The Shapes of Things That Have Come

by Jeanne Brasile

Amanda Thackray. “Selections from the 1,000 Square Feet (0.00701459%) Project,” featuring prints from Obama Beach/El Dorado Beach, Cotonou Benin and Bushkill Creek, Easton PA begun in 2017 – ongoing, watercolor and monoprints and suminagashi on site-specific handmade paper 100’ x 100’.

Having fair knowledge of the work of both Amanda Thackray and Jose Camacho, I was not sure how their work would be paired convincingly for “Ideogrammatic,” their two-person show in Easton, Pennsylvania’s Brick + Mortar Gallery.  In this exhibition, curator Colleen O’Neal, primarily known for her strong social-justice themed shows, forays into the realm of symbols.  While Thackray and Camacho tackle vastly different subjects in their work, they both utilize a personal form of shorthand to address issues of concern.  O’Neal cleverly binds the show’s narrative together not through shared subjects, but through each artist’s use of a distinct lexicon to communicate broader themes.  

Situated in a former silk mill, the gallery’s site enhances the work narratively, as well as visually.  The exterior and interior spaces of Brick + Mortar Gallery maintain their former industrial character with soaring ceilings, large columns, clerestory windows, wooden floors and brick walls.  Despite the site’s restoration and current occupancy with decidedly upscale eateries, apartments, breweries, gift shops and galleries – the residue of its former use is omnipresent.  The mill’s past looms over the site like the smokestacks that stand watch over the buildings.  More poignantly, the factories point to the issues embodied in Thackray and Camacho’s work.    

Jose Camacho. (Left) “Untitled (The Abduction of Ganymede) #2, mixed media on paper, 30” x 22 ½”, 2019. (Right) “Untitled (The Abduction of Ganymede) #1, mixed media on paper, 30” x 22 ½”, 2019.

Jose Camacho is represented with a series of meditations inspired by Puerto Rican painter, Francisco Oller.   Camacho adopts plátanos as a repeated motif that he explores in oil on canvas, mixed media on paper, gouache and ink.  In Camacho’s work, the banana is imbued with meaning related to the island’s colonial past including slavery, trade, wealth, privilege and identity.  Rendered in sketchy shapes on uneven grounds of pink, green and gray, one is unsure if the plátanos are rendered as a positive or negative shape.  This ambiguity reflects the colonial history of the island and the indeterminate nature of its relationship with the United States.  Camacho appropriates the visual currency of Oller’s “El Velorio” – the scene of a young child’s wake - in an interior space from which an abundance of bananas hang from rafters.  The scene can be taken as an allegory of the political problems on the island and the attempted death of its culture at the hands of foreign powers.  Oller later used an isolated image of plátanos in his painting “Plátanos amarillos” as a metonym for Puerto Rico’s people and culture.  Shown in a former factory – a historically contested site of labor and production - the tension inherent in Camacho’s subject becomes even more palpable. 

Similar to Camacho, Amanda Thackray’s work is also predicated on shapes against a solid ground.  Thackray’s work is no less politicized, though she draws on environmental injustices, specifically consumer culture and its defilement of nature.  While the work is solid, the piece that resonates most is “Selections from the 1,000 Square Feet (0.00701459%)” a large serial work that consists of 100 monoprints, arranged 10 over 10, on hand-made paper with watercolor and suminagashi (a Japanese marbling technique.)  The colorful nature of the work, with familiar outlines of a variety of consumer flotsam and jetsam washed ashore, contradicts the treacherous predicament of plastics in our water supply and bodies.  The shapes silhouetted on the paper are of the detritus found by the artist on the beaches of Benin and in the Bushkill Creek which borders the mills.  The conversation is heightened with the knowledge that the paper was also made with water from both sites, bringing to mind not just pollution in the form of plastic, but the safety of our water supply in a larger context and the mill’s possible detriment to the river in the past.  

