Friday, April 19, 2013

Hidden Signals: Excavating buried treasure in the Franklin Furnace Archive

The funny thing about videotapes is that no matter what the labels say, you still can never be completely sure of what you might find when you pop it into the deck (see Gearoid Dolan's Franklin Furnace "proposal" tape i.e. 80s porno "The Doorman Always Comes Twice"). As a student of Moving Image Archiving and Preservation at New York University, currently interning at Franklin Furnace and mining their moving image database, I've seen my fair share formats and descriptive information. Franklin Furnace Archives currently preserves and catalogues some 700+ videos which vary from event documentation, artist proposals, and random news clips and documentaries pertaining to the downtown performance scene and particularly the Art Wars of the early 1990s. While I considered myself to be relatively well-versed on performance art, particularly of the 1970s, I have come across a number of gems which have taken me completely by surprise, particularly works that were either peripheral to works in the Franklin Furnace Fund Program or were originally works-in-progress. To take a step back, a majority of my workday involves poring over the various events and moving image database records and reviewing videotapes from the collection to do basic quality control and to capture rich metadata. Of course, this means that I also get to bear witness to strange, subversive, playful, and just plain batsh*t material and some, frankly, have blown my mind. Unfortunately my knowledge at present is restricted to the VHS tapes in the D-F alphabetical ordering system, but here are some of the shining stars thus far (in my humble opinion).
Andrea Darriau - HYPE: The Mother of Invention

© Andrea Darriau 1986
The documentation from this Franklin Furnace performance in 1992 at the Ohio Theater (under the title of "Picture Perfect") is choice, but the diamond is the proposal tape which was shot and edited at the Mime Center in Amsterdam. This one-woman performance lies somewhere between emulation, iconoclasm, and baptism for Marilyn Monroe. This version of Marilyn depicts a woman who is cursed by being "publicly private," who ultimately slits her wrists and morphs into an angel to transcend her earthly prison. The awesome and vaguely new-wave original soundtrack (composed by Mathieu Darriau), inventive set design (sumptuous red drapes, cupids, paper doll projections, and a collapsing paper backdrop), and particularly the deranged costuming (self-inflated balloon breasts, bondage-y spring-loaded body braces,   and a backpack-turned-inflatable angel wings) make this performance both content rich and a feast for the eyes.
Sue de Beer - Making Out With Myself

© Sue de Beer 1997
While Sue de Beer's main interaction with Franklin Furnace was in collaboration with the Default Propaganda collective, her proposal tapes demonstrate some fun and cheeky camera trickery. Artfully incorporating chroma key video manipulation, de Beer softly engages in a make-out session with a frozen yet oddly alive video image of herself against an unnerving, almost neon pale-green backdrop. It's a short and simple work, but the video is also hypnotic and sly. Though this may debase the artist's intent, I feel that Franklin Furnace should license this video to nightclubs as party visuals.

© 1992 Media Mystics
Bradley Eros/Jeanne Liotta -M'Elevasti

No documentation exists for these Franklin Furnace performances ("Booby Trapped for Revelations" or "M'elevasti!") the latter for which this video of performance excerpts served as a proposal. This definitely elicits a strong feeling of lack from within me, and ultimately I'm hungry to see more of this duo's work. If this proposal tape is any indication, the Franklin Furnace performance was truly jaw-dropping. I could derive little about the narrative arc of these particular works...but a rotating stage with torches, intermittent showers of white powder from the ceiling, and a doom score by Circle X are all I need to give this work a major thumbs up.

Karen Finley on "The Eleventh Hour" with Robert Lipsythe

Finley with Franklin Furnace Director Martha Wilson
 and installation view of "A Woman's Life Isn't Worth Much" 
© Franklin Furnace 1990
Karen Finley needs no introduction. Her numerous performances and exhibitions are indeed some of the richest under the Franklin Furnace byline, but she is even more electric when simply being interviewed. Her treatise on Jesse Helms, NEA funding, and the social issues in early 1990s New York should stand as one of the essential documents of the time. While I am certainly a huge fan of her more brash and bawdy works, her aired spoken-word performance of "Black Sheep" is utterly devastating.

Bob Flanagan "Visiting Hours" (In Collaboration with Sheree Rose)

© Western Project
Bob Flanagan staged "Sick" as part of the Franklin Furnace "Asylum at the Anchorage" series (probably my favorite series in the FF oeuvre), though as is the case with Bradley Eros, there is sadly no video documentation of this work. What does exist is this all-encompassing look at Flanagan's 1994 exhibition and an extremely compelling interview with the artist in his "Visiting Hours" hospital bed installation work, moderated by FF Founding Director Martha Wilson. Flanagan's work deals with Catholic guilt, S/M and fetishism, and his affliction with Cystic Fibrosis, walking a fine line between pleasure and pain, jouissance and destruction.

