A Night of Art, Film, and Ultraperception
begins at 5:30 PM at the 161 Essex Street gallery of Clayton Patterson, curator of the Orensanz-Smith show, who will be exhibiting his work over the past 30 years. At 7:30 PM, the night continues at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, 172 Norfolk St. (admission is $10). Clayton’s show and much of Orensanz’s sculptures will be on view throughout the month. For more information call 212-477-1363 or 212-529-7194.
Following the opening
we go to the Angel Orensanz Foundation to witness M. Henry Jones and Angel Orensanz collaborate in presenting the Harry Smith stream of consciousness phantasmagoria involving a multi-projector magic lantern extravaganza producing sublime glowing dissolves and transformations of color, space and form that induce a reverie of suspended moments and cosmic disorientation.
Harry Smith films,
presented with colored film frames, are: 1939/56 Early Abstractions | 1959/61 Heaven and Earth Magic | 1964 Late Superimposition's | 1979 Mirror Animations
Extending beyond the screen,
Angel Orensanz's - spacealist sculpture - Burning Universe and Steppes of Mars to an inside view of outer-space. His highly reflective, highly imaginative, colorful and organic circular shapes will be seen flying through the cathedral.
The Angel Orenanz Foundation is the Carnegie Hall of Downtown
Opening 5:30 pm at Clayton Gallery 5:30 with artworks by Angel Orensanz
Continuing 7:30 pm at Angel Orensanz Cultural Foundation, 172 Norfolk Str., New York, NY 10002
IDEAS OF THE SKIES | A happening at the Angel Orensanz Foundation
Published in: The Villager, Volume 76, Number 17, September 13 - 19, New York 2006
This Thursday night’s art extravaganza at the Angel Orensanz Foundation features multimedia by the multi-dimensional. The Spanish artist for whom the place is named will combine two of his pieces— In Nasa’s Lab (2004) at floor level and Burning Universe (2003) suspended in mid-air. Running both inside the installation and along one wall will be the rarely screened abstract films of an artistic soulmate, Harry Smith. This portends alchemy, or at least psychedelia.
Each Angel Orensanz work is a chronicle of struggle and entropy. They’re hard to describe directly. Look at In NASA’s Lab. Banners and branches and a big bunch of chairs? No, that tells you nothing. It’s a giant abstract painting that burst open, disgorged its color and line, then began to molt. That gets closer, though it’s just a starting point.
Abstraction is an artist’s attempt to express the inchoate. Abstraction has content, but does not emanate from the “word” part of the brain. It bubbles up from some deeper murkier mess. The only way to get there, with words, is to write poetry. Poets see the emanations around a thing. They also find bumps and fissures in its surface. Theirs is a magic equivalent to the painter’s.
I’m just a journalist. Hath not the advantage. Still, I’d already written part of this meditation when I got a copy of Bob Holman’s poem about NASA’s Lab: “Inside the Synagogue is Mars. Inside Mars Is Your Apartment,” and I found that I’d duplicated one of his lines: “What’s the meaning of ‘meaning’?”
So I started over. Yet that is the question. Art can have meaning that the critics — even the artist — can’t articulate.
I’m reminded of what I heard while walking in Central Park among Christo’s “Gates,” a work that drew a huge non-art audience. One middle-aged man scampered up a little incline as I was passing by, looking every which way at the saffron parade, exclaiming with joy: “I don’t know what it means, but I love it!” We were all there in the park to be our own choreographers, to see the piece changing as we moved, to dance with it and create our meanings. That’s the way of it with installations.
Of course, Orensanz’s work is much more complex than Christo’s. But again, just for comparison — ambience counts. For “The Gates,” we had the park’s bare trees, the February weather, and the curve of each path determining the look of the piece. Orensanz exhibits in the once-abandoned Norfolk Street synagogue that bears his name, when he’s in New York. Built in 1850 for a congregation of German Jews, this gothic structure had become a shooting gallery by the late 1980s when Angel and his brother Al rescued and rehabbed it. The space is special, as if the very bricks radiated the spiritual highs and lows they’ve been witness to, from exaltation to depravity. The feeling, thus the meaning, of Orensanz’s work would change among the white cubes of Chelsea.
Back to In NASA’s Lab. What eccentric scientist works here, so far from the antiseptic white-coated realms of real lab work? Perhaps this is chaos as a cosmic joke. Perhaps a constellation fell to the ground and has been collected here for further study. Or, perhaps we are simply to understand that the galaxy is in deep trouble.
