The​ ​Psyche​ ​and​ ​Space​, A Winning Essay in the New Art Writing Contest!
Dear readers, this week we are publishing articles by the cash prize and honorable mention winners in the 2017 New Art Writing Challenge. Thank you to all of you who submitted your writing. Co-founder of the New Art Writing Challenge, Matt Kalasky, penned this lovely introduction for you…”I often use the analogy that art writing has become a fixed tool in the service of criticism. Like we are stuck using the same monkey wrench no matter what type of art we are talking about; no matter what type of art viewer we are; no matter what reader we are trying to reach. The winners of this year’s New Art Writing Challenge have, each in their own way, thrown aside the usual tools and have shown us the power of cooked spaghetti — or a flower — or a diary entry to talk about art. The best stopped trying to make sense of the work and started to unravel the art deeper into a personal mystery that epitomizes the experience of two humans looking at each other through art. This contest didn’t generate these new perspectives and manners of looking but rather it has illuminated the spectrum of writing that has always existed. This is an art writing landscape as complex, enigmatic, and empathetic as the art it examines. Get reading!” — Matt Kalasky, Co-founder, New Art Writing Challenge

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The​ ​Psyche​ ​and​ ​Space​
More​ ​Than​ ​Private​ ​​at​ ​Slought
By Michael​ ​Carroll

Installation view of Carrie Schneider's "Reading Women" series. Courtesy of Slought. Photo by Elliot Krasnopoler.
Installation view of Carrie Schneider’s “Reading Women” series. Courtesy of Slought. Photo by Elliot Krasnopoler.

One​ ​might​ ​expect​ ​to​ ​see​ ​isolated​ ​figures​ ​or​ ​remote​ ​spaces​ ​when​ ​visiting​ ​a​ ​show​ ​called​ ​​More Than​ ​Private,​ ​but​ ​instead​ ​Carrie​ ​Schneider’s​ ​artwork​ ​presents​ ​intimate​ ​environments​ ​of​ ​varied occupancy.​ ​Her​ ​photography​ ​and​ ​videos​ ​explore​ ​the​ ​human​ ​psyche​ ​as​ ​it​ ​relates​ ​to​ ​the​ ​body within​ ​tense​ ​scenes​ ​of​ ​intertwined​ ​limbs​ ​and​ ​in​ ​subdued​ ​spaces​ ​where​ ​subjects​ ​are​ ​engrossed​ ​in their​ ​books.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​common​ ​thread​ ​of​ ​sensuousness​ ​in​ ​her​ ​photos​ ​and​ ​videos​ ​that​ ​skirts voyeurism​ ​as​ ​to​ ​suggest​ ​locations​ ​of​ ​solace​ ​and​ ​contemplation.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​whole,​ ​​More​ ​Than​ ​Private is​ ​a​ ​somber,​ ​meditative​ ​exhibition​ ​that​ ​digresses​ ​into​ ​a​ ​heady​ ​examination​ ​of​ ​space.

Curator​ ​Kaja​ ​Silverman​ ​elucidates​ ​the​ ​viewer’s​ ​experience​ ​with​ ​detailed​ ​wall​ ​text​ ​installed throughout​ ​the​ ​two​ ​rooms​ ​and​ ​with​ ​the​ ​exhibition​ ​culminating​ ​in​ ​a​ ​video​ ​series​ ​set​ ​to​ ​music.​ ​The series’​ ​​Reading​ ​Women​​ ​and​ ​​Dance​ ​Response​ ​Project​​ ​approach​ ​the​ ​ego​ ​via​ ​polarized​ ​means​ ​of hyper​ ​focused​ ​reading​ ​and​ ​interpretative​ ​dance,​ ​respectively.​ ​Even​ ​still,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​quiet​ ​drama​ ​at Slought​ ​that​ ​you​ ​experience​ ​while​ ​watching​ ​the​ ​seemingly​ ​silent​ ​video,​ ​​Burning​ ​House​,​ ​only​ ​to be​ ​overwhelmed​ ​by​ ​Kanye​ ​West’s​ ​“Blood​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Leaves”​ ​to​ ​your​ ​left.​ ​Despite​ ​this​ ​momentary conflict,​ ​the​ ​dynamic​ ​between​ ​the​ ​photography​ ​in​ ​the​ ​other​ ​galleries​ ​is​ ​complementary​ ​and engaging.

