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Too Much Fluidity and Lapses of Time

LA-based interdisciplinary artist Renée Petropolos and I met while she was a studio grant holder at IASPIS in Stockholm earlier this spring. We hit it off instantly and there was a feeling of genuine connection and rapport struck over the course of a few hours, while leaving the premises that first evening of tête-à-tête (or actually, it was the second evening, beyond the hellos of the first brief encounter at a museum opening). The idea arose to do a text about her practice for C-print and that it would take shape organically and gradually at distance via e-mail exchange and correspondence, my being here in Stockholm while her back in the West in the US. The breadth of Renée’s practice is so compelling and extensive; not in the least the intellectual ideas it informs, that it appeared as well like a good idea to really get to learn and engage instead of a quicker and more reductive research boiling down to a fixed set of questions, firing off the send button by the computer. It’s been exciting, as well as challenging, to revel in her words and candor throughout this process. The exchange, it must be said, has been marked by a great degree of generosity of Renée’s part. I’m grateful for the time spent in the process and fascinated by how her mind works and can hear her voice clearly when editing the outcome presented to you. As for myself; the supposed couple of months it would take that turned into quite a few months altogether in the end, often confronted me with my own limitations and abilities. The discrepancy between will, time and ability. There were times when longer periods would pass with my being missing in action and where she would not hear from me at all. Not ever missing in spirit but putting pen to paper sometimes proves harder than appears, when various realities strike. There was a commitment to the text and her, requiring nurturing like any other relationship, be it that it was mediated, that leads up to this; one of the most thought-provoking texts I’ve had the pleasure of publishing to date.

Renée Petropoulos. Photo: © Deborah Attoinese Photography

Beginning of correspondence: May 1 2019

C-P: We met recently in Stockholm during a residency you were doing at IASPIS and I remember your telling me you had not prior to it done so many residencies which for many artists today serve as a vehicle to get and move around with their practice. Three months is a long time I imagine, and perhaps enough time to get some healthy and novel perspectives on your art, through the exposure to a different clean-slate environment and system. Although coming back just so recently, thinking about it now; what would you hold as the greatest impact staying in Stockholm had on you both personally and in terms of future projects?

R.P: So, thinking about your question I must say that the greatest impact has been the “idea” of social democracy and its effects today as they intersect with the exported image of historical. I was initially trying to align the exported ”Sweden” with what I was encountering. I could not do this very well, so I turned to literature. Literature was the way I could enter what I felt I misunderstood or could not enter. I was misreading codes. Codes that I am normally quite good at reading, failed me entirely. My work, the daily practice that I brought with me, did not fail me, to give me an equilibrium in which I could anchor myself. Trying to align myself was something I took seriously and has now come to be the initial germ for a project that I would like to return to in Sweden. Meeting a Swedish writer and having many long conversations was personally life altering, but I do not yet know how this will manifest or what it means, I just felt an impact that I had not felt in many years. I know we will collaborate on something, a performance, I think. Words and translations and sound and gesture.

An important aspect of my work over the years has been the idea of ‘displacement’. Moving something from one context to another context and ’seeing’ it anew. Re-thinking again and again is an important aspect of my work over the years. This has migrated into disruption. Or possibly interruption. Interruption(s) as a strategy.

Renée to Ashik:

I have decided that I might just send pieces of my writing from before my return, the writing while I was in Sweden. As for now, I would like to look back.

Here is a piece of that writing:

So – what am I doing? Why this very young feeling of complete inadequacy? who as an adult feels this way? The need to compete and to shine – forget it. What is going on?

