Art in the Auditorium: Jalal Toufic

28 Jan – 17 Apr 2011, Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK

Art in the Auditorium is an international touring programme, aiming to showcase the work of some of the most exciting young artists working with film, video and animation. As the selection process’ goal is not to unite the disparate works under some thematic umbrella or examine particular issues pertinent to the mediums listed above, it is only just to muse on each work in its own right. From the six videos screened (four of which were by the Chinese artist Huang Xiaopeng), one sticks to mind.

Lebanese writer and artist Jalal Toufic presents us with one part of his trilogy around rituals of the Shiite Muslims. The five minutes video Lebanese performance art; Circle: Ecstatic; Class: Marginalized, Excerpt 3 (2007) seems to occupy three conceptual parts. Starting with a quite documentary approach and subtitled Lebanese performance art , a group of topless men engage in the ritual of Ashura where they mourn the death of Husayn (grandson of prophet Muhammad) by chest beating and shouting. They do it in waves, and the beating is usually accompanied by painful exclamations such as “O, stranger”, O, Husayn”…. That cuts to a second part, titled Review of the Cinematic Memory. This section of the video is a mesmerizing slow-motion essay of the movements and emotions of the same group of men. The camera is engaged with its own viewing intelligence, trying to remember not the underpinning ideologies but the purely external, formal concerns of physiognomy and bodily drama. Suspended is a purgatory of emotions, these men seem to never be able to make it out as everything is slowed down to the frustrating dream of motion. The dullness of the slaps, however, gives the illusion of smoothing the flesh so mercilessly self-abused. The video ends on a note: “An original video should be watched twice (rather than looped)”, and it starts again. So that the whole second viewing becomes a holistic third part of the first screening. This last statement implies a rhetoric blame for passivity from the part of the beholder who should choose whether towatch something again or not, but is told by the artist to do so, simultaneously playing with the idea of “newness”. Ironically, it loops anyway. Something that has to do with being forced to watch it again under the auspices of being tricked by the artist, resolves certain problems with the intimacy of the viewing process otherwise absent in the loop situation. Without sanctifying or sacrificing too much the freedom of the audience, it reaches a fine balance to enter more ideological arenas.

In his intro to the video, Toufic tales an ancdote from Nietzsche’s trip to Italy where he witnessed the whipping of a horse. His reaction was to toss his arms around the horse’s neck to protect it but then collapsed. He signed many of his letters after this incident as “The crucified one”, and this story is often told as the point of his mental breakdown. Looking back in the afterimage of my memory of the half naked men beating themselves, I kept thinking: would I step in and protect them from their self-inflicted pain? Would I stop the loop?

By Snejana Krasteva

The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds

12 October, 2010 – 2 May, 2011

Tate Modern, London, UK

There are particular art spaces that are difficult to survive. The Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, for example, can offer inspiration for “big thoughts” but can easily present a trap. And this is not entirely the fault of its intimidating vastness but is perhaps more due to it being part of a powerful institutional body such as Tate. Spaces like these have their contextual ghosts roaming around, always out on some unfinished business. The 11th commission from the Unilever Series, given to the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, signals the diversions a museum can impose on the original intentions of a work, but also points to a curious outcome where a work seems to have one mind and the artist – another, especially when it comes to compromises with institutional concerns.

Ai’s installation Sunflower Seeds is fairly simple to describe. Visually, the space remains empty, while in fact it is covered with 100 million of sunflower seeds made of hand painted porcelain, forming a sort of carpet a few inches high. The remaining stripe of floor, the walls and seeds blend in a monotonous gray color, accentuating the modesty inherent in these tiny little seeds. From here, it is like a book written through the rhetoric of accumulation – facts and interpretations pile up over the tranquility of these small objects, enriching them with new metaphors and meaning but at the same time, rendering indistinct what is to be captured. The safety distance demarcated by the barriers still allows visitors to take a closer look, to play with it (such as use the seeds to write their names) but for those lucky ones who came in the first week after the opening, the work experienced was something else. The artist, who in the first press releases and interviews stated clearly his intentions for his installation to be “democratically” walked on, for the seeds to crash under someone’s heels, accepting even the possibility and temptation one would have to steal a few of them (this being the main worry for the institution). Allowed to fantasize, the beholder would then imagine it to slowly disappear as the exhibition progressed –each one of those unique porcelain pieces could have made its way into the life of an individual. Thus the work’s initial metaphor – the seed representing the uniqueness in the middle of the mass grounded to the floor. That mass we imagine able to make a difference, but that ambiguously could be also lending itself to governmental statistics based on the fear of small numbers; the minorities of voices are crushed under the weight of the “vertebral” communist regime of China as opposed to the “cellular” structured globalized world. So when the work was closed and contained by museum barriers (the dust coming from the crushed porcelain was deemed damaging to health) and when the wall texts were altered to the new statements, the question we could ask is: if the artist says tout va bien with these changes, is it really alright? Is it still the same ghost in the shell?

Another strong point of institutional concerns entering the picture can be felt in the unusual (for the artist) video documentation of the production process. For an activist such as Ai Weiwei, it felt quite apologetic. Emphasize felt on how happy the factory workers were to receive higher wages after the city of Jingdezhen, the best producer of porcelain in China, was on the verge of bankrupt. Exploitation of cheap labor, as someone would inevitably associate with Ai’s piece, is apparently exorcised here. But instead of emanating generosity, it further amplified the dynamics of stereotyping with this need of explanation. And finally, to encompass seemingly more of the artist’s practice – strongly connected with the new possibilities of globalization offered by the internet, the section One-to-One with the artist staged this “democratic”, confession-like opportunity to ask or answer questions to and from the artists. Under the theme “Politics and society” (curiously), there was a video capturing two cheerful young girls asking Ai the following: “Hi, Ai Weiwei. So where do you think these go?” holding one sunflower seed each. Whether they realized it or not, it is good question we would expect the artist to answer.

Snejana Krasteva

CRASH; Homage to JG Ballard, Febuary 11 – April 1 2010, Gagosian, Kings Cross, London

Gagosian Gallery in Kings Cross sits on a quiet side street off Greys Inn Road. The lacklustre exterior does little to hint at the plush modernist galleries filled with sexy, explosive artwork hosted within. CRASH is a group show of over 60 works in deference of the relationship between JG Ballard and the art world.

The title of the show is poached from Ballard’s 1973 novel in which former car-crash victims re-enact celebrity crashes to satisfy their increasingly extreme sexual fetishes. Ballard is master of the post-modern condition; his characters exemplify the perverse relationship we have with technological commodities. An expression of this sentiment exactly, Jeff Koon’s New Hoover Convertibles of 1984 belongs firmly at the centre of the show. The consumer electronic is a design which seems momentarily futuristic and has over time becomes a festishized vintage classic, all the while belonging to a domestic suburban target. Other works included function as a backdrop to the Ballardian diorama, urban hyper-real landscapes are the subject of Cyprian Gaillard’s floodlit cemetery and Dan Holdsworth’s uncanny approach down a motorway; Untitled (Autopia).

In the 1960s Ballard produced a number of what he called ‘advertiser’s announcements’. The writer purchased advertising space from magazines, including New Worlds and Ambit, and used them to display a photograph and accompanying epigram. One such epigram of Ballard’s advertising exploits suggests that just as Freud recognised of internal psyche “…it is now the outer world of reality which must be qualified and eroticised”. His strategies may seem indistinguishable from those of conceptual artists emerging at a similar time, but Ballard was without doubt a visual artist. He not only wrote but made collages, and cited Francis Bacon as his greatest inspiration.  

The first piece that confronts the visitor on arrival to CRASH is the undercarriage of a Boeing 747. The 10 foot brutish hunk of metal, jumbo rubber wheels akimbo is at first a too obvious physical illustration of the violence and technology associated with Ballard. Adjoining the area which the disembodied Boeing occupies is a ‘small viewing room’ containing the erotic Surrealist images of Man Ray and Hans Belmer, whom among others shaped Ballard’s analysis of our civilisation. The images are a combination of explicit and implicit representations of the female organ; as a face, a fragment, an incision and a meeting. A foot-note to the other rooms which see predominantly urban, technological and violent representations, this peep show transforms pieces of twisted metal and fetishized technologies, implanting them with an electric, sexual charge.

