Judith Fleishman ~ The Impossibility of Becoming

“The actual world wherein the aspiration and the service find their calling, seems to this consciousness no longer an essentially vain world, that is only to be destroyed and consumed, but rather, like the consciousness itself, a world broken in twain, which is only in one aspect vain, while in another aspect it is a sanctified world, wherein the Changeless is incarnate. For the Changeless has retained the nature of individuality, and being, as changeless, an Universal, its individuality has in general the significance of all actuality.”

Georg W.F. Hegal
Herning FolkSchool

Judith Fleishman studio, Herning Folk High School, Denmark, 1990

“The Velvet Hammer”
“Afraid to Dream”

The impossibility of becoming and/or coming into being play a major role in the object making and construction tradition that Fleishman is engaged in. This hypothetical postulate, which we are assuming to be true, that is without proof, is necessary for the sake of argument, like the Hegal quotation above, we can only assume the experience of the actual world. The “fact” of becoming or its impossibility is observable by the senses, as faulty they may be. Let belief structures manifest.

In a small brochure published in 1992 for her exhibition at the Johan Jonker Gallery, Fleishman, in the centerfold, has juxtaposed a photograph of a spiral nebula intermingling with systems of stars next to one of her objects entitled “the velvet hammer.” Since 1990 Fleishman has taken mundane or everyday objects and removed them from use/context value by defacement of surface, for example, covering, painting, or cutting.


By covering numerous objects, such as telephones, kitchen utensils and even police barricades, with sometimes yards of black velvet cloth and faux pearls (they look like stars), she has been able to remove their identifiable sign or value systems. It is generally understood that all objects project meaning beyond their use and purpose. Here Fleishman is able to focus on the semiotic and the transference of meaning. In “the velvet hammer,” 1991, and photographic juxtaposition of the spiral nebula, a distant galaxy in Andromeda, science fiction, savage poetics, and “beautiful” object making are combined, allowing the poetical and the psychological to intertwine with the particular and local. The majority of the “Black Velvet” objects, produced between 1990 and 1994, all involve analogy and transfer of sign value, generally into the impenetrable non-space of mystery and eternity.
“Afraid to Dream,” another object from the same period, is an oversized mop handle with hair in place of the mop itself, a strange title, but one can almost imagine this situation, a state on non-becoming, where the psyche is destroyed, or used as an object for the general clean up of human emotions and ambitions.

“The Spectator”
“Sin City”

“The Spectator” 1994

The Spectator” W139 Amsterdam, 1995, 39′ x 11′ x 11′, second hand wood, found objects

The removal or displacement of sign-system identification found in Fleishman’s objects continues in concrete dimensionality in her installations and performances. One example of this is found in the work entitled “The Spectator,” 1994. This site specific installation/sculpture and audience participation piece consists of a full scale thirty-eight foot observation tower made of wood that one is able to climb up into. Once you are there, you are able to look around, sit or just think. To actually experience this work completely, one has to climb up into its interior. From the ground it looks just like an abandoned tower, but upon closer examination its true nature and purpose becomes known. A change of viewpoint and inner reflection is offered to the viewer by this process of climbing.Sight_09


Inside the interior of this installation, a book bag with a wide selection of books are available “Marquis de Sade”, “The Age of Longing” and the “I Ching.”  Other objects, seemingly left by someone in the tower, tell an unusual story: a few coins, women’s clothes, lipstick, perfume, condoms, even a Herald Tribune. Here you are allowed to become “The Spectator,” to watch and be watched on many metaphorical levels. The ob_42physical action of looking and the sexual action of looking and being looked at are played out in this semi-private space. The actuality of seeing and not being seen is itself the classic panoptic arrangement. Self-examination and resolution comes to a possible closure with the inclusion of the rope in this private/public space of seeing and being not-seen.

“Sin City”, Sculpture Space, Utica NY, 1996, dimensions variable, local flora & fauna, found objects, photos, poems , clothes line

“Sin City,” an installation from 1996, forms a trajectory away in some degree from the above mentioned thoughts on Fleishman’s explorations of contextual rearrangements and psycho-personal object making. “Sin City” in some ways is a metaphor for the failure of the industrial sector of society in small town America, in this case, Utica, New York.

The social and personal are scrutinized in this recent installation, probably Fleishman’s first true “political” work. Old clothes from The Salvation Army, poems by the artist, photos and other found objects interact in a mock clearing house of useless information._Sin Citydetail

The words “Sin City,” constructed out of local leaves and sticks and mounted above your head, rise above this arrangement of objects like an ad along the highway. These semi-organized array of objects, which also includes a typewriter and crutches, act out a complex historical analogy for urban decay and loss of economic power. We are left with a residual of dysfunctional small town life. This work, unlike the sociopolitical and democratic “ideals” found in the work of Joseph Beuys, presents no final epiphany or reconstruction of spirit. Fleishman, in this installation, presents a “no exit” situation, where life attempts to continue in moral and social decrepitude.

