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July 21, 2014

Alex Prager: Crowd Control

The Philosophical Artist Continues Her Transition to Film With a Brand New Premiere

“I was traveling more than ever over the past several years: airport terminals, subways stations, streets of New York and London,” says Los Angeles native Alex Prager. “I became very aware of the crowds of people and how my emotional and psychological state really determined what I noticed in the crowd and how I absorbed it.” Channeling the personal experience into her latest short film, Face in the Crowd, taken from her M+B- and Lehmann Maupin-exhibited show of the same name, the artist allows viewers to witness the before and after of one of her saccharine-coated, Golden Era-indebted photographs. The melodramatic clip––shown here for the first time––has echoes of the famous last scene in Fellini's 8 ½ and sees 30 Rock actress Elizabeth Banks play an all-American beauty observing a cast of exhibitionist characters before finding herself thrust among them. “Every time I'm in New York I'll have a moment like this,” says Prager. “The second you leave your house you are confronted with a crowd. The choice you have is to either let it swallow you up, or use it as inspiration.” 

Can you tell us a bit more about how the film came about?
Alex Prager: I was dealing with a very visceral reaction to public speaking––stage fright––something I didn't know I had until I was suddenly confronted with an audience. I've always had a strong interest in crowds; I had been wanting to shoot crowds for years, but I wasn't trying to just re-enact crowds that we've seen before, I was trying to create a staged world for these crowds to live in. I wanted to construct crowds that brought the feel of the cinematic, a manufactured world, and meld them with reality. 

How do you cast the picture-perfect scenes?
AP: I use my friends, people I found in cafés or on sidewalks, as well as go through casting companies to find professional extras. My sister was the only person who was in every single crowd shot dressed as a different character. She is the Where's Waldo in Face in the Crowd.

What was the last crowd you encountered?
I went to Art Basel in Switzerland a few weeks ago because the exhibition was being shown with Lehmann Maupin at Art Unlimited. I did a panel discussion for the Salon Sessions. These things always feel a bit overwhelming before I go on stage, and then gradually, as I look out and start to notice individuals, it becomes less and less intense.

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Jenny Holzer: Light Stream

Documenting the Neo-Conceptualist's Largest Kinetic Work in Hong Kong

New York artist Jenny Holzer’s LED slogans rise and fall to a John Cage soundtrack in today’s short from director Ringo Tang. Using an aesthetic that mixes Bladerunner’s visions of the postmodern megalopolis with The Matrix’s cascading waterfalls of code, Tang has constructed a video montage of Holzer’s latest polychromatic show Light Stream at Pearl Lam Galleries in Hong Kong. “I want to share the way I feel about her work with more people,” says the filmmaker, “and make them think more deeply about the value of the world.” Holzer first rose to prominence in 1982 when she showed her text works on the massive Spectacolor screen at Times Square, becoming part of a highly influential generation of female artists including Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Louise Lawler. “Light Stream” is her largest ever LED installation, comprising of three of her own classic texts—Truisms, Survival and Living—which appear in both English and Chinese and dance around her spiraling minimalist sculptures in eight-hour cycles of mechanical writing. “I became addicted to electronics,” says Holzer of her attraction to working with LED. “I just like looking at them, and making them do tricks.”

Why do you like to use such a variety of materials?
Jenny Holzer:
I like to provide different opportunities for people to read. When someone traces text cut in stone with their hand, that’s a very different experience to when one sees something in light flashing by. I might choose stone if it’s a text that’s meant to be immemorial, but if it’s a series of poetry I might want to use projected light. When a poem in light caresses a building, or floats across a river and glides over trees, it can be just right.

How do advances in technology change the way you work?
First I started with street posters because they were available to me and seemed to make sense for the sentences I was writing. After I did that anonymously for a number of years I had, really almost by accident, a chance to put something up on the big sign at One Times Square. So I had to think about what the change meant when I went from an underground medium, the poster, to an official one, the LED that’s typically used for advertising or the news.

What inspired “Light Stream”?
I wanted a piece to occupy space. My first electronic signs were very simple ones that would hang flat on the wall and I could program them on my kitchen table. I wanted to make this one more sculptural, to have a physical presence, probably because I was looking back to minimalism and my admiration for Donald Judd. I arranged my sculptures in arrays; some look like the human body, like ribs for example, other times it’s more about geometry. My next installation is the first that will wrap all the way around, so the text can break loose and go crazy. But I haven’t shown it yet; it’s still in the laboratory!

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Trick of the Trade

An Abstract Ode to Photographic Craft from Michael Bodiam

It’s impossible to look at a set of images without bringing yourself into it. The argument you had with your partner that morning, the flighty thought of hooking up with your confidante at Art Basel Miami or the inescapable fact that this Christmas is your turn with the in-laws. Michael Bodiam’s series The Tools We Use invites you to step on the merry-go-round of synaptic thought. What are we looking at? A Takashi Murakami origami monster? The set for Tron: Legacy II? A 3D dancefloor? Our minds try to make sense of the images, whether the curled photographic paper makes you think of Yves Klein’s “1959 Untitled Monochrome” or simply a stolen kiss; whether the smoke billowing out of a curtain reminds you of a forbidden cigarette you sucked on surreptitiously. Bodiam stumbled upon the subject matter while looking for something to photograph with art director Yarra Jones.  “When you try to shoot something that’s commercially relevant, you need an object,” he says. “I soon realized, I had an enormous collection of design items, in the form of the photographic equipment that I spend my days with. We had what we needed already.”

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