Exquisite Details

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Always one to find meaning in the details, I am bewitched by Alex Da Corte’s Die Hexe at Luxembourg & Dayan. With every surface exquisitely considered, I am reminded in a flash of the spaces that have had a long lasting effect on me. Da Corte satisfies the desire to be transported through a medley of experiences that are both familiar and completely foreign, grabbing on to something known and then turning it on its head and giving it a spin, a cause to reconsider. Honing in on Da Corte’s remarkable ability to capture an aesthetic moment, in my progression I attempt to add another layer of detail. From grandmothers house in a retro t-strap Dolce & Gabbana gingham to a dominatrix den in Stella McCartney’s metallic magenta I go. I pass through a 70’s supermarket in a jolt of kaleidoscopic Valentino sandals, finding myself in a mint green house of mirrors with a quirky pair of Sophia Webster sandals marked with festive flourishes. A bittersweet end to my unforgettably twisted arthouse shoe fantasy.

Shoes clockwise from top left: Stella McCartney metallic magenta pumps, Sophia Webster printed wedge sandal, Valentino rainbow plexi-heel sandal, Dolce & Gabbana gingham t-bar pumps

Luxembourg & Dayan, Alex Da Corte, Die Hexe

Photos by Robert/Michael

What Dreams May Come

My obsession runs deep for Alex Da Corte’s environmental masterpiece Die Hexe at Luxembourg & Dayan. Here he has created an architectural intervention of dizzying detail which spans through three-stories setting five immersive scenes. The circular plot unfolds like a movie oscillating between horror and bliss conveying a feeling of something hauntingly elusive. Having visited the installation several times, once with an extended stay, I was taken each time by a different experience. The first was visual overload, my eyes popped with glowing peach gingham wallpaper, plush purple carpet, seafoam velvet walls and patterned linoleum. Then there were the scents ranging from warm apple spiced nostalgia to the sterile minty rebirth of Listerine. What remained were the objects that surpassed their own aura, some pieces from Da Corte’s own spirit artist’s such as Robert Gober and Mike Kelley others from the neighborhood bodega. All swirled into a seductive realm of coexistence, an addictive cycle of emotions reminiscent of the time I was entranced by this Mike Kelley Video at MOCA. Clicking my way through there is no place like Da Corte’s Kansas.

Shoes in order of appearance: Opening Ceremony blush pink grunge platform sandal, Stella McCartney metallic magenta pumps, Valentino rainbow plexi-heel sandal, Dolce & Gabbana gingham t-bar pumps, Sophia Webster printed wedge sandal, Derek Lam denim dress, Jin Soon nail polish in charme

Luxembourg & Dayan, Alex Da Corte, Die Hexe

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Makeup by Jessica Sanner, Video by Robert/Michael

Illustrious Meaning

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Basquiat’s public persona is a legendary part of eighties pop culture and art world fame. He parodied racial stereotypes and aimed to expose racist attitudes through his art, appearance and pithy graffiti phrases. There is little doubt that Basquiat was acutely aware of his public image and conscious of the effect created by his work, words and actions, but the general public, until recently, only had access to his public side, the artfully constructed exterior. We understand Basquiat through his publically exhibited work, interviews and performances.

Brooklyn Museum’s new exhibition Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks offers us an unprecedented look inside Basquiat’s private creative process, in which the viewer can look at 160 individually framed pages of the artist’s notebooks dating between 1980 and 1987. When an artist cultivates a public profile the way Basquiat did, having an opportunity to glimpse behind the curtains is especially intriguing. It’s a rare opportunity to gain insight into how the artist developed his ideas and evolved creatively.

This well curated exhibition highlights the very cohesive relationship between the private notebooks and the fully realized works. Basquiat’s creative ability was multi-faceted, ranging from culturally diagnostic graffiti, experimental new wave music, performance and verite cinema, collage, drawing, neo-expressionist painting and writing. The exhibition underlines the fact that regardless of Basquiat’s creative format, language and text played a key role in his process and work. Text functioned both as intellectual substance and as a formal visual device.

The notebooks reveal the multiple ways text played out in Basquiat’s thought process. His handwriting, usually upper case, was controlled and beautifully crafted, with a poetic and graphic spatial sense. He played with words and thoughts like volatile constructions that could be built up, welded together, emphasized, repeated, negated and dismantled all within an orderly page. As we look we can see ideas being worked out, observations being recorded, and certain narratives being distilled and refined. Everything was written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator and written in fragments, like lyrics, poetry or a written version of scatting. And what we consistently see is his uncanny ability to convey the essence of something.

An essence that commanded a pairing of strength and ingenuity, a match I found in the free-spirited innovation of the Japanese brand Sacai. Multi-layered and thought provoking, like Basquiat, Sacai is destined to become an icon. The brand is everything at this moment and so is this look. Laden with surprises and brilliant juxtapositions, from underneath this officer’s coat falls a moment of delicate chiffon, paired with the flirty elegance of a laser cut wrap skirt. One part structured street, two parts feminine complexity and altogether fresh, this look is a mash up of polar influences. A signature that is veritably Sacai, as with Basquiat it feels exciting, vigorous and full of indelible surprises.

