Lita Albuquerque - ARTFORUM

Lita Albuquerque

For decades, the Los Angeles–based artist Lita Albuquerque has blurred distinctions between Land art and Light and Space on increasingly grander scales, whether it be building installations surrounding the pyramids in Egypt or placing sculptures across Antarctica to mirror the formation of the stars. Her cosmic explorations continue with two new bodies of work that are currently being shown at Kohn Gallery in Hollywood, from January 9 through February 27, 2016, and at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art, from January 26 through April 10, 2016. The latter exhibition will feature an opening performance by Albuquerque on January 24.

IN THE MID-1970’s, I started doing projects out in the environment that were about placing objects on the ground in relation to the horizon line or the mountains or the moon, and then it became about the stars. I’m very much of my time; when man landed on the moon I was twenty-two and we had never seen an image of the Earth from space. It was a seminal moment for my generation. I started having visions of mapping the stars on the Earth, and I didn’t know why. When I found out that Yves Klein had dreamed of writing his name on the back of the sky and claiming it for his work, and that Arman had claimed plenitude, I decided in the mid-1990s to claim the relationship between the Earth and the sky. I picked the color ultramarine to unite the two because of the intensity of the color—it had a certain vibration to it.

In recent years, I had this feeling to move toward more of a rose or a reddish pink or mauve, which is a much different feeling. Blue is expansive and spiritual; pink is more about the body. At Kohn, I’m showing a new series of paintings titled “Embodiment” in these colors, and they are really about the relationship between the body, the earth, and the sky. It’s a totally different work, and yet it runs parallel to what I’ve always done. It’s about activation through a vibrating language of pigments, while the new film I’m exhibiting at USC is about activation through a tonal language and music.

The film came from a text I wrote in 2003 about a twenty-fifth-century female astronaut whose mission is to teach the inhabitants of planet Earth the language of the stars. She lands in the year 6000 BCE in Mali—the beginning of civilization, more or less—and when she comes through the Earth’s atmosphere, she forgets her mission. I worked with a young composer named Robbie C. Williamson and an artist named Cassandra Bickman, who developed a tonal language for the character. The work is called 20/20: Accelerando; 2020 is a year, but it’s also the measurement of perfect vision. Accelerando is a musical term, but it also conveys the idea of an acceleration of consciousness.

My main interest is always being conscious of where the planet and the body are in space-time. In my film about a body coming to Earth, there’s this idea of an interstellar consciousness, and there’s an aspect of me in the character as well. She talks about how the language of the stars is like playing notes on a piano, practicing until you become fluent. We are related to the stars, we all know that, but to be fluent in that language is to understand our connectivity and to open up the body to the sublime.


“How does it feel to be a problem?” So begins a chapter titled “The Problem with African American Museums” in Mario Gooden’s new collection of essays, Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity. By repeating the question with which W. E. B. Du Bois launched The Souls of Black Folk, Gooden locates himself in an illustrious lineage while highlighting the stasis that lets the query resonate as profoundly now as it did over a century ago. What follows is a subtle reading of a number of African American cultural institutions, a consideration of the politics they spatialize (sometimes in literal mutations of Afrocentric iconography such as kente cloth or masks), and a call for “more critical design and discourse.” Gooden is an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and a partner in the firm Huff + Gooden Architects; below, he discusses the book and a chapter on the architect Amaza Lee Meredith. Dark Space was published this month by Columbia University Press.

THE TOPICS COVERED IN DARK SPACE are intimately related to my practice, and to how I and my colleagues approach our work in our architecture studio. But I specifically wanted the book to not be about my practice, in order to prompt a larger conversation that moves beyond the image of architecture, so to speak. It has always been my belief that architecture is about space and spatial experience. What it looks like in terms of pictorial representation, or its image, is secondary to its experience.

I first became aware of Amaza Lee Meredith two or three years ago. I had no idea that there had been a black woman architect practicing in Virginia as early as the 1920s and ’30s. And to be a modernist within that context! I thought that was quite extraordinary, considering what was going on culturally at that time. She had no formal architectural training; she had studied arts education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. While researching this book, I spent some time studying the house that she designed for herself and Edna Meade Colson, her lifelong female companion, in the mid-1930s. I started digging in to the way in which she constructed an identity through her own architecture. I read somewhere that she referred to a space in that house as her “lady’s boudoir.” I thought this might be a direct reference to Adolf Loos, who often included boudoirs in the modernist houses he designed. Then I became interested in looking at Azurest South, Meredith’s home in Virginia, in coordination with the house Loos designed for Josephine Baker, as the two women were essentially contemporaries: Meredith and Baker did not know each other, but they were being culturally productive at the same time.

Formative in my thinking as I was writing this essay was a seminar that I had taken with Beatriz Colominawhen I was a student at Columbia. It was a seminar on Loos, and around the same time Beatriz was working on her book Sexuality & Space. Upon reading certain scholarly critiques that suggest the house Loos designed for Baker epitomizes a European white male—and possibly Loos’s own—masculinist and primitivist racial and sexual desires, I wanted to offer a slightly different reading of the Baker house and how publicity, sexuality, and the gaze were working in that project. The house can be seen to contain ambiguities that blur the lines between viewer and view, and between subject and object. Features of the house point toward not only the objectification of Baker but also her elusiveness and the illusiveness of her image—for instance, I see connections to the racialized and sexualized dance performances Baker created as part of La Revue Nègre in Paris in the late ’20s.

In a way, Azurest South is much more private, but it's private in public. For that time and that context, the house was radically different from anything else around it—it doesn’t fade into its surroundings. It’s also interesting that Meredith did not necessarily hide her relationship with her partner, who was the head of the education department at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, which subsequently became the Virginia State College for Negroes in the ’30s and is now known as Virginia State University. I believe their colleagues were aware that they were “roommates.” So, from the exterior of Azurest South, their privacy is, let's say, veiled or cloaked, but it’s veiled and cloaked in public while recoding the masculinist guises of modernism.

— As told to Andy Campbell