Perhaps this arrangement is a legal obligation, allowing those with a mild manner, or with children to avoid the explicit images. Whatever the reason, the ‘viewing room’ is an effective psychological mapping of space, performing to compartmentalise the chasten urges of a deviant citizenry.

Helen Kaplinsky

Bharti Kher, Inevitable Undeniable Necessary at Hauser and Wirth, 20 March – 15 May

In her earlier work English born artist Bahrti Kher has shown an interest in the combining the human body with animal body parts to myth like creatures. The merge of nature and human body together with symbols taken from the Indian culture has served as a repetitious mantra throughout her production. For this new body of work Kher’s identity and Indian legacy is still mirrored in the work, however developed into new directions, leaving the representation of the body instead engaging with symbols and the material. Still often using the found object, Kher focuses more on the transformation of the object in itself, rather then to turn it into an amputee inserted into an alien body. The old medical charts describing childbirth and the different possible defects of the foetus, Contents (2010), are covered with floating steams of sperm-like bindis, creating an uncomfortable connection between the traditional Indian symbol, fertility and the delicate drawings of the risks of the same.

The bindi is constantly returning in Khers work, as a sperm it becomes a masculine symbol, whereas the round dots refer to femininity. Covering the surfaces of the different objects in the exhibition, they allow the material dimensions of the work to become more visible simultaneously as adding a symbolic dimension. The mirrors installed on the upper floor, Indira’s Net Nirror 1-16 (2010), have lost their initial function and become pallets of the artist, cracked and covered with colourful bindis. Even though powerful, they seem rather confused, as the artist has fused to many symbols and meanings into the same work. The mirror in itself offers a direct dialogue with the viewer. Cracked up, the dialogue becomes even more frantic and complex (as in the work of for example Michelangelo Pistoletti). However, adding even more layers in the shape of differently shaped bindis in colourful patterns, a dubious title and a distinctive frame referring to past times, makes the work too self absorbed and leaves out the immediate encounter with the viewer. Throughout the exhibition the symbolic references are as many as they are evident and this makes it hard to navigate between the work, even though beautifully installed. Some of the objects seem closer connected while other exist independently. In the basement the silent and perhaps most striking work in the exhibition In the Presence of Nothing (2009-2010), is installed right next to what seem to be an old massive safe. On a simple white podium is a shiny brass bowl, with its outside surface still not polished. A mechanical polishing device stretches from the roof, rotating around the bowl. Leaving out the organic body, the polishing machine still produces a human ritual as it slowly moves around the bowl. Without ability to change course, to detect flaws and correct them, the machine moves in endless circles slowly turning from usefulness to uselessness. Not having to share the space with other objects in the show In the Presence of Nothing creates its own universe, attracting the viewer at the same time as pointing out its independence of human interaction.

– Katrin Ingelstedt

A Review of Candice Breitz: Factum (Edited Version)

12 February- 20 March 2010

White Cube Hoxton Square

Candice Breitz’s exhibition: Factum exposes the viewer to the personal histories, stories, and impressions of four pairs of twins, and one pair of triplets, all living in Canada. According to the White Cube press release, the exhibition takes its name from two seemingly identical paintings by Robert Rauschenberg titled Factum I and II (1957); Breitz’s video diptych (and one triptych) manage to highlight the differences (as opposed to the similarities) that becomes clear when similar subjects are placed alongside one another.

Using video as her medium, Breitz displays five, roughly one-hour long videos of separate interviews that she held with her genetically similar subjects. The subjects and narratives are captivating and tempt the viewer to sit and watch for their lengthy entirety. Depending on one’s preconceived notions or assumptions about what it is like to be a twin, the resulting interviews are surprising; all subjects seem to rejoice in their ‘twinlyness,’ describing it as “fun,” and seeing it as “a plus, “a gift,” or “a bonus.” Words like “jealousy” or “envy” never enter the twins’ vocabulary.

As time goes on, the viewer becomes exceedingly more aware of the physical differences between the twins and the variations in their mannerisms, posture, and facial marks start to paint the picture of two physically different people. It becomes quite easy to identify the subjects by their voices. Breitz titles the five videos Factum: Tremblay, Factum Misericordia, Factum McNamara, Factum Kang, and Factum Tang, the second word being her subjects’ respective last names. This titling system aligns her project to a case study, similar to the way that a scientist might label a series of experiments. As a constant, Breitz dresses the twins in the same outfits and puts them in front of the same backgrounds. However, unlike a scientist who collects “pure” data, in Breitz’s project she has a more active role during the editing process. Breitz manipulates her subjects’ narratives by intertwining their -separately conducted- interviews; she pauses, repeats and chops up her subject’s sentences. In some instances, no subjects appear on the screen, in other cases we can only see one subject, and in other moments one subject will be visible on the screen but the viewer can only hear the voice of the absent twin. The decision to interweave and circumvent narratives makes Breitz’s videos effective. When one simultaneously hears the same birth story told differently by two subjects, one cannot help but question the truthfulness of the narrative. Which twin is more trustworthy? Which twin has a better grasp of reality?

Of the five separate works, Factum: Tremblay proves to be the most interesting and poignant work. This set of interviews presents the viewer with twin sisters whom both identify as queer and who both play with androgyny. In these interviews, Breitz’s subjects go beyond talking about what it is like to grow up as a twin, and more interestingly discuss how sexuality, gender, and fetishism can relate to “twin-ness.” In this instance, the twins discuss concepts of “nature vs. nurture,” a subject that is often discussed in the context of identical twins that were not raised together. Factum: Tremblay sets itself apart from Breitz’s other videos which, as a group, lack a sense of diversity; all the twins are white and educated, making her ‘case-study’ slightly close-minded or lacking.

Nonetheless, Breitz’s videos prove to be captivating and accessible, exposing the viewer to a series of unique histories and personal recollections. Factum provides the viewer with insight into the specific relationships and impressions that can only be experienced when one lives his or her life with another person who shares the same exact appearance, genes, and upbringing.

-SH

Franz Ackermann: Wait

10 Feb—1 Apr 2010


White Cube, Mason’s Yard

On his third solo show at the White Cube, German artist Franz Ackermann exhibits two site-specific installations, some paintings and drawings. On the first floor of the gallery, the visitor is invited to come inside a billboard structure space and see the installation that entitles the show. Composed of wall-painting, an L-shape bench, two round paintings (one displayed rotating on the floor with some trunks over it), a photo and a video, the piece disappoints for it’s similarity with some other works recently conceived and exhibited by the artist. Changing only one or other element of the installation, the atmosphere of the piece reminds, more than in an authorial discernment level, “Home and Home again”, exhibited at Hoxton Square White Cube in 2006 and notoriously ‘No direction home” showed at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo, in 2007.

Much more interesting than the upper level installation, “This is London” is exhibited in the centre of the lower level space. It is a pile of two coloured cubes, followed by a round flat painting that also turns, only now displayed vertically, as a guardian of the room. In addition to the work is a couple of painted columns, sand bags and found objects, such as magazines and postcards. One side of the upper cube has a black and white photo depicting a dirty glass façade, where the spectator reads “Tourist information” in both English and Portuguese. The photo was obviously not taken in London, and most likely the other materials and paintings on the work doesn’t have an immediate relation with the city either, so what is there in the work about London, except the fact that it is being exhibited in the city? In this piece, the long time interest of the artist in themes such as globalisation and tourism makes itself much more clear and apparent in images than the fact of exhibiting similar works worldwide.