“Ideogrammatic” is a beautifully rendered exhibition heightened by the credible way Jose Camacho and Amanda Thackray weave their stories, but also in the manner the curator skillfully assembled a narrative framework of concerns that are seemingly disparate, but through O’Neal’s vision present as cohesive humanistic investigations.  Being on view in a former mill, the deposit of socio-political issues – whether environmental or colonial – enhances the work and theme solidly.  Easton Pennsylvania’s recent reputation as an art enclave is certainly advanced with an exhibition of this caliber.  

Ideogrammatic featuring work by Amanda Thackray and Jose Camacho was on view at Brick + Mortar Gallery in Easton, Pennsylvania from October 19 – December 1, 2019.

Jeanne Brasile is the Director of the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University

On the Cusp of Postmodernism

Ejay Weiss became an overnight success in 1967 with his first solo exhibition, “New Landscapes,” at the Oeste Gallery.  Kim Levin wrote a review for the Summer issue of ARTnews and described these early compositions as, “ovoid cave-like areas that contain embryonic landscape or cityscape; the surrounding canvas fades away in a pale haze. The effect is less contrived when he makes a strip of these landscape caves, creating a reference to the horizon.” The colors that resonated throughout “New Landscapes,” reflected a unique abstract style that emerged from Bauhaus color theory.

Ejay Weiss. View from Richmond, England, 1967. Pastel on paper. 12” × 16”. Courtesy of The Estate of Ejay Weiss.

Although Weiss had studied architecture and painting with Sibyl Moholy-Nagy at Pratt Institute from 1960 to 1963, the late 1960s were part of a turbulent era. Protests swept the world in 1968 and, as a result, a very constructive aesthetic that had explored the foundations of democracy, through collaboration and color, were replaced with wave after wave of identity politics. Ejay Weiss’s paintings from 1968 became large and dark. Details continued to appear as small colorful squares, but the visual space was overwhelmed with very dark hues, suggesting an ominous, unknown abyss.

Ejay Weiss. Untitled, 1968. Oil on canvas. 14” x 18”. Courtesy of The Estate of Ejay Weiss.

Regardless, Weiss presented  a new selection of paintings in “Six Movements and Other Harmonies,” that took place at the now-defunct Molesworth Gallery. Each composition on view masterfully fused synesthesia with color theory. Eva Hesse scholar, Cindy Nemser, responded with accolades and considered his work as, “the visual equivalents for the never ceasing, life-giving rhythms of the universe,” which then led Nemser to consider Weiss as “a disciple of Delaunay and Kupka.” (Arts Magazine, September/October 1969) This association is striking because the work of Kupka and Weiss became starkly overshadowed by socio-political art. New York, moreover, embraced the activist era by favoring art that appeared to reject content over form, even though that negation was its own form of protest.

Ejay Weiss. January 31, 1969. Pastel on paper. 18” x 14”. Courtesy of The Estate of Ejay Weiss.

In 1980, as the visibility of Ejay Weiss’s art began to recede from both art galleries and art publications, the artist was identified as, “making unique and important works outside the gallery system.” (Edward Rubin, “SoHo Speaks,” The Villager, June 19, 1980) Described as a “geoscopic painter,” Weiss was then considered to be an artist who “managed against overwhelming odds to build both a reception and a clientele.”

At this time Weiss returned to one of his early motifs - the blue square - to revisit the placement of balance and peace within the center of a chaotic world. Weiss’s blue square initially appeared as a detail within an early oil painting. Later, it became central to the artist’s “Eden”-series (1989-1992); “Iraq War Chronicle” (1991); “Runnel”-series (1995-2001); “9/11 Elegy” (2001-2012); “Entropy” (2001-2002); and “Emergence” (2006-2007).

Ejay Weiss passed away on June 9th, 2018.

Ejay Weiss. Descent, 1990. Oil on canvas. 66” x 66”. Courtesy of The Estate of Ejay Weiss.

