Betty Nguyen is a curator, writer, instigator and artist, founder of Living Arts Fund and founder and editor of First Person Magazine. She curates and hosts this weekend’s Snow in the Desert at Ace Hotel & Swim Club, an activated art space for women. Artist workshops are open today from 2-4pm in the Clubhouse, and we’ll have DJs by the pool all afternoon Saturday and Sunday. Betty DJs tonight in the Amigo Room as well. She’s whip smart — as evidenced below.
You’ve said that you “embrace all forms of cultural delivery.” How do those semantics disrupt ideas of art?
I’ve never regarded one art form higher than another: film, music, performance, dance, painting … if the shit is good, I’ll take it. They all influence each other if we are open to them. I have very fluid instincts. I trained in college as an art director, so I envision worlds through texts and vice versa. Just because work is fun or colorful or punk doesn’t mean it’s not informed. My work goes deep and I enjoy it. The disruption comes from opening people’s perspectives to expand what art is or how it can be presented which includes where it can be presented like at the Ace Hotel.
Tell me about interviewing Yoko Ono and Missy Elliot.
Yoko Ono is so fucking alive. The bigger the name, the more I tend to be restrained as an interviewer. But that’s bullshit right? I interviewed Yoko Ono for First Person Magazine’s “Discomfort of Sculpture” issue that also included Lynda Benglis, Louise Bourgeois, and Maya Deren. I first encountered Ono’s work at ICA East London in 2000. She showed these big Oxford shoes in larger than life rat cages on top of tons of used paperback books. A map of the world was on a table top with her Imagine Peace rubber stamps all over the table for you to make an impression on a country or border line, the ocean whatever needed it. And the last memorable piece was this long dark corridor that led to a light box of a rainbow. Her work is so provocative in a positive way. It’s sometimes difficult to do both in a work. And it’s always been there in hers for me. She was on tour as the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band with her son and I was pretty nervous, thinking I had to make sure the questions were related to music. But she just went straight out the gate with, “You know John and I did a lot for promoting peace to end the Vietnam War” after I said I thought we were simliar… refugees of war. We talked about both being women and immigrants. And working in the arts as Asian women as being really fucking hard. I can name one other Asian woman curator at the New Museum. And one in Tokyo at the Mori. Oh, yeah and I made her pink peace sign sugar cookies for her show with Sean Lennon.
Eve Fowler is arguably one of the country’s greatest living conceptual artists — trained in photography at Yale and in journalism from Temple University, she documents queer lives, interrogates “non-creative” visual forms and bridges the word with the body. She’s joining us this weekend for artists workshops at Snow in the Desert, an art space for women at Ace Hotel & Swim club. We asked her about her work, and what we can look forward to on Saturday afternoon…
What is your relationship, or your work’s relationship, to ideas of “beauty”?
I don’t really think too much about beauty in an art context. When I look at art or when I make art I tend to think more about what the artist was thinking or, regarding my own work, I’m trying to get information out into the world that matters to me in some way. I have a lot of art up in my apartment right now because I run an art organization, Artist Curated Projects, and I really love most of it but I don’t think about any of it in terms of beauty. When I was in grad school the worst thing you could tell someone was that their work was beautiful…
Talk a bit about the series of works you created at your residency at One Colorado — related to one of our favorite books in the world, Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons.”
The public art project I made this year using text by Gertrude Stein is something I’m really excited about. I have been working with that text for a couple years making collages. Last year driving to my studio downtown I would see neon posters, made by Colby Posters, on telephone poles and fences. This is a very common form of advertising here and these posters have been used by a lot of artists. While I was using Stein’s text to make cardboard, wood and paper signs and collages I started to think these posters might be a great way for the general population to experience this text that I really love and enjoy. I see some of the text in “tender buttons” as really queer & coded but I think it’s so open-ended that it could mean so many things depending on who the viewer is. Aside from being posted in public, the posters have been used for classes, occupy LA and other protests. I recently made larger versions of them, paintings, for a show in Austin, Texas — along with a sound piece I made in collaboration with Tara Jane O’Neil. The sound piece combines ambient sounds collected while I put the posters up and “this is it with it as it is" spoken continuously for three minutes.