The turning canvas on the top of this installation operates as a guardian of  the several paintings and drawings exhibited on the wall. Though the artists plays with the shape of the frames, more than once constructing it very irregularly and, in one case, attaching a necklace to the work, the canvases appears to be layers of inks, very rigidly thrown over the surface. The strong colours proper of the artist pallet give the sensation of paralyzed images, on a different direction from what he appears to aim. Shyly displayed in the end of a wall are four drawings. Mixing pencil with oil, the artist achieves a subtleness that is not possible within his paintings. The combination of the precision of graphite with ink gives a fragile and beautiful aspect to the drawings, far more than in the canvas, for here it’s clear the hand of the artist and his effort to carefully merge the two techniques. Although full with a bit of the same (even regarding the drawings), the exhibition reserves good surprises for an attempt look.

– Maria do Carmo M. P de Pontes

Matthew Barney @ Sadie Coles HQ, London, 27 Jan-06 March, 2010

Sadie Coles presents Matthew Barney’s  opera project (2008-on going), inspired by Ancient Evenings, a novel written in 1983 by Norman Mailer. This show exhibits mainly drawings, alongside sculptures, and research materials.

With the composer Jonathan Bepler, Barney intends to create a Libretto set in a seven act performance. Each act will illustrate the seven stages in which the soul passes through after the death of the body. Based on Mailer’s novel, Barney recreates the myth of Isis and Osiris in contemporary and industrial scenery, mixing popular images with Egyptian mythology.

This show presents seven glass cabinets, each titled by the different stages described in Mailer’s novel (Ren, Khu, Sekhem, Ba, Ka, Kaibit and Sekhu). These containers have a nineteenth century look; they exhibit the research tools of the artist: pictures taken from the internet of shocking distorted faces, images of Chrysler cars, Mailer’s book, collages and drawings of Egyptian gods, humans mutating into animals. The artist presents his imagery, his thread of thoughts in his gory and metamorphic style. Even though, at first glance, these glass cabinets seem overloaded, an order and logic reign; for instance in the first one Ancient Evenings is open at its first page and in the last glass box at its last page. Every detail has been though. The scene is set as in a curiosity cabinet where precious artefacts are exhibited; the viewer feels as if it is an ongoing project. This is part of Barney’s theatrical; the artist plays with the ancient and with the 19th century style in the display.

The theatrical and the cabaret style can be noticed in the choice of symbolism to identify Osiris with a top hat; it recalls the magician world, the bourgeois in the 19th century, and mystery. Another side of his work is the archaic reference to the contemporary, the mythology and pop culture, the mutation of the flesh with the mystic, the sacred.

On the walls, the drawings, meticulously executed and delicately framed, contrast with the roughness of the materials in the cabinets. They describe the dystopian stages of the roaming soul. The mystic and sacred invades these drawings with some hints of colours added by silver and gold plates, as well as red and blue watercolours. Here, the drawings illustrate the artist’s mind; they document and record his thoughts. In KHU: Here, at the Center of the Pain is Radiance (2010) for instance, the title speaks for itself, the silver plates spreads on a dark base. Barney brings a story alive with bits and pieces, scattered but flowing together, he turns flesh and blood into beauty such as in the sculpture Isis. This piece exemplifies this aesthetical materiality; it is chunks, trunks, human torsos made of pink wax which are sparse on white slabs, it is powerful and its texture leads to a real as well as unreal representation. The human shape is intended but it is diluted at the same time. Barney excels in bring his audience into an uncanny and disturbing world.

This show works as fragments from past and future performances. It is there as an archiving process of an event that will happen. In 2008, Barney executed the performance Ren:Chrysler in LA. Music, orchestra and cars were the main components.

Barney’s gory materiality and aesthetic is fully developed here. He turns past mythology into contemporary tales where the human body mutates. His imagery is there, flesh and blood, to shock and to be admired.

By Anne Duffau

‘with words like smoke’ 20.01.10 – 20.02.10 @ CHELSAE space #30

‘with words like smoke’

curated by Isobel Harbison

20.01.10 – 20.02.10 @ CHELSAE space #30

Another Becket reference in a contemporary art exhibition but this time it is relevant. ‘[…] with words like smoke, I can’t go, I can’t stay, let’s see what happens next’ is the quote at the beginning of the introductory text to the exhibition. The uncertainty in the last part could be seen as a metaphor for this show. The artworks seem all so different, therefore trying to explain the experience leaves you wordless. Isobel Harbison, the curator of the exhibition, clarifies in the accompanying catalogue that the body of works are gathered on the basis of a shared momentum and to understand the mutual relation, a physical sketch would actually be unavoidable.

Since a physical sketch is impossible to conceive in words and words are all there is to review this exhibition the impossible must become possible, but subjectivity overrules. Entering the space the video by Lois Rowe Argument for Design (2006) introduces us to the dilemma between the colours black and green and their struggle to overpower each other in the suggested connection to the architecture shown. Like most of the works in the show, the understanding and re-figuration of what there is to be seen happens after the first impression has disappeared.

On a stool beside Rowe’s work lies a pile of A4 paper with an image of a classroom full of young children behind their desks, hands folded, smiling to the camera; 27 Interruptions (2010) is a new work by Cally Spooner. What these 27 interruptions are and might be doesn’t become clear. Even though the text on the reversed side of the paper gives you the idea that there is some sort of logic to it. But, the number 27 is nothing more then a thing, not even a physical object but a starting point of something that will become evident at the end of the exhibition.

Desire is the key to an understanding the interrelations of works on show. Carl Andre’s poem Desire (1966) published in the artist’s edition and displayed in a glass showcase, mentions different body parts, written sometimes back to front and put into unusual clusters. The newly suggested relations between the body parts, is a beautiful metaphor for the show. As reflected in Fergus Martin’s photograph Table (2009) is outstanding in its indexical qualities. This particular table, is reminiscent of the different ways in which the photograph functions and its ability to confront us in an awakening of an intracebility with the subject’s spectacle, as mentioned by Barthes in Camera Lucida.[1]

Like the works already mentioned the other all have the ability to give one an understanding that needs no prior knowledge. They speak for themselves although often without words. The different materials, forms and styles generate their meaning inside the viewers body and like Carl Andre once claimed, they can be understood without a need to necessarily speak out loud.

By – Fleur van Muiswinkel


[1] Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 119

Nicholas Byrne, A Catholic Episode, 17 October – 7 March 2010, Vilma Gold, London, UK.

Nicholas Byrne’s thirteen new works presented at Vilma Gold possess an incongruous union of haste and hesitance. The figurative looping curves and scraped layers of mark-making in his paintings attempt to display a chancing visceral energy, but instead are a transparent insecure editing process. Byrne has a heightened awareness that works against him. He coats large areas of his laborious marks in bright coloured paint blocks as though to conceal the shamed work of his own hand, leaving only his tentatively selected leftovers. These chosen visual remains are not enough to compensate for the unrewarding curiosity produced by the suffocating marks behind his pastel shades.

Many of his new works introduce abstract characters created through swooping scores in the paint, though somewhat playful, they lack the intent and enthusiasm of some of his more geometric works shown previously at Studio Voltaire in 2008. Byrne is more at home when forms are methodical, even his selection of pleasing vivid colours and use of linen and copper does not mask the distinct smell of doubt wafting throughout the gallery.

A Catholic Episode
as the title of the exhibition however, is well suited to Byrne’s dubious reveal-conceal approach. It conjures up images of church goers running to confession bursting to tell all, but hesitating at the threshold of sanctuary. Byrne’s cautious decision making within his new paintings reiterates his comfort with rigid forms and materials, as when compared to his metal sculptures, both past and present, drive and confidence is more evident in his three dimensional work. It is as though these paintings are transitional, and if Byrne would unveil the richness of his sins behind all that paint, they could be well on their way to redemption

Danielle Sachar

Michael Landy, Art Bin, 29 January – 14 March 2010, South London Gallery, London, UK.

