April 17th, 2018 04.17.2018

Letter from the Editor: Issue 06


You walk into an empty gallery—white walls, fluorescent lights—to encounter a series of electronic diffusers, each containing a molecule formulation designed to trigger certain olfactory receptors. You hover over their dispersions. The scents are familiar, but implacable. They transform as you try to name them, fugitive and fleeting, shifting from one fragrance to the next.

The scents produced for this exhibition, Sean Raspet’s Receptor-Binding Variations, explained at length in Staff Writer Joel Kuennen’s piece in the features section, are ubiquitous and manufactured—present in products such as detergent, shampoo, lotions, etc.—yet belong to affect, not without emotion or feeling. In experiencing his new York show, my immediate impression of these faint transmissions of scent was all of the ways they could be tied to memory: walking from a loved one’s house, the scent of their freshly laundered sweater on your shoulders suspended in the air, or the mixed aroma of your grandmother’s backyard—flowers and fruit trees, the smell of wet earth—so that you almost feel the dewy grass beneath your naked feet.

Senses trigger images. Because of this phenomenon, to translate one receptor to another, they are potent and powerful. The biological effect on the viewer of works that employ a primary sense other than sight—fragrance, taste, softness, or song—carries the possibility of transforming all of the things we do not see as a means to make an image.

Beyond synaesthesia, metaphor, or poetry, though certainly these tactics are included, what many of the works and exhibitions written about in Issue 06 of THE SEEN ask us to respond to is an increased sensitivity of our bodies in space when evoked by the senses. In my introduction to an interview with Alejandro Cesarco on his exhibition, Song at the Renaissance Society, I speak about the role of the artist as a composer, relating music not only to the grammar and approach of the pieces in this show, but to the role of the conceptual artist at large. Indeed, the similarities allow a different path to understanding many contemporary artists, whose output makes use of systems and structures—similar to the notations and instructions of sheet music—that attempt to remove the hand of the maker, yet also present these variations under the guise of a single name.

In music, after the composer vanishes, the piece continues to be conducted.

Conduction is an interesting term to apply here for at least two reasons; the first, as a metaphor for a work being performed or realized in space, as an understanding for a type of durational exhibition, and second, its scientific interpretation as an energy that is transferred from one point to another through a specific passage. As an editor, in this secondary definition, one could say that the writings within this issue conduct amongst themselves. For example, Zachary Cahill’s writing on the figure of the art critic and the rock star, following a panel organized this past September with Nadya Tolokonnikova and Ian F. Svenonius among others, or Ruslana Lichtzier’s piece on Prospect.4 traces the implications of Creolization through New Orleans’ fraught history of colonialism and slavery through jazz.

But we are also brought back to the vehicle of music as an abstraction, such as in R. H. Quaytman’s incredible installation of their exhibition An Evening, Chapter 32 at the Vienna Secession, written on by Ezara Spangl, which divides the galleries along a forty-five-degree angle dissection, with a line of paintings on the left, and a series of panels covered in perfectly reflective Steinway Black piano lacquer. In the case of this hall of mirrors, there is only a singular regression.

In Jordan Martins’ brilliant essay, which places the work of Michael Rakowitz within the structural framework of Information Theory, I am reminded of his seminal body of work, The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, and how each of the contents of the packaging materials used to craft these works were once consumed, tasted, and savored by another. Or how yeast, described by artist Philippe Parreno in his interview with Natalie Hegert, was one of the first forms of the “domestication of living creatures,” as it was used in order to make bread. Parreno’s installations hinge heavily on the nearly invisible facets of tactility—the floating fish balloons, as a marker of air passing through a given space, or the sensor touched by a ray of light to open and close a sculpture comprised of curtains. The image of a certain kind of touch is perhaps as poignant as the feeling of it, such as the “animations” of Ewa Axelrad’s interview with Alfredo Cramerotti, which concludes by picturing a series of cast concrete hand sculptures, caught and frozen in the gesture of a CPR compression.

I want to end on the piece that distills each of these senses—our cover for Issue 06, featuring Brendan Fernandes. Focusing primarily on two bodies of work, The Master and Form at the Graham Foundation, and his performative and filmic series As One, this interview with Associate Editor Gabrielle Welsh traverses the limitations and fluidity of the body through the notion of ‘queering space,’ which implies the performer and the audience not only through an identity, but also as a sculpture, implicit player, and voyeur. Music does not play. Instead, the dancers’ bodies become statuette, and melody is replaced by their breath; the shifting of the audience, the atmosphere of the architecture itself. We breathe through them. The audience and the dancers become one body, in all senses—for us to conduct, both through and between them.

Stephanie Cristello

An immense thank you to my Staff Writers, and their commitment to producing some of the most engaging and insightful pieces I have the pleasure of editing, and Associate Editor, Gabrielle Welsh, for her tireless work in assembling this edition. As always, I remain grateful to the Publisher of THE SEEN, Tony Karman, whose support allows us to continue our commitment to contemporary art criticism and theory. We are indebted to Ashley Ryann and Jason Pickleman of JNL Graphic Design—without your talent and collaboration, this publication would not be possible—and to Newcity Custom Publishing for helping to manage production and distribution.