What will you be working on this weekend at Snow in the Desert?
I think this weekend I will have my library that I collected from the One Institute Gay and Lesbian Archive. They sell books for 50 cents there and over time I collected about 65 books. The books are wrapped in collages — I think we will unwrap them together and talk about that project a little. My library has some very obscure books in it but I think the books and the authors are important because they were out when it was hard to be out — making it easier for everyone now.
The Chelsea Hotel is an icon of New York’s endangered free spirit — replete with freaks, geeks, ground shakers, noise makers, and artists who just don’t give a shit about capitalist progress. Though the latter has gnashed its teeth and the Chelsea’s caboose has stuttered to a halt, the spirits in the air will never vacate the premises.
Writer and independent curator Dmitry Komis curates The Quality of Presence at the Chelsea Hotel today through Sunday in a recently vacated suite — a group exhibition that employs Walter Benjamin’s seminal text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction as a point of departure, and extends Benjamin’s argument of a diminishing “aura” of an artwork to the architectural space that encompasses it.
We walked through the exhibition with some Ace x Impossible film and had a chance to ask Dmitry about the show and some our friends who are in it.
Sherrill Tippins wrote about how the architect of the Chelsea was influenced by the French utopian philosopher Charles Fourier — that it was envisioned as a hub of creativity from the start. Is American utopia down for the count at the Chelsea or making a comeback?
To be honest I do not feel very optimistic about it, informed in part by my own experiences at the Chelsea.
Living there, I was most interested in the people who felt they could not live anywhere else, because they felt so much a part of it, the architecture and the mood. The people who have been there 20-30 years. So you cannot tell them that artists have left the Chelsea or whatever people want to say now, they’re still there and continue to make work. There are not many buildings in New York you can still say that about. I also feel that for an artist community to flourish anywhere, affordable housing is a prerequisite. If the Chelsea continues to raise rents and fight its rent controlled status in court that would be a complete disaster.
Is Colette here to represent for the Fourierist spirit in 2012?
Colette is Colette. She is true to her vision. Her work is certainly informed by a self-sustainable ideology, but I’m not sure she would say she was influenced by Fourier. For The Quality of Presence, she resurrected one of her original bedroom panels, complete with a 1975 lightbox, and customized it for the Chelsea space. It looks like it’s always been there. I begged her to do it, she was not keen on bringing that back, but I felt it had to be seen within this context. I really respect Colette’s work and think she deserves a lot more serious attention. I won’t mention the current “controversy” surrounding her work, but it does seem to be very relevant at the moment culturally, thinking about artists and musicians and their all encompassing environments.
If Zaldy could dress any of the artists-in-residence in Chelsea history however he wanted, who do you think it would be?
Viva. But she already had a great personal style.
Will Desi Santiago represent the 90s club kid aesthetic?
Desi’s piece literally borrows from the 90s club kid aesthetic, as he is using materials from Mathu & Zaldy’s costumes in the 90s, which were stored in the same closet where his installation will be. Desi found them in the closet after Zaldy & I moved out of the apartment. Desi certainly loves a spectacle, and is inspired by that culture, but his work takes on so many other cues and meanings that become something completely different when removed from the club context. The work is celebratory, yet dark and introverted.
Has Scott Hug taken any more Polaroids?
Scott is including his graph collage pieces. I love this body of work and I think it can go on forever.
Mapplethorpe and Miguel Villalobos in one room — that’s a powerful litany of black and white.
Miguel has photographed many many shoots in the bathroom in room 302, so it is fitting that he is contributing images that were shot there. His photos will be contrasted by Jen DeNike’s bathtub projection. Every artist is responding to the architecture and utility of each room in the suite.
The Mapplethorpe in the show is pretty powerful; the longer I stare at the photograph the more I start seeing other things the image.
One of our very favorite culture and fashion sites, Nowness, today premiered a Chinese language version of their original content, including this short about Beijing-based artist Zeng Fanzhi. It behooves you to keep an eye on them — they are excellent hunter gatherers.