But also I feel strangely implicated. I feel accused. And I feel guilty on all counts:
Yes I walk around my house watering my tiny window jungles, talking to my plants, rooting babies in glass jars in every window, forcing bulbs in pots. I stake way too much importance and meaning on my plants, I place in them hope that I am a good parent, that I can create beauty, that I will survive through the cold and dark winter and endless pandemic.
And also: Yes I will sit in this installation for a ridiculously long time to watch two pieces of plastic hit the bathroom door over and over and laugh and try to figure out the pattern and timing as if it would answer some deeper question.
And also: Yes I desperately want to be an ever-blooming throbbing hothouse flower dancing and flirting and rubbing against another ever-blooming throbbing hothouse flower.
The longer I stay, the more I notice the lack of actual fecundity, the humidity and extra oxygen, the rich dark smell of dirt and decay and the warmth that would be necessary for those tropicals. This is no greenhouse, no Brazillian botanical garden. The knocking starts to feel like a whore upstairs endlessly mindlessly banging a series of johns and not at all the passionate hot sweaty wet fucking I first thought.
The plastic plant is an oxymoron. It is a great art device because it provides instant irony. The plastic plant is a petroleum-based never-rooted object which will take decades to decompose. It is fully the opposite of the process which is a real plant. A real plant is about patience and chance, slow unfurling and development, the poignancy of temporariness, the seen and the unseen, an endless cycle of growing-blooming-rotting-reseeding-growing again. A plastic plant ruins the environment rather than improving it. Add to that the massage machines which are another oxymoron. Another fake good thing which is actually the opposite of the thing.
Going back week after week to this installation offers me a new image. The illusion of plastic is that it will last forever unchanged. But actually, the flowers have fallen off, the fronds have knocked into each other so many times that they have broken off into little piles of unrecognizable plastic pieces, left a plastic smear stain on the floor. Some of the machines spin on with their plant lying next to them like an accusatory reminder of how cool they used to be. Like some washed up rock star with their guitar hanging on the wall of their basement apartment. Some of the machines creak and slow and finally stop completely. In a real garden this kind of death would just mean the leaves were composting, the flowers would wilt and fruit and go to seed. The whole thing would be subterraneously preparing to regrow itself. But here, the whole thing is about to be put in the trash. And I am implicated and guilty once again: Yes: I buy that plastic crap knowing it will break, that I will take from it some brief, selfish joy and then, inevitably, throw it in the landfill.
UnderParty is the most amazing earnest cynical ironic ecofeminist queer late-stage capitalism hopeful post-apocalyptic simulacra of a dance party sex party hoarder house graveyard pandemic garden. I love it. Sometimes I think it was me who made it.
Arwen Wilder’s adventures in propagation during systems collapse span from making and teaching dance with Kristin Van Loon (as HIJACK) to pandemic parenting and windowsill gardening (at 31.40).
Dancing Flowers (Fall Apart and Keep Going), a review of Rachel Youn’s Underparty installation at Hair and Nails by Emmett Ramstad
“You’re going to write about the dancing flowers?” said Kit (age 7) as we got out of the car for piano lesson. “Yes:”
I always keep my hitachi magic wand on the couch. I tell Kit that it feels good on lots of body parts- feet, legs, genitals. Sometimes I hear it turn on while I am cooking dinner. Sometimes I massage my feet while we read side by side. Sometimes I stay up late and use it while I fuck myself. The variable speed vibration isn’t a surrogate for hands, it brings the hitachi party. Just like the mechanized floral massage dancers in Rachel Youn’s installation- they aren’t people on a crowded dance floor, they bring the underparty.
My favorite kind of massage is what I call a “car wash massage” – body work that is performed like timed choreography on a paying client. I don’t want to fill out a form indicating if I have had surgery (yes) or where my pain is (shoulders), instead I want the masseuse to work me like I am any body. I want a break from the demands of personhood and choice. A machine car wash is different than someone using a hose in my driveway, and I love it for that.
Underparty met me at the door of Hair and Nails with catchy pop drone sounds that immediately drew me down the stairs. And there, at the installation’s threshold I encountered a hip shaking sunflower awash in party light glow. I immediately felt alive. More alive than I have felt in months. Years? I imitated the sunflower’s moves. I smiled. Looking around I realized that this is the big queer anonymous dance party I have been craving. All around the perimeter and crowding into the center of the basement gallery are vibrating, swirling, pulsing home massage appliances sprouting fake floral appendages alongside wooden speakers and colorful neon lights. A massive handheld massager scoots its back along the floor holding plastic grasses that tickle my feet, a naked seated foot-rubber shows off how it can wave tropical leaves and desiccated fake lei petals and lilies are scattered across the floor. There are re-purposed domestic pleasure devises crowding the space brandishing fanned leaves, fronds, trailing ivy. They are durationally working it, endless movement and jiggle. I stared hungrily as one of the machine’s orchids smacked a radiator while another one gently fisted a tube coming off of it. I am a club voyeur moving in and out of proximity with my fellow cyborgian dancers without covid transmission fears.
Rachel Youn has been working with used massage equipment for years now- following Craiglist sellers to the suburbs to load their trunk with disused machines. When they get back to the studio, they remove the object’s protective covers to find traces of their previous owners: hair, dried skin flakes, lint. They clean them up and give them jobs in gallery settings.* We talked about how Rachel now gets ads for the latest and greatest mechanical bodyworkers: the Chi Swing, the Chirp Wheel, the Theragun. Aspirational objects for better health that can clearly do a whole lot more than massage!
I am torn between thinking of these plug-in masseuses as post-work performers in a disco showing off what else their rotating hands can do and thinking of them as workers who upcycle after being sacked from their last gig.** Either way, the show is blooming with their labors. I entered a party in full swing and the party continued long after I left- like machines caught in a fairy ring. Though the workers are showing their age- gears faltering, flowers revealing their wires; the show is incessantly running- which is maybe why I love it the most- it is falling apart and just keeps going.
*Like go-go dancers in Felix Gonzalez Torres’ piece “Untitled” (Go-Go Dancing Platform), 1991. Gonzalez-Torres told Tim Rollins in a 1993 interview: “I need the public to complete the work … to help me out, to take responsibility, to become part of my work, to join in.” and I think Youn’s work exists with or without the audience.
**Unlike the Velveteen Rabbit who becomes a real rabbit in old age because he was truly loved.
Emmett Ramstad’s sculpture and participatory works investigate the infrastructure of daily life by modifying the scale and function of familiar household objects. Ramstad lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has exhibited artworks nationally and internationally, including solo exhibitions at Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Rochester Art Center. He is a recipient of numerous grants and fellowships including a Franconia Sculpture Park Fellowship, Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists, a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council Next Step Award, a Forecast Public Art Research and Development Grant, and an Art and Change grant from the The Leeway Foundation. He has performed in productions by The BodyCartography Project, made costumes and sets for five touring contemporary dance productions and has curated and organized numerous gallery shows. His work is in collections at The Minnesota Museum of American Art, The Weisman Art Museum, University of Michigan Library, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, MCAD and Second State Press. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Art at University of Minnesota and at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.