Banners avalanche from the balcony or run along the floor, painted as if with a calligrapher’s broad brush. Candles burn amid smoke and red light. Oval shapes smile from strips of Styrofoam, while in the air hang — so it seems — small space ships (golden, with tiny lights). Then there’s (apparently) the lunar module, this thicket of folding chairs. Supple wood slats bend through the chairs, with here and there a branch. Canted this way and that, some folded, the chairs are spiky now and stripped of their “chairness.” Once merely functional, they have entered the abstract world.
In Burning Universe, baby birch trees hang from the rafters, as do mannequins. These figures are naked but for their shoes, with faces covered by a sort of scarf that flows behind them cape-like. Two very large plastic spheres nestle high amid the trees. Like a nomad moving to new land, the art adapts and changes each time it’s installed. In one video document, the mannequins end up on the ground, as body parts, with the artist scattering flowers and leaves on them. The figures have found a graveyard.
The affinities with filmmaker Harry Smith are obvious. As Smith (1923-1991) once described a bit of his Heaven and Earth Magic, one of the features to be screened at Orensanz: the film would end with a cat fight lit by candles, then Noah’s Ark, then a Raising of the Dead. Then (as quoted in P. Adam Sitney’s Visionary Film), “everyone gets thrown in a teacup, which is made out of a head, and stirred up.” Smith wanted to project the film through masking slides so the images might look egg-shaped, or watermelon-shaped. Ideally spectators would sit in chairs shaped like eggs or watermelons and change the colors on the screen through their movements.
That seating arrangement will be built as soon as artists take over the world. But the fantasy is a good example of synaesthesia, a fusion of sensations normally experienced separately. People would see sounds, hear colors, or in this case, dance a color.
While Orensanz’ pieces like Earth Face and Fire Valley have an austere beauty, many of his installations hint at synaesthesia (which is not the same as sensory overload). Many of the installations are like paintings you walk into, where you experience “the simultaneous perception of harmonic opposites” — synaesthesia as defined by Gene Youngblood in Expanded Cinema, a book dating admittedly from the age of intermedia and cybernetics. Yet these subjects are not “dated.” They are concepts never completely realized.
In Orensanz’s work, there’s always some tension between nature and artifice. Nature comes inside. (Trees, for example, and representations of trees.) And the artist moves outside to create interventions in the natural world. Recently, he had a farmer plow the image of Don Quixote into a kilometer of land south of Madrid where the character roamed in the novel. He also directed mountaineers in painting (with pigment made from local plants) a rockface in the Pyrenees. What he’s created outdoors with his own hand are pieces he can’t control: abstract paintings on snow, colorful plastic discs released into bodies of water or placed in trees.
What these pieces share with the installations, of course, is their impermanence.
In the best-known of these interventions, Orensanz pushes a large sphere (taller than he is) around some city setting. He’s done this all over the world. The sphere functions as a kind of leitmotif in the installations. Outdoors, he sometimes paints it. He sometimes gets inside it. Sometimes it slouches. Sometimes it bounces. It’s a large transparent container of meaning.
CHAOS THEORY SPINNING
in a Kabal of Creative Energy Transforming Art into Infinity
Published for the show Universe of Imaginaires at Orensanz Foundation on September 4th, 2006
One of my goals for the Harry Smith & Angel Orensanz combination show is to have M. Henry Jones channel the ghost of Harry, adding in all of the projected elements of Harry’s work. This combined with Angel’s incredible sense of sculptural spacology, which he uses to fill the void, the ceiling, the walls and the ground with elements like linear lengths of cloth and Mylar, and smoke, that all work together to create an illusion of both a set design and a suspended environmental sculpture. The sound barrier crossed by Free Simon and his magical music would all work as one. One flowing stream of consciousness would integrate the space to such a degree that all becomes balanced, becomes as one entity, one presence. Everything will vibrate and operate as a single unit. The sculptures, the space, the lighting, the sound, the films and slides, will all be in unison to create an ethereal plan.
For this show, I imagined the combination of my Infory of Harry Smith’s mysticism and electrical brain energy, with his Crowley occult ideas co-mingled with Kabala themes. Combine this with classic scientific engravings collaged together on transparencies and used as visual metaphors, all tuned together with the most contemporary musical people, to make a complex visual and auditory odyssey. Add in Jones’s interpretation of Harry’s film ideas, conducting his orchestra of antiquated projectors, which will illuminate Harry’s films along rotating slides. In addition to a diverse arrangement of magic lanterns and changing color filters, all in unison, will be DJ Free Simon masterfully spinning beats that will follow the imagined visual score whirling in front of him.