Channeling on this energy is an event that I am thrilled to be a part of. In honor of the upcoming Brooklyn Artists Ball at the Brooklyn Museum in which I am a dance party host, the evening promises to be magical in its fully immersive experiences of music, performance and visuals. For those of you who can, I would love for you to join me on April 15th in celebrating and supporting the museum and surrounding community that has given us so much. Also, a special thank you to Larry Warsh, who acquired Basquiat’s notebooks in the late 1980’s and has graciously loaned them to the Brooklyn Museum on the occasion of this exhibition. It was truly a thrill to experience Basquiat’s works and engage with his essence in this rare and intimate context.

Sacai military jacket, Sacai wrap skirt, Dr. Martens 1460 boot, Jin Soon Nail Polish in Tila

Brooklyn Museum, Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Makeup by Samantha Dametta, Photographs by Tylor Hou

Brooklyn Artists Ball, April 15th, Tickets Here

Chanel Forever

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The magical thing about Chanel is its transformative quality, akin to a blossom it injects you with the confidence and spirit to fully come into yourself. It pushes you to the edge of experimentation with the insouciance of a cool classic. Layer in these looks from the Spring Couture Collection and boom, I was high on Chanel three days before and after this shoot. A slave to the quest for the perfect art pairing, fate landed me in the studio of Zane Lewis. A match made in vivid color heaven, as if the fairy tale dresses had blown their sparkling pollen dust straight onto the canvas. Surrounded by my favorite collaborators, an assortment of futuristic florals and ferns from the loveliest florist, Fleurs Bella and a fantastical array of Chanel Makeup I was transfixed and transformed. My metamorphosis by Cosma De Marinis and Samantha Dametta in glittering detail below.

Samantha Dametta: The floral Chanel Couture stunners inspired the looks for Pari’s makeup. Soft yet alluring this makeup creates an air of modern romantic whimsy. Always remember there are no rules for makeup, other than to experiment and have fun!

Look One: Lending from the rainbow petals and in the spirit of spring, I chose to subtly accentuate Pari’s features with soft floral colors.

The Eyes: I used powder blush on the lid, 68 Rose Ecrin, blending it with the lightest (white) color in the L’Intemporel de Chanel eyeshadow palette. The white works as a highlight under the brow. Next, 92 Diapason Illusion D’Ombre, patting it in the outer corner of Pari’s eye and blending it into the crease. Cream shadows are great for building color and depth. Then, I layered the purple in the L’INTEMPOREL DE CHANEL eyeshadow palette on top of the cream shadow. Finally, I tight lined the top lash line with the E’criture de Chanel eyeliner pen in noir; this helps create a fuller effect for the lashes. To finish the eye I used the Le Crayon Jeux 12 in Violet Smoke on the bottom water and lash line.

The Cheeks: I used 02 Rose Bronze powder blush not only on the apples of the cheeks but also along the cheek bone and temple to contour the face.

The Lips: Lastly, to polish off the look I used 78 Interlude Rouge Coco Shine on Pari’s Lips.

Look Two: My personal favorite, for this look bursting with red blossoms, I felt it was the moment to bring out Pari’s inner wild! Her eyes are stunning so I really wanted to go for a smokey more sultry look.

The Eyes: I started by applying a sheer coverage of the cream shadow 92 Diapason Illusion D’Ombre on the lid. I packed on the purple from the L’INTEMPOREL DE CHANEL eyeshadow palette and blended upwards to the crease. To darken the crease I layered the navy and purple. Blend from outer corner, up past the crease just a little to achieve a smokier eye. I also used the navy into the inner corner of the eye. After lining the top and bottom lash line with the E’criture de Chanel eyeliner pen in noir and Le Crayon Jeux 12 in Violet Smoke, I smudged out the bottom liner with the navy shadow. This creates a plum and navy smokey look that plays off the gorgeous reds.

The Cheeks: To keep the focus on the eyes, I used a light sweep of the powder blush in 68 Rose Ecrin on the apples of her cheeks. To find the apple of the cheeks, smile and blend back to the ear for a diffused look.

The Lips: I used 79 Saga Rouge Coco Shine. I wanted to add some dimension to the lip so I added a bit of the powder blush in 64 Pink Explosion to the inner pout.

Look Three: To me the most romantic and dreamy look with the apricot tulle cape, I wanted to keep her eyes and face soft with the focus on a pretty pout.

The Eyes: I kept the eyes simple with a few sweeps of the 68 Rose Ecrin and 02 Rose Bronze powder blush for a color wash of rosiness. I smudged out the bottom lash line with Le Crayon Jeux 12 in Violet Smoke.

The Cheeks: I used power blush in 64 Pink Explosion for a flushed look.

The Lips: The concept was to create a beautiful, playful lip. I lined Pari’s upper and bottom lip with Chanel Aqua Crayon lip color stick in Raspberry Red, filling and fading the color from the outer corners of the lip. If you leave the center of the lip lightest this makes the lips appear bigger. Finally I used 91 Boheme Rouge Coco Shine lipstick to finish off the look with a deep rose pout.

Cosma De Marinis: I was thinking for this dreamy Chanel Couture Collection full of colorful details and mysterious shapes for look one the hair needed to carry a sense of empowerment. The branch gave me the feeling of conquest also the idea that maybe in slow motion the flowers were falling onto the dress.

Look Two: In this look the Chanel garden was so exotic that it took me to a rainforest and in my imagination the wild texture of the curls wasn’t even wild enough so I had to add leaves, the fern. I wanted to create hair styled by the wind and with the spiked leaves I thought it looked almost heroic to carry them on the back behind the shoulders. I love the result of the big hair and the height above the head.

