Sean Slemon and Alfred Whitehead: on self-enjoyment and concern

Disclosure: South African-born and New York-based artist Sean Slemon is a long-time friend. That relationship grew precisely out of a mutual respect for each other’s work, and interesting conversation about cultural difference, politics, and life. When we met, he was a South African about to move to New York with his Jewish-American wife, while I was a New York Jew living in South Africa. And, bluntly: I think he and his work are brilliant.

As part of our work-friendship, I’ve had the pleasure of writing on, and around, Sean’s work for something like 15 years. I’ve penned a press release, a review, an academic essay, and two catalog essays, alongside his practice, which has continuously gained depth. There’s something to be said for this. While artists often think they need several voices across catalogs (etc) reflecting on their work (and I’ve certainly gained a great deal from the writings and thoughts of many others telling me what my work is doing, for them), there is also much to be gained from a lengthy engagement, from someone who has taken that journey with you.

Artists should have long-term conversations with writers, or theorists, or other artists, invested in their work. (More on this idea in a post in the next month or two, when I plan to preview a forthcoming book by philosopher Brian Massumi.)

I’m currently writing the catalog essay for Sean’s solo exhibition, Confluence Tree, which opens in Minnesota next month. And I’m also finishing up a section on his work, Goods for Me (also a bit on Public Property, above), for my forthcoming book. Here I’d like to briefly shine a light on his Paduak (Pterocarpus Soyaxi), and a few of the ideas I borrow from mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead to think-with Sean in those other texts.

Paduak (Pterocarpus Soyaxi), 2015 African Padauk Hardwood 22 x 38-1/2 x 46-1/2 inches (55.9 x 95.3 x 115.6 cm.)
Paduak (Pterocarpus Soyaxi), 2015 African Padauk Hardwood 22 x 38-1/2 x 46-1/2 inches (55.9 x 95.3 x 115.6 cm.)

A paduak is a West African species of tree. Nowadays farmed, they grow about 160 feet tall, create bright red lumber, and get darker with age. Here Slemon extruded a two-dimensional drawing of a paduak into a sculpture, and then he simply made a paduak tree, at paduak scale, out of paduak wood. It’s fascinating to hear him talk about this memorial and celebration, this ludic attempt to turn a tree back into what it once was. Paduak is an especially hard wood, like nothing Slemon has ever worked with; he went through many saw blades for the show, had to cut it as if he were working with steel. It was a hard-won piece of art, where, in the end, the material itself speaks as loudly as Slemon’s intent with it, giving both him and “tree” some agency in that final piece.

Despite that Paduak will never again be a paduak, it re-members. That is, it embodies again. It remembers what it was, just as it is substantiated into what Slemon made it. Substantiated: given meaning like a substantiated argument, but also made into a material, and substantial, form. In this case, the two meanings are one and the same.

As viewers we have an immediately felt experience – what Alfred North Whitehead calls “self-enjoyment” (Modes of Thought 1968: 150) – which also has us “concern” ourselves with the before and after, with the outside that both made for this occasion of experience, and where, with our help, it might be heading afterwards (1968: 167). Film Scholar Steven Shaviro explains that Whitehead’s self-enjoyment “happens pre-reflexively in the moment itself. I enjoy my life as I am living it; my enjoyment of the very experience of living is precisely what it means to be alive” (in Beyond Metaphysics? 2010: 249). Self-enjoyment and life are processual – that is, ongoing rather than static – but are autonomous and individual events, each one “my” self-contained experience.

And while self-enjoyment is part of every isolated occurrence or experience, concern is for and with the things we experience – our outsides, and their befores and afters. Concern is “an involuntary experience of being affected by others. It opens me, in spite of myself, to the outside.” Concern thus “compromises my autonomy, leading me towards something beyond myself.” Concern is, Whitehead asserts, concern “with the universe” (1968: 167). It implies, Shaviro explains further, “a weight upon the spirit. When something concerns me, I cannot ignore it or walk away from it. It presses upon my being and compels me to respond” (2010: 249). Concern is always for and with things external to myself, with the many pasts in and of the world around me (which lead to this present moment of transition), and with the potential futures I may help to make.