The marvelous spacology of Angle's NASA Mars expedition, combined with the internal imagination of Harry Smith, will make this a travel adventure, as we share in, and absorb the full audio and visual experience of this magical night. This mystical encounter will all come together in the main chamber of the Orensanz Cathedral of Imagination, Mind, and Space Travel. This night for me will have nothing to do with politics, or the land outside of the doors.
In the Medieval times, entering the church was a grand scale experience. The paintings to be read by the illiterate, the perfumed incense smoke, the light coming through the leaded stained-glass windows, the music, and the Latin which few understood, created an atmosphere of heaven on earth. The objective for combining Angel, Smith and Jones is to take the viewer on a journey though space and time without the use of drugs, only by imagination. We hope to create an alternative sense of body, mind, time, and presence, where we can experience what it’s like to be a child again, with the mind free to wander. This will create a Temporary Autonomous Zone opening doors of perception and stimulating the imagination. All of this will be done in the Orensanz Cathedral with lit up stars on the vaulted sky blue ceiling and permanent sculptures on the stage. The alter will be given life with theatrical lighting, while Angel’s environmental spacology sculptures fly through the atmosphere around Mars. M. Henry Jones will be running the projectors with Harry’s phtasmigoric images illuminated on the 17 foot screen, accompanied by music, courtesy of Free Simon.
Instead of spaceships, it will seem like NASA conceived art ships, and this collaborative space odyssey will make one think that they are floating around Mars. The lighter discs of Angel’s suspended sculpture will work as screens to pick up parts of the film. The Mylar will reflect off to land somewhere else, and some of the distorted images, will stay on the sculpture to become a screen. The lengths of Mylar traveling through space will seem like rivers running through the cosmos and streams of water running on the ground.
I have been fortunate to get the writers for this catalogue who can give us real insight into Angel and Harry. I was most pleased when Harry’s old friends and fellow travelers in life, octogenarian Lionel Ziprin and Dr. Gross, agreed to write about Harry.LLionel, who is a prolific poet/writer, always wanted to remain anonymous. Among his past accomplishments, Lionel operated Ink Weed Arts, a greeting card company, where Harry worked for him for seven years. They both shared an interested in mystical things. Lionel read and understood Crowley, but was not inspired by him. Harry was a Bishop in the O.T.O. Harry, as a work for hire, created his famed Tree of Life, which became the cover illustration of American Magus, A Modern Alchemist, edited by Paoloa Igliori. Lionel was a teacher and a facilitator of Harry, who turned three years of recordings into records of Lionel’s Orthodox grandfather, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, singing ancient songs he learned as a child in Galilee Israel.
I remember spending many hours documenting Lionel reading stories from his unpublished books on video. Lionel would sit on one side of a large, 8 foot by 4 foot, dining room table, as he would be chain smoking some Reynolds brand cigarettes. I sat across from him recording with my hand help 1/2 inch Panasonic AG 155 video camera.
When we did the Book of Logic, which took ten two hours sessions, it was like going into a trance. Lionel would read and I, with my hand held camera, would shoot around the room. I would land on a stamp and he would momentarily, a few seconds later read about a letter.
Another writer, Dr. Gross, a psychiatrist and fellow traveler of the Beats poets, Ginsberg, Corso, and crew, as well as, friend of Lionel Ziprin, who is not a Beat, and Dr. Gross, would mentally be able, for periods of time, to put up with Harry as a house guest. Through the art dealer, Gertrude Stein, Dr. Gross came in contact with Boris Lurie. A fellow artist/friend compatriot of mine, Boris is the theoretician, life force behind No! art. I am an associate of No! art, as well as a huge supporter of Boris, and have exhibited his works in my gallery.
In seeking out writers on Harry, my challenge was met with excitement and luck. Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, had much experience collaborating with Henry doing these Smith interpretations. I had twice heard DJ Spooky translate into music Harry’s moving images. When Paola Igliori, was releasing her book, American Magus, Harry Smith A Modern Alchemist, she had a release party with DJ Spooky and M. Henry Jones, translating Harry Smith at the Ukrainian Hall on 2nd Ave. & 8th street in the L.E.S. The second DJ Spooky performance I witnessed was M. Henry Jones’ Smith interpretation at the Clemente Soto Vello art space, which was so incredibly over crowed, that the fire department showed up. However, the show went on and was great. Paul, author of "Rhythm Science?" published by MIT Press, was also complementary when he was asked to write about Harry Smith, whom he considers one of his icons.