You write like if thinking…Never before have I seen it. It is what I do – you are doing it – how can I know this across languages? What do war ships and pirates have to do with us?. I know an emotional non sequitur but I can’t help myself. Maybe that explains why I saw people dressed as pirates walking down the street. I thought it was a fetish. A kind of theme of heavy metal players. Well, maybe it is. What I have not seen are the Queens of Light. I know, wrong time of year but still, people could walk the streets with girl attendants and star boys carrying saffron buns while singing. I would like that. How can I think about this place without thinking about social democracy. It is exported as an idea and as something to strive for; a ‘becoming’ of sorts. But what is really going on? Why would a society so well stocked, fed, cared for, be resentful and worried about “the other”. Why? The obvious answer we know. Nevertheless, I still must ask this ‘Why?’. There is not mention of right-wing political parties in the guide book. Only a policy of non-alignment and the balanced power between the Social democrats and the non-socialist power blocs are mentioned. Huh. There is mention of the asylum offered to seekers of refuge from war-torn countries and from persecution abroad. But what about Olof Palme’s assassination in 1986. Is there such a thing as non-alignment today? The expansion of bakeries, boutiques and desire are prevalent. Where is consciousness around the capitalist expansion? What constitutes the need for “more and more”? Again, is it possible to be non- aligned? Who would let you? Let you? Yes, this is a fact. No rules, this is not even conceivable. The acceptance of economic imperialism is invisible except to a few who keep gnawing at the yarn, keep chewing on the threads. The sky is now sunny which gives the yellow and green and red buildings a glow and a beautiful flatness. Did you know that Skype is a Swedish creation. Free talking. Using the infrastructure for communication without bounds. Good idea. So was Spotify. Free - Sharing - Open. I ask “why?” once again.

When homogeneity and social democracy come together, what happens? Does this lead to the erosion of morality, the disintegration of ethics? I lie in my room and feel hopeless. Longing for true removal from the interactions that compel me to complete as if that is my nature like a racehorse… seeing it propels me forward. I cannot even think of something that I cannot see. I want to and wish to be prompted into this sight of foreseeing. I can only perceive, and it is limited. Can I open a door to imagination? Imagination not tethered to reality as I know it. Can I truly speculate? When a gesture is made how does it follow? When I say Third-world, what do you think? How old are you? Can we uphold a society that is socially conscious and affords financial security for all? Why would you throw this away? Why do you want the government buildings to be sold to private entities?

(Above and below) Renée Petropoulos, Prototype for the Historie(s) of Painting: (Eingrouping): Social Historical,  2004, vinyl, chalk and paint on walls. 2 parts each: 9 feet, 6 inches  x  24 feet, 11 inches, bench, plywood and foam, 94 x 28 inches, text, 8 ½ x 14 inches. Full credits at the bottom of text

C-P: Growing up in Sweden, shaped at home by two cultures simultaneously, both of which at face value bear traits of collectivism, there was often a feeling of being in a place muddled by great contradictions. On the one hand, Sweden being a society founded on staunch socialist principles and on the other being a society struck largely by individualist mindsets where nurture and care in the very private realm is afforded and extended to a very small circuit of people. Picking up on your train of thought about the idea of exported Sweden, I think myself of how for years it was wonderful to be a Swede travelling around the world; so many favorable connotations across the board for others. No wonder deep national crisis ensued as we had to start rethinking and renegotiating our national self-identity with the rise of the far-right and the fear of "the other" started to come to surface. A confrontation with a reality that seemed to distant for many years.

Interruptions as a strategy; I love the intense sound of that. Without being an artist myself, I imagine the artistic trajectory many times is an extremely difficult negotiation and balance between continuity that alludes in the midst to pragmatic considerations and interruption that informs healthy challenge and artistic fantasies to explore where a practice could go. Somehow this recalls one of the projects I know you are doing that you bring with you wherever you go; a daily visual contemplation that departs from a window of the place you are living in at a given time. Tell me about this.

R.P: The project that you speak of – Mornings…, is one initiated in response to the feeling of displacement. And to the “idea of displacement”. The first document, initiated in Naples Italy in 2016, recorded my view out of the window of my apartment each day upon arising in the morning. For a period of one minute each day. I then edited the “minutes” together into one film. (I say film as the structure and the impetus to record come, for me out of the history of film rather than a video history). I now make these documents in each place that I visit that is a visit about a project or as an invited artist, not as another type of visitor to a place. As I had two windows in Stockholm, I used two cameras, one for each window. And, as I stayed for so many days, the duration of the final document will be dramatically different. As Mornings in Naples is around 14 minutes, Mornings in Stockholm will be a minimum of 75 minutes. And as there are two cameras; other decisions will have to be made.

