Rafael Vargas Bernard, Buscando donde cargar / and my electricity withdrawl, 2018, EMT conduit, EMT junction box, wood, copper wires, micro-controller board, controllable multi-outlet, speaker, servo motor, HC-SR04 ultrasonic ranging distance sensor, 2.8 watt amp, epoxy, enamel paint and programming, 60 x 45 x 30 approximately
Rafael Vargas Bernard is a young, humorous, creative residing in Miami, Florida. His work integrates performance, installation, sculpture and technology in ways that invites the viewer to both work with technology and listen into a mechanism that may provide some fresh answers to the present and future. His mannerisms are swift and direct and his intentions include the environment, all types of people and probabilities of success and failures into his work.
BB: By investigating your work, I found that your work examines the collapse and regeneration of a system/s. When I mean by that is by the structure or infrastructure collapses or destroys our reality, yet the destruction provides an opportunity for us to re-create something newer, and in your work, you do that. You create these sculptures with these robotic mechanisms that provide a new way of working. That creates a whole new language of work-ability, functionality, and structure. Do we want governmental and socioeconomic structures to collapse? Look at Venezuela, Cuba, and even Italy. These countries are facing comic strife and are in debt billions of dollars. The structure of leadership is a culprit to the corruption that exists in the economy and segregation that exists between communities. We live in a democracy that dismisses our constitutional rights and voting power. The question comes down to: will the people have the capacity to enforce their infrastructure to build the skeleton needed for the broader structure? Will "we the people" really do for the people? Is your work a metaphor to teach the viewer how to work with a new system? Is this the only window we have to prove that something new is waiting on the other side?
RVB: I consider my interactive work a call to action challenging the passive participant (viewer) to become an active participant; not only to work with a new system, but to question it and become an integral influential part of a system. My automated work has a similar approach but focuses on participation through analysis and reaction.
BB: When I look at Air Guitar synth stick, you built a sculpture that replaced an iPhone, an old record player, and cassette player. This Devo-sculpture (as I term it) is pure garbage delightfully reinvented and an example of seizing a moment of chaos and destruction to showcase humanity's intelligence by presenting how to reinvent the wheel.
I enjoy that you allow the public to participate in your work. More specifically, in your works where there is robotics. Now I know that some produce sounds and those sounds maybe something that we are familiar with or unfamiliar with. So you provide a space for the public to hear this. Moreover, within those sounds, I am sure that messages are emitted but do you think the audience is fit and ready to receive? Are we all on the same level and have the capacity to perceive those unconscious sound-waves that can give us more information and data on things that we need to do for ourselves as humanity? I am very critical on this topic. People's behaviors and social tendencies have destroyed my reality and sense of hope. I think that it is wise to psychologically challenge the viewer/opponent by informing them we are not competent enough to come out the other side, smarter, better, and wiser. I think society flaunts a self-righteous and empty attitude of "positive vibes" and evolution.
RVB: The sounds emitted by my works are directly related to and produced by the systems they are a part of and often directly affected by the participant's actions. Although the generative process and aesthetic of the sounds in my works are constructed from an intellectual and conceptual perspective, the intention is that the effect of these on the participant be abstract and emotive.
BB: Although I love the participatory opportunities, you extend to the public, my concern is; if we know our systems fail because humans err inequity, why continue giving them chances-even at play? What I critically mean by this is that not everyone has the structure within themselves to recreate or regenerate systems that benefits others too. What I see is the omission of expected or required action. The collapse of systems is a chance for others to make it better for themselves. Societies live in the constant state of Ouroboros. Through the process of collapse or devouring ourselves, a new wholeness is found, well, at least we would like to believe this idea. On May 19th you posted the image of a sculpture. The sculpture has a yellow hue, a few cables and suspended in midair. When looking at the piece, I found a few things.
