THREE ACTS, THREE SCENES
YOUR CARE, MY CARE, CAREFUL CARE
June 24 – July 22, 2018, Kunstraum LLC, 20 Grand Ave, Space 509, Brooklyn, NY
Curators: Conor Moynihan & Natalie Fleming
Our lives are inherently dependent on others and subject to forces beyond our control. Having more freedom seems better than having less. But to what end? The amount of freedom you have in your life is not the measure of the worth of your life. Just as safety is an empty and even self-defeating goal to live for, so ultimately is autonomy.[i]
—Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
We curated the second exhibition in this series, entitled Three Acts, Three Scenes: Your Care, My Care, Careful Care on view at Kunstraum LLC, Brooklyn, from June 24 to July 22, 2018. What became apparent after Ill at Ease was that care was deeply connected to the topic of illness and warranted being explored on its own. However, we did not want the theme of care to map evenly along the lines of illness. While these topics are interrelated, care reaches far beyond illness, disease, and pathology. Surgeon and writer Atul Gawande expresses the undesirability of being strictly autonomous in the world. Care is an action and an orientation affecting others over time as we extend and retract ourselves as both givers and receivers of care. Therefore, we decided to focus on media in this exhibition that echoed in form the temporal nature of care itself. We also knew that it would be important to interrogate the performance of care beyond the simplistic understanding that care is inherently good. While care and self-care are often framed as an ideal, care often comes at a cost. This cost can manifest through the giving of care or the cost to others when one focuses on one’s own care. Furthermore, care is tethered to moralism and sentimentalism; the right to care, as Miriam Ticktin has argued, delineates whose suffering is and is not “worthy of compassion” and intervention.[ii] Thus, we designed the exhibition to flow through three sections, referred to as “acts”— “Act One: Your Care,” “Act Two: My Care,” “Act Three: Careful Care” —and within each of these three acts, three different projects, or “scenes” reflecting our consideration of care as a temporal act (Fig 2.1 - 2.3). Each scene included one object-based work, one video-based work, and one performance-based work; with each of the three components either registering time, happening over time, and/or making time thematically central to the work itself. While Ill at Ease was primarily an exploratory show, meant to explore our understanding of illness through individual projects self-consciously dealing with that theme, Three Acts, Three Scenes was meant to be much more deconstructive. We wanted the show to be very obviously about care; however, at the same time, we wanted to include works that were less directly connected to how care is typically represented. The idea was to challenge viewers to find out for themselves how these works dealt with care—or not.
The first act of the show, “Act One: Your Care,” started with what is perhaps a very traditional idea of care. That is, this act focused on works that extended care to someone or something else from the perspective of the caregiver. This part of the show included artists Joshua Rains, Kathy High, Michelle Temple, and Avye Alexandres, each involving the act of giving care. Rains’s If You Need Me series are illustrations that the artist made, in exacting detail, based on a Facebook friend’s posts (Fig. 2.4). These posts describe an act of sexual violence perpetrated against his friend which his friend chose to share on social media. In addition to narrating these events, the friend also describes his process of healing and recovery from this horrific event, which included appropriating tropes of New Age culture, such as crystals, and indigenous culture–to which this Facebook friend did not belong. Rains, as an indigenous artist, re-appropriates his friend’s already-appropriated use of indigenous culture for his own purposes of care and recovery. Rains purpose in recreating these posts within an art context becomes even more complicated for a viewer experiencing an anonymous friend’s pain and recovery within a gallery setting. Thus, the show opened with an act of care that was taken rather than given. It is a complicated work as it involves overlapping cases of trauma, where one form of traumatization is used for the recovery from another. This draws attention to the ways that care, especially when given to another, can be exploitative even without intending to be so. If You Need Me establishes a narrative of caregiving and caretaking that refuses to easily settle into an either right-or-wrong, good-or-bad binary. The next work in this section, High and Temple’s video Rat Laughter, extends care to nonhuman animals.[iii] The video humorously makes audible the sounds of rats laughing, which occurs at levels outside of what humans can register, to expose a range of emotions typically not associated with these nonhuman animals. The impetus behind this work is that rats are often used to test new substances prior to human-use. Thus, these artists are interested in calling attention to the ways that rats are essential to our own well-being as human and, therefore, deserve to be cared for and treated with dignity. When we hear that rats laugh, that rats feel emotions as we do, does our desire to extend them our care increase? If so, what is the relationship between our desire to give care and our ability to feel empathy to that which is different than us? Lastly, Avye Alexandres’s performative installation Flipping Me, Flipping You reveals the way that the discourse of care can be weaponized against others as she explores the predatory side of real estate investment courses (Fig. 2.5). These classes purport to be about helping its students get in “the know” of house flipping market, but are more often scams to make a quick profit off of those looking to better themselves. Using various elements such as a card game, digital video, and free satirical coupons, Alexandres draws attention to the ways that the promise of care for consumers might actually be a lie. Importantly for the show and for the act, this work pivots on that interstice between the promise of care and self-reliance, highlighting the always already presentness of risk in any act of accepting care from others.