While​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​contemporary​ ​feminist​ ​lens​ ​in​ ​Schneider’s​ ​artwork,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​also​ ​a​ ​definitive element​ ​of​ ​the​ ​seventeenth​ ​century​ ​baroque​ ​with​ ​its​ ​flare​ ​for​ ​the​ ​dramatic.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​most​ ​apparent amid​ ​the​ ​strained​ ​sibling​ ​portrait​ ​series​ ​called​ ​​Derelict​ ​Self​.​ ​​Untitled​ ​(Woodchips)​ ​​from​ ​this series​ ​is​ ​classical​ ​in​ ​its​ ​composition​ ​with​ ​the​ ​wrestling​ ​figures​ ​who​ ​call​ ​to​ ​mind​ ​one​ ​of Caravaggio’s​ ​saintly​ ​scenes​ ​and​ ​evokes​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​struggle​ ​between​ ​sibling​ ​pair.​ ​​Untitled​ ​(Bar) and​ ​​Untitled​ ​(Cafeteria)​​ ​similarly​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​the​ ​brother’s​ ​and​ ​sister’s​ ​bodies​ ​in​ ​questionably intimate​ ​exchanges​ ​that​ ​Silverman​ ​describes​ ​as​ ​the​ ​“incest​ ​taboo.”​ ​However,​ ​this​ ​intimacy​ ​read more​ ​so​ ​as​ ​mimicry,​ ​or​ ​a​ ​familial​ ​collective​ ​consciousness​ ​surrounding​ ​memory​ ​rather​ ​than incestuous​ ​relations.​ ​As​ ​such,​ ​​Derelict​ ​Self​​ ​portrays​ ​a​ ​physical​ ​embrace​ ​of​ ​a​ ​far​ ​off​ ​trauma​ ​that has​ ​since​ ​grown​ ​into​ ​a​ ​fetishized​ ​nostalgia​ ​reenacted​ ​in​ ​a​ ​campy,​ ​yet​ ​artful​ ​manner.

In​ ​a​ ​similar​ ​baroque​ ​vein,​ ​the​ ​​Dance​ ​Response​ ​Project​​ ​video​ ​series​ ​highlights​ ​the​ ​human​ ​form​ ​in motion​ ​with​ ​music​ ​that​ ​ebbs​ ​and​ ​flows​ ​from​ ​fluid​ ​motions​ ​to​ ​heated​ ​crescendos​ ​of​ ​sensual engagement.​ ​The​ ​five​ ​videos​ ​feature​ ​dancers​ ​responding​ ​to​ ​music​ ​in​ ​solo​ ​and​ ​paired improvisations.​ ​At​ ​first​ ​the​ ​duets​ ​come​ ​across​ ​as​ ​sexually​ ​driven,​ ​but​ ​dissolve​ ​into​ ​meditations on​ ​the​ ​intimacy​ ​of​ ​touch​ ​and​ ​the​ ​relation​ ​of​ ​bodies​ ​in​ ​space.​ ​This​ ​manifests​ ​as​ ​a​ ​male​ ​and​ ​female couple​ ​resonating​ ​off​ ​of​ ​and​ ​around​ ​one​ ​another’s​ ​bodies​ ​in​ ​one​ ​video,​ ​while​ ​another​ ​features two​ ​men’s​ ​torsos​ ​and​ ​waists​ ​lustfully​ ​dancing​ ​as​ ​if​ ​they​ ​are​ ​in​ ​a​ ​club.​ ​Regardless​ ​of​ ​the​ ​pairing, they​ ​refocuses​ ​our​ ​attention​ ​on​ ​the​ ​syncopation​ ​and​ ​rhythm​ ​of​ ​dance​ ​as​ ​a​ ​shared​ ​experience​ ​that manifests​ ​the​ ​otherwise​ ​faceless​ ​figures’​ ​relationship​ ​in​ ​that​ ​particular​ ​moment.