Look Three: The dress was so inspiring, like a wedding dress maybe, I applied moss because it’s so pure, I love the texture and the smell. The big leaf in Pari’s hand is the modern girl’s new bouquet, bringing in green means bringing in nature. I knew I wanted to work with the greens to compliment the bright apricot.

All looks: Chanel Spring 2015 Couture Collection, Makeup:Chanel Beauty

Zane Lewis, Studio

Upcoming: Galerie Hussenot, Zane Lewis, April 25 – June

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Florals by Fleurs Bella, Makeup by Samantha Dametta, Photographs by Tylor Hou

Color Fields Forever

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The Chanel Spring 2015 Couture Collection is all visual ecstasy on high. Bursting with intricacy and the most exquisite detailing these pieces come into their own fantastical life entirely by hand. Adorned with delicate petals and tiny beads of pollen, the looks allude to a magical garden that may never cease to exist. Staying true to Karl’s visionary, beneath all this splendor is an edge. Flat black sock booties with the ease and glide of a ballet slipper and slices of stomach convey an attitude of punk elegance and eccentric charm. A veil of mystery and wonder whose match I serendipitously found in the works of Zane Lewis.

One could look at Zane Lewis’s artistic trajectory as a metaphor for death and rebirth. His cumulative artistic output, which at first glance seems stylistically disconnected, is cohesive when looked at through this lens. Lewis’s early work consists of Neo-Pop portraits of contemporary icons, such as Brangelina, Pope Benedict XVI, and Charles Manson. The Warhol-esque images collage acrylic paint skins onto plexi glass and often incorporate vertical paint pours or “bleeds”. Lewis talks about the North American tendency to treat these figures like gods, seeing our reverence and obsession with celebrity as a kind of worship. In this narrative, the paint bleeds, which gush from the eyes, forehead or mouth become stigmata.

Then, around 2009 the aesthetics of his work shift radically. While material exploration of paint continues to be of interest to the artist, Lewis rejects iconic imagery. The new work, called Shatter Paintings, speaks of nihilism and symbolizes a candied death of false realities where paint is applied like thick, goopy icing and is laced with dangerous shards of colorful glass, or in some cases broken glass is affixed to mirrored surfaces; either way it’s a literal shattering of reflection and illusion. His work sits defiantly in this place for a while and then re-emerges in 2014 in a place of immovable stillness. Lewis’s work is reborn into a visual nirvana where celestial ethernet spaces of warm gradient static and partial rainbows pervade. The new paintings create an infinite space inside an infinitely long moment.

Interestingly, the cycle of his visual exploration runs parallel to his alleged life story. During Lewis’s young adulthood he undergoes a physical death and resurrection. Sometime around 2009 his website proclaims he is dead, and subsequently corrects the statement. After this peculiar death/rebirth his public profile diminishes significantly. It seems the timing of his “corporeal” departure corresponds with the end of his representational painting period. As there is less public information available about him, the distinction between fact and fiction in his life starts to blur.

One piece of information that consistently surfaces on the internet is the artist’s genetic connection to James Dean, who is seemingly a distant cousin. James Dean, cool, sexy and aloof, is the ultimate Hollywood icon who tragically dies at the age of 24. That Lewis and Dean are linked on sites that discuss Lewis’s art certainly adds to the construction of the myth about Zane Lewis. This link to Dean reiterates the theme of youthful death and resurrection, for after death James Dean is resurrected as a cultural icon. After Zane Lewis’s faux death, he is not resurrected, instead his paintings are. In both cases the idea of reality is present and not present. Death exists and yet it is denied, and is replaced by our fetish for youthful, cultural icons that pass before their time. Through this process they are immortalized in our eyes. Lewis smartly attaches his work to this idea.

Lewis’s metamorphosis has pushed him through the looking glass into a world beyond reflections, beyond the idea of selfhood and hierarchy. Soothing veils of soft color saturate the uniformly sized works. His new, minimal paintings flip back and forth between macroscopic and microscopic worlds, either resembling hot, glowing star fields in distant galaxies, or soft, velvety surfaces of African Violets. The color fields that seem solid from a distance break up into tiny particles when viewed up close, and if you stand in front of them long enough these fields almost emit a post-punk purr of synthesizers and haunting melodies. Although the paintings hover in a calm place, somewhere inside the calm lies a ghost from the past, a born-again punk bohemian spirit I embody on this occasion and have yet to fully reveal.

All looks: Chanel Spring 2015 Couture Collection, Chanel nail polish in Mirabella

Zane Lewis, Studio

Upcoming: Galerie Hussenot, Zane Lewis, April 25 – June

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Florals by Fleurs Bella, Makeup by Samantha Dametta, Photographs by Tylor Hou

Saba Innab: Explorations in Art & Architecture

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A Palestinian born in Kuwait and living between Amman and Beirut, Saba Innab focuses on the current condition of architecture and the central theme of displacement in her work. An artist and an architect, Saba uses her fine arts practice to explore the philosophical dimension in architecture, one in which continues to diminish in a field where priority is placed on efficiency and expansion. As an architect myself who was initially drawn to the field through fine arts, I immediately identified with Saba’s work. Further the beauty of the hand in architectural drawings and diagrams is now rarely seen and almost entirely replaced by computer aided drafting and 3d modeling. This idea of the human hand creating a human architecture is one in which I am very identified with. To underline this I paired the work with a raw-edged skirt by the exquisite Beirut based designer, Ashi Studio and a double layer chiffon top by artist and emerging designer I was thrilled to discover, Jasmin Shokrian. My conversation with Saba on her architecture based practice and her most recent works I came across at Agial Art Gallery within The Armory Show unfolds here.

