Discover

Dena Yago | Art in the Anthropocene

Most known for her work as a founding member of the trend forecasting group K-Hole, poet and artist Dena Yago has over the past five years produced a cycle of meditations on the city and its destabilizing effects on communities and landscapes. Her work engages with the infertility of the urban sphere, and the paradoxical attraction it has over different species. In New York, ducks no longer migrate south for the winter, making Central Park pond their permanent home.

From her first solo show, ESPRIT at Tomorrow Gallery, to You and You’re People in Sao Paulo, her evolution from a jeune fille to an artist deeply committed to her community is evident. For Yago, artist communities are unsupported in the urban environment, and in her work she explores the affinity between this predicament and that of animals, who likewise cohabitate an unsupportive urban terrain.

Dena Yago

Dena Yago, Meyer Lemon, Granny Smith Apple, Navel Orange, 2011, Digital C Print mounted on aluminum, 16×20

Dena Yago

Dena Yago, Green Tea, 2011, Digital C Print mounted on aluminum, 16×20”

Dena Yago

Dena Yago, Fish Oil, 2011, Digital C Print mounted on aluminum, 16×20”

After completing her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Yago worked in the IT department at a downtown law firm, where for the next year and a half she limited her artistic output to the written word. Much of the work from this period was an attempt to reconcile a lifestyle inflected by corporate expectations while confronting the performativity of personal choices regarding health, food, and clothing.

“At that time when thinking about making an image or a sculpture I would ultimately become very disappointed, because of the richness and multi-valence of language. Poetry and writing had become a way I could draw out landscapes and relationships between objects.”

In preparing for ESPRIT, a launch for her poem by the same name, Yago would rediscover the visual counterpart to her practice. “ESPRIT,” she explains, “was an attempt to balance a poetic meditation on objects and a more objective meditation on poetry.”

In a slightly contradictory tone to the dulled ambivalences of optimism and resignation in ESPRIT the poem, the visual component of the exhibition are bright, clinical images made from digital scans of objects relating to the text, from fruit to fish oil.

“The way to hell or paradise

modal variation

I’ve gone too fast and feel
a wave of loneliness in this these waters”

For her sophomore solo show, A Car Ride Driven Topless, Yago maintained a textual component as the driver of the exhibition, but allowed the visual component of her practice to take center stage. The poem, which like ESPRIT, is the exhibition’s namesake, was framed and hung out of sight in the gallery office.

The works from the exhibition are portraits of various forms of ‘impressions. In one instance the voids left by entangled bodies are documented in slabs of medical impression foam, which are then scanned and printed, creating a visual fossil of intimacy that dialogues easily with Bruce Nauman’s ‘Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists’.

A Car Ride Driven Topless marks the introduction of a metaphysical ‘transcription’ where Yago begins to disassemble the nucleotides of the intimate and personal, and to reassemble them into unexpected formations––ones that destabilize the status quo as they expand out into the city.

“In my work I try to take the personal and see how it is indicative of a larger environmental situation.”

The title of the poem, a stanza in itself, illustrates this expansion from the personal to the urban:

“A car ride driven topless taken alone
Reminds major city thoroughfares of their
Contracting hopes as they pass, to carry the
Breasts of the drive.”

Impression (arm), 2012 Digital C-Print mounted on aluminum, 29 x 59 cm

Impression (arm), 2012, Digital C-Print mounted on aluminum, 29 x 59 cm

Impression (ass), 2012, Digital C-Print mounted on aluminum, 29 x 59 cm

Impression (ass), 2012, Digital C-Print mounted on aluminum, 29 x 59 cm

Impression (tail), 2012, Digital C-Print mounted on aluminum, 29 x 59 cm

Impression (tail), 2012, Digital C-Print mounted on aluminum, 29 x 59 cm

In Urbanities, a group show at James Fuentes Gallery, black and white gelatin silver prints taken at the painter Dan Colen’s farm in upstate New York depict what could be a photograph from the distant agrarian past. In reality it is an image of the agrarian only accessible via the capital success (or total rejection of it) of a city dwelling artist.

When asked about the relationship between her research to the autonomy of the artist and journeymen artists such as Gauguin, Yago shifts the context to a more fundamental concern about the survivability and sustainability of an artistic career on the infertile ground of the urban.

