October 13 — November 21, 2016
TERESA MURAK BABETTE MANGOLTE LYDIA OKUMURA
This exhibition explores the response of female artists to the natural world in earth works, early eco-feminism and the exploration of the political allegories of landscape in the aftermath of the 1960s Land Art movement. The show features for the first time in our gallery Polish Land Artist Teresa Murak, documents of Brazilian artist Lydia Okumura of her 1972 conceptual earth sculptures, and Babette Mangolte’s American landscape film “The Sky on Location” (1980-82) shot at the time of the Ronald Reagan election. The Green Begins to Show explores artistic production outside the studio walls, and the radically new experimentation, mythologies and forms these artists used to engage with the natural world.
The Green Begins to Show is a first part of a large-scale exhibition project on female Land Art that we will present in 2017 in BROADWAY 1602 HARLEM.
Babette Mangolte (b. 1941) shot and edited “The Sky on Location” (16 mm, color, 78 mins) in the years from 1980-82. The film is based on an epic journey Mangolte ventured on to the Far West: Form Colorado Rockies to Glacier Park, across the Great Sandy Plains to Death Valley (and Zabriski Point); around the Southwest: Monument Valley. Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon; to Yosemite, Mono and Pyramid Lakes, Cedar Breaks, Zion, and back to Death Valley; from the Colorado Rockies to Yellowstone, across the Great Divide Basin to the Green River, Flamingo Gorge, Freemont Lake; through the Cascades – Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens – to the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula; back to the Southwest, to Bryce Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, the Painted Desert, the Mojave Desert, and back to Yosemite.
Babette Mangolte about her film:
“The Sky in Location” is not about nature as backdrop, but more about the idea of wilderness, which I discovered is so ingrained in American culture, but totally bewildering for Europeans.”
“Points of View. An Interview with Babette Mangolte”, with Scott Macdonald, Afterimage, Summer 1984
In spectacular yet minimal cinematography – so characteristic of Mangolte’s praised camera work – the landscape itself is the central subject of the film, while any possible pathos is cooled down by a visual structure of even continuity, further distanced by a flow of voice-over speech stripped of classic narration or climax. Mangolte’s script is neither descriptive in a documentary style, nor dramatizing the visual subject. It constitutes a parallel, related form and content, no mannierist text collage but exposing that we cannot see landscape neutrally, but through multiple associative filters as the three voices are reflecting on personal, historical, and aesthetic context. The sound track is additionally composed of environmental sound and occasional music.
Visually the film is inspired by nineteenth century American landscape painting and the script is indebted to Barbara Novak’s book “Nature and Culture” that came out in the same year of the shooting of the film. Novak’s book is based on the American painting movement between 1825 and 1875 when American artists, writers, scientists, as well as everyday citizens believed that nature could resolve human contradictions, and that nature itself confirmed the American destiny. Novak’s research reveals the deepest fantasies and mythologies of American culture projected on its thought-transcending landscapes.
The earliest inspiration to engage cinematographically with landscape came when Mangolte visited her uncle in Algeria in 1963 after the war and the liberation. Her uncle brought her to the Sahara desert and Mangolte obsessively photographed the environment over weeks.
“The desert fascinates me. …Later on I discovered Werner Herzog’s film “Fata Morgana”, a beautiful film on the desert. And I felt there was something in the air in the sixties about emptiness and attraction to it.”
“Babette Mangolte. Interview” with Brian Price and Drake Stutesman, Babette Mangolte Dossier in Framework, The Journal of Cinema and Media, Spring 2004
“This brings me to the final concern of Mangolte’s films, again arguably derived from Minimalism. Central to Minimalism was the phenomenological assumption that seeing does not take place independently of the environment in which the act of seeing occurs. …Hence, in Minimalist sculpture, the space within which the sculptural object is situated is as important as the object itself. This concern with environment and the way it shapes seeing is a constant of Mangolte’s practice. “The Sky in Location” is the work most devoted to it, in its precise examination of the sensory impact of changes of color, light, and landscape when traveling through the American West in the early 80s as compared to when the pioneers first travelled through it.”
