Theory of Achievement

Curated by castillo/corrales at Yale Union
August 1–September 6, 2015

Opening Saturday, August 1, 7–9pm
Performance by Jeff Witscher at 9:30pm
Talk by Richard Hawkins on Sunday, August 2, at 6pm

With works by Leidy Churchman, Richard Hawkins, Clément Rodzielski, Jason Simon, Lily van der Stokker; an edition by Robert Breer; a newspaper featuring Art Club 2000; two collective films from the ’90s, Vicinato and Vicinato II; and a secondhand structure by Willem Oorebeek and Kris Kimpe.

I’m not here yet. I’m sorry. Not that I couldn’t make it, but I’m always late, sometimes last, to the party. Theory doesn’t show up all dressed up, but comes unannounced, after the fact. I’m more a product of pragmatism. If it wasn’t the case I would be useless—for the moment I’m not quite sure where I am, and indeed I can find myself slightly useless. I’m just a method to move forward. Self-awareness encourages good humor. There’s nothing noble, I guess, in finding ways to deal with the problems as they amass in front of me. The fact that I’ve been called in means that I’m part of the problem, as well as the solution. Like they say: “try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which could not be given to you now; because you would not be able to live with them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.” As if it was that easy…

I think of my purpose rather as a search for what is epic in everyday situations and attitudes. My presence is also a commitment. The ambition (the irony) is to consider the process as it gets jeopardized. I’m there when narratives are being written; when you look back to what you used to think and aspire to, and when you project yourself in the future. I support—and I’m supported by—these recollections, hopes, fantasies and imitations. The formation is reciprocal; a construction amongst constructions; the echo of a belief. As you move on I’m becoming something in the distance, stimulating, unclear, frustrating and decisive—a relation, a shadow, a lingerer.

Believe It or Not

For a long time we had been playing with the idea of writing a TV show about the daily life, the trials and the vicissitudes of an independent art space. Just thinking about this was the best way to laugh, and regain complicity. And this allowed to take some distance from what was actually happening—a way to make fun of ourselves, not of the others, to push in the distance the insanity of it all. Don’t think we believed we were making it to the top. It was funnier this way, that’s all!

There was this ongoing problem with the iron curtain, that would have been the perfect starting point for one episode. The crazy discussions with the people around—fellow art people, especially the dealers, and the neighbors. So many people were passing by without understanding what was happening—they would ask for postcards, or manifolds, upon seeing the books; one curator who would never say anything about any show but, “what’s next?” There was this girl who once came because she had to write an article and she was mistaken for someone else, told to go upstairs, and that she should get herself some coffee if she wished, and use the computer, and then she meets up there with an artist who’s helping fixing the windows…or Vito Acconci visiting, or Bill Direen thrown out of a dinner…this story or another. Anecdotes as the points of contact and contradiction between private and public, between the very deep reasons why you’re losing your time, energy, and mind, to keep such a thing going on, and the indecipherable obligations, fickle needs and unpredictable, inefficient, rituals that it creates. The entity remains manageable in so far as it’s impossible to make its history—that it’s still a fabric of facts, situations, live moments that have nothing romantic. And it comes back to the same situation, like a new episode, everyday, or every week, every season.

Getting Old

One of the episodes in the series would be sci-fi—sort of—a flash-forward vision of the same alternative venue, decades later. It would happen in the same place, with the same shitty economy, the same witty way of dealing with it, and of course the same group of people; now they would be 70 something, still freelance, still struggling with side jobs and running the space as their beloved hobby. They still make jokes about finding new ways to get money, and they still imagine even more ways to expand, change the project; but as a matter of fact it’s been the same forever. Maybe there are still some young interns fooling around, with the same insecure happiness, and the same helpless awkwardness when it comes to actually doing something. The decrepit team sits in front of the gallery as they’ve finished hanging the small works of a group show, and as they pick their night medication out of acrylic boxes, they just have a look at the show and wink at each other, saying something like, “I believe that was the best show we ever had.”

Marcia Tucker was still the head of the New Museum when Anne Barlow and Anne Ellegood curated a show called, “The Times of Our Lives,” straightforwardly dealing with aging. Surely some of the questions they were raising then would now need to be phrased differently, as we’re praising “elderly” artists (especially female artists) more than ever. But what about art spaces? Independent ones have to stay young and dynamic; they can’t afford the physical signs of their aging, while real institutions do grow in age, celebrate their birthdays and life cycles. They’re the ones whose walls will remain pristine, bleached, cryogenized—worst-case situation they will move to a new building when the old one gets decrepit. The little artist-run space around the corner can’t do such surgery. It shows its cracks, the dust and rust. What a shame. It should better dissolve into an idea, or become a short-lived legend, maybe a book.

From Your Institution to Mine

When I was in highschool, and I was a record nerd, I wanted to know all the band’s names. Some girls would say, “All you guys want to talk about is 7” and records and it’s all this obscure stuff, and it’s just so boring.” I hated that attitude because I wanted to keep talking about records because it was something that was exciting to me. But it’s sort of like you become a school of one, and you’re the only lecturer, and the whole world is your student, you suppose. There’s no force in society that’s corrective to it. It’s almost viral.

