The clear afternoon has darkened, and from ICA’s high glass lobby we watch the rain fall sideways across the sky. Wind sends garbage spinning down 36th Street and pulls umbrellas inside out. Jennifer, who has been working on her presentation for tonight, seems delighted. “I’m talking about the twister in the Wizard of the Oz!” she says, then hurries back upstairs.
Jennifer’s lecture is not the only feature of tonight’s program, which ICA Spiegel Fellow Grace Ambrose, who organized it, has named “with tomorrow’s sun.”
Grace was a student intern at ICA when I started working here in 2009, then got a Masters in curating at the Courtauld in London, and now she’s back. She has been assisting with all aspects of ICA programs since September, but with tomorrow’s sun is the first one that’s hers entirely.
At 6:00, artist Field Kallop starts her ten pendulums swinging in the Project Space.
Diamond dust pours through their tips, tracing elliptical patterns on the floor. The room is crowded, quiet, dim. Field moves from pendulum to pendulum, filling each one, testing it, setting it going like the master clockmaker starting the planets in their motions. The ropes swing fast, then they slow as others start to move, until the whole room sways with hypnotic motion. One man sits on the floor with his two small boys in his lap: images of wonder.
Out on the mezzanine, the programming team uncorks prosecco, its golden effervescence in keeping with the night. They arrange cookies, brew coffee, and admire the newly installed lights with their green and red gels. “I brought them for My Barbarian,” Alex recalls. “And we also used them for Open Video Call on Halloween.” The gaudy lights infuse the space with a moody glow.
Slowly the mezzanine fills up, grows noisy. Behind me, two men discuss physics and Field’s work—the relationship between how she pushes the pendulums and the patterns the diamond dust makes. One of them says that, after earthquakes disalign moving pendulums, those pendulums gradually and inevitably begin to trace figures eights. Before I can ask if this is true, the subject changes to randomness, then random number generators. Figure eights turned on their sides are infinity signs. The evening spirals on.
Jennifer’s talk starts with a film clip.
In shimmering black and white, a blond woman sits on a piano, smoking. Then, putting the burning cigarette down to smolder on the piano, she begins to sing. “You’re the cream in my coffee,” she warbles, then breaks off to yell—in a language that might be German—at the piano player, off-camera. After a while she smiles and sings again—in English—only to break off and yell some more. At the end of the clip, Jennifer explains that we have been watching Marlene Dietrich’s screen test for The Blue Angel. “Let me tell you why I’m starting with the Weimer Republic in a talk about contemporary art,” she says.
It would be foolish to attempt to summarize the subtle clockwork of Jennifer’s thinking, but I can tell you that her talk organized various familiar (and unfamiliar) stars into a new constellation: Robert Smithson and Spiral Jetty; Liam Gillick washing gallery floors with vodka and glitter; Jack Smith and Flaming Creatures; Plato; Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes; Dorothy’s ruby slippers; Gilles Deleuze; Weimar-era children playing with stacks of near-worthless banknotes (hyperinflation); Max Beckmann and Otto Dix; the first credit card; and the New York City blackout, which happened the same year—1977—that the World Trade Center towers were completed. Within this constellation she situated the artists in her show, Glitter and Folds—Crystal Z. Campbell, Field Kallop, Jayson Keeling, and Carter Mull—explaining how she came to their work through her interest in a historical unfolding of the cultural capital of glitter, what she calls “a surfacing of shimmering abandon at times of political and economic precariousness.”
From here, it seems an easy leap to poetry. David Bowie’s Major Tom serves as segue, and now here we are, listening to a reading by poet Frank Sherlock, who writes what Grace calls “utopian verse.”
“When I think of the mixture of glitter and alcohol in this city,” Sherlock says, “I think of New Year’s Day.” He means, of course, Philadelphia’s annual spectacle, the Mummer’s Parade. He reads a poem, “The Ballad of Bill McIntyre,” a tribute to the man he calls “the glitteriest of all the mummers,” who founded the first fancy brigade, the Shooting Stars, in 1947:
Toast the founder / Auld Lang Syne again / Plumbers Carpenters Face-painted stars / They take him with them once again onto that Golden Street
Tonight, ICA seems to spangle on that golden street as though painted with stars.
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