Detractors of contemporary art will have their moment of glory when, on confronting Michael Landy’s new work, they will be finally authorised to state that: “Contemporary art is nothing else than rubbish!”. Deliberately playing with the disdain often concerning contemporary art, Landy has occupied the space of the South London Gallery with a giant steel and glass container (600 cubic metre) which functions as an Art Bin. Artists, collectors and the general public are invited to offer an artwork to be thrown away in the bin (from the top of a five-metre ramp of stairs) and then, once and for all, destroyed at the end of the exhibition, buried like any other kind of ordinary rubbish. 

To take part in the work, everyone can apply online (http://www.art-bin.co.uk/) or go directly to the SLG where Landy, who is working on gallery hours for the whole duration of the show, receives people, look over their artworks and allow or deny their disposal in the bin. The artist proclaims he want to realize a “monument to creative failure”, and this declaration of failure is then the only rule to contend for the ‘bin-competition’. Anyway, it is not clear how the failure is achieved: if it was already an intrinsic quality of the work (and, if not, we should understand when and why the artwork stop being successful) or if it is just a question of subjective and personal taste (both of the owner and Landy). Interrogating the concept of value in art (what it is, who determinates it, how to define a successful artwork), Art Bin sounds like a polemic statement on the ruthless and arbitrary mechanisms of the art system, where merit is not longer sufficient to determine the career of an artist. And this explains the absence of criteria in Landy’ selective process: “I decide what goes in, I am the bin monitor!” he says. It is in honour of the failure of those artists who, for different reasons, are refused or discredited by the art system that Landy want to realize his monument.  

But today can we really think of artists as defenceless victims at the mercy of the market? As D. Diederichsen suggests in On (Surplus) Value in Art (2008), considering the present economic conditions established by financial capitalism, the notion of art as commodity has lost glow. And the only artistic added value is recognizable in the valorization of the artist as an essential factor to guarantee the economic potential of art and, consequently, its survival. For Art Bin, some big names have already responded to the request of donating an artwork: from Peter Blake to Tracy Emin, from Matt Collishaw to Damien Hirst (what a surprise). Some young unknown artists instead, are queuing for their work to be smashed up and their names written next to those of the art-celebrities. The artworks don’ t count anymore here and Art Bin turns into a collective and performative action revealing the triumphal and (alarming) power of the artist as undisputed protagonist of the art system. Although there won’t be anything to sell and buy at the end of the show, Landy’s original intention is equally reversed: while contesting an old system of value, he (unintentionally?) leads up to the creation of a new one.   

For what it counts, the public – generally excluded by all these off-stage secret machinations of the market – is left with the sour consolation to decree that most of the artworks visible in the container really do deserve their place in the Art Bin.

Giada Consoli

Charles Avery @ Pilar Corrias, Onomatopoeia Part 2: The Port, 12 Feb.- 31 March 2010

Pilar Corrias presents Charles Avery’s new drawing from his the ongoing project The Island. This giant piece (2.40 m high x 5.10 m wide) will be part of a triptych, and is still unfinished like all of the artist’s current work; it illustrates an instant in the harbor of Onomatopoeia, the main city of the Island. Avery and his Island have to be considered as an encyclopedic project, that one can pick up or leave anytime. There is no real narrative, it is mainly a fictional concept.
On one of the gallery walls, facing the drawing a small photography represents a harbor taken from far away at sea. This mysterious place adds to the secret of the Island, which remains unrevealed in its total content and place. The photograph is meant to be a proof of the existence of this harbor, but is too vague in its title to make anyone believe that this is an actual port that the artist depicted in the drawing. This work represents a moment from the daily life of the port. Inside this huge artwork, a microcosm of countless scenes takes place: a cruise ship called Utility has just moored, tourists are about to take photo, locals kissing behind the mussels sellers, while important characters seem to be lost in thought wearing architectural hats…
Meanwhile, on the back wall, the artist pinned up the new Epilogue for his Island book. The main protagonist shares with the audience his experience; he is our only direct link with this world, the witness of this other world, sharing its discoveries and feelings for the place and its people. Avery’s writing style is poetic and he tells his audience just enough for them to feel engaged in the fiction. He manipulates the imagination and he uses drawing and text in order to illustrate his parallel world.
The use of a kind of nostalgia for explorers and discoverers has to be emphasized. The artist refers to Marco Polo in the drawing of a poster, the referring indirectly to the explorer by its discovery of rhinoceros and defining them as unicorns. Avery reveals the Island as an imaginary world which has already been discovered and colonized. The geography of the island is complex, the world possesses two identical sides; there is no time frame on the Island.
What is really striking in Avery’s work is his total disinterest to any sort of critic made on his project. The Island is a platform for him to experiment with philosophical and mathematical theory. He knows how to keep his audience on their seats without revealing everything. He defines the project as a never-ending fiction, where one can jump in and out any time.

By Anne Duffau

Chris Ofili at the Tate Britain

In the 90’s Chris Ofili was working in the area around Kings Cross, painting in his studio while listening to Afro-American rap. Outside in the street, the sex industry that was evident in this area was hard for Ofili to avoid. Mixed with influences from the media and music, the pimps and hookers on the street acquired new life in his paintings, as for example in Pimp (2007) where they are portrayed as crab-like creatures crawling over the glittering surface of a huge black penis with a clown-like smile. This image, as most of the others from this period, has a shiny colourful surface and is supported by two large piles of elephant dung. Despite these festive appearances, the paintings reveal a somewhat apathic view of a forlorn society. The 90’s Ofili walks in his pop ancestors footsteps, portraying a branding of the black, where the best acclimatized to the rules of the new society is the obvious winner.

The search for black identity in British society is obvious in Ofili’s earlier works. By using universal clichés such as the black rap artist together with personally invented symbols such as elephant dung, the distinction between collective and individual representation of identity sometimes becomes blurred. This technique could at its best create a valuable connection between the work and viewer based on a simultaneous recognition and emancipation from the recognized. Now, the repetitious use of symbols only enlightens Ofili’s inability of moving beyond the reproduction of stereotypes. The continuous use of elephant dung, lifting the paintings off the floor, reveals a number of references such as the western collective understanding of the African continent and its people, our distancing from nature as well more traditional critique of the value of the painting. Together with the glittering and repetitious theme, the works form collages of a private and public understanding of black identity, which at its best seems dated, but could also run the risk of degrading and simplifying the whole notion of “blackness”. Surely, there is more to say about the British black identity then what is found in the paintings of Ofili.

Since his move to Trinidad, Ofili has started working on another approach in his search for identity, however, still through reading of his the outside world. As apparent in the film produced by the Tate, Ofili “seem to has come at ease” with his ethnicity and found new inspiration in religious and mythical stories, often closely connected to nature. Here, as in the deep-blue series Blue Riders (2006), with motifs selected from the bible (and with quite obvious references to the Der Blaue Reiter), the figures organically emerge from the nature as characters from biblical stories. Also in Ofili’s latest series (and maybe the most suitable for the museum shop post cards) the human body and nature are inseparably fused together, seemingly without any context. Despite his use of bright pallet, Ofili seem to have lost himself completely in the sublime and the images rest in motionless tranquillity. Ofili may have found his paradise, but his mundane paintings certainly don’t have much to add to any art, ethnicity or religiously oriented discussion.

– Katrin Ingelstedt

Michael Landy: Art Bin @ South London Gallery, London, UK, 29 Jan – 14 Mar 2010

“Every road has a bend”, artist Michael Landy quotes from a song of Jim Reeves during an interview back in 2005. Looking at his latest installation at the South London Gallery, we are also reminded (to borrow the above mentioned quote´s syntax and logic), that there seems to be no modern civilization without waste bins. Here, in what is said to be one of the most beautiful exhibition halls in London, Michael Landy constructs a gigantic container for nothing less than art itself.