Slemon draws and draws out a concern for matter and things, life and time.

While many painters, printmakers, and illustrators “think with ink,” sketch to produce new ideas, Slemon does so with his own matters of concern, as a sculptor. Wood with wood, each informing the other. In-form: in the process of being formed.

Goods for Me by Sean Slemon. 12 x 8 x 2 feet. 2011.
Goods for Me by Sean Slemon. 12 x 8 x 2 feet. 2011.

The artist recently told me, recalling his growing up in South Africa, “I come from a place where social equality and its very imbalance are always in the spotlight.” And he does not see this concern as distinct from that of the Paduak. When Sean Slemon is concerned with trees, he is also concerned with himself, with past and future, with resources, agency, and equality, with what they were, could have been, and still might be; he is concerned with how worlds and lives, things and selves, together practice their unfolding. Our experience of his art is an intensification, he says, of “ideas, people, parts of the country, attitudes, and points of view.”

Overall, in a long and beautiful body of work, Slemon re-places and re-presents different concepts of time and relation, people and peoples, matter and what matters. How does the Earth tell time? That tree show care? This nation flourish? We, as people, move forward? We are like children trying to sense and make sense of things we can never fully understand.

And yet, we can wonder at, and concern ourselves with, consequence and potential, style and aesthetics, compassion and beauty, so as to aim towards better futures.

Shaviro, Steven. 2010. “Self-Enjoyment and Concern: On Whitehead and Levinas.” In Beyond Metaphysics?: Explorations in Alfred North Whitehead’s Late Thought, edited by Roland Faber, Clinton Combs, and Brian G. Henning, 249-257. New York: Rodopi.
Whitehead, Alfred North. 1968. Modes of Thought. New York: Free Press.

Help Jessica and me make art!

13 Views of a Journey

Hi Everyone:

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and I are trying to raise money for our next collaborative solo exhibition at GALLERY AOP in Johannesburg, South Africa, in January 2013, through crowd-funding site US Artists. Some of this work will also be shown in Milwaukee as part of SGCI next March. Please consider donating even the smallest amount to help us cover costs of materials and catalog printing (with an essay by renowned media theorist Richard Grusin)! Every little bit helps, it’s tax deductible, and donations at various levels will get limited edition art works to boot. Contributions can be made through Amazon payments. We’ve made a video explaining the work and what your money will go towards online with the campaign at:

Note: If your credit card is issued from a non-US bank, or you prefer not to use Amazon payments, please consider either making a donation through GALLERY AOP via Alet Vorster in South Africa <>, or by printing and mailing or faxing this donation form.

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The Exhibition

In our ongoing series of collaborations, a traditional printmaker (Jessica Meuninck-Ganger) and digital artist (Nathaniel Stern) merge practices to create new forms. Matter Mediate Material is an upcoming solo exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa (January 2013), where we will permanently mount translucent prints and drawings directly on top of video screens, to make “moving images on paper.” Several of these exciting new works will also be shown as part of Southern Graphics Conference International (March 2013, Milwaukee).

We really appreciate your patronage and support. Matter Mediate Material will combine hand craftsmanship with high tech, and so requires LCD screens and media players, hours of shooting, animating and drawing, paper, ink, silk screens, wood, copper plates, frames, glass, and so much more. Your funding will assist with materials and production for the new work, as well as catalog printing. Remember that we must reach our minimum goal to get funding (it’s all or nothing!), but any moneys over and above that goal will help further: towards shipping costs, framing, travel, design, PR and public programming. Every bit helps – so please donate, and tell your friends, too. Thank you for your help!