One, that it resembles a chair, and a chair is an object that is designed to be practical for the user. The second thing I found about the sculpture is that it omits sound (is this correct)? The third feature I noticed is how the sculpture seems right about to fold into itself. The fourth and fifth characteristics are the sculpture serves as a shelter, a home of protection nd solace or as an object to cowardly shield oneself from outside elements- too afraid to confront. It resembles the roof of a house. One can either protect themselves from outside elements or utilize it hide underneath itTherefore I concluded that: we sit back to receive accurate or inaccurate information that may be practical for our comfort or the poison to the demise of the structure. Am I analyzing your work on a whole other level, or is my analysis somewhat correct?
RVB: Close enough to be correct
BB: Culture is learned behaviors and ways of being because we are "born into it." Systems are cultures. Many of us are accustomed to these ways, and there is a behavioral tendency or rather a "culture of comfort" as anthropologist Sarah Mahler explains that we do things based on patterns, things we know or are born into. One of those patterns is failure. The other is a success. It is the human species that has the mental capacity to reason, but we selfishly make our immediate environments, comfortable systems for ourselves because it what we inherit and know. When I examine your work, it is apparent that you are allowing a mechanical device to explore a collaborative effort with the human race. An effort that benefits both entities.I do not think that artificial intelligence is comfortable for any of us (except for those of us born into it: which is the true meaning of “culture”). We are forced to face a culture of technology we have to slowly adapted to and have done so since the 80’s (publicly). Should AI (artificial intelligence) or robotics be given a chance to change our perception to collaborations and how that can benefit us in the present to the future? After all, humans seem handicap in many areas of labor and community.
RVB: AI, AR, and robotics can help us be more productive and achieve tasks impossible without their help, but they can also make us comfortable to the point of slothfulness. We should be actively conscious of our changing systems and perceptions and take an active part in how we evolve and change as a society.
BB: In History class and the media, we are reminded of humanity's horrifically violent failures. Do your mechanisms provide the viewer to an opportunity to acquaint themselves to a mechanical future- a future where the structures tend to industrialize our ability to repair and function properly? Why give the public the power to work with such an idea of empowerment when perhaps the audience is comfortably numb and seeking a sense of entertainment in art? Do you think they take the message seriously once they have participated with your work?
RVB: I have learned to not expect. Humans are humans and will do whatever meaningless random thing satisfies their whims. My intention is to give an opportunity for direct influence over a system as a method for engaging and empowering. A person may or may not take advantage of this opportunity. The work can still be appreciated by experiencing it in use by someone else or inactive/dormant. As in "real" life, one can be present and passive and be satisfied with an incomplete or superficial experience. The viewer has the option to be as active and experience as much as they want to. No matter what, it's still Art and it's still entertainment.
BB: Some of your work reminds me of prosthetics. There is a photo on your Instagram page uploaded on May 4th where you state "Got some new helping hands." It is funny. Your assistant is only temporary and quite practical at the moment. Many of your pieces brilliantly portray the temporal environment and material (found in the fleeting moment of despair and debris) into probable, sophisticated arrangements that serve to function. I know that a large part of your creative interventions stemmed from the disaster following hurricane Maria. Although it was a dark moment and a far cry from the Emerald City, your sense of humor quenched all thoughts despair into one of finding solutions to the problem. Have you always seen the rainbow and the pots of gold in your life, or did that particular incident in your life transform you into your better version?
RVB: I have always used humor to deal with difficult subjects. But, after living through the aftermath of Hurricane Maria plus other things that were going on in my life during that time: I was better able to see the solutions, opportunities, and positive aspects of this shit-storm called life.
BB: Rafa, you are funny.
by Leigh Lemay 10/1/2019
“From her very flesh and blood and from the constant cycles
of filling and emptying the red vase in her belly, a woman
understands physically, emotionally and spiritually that
zeniths fade and expire, and what is left is reborn in unexpected
ways and by inspired means, only to fall back to nothing, and
yet be reconceived again in fully glory.”
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.
'Women Who Run With the Wolves'.
