Aleksandra Mir Newsroom 1986-2000by Jen Schwarting
Mary Boone Gallery
September 15 – October 27, 2007
Five years ago, on September 11th, Aleksandra Mir circulated copies of a self-published, mock-issue of the New York Daily News. The front-page headline of her 46-page newspaper exclaimed “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on lower Manhattan. This celebratory headline initially read as a deeply cynical take on a national day of mourning—except that September 11th is in fact Aleksandra Mir’s birthday. Her free newspaper featured essays, memoirs, artists’ projects and snapshots contributed by dozens of art world friends in her honor. Divided into sections like “Society” and “City Beat,” the editorial content ranged from raw political outrage to irreverent personal jokes. Immersed in the melancholy of a still-bewildered city, but mediated by Mir’s resilient optimism, the Daily News read like an undying love letter to an artist’s life in this city.
This past September, Aleksandra Mir opened her latest show, Newsroom 1986-2000, at Mary Boone. Using the Daily News once again as a template, Mir and a team of assistants made almost 200 drawings directly copied from its front page. The covers were specifically selected from a period that “roughly coincided” with the fifteen years that the Polish-born Mir lived in New York, terminating at the pivotal end of the twentieth century. The drawings are six-foot, hand-lettered reproductions, blown up in black marker on white paper and paired down to mostly imageless, scribbled Franklin Gothic text. Hanging twenty or so at a time, and regularly rotated throughout the week, the drawings were grouped by theme (“TRAGEDY!”) rather than by date. Gruesome deaths (“ELEVATOR HORROR”) and summer weather (“WE’RE SLICK AND TIRED”) chronicled the weary events leading up to 2001.
Though the finished drawings announced themselves loudly on the walls, their outspread production was given more weight than the final copy. Newsroom 1986-2000 turned the gallery into the model of an old-school newsroom—with groups of assistants hunched over large tables, laboriously filling in gray tones on large sheets. The first time I visited, there was the vague sense of a production schedule, along with the alternating urgency and boredom of a workplace daily-grind, evidenced in the assistants’ humorous banter, in which a Jeff Goldblum movie became grounds for debate. Mir was on hand directing the action—outlining the drawings, changing studio music, taking hundreds of photos and chatting with the gallery visitors.
Many of the visitors who responded instantly to this environment—set up for creative, collective activity—were under the age of ten, and each of my visits found a conspicuous number of children running around the gallery. At one point, a European couple strolled in with their two young tow-headed kids. Their son immediately responded to the gallery’s meta-environment, borrowing his father’s iPhone to record a video of the gallery assistant who was herself filming the boisterous Saturday crowd. The daughter picked a Sharpie off the table, opened her sketchbook, and slowly blocked out the word N-E-W across the page. Mir eagerly walked over to talk with the siblings, but they kept quiet, too consumed with their own endeavors.
No doubt the kids’ uninhibited participation had delighted Mir, whose artistic practice is based on social exchange and self-empowerment. Her approach began with the progressive determination of 1990s DIY indie marketing, and for over a decade she has instigated public performances, staged mock-media events and distributed multitudes of self-published ephemera. Printed Matter, down the street from Mary Boone, held a concurrent show of Mir’s print work. Along with a comprehensive selection of her impressive output of books and posters, the exhibition featured the artist’s series of pocket-sized tools—including a lighter and penknife—all printed with the late-70s political slogan “Keep Abortion Legal.” Spelled out in alternating baby pink and blue letters, Mir’s simple appropriation reconsidered, and reaffirmed, this iconic statement’s relevance for the 21st Century.
Newsroom 1986-2000 doesn’t re-examine the politics of the late-1980s or the 1990s, and, despite its title, the drawings don’t actually define a specific history. Mir intentionally groups cycles of similar headlines (“CHAOS!”) to dissociate the messages from the chronology and meaning of explicit events. Without a timeline, the headlines simply repeat themselves (“2 COPS SHOT” “COP SHOT” “COP KILLED”), emphasizing the mass media’s brutalization of the senses. Mir’s drawings recapitulate and resist the press’s numbing mechanisms with personalized, messy, comix-style lettering. But her social model is her more significant message, and the collective organizing, collaborating, photo snapping and dialogue that go into it are the strengths of her operation. Mir’s project asserts that by re-envisioning the empirical superstructure of the media, and reconnecting to a communal consciousness, that the culture industry, and this city, can be re-humanized.