The formal qualities of a bin have certainly not preoccupied many individuals, but this one clearly does not resemble any conventional “container for waste”. Apart from occupying the exhibition hall almost wall-to-wall, with the ceiling not far from the vast gorge from where the artworks enter into oblivion, the bin is made of metal beams and glass, leaving a narrow path permitting circulation around it. Thus it allows viewers to look into what constitutes its intestines – an intended voyeuristic element, where the “failed” artworks are left visible in their very weaknesses, prolonging what would otherwise be one of the shortest exhibitions to view. Anyone can participate, given he/she has first filled a simple form and has been told when to come and dispose of the “creative waste”. Reminiscent of old sacrificial rituals, with the artist himself or gallery staff wearing white “curatorial” gloves, the work is then taken up the stairs to the mouth of this “negative plinth” and sacrificed to an invisible angry god. What is most interesting to note is that Michael Landy has reserved the right to refuse works, thus potentially declaring them failing to even fail. We soon learn, however, that except in the case of an artist Landy thought to be mocking the whole project by presenting a work that epitomized all contemporary art as rubbish (something the show is not trying to say), there weren’t any other cases of refused works. With this, a highly interesting element for analysis is equally discarded into the bin. Of course, children´s paintings were not eligible (is this because they, at least, could never fail?), neither were works belonging to other artists with no legal permission to be disposed of. The artist appears to have no interest in offering therapeutic services to the owners of the condemned works, trusting them to their judgment, and honouring it with a communal death-pit, where the hierarchy of the market or curatorial decisions no longer matter. In a way, this is an antithetical arrangement of flowers.

The semiotics of Michael Landy’s destructive acts cover a number of earlier works, most notably Break Down (2001), where the artists destroyed all 7,227 items he possessed, in the spirit of John Baldessari or Jasper Jones. Quite different from the symbolism of an act such as Rauschenberg erasing the de Kooning drawing, Landy  is constantly struggling between the desire to erase that part of himself that confronts the world and succeeds, for the other one to exist secluded, neglecting every worldly success. The project Art Bin could be read as a tribute to the artist himself instead of the “monument of creative failure” it claims to be. And we can’t help but wonder where all that “creative” junk is going to end up. Is this monument going to be recycled? And while the answers vary, leaving us with a general feeling that this question is being overlooked, we can imagine the worse: it is buried. Does the earth need another pile of waste (adding creative here seems irrelevant) to be hidden out of sight?

And when the worms eat the canvas, and grass grows through the cracks of the fiberglass, new failures will be awaiting to feed the angry god. Can we construct a bin big enough to accommodate their loneliness? Perhaps one day their remains will be unearthed, and new civilizations might decide to put them in museums, having lost track of the canons for failure, just as we have done.

Many joined the ranks of this unnecessary procession into the depths of oblivion or perhaps on the contrary – of remembrance.

– by Snejana Krasteva

LESSONS IN THE ART OF FALLING – NORWEGIAN PERFORMANCE AND PROCESS ART 1966-2009

LESSONS IN THE ART OF FALLING – NORWEGIAN PERFORMANCE AND PROCESS ART 1966-2009 at Preus Museum, Horton, Norway

The exhibition LESSONS IN THE ART OF FALLING – NORWEGIAN PERFORMANCE AND PROCESS ART 1966-2009 is a well-researched project concerning Norwegian performance art, happenings and process art. It provides an introduction to what has happened in the specific period, but is not to be seen as an overview exhibition. The different artistic output presented in the exhibition all have a in common ephemeral character and are directly related to photographic documentation. Until recently, there have not been any exhibitions of this particular theme of Norwegian contemporary art. It is therefore of great significance that the curators Jonas Ekeberg and Elisabeth Byre saw the importance of this show and published an extensive catalogue together with it.

The title of the exhibition comes from the work of the Norwegian-Swedish artist Kjartan Slettemark. He was one of the central figures in the Norwegian avant-garde of the 1960s and, according to the curators, one of the most consistent practitioners of performance art. He considered performance as his main way of expressing himself instead of it being supplementary to his practice. The historical overview presented by the exhibition shows that many international tendencies where picked up by Norwegian artists. It often took them a few years to find their own interpretations, which seems to be a result of Norway’s geographical distance to the main art scene in Europe. The exhibition highlights that there are two central cities in this country when it comes to the avant-garde, namely Oslo and Bergen. This has not changed and the two cities are still the most important places to see visual arts.

The exhibition consists of framed photographs together with small introductions to the subject matters represented. The catalogue provides a more in-depth explanation of the histories related to the photographs exhibited. In addition, it questions the documentation material itself and the relationship of the performances to the international context. For example, the feminist artist Wencke Mülheisen and the artist group Gruppe 66, both of whose work had strong aesthetical resemblances with the performances done by the Vienna Actionisten like Otto Mülh. Per Backlay is seen as the first to raise the level of photographic documentation of performative installation to a museum level. Postmodernism in contradiction to the international art scene did not really come off the ground until the end of the eighties/ early nineties. A good example is Kjetil Skøen’s performance Diafragma (1992), which questions the mediated reality of everyday life and its representation by means of images. One of the discoveries in this exhibition are the photographs of the live-art group Baktruppen who have been active for many decades: they work interdisciplinary and by means of their artistic activity they question normativity and draw attention to the instability of representational structures. Most of these photographs have never been shown before whereas the group has had a central role in the art scene.

The exhibition shows that Norwegian artists have overcome their provincial approach to what seemed internationally relevant at the time. The scene clearly professionalized and has become a significantly important scene. As this exhibition covers such a wide time span and only shows one work by an individual artist, it would be interesting to see a follow-up, with a focus on different decades and presenting more of the works done by the relevant artists.

– Fleur van Muiswinkel

Luc Tuymans Against the Day at Moderna Museet Malmö (Sweden) 26.12.09 – 25.04.10

On 26th December Moderna Museet opened their doors to their new space in Malmö. Inspired by the success of the Tate opening in Liverpool and St Ives, Lars Nittve, the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, took the opportunity to establish this new museum in what was once the museum Roseum, but had long been just an empty and inconvenient space for the city council. The director of the new Moderna Malmö, Magnus Jensner, has had the privilege to browse and choose freely from the collection of Moderna Museet Stockholm, much of which was collected by the earlier director Pontus Hultén in the sixties, thus not surprisingly Jensner decided to start off with exhibiting some well known Swedish and international artwork of this period.

The main opening act however, is the artist Luc Tuymans. In the past few years Tuymans has developed an exhibition triptych; Against the Day, a title borrowed from the novel of the American writer Thomas Pynchon, marking Tuymans final body of works. Central to Tuymans is the society of today generated through photography. Tuymans identifies these snapshots of our world by translating them into paintings. A gaze through the sniper’s aim, a view from the surveillance camera upon the defenceless woman on the toilet, the indistinct outline of a person uncomfortable sandwiched in a sharp corner, all brightly and  monochromely painted, produces beautiful images of intrusion, past the boarder of integrity. The worrying atmosphere emerging from these paintings, is not added by the artist, it already exists in the photographic image. However, Tuymans’ use of the media of painting creates a tension and insecurity of the instant photographic reproduction.

Boris Groys describes photography as the new painting in terms of the medium’s ability to capture the moment without the “kitshiness” which is apparent in realist painting. He points out that painting today only survives when it camouflages itself as photography, as the use of the this medium manages to keep the ambiguity of the image and thus the viewer’s interest. Tuymans’ play with medium and perspective could be read in direct affiliation to Groys’ statement, as it tries to not only depict reality but also to respond to it.  Sadly, this response is lost in many of the works in the exhibition. The paint adds a beautiful finish to the photographic image but doesn’t have the power to bridge the harsh reality of the representation. The gogo dancing girl viewed from an awkward bird perspective is still camouflaged inside her framework. The distance between the painting and the viewer remains the same. One could describe it as if as the image remains in the painting, not able to communicate the reality of the photograph. Only in those paintings without people, just depicting silent landscapes, does the distance between the viewer and the work decrease. Here, through layers of photographic gloss and painterly surfaces, is the shape of the artist and his own response to our ambiguous world apparent.