What I find in making these films is that the constancy or persistency of vision allows for the kind of seeing I am suggesting; that it allows the viewer to slow down enough to “look at” the projected image and to notice things that seem ordinary or are often overlooked for the more “important” information displayed (whatever that might be). Making these films also allows for me to understand where I am. To begin to understand my surroundings in a very specific way. I am ultimately displaced, my body and myself are displaced and this method of working, beginning each day with locating myself allows me an entrance. Showing this work later I think affords something akin to this experience as time, duration, maybe even obstinance, can be revealed for others. The word “adjustment” comes to mind. (A private experience becomes quite public. Again, displacement as a means to understand).

Renée Petropoulos, 'Cheek by Jowl', performance, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Los Angeles, CA

May 16, 2019

C-P: When we last spoke on the phone you were in Palm Springs as the artist in residence at the Palm Springs Art Museum, so you literally left cold Stockholm, installing yourself in much sunnier shores to prepare the interactive and performance-based exhibition project Experts & Amateurs. The project is said to investigate how we all perform and speak both within public and private spaces. I’ve increasingly in my own life been thinking again about everyday life as a performance, about life as a big course of changes to perform, some by necessity and some by choice. About how the notion of performance obviously becomes even more pervasive in times where the lines between the physical and mediated get blurred out and where people are forced to relate to our heightened personhood on social media. I want to get back to thoughts about social media later (ed. note, we did not later).

As for your work in Palm Springs it draws on your ideas about displacement, taking something from a given context out and in to another, and seeing then how it unfolds and if it finds ground. In a way comes down to having the agency to displace with effect. In your case the project meant bringing the performance out to schools, parks and bars. You were also telling me how you normally work with frequent collaborators for performances but had opted here, to engage for instance random passerby and various audiences. What significance did it have to bring it out to a bar where people are slightly less prone than I’d imagine in a park to disband from a social party to engage with an event that has not prior been announced.

Renée Petropoulos, 'Here', Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA

R.P: By shifting the emphasis from the museum as host, I was able to expand for me, an idea of “who is a host”. I could think about first, me as artist as host, then as location as host and as potentially blurring this line between them. What I mean is that by going to an audience, one can still think of hosting. This way the act of performing without prior announcement can be read and experienced as something else.

Interruption is an experience in and of itself. When we played for eight hours (the LAFMS Telethon as one of the events) it was on the one hand a different way of experiencing the museum - as a soundtrack accompanied the visit, and on the other it was an experience of duration for all of the participants many of who saw it as a break from their life - as some mentioned, a “vacation”. There was a joy and an intensity that was palpable. The idea that by allowing enough time, something else could emerge including talking, and visiting and adjusting. It was not only watching and listening. The room was full!

An aspect of this carried on in a Hannah Arendt Table Reading, with Fred Dewey; people showed up and sat and read together and brought their full attention to what we were doing in the here and now. It was truly stunning and moving. The commitment to several hours of line by line reading in public space (non-academic space) by visitors who happened in that day, changed me. The desire to do this to comment on this as unusual, special and needed - really surprised me. I believe we are looking for this kind of engagement. We are looking to take some time together especially unplanned time. And this I was not sure of before.

Renée Petropolous, 'Amatures & Experts', Palms Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA

C-P: The closing of your project in Palm Springs was a fashion show and collaboration with designer Cirilo Domine who I gather you’ve worked with in the past with similar executions. It sounds like a very interesting overlap and interesting format for performance. Tell me more about this. R.P: The closing event, “the fashion show”, expanded both mine and Cirilo’s project, the one we began several years ago. A fashion as well in the context of both improvisation and of engagement. At that time, we enlisted one of the same composers, Greg Lenczycki, and I asked him to record our conversations and those of the models, as we were rehearsing and trying on the garments. A casual as well as orchestrated sound, layered over the speaking voices resulted in a collage effect as well as the merging of the private and public experience, behind and in front of an audience. This time the sound was more formalized with Mark Golanco playing instruments in the room and Greg’s composition played before and under parts of this “live playing”.

This time the garments were based on traditional Filipino clothing and were worn by a Filipino group of models. As last time we expanded the idea of body type, size, shape, gender, however this time the emphasis shifted to who was in this museum both as spectator and model. Questions of modernity and tradition were in the air. And of course, whose body. Generosity was displayed in all aspects of the production; from making, to display, to choices. “Ancestors” as thought of in different capacities. I would like to add some thoughts about my idea of ‘displacement’. The ability to move something from one place to another to allow for consideration is to me, fundamental in the act of producing art. Fundamental to the act of thinking about art. Years ago, I began calling “it”, this act, “looking at the overlooked”, seeing the so called marginal as central. Each of the aspects, the presentations in Palm Springs allowed me to reposition something; to look at an activity, an action, a ”thing” with consideration.

