"Art making is a form of alchemy, in a way, because you are trying…to make gold from nothing. When it works very well is when you manage to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary."
From "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 3 (2005)
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Whether critical, irreverent, or introspective, the artists in “Memory” delve into personal memory and the past, transforming them in their work. The artists wrestle with complex topics such as the veracity of history, the nature of interpretation, subjective versus objective truth, and the ways in which objects and images from the past embody cultural memory. Introduced by actor Isabella Rossellini, “Memory” is shot on location in Galisteo, New Mexico; Los Angeles, California; Paris, France; New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; and Austin, Texas.
A transplant from New York, Susan Rothenberg produces paintings that reflect her move to an isolated home studio in New Mexico and her evolving interest in the memory of observed and experienced events. In her early career, she became noted for her series of large paintings of horses. Now, however, she does not find herself creating series. “The paintings are more of a battle to satisfy myself now and I don’t have a sense of series,” she says. Drawing on material from her daily life, she confesses that in her current work “the second painting seems to complete the series.” Sitting in her studio, Rothenberg speaks candidly about her working process and her occasional battles with artistic block.
In a body of work that includes sculptures, performance, and installations, Mike Kelley explores contemporary culture's obsession with repressed trauma. Many of Kelley’s projects draw on his own memory. "Educational Complex," he says, “is a model of every school I ever went to plus the home I grew up in, with all the parts I can’t remember left blank.” That project has led Kelly to create of a performance/video called "Day is Done," which will eventually consist of 365 tapes, one for every day of the year. In scenes that he writes, directs and scores, Kelley has drawn on yearbooks to re-stage high school rituals with surreal elements, such as donkeys, devils, and eerie music in a student-body assembly.
“To me photography functions as a fossilization of time,” says Tokyo-born
Hiroshi Sugimoto, who uses traditional photographic techniques to produce images that preserve memory and time. “I start feeling that this is the creation of the universe and I am witnessing it,” he says of his black-and-white seascapes. Sugimoto recalls the influence of Marcel Duchamp on his art, and especially on his own exhibition where he has mounted giant white plinths with photographs of 19th-century machines. These are juxtaposed with images of three-dimensional models that illustrate mathematical theories. “It’s not just a photography show,” he says, “It’s like a space sculpture.”
“All of my work is essentially derived from some previous source,” says Josiah McElheny. “A lot of times what I’m doing is re-imaging something or transforming it slightly, but it’s always very much in connection to its source.” In his exhibition "Total Reflective Abstraction," he uses a silvered glass technique to build on the theories of Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller proposing a completely reflective “utopia." McElheny's mirrored objects relate to one another in an infinite matrix of reflections. “The definition of being a modern person is to examine yourself, to reflect on yourself and to be a self-knowledgeable person,” he explains, as he himself reflects on the meaning of his work.
Each episode for Season Three concludes with an original work of video art by the artists Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler. Known for their haunting video projections, Hubbard and Birchler’s work alters temporal, cinematic and architectural expectations of the viewer through the use of looping narratives. For Art in the Twenty-First Century, their first commission for television, they have created a series of beautiful and enigmatic short films. Each film uses the same setting—the interior of a police car at night—and begins when one officer brings a cup of coffee for another. Using recurring and non-recurring characters, interrelated dialogue, and ambient sound, the suite of films evoke not only the Seaon Three themes of Power, Memory, Structures and Play, but also sleep, dreams and longing.