-Katrin Ingelstedt

TESTING GROUND: LIVE AT 176 – InTo this / Leah Capaldi

Testing Ground: Live at 176 at the Zabludowicz Collection hosted a plethora of live performances for the last weekend of January. The last performance that occurred was probably the most impressionable of them all; Royal College of Art sculpture student, Leah Capaldi aptly describes her work ‘I understand the object of the gaze and I return it with a punch’.

The guests walked into the small upper east room within the old converted church, the floor was made out of old wood, the surrounding walls were chipped and the room carried an intense aura of ceremonial solemnity; a perfect space for the performer to strip herself down to just a frilly thong, position herself on all fours and place her head / face inside a homemade chocolate cake for an hour. All the guests sat down around the artist and watched her transform into a sculpture.

The bluntness of such an act may have been initially perceived as facetious, slapstick and boring, many artists have already in the past tortured and constrained their bodies as an allegory of social conditioning and sexual oppression. The concept for this performance was no different, an attempt to confront issues of bodily endurance, gluttony and desire.

The body was diagonally placed in the centre of the room, the audience just like in mass observed the performance with great austerity, acutely observing every single painful breath the artist took and all the muscle spasms, which would gradually intensify with every passing minute. Capaldi handed her sceptre over to the audience the second her face was in the cake and the roles were officially reversed. One had to simply observe the spectators’ body language and facial expressions to comprehend that they were no longer spectators.

Leah Capaldi understands perfectly well the connotations that follow her performance, the obvious gender issues that she’s tackling, the male gaze she is punching, the contemporary social and cultural criticism she is making, nonetheless her outrageous performance goes beyond the obvious for it succeeds in provoking a strong relationship with the audience and conclusively emancipates the spectator.

Marina Doritis

Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty, New Museum, New York, NY

Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty, New Museum, New York, NY, 21/10/09 – 7/2/10
Words like trompe l’oeil, hallucinatory, illusion, and hyperreal dot the press release for the current exhibition at the New Museum in New York.  Urs Fischer’s first large-scale solo presentation in an American museum, Marguerite De Ponty, punctuates the end of a long 18 months doused in youth for this renewed New Museum. The younger programming was implemented in  a conscious effort, as discussed by chief curator, Richard Flood, to help compete with spenditure.  Fischer’s unique conceptual worth was solidified with the memorable “Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns?” a historic intervention at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, using photographic wallpaper and intuitive layering techniques to confound and overlap the icons of Francis Bacon, Keith Haring, Sarah Lucas, etc., an audacious imposition of new and old.
Comparable curatorial inferences can be found in the New Museum survey.  Marguerite takes up all three floors of the New Museum, the first solo exhibition to necessitate the space.  Fischer takes great care to present the minute and feeble gesture, the grand, staggering sculpture, and many contradistinctions between.
Though the fifth floor houses life size models of warped grand pianos, melted lamp posts, dissected subway seating, proportion-shifting metallic crags and an electromagnetic floating cake, the most memorable work takes place on floors two and three. The installation Service a la francaise consists of more than fifty mirrored cubes flawlessly screen printed with an array of images and displayed on the concrete floor; subjects including a used matchbook, a blank audio tape, a cardboard cut out of Ashanti, cheese blocks and sneakers were photographed from all sides (left, right, front, back, and top), enlarged by varying degrees, and seamlessly adhered to the chrome surfaces.
The fluctuation of image and size unifies the work in a city-like community of objects. The collision and free associative selection liberates their everyday, conceptual tones.  A cardboard cut out of Ashanti reflects onto a nearby settled block of cheese; they cannot escape one another in the systemized grid since the mirrored perimeter ricochets reflections in every direction. Fischer calls to attention ‘object vanity’ or commodity in sculpture and art history through this dizzying display of mirrors and mundane, remade readymades.
The third floor of the museum features a panoramic wallpaper installation. Every interior surface is meticulously rendered photographically, recreating walls, light fixtures, exit signs, vents, and doorframes in a gesture entitled Last Call Lascaux, a reference to the first known so-called artistic endeavor.  The entire space is wrapped in a 360-degree image of itself, thorough efforts enacting a clever, one liner idea.   One and Three Chairs, Kosuth’s notoriously philosophical installation comes to mind, seeming economical and anticlimactic by comparison.
Within the same room a floating, moon shaped croissant acts as a perch for a tiny artificial butterfly.  The delicate nature of this suspended sculpture is a perfect diversion from the massive, enveloping anti-installation (wallpaper).
Fischer’s theatrics are only rivaled by his stupefying range of reference. Marguerite De Ponty somehow encapsulates an artist at his ambitious best, given absolute free reign and delivering the fantastically elusive.
by Colleen Grennan

A Review of Urs Fischer’s Marguerite De Ponty

You have to hand it to an artist who can fill an entire museum with objects, site-specific installations, title his exhibition after a poet and critic as notorious as Stéphane Mallarmé, and still evade an association with one stereotypical style, cannon, or theme. In Marguerite De Ponty, on display at The New Museum in New York this winter, artist Urs Fischer invites the viewer to walk through a labyrinth of photographic sculptures, one (almost) seemingly empty gallery, and an array of monstrously large biomorphic aluminum forms, respectively. On all three floors of the museum, the viewer is prompted to think about scale, proportions, and the overall truth behind the construction of an object, or, in some cases, the exhibition space itself. Still, one might be entertained by simple ideas and while commonplace objects might gain a “spectacle-worthy” status, this visual experience does not provoke any distinguishing questions. Marguerite De Ponty’s largest flaw is that it is completely resolved; the viewer can leave the show feeling satisfied, but without the agency to ponder, rethink or analyze most aspects of the show.

Every exhibition does not have to give the viewer a heavy head, still in cases where “everyday objects” are revisited (once again), one would expect a creative edge that goes beyond complicating the medium used represent a shoe, book, or lipstick tube. In this instance, Fischer creates fifty-one daily objects by photographing each one of them from every side, blowing up the image to an unrealistic scale, and silk-screening the respective images on every side of a metal square or rectangle. The works are united by their clean and impeccable construction as well as by the randomness of the objects themselves, however after walking around the periphery of two or three photographic blocks, the novelty completely wears off.

This installation of photographic sculptures is easy to contextualize with other works on view in the museum; specifically a hanging croissant and brightly colored casts of a piano and pair of crutches that look like they are melting in place. While it is refreshing to enter a gallery space that is dominated by a multitude of free-standing sculptures uncomplicated by two-dimensional supplements on the wall (the only exception is the group of large abstract aluminum mounds that are hung from the ceiling), Fischer’s work stands in the shadows of artists such as Claes Oldenburg (and dare I say Jeff Koons) who already perfected the enlarged sculpture depicting conventional objects and made from questionable materials.

Nonetheless, the exhibition’s gem can be found on the refreshingly barren third floor. Seemingly empty with the exception of a hanging croissant, melting piano, and a realistic tongue that pokes its way through the gallery wall according to a motion sensor, the gallery walls are covered in gradients of grayish blue and purple hues. With closer inspection, it becomes clear that these walls are not painted, but rather they are covered in a room-size photograph of themselves. When paying attention to every inch of the walls, one begins to notice a photograph of the exit sign, a panel for the fire evacuation plan, and the doorknob all photographically flattened and sitting beneath their “real world” counterparts. This site-specific (and site-reflexive) installation provides an experience that goes beyond a minor surprise or a quick chuckle, instead making the viewer rethink what an artist might “do” in an exhibition space and what a viewer might expect from the walls of an art institution. If only the rest of the show could provoke this highly significant and worthwhile question.

-Stef Hirsch

Opticks, Peter Campus at the BFI South Bank Gallery

Peter Campus
Opticks
BFI South Bank Gallery
11 December 2009- 14 February 2010

The BFI South Bank Gallery is currently presenting in Opticks new work by Peter Campus alongside with his best-known videos from the 70’s. In effect, this is a mini retrospective of his work.