Last year, I performed a work in Paris. This entailed “performing’ a book project of Georges Perec: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. This book was written in 1974 with Perec writing what he “saw” at a location in Paris. I re-enacted this “looking” and “seeing”. I see this as another type of displacement both in time and in body. Forty-three years later I was observing from the same vantage point, writing what I saw, both recalling his words and descriptions and being fully present with mine. It was a remarkable experience. Again, the act of displacement allowed me to understand and to feel. I believe I am looking to be surprised. I have never thought of it this way, but now, since having been in Sweden, I do.

Renée Petropoulos, 'FROM HERE TO THERE NOW(HERE)', Pierce College Art Gallery. 2017, installation view, 'EAST WEST' 

C-P: I've always enjoyed the idea of academia and a certain point really wanted to pursue a path as an educator within this realm which didn't happen but continues to be a desire. It's not uncommon for artists to teach part-time on the side of one's own practice and for some I imagine this is more fruitful for their own work and practices than others. I was curious to ask you how teaching art has extended to your work, also considering that you recently did a project with Amanda Katz who was a former student of yours. I also recall speaking to you about a brilliant exhibition project you did with your students while a teaching stint at the Umeå Art Academy. Again, on the note of displacement and the agency of gallery rooms and museums to really turn the inspective gaze on objects and their nature.

R.P: I have come to understand that I often work “in relation” to something, to someone... I could use the term “relative” in that I consider my relationship to conditions to be of supreme importance and this includes persons, sites, social conditions etc. I once entitled an exhibition, Social Arrangements, for this very reason; I need to call out the various situations and responses to my own thoughts as they were situated within a larger social condition. This concern has grown and expanded. I feel that the need for emotion as evidence, as a felt component in my work, has captured my intellect as well as my ‘heart’ so to speak. The fact that I began performing in 2012, in order to respond the conditions of myself. Myself as aging body, as again artist, as woman, as not visible. I initially performed with my back to the audience in order to become “comfortable” with my physical presence.

You know, this word “comfortable” has come up before, some years ago, when making my first displacement work, Miss You. Wish You Were Here as part of Representation Absorbs the House. I used the word to describe an aspect of colonialism within an emotional register. To take one’s home to another place and inscribe it to “feel” comfortable, to enable emotional functionality is an aspect that seemed hidden at the time. I think that this idea of introducing “the personal comfort” (culture, customs, language etc.) has increasingly permeated my work. How does it appear? How does it manifest? What does it do?

I did several projects in this manner, bringing or inscribing my personal (home) space in public viewing spaces, adding elements each time including sound, and spoken word. These works then led to the institutional displacements that we spoke of earlier, including the project in Umeå. There I worked with students to displace objects from their homes into the gallery space. The wildly disparate choices created a context in which to both understand the culture from which they came, and to isolate and identify the making of art. Estrangement might be a word to use, a reconsideration of the given, its presuppositions (Renée’s note: Philosophy as Estrangement, Sverre Raffnsøe).

I realize that this might be a way to come back to teaching; that the process of teaching for me is reciprocal. That is a dialectical relationship with others. We can both process ideas in this way and come to new conclusions. Over the years this has continued to adjust and filter in myriad ways. Most recently in performances with the use of scores. I became fascinated with the work of Cornelius Cardew with whom I became familiar during my work with SASSAS. After performing in a Scratch Orchestra, I began to bring the principles from that project into my own work with spoken word and writing and this immediately translated into projects with students; becoming increasing improvisational with the Saas Fee students last summer. The aspect of surprise is very important to my expression, to my motivation as an artist. I am in many ways trying not to know so much.

