Beauty Free, Cold War Hot Stuff and Real Real Estate Flowers belong to a series of twenty huge drawings created by Aleksandra Mir and a team of sixteen assistants – mainly students and art school graduates - as part of a non-stop "Sharpie marathon" held in a temporary East Village studio, New York, during the month of May 2005. Each work consists of eight sheets of paper, pieced together in a landscape format, the common feature of which is an outlined map of the United States.
Retro text and motifs evoking idealist 1960s Americana such as the draft, the baby boom, Civil War, road trips, the space race, the Bicentennial, love and God were sketched by Mir overnight and filled in by her helpers working in shifts each day and evening using black Sharpie felt tips pens. The process of collaboration, and the use of atypical materials – in this case a humble household marker pen – are similarly integral to the artist’s working practice.
Beauty Free is a commentary on the American Civil War, a bloody conflict dominated by the issue of slavery which began in 1860 when Confederate states in the south declared their independence and claimed the right of secession from the union. The southern states are here labelled "free", the letters spelled out in stars from the country’s flag, while the northern states are threaded together by one long, continuous, looping stripe and the word "beauty". Cold War Hot Stuff employs the same device – stars in the form of snowflakes above and stripes in the form of sunbeams below – to create a contrast of warm and cold, light and dark, and, in a more overtly political sense, good and evil. Real Real Estate Flowers, probably the most psychedelic of the three, maps the officially designated flowers of each state.
NEWSROOM 1986-2000, 2007
News becomes history as soon as it is reported. What fascinates me in talking about history is the paradoxical movement backwards while obviously propelling ahead with a story into the future. The 15-year time period covered in the show is of a recent past, a past that still unites many New Yorkers in recognition of a city at once familiar and long gone. The NYC tabloids New York Daily News and New York Post serve as practical tools that unite the population around shared joys and fears; they help spread the city’s gossip and form its identity. Whether one buys them or not, a glance at the headlines while passing by a deli or waiting for a bus is enough to be connected to the diverse masses that make up their readership. Never mind if what is reported is mostly disaster or scandal. In retrospect, news before 9/11/2001 makes this megalopolis look like a quaint town full of petty crooks, with this accident or that occasional murder resulting in the loss of a single life. A rape in Central Park and a love triangle on Long Island were the two longest running news stories of New York in the 15 years leading up to the end of the millennium.
In research for the show at the Mary Boone gallery in September-October 2007, three assistants and myself spent months in the NYC Public Library copying 10,000 covers of the two tabloids - the outcome of their combined cover stories of 15 years. From these, I selected around 200 that were particularly poignant, or which formed an ongoing narrative, but most importantly, that made me smile with recognition. I lived in New York between 1989 and 2005, 15 years that roughly coincide with the time period of the show. As I never had a studio in the city, I developed a practice that relied heavily on communication instead: phone, Internet, publishing, travel, performance, ephemera, event production. The show drew on all of the above.
During the two months of the duration of the show, I created an environment that primitively simulated a newsroom of a major agency or newspaper. The material output of the agency took the form of drawings, which for me were traces of activities such as reading, moving, talking, remembering and reporting. Together with a team of assistants, I created 200 drawings (out of which 21 are exhibited here) inspired by the aforementioned tabloid covers and my personal references to them. The gallery was turned into the studio I never had; at the same time, we produced art at a schedule more akin to a news agency than to that of an artist’s studio. Every day, there was new art and old news on the walls.
July 2007 / August 2008