“Act Two: My Care” follows the first act, but redirects care inwards to focus on what it means to take care of yourself. As potentially the most capitalistic and neoliberal form of care, that is self-care, it was important for us to find works that, while they were beyond a doubt engaged in self-care, they differed from self-care as it is stereotypically displayed or discussed. For example, Dominic Quagliozzi’s two paintings, Piss Cup and Wipes, come from a series in which the artist depicts himself in the hospital from a first-person perspective (Fig. 2.6). The first work shows the artist providing a urine sample while the other shows him using antibacterial wipes so as to remain sterile, a common way people in hospitals clean themselves. Quagliozzi has cystic fibrosis, which has led to many stays in the hospital. Thus, taking care of himself, or self-care, has life-threatening implications. This section also included a video piece by M̶i̶g̶u̶e̶l̶ Bonneville, entitled The Importance of being Simone de Beauvoir. The connection between this work and self-care was intentionally ambiguous. This video project comes from a series by the artist where he creates video performances that respond to important influences on his life and his work. While the video itself has no formal or visual element that instantly connects to the idea of “my care,” Bonneville creates this performance as an homage to scholars whose work has provided him great nourishment. Finally, the last work in this act, Kat McDermott’s Urban Armor project, is a feminist, DIY series where the artist re-purposes outmoded or discarded technology towards self-protection and concealment (Fig 2.7). Specifically, we included the artist’s Personal Space Dress, which humorously and satirically expands, by using a motion detector, to create a ring of space around the wearer when someone gets too close. This work is a hypothetical design for how self-care can be enforced in public space.
For the final section “Act Three: Careful Care,” we wanted to think about care as it extends to larger systems such as healthcare, the environment, and global politics. We wanted our visitors to explore how care suggests a way of being in the world, which is to say that taking or giving care involves a recognition of others’ rights to exist within certain conditions–taken expansively to include the animate and inanimate. Thus, we looked to include artists that thematized precarity and attentiveness in their works. This led us to select the work of artists Stephanie Rothenberg, Sharif Waked, and Kyla Kegler. Rothenberg’s Planthropy series provided the perfect entry point for this act (Fig 2.8). Tethered to the internet and mining social media through hashtag filters, this work includes live plants that would only be watered when people tweeted or posted on social media about philanthropic giving to specific causes. We included two of these works in the exhibition: one that responded to animal rights, and the other, to environmental causes. In real time on scrolling text, this work displays comments about charitable giving as they are posted online. On one hand, this work drew attention to the ways that people were making a difference in the causes that matter to them; on the other hand, the reasons people gave for donating were not always as altruistically-minded as one might have thought. Care, specifically care for causes, became a social performance through technology, where plants would either be watered or die in the gallery based on anonymous decisions to extend care. Sharif Waked’s work also had a satirical component to it; entitled Chic Point, this video plays on the slippage between “chic,” as in fashionable, and “check,” as in the security checkpoints that regulate access for Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. In a tongue-in-cheek move, this video opens with the cat-walk scene where men model inventive fashions that exposed, or allow the exposure of, their midriffs. In the final scene, we leave the runway for archival photographic imagery showing men forced to expose themselves in border crossings, often under the threat of guns facing them. Thus, this work draws attention to the ways that borders, in this case between Israel and Palestine, become unequal lines of precarity and vulnerability, containing some and permitting others freer movement, in the name of national care. Finally Kyla Kegler’s installation Feel Me (Fig. 2.9) involved a number of performative objects that were designed to stimulate bodies within their environments as tools to help users dwell in sensation together . Rather than positing good sensations over bad sensations, this work stressed being in one’s body in an active sense. The various tools available to viewers, such as hot pink lacrosse balls and a dangling silver purse, are available to touch, interact with, and probe parts of bodies that might rarely be explored except through these carefully curated acts of stimulation within the space.