Renée Petropoulos, 'Having a Wonderful Time', West Pavilion, Art After 1800 J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles, California

Renée to Ashik:

My relationship to teaching has changed over the years in much the same way as public works, or collaborations have altered or shifted my own thinking and production of work. You mentioned a particular project with my former student Amanda Katz, both a poet and artist of conceptual depth in which I invited her to participate in a project to which I was invited: 7 x 7, a pairing of writers and artists to produce a work over a period of 14 days – back and forth – so the process was immediate and dramatic – writing affecting material gesture.

June 13, 2019

C-P: You worked for many years with pioneering Rosamund Felsen Gallery in LA until it closed, and we were before speaking about how the commercial art sphere has changed over time. What is your take and on working with galleries then and now?

R.P: I have been contemplating this question both for myself and in regard to our discussion some months ago when we met for the first time. I think galleries are amazing places in that they can offer the viewing of art as it comes directly from an artist’s studio: the installation, the space and the context of “offering” to the public something so potentially immediate is exciting. My history with the Felsen gallery was one that was extraordinary in that the decisions made by me, the artist, were never tampered with. She never interfered with the vision, or ideas put forth by the artist. I think this is actually what excited her; to assist in realizing a vision! This is where her support was most felt. The commercial side was not her strong suit. it seemed to not excite her in the least and this might have truly been her downfall as support is needed in multiple ways. I just recalled a remark Rosamund made a couple of years ago upon closing her gallery; “I used to be in the art world, now I am in the art market.” It's something to think about.

About the early days of the gallery, there is the feeling that one wanted to show for the conversation, the proposition the work could make. No one yet used the word ”career”. My background was that of the split; art history was changing from being analyzed purely visually. A Marxist interpretation was taking hold, and being at UCLA for art history, this was the place where it was happening. Serge Guibault, Carole Wells, Marla Berns, and Thomas Crow were all graduate students there at the time and they were part of this movement…. Being in it and very young, I did not know it was a sea change, I took it as the way to argue to interpret. History had to be considered as did context, which artists, especially conceptual artists were understanding and implementing. Feminism was also part of this mix and this reevaluation. That formed my thinking and being. Again, these ideas felt fundamentally part of ”how to think”. I started showing in the gallery with painting, which I thought of as conceptually in relationship to material. And at that time there was quite a divide. Either you were a painter, or you were a conceptual artist. I just could not adhere to this divide. It gave me a lot of problems. I purposely decided to use painting at that time (in the late 70’s I was using photography and video) as I wanted to be in specific dialogue with particular art historical references.

You see, I studied art history with an emphasis in Islamic art; that was also my background. I think seeing work in person and understanding it specifically and conceptually is something undervalued just now, but this experience is something we need, and we crave. Not just glancing at work, not just scrolling through images, but taking art in with our entire bodies and with all of our senses; how we stand in a room, who speaks to us while looking, what scale we encounter, what room do we stand in, what do we hear outside, what is the light like... All of this is essential to our encounter with art. More than ever understanding where we are, where we stand, what our relationship to objects is, is essential to our identity. It is a political act being an artist. It is a resistance to the corporatization of our world. It can be and it must be. Can galleries still provide this? This is the question. There is a comment that I recall only in a hazy sort of way made by Marcel Duchamp in the early 60’s where he says something about artists of the future having to stop showing their work, not to show outside their own small world, to one another only or not even that.

Renée Petropoulos, Douglas Station - Metro Station - El Segundo

C-P: How do you see changes in the art scene(s) of LA and where does LA stand today?

R.P: As the Los Angeles art scene has finally grown to include many different ”scenes” the demands and articulations of a “gallery” are quite varied. Historically, artists with gallerists or dealers as they were more often called, created scenes and were “hubs” for ideas and discussions. I think Rosamund was one of the first galleries to have “talks” at the gallery, where the artist would discuss their work within the gallery space. Now this is quite common but in the early 90’s it was very unusual. Los Angeles is a city of schools. Five if not six major important schools are here, and they have had a substantial impact on the environment and culture of the area. More and more artists have decided to stay and now artists are coming here to stay.

I am not sure if I can define what the scene really is today. Many of the old galleries are gone such as Rosamund Felsen and Margo Leavin. Many that have been here since the 90’s are still here in various states of existence or configurations and there are many new galleries. It is difficult for the mid-range galleries as rents are increasing and the “new” is ever popular. That being said, I do think things are up in the air. We all want to see works in person, at least artists do and there are older artists that are now being given visibility by new galleries that want to see the neglected or ignored history of Los Angeles become more visible. The Box, Haphazard/as-is, and even Park View just to name a few are looking back and putting some pieces together to give another picture. It is a rich time to do this mining of the city’s art world as the people who inhabited it are still around… but not for long.