Thanks in advance for your support! Best,

nathaniel and jessica

Distill Life: undertoe


Bi-weekly updates, and a small, signed, letterpress print

Bi-weekly updates, a signed letterpress print, and a signed catalog

Updates, signed letterpress print and catalog, and a signed silk screen print

Everything above, and a very limited edition signed digital print

Everything above and a signed, very limited edition, 2-layer digital and traditional print

Everything above and a signed, limited edition print+video piece -this includes a video screen + media player to make “moving images on paper”

Nathaniel Stern in Milwaukee, Vancouver and Pretoria

13 views of a Journey (detail), 2011, video and print installation, 6 x 8 feet

Current Tendencies II: Artists from Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

10 Milwaukee artists at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University
13th and Clybourn, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
August 24 – December 31, 2011
Opening reception, August 31, 6PM

Concert at Church of the Gesu with John Weissrock, September 14, 6PM
Panel Discussion with Meuninck-Ganger, Stern and others, October 6, 6PM
Lecture by Reginald Baylor and Mark Brautigam, November 9, 6PM

Current Tendencies II features 10 Milwaukee artists working in a variety of media, including photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, video and sculpture.  The exhibition presents many never-before-seen works, commissioned specifically for the Haggerty Museum.  Each artist was paired with a Marquette professor who wrote a reflection of the artist’s work based on the professor’s area of expertise, creating dialogue between artist and scholar and connecting philosophy, theology, political science, communications, etc., to the works in the exhibition.

The exhibition premieres 13 Views of a Journey (6 x 8 feet, see above detail), a new Distill Life installation by Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and Nathaniel Stern. Here the artists mount large-scale and translucent prints to plexiglass and rear project video through them, creating “moving images on paper.” The 13 animated vignettes are played in random order behind fibrous and inky paper, making a dynamic and room-sized book art project. Says Philosophy Professor Melissa Shew, “This work is not about the artists, past and present; it is not about correctness in terms of history or technique; it is not about influence and deference…. this work concerns what is possible through collaboration, through layering and uncovering, film and print.”

Jessica and Nathaniel will also be part of a panel discussion at the museum on October 6 at 6 PM, with Will Pergl, Dr. Melissa Shew and Dr. Bonnie Brennen. Other artists featured in Current Tendencies II include Reginald Baylor, Mark Brautigam, Julian Correa, Lisa Hecht, Sharon Kerry-Harlan, Luc Leplae, Will Pergl, and Jordan Waraksa. Catalogs are available at the museum, or as a PDF download.

Wikipedia Art logoNew Forms Festival: Public Domain
Vancouver, Canada

Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall, among others
Waldorf Hotel, Vancouver
1489 East Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 1S4, Canada
September 9-11, 2011

New Forms Festival 2011 delves into the theme of “Public Domain”, focusing on concepts of copyright art, public interactivity, media façades and relationships between public and private spaces. Utilizing the entire hotel premises, the festival will act as a creative hub, a laboratory for exploration and discovery. Throughout the festival, performances, video projects, workshops and installations will take place in the hotel rooms, various bars, spaces, hallways, outer walls and the back parking lot, including artists such as Antoine Schmitt, Negativland, Patrick Cruz, ARO, Lief Hall and Hart Snider.

Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern famously used Wikipedia as an artistic platform, creating a collaborative project that explores and challenges our understanding of how knowledge is formed and disseminated. For over a year they planned the initiation of Wikipedia Art, a socially generated artwork that exploits a feedback loop in Wikipedia’s citation mechanism. Here, a “word war” across blogs, interviews and the mainstream press, which involved Wikipedians, artists, journalists, lawyers and even the Wikimedia Foundation itself, continuously defined and transformed a work of art in much the same way that these categories define the discourses of the everyday. Their Wikipedia Art hotel room for the New Forms Festival plays with the kinds of parodoxical publicity needed to begin and sustain a Wikipedia page, and charts the inception, birth, life, death and resurrection of their work. It questions the authoritative role of Wikipedia, and reveals its fallibility whilst debating the control of, access to, and creation of, knowledge.