“A Neutral… Average Way of Looking at Things: The Films of Babette Mangolte”, by Macolm Turvey, Babette Mangolte Dossier in Framework, The Journal of Cinema and Media, Spring 2004
Babette Mangolte opens a solo show at Kunsthalle Wien in December 2016. Her work was prominently exhibited in “Performing for the Camera” at Tate Modern in 2016. Her works is in numerous museums collections (Tate, MoMA, Inhotim, Museum Ludwig, MACBA, Pompidou, Fondazione Rebaudengo, just to name a few). Babette Mangolte is the cinematographer of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s recent performance WORK/TRAVAIL/ARBEID in collaboration with Wiels and Rosas.
After completing her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Earth Artist Teresa Murak (b. 1949) became a pioneer of eco-feminist art in Poland. As a student, Murak collaborated with scientists and ecologists to produce scientific drawings of plant structures before developing her earth works and performances. Influenced by Jesuit and Eastern philosophy Murak initiates processes of growth, symbiotic systems and ritual as a process-based practice. Murak’s work quietly engages with femininity and nature through a culturally and politically repressive time in Poland in the 1970 and 80s and continuously to today. The poetic avant-garde politics of her ecologically engaged work has more actuality today than ever. The intimacy of Mura’s work transcends seamlessly into her public projects
Murak used sprouted lady’s smock (cardamine pratensis) in many of her 70s and 80s performances, a plant with such a simple root structure it can grow in nearly any conditions, even without soil. In Polish culture, lady’s smock is associated with Easter as a symbol of revival, and has been used as herbal remedy. In 1972, Murak completed her first ‘sowing’ in the bathroom of the Dziekanka dormitory. Observing how lady’s smock had grown on and around a t-shirt left on a rack in the dormitory bathroom, Murak was fascinated how the plant became a part of the object and the space surrounding it, transforming the t-shirt into a partly alive anti-form art object. The concept of the cultivation of thickly grown plant structures Murak later expands into large-scale minimal eco-sculptures like suspended walls and elongates lanes on gallery floors, or wavy organic structures overgrowing architecture, absorbing space and giving it a new symbiotic destination.
“Murak combines two tendencies which are difficult to reconcile – she shows the life force present in nature and also conforms to the rigor of basic forms – and thus endows her work with the spirit of synthesis which has an almost mythical touch.”
“Intimacy Revealed” by Andzej Kostolowski, Teresa Murak, Galeria Bielska BWA, Bielsko-Biala, 1998
The concept and gesture of ‘sowing’ – a spiritual and cosmic interpretation of the cultivation of plants – defines Murak’s body of work and developed into an engagement with performative processes and ritual. In the performance piece “Rownowaga balansu/ Equilibrium of Balance” at an art symposium in Ubbeboda, Sweden in 1974, Murak dug a hole by hand for 30 days and transferred the earth she removed into a mound alongside the hole. The depression was 162 cm deep, the height of Murak, and following its completion, Murak sowed both mound and hole with lady’s smock seeds. The piece was destroyed three days later by a bulldozer following the orders of the city. The destruction of the work contrasts the gentle resistance and ritualistic character of Murak’s art when appearing in socially sanctioned public space. The ecosystem growing on avant-garde form Murak brought into existence disappeared without a trace of her meditative labor or the plant life that had begun to sprout there, – artistic labor done in anticipation of its potential destruction or disappearance.
“In 1974 people could see Teresa Murak walking for two hours in a cloak covered with a think layer of green growing plants. This action was not only a demonstration of freedom and some kind of disrespect in the semi-reality of those times in Poland. “Illogically” dressed, Teresa, Murak, when compared with her absurd surroundings, turned out to be surprisingly rational.”
“Intimacy Revealed” by Andzej Kostolowski, Teresa Murak, Galeria Bielska BWA, Bielsko-Biala, 1998
The performance was titled “Procession” and is now exists in photographs showing an awkward creature, a giant formless green shape passing the sidewalks, crossing the street, standing in powerful silent posture on a square, engaging in an impenetrable activity in a telephone booth, and walking the hallways of the art academy, – like the ghost of spring, a mythological recurrence or a visitation of the spirit of ecological warning and revival. Murak uses the materials provided by an ecosystem, the ultimate public sphere, and reinserts them into the human world with renewed attention to symbiosis.