PD: Who were your influences as a young artist?

SI: I have to say, although you can’t see a trace of him, I have been always fascinated by Gustav Klimt. Later on I was- and still- influenced by Russian constructivists, visionary architects such as Lebbeus Woods.

PD: You are both an architect and an artist. How do these disciplines inform each other? Do you think of them as distinct from each other, or as different facets of the same practice that allow you to explore certain themes from different perspectives?

SI: What I do as an artist is to explore the philosophical dimension in architecture that is normally missing in the everyday practice.

The problem in architecture is that it had abandoned its symbolic and allegorical potential and its ability to embrace human communication amongst them and with a bigger system, in favor of a constant pursuit of “Functional Efficiency”. This functional efficiency was soon consumed and abused by capital. This dilemma is not by any means exclusive to the region, it has become universal and becoming even existential, and rethinking building and dwelling is a constant from the last century.

However, another level to this dilemma appears here, when we talk about being landless, in refuge, in temporariness, And architecture in its current condition is not able to embrace any necessary evolution of thought.

The founder of Sociology, Ibn Khaldun opens urbanized societies with this idea: ”العمران أساسه العدل”

Which means “Justice is the foundation of Prosperity”, but the word “عمران” or “prosperity” has two roots, one means to flourish, but also means: to build, to construct, “العمارة” which is a derivative of the same word, means architecture, so justice is the foundation of architecture!

What do we do then? Could architecture perform as a form of rejection to all kinds of normalization, numbness, and subordination, only then emancipation of thought, and body and their extension to space, land, nation is possible. And being embraced by architecture is possible.

PD: You were born in Kuwait with Palestinian roots. In the 1990’s you moved to Amman, Jordan with your family, and now you live and work between Amman and Beirut. How does the experience of being fully immersed in different countries affect the way you think and how do these cultural experiences manifest themselves in your work?

SI: I would like to comment on the terminology used here first: I don’t like the word roots, because it references past tense. And when exiled and under occupation and in constant struggle, the territorial logic and notions of belongings are really different, so the word roots doesn’t quite fit in this context, I am Palestinian born in Kuwait.

My works are mainly concerned with architecture & the city, and reflect a process of reproducing a place in an analytical & critical context. This was clearly triggered by my architectural training, but I think in the beginning it was more of an urge to understand Amman, a city that was vague to me 15 years ago… So urban research was probably a tool for “belonging”…

I was approaching Amman slowly through phases. It was a transit point from Kuwait to Palestine or to Damascus in my family’s summers in the 70’s and the 80’s. Although it was the obvious and the only “refuge” after the Gulf War in 1990, still, it was not clear to me- the 10 year old- why Amman? Why Jordan!?

And as for Lebanon, I went there in 2009 to work as an architect in the reconstruction of Nahr el Bared Palestinian Refugee Camp in the north of Lebanon. The camp was completely demolished by the Lebanese army after an armed conflict with an Islamist fundamentalist group called Fath al Islam in 2007 that was hiding in the camp. The idea of camp reconstruction held such revolutionary dimension within, but it allowed for a redefinition of power relation by the Lebanese Government regarding Nahr el Bared and the Palestinian camps in Lebanon in general. My practice as an architect in this project was the trigger for “How to build without a Land”, however, the project tries to rethink building and dwelling in temporariness in a broader conceptual framework that gradually take us from the dilemma of rebuilding a camp into a further aggravated dilemma which is building, living and even dying in a state of suspension.

Rethinking building and dwelling in temporariness became a main dilemma I try to tackle in my work, and Amman is still a subject of research I am constantly feeding on in different aspects…

Through painting, mapping, sculpture & design, I try to explore the suspended states between temporariness and permanence and the variable notions of dwelling, building, & language in architecture.

PD: In your project How to build without land you consider the meaning of the word “to dwell” and how it relates to refugee camps and displaced people. You examine the word’s subtle shifts in meaning in different languages such as High German, Saxon, Old English, Arabic, where the translations range: to stay in peace, to be still, to be in peace, to reflect, to settle, to stop, his soul has stopped, pain had departed him. 1 In looking at these translations you point out the connection between dwelling/place and the body/ soul. In many ways dwelling and landlessness are incompatible ideas. How to build without land addresses the experience of human alienation, especially as it relates to Palestine. Is this project ongoing? What are you working on now?

SI: How to build without land is an ongoing project that considers the relationship of construction and land to time, to temporariness that gradually transforms- or deforms- into durability. Departing from being Palestinian, but also referencing human alienation in general, the work recognizes the impossibility of construction without land as self-evident. However, imagining such a possibility may be essential prerequisite to effecting long-due change in architecture and politics.