Harry always wanted the films to be shown with some kind of contemporary musical twist, characteristic of the period. DJ Free Simon is from a younger generation who are just now starting to define where the culture should be going. Simon works with a crew of people who are on the leading aesthetic edge in music, fashion, and art, and agreed to DJ. Since Simon is aware of Harry and familiar with M. Henry Jones, he felt he could work this delicate balance between the three different artists, my curating, and the space.
The mixture of all the diverse talents within the show will create a possibility of a real sound, light, art, and music explosion, explosion. We could break the traditional barriers of the frontal viewing of movies, and move into a total environment. Smash the classical framework. Move outside of the political struggle for one night to give our minds a break. Go into deep space and float around the universe for an evening.
It took me a while to come around to what Angel was doing. The industrial looking painted metal sculptures guarding the outside of the building and the cut out shapes, with all the slag left on looked unfinished. Almost Cézanne like. Too abstract even. His drawings were intriguing, but they often seemed obsessed by a couple of repeated haunted images. One was a troubled disturbed face, carrying an expression of revulsion, like he was a Infory or a spirit that had just returned from some major horror. It reminded me of a ghost that has tragedy etched into his face. Another repeated drawing was a group of twisted distorted figures, almost stick like, that looked like they were dancing around a fire over a mass grave. It brings to mind something out of Lord of the Flies, or primitives dancing and getting ready for war. All the dancing figures would be tied together with continuous madly swirling lines, all held tight in conformity. Side by side, as a unit, no one could ever escape this encompassing line corral. The group images would always be joined by a continuous line. Angel would sometimes draw these crudely distorted figures in clay, or expressionistic hand sculpted figures which looked like spirits of the dead raising from the ashes. Torment and pain would be personified, with a few angels. What could these works be about?
Then I learned that Angel was on a world peace mission and an anti-war campaign. With a bus and a few friends, he would travel and bring art to places of extreme suffering, like Croatian and Chechnya. Then he would travel to the UN in Bern, Switzerland, and Brussels at the NATO headquarters. In these places, Angel would set create art that would make people think. He would set up a crude plastic tent. People would come around, curious, and ask, “What is this?” It is a tent. But it has no real structure. It cannot be held up. The sides are open. You are exposed to the elements and have no privacy. It is clear that this is no shelter, no home, or protection. This is war destroying everything you have. You have nothing. This is insane.
Angel would also travel with this large, round, innocent looking, clear plastic air filled sphere. It’s a bubble that breaks barriers and is symbolic. It represents the fragile, the vulnerable, and the weak. A perfectly round sphere is the only shape where only a small portion of its total surface actually rests on the ground. No matter how large the sphere, it takes up very little space on the earth’s surface. Angel’s round plastic ball is large enough for him to fit inside. It is non-threatening, entertains, and can be used as a fun object. It can playfully be interjected into some normally conservative social environments. Children love it. And like a number of Angel’s art works, it is a Trojan Horse. This sphere represents the globe, the earth, the universe. This is what is being destroyed. The fires from the first Gulf War left soot in the mountains of India. Chernobyl left dusted radiation poison all across Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Angel’s work is cerebral and subtle. It takes time to get what he says. He is skeptical. His work is also courageous. Sometimes with war protests, especially if one is a visitor in a foreign land, it is better to leave thoughts and ideas that take time to reconcile.
What really hit me about Angel’s work was his NASA space lab and the Mars show. This was because I could see the work in full bloom. I often visit Al. He is one of the most interesting people in our community. Always busy. Always involved in something important. When Angel is in New York, he is always working, making art. This new work was some kind of immense break through. He was still the same artist, but now using a totally different approach of jumping to another part of the brain and psyche.
In NASA, Angel used chairs piled in a heap to make lunar moon vehicles look totally authentic. Then he suspended cloth and pieces of Styrofoam in the air, combined with the smoke, flying manikins, wild bright colors, and rotating discs. I was hooked. Angel’s work often has a stage set design quality. This time he went way beyond set design. This was fantastic.
What I appreciate in Angel’s work is his avalibism, in his ability to use whatever is available in the environment or the landscape and make art out of it. Angel is abstract and theatrical. He will take pieces of Styrofoam insulation, twigs off the street, chairs, and even yards of fabric to create an illusion of Mars like vehicles or material floating in space.