Pretoria, South Africa

UNISA Gallery
University of South Africa
Kgorong Building, Ground floor
Preller & Ridge Street
Muckleneuk Ridge, Pretoria
September 7 – 30, 2011
Opening reception: September 7

Transcode: Dialogues Around Intermedia Practice, curated by Gwen Miller at the new UNISA (University of South Africa) Gallery, explores the space between digital and traditional work for contemporary, South African artist-researchers. It premieres new work by many artists, including Lawrence Lemaoana, Celia de Villiers, Frikkie Eksteen, Marcus Neustetter, Carolyn Parton, Churchill Madikida, Colleen Alborough, Minette Vári and Fabian Wargau, among others.

Nathaniel Stern’s new piece, static, is an enclosed installation of six looped films, where each is edited down through “thresholding” the audio: any time the volume goes above a set and very low amplitude, that section is completely removed, and the film jump cuts to the next (nearly) silent sequence. These are in a tight corridor with three body-sized and wall-to-wall projections on either side, spatially putting viewers “in quotes” as they inadvertently cast shadows into the stories around them. High-volume loudspeakers accompany each projection, creating a hum out of the minor background noise left behind in all six Best Picture-winning films: Apocalypse Now, Casablanca, Silence of the Lambs, On The Waterfront, The Godfather II and Midnight Cowboy. What we see or experience is reliant not only on the work’s rich-but-noiseless stasis and over-determined visual action, but also our familiarity with each film or filmic genre. The clips’ varied lengths, styles and narratives, all seen together, accent our collective, social relationships to archetypal stories and characters at large.

Also on exhibition is Stern’s well known interactive piece, stuttering, and several works from his Compressionism and Distill Life series (the latter with collaborator Jessica Meuninck-Ganger).

Out of the Suitcase
At Sea (detail)Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger are also part of Out of the Suitcase: Works by Recent Recipients of the Mary L. Nohl Suitcase Awards, with their collaborative and solo print work. The exhibition is curated by Mark Lawson and Bruce Knackert in the Frederick Layton Gallery at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, on view now through October 8, and with an opening reception Thursday, September 8, at 6PM.

Other participating artists include: Nicole Brown, Matt Cipov, Michael Davidson, Chris Davis Benavides, Santiago Cucullu, Nicholas Grider, Karen Gunderman, Nicolas Lampert, Angela Laughingheart, Faythe Levine, Shana McCaw and Brent Budsberg, Kimberly Miller, Will Pergl, John Ruebartsch, Val Schleicher, Sonja Thomsen, Christopher Willey and James Zwadlo.

Giverny of the Midwest: Nathaniel Stern @ GALLERY AOP in Johannesburg, South Africa

Giverny of the Midwest (detail), 2011, 2 x 12 meters
Nathaniel Stern scanning lilies in South Bend, IndianaGiverny of the Midwest

Johannesburg, South Africa
Nathaniel Stern at GALLERY AOP

44 Stanley Avenue
Braamfontein Werf (Milpark), Johannesburg
Saturday 30 July – Saturday 13 August 2011
Opening talk by Jeremy Wafer, 30 July 14h00
Artist talks, 4 – 5 August, Joburg and Pretoria
Artist walkabout at AOP, 4 August 18h00

For Nathaniel Stern’s ongoing series of performative prints, he straps a desktop scanner, laptop and custom-made battery pack to his body, and performs images into existence. He might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around his neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond. The dynamism between his body, technology and the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are then produced as archival art objects.