The work explores variable notions of “building”, whether by the physical construction of an object, or by building with “language”, through text based elements that move between the poetic, the scientific and the hallucinatory, constructing together a spatial narrative. This narrative draws a metaphoric picture around the question proposed, where everything has a connotation of failure whether in border lines, occupied lands, interruptions in movement, or in the incompleteness and suspension, as if it is something that is is set to “fail” before it even starts, but still, we are doomed by hope…

I keep producing elements that tackle the issue from different angle, the most recent elements were shown in Armory, as the two paintings Landscapes of Temporariness, and A map for a journey that is no longer possible.

But the linguistic exercise actually in arabic, which departs from the Arabic root “سكن”, which is one of the translations of “dwell”. A body of thought is constructed by” dwelling” enough on the root and its derivatives. The work departs from the direct meaning of the root. The word has two meanings; one is to “remain or stay in peace”, the other is “being still”. This linguistic complexity reveals an impossibility of dwelling, and hints at the fact that we can only dwell at the end of things or when we die. But in temporariness, even in death, dwelling is not possible.

PD: Do you feel your work has helped engage the public in a dialogue around the issues of landlessness and Palestinian refugees? What are some of the reactions you’ve experienced to your work?

SI: I hope so, but I really don’t know how to answer this…

Jasmin Shokrian double layer chiffon top, Ashi Studio couture skirt

Agial Art Gallery, Saba Innab

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Makeup by Samantha Dametta, Photograph by Jason Gringler

1. Innab, Saba, How to build without land, Agial Art Gallery, www.agialart.com, text 2012. accessed 2015.

Susan Hefuna: A Web of Influence

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The German-Egyptian artist Susan Hefuna transcends boundaries in medium and cultural identity. The strength and delicacy of her grid drawings and palmwood sculptures at Pi Artworks in this year’s Armory Focus: MENAM immediately captivated me. Her fascination with the systems that shape human interaction is at the heart of her multi-layered practice lending to work that is open and expressive. I wove in a look from the designer, Jonathan Simkhai, for whom the use of mesh is signature, and had the privilege to gain insight to Hefuna’s intuitive practice and unique world view through the following conversation.

PD: What were the formative experiences that led you to becoming an artist? Was there a specific moment in time when you realized you wanted to explore your ideas through art making?

SH: It was all very natural. I started drawing as a child, and that was when I began to express myself in ways other than words and in a language of my own. I was looking for ways to express things more specifically than with words, because I was always shifting between cultures as a child, words meant different things depending on the cultural/social context I was in. This non-verbal expression became my way to interacting with the world. I did not choose to become an artist as a profession. It was and is my way to live. I began my formal arts education in 1979, at which point I became inspired artists such as  Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, James Lee Byars, Méret Oppenheim, Kandinsky, Rebecca Horn, Paul Klee, Joseph Cornell, Art Brut, Agnes Martin, Mark Rothko, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and the Zero Movement, The Bauhaus, Joseph Beuys and the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. These are just a few influences I have had over the years as a young artist. The source of my inspiration is depending on what I am interested at a certain point in my life. Architecture, Sciences, Biology and the human body, death, all structures of life are also an infinitive source for my research.

PD: How does the experience of being fully immersed in different cultures affect the way you think and how do these cultural experiences manifest themselves in your work?

SH: I divide my time between, Germany, the United States and Egypt, but also travel all over the globe for exhibitions and research. My work is certainly inspired by different cultures. I am lucky to be able to observe cultures from a distance, it makes me aware of structures on several levels. Structures are the frameworks of my work. It can be in my drawings or for example in works such as the project Mapping Wien where I made interventions at twenty-seven locations in one year in the city Vienne, including in the streets, at the Freud Museum and at a Viennese Opernball.

PD: The late art critic and writer Robert Hughes once said, “Drawing never dies, it holds on by the skin of its teeth, because the hunger it satisfies – the desire for an active, investigative, manually vivid relation with the things we see and yearn to know about – is apparently immortal.” Drawing is a very important part of your practice. Can you talk about how your investigation of drawing has evolved over the course of your career?

SH: As I mentioned before, I started to draw as a child. It was a way to survive and to communicate with the world. Creating my own global language beyond words. In a drawing you cannot conceal anything. It is impossible to lie in a drawing. The drawing shows everything. A drawing has no nationality, there is not time and space. It is its own universe. I always say: look at the drawings by an artist and you know everything about the artist. All I can say is that I have to draw. I’ve always drawn and will continue to make drawings. My drawings sustain me.

Since 1991 I have regularly composed ink works on several layers of tracing paper, inspired by the architecture and people of the urban landscape I am working in at that point in time.

For these works I need time to prepare before I actually begin drawing. The active time of “not doing” is as important as the activity of actually “doing” the drawing. My method is to start with one dot and from there connect more dots and lines. When I start, I do not have an image in my mind, and I do not make a sketch beforehand. The drawing unfolds in front of me. I don’t correct or redo it. This method needs a high level of concentration.  A very exciting project was NOTATIONOTATIONS which was performed at the drawing center NYC in September 2013. The Drawing Center’s Director, Brett Littman, invited the choreographer Luca Veggetti and myself to produce a project that was between drawing and dance.

PD: Many of the abstract forms in your work are inspired by networks and structures found in the public sphere in Egypt. These forms are often altered and beautifully abstracted, creating delicate visual webs. Interestingly, your work has received a different reception depending on where you’ve shown it. What has your experience been like exhibiting your work in different cultures? Can abstract forms transcend cultural narrative?

