The eccentric existentialism of Nina Katchadourian – The New York Times
Nina Katchadourian is a sculptor, printmaker, photographer, performance artist, videographer, sound artist – but more than all that, she is an artist with voracious curiosity and the stamina of a marathon runner when it comes to run with an idea. In her first exhibition at the Pace Gallery, “Cumulus”, she offers seven witty, sometimes even laughing, projects. But don’t be fooled: underneath the playful aspect lie some pretty fundamental questions about how we organize knowledge to make sense of our past and present.
The New York and Berlin-based artist is a conceptualist at heart, but in the imaginative vein of Eleanor Antin, with whom she studied at the University of California San Diego in the early 90s, rather than the dry seriousness of a Sol LeWitt. But like LeWitt, she loves to put together a proposition and see it through endlessly. Some of Pace’s works were started in the early days of his 30-year career. Many haven’t been shown in New York since their first iterations; others make their debut in New York.
“Paranormal Postcards” was conceived 20 years ago when, during a layover at Oslo airport, Katchadourian decided to sew a red thread from the hands of a person pictured on a fjord to each of the ships of cruise sailing through the water below, connecting the elements in a way that created a mysterious empathy among them. Since then, the artist collects postcards from her travels and repeats the gesture where she now has hundreds of embellished images.
Each time the piece is set up, she rearranges her collection, with red dotted lines connecting the maps on the gallery walls, creating a taxonomy that looks like it came straight out of a Borges short story.
In a group, the lighthouses and towers and the torch of the Statue of Liberty are connected to boats; in another, hot air balloons are tied to the floor with red embroidery thread.
Then there are the postcards of the museum, in which the hands of the castaways in a reproduction of Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa” are all attached to the white flag of one of their lots, which salutes a small boat at the sea. ‘horizon. The hands of Balinese dancers, Ganesh statues, Egyptian hieroglyphics and Giacometti sculptures play cat cradle games. The intricate canvases suggest strange, sometimes impenetrable, undercurrents in otherwise innocuous images.
“Paranormal Postcards” is in part a travel journal, an investigation into the often arbitrary ways of classifying and categorizing information. The idea is at the heart of another project of the show, “Sorted Books”, on which Katchadourian has been working since 1993. It is about creating poetry found from the titles of books she finds in the books. people’s personal libraries. The Pace version was produced this year, at the invitation of the Isamu Noguchi Museum.
“What is modern sculpture? / Brancusi / Noguchi / Marcel Duchamp / Why Duchamp / The third dimension ‘reads a stack – perhaps appropriate for a collection by the famous modernist sculptor. “This time of morning / Oh, my sore back / your prostate” / The old-fashioned human body, “on the other hand, offers a little too much insight into how Noguchi handled the difficulties of aging.
“The genealogy of the supermarket” (2005-) is part of the taxonomy and the family tree. The ever-expanding piece is made up of the faces that adorn groceries, from the Hair for Men guy to the Red Baron of deep pizza fame to the stoic grandma featured on the Lao Gan Ma Spicy label. Chili Crisp.
Again, Katchadourian takes advantage of the apparent authority of data visualization – it’s in a graph, so it must be true – to create putative relationships between characters whose origins span time, the space and culture. (With each install on her tour, Katchadourian scours local markets to add them to the clan.) By displaying these portraits in thrift store frames and hanging them on ornate red wallpaper and faux flocked, she takes them out of the field of product design. and commerce and lodges them lovingly but firmly in our own families and homes.
Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima and the Native American woman kneeling on the butter from Land O’Lakes appear, though their images have been mounted behind semi-opaque plexiglass to indicate their “passing” – their respective companies have removed them due the evolution of sensitivity to racist stereotypes. Babies are moving from blonde hair and blue eyes to more racially ambiguous – advertising’s attempts to attract an increasingly diverse clientele. “The supermarket genealogy” may begin as a single line but ends up functioning as a snapshot of contemporary attitudes.
Elsewhere, an intaglio print titled “Lucy’s Sampler” (2020) suggests how complicated the notion of family can be, especially in the aftermath of war. The image is an exact translation in engraving techniques of an embroidery sampler made by an orphan girl of the Armenian genocide. She was adopted by the artist’s grandparents and became, as Katchadourian explains in a text below the image, his “bonus grandmother”. Katchadourian’s respectful duplication of Lucy’s gestures becomes a touching recognition of her ancestry.
The poignant character of “Accent Elimination” sneaks up on you. Six-channel video was included in the award-winning series Armenian flag at the 2015 Venice Biennale and is exhibited in New York for the first time since. On one side, three monitors show the artist, his mother and father, each speaking from scripts written by their parents that recount their origins and how they ended up meeting.
But here’s the twist: Everyone speaks with someone else’s accent. Katchadourian alternately imitates her mother’s Swedish-influenced Finnish accent and her father’s Armenian-through-Turkey-and-Beirut accent, while her parents try to master their daughter’s flat American intonation. On the other hand, three monitors show the three working with an accent coach to hone the intricacies of the various pronunciations.
Their efforts are sincere – every artist should have parents as gay as Katchadourian’s. But even they sometimes crack during filming. Their laughter raises whatever lurks in the background of their narratives, including the generational consequences of the genocide and the flight.
Like all of the works in the show, the good-natured charm of ‘Accent Elimination’ opens up deeper lessons about how the simple act of mapping out the most personal or whimsical stories can illuminate our shared culture, including the parties. incomprehensible to it.
Nina Katchadourian: Cumulus
Until June 26, Pace Gallery, 540 West 25th Street, Manhattan; pacegallery.com.