The Estate of Ejay Weiss will make the artist’s entire portfolio available on December 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th from 11am to 5pm.

Jill Conner, New York

Dominique Paul In Conversation: Interactive Median Income Dress Acting as a Social Interface

by Patti Jordan

Dominique Paul: ‘The Median Income Dress’ at the Irish Hunger Memorial, New York, New York, 2015. Photo Courtesy of the Artist.

Mapping Life
, a group exhibition at New Jersey City University’s Lemmerman Gallery, offers a melee of mappings through wide-ranging works that seek to delineate objective and subjective distances between people, places, and objects whilst conjointly constructing linkages to diverse destinations, thought processes, and historical narratives. Participating artist Dominique Paul took the liberty to speak with me at the opening reception. Her multimedia work is extraordinarily prescient and reveals an aptitude for forecasting critical events before the larger populace is made cognizant of them. Below is an interview that delves in-depth into her art practice, and more pointedly, into how her ‘Interactive Media Income Dress’ “maps” life relevant to this exhibition.

Patti Jordan: Your influential work assimilates the genres of fashion, philosophy, pop art, and tech, and situates itself at the locus of contemporary art. In what way does your 'Interactive Median Income Dress' tap into any or all of these areas of inquiry, and how does it relate to the exhibition concept, Mapping Life?

Dominique Paul: The Interactive Median Income per Household wearable is displaying the data from each census tract back to the geographical site where the data was collected; it is making the data visible from where it came. To do this, I use programmable LED strips to display the color associated with the level of income. Using light is a constant in my practice. In an earlier project addressing environmental and income inequality issues, the portable structures were lit with arbitrary color choice. With this project, I associate meaning to the color selection. The design was inspired by a map translating the census data into a color code presenting eight income zones ranging from red ($0-15,000 per year) to blue (more than $200,000 per year) ( What is striking about some areas of New York - or was, as it is diminishing, is the cohabitation of a wide variety of income within walking distance. I could feel it at the street level but seeing the data on the WNYC map was a revelation. I had my concept: to make the median data visible as I walked the street, thus mapping an aspect of life in a neighborhood.

In my practice, I develop strategies to help perceive in a different light. I am attempting to find a space of freedom, which is a philosophical question raised by Vilém Flusser and the field of inquiry in my Ph.D. thesis: "What are the strategies developed by artists to find a space of freedom, to take a critical distance?" My approach is to emphasize data through the body using a technology-enhanced performance to visualize and bring attention to it in the public space where it was collected. However, when first walking on the street it is abstract to the passersby. They are initially attracted by the lights, and then I explain the meaning of the color code which starts a conversation.

PJ: Can you elaborate on the technical systems you're using to dramatize the visual impact of your performative mapping? Was having yourself filmed in the dress while traversing across different crosswalks in the New York City region a crucial narrative component?  

DP:  The design is made possible by technology. The choice of the technical components is driven by two design principles. Firstly, the design is to scale such that the light elevation corresponds to the amount of income. Secondly, it displays the color code associated with the amount on the map. A square nylon netting was the solution to set a scale and to weave the LED strips. The programmable LED strip allows the control of individual LEDs, such as which ones turn on and what color they take. I use an Arduino, a microcontroller, to host the program and a GPS to automatically translate the data. All the technology has to be portable, hence the handbag and the extensive wiring, programmed by Patrice Coulombe.

I obtained an MFA in Interactivity in 1998-2000 from the University of New South Wales, Australia, and I am attracted to the idea of interactivity which enriches or augments the human experience. I had observed that it could be poetic when, for example, a natural phenomenon was being translated. Being a visual artist, I had planned to document the drastic change of color when crossing a street with a change in the census tract. My walk itinerary aims to show the drastic change in income. During my first outing, passersby stopped me to ask what the dress was about: it became obvious that I had to record the interaction, that it was more interesting than documenting the change of color. I produced this project as part of New York's Residency Unlimited (RU) and the special project curator Ayelet Danielle Aldouby encouraged me to record and plan the questions I would ask passersby; this was a new challenge.