Renée Petropoulos. Photo: Verena Schöttmer

Renée to Ashik:

For my last "answers" I have been thinking that you may want to have more context - regarding the gallery, in terms of who else was showing there and what that gallery meant to the city in terms of what I was speaking about. That it was the gallery of propositions as I mentioned, and those were made by artists such as Mike Kelley, Lari Pittman, Paul McCarthy, Richard Jackson, Chris Burden, Jeffrey Valance (among others) and the two other women at the gallery I might have mentioned to you before were Alexis Smith and Karen Carson. Karen was huge in la at that time and into the late 90’s although now one doesn’t hear much about her. But it was only the three of us and then early 90’s Erika Rothenberg joined. As did Jason Rhodes. It was a gallery where Ralph Rugoff for instance and others curated group exhibitions and made propositions through the curatorial. I can speak more of this if you wish… I do think some of this context may be needed although I often dislike using others’ fame to position oneself. It was a special time with intimacy and “stakes”.

Ashik to Renée, July 3, 2019:

I think it's in proper etiquette and totally fine to talk about these artists to give a context of time and shine light on your trajectory. If one would emphasize in a very self-serving way in a text that so and so is a great friend, and then so is X and Y and Z , that sort of thing could possibly be a little rich in a text although that's not where your answers will ever go. That’s quite clear to me. You speak with consideration about those you mention and put things the way one could expect. No need to worry. I think it really make for interesting "educational" reading to read about your experiences in this way.

C-P: RFG evidently having been that sort of gallery of propositions, you just mentioned a time with intimacy and "stakes"; and I remember your telling me in Stockholm that there was as well a certain transitional phase in time were leaps were being made by artists from LA and from the gallery to the more formally commercialized art scene of NYC. NYC supposedly was perceived to offer a different platform in terms of career growth and advancement of opportunities. It was fascinating to learn about how all these influential figures in art also grew and sprung out of Rosamund Felsen Gallery. What are some of your memories of the social and generational climate around the gallery?

R.P: You have taken me back to a time that I must in some fashion reconstruct even for myself. This was a time of hunger and risk. A time of alliances as well. Alliances to ideas and methods of working; to critique, to understanding how one made art and what the context for making art would and could entail. We spent time together and we were not too careful. By this I mean we were honest with one another and not just congratulatory. It was a social time as well as much else. When I mention intimacy, I mean that in many ways. I think artists are so very vulnerable. At the same time so very forthright, self-centered and even aggressive. There were very few women in this context at the time and as a conscious feminist, this awareness was often painful and affected my position in the gallery. Using painting as a strategy, as a way of making something also had to do with this position, as in some ways it was “unpopular”. Thinking about “decoration” and abstraction as content and as subject was also part of this position. One that was understood on one hand within feminist discourse of the 70’s, and on the other as a trajectory of second- wave conceptual practice of which painting mostly shunned. This was the time I felt to introduce these ideas with the context of issues of “representation”.

Renée Petropoulos, studio installation

Renée to Ashik, July 19, 2019:

Hello again Ashik, just to continue as last night after I sent you the email with a response, I realized how much I left out, especially in details.

R.P: So; To continue, in a city of stolen radios dust punk music and then AIDS; death changed the climate. Activism, attention, Barthes, Lacan, fiction writers, artists staying, working, believing in this place. Understanding it. Driving space light made way for the thoughts, theory practice, made way for Europe. There was a kind of main line between Europe and LA by the 90’s and it was a very strong connection. It was also very male.

By the early 2000’s, maybe just a bit later, Rosamund Felsen Gallery had shifted so much and at least half the gallery were women; Mary Kelly, Joan Jonas, Maria Nordman (Maria Nordman was in the gallery much earlier) and Judith Barry just to give you an idea of the strength of the exhibition schedule and the shift in direction. I was much younger and had begun there and these artists, everyone was teaching now at that point. I will say that was something already happening by the late 80’s. Artists began to teach and to see teaching as an essential part of making work; thinking about work and talking about work. This sea change was so important to LA as it was not really what was important in New York for instance (in the 90’s). Students and their teachers were in the same realm. talking publicly and with force about what they were doing and what was important.