In Kiva (1971), Stasis (1973) and Mem (1975), the visitors activate the work; once they enter the field of the video camera, the piece takes life and is animated. For example in Kiva, the camera, positioned on the top of a video monitor, is focused onto two suspended and constantly moving double-sided mirrors, recording a perpetually moving image in which the viewer is reflected. This perception of a multidimensional space is also experienced in Stasis. The outcome is once again operated by the viewer entering the field of the video camera, their representation on the screen appears as a double image, one bending and turning and one remaining static. These works are only fully realised through the movements of the visitor. The physical engagement becomes unsettling, an awareness of their own reflection and their displacement in the space as well as on the screen.

Through his 70’s artworks, Campus investigates, the self through spectator’s relationship to film. Using the video and its relation to the space the artist initiates a psychological search. In Mem, the camera records the viewer and projects a distorted image at an angle onto the gallery wall. The more the spectator approaches their reflection, the more it diminishes to nothingness, exemplifying Campus’ constant existential questioning of what is a true image.

His commissioned piece Inflections: changes in light and colour around Ponquogue Bay (2009), states a significant change towards new technologies. Here Campus couples his interest in technological experimentation with a concern for composition, intending to refer to painting. This piece is shown on six videos screens presenting an abstract landscape taken originally from the south shore of Long Island. This technical transformation remains a secret. Campus considers this new piece as a refutation of using a more nostalgic medium as such as painting to portray Nature. This engagement with new media and technology makes the artist’s work more appealing and interesting.

The choice of the pieces shows a contrast with the minimalist aspect of his earlier work, focusing on the experience of a space within a representation, and a composition created digitally; the latter, something he has been increasingly interested in his recent work. After having dropped video work, Campus returned to it in the 90’s, using digital images superimposed on video footage. His practice is now more focused on the editing, the sequencing, and relationship of the images to one another. Even though these works are from the 70’s, their experience and interrogative impact still work.
Campus had an important role in video art, and in Opticks the BFI shows how his practice is relevant.

By Anne Duffau

http://www.bfi.org.uk/whatson/bfi_southbank/exhibitions

Luiz Zerbini – Centro de Cultura Laura Alvim, Rio de Janeiro

Though Luiz Zerbini presents drawings, a sculpture, paintings, an installation and a video on his current exhibition at Centro de Cultura Laura Alvim, Rio de Janeiro, the artist is essentially a painter. This statement, far from being full of prejudices or classificatory barriers, offers a possibility of comprehension for the works exhibited, since each one of them indicate a concern with colour and light, subjects proper of painting.

Zerbini started his career on the early 80’s, exhibiting figurative watercolours and paintings. Since then, his work became more abstract and, above all, geometric. There is an intersection point at his production, where the figuration appears as landscapes seen through the perspective of windows, dividing the canvas in a Cartesian way. Recently the landscapes are mainly digital, and the figuration on the group exhibited here appear subdued to geometry.

The pieces were conceived in 2009, with the exception of a flat tablet of glass displayed right from the entrance, dated of 2004. The sculpture is placed from the floor to the wall, composing a triangle. It starts as transparent glass and turn into a collage from the middle, aligning little colourful tablets in such way to construct a grid. This work places the interest of the artist for exact figures as an early care, rehearsing manners of becoming form. In a recent canvas, he paints small silver circles that arrange a perfect sequence over a black background, flirting with Op Art to construct a different kind of grid.

A certain error, or noise, is present in several works. The video depicts a landscape shoot through its reflection on the water. While shooting, an electronic error occurred on the tape, performing as an unexpected and undirected actor. Since it is not possible to paint a film, the artist decided to incorporate this visual noise as language, locating it as the subject of the video. As a frame of this video, a large canvas depicts a landscape with a bug of colours flying in the sky as a geometric balloon. In another artpiece, a room with concave walls is painted over black and reflexive ink. The visitor is invited to seat on a chair displayed in the centre of the room, producing his own reflex, failed and diffuse, on the wall.

The drawings are frames of slides glued side by side, forming a rectangle. The captions of each one of them designate places, landscapes and situations, but inside of these frames are jelly coloured filters, replacing memory for colours. These filters are apparatus used by photographers to correct light imperfections while photographing with analogical cameras. The artist currently exposures failures on this show, but in this work what is evident is the mechanism to control errors in order to avoid them.

Thinking mathematically, if we placed this exhibition in a graphic, being one vector “Failure” and the other “Perfection”, the works of this show would all be on the centre, reflecting a mature production where the artist doses the error and the success in harmonious proportions. He recognizes the importance of both tendencies in the production of the work of art, without glorifying any of them. Zerbini knows that he can paint the roses in red, but there is also grace in leaving them white.

– Maria do Carmo M. P. de Pontes

Factory Outlet, Bob and Roberta Smith, Beaconsfield, 2010

During a year long residence at Beaconsfield, situated in South London, Bob and Roberta Smith are attempting to portray something a little different to what most of us consider to be a residency. Instead, Bob and Roberta have chosen to capture the real and genuine manifestation of what it means to make art.

What Was I Thinking encapsulates the artist’s sense of a continuing production of artworks. The space is full, from floor to ceiling, with pieces of work. Upon further inspection one is able to fathom the feeling of live and transforming presence within the space. Labels are left on some artworks, detailing addresses and times of pick up, for galleries borrowing the work perhaps.

Large and small brightly painted pieces of work are lent up next to each other without a second thought. Other pieces of work are hung from a rope, which weaves in and out of the autonomous objects, providing the viewer with a sense of a continuing production line.  The dimly lit atmosphere and the irritating noise which comes from a large projection on the back wall, depicting the artist attempting to play musical instruments, all points toward to a live, yet haphazard art making and completion process, where objects are taken and put back, in no particular order.

In the cold and mere dimness, it seems the works are left to pass the time. No one is looking at them. There is so much here one would begin to think that it’s a waste of space, or as Bob and Roberta like to call it a ‘grotto of regret’. Combined with this visually loaded enterprise Bob and Roberta instigate an interesting critical outlook on the notions of art making and the art market itself. They have decided to put the installation, as well as their two permanent studios, on offer for one million pounds. Is this unrealistic? Could it all be sold?

Bob and Roberta make an insightful link with the venue in which the work is housed, through the history of Beaconsfield and how the place has always offered, since its opening in 1994, a ‘political space’ for artists to experiment. Through that, and with strong links to their own uncompromising practice and a satirical outlook on elements of the art market, Bob and Roberta highlight that beyond the residency at Beaconsfield, the politics behind it all is just as important.

What comes through in the work is the humour; Bob and Roberta are tackling various issues of art and politics but in a surreptitious manner. A text that is provided with the press release, gives an upbeat descriptions of how their practice came about, from the completion of their degree show at Goldsmiths in 1993. The piece of writing, which in parts made me laugh aloud on the tube home, finishes with a real and honest opinion of spaces like Beaconsfield, Peer and Matt’s Gallery who were encouraging and still do encourage, work to be made where the demands inherent in the work were the only things that were important.

Bob and Roberta claim a new generation of artist are seeking these places out, and I would have to agree with him. With reflection on our current times, this could become the case of how the art world will shift to compensate the control of the recession.

Leaving the building you are met with a brightly painted sign perched next to the door. ‘Wait! Have you been upstairs to the Upper Gallery? If not, you must go back!’ A final tease of Bob and Roberta’s enthusiastic yet uncompromising tone.

By Matilda Strang

ULLA VON BRANDENBURG: WAGON WHEEL 27 NOV – 30 JAN 2010, PILAR CORRIAS GALLERY, LONDON, UK

A feeling slowly unfolds while making your way through the large colorful quilts hanging from the ceiling of the Pilar Corrias Gallery – that a secret is being withheld from you. At the end of the irregular path outlined by the delicate edges of the patchworks, a mute black and white film plays on a loop. And these are all the clues we have to decipher the German-born artist Ulla Von Brandenburg’s intentions. The exploration is rewarding.