PJ: You design with ample amounts of visual impact in mind; in rendering a data visualization of the US Census Statistics on Median Income, your dress fuses the disciplines of Fine Art and Fashion. How do design principles inform your formal choices and enhance your unique human presence "in situ?"

DP: The design is simple: I envision my body as a column of data, a living bar graph. It is a wearable rather than a dress made by assembling materials: nylon netting and LED stripes. Fabric is being used for the lining to reflect the lights. It is not a fashion statement. It has the shape of a straight dress because it is to scale for the amount of light and is easier to move in. I cannot make walkable LED stripe pants! "In situ," the lower the income I display, the less visible I become. It is only with $200,000 plus income that the lights close to my face are lit. It reflects upon visibility versus invisibility, and with having more influential power as you earn more.

PJ: By engaging in performative dress through analytics software, one may say that you represent the "embodiment of data."  Do aspects of embodiment amplify the subjective versus the objective in any way here, specifically regarding the work's function as a "social interface?"

DP: Yes, completely. The wearable is acting as an interface, as a lure to start an interaction with a person in the public space. It is not easy to approach and stop people walking on a sidewalk, and it seems that the lights are facilitating the interaction that takes place. They are a conversation-starter about gentrification, making tangible the fact that people are struggling to keep living in their neighborhood. Passersby impacted by it express their stories. I am not trying to sell anything, and I am not a newscast. I am in New York where people are familiar with art; my performance is unannounced - it is a pop-up.

PJ: In your accompanying artist statement, you note that "the dress did the work for me." Did staging yourself in an urban district such as Fort Greene, Brooklyn – illuminating inequity through the spectacle of light – get conversations flowing, so to speak?  How did the "mapping" of this particular locale empower your initial concept?

DP: Fort Greene is offering a variety of public housing; some are rentals for middle-income families struggling to find affordable rent in New York City and others are for very low income between $0-15,000 annually. On Myrtle Avenue, there is street after street of renovated brownstones.  There are also delis and Dollar Stores for lower-income customers amongst the new pet stores, nice cafés, and restaurants. The people that approached me were the ones with a story about the difficulty to stay or to rent in the neighborhood, not the ones belonging to the higher income. They were mostly men of African American, Asian, or Hispanic descent.

PJ: How has your project functioned as an influencer in heightening awareness of the neighborhood disparities revealed in your data?  

DP: The viewer watching the video can observe that people are concerned and that ethnicity is at play It brings awareness to income disparity and gentrification which are very acute in New York City and are experienced in a vast number of urban areas such that people can relate to it.  Also, I have a limited reach in the public space as it is a one-on-one relationship. The video helped me reach a wider audience.

PJ: You also engage and collaborate in social and environmental practices involving education.  Could other actions be taken of a socio-political nature, such as re-establishing dialogue with these respective communities, or updating and reporting shifts in the data to impart change or transformation? 

DP: Actions of a socio-political nature arise from a collaboration with other groups. For example, using my Air Quality wearable and an Air Beam monitor, I led an Air Walk in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, organized by the Institute for Healthy Air, Water, and Soil. It brought awareness and media attention as it was featured in the regional TV news and NPR. I am an artist and I strive to bring attention to sensitive issues. People can then reach for community groups to impact policy. For air quality, there is very little awareness of the direct impact on health. There is also a very strong correlation between lower-income neighborhoods and bad air quality which is a form of environmental injustice. However, this is becoming more complex as some of the lower-income areas are facing gentrification.  Will it bring more attention to the air quality we breathe?

For the event Art in Odd Places, I analyzed shifts in data and the disparity between various ethnicities and women as heads of households living in the same census tract. This approach was triggered by the fact that AIOP is on 14th street in Manhattan which is already gentrified if you look at the Median Income per Household data. I had the pleasure of having a research assistant to help me with the data. 