Something that was unique to LA was its “de-centeredness”, being a city without a proper locatable center. The art schools were our centers. And the galleries were also our centers. The locations of artists’ studios moved about the city depending on affordability. We orbited around the schools and galleries and these were the social centers of our lives. I once titled an exhibition Social Arrangements, not only reflecting this place but the “organization of orders” in a larger political/ social sense.

Renée Petropoulos, 'FROM HERE TO THERE NOW(HERE)', Pierce College Art Gallery. 2017, installation view, 'EAST WEST' 

Ashik to Renée, September 9, 2019

I realize the text could with some effort already have been finished by mid-summer and was thinking about how to frame it in the introduction. The text first of all is really great, a generous and thought-provoking read. More so than usual. So, I think when I write the intro to it, I will address candidly in words how it began as an idea of an organic and frequent exchange at long-distance but how there were in fact failures in communication on my part at times which made time just lapse. I have a clear idea how and what I will write. I think the way to proceed and conclude from here is to get your take on the future and have a word about what’s…next.

C-P: Where do you see your projects taking you form here?

R.P: Interesting that you ask about my future; my future as an artist as a citizen. I have been thinking about this quite a bit. I took my stay in Sweden as a pause to reflect on my position as an artist. To reflect on what it means to be an artist today. What is in the act of being an artist. How does on proceed and engage and participate. Delving back into my history, looking “back” as a way to look forward stirred some thoughts. Taking an emotional stance towards making something, which I see as an action. An action of resistance forces that bear down and attempt to define and control our behavior. Naming things. Understanding introspection as a political act. Seeing and engaging in collaborations. Retreating as an act of defiance. Using the word beauty as a method. Writing and translating might also be a way to proceed. Language. What does that look like and what does it sound like. Can you hear it? (I have always been very public and inserted my actions and work into spaces that are encountered, and I value and respond to this as a way of being. Now, I am wondering. Maybe the act is more intimate and more fragile and needs to be hidden and explored more privately with tenderness, in which case this would be very new for me.

Next month, I will be artist in residence at 18th Street Arts Center, in Santa Monica, California, where I will be working with the Zapotec weaver, Arturo Hernandez, with whom I have been collaborating for nearly two years. We will extend ourselves into a performance of spoken word and noise and create installation. This experience will also serve to form a project for X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly next fall.

I will be working together with the poet that I met in Sweden, Marie Silkeberg. We will begin with the phrase, the action, A Swedish Lesson, to initiate our project together. And I will return to Sweden in the deep winter to work on a film that I began sketching while at IASPIS. It needs to be done now before it escapes me or slips too far out of reach. Rhythm and concrete movement will define the film and my act of making this film is in many ways the performance that is needed for me to bracket. Working with the material of ideas and substance will continue. Doubt will continue. Increasingly fragile and tentative moves to establish presence and initiative help me to realize what it means to speak and define and represent and undo all again.

This may not sound so very positive or hopeful and considering actions committed by my government of late it is stunning to even make it out of bed. Not that positive or hopeful are the defining terms of existence, but they are nevertheless often ways to revive and instigate. I feel a sense of weakness and ineptitude, even a bit of reluctance. The animal is in the cage and it paces back and forth.

Renée to Ashik: “A BIT MORE IM AFRAID”, September 15, 2019. Regarding the recent questions that you posed and that I began to answer, I reflect on my 'downward turned' note. And that I find ok. What I did not reveal was the other side; the warring that goes on and has always gone on between a very interior development and an external engaged interaction. And this is my history, the conflict of the person and public and the need for reconciliation between them or I might say the negotiation amongst “them”.

Hence, my initial response stayed with a more interior and I could say hermetic attitude which I am leaning towards at this time. In truth, I have committed to an exteriorized group of projects. One that I have mentioned already and another, begun in theory, some years ago. An initial group of paintings. Ones, that I would term portraits; portraits of OPEC, the OAS, and NATO. These works are extremely long, long enough to allow movement to unfold the paintings from end to end, to entertain the body. They also serve as musical scores for orchestras. To be notated via the construction of the painting. The instruments for each, engaging the particular instruments of the countries portrayed. In these works, I am dedicated to a language of abstraction, taking up strategies that have been left off for some years. I feel this outreach so to speak continues my work with the project Study for a Representation of… as translation is still dominant in the work, but with a different emphasis; an emphasis on movement and dynamism and rhythm and most assuredly “noise”.