This period is a major change for Angel. These works are highly colorful and more playful. They are joyous, appearing less serious, although the message is a hard warning of our burning universe. His earlier works were more muted in tone, earthy, depressed, low key, gritty, and less extravagant.
I never understood at the time after 9/11 that NASA was a political statement about how we can go to Mars, but now it is almost impossible to travel on earth. Stuck in Newark, trying to get to Boston, Angel came up with this idea for the NASA exhibition. I saw this sculptural installation as something else. I was completely swept up in the environment which took over and complemented the whole cathedral space.
Designed and built in 1849, the neo-gothic Angel Orefnsanz Foundation synagogue has always been a place and space of radical thinking. The original German congregation, coming to America, veered a section of Orthodox Judaism onto a path that even Moses could not have perceived. These new immigrants participated in the birth of Reform Judaism. There were no more morning services, music was introduced, and the men mixed with the women. Although many of the significant rituals were adhered to, most of the everyday laws were buried. Imagine the first Reform movement with the first breakaway philosopher, Jesus Christ, which led to Christianity. Then almost 2000 years later, a new path was forged. Reform Judaism in America worked well in this new land of milk and honey. A number of these radicals were well educated and prosperous. When writing new sets of religious rules and laws, another major crossing took place. The Berlin Architect, Alexander Seltzer, used a Colon cathedral designed in the Romantic period to create a new modern temple called Anshei Chesed (People of Kindness). Although similar in feeling, this synagogue is much more grand than the Kaiser’s Austrian summer theater in Bad Ischl.
The Orensanz space is heavenly and glorious, while remaining warm and inviting, because of the wood and the simplicity of design. This Reform synagogue with it voluminous cathedral like interior, the vaulted ceiling sixty feet from floor level, and excellent acoustics, create a charming and mothering atmosphere radically different from the German austerity in the Lutheran churches.
The congregation, who started in this synagogue, eventually migrated up town to form Temple Emanuel. By the 20th Century, the LES Reform had moved on. The next wave of immigrant Jews were the Eastern European Orthodox, who called the place Anshei Slonim (People of Slonim). The Orthodox changed the interior of the space by creating a second floor balcony, which separated the women from the men. The women were given a bird’s eye view to watch the men, who could not see the women. This adjustment resulted in a newly opened space that became perfect for what I am attempting to do.
The space looks beautiful, but it was a long hard struggle to get it to where it’s at today. The third metamorphous of this synagogue happened when Angel Orensanz discovered and decided that he must purchase this building. Angel, attracted to the Lower East Side, was looking for a studio one day, when he came walking down the drug infested Norfolk street. He stumbled across this abandoned shell, looking like a wreaked and beached luxury liner that had sunk to the bottom of the ocean. There was broken glass and garbage strewn around everywhere, with junkies’ needles and licked clean dope bags guarding the steps. The windows were blocked up with cinder blocks and totally abandoned. The only signs of life were the pigeons and junkies who were sharing the space. Angel had a vision. He knew that he could take this ship, remodel her, and make her sea worthy again. Angel’s vision became a reality.
The Angel Orensanz Foundation is still functioning as a reform synagogue. It is currently the oldest surviving synagogue in New York City. It is also the Carnegie Hall of downtown, with a thriving fictional side that embraces, scholars, symposiums, art, weddings, bar mitzvahs & bat mitzvahs, film shots, and numerous other cultural events. Some of the people who have either made significant cultural contributions, performed, or been involved in an event at the Foundation, are Kofi Anon, the head of the UN, Gerry Adams President of Sinn Fein, all of the local elected officials, Alicia Keys, Philip Glass, Muary Potamkin, Spike Lee, Puff Daddy, the Vision Festival, and numerous small community groups, that have little money. When the space opens up, Al Orensanz lets the less wealthy organizations slide under the rope. The running of the business and the creative choices of the Foundation are controlled by Al Ornesanz, and Maria Neri. Both have a tremendous amount of generosity, kindness, and the ability to be tough as nails when determining what is needed and necessary to keep the place afloat.
Al and Maria have let the generosity flow when allowing us to use this space for this event. The goal is to collect and connect fascinating people in one amazing place. We will bring together creative thinking people who are interested in our eclectic team and share a desire to do something creative. This is an excellent opportunity for different fascinating people to get an insight into these different artists, as well as people were they may be unaware of, or unfamiliar with their work. Learn, meet, understand, be amazed by each other, and we can all move forward. Use the museum part of this Carnegie Hall of downtown. Open your mind and participate in new creative vistas, expanding the boarders of performance, art, ...