“A Fall From Grace”


“A Fall From Grace”, Plasy Monastery Czech Republic 1997, with Charlie Citron

Ritualistic gestures and a desire for exposure of the human flesh to the spectatorship of live audiences seems to be the operating procedure in the performances of Judith Fleishman. We could add open ended improvisation, game playing, and a variety of other situations she presents to an audience.A Fall From Grace  Plasy Monastery Czech Republic 1997, with Charlie Citron

“A Fall From Grace” is a performance from 1994 in collaboration with the American artist Charlie Citron. With Citron as Adam, Fleishman as Eve, there is not much one could really add to this Biblical account without digressing into irony or cynicism while keeping within the framework we have been reflecting upon. This performance, which exists now only in photographs, presents a slightly different angle of vision, but one of the classic subjects of all western art. The two artists, as Adam and Eve, are presented after the fall. They stand banished in actual space and time, aware of themselves and possible viewers. I_P_29They stand partially hidden amongst bushes and trees, covering themselves. The fact that this performance was first presented in the theologically charged space of Palsy Monastery in the Czech Republic adds poignancy to a tragic account. As Adam and Eve “hide,” we are placed in the position of discovering them, even if we do not want to. As spectators we are allowed to see through “divine vision” and discover our creation, miserable and naked, hiding from us, but still in complete view.I_P_15
Adam confronts his viewer, Eve looks away. In the account of Adam and Eve, their fall from Divine status into the three dimensional time/space we experience postulates an awakening of the egocentric consciousness of the human condition.

As Hegal mentions in Phenomenology of the Spirit, “It knows not yet that in finding these it has the assurance of self-possession as the basis of its existence.” In “A Fall From Grace,” again the gaze of the human condition is upon itself, Fleishman’s performance reflects this: we are aware of them and they, by their gestures, are aware of something, but seem unaware of the complete implications of their newfound self-possession.

Mark Dagley
Newton, New Jersey

Judith Fleishman, “Untitled,” window frame, feather, wax, satin ribbon, 1990

Looking For Maya

Judith  Fleishman is an artist/writer who lives and works in New York City. In 2003, Abaton Book Company published her text/visual collaboration  Looking for Maya. Her prose has been published by Tema Celeste, Rogue Magazine and the artist zine The Orifice. Fleishman’s work can be found in many private and public collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art, The NYC Public Library, the Gemente Museum Arnhem, The Netherlands and The Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany.

Purchase Judith Fleishman’s photojournalistic expose of her adventures in the skin trade. With text by Black Alex, interview with Lauri Bortz, and poem by Jeff Burns.

Read an excerpt at the Brooklyn Rail:

Interview with Fleishman (Maya) by playwright and publisher Lauri Bortz:

Published by www.abatonbookcompany.com


George Condo – “Lamentation of the Drinker”


The plastic narration found in this work from 1994 by George Condo represents a reassertion of a type of compositional structure not found since the late works of Cézanne. Like the French master, and his concern with the structuring of advances made by the more formal impressionists, for example, the de-materialization of subject matter and broken surface tension, Condo reformulates and codifies similar concerns, a type of metaphysical space that one is allowed to access, a place of possible dramatic interpretation similarly found in the work of De’Chirico, Magritte and more recently Guston.


Just as Cézanne’s bathers push space around in tightly knit compositional formats, Condo, in the painting “Lamentation of the Drinker,” allows a grouping of faceless humanoid’s to control and manipulate the residual of geometric and architectural space, while acting out odd histrionic episodes.

Approximately thirty figures occupy this canvas where great tragedy has just taken place, or is about to. The size of the canvas (65 x 81 inches) and the overall composition used represents the format of an eyeball shaped oval. This cycloptic orifice stares out toward the viewer. Dead center, figuratively and literally is the main group of figures witnessing the last (?) moments of “The Drinker.”

Imaginatively thought out, these groups of figures, three “beings”: hovering in space, seven others in severe panic and dressed in black observe or are reacting to the unfolding drama. Unlike Christian exegesis, where Christ, descending from the cross, his mother weeping uncontrollably or even losing consciousness is the main focus of meditation, Condo’s lamentation is a situation suspended between certainty and doubt, where many possibly scenarios could happen. Unless Condo’s main protagonist is experiencing rigor mortis (his arm being outstretched), or dead drunk, he could be alive. A strange group of robed figures look on in wonder and disbelief, others gesture in misunderstanding. If this work is not seen as an elaborately concealed study of certainty and doubt, or the ambiguous nature of perception and belief itself, how else can we decipher the gestures, groupings and interaction between these faceless figures?