SH: I was always attracted to the abstract form of structures – that of molecules, DNA or modules – those details in science that illuminate us about the bigger structure of life and I discovered similarities to architectural shapes I observed in Cairo.

In 1992 I had my first solo exhibition in Egypt. This was a key experience for me. It was when I became aware of how different the reaction to the same work could be when shown in different contexts. From then on, my works are enriched by dual feedback. I include different layers of meanings, cultural codes more and more into my work. It has become part of my work to play with different cultural codes. There is no innocent view. Viewers see what they know.

PD: Ghostly photographs of the mashrabiyas screens, as well as drawings and sculptures inspired by the screens are a common theme in your work. The graphic patterns and organic geometry of this work engage the viewer while also creating a visual barrier. The screen both reveals and conceals what lies behind it, and so the viewer is prompted to both look at it and through it. By creating different frameworks for the viewer to look at and through do you intend for the viewer to become conscious of the act of looking and more aware of the lens she sees the world through?

SH: There is the element of layers in many of my works, even if I use different medias.

The photographs you refer to were made with a pinhole camera on Cairo’s streets between 1999 and 2001. I actually developed the films in the streets, meaning they got contaminated with the dirt and dust of the streets, they became like windows with different layers. The viewer has to look very carefully at the images to discover that they show contemporary life, and not the past. I played with the black-and-white aesthetic, with time, with clichés, and with different cultural readings of the photographic images in order to deconstruct them. 

Similarly, I also work with layers in my drawings, using tracing paper.

In the wooden screens, words are interwoven into the structure, Language and Architectural structure functions as a filter between the inside and the outside space. Between the observer and the observed.

PD: Your standing screens, which often incorporate text, allude to the idea of Art as dialogue. The screens, which can be viewed from two sides embed text from different languages; Arabic, English and German. Depending on the viewer, the language or the significance of the phrases embedded in the screen may not be familiar. By employing text from different languages you emphasize the dual relationship that exists in language between inclusion and exclusion. We all possess an instinct to process information and to assign meaning to what we see, but sometimes we are not capable of understanding what is in front of us due to a difference in educational, cultural or language background. Can you talk about this idea in your work?

SH: You can see my works as “Meditation screens”. From a distance, you can read words and phrases, sometimes the words act like patterns, if the viewer cannot understand the language. As closer the viewer gets to the screen, the words disappear and the pattern becomes an abstract image.

Often I use phrases that I try to truly understand myself, such as “silence forever”, “patience is beautiful”.

The viewer plays an active role in observing the screens. There is not “the one meaning” of the work, as there is not “one truth” there are always multiple possibilities of meanings and of observing. I am not interested in labeling or judging things, instead I am interested in the possibility of multiple layers of meanings existing within a work at the same time.

I think if the viewer starts to forget clichés and tries to observe the present moment, she/he can definitely become more aware and conscious.

Jonathan Simkhai Fall 2015 collection top & skirt

Pi Artworks, Susan Hefuna, Untitled 2014

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Makeup by Samantha Dametta, Photograph by Jason Gringler

An Interview with the Curator: Omar Kholeif

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For the last 6 years the Armory has curated a section focused on artists from, or with roots in, one part of the world. This year the focus is the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean (MENAM). Many cultural spaces exist within this large geographic region, containing a multitude of languages, dialects, religions and rich histories; it is also a region where political borders have been drawn and redrawn many times. Being of Iranian descent, I took a special interest in exploring the depth and complexity of art from this region as well as creating my own focus for the curation of designers both established and emerging with roots in MENAM. For part one of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing the curator, Omar Kholeif of London’s Whitechapel Gallery. The intense aesthetic experience of Mona Hatoum’s Turbulence (black) at Alexander and Bonin inspired the first pairing with Elie Saab’s lavish ombre. Hatoum’s piece, composed of thousands of black glass marbles, renders an experience that is familiar yet alien, a questioning of one’s self in relation to the whole, a call to disrupt the ordinary.

PD: Armory Focus aims to create a much needed platform for artists from MENAM in order to explore the depth, complexity and diversity of art from the region. But when it’s not possible to represent the full spectrum of what MENAM is, or to represent the vast number of important and influential artists from across the region, what becomes the criterion for selection? What is your conceptual framing for this exhibition?

OK: Any project about geography or territory is hardly ever definitive, which is why I believe curators are important to think about how a story is woven through a particular context and enable different meanings to emerge. With every survey, I try to think of particular artistic figures who emblematize particular periods, key artistic movements and techniques and consider how those approaches dialogue with one another. It is this constellation of approaches that I think can define art from a particular place.

PD: In the past the geographic region of the Armory Focus has ranged from very small or specific, such as Focus: Berlin 2010, or Focus: America 2012, to very large and complex such as Focus: Latin America 2011 (20 countries). Ultimately, when looking at a geographic region as large as the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, which is comprised of well over 25 countries, is it possible to achieve a real focus, or do certain regions become marginalized because of the wide lens?

OK: The intent here is not to think of margins or peripheries but to consider how one can think of a snapshot of a broad region and the complexity’s that are inherent within such a space, through presenting a multiplicity of works by different artists from different time periods.

PD: Would you say there are significant differences between American and European approaches/attitudes towards curating a show from the MENAM region?

OK: I do not believe in making sweeping generalizations. I believe that each individual brings their own subjectivity to the context of a particular region or movement. Ultimately it depends on the approach of the curator and how thoroughly she or he is in a subject, how they develop their research and their curatorial presentation.