Initially drawn to Catherine’s recent work via Instagram which includes both her commercial and artistic photography, I discovered amid her impressive contemporary portraiture, some of the images from her last two art exhibitions; HER – a collaborative exhibition “showing the psychological interior and external physicality of women” (m2 Gallery, Sydney, Australia) and THE SILENT THOUGHTS OF STATUES – a solo exhibition that “investigates perceptions surrounding the sensuality of the body, aging and mortality.” (Disorder Gallery, Sydney, Australia).
All the portraits were visually absorbent (enough to draw me in). They were the pictures of veteran modern dancer, Anca Frankenhaeuser from the Statues exhibition and the self-portrait, The Last Rose from HER.
Social media is now thankfully brimming with inspirational accounts advocating female body-positivity, though it is decidedly more rare to come across older women who are being celebrated with the same tenacity. I have not seen them represented with as much finesse as Catherine achieves. Anca, a septuagenarian, defies everything we are conditioned to believe about the aging female form—that it is weak, ugly, and unsophisticated. 'A process of transformation whereby women in particular become socially invisible' (Featherstone and Hepworth, 1993). Catherine's portraits of Anca are a testament to the beauty and wisdom gained throughout a life lived, and the undeniable strength women find as they age which is so often disregarded in older women.
Influenced by a white, marble Brancusi sculpture of a face that was barely there, Catherine's ethereal photographs tell a story that you are invited to be a part of but never fully grasp. Not merely a snapshot of a brief moment in time, but a performance, they are as mysterious as they are alluring.
Catherine: “At first, I was coming from a visual place where I was interested in experimenting with creating extreme high-key (light) and very low-key (dark) imagery. Conceptually, this was to highlight the contrast of woman as the archetype of purity, with the opposing archetype of woman as Salome the temptress, or as Freud described; 'the dark continent'.
Instigated by religion, perpetuated by the patriarchy and still persisting today, the low-key images in the HER exhibition were an inquiry into the fear of erotic female power and sexuality, while the lightness of the imagery in the Statues series evolved from the notion of purity, and instead developed into a sensual exploration and celebration of womanhood, particularly in the realms of fertility and maturity.
The roses that occur throughout both bodies of work originated in the self- portrait, The Last Rose, as a motif. A representation of the last of the 'potential little lives', which served as impetus for further contemplation as I found myself transitioning into menopause. A natural process that is still largely shrouded in unspoken grief and shame.”
When you meet Catherine in person, it is difficult to reconcile that she is experiencing her own grief and shame that arrives with the climacteric. She possesses a quiet poise indicative of her background in dance. A smooth, confident grace imbues all of her movements and even her speech. She exudes an elegance and ease that show up quite spectacularly in both the performative poses in her imagery and her models of choice.
In Catherine's work I detect a sensitive negotiation of her current state. I feel privy to a tribute. A deeply relatable, tender-hearted celebration of the meaningful journey preceding this phase of her life, and a courageous welcoming of the important journey to come. It is a call to honor my own passage, and an important reminder that we as women do not share in its intricacies enough.
With Dawn Chan at MBUS (Miami Beach Urban Studios/Florida International University) after a talk, in 2015. Photo courtesy, Dr. Patel
Alpesh Kantilal Patel researches LGBTQ-themed art in Poland for Fulbright Program.
