EPISODE: "Play"

From "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 3 (2005)

About

The artists in “Play” improvise games, draw inspiration from dance and music, and employ color, pattern, and movement to elicit delight. Indulging in process, these artists transform naïve impulses into critical statements about the nature of identity, creative expression, and pleasure. Introduced by Grant Hill, “Play” was shot on location in Brooklyn, New York; Berlin, Germany; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; New Haven, Connecticut; Houston, Texas; and Austin, Texas.

In the studio Jessica Stockholder makes sculptures on the scale of furniture, assembling objects made of brightly colored plastic. “I love plastic. And I also just love color,” Jessica Stockholder says. “Plastic is cheap and easy to buy, and my work participates in that really quick and easy and inexpensive material that’s part of our culture.” At the Rice Gallery in Houston where she is working on a large exuberant installation, Stockholder’s fascination with systems is evident in the way she arranges mundane objects in playful, surprising ways. “I’m interested in how a thinking process can meander in unpredictable ways,” she says. Like child's play, “learning that doesn’t have a predetermined end.”

Searching for a release from his past meditative work of knitting colorless sculptures with Mylar tape, Oliver Herring began making fantastical stop-motion videos of himself, and subsequently of strangers encountered by chance. In addition to videos, Herring creates sculptures of “off-the-street” strangers, using Styrofoam covered with photographs that reproduce the skin of the model. He also photographs strangers’ faces after they've spent hours spitting colorful food dye over their faces. The portraits are intense documents of an unusual kind of intimacy. “I usually wait for a moment that brings out some kind of vulnerability,” he says. “That’s what I’m after. This personal connection with a stranger.”

“Being Latin American, you are made up of so many fragments from different cultures,” says Arturo Herrera. For the Venezuela-born artist, collage is the natural expression of his mixed identity. Herrera’s collages combine cartoon elements with abstract shapes to explore the interplay of childhood memories and adult desires. In his Berlin studio, he photographs elements of his own drawings and then develops the film canisters in various liquids, which seep in and alter the film. “I think there is a potential for these images to communicate different things to different viewers in a very touching way,” he explains. “But that experience is not a public experience, it is very private, and very personal.”

Working with vintage magazines, Ellen Gallagher explores both the representation of ethnicity and the essential nature of identity. In a series of large paintings, she mounts page after page in a grid so that the viewer relates to the magazines in a spatial rather than a sequential way. “I’m collecting advertisements and stories and characters,” she says. “And I see them as conscripts in the sense that they come into my lexicon without me asking them permission.” Using an intricate printmaking process to engrave an image of Isaac Hayes, Gallagher comments“I think there is a nostalgia in my gathering of this material...yet in that gesture you’re continually moving forward and continually seeing the world.”

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.