“‘Farming in Europe’[a play co-written with Calla Henkel, Max Pitegoff, and Pablo Larios at New Theater, Berlin] is different from what Gauguin was working with. The play is focused on a small community of artists in a large city. It has more to do with the relationship between the urban and the rural, and what it means when elements of the pastoral are played out in the city. There’s less notion of, “back to the land” for primitivistic entertainment – it’s more about survivalism.

Yago’s 2014 show Heat Island, at Gasconade in Milan, demonstrated a new, heightened level of specificity and research.

The urban heat island (UHI) effect describes the increase in temperature of the ground that occurs when there is not enough natural ground cover to dissipate the heat from the sun, and energy is retained by sidewalks and roads, resulting in disruptions to the local ecology. For Heat Island, Yago chose to show images of fig trees, which now may survive with less difficulty in New York due to the increased temperatures resulting from radiant heat.

2x2, 2014, Digital C-print, wooden tray, 45.5 × 29 × 2.5 cm

2×2, 2014, Digital C-print, wooden tray, 45.5 × 29 × 2.5 cm

cannibal of my own flesh, 2014, Digital-C print, straw basket, 36 x 36 x 6.5 cm

cannibal of my own flesh, 2014, Digital-C print, straw basket, 36 x 36 x 6.5 cm

For her show at Eli Ping Frances Perkins Gallery, Distaff, Yago privileged for the first time sculptural material over image based or text based works. Distaff is a double entendre, meaning both a female horse race and the rod which holds wool before it has been spun into yarn. Wool blankets strewn across the gallery into tent-like forms are the connective tissue between the leather straps which retain them. The blankets have been provided by entrepreneur Denitsa Popova, whose company works with female labourers in Bulgaria who weave woolen goods, and then dyed in collaboration with Cara Piazza, a natural dyer and textile designer in New York.

“With Distaff I was focused on taking up a writing of the self. This whole show is sort of about craft and gendered craft. But also about different modes of contemporary labor that women are dealing with. With the horses, the pigeons, and the ducks it’s more a question of cohabitation, co-inhabitation of a city.”

Dena Yago

Dena Yago, Untitled, 2014, Metal grate and inkjet print

Dena Yago

Dena Yago, Untitled, 2014, Digital C-print mounted on aluminum, 14 x 21”

Dena Yago

Dena Yago, Distaff, 2014, Installation view

For You and You’re People, which opened recently at Boatos Fine Art, in Sao Paulo, Yago shifts her attention from urban hegemony to domestic hegemony, depicting a cycle of work on the forces of love, ownership, and control. Photographs of dogs are displayed without frames on aluminum panels which are mounted an inch off the wall. When the exhibition is documented, a subtle shadow from the downlights will reveal the objecthood of the works.

In the gallery a dog chain languidly sections off the first bay of the room, forcing visitors to circumnavigate it, or to view the pictures from afar. In one image a dog stands on manicured grass: around its neck is an oversized pronged obedience collar. Hanging from it is the dogs red aluminium heart-shaped name tag – a small detail dense with the power dynamics of the domestic and the ethics of co-habitation.

The Sun Warms the Skin, but Burns it Sometimes Too, 2014, Digital C-print mounted on aluminum, aluminum lettering

The Sun Warms the Skin, but Burns it Sometimes Too, 2014, Digital C-print mounted on aluminum, aluminum lettering

The Outside and the Inside and the Secret Fear of the Secret, 2014 Digital C-print mounted on aluminum, aluminum lettering

The Outside and the Inside and the Secret Fear of the Secret, 2014, Digital C-print mounted on aluminum, aluminum lettering

Love Has Its Price, 2014 Digital C-print mounted on aluminum, aluminum lettering

Love Has Its Price, 2014, Digital C-print mounted on aluminum, aluminum lettering

Follow Dena Yago on Instagram and Twitter

Recent Posts

NHU DUONG SS17 WORK COLLECTION FT. KARL HOLMQVIST

What is a piece of clothing that “works”? Who is working whom? Is the one who poses the one who actually “works” hardest? The S/S 2017 collection of Berlin-based, Swedish- Vietnamese designer NHU DUONG entitled ‘WORK COLLECTION’ plays with the ideas of professionalism, leisure and appropriateness through a range of garments that are inspired by work outfits and hobby uniforms. Overalls, raw denim outfits, kung-fu pyjamas, biker pants, baggy tights and gloves, bomber-jackets, bomber suits,… [read more »]