In the performance “Sowing 30-Cradle” (1975), Murak is documented holding for days lady’s smock seeds in the palm of her hand until they sprouted. In this exceptionally poetic and humble concept of cultivation, Murak engages in a tenderly symbiotic process with non-human life, an act of utmost respect and protection to the drama and beauty of nature’s growth while breaking beyond all known form of the potential of artistic creation. In the 1976 performance “Sowing 31-“Woman’s Calendar” at Galeria Labirynt, Lubin, Murak cut triangular pieces of lady’s smock from a plant bed and placed them on the body of a naked reposed woman. The piece has a strong feminist tone. As with her palms, Murak repurposes the human body as a surface to shared with plants, a “garden on her body”. In Murak’s artistic practice, plants come to fill the void made by people, a reversal of human progress and its desire for ‘built environments’. Interacting with human bodies, the lady’s smock in Murak’s work fills the cracks in people’s life, as seeds sprout into the crease of a palm or receive the warmth radiating off of skin. The human body becomes the vessel for the agency of plants, as in Murak’s 1975 piece “The Green beings to show” at Repassage Gallery, Warsaw, where the artist wore a living dress, covered with sprouted lady’s smock.
“Clothes of Visitation” are the delicate remainders of Murak’s performance at the Hotel of Art and at Galeria Wschodnia Lodz in 1990. The artist collected cloths torn from extensive use for cleaning floors by nuns in an Order in Warsaw. Murak wet the rags and collected dust from the floors in the performance spaces. In the subsequent installation, the rags are the remainders of the genuine process Murak engaged in, – objects imbued with fragility and entropy, not unlike Eva Hesse’s anti-form works made of suspended latex sheets. As a neo-avant-gardist, the material integrity and intactness is not a central concern to her art. Revered as art objects, the rags become the ghosts of the spaces and processes they were used and conceived in, the dust absorbed in them bears an ultimately entropic and iconoclastic gesture.
Teresa Murak lives and works in Warsaw, Poland. Her work is included in the public collections such as the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw and the Museum of Art in Lodz. In 1991 Murak gave the performance “Seed” at PS1, New York. In 1996 the artist realized the outdoor “Sculpture for the Earth” for Sammlung Hoffman, Berlin. In 1998 Murak received a survey exhibition and catalog at Galeria Bielska BWA, Bielsko-Biala, Poland, recognizing her as a pioneer of land art in the Polish neo-avant-garde. In 2016, Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw held another survey show of Murak’s practice.
(Text on Teresa Murak in collaboration with Emma Engle)
Brazilian born New York based artist Lydia Okumura (b. 1948) realized a group of earth or “garden” pieces in Brazil in 1972.
Lydia Okumura developed a strong interest in collective practice with her Brazilian peers Genilson Soares and Francisco Inarra. In 1972, the group Equipe3 was invited to create Land Art interventions at the garden of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Campinas, São Paulo. It was here that Lydia Okumura first created Relocation of the Cube, The Disappearance of the Perspective/ Desaparecimento da Perspectiva and Positive/Negative – artworks of optical dialect, resonating intriguingly with the Robert Smithson’s Site/Nonsite interventions of the time.
“I remember well the joy in making the garden pieces at the time, and I wanted to be clear and simple as to the concept and execution, and it was all about perception. They are geometric shapes or lines in dialogue with nature, being open for improvising with circumstances, space, time and material. I like it when things are visually clear.”
Lydia Okumura, New York, 2015
In 1974, Okumura was granted a four-year scholarship at the Pratt Graphics Center in New York. Few years later, during the São Paulo Biennale of 1977 she was urged to establish this move to New York by American art critic, Gregory Battcock. In the following years, Okumura exhibited some of her most prominent paintings and installations in various galleries, institutions and collectors’ homes in New York City and São Paulo.
In September 2016 Lydia Okumura opens her first U.S. museums survey show at the UB Art Galleries in Buffalo, touring throughout the U.S. until 2018 (cat.). In the garden of the Galleries Okumura realized again her 1972 eat pieces. In “The Green begins to show” we present vintage photos of these exceptional works from the 1970s in Brazil.
Text by Anke Kempkes