Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction: Part 3

On October 27, artist Pedro Lasch will premiere his work Abstract Nationalism/National Abstraction: Anthems for Four Voices at The Phillips Collection as part of the International Forum Weekend in Washington. In this audio-visual performance, national anthems of specific countries are sung in the language of the country listed alphabetically after it in the World Almanac.

In a six part blog series, Curatorial Intern Lauren Reuter asks the artist about this work and how it fits into the Phillips, art, and politics. Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Pedro Lasch rehearsing Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction

Pedro Lasch rehearsing Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction in the Phillips galleries

What has been your experience in creating this project? What has been the response to the project from institutions you’ve connected with?

To me, it’s a bit like Federico Fellini, the Italian filmmaker, once said: “I don’t make a movie so that I can go watch it in the theater. I make it because I love every stage of making the movie.” It’s the process. Of course you still care about the final thing and that’s what people get to see, but for the artist and those involved in the process of making—the staff at the Phillips, people at the embassies—that’s what we enjoy. At least that’s what I think we should enjoy. It’s through our engagement with embassies, cultural institutes, potential partners in DC that we’ve been testing a lot of ideas: Does the work resonate? Do people want to connect with it? The answer to that has been a pretty overwhelming yes. People are into it, they’re ready to engage. That’s great, but then it gets more complicated. Each embassy has different protocols, and some forms of this project literally break those protocols. Some countries have laws that forbid them from doing certain things with their flags and their anthem. So we have been very open about what we’re trying to do and making sure that people don’t misunderstand; there’s humor in the project, but not parody. If an embassy staff person sees it as a parody of their country, it would be a disaster for me. That’s not what it is about. It’s very sensitive stuff, though many people in the art world don’t think it is.

The first thing you have to acknowledge when talking with embassies is that people there are hired to represent their country. And so what we’ve learned from these conversations is that people are ready and interested to engage with this notion of multinationalism and multlingualism. Many representatives of these embassies themselves speak three or four languages. But when it comes to actually presenting the work in the actual embassy itself as a building, things can get complicated. You may have all the cultural [representatives] interested in doing the work, but it can’t happen because they realize that legally you can’t do it, or people worry that someone in the audience will not understand what the work is trying to do. It’s not a big surprise but it is very labor intensive. To me that’s what makes the key difference between a social practice artist or institutional critique artist and a painter who spends most of his production time in the studio and then puts his art on the wall. All these conversations, all these negotiations, all this back and forth—each element is a production of different people. If they weren’t all happening, I would feel like half of the project would be missing.

I See Your “Point”

Paul Signac, Setting Sun. Sardine Fishing. Adagio. (1891) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

When I first heard The Phillips Collection was going to have a Neo-Impressionism exhibition, I immediately thought of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and the technique used to create it—pointillism. Pointillism is a technique in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image. In a staff tour of the exhibition Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: Painting, Poetry, Music, exhibition curator Cornelia Homburg said that while the artists’ technique cannot be ignored, the beauty of the exhibition is really in the exploration of the imagery evoked that is often overlooked when considering Neo-Impressionism. Her perspective made me realize that I myself never truly look at the content of Neo-Impressionist works because I’m usually too fascinated with the technique used. However, Homburg stressed that the technique is important because it suggests a sense of radiance and allows the content of the images to resonate with the viewer.

The exhibition focuses on a time when there was an active exchange of ideas between painters, writers, composers, and poets which encouraged a synergy of senses. One of the pieces, Setting Sun, Sardine Fishing, Adagio by Paul Signac suggests this very idea of synthesis between art and music with his poetic title. Many of the works within the exhibition demonstrate a poetic quality that suggests a mood rather than a precise narrative, emphasizing a fantastical scene. Reality is captured, but it’s the stylistic techniques that create a feeling of dreaming. While one cannot ignore the ‘dots’, I urge you to embrace their revolutionary style and employ it to address their dreamlike, yet realistic content.

—Kelley Daley, Graduate Intern for Programs and Lectures

Contemporary Art Tribute Gallery to Anita Reiner

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Installation view of A Tribute to Anita Reiner

This fall, the Phillips is host to a tribute exhibition in memory of Anita Reiner, one of DC’s most active art collectors. The installation includes works by renowned contemporary artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Wangechi Mutu, Robert Mapplethorpe, El Anatsui, Shilpa Gupta, and Shirin Neshat, among others.

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Installation view of Gabriel Orozco’s Common Dream (Sheep) (1996) and Zhang Huan’s Ash Head No. 24 (2007).

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Installation view of Mimmo Paladino’s Vento del mattino (1981) and Wangechi Mutu’s Blackthrone XII (2012).