The Logos Duo

© The Logos Duo
I am completely flummoxed by this one (particularly because I found it under "D" for "Duo"). By now I have dug through every imaginable nook and cranny of the Franklin Furnace event documentation, moving image records, and even scoured in the "creator" subjects headings of the individual names for this collective. I cannot for the life of me figure out what interaction Franklin Furnace had with Logos Duo (Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge). Regardless, I was completely endeared to this zany and adorable experimental dance/music/tone-poem pair from Belgium in this taped performance (possibly proposal piece) from 1986. Their work is at times mad-cap, shrieking in their own language whilst plucking on a violin or squawking on a clarinet. At other times they create meditative and transformative spaces, using movement and magnetic fields to turn the stage into one giant theremin. Above all, they just seemed like they would be amazing guests at a dinner party, using the splats of their mashed potatoes as percussion as they serenaded the table. And it would be a beautiful sound.

-Joey Heinen, Spring 2013

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My days at Franklin Furnace

     What’s the value of modern art? In the world of modern art, the concept or the manner of expression influences fiscal value. Highly appreciable works of art make a lot of money in the market, even if most people can’t understand these values. It’s very difficult for me to understand the relationship between art and money, but it’s also very interesting as a business. I want to work in the field of art management, but I need work experience and more study of the art market. That’s why I came to NY.

     When I was looking for an internship to gain work experience and study, my friend took me to an art fair. At the fair, I met Martha who is the founding director of Franklin Furnace (FF). I knew this company was a NGO and has supported many artists with grants. I heard management solutions in NGOs are totally different from other private companies. It’s good for me to learn how this company gets money from the government, and how it chooses and produces artists. Thus I decided to apply for an internship at FF.

     On the first day, they asked me to input information about visitors to a recent art fair into the data base to send direct mail with efficiency. I know it’s very important in marketing, and this work let me know about the artists they deal with, and their prospective clientele. After that, I started research about the buyers of these artists’ work, like museums, collectors, universities and so on. Throughout this work, I learned each artist's biography, characteristics, current market values, and buyers. Although these were matters that I should already know, FF gave me a chance to do it firsthand

     On the first day, Martha told me they have few programs which relate to money. However, they would try to find which program is the best for my purpose. So, they asked me to research about buyers. I really thank them. At FF, there is not only me but also many student interns. I think they're also working in programs customized for each of them.

      To receive their kindness, I try to understand their demands exactly and provide good work for them, all the while, improving my poor English. And then, I want to secure a way to connect to the next stage for my goal of a career in art market.

Tomoko Yamaguchi 
Summer 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Johanna Went: An Intern's Perspective

Artist of the Week Series

Daniel Schreiner

As I was slaving away archiving Franklin Furnace's History of the Future video collection, a certain DVD caught my attention. The sleeve depicted a crazed-looking woman pouring what seemed to be blood onto herself, advertising Johanna Went's "Club Years: 1977-87." Intrigued, I popped the video in and hit "play."

At first, I was shocked and rather dismissive about what I saw. Against a multimedia backdrop of ambient synthesizers, psychedelic drum-playing, and colorful, DIY costume-props, a young woman screeched, snarled, and writhed into the microphone. Her sounds were completely incoherent; her bodily movements completely animal. Appalled, I watched as Went spontaneously rolled on the floor, donned various grotesque masks/costumes, and pulled giant, blood-stained tampons out of a huge constructed vagina, hurling them at the bewildered audience.

I was mesmerized in spite of myself by the spectacle and the sheer chaos of Went's performances. As I continued to watch her saw away at numerous dildos attached to her outfit, pour ambiguous liquids over her body and into her mouth, and tear apart various props around her, I began to grasp at some extremely powerful significances. It was vile, disgusting, disturbing, nightmarish, irresistable; it was about disintegration, irrationality, and insanity. It made me feel both morbidly fascinated and vicariously exhilarated, as if I was experiencing a kind of second-hand catharsis--releasing some tremendous source of tension I didn't know I had through my visual participation in Johanna Went's antics.

Went's performances tap into our bare, base, primal, animal selves. Went acts out all of our stifled and subconscious desires to scream, fight, fuck, destroy. The sounds she makes resound with incredible energy and passion, yet the import is lost in translation--what she is trying to communicate is beyond words, unfit for our limited system of language.

One must note the context of her work--1977 to 1987 corresponds directly with the age of Neoconservatism, the Reagan Administration, and the AIDS Epidemic. As such, Went takes on an extreme form of radical, even anarchical rebellion against the many forms of repression and censorship rampant during that era. Her work represents a defiant, unapologetic refusal of decorum, superficiality, and "polite-ness." She tells people to resist cultural homogeneity and anonymity, kicking and screaming if necessary; she affirms the ability to be "weird," "crazy," "other" without shame or stigmatization.