PD: You co-curated the 2012 Liverpool Biennial, and are curating the Cyprus Pavilion for the upcoming Venice Biennale. Can you elaborate on how the experience of curating something like Armory Focus, which exists within a commercial venue, is different than curating a biennial?

OK: It’s very similar in many respects in that I always start with artists and their work and then open up to broader context and think about how those works dialogue with each other. I am not involved in the commercial aspects of a fair in any way so it’s not something that weighs on me. However, what is different I suppose is that because the FOCUS is in the context of a wider fair and as such, I have attempted to make sure that the narratives within the individual booths and projects also stand independently as well as work together in a grouping seen together.

PD: In the last decade cultural boycotts have become increasingly prevalent in the art world as a way of protesting human rights violations. As a curator, at times, you are confronted with decisions about when or if an exhibition calls for cultural boycott or if you should attempt to maintain a neutral frame. When curating an exhibition that deals with a vast geo-political region like MENAM, is the idea of neutrality relevant or important, or is this not a productive place?

OK: The whole world experiences conflict to varying degrees and it is neither the purpose nor the intention of Focus MENAM to comment on the particular nature of social or political issues coming from those regions. In fact, Focus MENAM aims to depolarize the topic of the Middle East and to consider the artists and their artwork here at The Armory Show as individual creations born from a variety of influences and variables and not purely hinging on national ties.

PD: In North America the work of male artists is privileged over that of female artists in museums, nonprofit spaces and commercial galleries according to recent studies and statistics. In the Armory Focus: MENAM exhibition almost half the artists are women. Does this in any way reflect gender representations in curatorial practice in the MENAM region, or is the Armory selection unusual?

OK: I think this is representative of the MENAM and actually quite interesting to consider that there is equality across the region between genders in terms of the critical high fine arts.

PD: The internet was hugely instrumental in the Arab Spring, allowing youth, activists and artists to exchange ideas, voice their opinions and navigate around the tightly controlled public spheres and pervasive censorship found in certain countries. Considering this legacy would you say the internet and social media holds a particularly important place within contemporary art in the MENAM region and its diaspora?

OK: I think technologies are important in every society, the world over and I wouldn’t want to make an isolated statement commenting purely on the MENAM.

PD: Lawrence Abu Hamdan has been selected as the commissioned artist for the Armory. Can you talk a bit about the importance of his work and the significance of it being shown in this context?

OK: Lawrence is one of the most urgent artistic voices working today. His practice unfolds crucial questions about our reliance on technology and its continual exploitation by sources of power, blurring the personal and the political with wry humor. His work addresses the politics of listening and seeks to question how governments and institutions use technology to present versions of the truth. The Freedom of Speech Itself (2012) and Conflicted Phenomes (2013) are two bodies of work that seek to visualize how accent tests have been used by state regimes and governments to define different individual’s asylum or refugee status. Abu Hamdan visually presents this research as inspired through graphics, sculpture, and audio documentaries. In these visual explorations, he questions how subtle nuances can completely set off these state controlled technologies in the wrong direction, hence questioning the entire structure by which states and regimes instill faith in the power of technology. It’s an incredibly powerful and incisive critique of contemporary life. His new project for The Armory Show, seeks to explore how surveillance is something embedded in everyday objects. Lawrence will also be presenting the Freedom of Speech Itself in the booth of Galeri Non.

Elie Saab top , Elie Saab skirt, Noor Fares earrings, Noor Fares ring

Alexander and Bonin, Mona Hatoum, Turbulence (black) 2014

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Makeup by Samantha Dametta, Photograph by Jason Gringler

Ryan McNamara Remix

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My first foray into styling an artist in his surround, Ryan McNamara graciously allowed me to shoot him within his show Gently Used at Mary Boone Gallery. I became enamored with Ryan after seeing his performance piece at Art Basel, MEEM 4 Miami: A Story Ballet About the Internet. A rare moment where I was completely taken out of my head and entranced by the isolated movements that were happening around me. Here at Mary Boone he has again enhanced the idea of slippage between audience and performer by activating the viewer experience in a play on the unexpected. We delve deeper with him here.

PD: The internet has changed our behavior in many ways including our brain function which has rewired itself to adapt to the mode of the internet, ultimately shortening our attention span. In your recent performance MEEM 4 Miami: A Story Ballet About the Internet you explore our current condition, mimicking the way information is transmitted, while simulating our A.D.D. by physically moving the audience around the theatre, disrupting continuity and providing multiple sources of stimulation. Can you talk a little about your thoughts on the internet and its psychological impact on the viewer? How does this influence the ways you interact with an audience?

RM: I think it may be a misconception, or just some pop sociology, that states that our “attention spans”—which is indeed a term that we take for granted—have gotten shorter. When I was growing up, there was a lot of noise on morning news programs and in magazines about the MTV generation and how their “attention spans” were being massacred by mass media. But they were talking about me, a person who was glued to MTV for hours and hours. It was one-directional attention, though. Now the call for attention has been dispersed. It’s multidirectional. But I’m still paying attention.

PD: Do you have a different set of expectations of the audience when the venue is a gallery space and the exhibition consists of static objects?

RM: I don’t expect anything of the audience. I’m just happy they showed up.