There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​simultaneous​ ​subdued​ ​passivity​ ​inherent​ ​in​ ​the​ ​viewer’s​ ​voyeuristic​ ​presence​ ​amid More​ ​Than​ ​Private​.​ ​The​ ​video​ ​​Burning​ ​House​​ ​shows​ ​a​ ​small​ ​home​ ​set​ ​ablaze​ ​season​ ​after​ ​season without​ ​intervention.​ ​Schneider’s​ ​repeated​ ​construction​ ​of​ ​this​ ​home​ ​in​ ​Wisconsin​ ​is​ ​a meditation​ ​on​ ​the​ ​superficiality​ ​of​ ​physical​ ​space.​ ​Her​ ​routine​ ​destruction​ ​of​ ​this​ ​structure exemplifies​ ​the​ ​temporality​ ​of​ ​the​ ​commodities​ ​used​ ​to​ ​construct​ ​the​ ​home​ ​space.​ ​As​ ​the​ ​home burns,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​quickly​ ​diminished​ ​by​ ​the​ ​natural​ ​grandeur​ ​of​ ​its​ ​surroundings.​ ​The​ ​white​ ​smoke from​ ​the​ ​fire​ ​is​ ​quickly​ ​lost​ ​in​ ​the​ ​gray​ ​sky​ ​above,​ ​thick,​ ​dark​ ​smoke​ ​billows​ ​and​ ​dissolves​ ​into the​ ​tree​ ​line​ ​on​ ​the​ ​horizon,​ ​the​ ​bright​ ​flames​ ​of​ ​the​ ​growing​ ​fire​ ​blend​ ​into​ ​the​ ​vibrant​ ​orange and​ ​pink​ ​skies,​ ​and​ ​each​ ​season​ ​brings​ ​its​ ​own​ ​nuances​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ritual.​ ​​Burning​ ​House​ ​​finds​ ​beauty in​ ​nature​ ​and​ ​blatantly​ ​destroys​ ​the​ ​conventional​ ​home,​ ​or​ ​domestic​ ​space,​ ​that​ ​has​ ​bound women​ ​for​ ​centuries​ ​in​ ​Western​ ​culture.

Our​ ​presence​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​Schneider’s​ ​figural​ ​artwork​ ​is​ ​anticipated​ ​by​ ​the​ ​subject​ ​who occasionally​ ​breaks​ ​the​ ​fourth​ ​wall​ ​and​ ​looks​ ​out​ ​to​ ​the​ ​viewer,​ ​but​ ​generally​ ​speaking​ ​we​ ​are welcomed​ ​into​ ​these​ ​intimate​ ​moments​ ​of​ ​vulnerability.​ ​One​ ​section​ ​of​ ​wall​ ​text​ ​claims​ ​that​ ​the artist​ ​exposes​ ​the​ ​subject’s​ ​psyche​ ​as​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​the​ ​inside​ ​outward.​ ​This​ ​clever​ ​idea​ ​is​ ​quite successful​ ​without​ ​feeling​ ​exploitative​ ​or​ ​aggressive.​ ​The​ ​longer​ ​a​ ​viewer​ ​spends​ ​with​ ​an individual​ ​image,​ ​the​ ​more​ ​engrossed​ ​in​ ​the​ ​subject’s​ ​head​ ​space​ ​they​ ​are​ ​liable​ ​to​ ​become.​

​That is​ ​perhaps​ ​the​ ​most​ ​exciting​ ​and​ ​rewarding​ ​aspect​ ​of​ ​this​ ​exhibition.​ ​Every​ ​image​ ​feels​ ​personal and​ ​conceptual​ ​without​ ​being​ ​contrived​ ​or​ ​cliché.​ ​​More​ ​Than​ ​Private​​ ​brings​ ​about​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​of collective​ ​consciousness​ ​as​ ​a​ ​result​ ​and​ ​in​ ​turn​ ​the​ ​figures​ ​act​ ​as​ ​relatable​ ​archetypes​ ​of​ ​lived experiences​ ​intended​ ​for​ ​a​ ​broad​ ​audience.