Giverny of the Midwest is a panoramic installation of nearly 100 such prints, rendering water, lilies, leaves and other organic forms into lush and rippling images. The source materials were scanned during a week-long camping trip next to a lily pond in South Bend, Indiana, and edited together over the course of nearly 2 years. The piece explicitly cites Monet’s large-scale painting and installation, Water Lilies (1914-1926), at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It is similarly an immersive triptych of over 250 square feet (totaling 2 x 12 meters), and follows the patterns of light and color in Monet’s panorama. But Giverny of the Midwest’s three large panels move between proximity and distance, and are broken down into differently-sized and -shaped prints on watercolor paper, each evenly spaced apart. The tensions between flow and geometry, life and modularity, place it in further dialogue with other trajectories of modern and contemporary art, and simultaneously activate the possibilities of working across digital and traditional forms.

Giverny of the Midwest (detail), middle wall, 30 prints @ 2 x 4 meters

Giverny of the Midwest (detail, 2 x 4 meters; total size 2 x 12 meters)

Also part of the exhibition: The Giverny Series, 8 individual prints (edition 10, 2011) and In the fold, an artist book (forthcoming) – both produced using imagery from the aforementioned “art camping trip” in South Bend, Indiana.


Artist presentations

At both artist talks, Nathaniel will talk about his trajectory of thinking and making, which centers around curiosity, generosity and dialogue. He’ll present his work as a series of questions that often lead to interdisciplinarity and collaboration, and the combination of new and traditional media. The walkabout will see an open discussion about Giverny of the Midwest more specifically – the prints, the process, and the in-betweens.

Artist talk: Thursday 4 August, 12h30
Digital Convent, University of the Witwatersrand, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Co-hosted by Wits Digital Arts and the Division of Visual Arts

Artist walkabout: Thursday 4 August, 18h00
44 Stanley Avenue, Braamfontein Werf (Milpark), Johannesburg

Artist talk: Friday 5 August, 9h00
Sunnyside Campus, University of South Africa (UNISA), Pretoria
Hosted by the Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology



Gallery hours: Tuesday – Friday 10h00-17h00, Saturday 10h00-15h00

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger @ Gallery AOP, Johannesburg


Jessica Meuninck-Ganger
Position / Opposition (detail)  2011 Artist book installation: drypoint, letterpress, etching & aquatint,
lithography and drawing on Thai mulberry paper & muslin  2,3m high X 1,2m X 10m (open)

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger
Position / Opposition
2 – 23 July 2011
Opening Saturday 2 July at 14:00

Opening address by Max Yela
(Head, Special Collections, UWM Libraries; Adjunct Associate Lecturer, UWM Department of Art & Information;
Adjunct Instructor, UWM School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA)

Preview by appointment
Exhibition catalogue available (on-line version via

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and Max Yela will conduct a public walkabout before the opening, at 11:00 on Saturday 2 June. All welcome!

A special walkabout/information session will be held on Sunday 3 July at 14:00 for artist-printmakers

“Position/Opposition is an installation of over one hundred etchings and drawings assembled in a variety of presentation formats, including: a suite of six hanging print assemblages (45 x 66 cm), a large book (1.2 x 2.3 x 6 m – open); and one work from an edition of five artist’s books (maquette versions of the large book). Each work is a compound composition of expressive faces and hands that embody an emotive collaboration between two subjects. All of the prints on paper are participatory in nature and utilize the same subject imagery, but due to the ranging formats and scale, each depicts a unique conversation.” (Jessica  Meuninck-Ganger, 2011)

Jessica Meuninck-Ganger is a ‘context-provider’ (rather than a ‘content-provider’, in the words of British artist Peter Dunn) in this installation of prints, folios, and books that combine traditional processes of etching and lithography with new technologies, and incorporate the structural techniques of sculpture and book arts. She says: “I compose autobiographical memoirs that unfold like journal pages made for public view. An enthusiast of fine papers, prints and books a subjects, I am interested in people’s interactions with them as physical forms and conceptual spaces.”