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene | Agustina Zegers

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene is a text made up of living exercises to accompany Haraway’s theorization of the Chthulucene and her upcoming book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway posits that not only should we name the Anthropocene carefully (including the terms Capitalocene and Plantationocene within its narrative) but that we should also be using this crucial ecological timeframe to move towards a dynamically multi-species, “sym-chtonic“, sym-poietic future: the Chthulucene.… [read more »]

Laboria Cuboniks in Conversation

Laboria Cuboniks is currently a group of 6 women working together online to redefine a feminism adequate to the twenty-first century. They collectively wrote Xenofeminsim: A Politics for Alienation in 2014. Here, in conversation with Postcontemporary Issue guest editors Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik they discuss the dissatisfactions and limitations of historical feminism and the importance of theorizing “the future” as a feminist project. Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik: The initial formulation of your political… [read more »]

Situating Global Forms: An Anthropology of Cosmopolitan Science

Aihwa Ong, interviewed by Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik Constructing Globality Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik: Your anthropological research pays close attention to specific emerging and inventive configurations of globally-constituted modernization, particularly in East Asia and its diaspora. Throughout this work you identity many ways in which ‘things that used to be fused together — identity, entitlement, territoriality, and nationality — are being taken apart and realigned in innovative relationships and spaces by neoliberal technologies… [read more »]

Ways Of Living ⎮ Arcadia Missa

Ways of Living, curated by the team behind Arcadia Missa, moves beyond the home as a site of political contestation and into the working place, the artist studio, the public sphere, and nature. While so-called ‘social practice’ taught us that any attempt of art to engage with issues outside its own institutional reality are easily coopted into the mythologizing machinery of individualism and patriarchy, art still possesses an ability to address issues far beyond the… [read more »]

What is at Stake in the Future? | Alex Williams & Nick Srnicek

Every ‘future’ inscribes a demand upon the present. This is so whether at the level of human imagination, or within the sphere of political or aesthetic action necessary to reach towards their realisation. Futures make explicit the implicit contents of our own times, crystallising trajectories, tendencies, projects, theories and contingencies. Moreover, futures map the absent within the present, the presents which could never come into actuality, the wreckage of dreams past and desires vanquished. Futures… [read more »]

Dog Plays | Hayley Silverman

Hayley Silverman’s “Dog Plays,” an ongoing series in which a cast of untrained dogs take on the role of characters from a range of pop-culture texts, disrupt the canon of identities traditionally represented in Hollywood as they are re-inhabited by animals. Calling on artifacts ranging from Richard Linklater films, to science-fiction thrillers, to Depression-era musicals that rhapsodize class difference, these performances investigate how our understanding of narrative, authority and identity transforms when we project stories,… [read more »]

A poem by Ser Serpas

ripped apart you rip me apart collage million dead collage donde queda mi cuerpo el temporal como dios en mil partes clothing as point of impact a totem is a wrap around a city as it is engagement with one’s surroundings and engagement with that which has been worn out discarded and filtered into alms buckets and newly tagged i wear my surroundings on my feet when it wears out i see only my vantage… [read more »]

DISCREET Call for Participants

DISCREET – An Intelligence Agency for the People The 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art invites you to apply for one of fifteen spaces open to individuals interested in taking an active part in a three-week-long public workshop conceived of by Armen Avanessian and Alexander Martos for the formation and development of a civil secret service organization. Held from June 22 to July 11, 2016, the workshop brings together renegade experts from art, theory, technology,… [read more »]

Parent and Parroting | Nancy Lupo

Each year retail displays are readied in preparation for the gestation and labor of the catch-all holiday season before floating into a colorless postnatal celebration of mundane plenty. Capitalism’s sympathetic pregnancy makes for a cold and lifeless pas de deux, at times humorously inseparable from the vitality of social milestones. In Parent and Parroting, Nancy Lupo continues with a series of interventions into commercial products and industrialized food. Her interferences often reveal or reconfigure the… [read more »]