All​ ​of​ ​this​ ​is​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​​More​ ​Than​ ​Private​​ ​presents​ ​the​ ​private​ ​moments​ ​of​ ​the​ ​multitude.​ ​The artist​ ​grants​ ​viewers​ ​access​ ​to​ ​the​ ​autonomous​ ​spaces​ ​of​ ​the​ ​collective​ ​consciousness.​ ​​Reading Women​​ ​is​ ​a​ ​blatant​ ​example​ ​of​ ​this.​ ​The​ ​series​ ​includes​ ​large​ ​photographic​ ​prints​ ​on​ ​two​ ​walls and​ ​a​ ​video​ ​projection​ ​on​ ​a​ ​third.​ ​Silverman​ ​says​ ​that​ ​​“Reading​ ​Women​ ​​is​ ​about​ ​a​ ​group​ ​of readers,”​ ​but​ ​not​ ​in​ ​a​ ​book​ ​club​ ​sense.​ ​Instead​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​individuality​ ​among​ ​the multitude​ ​captured​ ​in​ ​these​ ​moments—with​ ​the​ ​multitude​ ​consisting​ ​of​ ​the​ ​three​ ​women​ ​present in​ ​the​ ​room:​ ​the​ ​artist,​ ​the​ ​author​ ​and​ ​the​ ​reader.​ ​Each​ ​woman​ ​chose​ ​their​ ​own​ ​book​ ​written​ ​by​ ​a woman​ ​and​ ​read​ ​until​ ​“the​ ​perfect​ ​moment,”​ ​so​ ​to​ ​speak,​ ​came​ ​when​ ​Schneider​ ​would​ ​turn​ ​on her​ ​camera.​ ​The​ ​reader’s​ ​experience​ ​is​ ​described​ ​as​ ​a​ ​“trans-generational​ ​transmission”​ ​of information​ ​between​ ​women​ ​and​ ​promotes​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​collective​ ​consciousness​ ​and​ ​shared experience.

Reading​ ​Women​​ ​illuminates​ ​a​ ​private​ ​multitude​ ​where​ ​information​ ​sharing​ ​between​ ​women,​ ​with a​ ​racially​ ​inclusive​ ​scope,​ ​informs​ ​future​ ​generations​ ​of​ ​women,​ ​and​ ​we,​ ​as​ ​viewers,​ ​are​ ​invited to​ ​relate​ ​to​ ​these​ ​moments​ ​of​ ​absorption​ ​and​ ​interconnection.​ ​Schneider’s​ ​​More​ ​Than​ ​Private embodies​ ​this​ ​mindset​ ​of​ ​visualizing​ ​the​ ​individual’s​ ​psyche​ ​and​ ​expounds​ ​upon​ ​the​ ​archetypal nature​ ​of​ ​lived​ ​experiences,​ ​anxieties,​ ​trauma​ ​and​ ​memory.

Carrie Schneider, "Untitled (Bar)" from the series "Derelict Self," 2006–2007, C-print, 30 x 36 inches, Edition of 7. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.
Carrie Schneider, “Untitled (Bar)” from the series “Derelict Self,” 2006–2007, C-print, 30 x 36 inches, Edition of 7. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Michael J. Carroll resides in Philadelphia and works in the Digital Library Initiatives department of Temple University Libraries on diverse digital projects. He is currently enrolled in graduate school at Tyler School of Art studying modern and contemporary art history, with a focus on LGBTQ artists and queer theory, in hopes of continuing his career in the galleries, libraries, archives and museums field.

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michael carroll, New art writing challenge 2017

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