Meuninck-Ganger’s work involves the creative orchestration of collaborative encounters and conversations well beyond the institution of the gallery. Her artist’s books are catalysts or surprisingly powerful transformations in the consciousness of their ‘readers’. The conversations they generate become an integral part of the work itself, which is collaboratively achieved.

Short biography
Jessica Meuninck-Ganger’s prints, artist’s books and large-scale mixed media works have been exhibited in museums and both experimental and commercial galleries regionally – near her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – nationally in the US and internationally. Her works on paper and her artist’s books are included in several private and public collections, including the Weisman Museum of Art and the Target Corporation, and in contemporary publications, such as Richard Noyce’s recent book, ‘Printmaking Beyond the Edge’ (collaboration with Nathaniel Stern). She has received residencies and fellowships all over the world, and has instructed printmaking courses and workshops throughout various states in America. Jessica received her MFA in Studio Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2004 and is currently Head of Printmaking at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, USA.

Nathaniel Stern in London, Milwaukee, Stellenbosch and Montreal

Given Time, networked installation and continuous performance
Wikipedia Art logoMade Real

Made Real: Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall
Furtherfield Gallery (formerly HTTP)
Unit A2, Arena Design Centre
71 Ashfield Rd, London N4 1NY
Friday 27 May – Saturday 25 June 2011
Private View: Thursday 26 May 2011, 6.30-9pm

Networks – social, political, physical and digital – are a defining feature of contemporary life, yet their forms and operations often go unseen and unnoticed. For this exhibition Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, artists and co-founders of Wikipedia Art, take these networks as their artistic materials and play-spaces to create artworks about love, power-play and a new social reality. Three works are shown for the first time in the UK: Wikipedia Art, a collaborative work “made” of dialogue and social activity; Given Time, an Internet artwork that creates a feedback loop across virtual and actual space; and Playing Duchamp, a one-on-one meeting and game between an absent artist and viewer/participant. Read more…

Strange Vegetation

Strange Vegetation

Strange Vegetation: Yevgeniya Kaganovich in
collaboration with Nathaniel Stern
Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum
2220 North Terrace Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202
8 June – 25 July 2011
Opening Reception: Wednesday 8 June 2011, 5:30-8:30pm

Strange Vegetation grows an ecological system out of the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum’s unique decor. It germinates and mutates the wallpaper’s images into a mesh of living things: physically interconnected and identical plant-like forms projecting, like bulbous roots, from the floor. Over a dozen of these latex volumes slowly breathe in and out, an inflation and deflation cycle that gradually distorts each form. The installation and its surroundings transform the site from museal space to biological habitat, producing a fantastical organism of an imagined future. Strange Vegetation suggests that all built environments are (a) vibrant matter with the capacity for their own movement, change and agency over time. Read more…

The Great OakLens: fractions of contemporary photography and video in South Africa

Stellenbosch University Art Museum
Ryneveldstraat 52 Ryneveld Street
Stellenbosch, South Africa
11 May to 23 July 2011

Lens: fractions of contemporary photography and video in South Africa combines a collection of old and new work produced by South African artists who performatively use the lens in their practice. It includes several collaborations from Nathaniel Stern and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger’s Distill Life series, and pieces by Bridget Baker, Dineo Bopape, Husain and Hasan Essop, Jo Ractliffe, Kathryn Smith, Pieter Hugo, Stephen Hobbs, Steven Cohen, Zanele Muholi and many others.

Generating the ImpossibleGenerating the Impossible

Finally, my family (Nicole Ridgway and Sidonie Ridgway Stern) and I are also participating in the SenseLab’s residency / conference / performance / exhibition, Generating the Impossible, in Montreal this July. The event, subtitled “A Potlatch For Research-Creation,” will be held in a forest outside of Montreal from 3-7 July 2011 and in the city itself from 8-10 July 2011. Erin Manning, Brian Massumi and all of the event’s participants are working together to re-conceptualize and collaboratively produce a new form of Sentimental Construction as part of the program.

Hope to see some of you around the globe!