Florida International University, CARTANews
by Beláxis Buil
Edited by Dr. Alpesh Kantilal Patel
Art historian and scholar Dr. Alpesh Kantilal Patel's recently published book, Productive failure: writing queer transnational South Asian art histories (Manchester University Press, 2017 provides original commentary on how queer theory can deconstruct and provide new approaches for writing art history. He sets out to write new transnational South Asian art histories - to make visible histories of artworks that remain marginalized within the discipline of art history. However, this is done through a deliberate “productive failure” - specifically, by not upholding the strictly genealogical approach that is regularly assumed for South Asian art histories. His book also examines “whiteness,” the invisible ground upon which racialized art histories often pivot, as a fraught yet productive site for writing art history. Dr. Patel has contributed to seven anthologies and is the editor of five exhibition catalogs. Research for his book projects have been supported by grants and fellowships from (among others) the National Endowment of Humanities, Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Fulbright Foundation, Arts Council England, and New York University’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute and Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. An advocate for gender + LGBTQI equality, Dr. Patel dedicates his voice to many art magazines including Art in America, Hyperallergic, frieze, and Artforum. His scholarship, curatorial work, and art criticism have earned him a prestigious spot as an Associate Professor of Contemporary Art and Theory at Florida International University in Miami. In a recent interview we sat down to discuss a new book on which he is working as well as an anthology he is coediting, what his research means to him, and to his audience
BB: Dr. Patel, I am really excited to learn about the book you are currently working on. Can you explain what you are researching for your new book? Does the book have a title? If so, can you disclose the title, or should the reader wait until the book is officially published?
How is it different or similar to your last book, Productive Failure? What topics are you dissecting, arguing or investigating? Why?
AP:The working title for the book is provisionally titled “Transregional Entanglements: Sexual Artistic Geographies.” It conceptually started to come together for me when I realized there was a fascinating connection between two artworks I really loved: California-based Tina Takemoto’s video Looking for Jiro (2011) and Tallinn, Estonia-based Jaanus Samma’s installation Not Suitable for Work: A Chairman’s Tale (2016). Takemoto explores the homoerotica and material connected to WWII incarceration camps that are part of gay Japanese American Jiro Onuma’s (1904–1990) archive, housed in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society in San Francisco, California, whereas Samma considers documents that are culled from official Estonia historical archives regarding Juhan Ojaste’s (1921–1990) sodomy trial during the early post-war era.
Both works dealt with LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, intersex) erasures in archives yet the likelihood these artworks would be “read” together by an art historian is slight. That is, LGBTQI Asian American subjects are positioned against an unmarked heterosexual, white American populace, while LGBTQI subjects from Estonia are situated against heterosexual Estonians. What model allows for a discussion beyond vertical relationships of power within nations and for the specter of homosexuality and communism to be seen across Asian America and Estonia, rather than only within them as closed systems? “Transregional Entanglements” attempts to explore different models to think about sexual differences that are both elastic and yet always already contextualized. It will focus on artworks examining Asian American, African American, and Latino LGBTQI subjectivities as well as artworks outside of Euro-America that are often marginalized (such as those from eastern Europe and Asia, in particular.)
My first book, Productive Failure: Writing Transnational South Asian Art Histories was about thinking about new ways of writing specifically queer and transnational South Asian art histories. “Transregional Entanglements” focuses on the entire planet. To be clear, this monograph is not about “inclusion” or ensuring “diversity” in a conventional sense. It is intent on creating new relations between and among artworks concerned with LGBTQI issues in regions often seen as bound spaces. Each chapter deliberately stages collisions and encounters between aesthetic practices that may appear unrelated at first glance. It does so to enact, perform, and instantiate cross-cultural contexts for sexual artistic geographies and thereby to bring into being a new world of intimacy and relationality across multiple times and spaces.
BB: Aside from the robust cohort of scholars such as Marsha Mekimmon, Roland Barthes, or artists Cy Twombly or Navar Bhavsar in your last book, who can the reader find in your latest endeavor of research? I know that you draw on important figures or scholars within the arts, but what about outside the field of art? I am aware of your strong, interdisciplinary background whilst studying in London. I also enjoyed how you intersect various subject matter in Productive Failure. Quite frankly, I am anticipating that again.