Thus, Johanna Went speaks to me because, like me, she is skeptical of hegemonic, "mainstream" cultural values like conformity, respectability, and sameness. She keeps the possibility for dissidence and individual liberation alive within us, awakening our inherent instinct to fight for life, tooth and nail. She forced me to confront my animalistic self and adapt to the shock of "difference." Her performances are, in effect, a healthy, raw, and necessary "slap" in the face.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

ArtSTOR blog post about Franklin Furnace's 35 Birthday Party

ArtSTOR has posted a blog post about Franklin Furnace's 35th Birthday party. Here's how it starts:

Martha Wilson: If I had known 35 years ago how much work it was going to be to establish a not-for-profit organization in my living loft at 112 Franklin Street in TriBeCa, I probably would not have done it. Several times I was tempted to fold the tent. Yet the vacuum in the art world that need to be filled (with hot air!) was obvious, and kept me going: none of the major institutions in town were paying attention to what artists were doing. Artists were publishing cheap stuff, artworks masquerading as books. Around the same time, Printed Matter was being formed (as a for-profit corporation at first) by a collective of artists and activists, to publish artists’ books; soon we divided the pie such that Franklin Furnace took on the exhibition and preservation of artists’ books, Printed Matter, Inc. took on their publication and distribution.

Read More

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Franklin Furnace Vimeo !

Franklin Furnace now is the proud owner of a Vimeo account.

Check it out at

New videos will be posted each week!
Please become one of our contacts or subscribe to us if you too have a Vimeo account.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Intern's Perspective: FF intern Philippa Chan

This is Philippa Chan, an intern at Franklin Furnace. I have been interning at the Furnace since the end of July of this year. After the recent completion of my Bachelors of Art History and Theory, I decided it would be beneficial for me explore the art industry before going on to complete my honours and (finally) graduate. My life in New York is immensely different to my life back in Sydney. It has taken some time for this city to feel “like home” but I can now say with confidence that it definitely does.

I came to New York from Sydney, Australia because I felt that this city could offer me the best in contemporary art and culture. I feel privileged to have stumbled across the Franklin Furnace internship programme because I believe it has been able to offer me an uncensored view of the art industry. Franklin Furnace has been extremely inclusive of me and all the other interns that I have worked with. I feel that we get real responsibilities and projects, rather than just the menial tasks you normally associate with a regular internship position.

To give you a rough idea of what it is like to be an intern at Franklin Furnace, here are a few of the tasks that I have been assigned.

I started out my internship photographing various pieces of artworks that Franklin Furnace has collected in its deep storage area. I became closely acquainted with works by Lawrence Weiner, Carl Andre, Christo and Stephen Shore, just to name a few.

In between I had a few small tasks to fill the gap (i.e. creating a disaster plan...lets hope it never has to be used because I feel it may be highly inadequate!) and my current project is working on the Ree Morton sketch books and note books. I am assisting Michael by making three copies of each digital image for the archive before we ship her work off to MoMA. Concurrently, every Tuesday afternoon I have the adorable, yet challenging task of assisting the artist, Ron Littke with a 4th grade class at Clinton Hill, P.S. 20. The making of the video has only just started but the children are already eager and ready to jump onto that camera and start making the film. It was immediately apparent who the aspiring actresses/actors are and which children feel more comfortable being behind the camera and away from the limelight. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this project pans out.

I greatly admire Franklin Furnace and its dedication to preserving vulnerable forms of art. There have been many times during the course of my studies that I have come across a description of a work of art that has been near impossible to find photographic or cinematic evidence of, so I think it’s really excellent that Franklin Furnace has dedicated itself to this very worthy cause.

Living in New York and being a part of the Franklin Furnace Archives has cemented my love of visual arts and has reiterated to me the importance and significance of art that is challenging and art that deliberately pushes the envelope. I am really enjoying my time here in New York and at Franklin Furnace and I am very much looking forward to the rest of my time here. I’m sure you will hear more from me as the year progresses.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Interns' Perspective: FF interns from Italy

Hi, this is Marco, one of the two new Italian interns of Franklin Furnace.
I’m so happy to be here, working for such a great association in the city that never sleeps.

I am working here for four weeks and my past habits in Italy seem so far away. Italy: one of the most beautiful countries on the earth, with an amazing history especially in the art’s field. Millions of people come every year from all over the world to see Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raffaello, Giotto, Tiziano (the list is so long!). Despite that, in my country there aren’t in reality any public grants for avant-garde artists. Would Michelangelo’s life have been the same without fundings?
This is such a shameful inconsistency!

For me it would be a dream to recreate one day an association like Franklin Furnace in Italy. Yes, I can say that this my long term goal.

So, here I am in New York City: I’m trying to learn as much as I can about this reality.
I’ve had several times the opportunity to explore the archive. Let me say: “wow”! It’s huge, plenty of fascinating files. You can feel a vibrant atmosphere of creativity there. Only those who have walked around that archive can understand what I’m talking about. Who knows what I could find out there in the future?

Now I give the floor to my “colleague”…

…hi! I’m Chiara, the second Italian intern.

I decided to start this internship at Franklin Furnace six months ago.
For me it represents an important experience to know the infinite languages of art.
I’m very glad to work in this organization, because I believe in the importance of making culture from art and from different languages.

Artists, especially avant-garde artists, always broke all the rules to express their selves and to communicate a concept to the audience.

I think that this is the best way to awaken people’s minds and to open new ways to understand the world.

As Marco said also for me is very significant to work in this field. I would like to promote through art and performances a new mentality and an open minded view. These languages have a lot of impact on public attention and can broadcast important messages.
I hope this experience at Franklin Furnace will give me new ideas and it will encourage me to achieve my purpose.

Marco Gallorini & Chiara Savarino