February 16–May 8, 2022
Lifes began as a consideration of the promises and pitfalls of interdisciplinary artmaking and the legacy of the so-called total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk)—a concept originating in the 19th century that proposes a synthesis of poetic, visual, musical, and dramatic arts. The notion of interdisciplinarity has since become a mainstay of contemporary art museums and other presenting organizations, and it is now commonplace for dance, music, and other performing arts to be employed in the service of capturing the attention of audiences and promoting a collaborative ethos. Rather than assume that cross-disciplinary collaboration is a recipe for innovation and creative enrichment, Lifes acknowledges the inherent incompatibilities at play between traditional artistic disciplines and within the spaces of art’s display.
The genesis of Lifes was the written contributions of four writers; their texts form the basis of the exhibition and its accompanying publication. The invitations to philosopher and author Fahim Amir, writer and director Asher Hartman, poet and visual artist Rindon Johnson, and author and essayist Adania Shibli came with no preconceptions about how their writing would manifest within the galleries of the museum. Aside from allusions to examples in which language prefigures other art forms—such as the libretto, script, or scenario—it was a relatively open-ended solicitation meant to harness their divergent interests. Spanning literary genres and styles, their texts question who or what has the right to agency, the incompatibility between physical bodies and the spaces that govern them, and the aesthetic misgivings between sensory experiences. The texts—available in full in the exhibition publication—permeate the galleries of the museum as fragments, references, and utterances that test the limits of audibility and legibility.
These writings served as catalysts for conversations with individuals from various disciplines, which then spawned new creative relationships. From there, more collaborators—visual artists, choreographers, composers, musicians, vocalists, and other writers—were invited to engage in a shared dialogue and produce new works for the exhibition. The list of contributors is therefore the result of an organic process of growth and adaptability in which contributors suggested the participation of others while maintaining a dialogue with the exhibition’s curator, who managed the dynamic interplay of relations. Many overlapping themes emerged, including the translation and mediation of language and the idea of the audience as a material substance inseparable from public exhibitions. Given that the voice is a readymade carrier for words, many conversations skewed toward undermining the reliability of oration and considering what a voice in ruin might sound and feel like.
Additional contributors were invited to address the overall institutional infrastructure that imparts itself onto one’s encounter with art in the museum context. In addition to these commissions, the exhibition also incorporates preexisting artworks, dating from 1993 to 2016, by L. Frank, Charles Gaines, Piero Gilardi, and Rosemarie Trockel. These four artists offer a generational framework that situates the other works in the exhibition within art histories of the recent past.
Lifes is conceived as a durational sequence that unfolds over time and changes at various moments throughout its course. A cycle of audio, video, and live performance repeats at the top of each hour, but there is no singular or optimal way to experience the exhibition—intermittent dance and music performances interrupt the implied stability of the schedule. The whole assembly becomes an orchestrated cacophony of disparate parts and competing interests. Any moments of dissonance that arise within the container of the exhibition reflect the lived conditions and working methods of artists across disciplines.
Fahim Amir, Holland Andrews, Elke Auer, Gregory Barnett, Kevin Beasley, Nina Beier, Dwayne Brown, Dora Budor, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, Varinia Canto Vila, Elaine Carberry, Sophia Cleary, Kaydence De Mere, L. Frank, Kaye Freeman, Shannon Funchess, Charles Gaines, Ley Gambucci, Abriel Gardner, Piero Gilardi, Jules Gimbrone, Paul Hamilton, Asher Hartman, IONE, Shannon Jackson, Cooper Jacoby, Narissa Johnson, Rindon Johnson, Darrell Jones, Morag Keil, Justin F. Kennedy, Jessika Kenney, Hanieh Khatibi, Bob Kil, Kite, Wayne Koestenbaum, Ralph Lemon, Adam Linder, Tiffany Malakooti, Alucard Mendoza McHaney, Olivia Mole, Roderick Murray, Mariama Noguera-Devers, Nima Nourizadeh, Okwui Okpokwasili, Pauline Oliveros, Aubrey Plaza, Senyawa, Adania Shibli, Micah Silver, Samita Sinha, Meg Stuart, Greg Tate, Mike Taylor, Rosemarie Trockel, Andros Zins-Browne.
This volume anthologizes the contributions from Lifes and includes commissioned texts by Fahim Amir, Asher Hartman, Rindon Johnson, and Adania Shibli that formed the foundation of the exhibition; scholarly contextual essays by Shannon Jackson, Aram Moshayedi, and Greg Tate; an oral history compiled and edited by Nicholas Barlow that documents the many conversations among contributors; and illustrations by artist Olivia Mole.