AP: I will draw a lot on writings on creolization, particularly those of Martinican-born poet and theoretician Édouard Glissant. Creolization references the process of cultural mixings in the Caribbean that come as a result of slavery, plantation culture, and colonialism. However, Glissant believed that creolization could refer to a broader set of sociocultural processes not only in the Caribbean but also “all the world” (Tout-monde). Moreover, art historian Irit Rogoff has gestured towards the usefulness of creolization as a theory in constructing global art histories, too. With the exception of Rogoff’s work, there surprisingly has been little engagement in the art world with creolization since the three-day workshop “Créolité and Creolization” took place in St Lucia as one of the platforms of Documenta 11 in 2002. As such, my project can make a real contribution to the consideration of creolization as useful in writing art histories.
AP: I started working on my first book in 2006. It wasn’t until 2015, though, that I began to write the final manuscript which I’d submit a year later. I’m expecting this next book to take less time to get out in the world, especially since I already have published three chapters in various anthologies--Global Encyclopedia of LGBTQ History: A-F, edited by Howard Chiang, 2019; Globalizing East European Art Histories: Past and Present, coedited by Beáta Hock and Anu Allas, 2018; and Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories, edited by Amelia Jones and Erin Silver, 2016—that I will re-work for the new book.
All of my chapters beyond these are clearly mapped out at this point, too. They will be broken up into five thematic sections, each one organized around a concept from the aforementioned scholar Édouard Glissant’s rich lexicon, which adds texture to his conceptualization of creolization. The concepts I have chosen are “archipelago,” chaotic “root,” “opacity,” “errantry,” and “Tout-monde.” These terms provide a loose but important optic through which to examine a broad array of artists' works (paintings, video, installations, drawing, performance and photography) and to a lesser degree, events and exhibitions. I am hoping to start completing strong drafts of various chapters by the end of summer. If I can do that, then that bodes well for the book being published sooner rather than later. At the same time, I’m trying to be patient. You can’t rush research and you have to be open to the unexpected.
BB: As the reader situates into the new book, will she/he find past research integrated within the chapters, or perhaps woven into the new research? How about past sources and scholars? For example, in Productive Failure you draw in the reader’s attention by expressing your interest in Cy Twombly’s artworks and Roland Barthes’s writing suggesting a queer understanding in sexuality’? Will the reader find Twombly and Barthes in the new book? If so, how are you integrating both subjects this time around?
AP: “Transregional Entanglements” has a similar sensibility to Productive Failure in that it is interested in the philosophy of how one puts together an “art history.” The new book interrogates the limitations both of LGBTQI art histories and global art histories, both of which are constructed as mutually exclusive to a large degree. Beyond that, though, the book will have a whole new set of artists whose works I will explore including those of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, based in San Francisco, California and of Pakistani and Lebanese descent; DJ Arshia Haq, based in Los Angeles, California and of Pakistani descent; Jaanus Samma, based in Tallinn, Estonia; Pepe Mar, based in Miami, Florida and of Mexican descent; Karol Radziszewski, based in Warsaw, Poland; Salman Toor, based in New York City and of Pakistani descent; New York artist Chitra Ganesh based in Brooklyn, New York and of Indian descent; Thanh “Nu” Mai and Aiden Nguyễn, based in Saigon; LatinX artist Xandra Ibarra, based in Oakland, California; Cassils, based in Los Angeles, California; and Ebony C. Patterson, based in Kingston, Jamaica and Louisville, Kentucky.
BB: You had an amazing book signing last year at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida. Have you considered a book signing in the UK or touring a few cities within the US?
AP: In November of 2017, Atif F. Sheik and Neha Ghosh kindly hosted the launch of the book at the non-profit Twelve Gates Arts (PA) of which they are co-directors/founders. It included a discussion with queer South Asian art historian Natasha P. Bissonauth. Twelve Gates Arts’ programming overlaps with many aspects of my book so it was an ideal place. Beyond that, I’ve had an opportunity to present parts of my book in universities in the US and Western Europe. I would really love to do a book tour in England given two chapters of the book deal specifically with the city of Manchester in the Mid-lands.