Kenneth Rexroth, in a short essay about the artist Morris Graves mentions “deliberate formal mysteriousness…analogous to that found in primitive cult objects,” there is much of that found in this painting, a visually complex riddle. It could be seen as a strange cinematic reflection projected on our memory, always needing to be re-deciphered, its meaning re-established. Therefore, it should not be so strange that the figures that occupy Condo’s “Lamination of the Drinker” have no distinguishing facial features.

Like Cézanne’s bathers they exist within themselves, purely in the space of painting.

Mark Dagley

In Defense of a Young Artist


July 26, 2001

To: Dr. M__T__

Associate Professor of Music

Kean University

Dr. T__

This letter is in regard to our telephone conversation this morning, which concerned incoming Kean student Marianne Nowottny. First of all, let me thank you for your time and attention. We are aware that the circumstances surrounding Ms. Nowottny’s enrollment at Kean are unique and your patience was appreciated. We do intend to follow your suggestion and will attempt to enroll her in the music department at William Patterson or Morris County College.

It is unfortunate that Marianne did not pass the audition for the music department at Kean University and there is a lingering question here. Marianne was under the impression that, since she was given her petition and class schedule two months ago, she was in fact going to be accepted as a music major. She was quite upset to learn otherwise and wonders why she was ever given a class schedule. You yourself heard her piano playing and placed her in classical piano, only to pull her out with just a few weeks to go before the semester begins. Your reasons were not fully explained to Ms. Nowottny, nor were they explained to me in any satisfactory way. We are curious as to why this decision was made. She will now have to reconsider all of her classes, something that will only magnify the normal stress and strain experienced by an incoming freshman.

As Marianne Nowottny’s label representative here at Abaton Book Company, I have to mention that I take personal offense at a statement you made during our phone conversation. You told me that you felt we were “leading her down the wrong path.” Am I to understand that you arrived at this conclusion by playing Marianne’s recent CD Manmade Girl to a colleague there at Kean “who knows a lot about pop music”? Please let me give you some background information. My wife, Lauri Bortz, and I have been working diligently with Marianne since she was 14 years old. We have published her poetry and drawings, recorded, produced and promoted her musical projects, and obtained paid commissions for her oil paintings. We have worked as closely as possible with her parents, Ingomar and Nancy, to promote her extraordinary talents to best of our abilities, always encouraging her to work hard, and be true to her artistic vision.

Marianne has been able to teach herself to play the keyboard by ear and express herself musically. She is very enthusiastic to learn, and was looking forward to the challenge of Kean University. She felt that she would be an asset to your music department and hoped that the department would be willing to help her fill in the gaps in her musical education. It would seem that this is exactly what the liberal arts department should be doing; taking the opportunity to develop her talents further, claiming her as one of their own. It is quite heartbreaking for me to see someone of her abilities, someone who really wants to learn to read and write music, to communicate her ideas to other musicians effectively, denied this opportunity.

I have enclosed some of the press that Marianne has received. Her CDs have been reviewed in a positive manner in many publications. Marianne has been called “indisputably one of the major musical figures of her generation” by Joe Harrington of New York Press and “far removed from the romantic bromides of chart-topping kiddie-pop” by Jon Pareles of The New York Times. I would think that someone such as yourself would appreciate and understand the importance of a positive review in such an established paper as The New York Times.

You should also know that Marianne has played concerts at both The Museum of Modern Art and The New Museum. She has performed many times at The Knitting Factory, Tonic, Maxwell’s, and most of the new music venues in NYC. She has played live with such personalities as Eric Mingus, son of jazz legend Charles Mingus, and with avant-garde composer Elliott Sharp. Marianne has also performed on the same bill as experimental pianist Kathleen Supove and Karen Mantler, daughter of jazz composer Carla Bley. She has done live radio concerts on WPRB, Princeton University; WURS, Rutgers University; WFMU, Jersey City; KFJC, Palo Alto, CA . Her voice has been compared to that of Om Kalsoum, Patty Waters, Marlene Dietrich, Nico, Patti Smith, and P.J. Harvey; her musical compositions to those of jazz genius Sun Ra, modern classical composer Carl Orff, and experimental artist Meredith Monk. Encouraging Marianne to continue to pursue an already successful career could hardly be considered “leading her down the wrong path.”

Again, thank you for your time.

Mark Dagley

Abaton Book Company

cc. Ronald L. __

Dr. Jose __