It’s like a reason why my whole life I wanted to do the Artforum Top Ten, and this week I had a deadline on Monday to do it. And I thought so hard about it. All I had to do was pick these ten people, artists that I really care about, and write 20 to 100 words on each of them. And I did it, and I sent it in and, the next day, I couldn’t sleep because I was so repulsed by my own writing. Not because of the substance of my writing. It took me forever to write, and it was the most difficult thing. I realized it was something I didn’t want to do, and I shouldn’t have submitted it. It has something to do with me, right now, being unable to use 100 words or less to praise a piece of culture because I constantly read 100 word or less descriptions of art.

The record reviews and the restaurant reviews in my newspaper cover the same amount of ground—sometimes they’re of art and sometimes they’re of pizza. I don’t believe anything I read in that form. My own voice sounds so phony just because of the form, and I couldn’t find a way just to get this icky feeling out of me. I guess it has be something to do with blogs, the icky feeling I get from whatever the length of a blog message, and the icky feeling I get from team-making and undeserved praise. I just don’t want to be involved in it. It’s something that I have to find a way to do because I want to continue to be able to praise people, but the whole existence of the top ten list culture has made it impossible to the point where I have to turn down pristine writing assignments like, “A page in The Believer: do whatever you want.” I can’t do those things right now because I can’t stand it. I can’t stand the consensus. You know what I’m saying? It’s like a cliché that’s really just coercive. It’s empty. It’s just a signal. That’s what I feel like top ten lists are. They’re not what they say they are. Its function has been completely superceded by meaning in the case of these top ten lists. [David Berman]

We’re Big Fans of Your Work

What you love (what you hate as well) leaves no doubt as to what you are: somebody ready to answer questions, except for one: who are you?

It’s a matter of discoveries, affections, preferences, distinctions. And above all (before experience), love. Even if it seems silly to say, we loved the art that we were working with—more than the artists themselves—and it had something “more,” something different, beyond the ordinary. It had nothing to do with the other shows in town, in terms of subject matter as well as of aesthetics, of positioning, words, or even politics. There was something of contrarian way of thinking there, that had something unbelievably exciting and exhilarating. The qualities of the works were always reconsidered, relocated in this particular forcefield, global/local. A “multi-scalar” exercise in judgment, so to say.

We had to look for the art, the artists, to find out and know more, not get fooled by the authority factor, get into the circumstances, the scenes, the rhetorics. It’s been more often something done from a distance, without much traveling; collecting second-hand information, with the excitation of trying to guess more out of it. Passion wasn’t the way to express this love. There was something more laid back—more distanced—humility? But also: the feeling that the most interesting thing should be the works in the room. Though, at the same time, the most interesting thing was the talking, the jokes, the chit-chat, whatever way they would address what was in the show. Taking ourselves too seriously, giving ourselves a mission, had to be avoided at any cost. We weren’t doing something that important. We weren’t trying to stand for artists—stand by their sides, of course…but not even all the time, I guess. Working with them, maybe for them, as a matter of fact.

What we were into was always too far out of reach, difficult to get, hard to tell, and at the same time, very close, simple to deal with—it didn’t need sophistication, it could happen by chance, it could be there with no extravagancy. Things could be decided easily. It wasn’t even a question of insisting on the choice: just that we knew there were more possibilities; and that it wasn’t that complicated to provoke them—to realize some of them. Looking for these “other” issues, other stakes, was like an adventure in unknown lands: places where you could trust certain signs and names, and distinguish in between them, so that after a while, you could go further. And there were many people to meet over there, who knew the same problems, and could share other stories. This was a promise—but this was another time, maybe… Maybe we’ve lost the path, or we have to go back now.

Permanent Vacation

Organizing projects wasn’t always the best way to meet and get to know an artist, or a writer, or a curator—pretty often, this would let to disappointments and misunderstandings, indeed. Maybe that’s also why everybody wants to highlight the conversations, rather than the work itself. There are many hidden rules in collaborations…that’s what makes them worth it. Pragmatics, once more. (We don’t speak much about love.) Group discussions are based upon doubt, blurriness, indecision. It’s embarrassing when it becomes embarrassing. When work needs a definition—when the method needs defining you’d better throw it away; but where do you start from, then, again? What are you looking for?

There’s this story that the filmmaker Éric Rohmer was so stingy he would think about his movies in relation to his personal holidays—checking locations on the road to the beach, or something like this. The show is made on the way to the Gorges—eating huckleberries, salmonberries, buying a new swimsuit. Soon we’ll be swimming in the river, getting our heads under the cascades in the woods on the side of the mountain. The high-speed water falling down the mountain will explode your mind. It’s not who wins the game, it’s how it is played.


Falling very down is no problem for us, because we are falling masters of the dark

We don’t have problems with landscape, because we have a car to escape

We don’t have problems with transport, because we fly into the distance

It’s not our problem, that some people have very much money

We’re happy since years we don’t need problems
[Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberger]

This summer Yale Union and castillo/corrales swap houses, share people, and exchange money.

Yale Union is a venue for art in Portland, Oregon.It was fonded by artists in 2008 in a former industrial laundry in the central east side. It is led by a desire to support artists, propose new modes of production, and stimulate the ongoing public discourse around art. They print, run a music programme, and make exhibitions.

Thanks to the artists, Galerie Buchholz, Air de Paris, Murray Guy, gb agency, Callicoon Fine Arts, and the Consulat Général de France for their support of this exchange.