Renée to Ashik, commenting a post on Facebook, October 25, 2019:

Your voice and astute observations always impress me and move me. I would like to depart from Facebook, but you keep me coming back.

Ashik to Renée, commenting on the comment, Facebook, October 25, 2019

Bless you! I’m literally sitting at home 9.29 pm this Friday. 20 minutes away from e-mailing you a final draft of a text we began May 1. That is nearly six months ago. How crazy is that? You’re so kind, thank you. I appreciate it. And I’m so happy people will get to read your thoughts and hear your voice which is far more impressive than mine < 3


Full image credit for 'Prototype for the Historie(s) of Painting: (Eingrouping): Social Historical',  2004, vinyl, chalk and paint on walls. 2 parts each: 9 feet, 6 inches  x  24 feet, 11 inches, bench, plywood and foam, 94 x 28 inches, text, 8 ½ x 14 inches.

This work is part of a series begun in 2000, commenting on museum installations and arrangements of artworks within collections. Utilizing vinyl and drawing as a means to create an installation, at one to one scale, depicting artworks organized in this instance by title.  Using ‘social historical’ as a framework, each title, of a work of art, poetically refers to conditions that evoke a commentary on social and historical conditions.  The composition overlaps  rectangular shapes referring to works of art set hung in a gallery, including wall paper and other references to the conditions of the gallery space, such as vents and wainscoting. The colors of each rectangle are the most dominant color found in each artwork referenced. Eingrouping refers to this particular arrangement.

I Live, I See. 79” x 79”. 1982. Eric Bulatov. Oil on canvas. Private collection, Bern

The Third of May,1808. 8’9” x 13’4”. 1814-1815. Francisco Goya. Oil on canvas. The Prado Museum, Madrid.

Pleading. 46 3/4” x 66 1/4”. 1988. Jeff Wall.  Color photograph. Vancouver Art Gallery.

Whose Values? 8’x 10’. 1992. Barbara Kruger. Photographic silkscreen on paper. Collection of the artist.

The Arrest (1). 36” x 49”.  1988.  Gerhard Richter.  Oil on canvas.  

Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge. 49” x 69”. 1920.  El Lissitzky. Lithograph.  Lenin Library, Moscow.

With Malice Toward None; With Clarity For All. 10” x 9”. 1989. Mike Kelly. Drawing on illustration mounted on paper.  Thomas Ammann, Zurich.

White Flag. 78 5/16” x 120 3/4”.  1955. Jasper Johns.  Encaustic and collage on canvas. Collection of the artist. 

Sept. 4, 1967. (Subtitle: Museum) 14” x 20”. 1967.  On Kawara.  Oil on canvas.

Nevermore. 24” x 36”. 1897. Paul Gaugin.  Oil on canvas. Courtauld Institute Galleries, London.  

The Fortune Teller. 40 1/8” x 60 5/8”. 1632-35.  Georges de la Tour

Oil on canvas.  Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

Self-Defense. 80” x 72”. 1986. Andy Warhol. Silkscreen on canvas.

Proverbs to Live By.  12 5/8” x 16 3/16”.  1922. Hannah Hoch.  Photomontage.  Collection Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum fur Moderne Kunst. 

The Treachery of Images.  23 5/8” x  31 7/8”. 1929. Rene Magritte.  Oil on canvas.  Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with Funds Provided by the Mr. And Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection.     

Karma. 7 1/4” x 9 1/2”.  1946.  Frida Kahlo.  Pencil on paper.  Private collection, New York.

Two Crowds (With Shape of Reason Missing).  48” x 30”. 1984. John Baldessari. Two black and white photographs. Jederman Collection, N.A.

To Become That is the Question.  To Have Been, That Is the Answer.  1961.  51 1/4” x 38 3/4”.  Asger Jorn. Oil on canvas.  Private collection.

Vinyl, chalk and paint on walls


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