Mapping Life is curated by Midori Yoshimoto, Ph.D., New Jersey City University (NJCU) Gallery Director, and is on view October 17 - November 26, 2019.  Participating artists include Noriko Ambe, Dahlia Elsayed, Kenji Kojima, Dominique Paul, Nyugen Smith, Yasunao Tone, and Sachigusa Yasuda. The exhibition coexists with Maps Everywhere held simultaneously at NJCU’s Visual Arts Gallery.

Patti Jordan is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator based in the New York City area.

Paintings Embedded in Time

Ejay Weiss. Embedded in Time (1992) with Seven Studies. Acrylic on canvas and acrylic on canvas board with ceramic powder. 80” x 66” and 24” x 20”, 20” x 16” (2), 12” x 9” (3), and 8.75” x 6 7/8”. Image courtesy of the Estate of Ejay Weiss.

When Sibyl Moholy-Nagy passed away in 1971, Philip Johnson gifted 2 paintings in her memory to the Museum of Modern Art titled, "EM 2 (Telephone Picture)" and "EM 3 (Telephone Picture)." Both were porcelain enamel on steel and had been made in 1923 by her late husband Laszlo Moholy-Nagy while he was teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. Along with “EM 1 (Telephone Picture),” these industrial-looking compositions were initially part of a series that consisted of five paintings even though only three remain, and they currently range in scale from 37.5” x 23.75” to 9.5” x 6”.

“EM 1” thru “EM 3” was eventually known as Moholy-Nagy’s “Telephone Pictures” because he once stated that these paintings on steel were made-to-order by the artist himself over the telephone. For a moment, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy suggested that he had surrendered his own authorship to mass-production. Throughout the “EM”-series, a white surface functions as a background to a black vertical line that appears in the left margin. The black line eventually crosses much smaller ones, in yellow and red, while a yellow and black line intersect at equal measure in the distance. Before World War II, the primary colors were initially white, red and black (Michel Pastoreau). The contrasts between these colors create starting points for observation, suggesting that Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was creating an exercise on looking while developing a very simplified illusion of depth.

While walking through the newly-renovated Museum of Modern Art, the “EM”-series located on the 5th floor, stood out because I had been spending at least two weeks working with Ejay Weiss’s "Embedded in Time” paintings from 1992, including the seven studies that were created around it. Traditional art instruction carries a necessary mystique. And whatever Sibyl Moholy-Nagy imparted to her students will remain unknown. However, when Weiss was completing his “Eden”-series, that had focused on a recurring blue square, his grand conclusion of this motif appeared as “Embedded in Time.” These paintings most likely refer back to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s reductive forms of 1923, as seen in the “Telephone Pictures.” However, Weiss’s blue square transformed the weightlessness seen throughout Moholy-Nagy’s paintings, and instead, utilized abstract shapes and built-up texture to lend gravity to the unknown.

Jill Conner, New York
Curator of the Estate of Ejay Weiss

Wandering Artists

In two paragraphs

In early January 1948, Max Beckmann took an Amtrak train from St. Louis to Chicago. Although the weather was icy cold, he had dinner with Mies van der Rohe, who was teaching architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology and soon following, he had afternoon tea with Peter Selz. Although Selz’s recollection of this event was off by a year, Max and Quappi Beckmann had asked him about The New Bauhaus and his experiences teaching there. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, founder of the school, had passed away from leukemia in 1946. His widow, Sibyl, continued to manage The New Bauhaus but not without its challenges.

Max Beckmann only stayed in Chicago for 5 days. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy resigned from The New Bauhaus in the spring of 1948 and in 1949, the design school was absorbed into the Illinois Institute of Technology. Max Beckmann left St. Louis for New York by 1949 to teach at the Brooklyn Museum Art School while Sibyl Moholy-Nagy left Chicago for California. In 1951 she was hired by Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, barely a year after Beckmann had died on December 27, 1950.

Jill Conner, New York

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