Three Acts, Three Scenes includes a catalog to be released one year after the opening of the exhibition–one that reflects the themes of the show, catalogs the works included, and allows for future engagement with this part of our project. To encourage this and to acknowledge the temporal distance between the show and catalog, we solicited three new essays to be included within it, with each one correlated to one of the acts of the show. We gave a simple prompt to each of the writers, asking them to write a response, in any manner of their choosing, to a theme from either “Act One: Your Care,” “Act Two: My Care,” or “Act Three: Careful Care.” Kathleen Fleming wrote about the implications of extending care to young students, something that they need but also as an act that has an emotional toll on herself as a volunteer tutor. Dwelling on how he took care of his needs, Arno Mokros describes his experiences working with medical professionals so as to get top surgery, detailing the unexpected consequences when visions of masculinity are not verbally addressed between patient and surgeon. Lastly, Lisa Kaftori, in poetic prose, describes her appreciation and valuation of the environment as coming from carefully-learned lessons from her mother. Writing from California where she has lived through—and is still living through—the effects of climate change and natural disaster, her essay draws attention to the ways that we need to cultivate personal relationships with the environment as a means to extend care on a much larger level.
[i] Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014), 140.
[ii] Miriam Ticktin, Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 13.
[iii] As a video piece, Rat Laughter—as with M̶i̶g̶u̶e̶l̶ Bonneville’s and Sharif Waked’s respective videos—is best viewed as stills rather than installation shots. To see these works, please attend to gallery floorplan above.
Figure 2.1: Installation view of Three Acts, Three Scenes: Your Care, My Care, Careful Care with “Act One: Your Care” in the front, curated by Natalie Fleming and Conor Moynihan, Kunstraum LLC, Brooklyn, New York, June 24 – July 22, 2018. Photo: James Hilton.
Description: View of gallery interior from entrance. Gallery is a short, narrow hallway-like space and turns left at the end. On the left wall are two monitors: Kathy High and Michelle Temple’s video Rat Laughter on the left and Avye Alexandres’s multi-component series Flipping Me, Flipping You on the right. M̶i̶g̶u̶e̶l̶ Bonneville’s Study for The Importance of Being Simone de Beauvoir is projected on the far-right wall of the gallery, toward the end of the hallway. On the wall to the immediate right, from left to right, are fourteen illustrations organized in three horizontal rows from Joshua Rains’s If You Need Me series, Dominic Quagliozzi’s Wipes, and Dominic Quagliozzi’s Piss Cup.
Figure 2.2: Installation view of “Act Two: My Care,” Three Acts, Three Scenes: Your Care, My Care, Careful Care, curated by Natalie Fleming and Conor Moynihan, Kunstraum LLC, Brooklyn, New York, June 24 – July 22, 2018. Photo: James Hilton.
Description: View of gallery interior. On the right is Kathleen McDermott’s Urban Arbor #2, a pink and white two-piece sleeveless dress on a black mannequin, and a television monitor mounted next to the dress on the wall playing Kathleen McDermott’s Urban Armor Video Reel. There is a concrete column in the middle of the room, behind which is Dominic Quagliozzi’s Piss Cup and Wipes, on the left and right respectively.
Figure 2.3: Installation view of “Act Three: Careful Care,” Three Acts, Three Scenes: Your Care, My Care, Careful Care, curated by Natalie Fleming and Conor Moynihan, Kunstraum LLC, Brooklyn, New York, June 24 – July 22, 2018. Photo: James Hilton.