PD: I read that you often have no more than a few weeks to prepare a performance piece. With a scheduled gallery exhibition time lines change. How does your creative process differ when you have more time?

RM: Having the luxury of time obviously has its perks, namely more sleep. But there is a certain surge that accompanies a short lead time. It doesn’t give my anxiety a chance to pilfer my energy away from creating. Actually, who am I kidding. I live in a constant state of anxiety no matter what.

PD: Is there a big difference between performance and object making for you?

RM: For my show at Mary Boone, I treated the props, stills and ephemera from past projects as raw material to create new work. One of the biggest lies in contemporary art is this idea that performance is ephemeral. I had this idea that while the props and costumes were sitting inactive in bins, they desired to create their own performances. They don’t pay attention to the distinction between my different performances, so there are props from one performance that are overlaid with images from another. I looked at the images and props and costumes as raw materials, attempting to see them with fresh eyes, as if I’m excavating a site.

PD: In your past gallery exhibitions the viewer was involved in the production of the show or expected to participate in the exhibition in some way. How did you approach this show?

RM: I wanted to create a situation in which the pieces felt like they were performing as “art works.” I thought this may bring to the viewers’ minds the ways in which they are performing “audience.”

PD: When I first walked into Mary Boone everything was very still. Every sculpture, collage and painting was placed carefully within the gallery. Then all of a sudden the lighting changed. The stage lights, which I hadn’t noticed up until that moment, flashed sporadically casting subtle shadows that moved quickly across the wall. It gave an eerie feeling of another presence in the room. Then I noticed pieces of cyber technology incorporated into the work, and I realize that perhaps I was the one being watched. There is something a little bit sinister about all of this. Can you talk about that?

RM: I timed the light movements to be subtle, perhaps the viewer only sees them out of the corner of her eye. Not actually registering what happened, just that the sense of movement in what seemed to be a static room. In a way it mirrors the history of these objects; the ghosts of performances past. The spotlight is never fixed.

PD: The moving lights and shadows also had the effect of heightening my senses; I heard the ambient noise coming from the gallery office: ringing telephones, muted voices, foot steps etc. I was hearing what was “off stage”. The whole gallery had become a setting like a fun house in a carnival. I wondered if you had intentionally incorporated what was off stage into the work on stage. The ambient noise felt like it was part of the exhibition. Was this intentional? Or just a great side effect of the experience?

RM: As John Cage’s 4’33” taught us, the coughs and rustling of the audience are as much a part of the piece as the music. I’m interested in gestures that make you aware of the specificity of the space you are inhabiting. The sparseness of the gallery heightens this—all audio and visual shifts are magnified.

PD: In the past you’ve talked about the nature of performance being subversive. While an artist is performing there is an inadvertent transfer of power from the institution to the artist. The artist has complete control over what will happen and in that moment the institution becomes passive and anything can occur. I love that idea. It creates a great deal of suspense. In your current exhibition there are many elements that get upended, in some cases literally, like the billowing mass of body suits bolstering a plinth, turning the sculpture/plinth relationship on its head. You invert the nature of the Art/Viewer relationship in the show as well, where the viewer eventually realizes she is being watched, or is on stage as much as the Art itself. Do you think of yourself as a subversive artist?

RM: I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about what it would mean to be a subversive artist today. Institutions have rapidly decreased the delay between the birth of a counterculture and when they consume it, so much so that it seems silly to even use the term “counterculture” anymore. So how does someone subvert something that is welcoming her with open arms? This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like a lot of institutions.

PD: Overall there is something vulnerable about this exhibition, especially about the sculptures that are contorted, splayed, and suspended. They are anthropomorphic forms that seem to lack physical control. Although the work is also laced with humor and surprise, at its core it feels like you are exploring the idea of power or perhaps a lack of power. Is this fair to say?

RM: It reminds me of performance. As the performer, you have the power in the situation—the audience is submissive to your actions. But the performer’s craving of approval and appreciation upends that power dynamic. In the same way these pieces crave your approval.

Hagahi sweatshirt, Christopher Kane pants, Christopher Kane sneakers

Mary Boone Gallery, Ryan McNamara, Gently Used

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Photographs by Tylor Hou

Individual Existence

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Olivier Mosset’s paintings have an indelible relationship to space and time. Here at Koenig & Clinton Mosset continues his quest to draw attention to paintings for what they are asserting the space around them and one’s current state of being. Mosset’s work stands out in the history of painting in that the personality of the artist is beside the point, a painting must exist for itself. This view directly contradicts an art world which searches for a signature style and demands to know who’s who in order to assign credit and therefore value. That said, artists as the ultimate representation of a unique self are essential to society as a whole in order to create a certain striving for individualism. As a counterpoint to Mosset’s work is a new designer who I see as a visionary establishing her own unique existence, balancing timeless forms with unexpected moments and materials. In CF. Goldman’s new Fall 2015 collection she looks to the artists themselves, here Alexander Calder, the shape of his smocks and his love for monochromes. An interpretation which I always strive for that isn’t literal, but captures the essence of a creation or feeling. Bringing us back to the idea of Mosset’s paintings, of being confronted with the reality of the work/ourselves in order to assimilate something entirely new into being.

CF. Goldman dress & snoods, Paul Andrew boots

Koenig & Clinton, Olivier Mosset

Hair by Cosma De Marinis, Makeup by Samantha Jozic, Photographs by Tylor Hou