Volume I, Issue III
The third issue of semigloss. Magazine explores the notion of FAILURE, including submissions by the following artists (as well as limited edition sculptural piece by Lucia Simek):
Bruce Lee Webb
semigloss. Magazine Flip-Through: Issues 1-3
“I must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.”- Samuel Beckett
The well-known artwork WRONG by artist John Baldessari is, by academic standards, a badly composed black-and-white photograph. It shows a man standing in the street with a palm tree directly behind him appearing to sprout straight from atop his head. Below the photograph is printed, in all capital block letters, the word WRONG. With this image, as with so much of his work, Baldessari humorously confronts the anxieties that arise throughout the oftentimes lengthy and frustrating process of creating a “successful” work of art in our post-modern world.
Upon consideration of potential themes for this, our third issue of semigloss., a magazine dedicated to artists and writers in that Baldessarian, post-modern, pluralistic world, “failure” was among the most appealing and apparent topics to explore. As a universally experienced element on every scale of human existence from the immensely monumental to the intimately personal: an ill-timed joke, the stock market collapse, ineffective governmental policies, doomed relationships; each individual’s understanding of failure is completely subjective, which is what makes its definition so elusive. Consequently however, the pluralism of failure is the very quality that causes it to be such bountiful territory for investigation and critical interpretation within a contemporary art context. Take for example the New Museum’s 2007 inaugural exhibition Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century, which featured works by Isa Genzken, Carol Bove, among many others, whose sculpture and assemblages evoke an informality in their presentation; objects that adopt certain “un-heroic” aspects of decay, corrosion, and dis-ease.
For this issue of semigloss., I was consistently struck that for nine of the ten people I approached on the topic of failure, the response was overwhelmingly some variant of the following: “Oh, I’d be perfect for that.” That failure is an area of life which feels acutely familiar and intimate to so many engaged in artistic practice is perhaps evidence of both the current propensity to unpack notions of wrong, to use Badlessari’s word, and as proof of failure’s age-old role in the life of the creative person—that thing that simultaneously terrifies us and drives us. Ranging from the political to the personal, societal to the institutional, artists throughout this issue lovingly embrace failure as one of the most psychologically potent influencers of human behavior, reflected in ways both poignant and absurd. It is through means of reflection, humor, and perseverence that we are able to transcend our own limitations and self-imposed judgements - finding wisdom in the struggle of living- which allows us to express a more enlightened and authentic portrayl of the human condition, in our work and beyond.
In her piece Julia Pastrana, 1834-1860 (2013), Margaret Meehan acknowledging a significant failure of humanity, takes a tintype photograph of the tragically exploited fur-faced Mexican woman of the same name, whom after her death during childbirth in 1860 was shipped around Europe with the body of her deceased child as a feature of a traveling freakshow, not to be returned to her native homeland for a proper burial until February of 2013. Meehan’s paring of her softly painted-upon version of this image with the lyrics to the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” reads like an invitation to this forsaken figure’s final resting place, accompanied by the return of her dignity.
Poet Rainer Maria Rilke famously mused that, “the purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things". Lucia Simek’s work Untended (after Rilke), which appears in both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional form, alludes to literary manifestations of both personal and creative defeat. Her delicate preservation of burnt pages of text encased within transparent vinyl sleeves gracefully conveys the quiet redemption that may emerge from the type of suffering through difficulty frequently epitomized by Rilke’s mediations on life.
On an editorial note, a confession: This issue itself is a failure of sorts, through which it becomes indeed more successful. Considering the implied psychological and emotional weight the idea of failure can have on us, I was confident that a group of individuals willing to directly take on such a potentially daunting subject would result in the type of vulnerable, probing, and poignant work a colleague amusingly referred to as “juicy”. I envisioned complimenting this juicy content with an equally compelling formal concept, which would have entailed utilizing not only unconventional materials, but very expensive and difficult printing processes as well. After frustrating delays and unsuccessful attempts at realizing this formal vision, I felt stuck. It wasn’t until I finally accepted that I might need to abandon this direction for another that I was reminded that the collected works within are wholly sufficient to communicate the desired intention of this issue, negating any need for extraneous bells and whistles. In this case, as should be the aim of all sincere attempts at creation, the work speaks for itself. And in the words of our friend Rilke: “Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are."
--Sally Glass, Editor-in-Chief