On another note, I’ve been so honored that the monograph has been an inspiration for artists. For instance, artists Chitra Ganesh and Sung Hwan Kim highlighted the book in their artwork/text piece “Between You and Me: Chitra Ganesh and Sung Hwan Kim,” in Artpractical.com (August 2018) and Shelly McMahon and Katrina Wu used the book as a point of departure for their exhibition, Full Disclosure, during Munich Jewelry Week (March 2019).
BB: What about broadcasting live readings from your book? I mean, Podcasts and Radio are such a fantastic way to share your work to a broader audience. You could even open up the reading via a phone line for the readers/audience to call in and ask questions. People love engaging with the original creator, writer or a specialist for some one-on-one time. It also allows the individual to become more acquainted with you. Furthermore, it is also such a great way to ‘workshop’ your research with other minds: whether like-minded or not. Geez, I wonder where I learned about work-shopping with others from (Dr. Patel copyright-all the way!).
LOL. I recently did an interview with performance art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg. We spoke for about 90 minutes about her life for this anthology Storytellers of Art History I am co-editing with Yasmeen Siddiqui. The monograph is part of Sharon Louden’s book series, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life, which is based on her best-selling eponymously titled anthology focusing on artists. I sent off the audio to get transcribed. When I got the transcription, it felt like something was lost. It underscored to me how important someone’s voice can be to how we experience his/her/their words. Oral and written language aren’t the same. So, I think you are right—podcasts and oral interviews seem so important.
BB: Work-shopping one’s work is something you have professed in your classroom to students. It is definitely a marvelous skill, or let’s call it a ‘healthy habit’ to acquire for any professional practice and research. Did one of your mentors teach you this healthy habit-or, did you just naturally perform this skill without anyone having to teach you?
AP: I would receive copious comments on my writing from my PhD advisor (and now a dear friend) the brilliant feminist art historian Amelia Jones. Her informed and regular feedback every few months was such a gift. She was tough, but I’ve never had anyone take my writing so seriously. I also knew that my experience was exceptional: most of my peers did not have supervisors who engaged as deeply as Amelia did with my writing. So, when I started teaching, I wanted to give the kind of feedback she did. Students deserve it. Of course, a PhD thesis is completed over 3-5 years, so I’ve had to adapt what work-shopping might mean for those writing MFA theses, which is completed over one semester.
BB:Dr. Patel, do you have any words of advice for young and old writers who would like to publish?
AP: Find a group with whom you can workshop your writing before you submit your manuscript to a publisher. A group will keep you motivated, too.
BB: After this book can we expect another one- or would you rather take a long vacation, somewhere far, far away?
AP: Well, writing at its best can be like being on a vacation. LOL. Seriously though, I should elaborate on the anthology Storytellers of Art History (Intellect, expected 2021) I referenced above. The writing of histories is effectively about storytelling, which by its very nature is incredibly subjective and often fictional. Yet, histories are usually taught and presented as inviolable truths. The 32 contributors to this anthology all emphasize that art history is always already multiple. The make-up of our contributors reflects that in addition to art historians, archivists as well as curators and artists have always played a central role in the writing of art histories.
Each individual has provided short, often very personal contributions indicating how they began to become passionate about their practices. Indeed, another way in which histories function more honestly as stories is if the authors become visible. The contributors responded to the same prompt in a multitude of surprising ways. The stories take various forms--a letter written to a friend, the pastiche of image and text, a children’s fable, interviews, co-authored narrative, memoir, and apology.
This anthology includes not only the voices of those who have been shaping histories for decades—such as the aforementioned RoseLee Goldberg, critic Lucy Lippard, and artist Juana Quick-To-See Smith but also those who are mid-career or just beginning to make contributions to the field—such as the co-founder of Hong Kong-based Asia Art Archive, art historian Gloria Sutton, archivist Joshua Franco, and artist Viet Le. Overall, we have twice as many women than men given our strong interest in amplifying the voices of women so that they cease to be erased. More than half of the contributors focus on gender as well as sexuality, both long ignored and often censored in dominant art histories.
BB: :) Super.