Description: View of gallery interior facing toward the back of the space. Two video monitors are mounted on the wall to the left: Kathleen McDermott’s Urban Armor Video Reel and Sharif Waked’s Chic Point, from left to right respectively. Suspended from the ceiling are two of Stephanie Rothenberg’s Planthropy works, each comprised of one potted plant in a clear plastic container with digital scrolling text bar at the bottom each. Situated against the back white half-wall, placed on the floor, is Kyla Kegler’s Feel Me multi-part installation with wood and plexi shelves filled with bright pink lacrosse balls, an illuminated red neon sign that says “Feel,” and a video monitor in profile can be seen against this same wall.
Figure 2.4: Joshua Rains, If You Need Me(selections), 2015-2016, ink and white-out correction tape on cold-press watercolor paper, 9 by 12 inches, series of 40. Photo: James Hilton.
Description: Fourteen illustrations hung on a white wall in three rows. First and second rows have five illustrations and the third row has four illustrations. Each illustration is done in black ink on white paper and depicts a social media post, complete with date, time, social media platform, image, and follower responses. All are mounted to the wall with small, circular magnets in the upper right and upper left corners.
Figure 2.5: Avye Alexandres, Flipping Me, Flipping You series, 2018. Multiple components: A Special Bonus!, digital print, edition of 500 (right); Say Yes!, 2018, set of cards, 2.5 by 3.5 inches, edition of 5 (bottom); The Average Attendee, 2018, single channel digital video, 1:57 minutes (top). Photo: James Hilton.
Description: A black monitor is mounted on a white wall, displaying Avye Alexandres’ Flipping Me, Flipping You series. The screen has a black background with a digitized set of blue, pixelated lips in the center and a small, blue shape resembling a digitized snowflake in the upper left corner of the screen. There is a white shelf extending out from the wall with a small white sign and three stacks of small cards on it. To the lower right of the monitor, on the wall, is a bright yellow sign with black text that reads “Thank you for your attendance.” A white placard describing the piece is on the wall to the lower left of the monitor.
Figure 2.6: Dominic Quagliozzi, Piss Cup (left) and Wipes (right), 2014, acrylic and silicone on canvas, 32 by 34 inches (each). Photo: James Hilton.
Description: Two paintings are mounted side by side on a white wall. The painting on the left depicts a man holding his penis and urinating into a cup over a toilet. The painting on the right depicts a pair of bare legs with a box of wipes on the tiled floor just in front of the man’s feet. The man’s right hand is gloved and he is in the act of wiping his leg. Both paintings are done in a first-person point of view from the subject’s perspective.
Figure 2.7: Kat McDermott, Urban Armor #2: The Personal Space Dress, 2014, fabric, motors, ultrasonic sensors, microcontroller, umbrella parts, recycled plastic, 36 by 36 by 36 inches. Photo: James Hilton.
Description: A pink and white two-piece, sleeveless dress on a black mannequin, and a television monitor mounted next to the dress on the wall playing Kat McDermott’s Urban Armor Video Reel. The dress has a motion sensor at the waist, that, when activated, causes the skirt to expand outward.
Figure 2.8: Stephanie Rothenberg, Planthropy, 2015, mixed media with custom hardware, 8 by 8 by 30 inches per plant sculpture, 2nd edition software. Photo: James Hilton.
Description: Two clear plastic and metal column containers holding plants, soil, and clear plastic water bags are suspended from the ceiling. The plant on the left is a grassy plant with a yellowish-green color. The plant on the right is also grassy but a more verdant shade of green. There is a scrolling text bar on each sculpture where live tweets about charitable giving are displayed.
Figure 2.9: Kyla Kegler, Feel Me, 2018, multi-media installation, dimensions variable. Photo: James Hilton.
Description: The intersection of two white walls with a wood and plexiglass shelf filled with bright pink lacrosse balls against the left wall, a small, illuminated red neon sign above and to the right of the shelf that says “Feel,” on the same wall, and a black, angled video monitor on the right wall. Next to the monitor is a wooden podium. Suspended in the middle of the space before the neon sign is a small, silver mesh bag.