A closer look at the unusual image in the press release takes us back to a moment in the recent history. It depicts hands holding high what must be an example of an American “crazy quilt” (more accurately, a “crazy patchwork”) against the backdrop of a Victorian interior, ready for a photo-shoot. Quilt making is a old tradition in England. It was first introduced by the settlers to the New World in the 17th century, and a few centuries later, it was reintroduced from America, where it developed a specific style and was consequently picked up by the fashion trends in Britain. With influences from Japanese quilt designs and the Victorian Aesthetic movement, these “crazy” geometrical patchworks tended to be quite random, but were embroidered with other meanings: often made from pieces gathered from family members with names, birth or death dates, they contained nostalgic elements. They were also considered a “triumph in women’s imagination”. This picture is important to the exhibition in several ways: it refers to the two-ways influence that happened historically; it hints at the a period following the adoption of the American constitution in 1865, an important part of it being the abolition of slavery. The image’s theatrical settings, with the lights and props left visible, also shows von Brandenburg’s interest in staged narratives, where decoding/encoding is a vital skill.

The quilts on view are hand-made, delicate and feminine. They resemble cropped parts of different patterns enlarged and sown together. Their edges are left unfinished, exposing the vulnerable soft insides. In one of the quilts we can clearly distinguish the shape of a large square block or box. We learn that this was the code Tumbling Block or Boxes, part of codification system employed by African-American slaves to plan their escape on the Underground Railroad (a vast network of people at its peack during the 1850s and 1860s). The quilts were then left hanging in plain view, unsuspected by the masters, containing urgent messages for those who knew how to read them. We find enlarged parts of other codes on the quilts: the Wagon Wheel, from which the exhibition takes its title, meant they had to prepare necessary tools needed to travel by wagon or that a wagon was will soon be embarking on the journey to freedom. It was the moment much awaited, but filled with terrifying suspense: will they make it? These symbols themselves, however, are unable to convey feelings, they are empty of emotions or live testimonies. They bare witness to the imaginative mind in our never-ending struggle to existence. But what they have now become is a method in school practice to create interest in students in the history of the Underground Railroad. We are reminded that Ulla von Brandenburg conceived of this project during her stay in Memphis, which was a major slave market in the South. And perhaps the quilts in the show use these tactics to tell this story, so embedded with mythology that is hard to tell where the legend ends and when reality begins.

These signs, however, are a fact and they exist because there was a need for them,  just like the objects in her mute black & white film – a pencil, a shirt, a book, a crystal ball, a brick, all hidden behind each other. Only by the “magical” removal of the front object, that the second one is revealed, slowly lifted by a chord and disappearing into the edge of the screen. We can think of obstacles on the road to freedom, within the context of the story behind the codes, or we can think of historicity and how it is formed, where real facts are removed, to reappear again after an endless uncovering of other facts. Whatever it might be, Ulla von Brandenburg very elegantly re-invites visitors to that moment in the past, as distant from their own reality, or cultural history as it might be, touching wider themes such as the hidden signs brilliant minds have left in books, in art, in films, in history – signs we read and misread, or that stay with us, act upon us and free our minds even if it is for a fraction of time before disappearing into the frames of our lives.

By Snejana Krasteva

53rd Venice Biennale Making Worlds

On the final weekend of the Venice Biennale, cold humid winds sweep through the narrow streets and canals of the city. The Arsenale is surrounded by a rather time-stain aura. No signs of busy art world participants, time limiting their look per artwork. Only silence and the magic Venetian light.

This year’s director, Daniel Birnbaum, has gathered older, as well as emerging artist for the theme Making Worlds. The de- and reconstruction of the world, the staging and illusion, the Ruin and the Utopia, all can be found as different approaches to the theme. Not all attempts are up to date, some even provokingly conventional, but some works manage to break through and create their own small universe within the exhibition. In the middle of the Arsenale, right after Pascale Marthine Tayou’s chaotic restaging of an African village, Richard Wentworth has created a beautifully installed space. Canes hanging from small glass and mirror shelves spread out over the wall, a reminder of the effect of simplicity and at the same time the stability this effect creates. The canes rest firmly on their small areas of contact, stabilized only by the force of leverage. Yet, how little interference would be needed to disturb this balance.

It is almost a relief to leave the huge Making Worlds and head for the national pavilions. Here, you have a chance to focus more on the individual artist and to engage with contemporary artists practices around the world. At least you would think so. As it happens, some of the pavilions have decided to show well known artists, for example the U.S pavilion which is presenting the work of Bruce Neuman and the U.K pavilion where Steve McQueen is showing his video Giardini (2009). The Venetian wind also whispers a brief reminder of the men in black with briefcases full of contracts and firm handshakes paying for the party. The forces of finance and marketing are lingering behind the scenes, their footsteps sounding a bit nervous this year.

The time is short, the exhibition area is huge and I’ve long lost the feeling in my hands, but for the assiduous visitor there are rewards to come. One of the benefits of the Biennale is the opportunity to form an individual opinion and to build your own library of reference of the art world today. I soon get the trick of walking, looking and judging at the same time. Of course the success of an artist as well as a pavilion has a lot to do with “fitting to the format” but also, more interestingly, with “rupturing the format” and finding its own way to the viewer.

The Nordic pavilion is an example of the latter, where Elmgren & Dragset has invited their fellow artist friends to take part in the exhibition The Collectors. As a comment on the state of the art world, the art is portraying the homes of two, no more so happy collectors. The staging of the Danish and Nordic pavilion also asks questions of the roles of the curator and artist. As artists Elmgren & Dragset are free to play with the narratives and context around the works. The whole pavilion seems to have been a rather exciting collaboration between themselves and the artists included in the show, all participating in the theatrical staging drawn up by the curators. This is fascinating, but also leaves me with the question of whether an external curator would have been able to be as creative in the presentation of the pavilions? Would it be too much to take on the artist role and interfere with the artwork? I hope not.

As darkness falls over the Giardini, I’m glad to have topped up my personal archive of artists. No matter the forces behind the Biennale, it still rests firmly in the art world even though, maybe more, in a Wentworthian manner. The leverage is still in the balance, but surely, with a strong blow it might fall down.

-by Katrin Ingelstedt

Stephen G. Rhodes, Reconstruction or Something, Vilma Gold

Stephen G. Rhodes
Reconstruction or Something
14 October - 29 November 2009

There is a serious American malfunction oscillating throughout the work of Stephen
G. Rhodes. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Rhodes has found a frame from which to
expand and investigate. In a hyperbole of props, exposed plywood, and video, the
exhibition at Vilma Gold platforms an ongoing series of Rhodes’ work involving the
deconstruction of a misunderstood era. 

Central to the show is a film installation consisting of three individual
projections nestled into makeshift mine shafts. In an impotent archeological dig,
iconographic figures (accessorized with either cowboy hats or turbans) bang on rocks
and green boards with predictably fruitless results. The dig is an obvious stand in
for the topical oil drill. Props from his videos are extrapolated and repositioned
as screens to house the moving images, the same way he extrapolates loose
information from American history and recontextualizes the information into a soft
definition of his own. 

Rhodes utilizes recognizable symbolic artifacts such as the American flag, the
serpent, church pews, and photographs of American historical figures (predominately
dated between 1865-1877). A boarded up fake window quietly rests in the darkest
corner of the space lit only from wall-mounted prop candelabras. Approaching the
window is made difficult by several diagonal leaning 2x4’s, which obstruct the
viewer’s path and suggest a cluttered, abandoned construction site.

Rhodes plays with an indoor/ outdoor motif in the disorienting assemblage of
carpeted flooring, lighting effects, picket fences, towel wrapped plywood, and
outdoor skeletal structures. Without easy audience mobility or a central
concentrated subject matter, the entire exhibition becomes a blurring obtrusion. 

Reconstruction or Something falls somewhere between the ruins of gold rush ghost
towns and the “humanitarian” intervention in the middle east. By using the common
suggestions of American history and updating them to unsettling degrees, Rhodes
provides a messy Disney World tableau on the country’s impossibly mythical past.  In
this convoluted, comedic, and oppositional version, the U.S. has boorishly
colonized, built, harvested, and abandoned the known world and is willing to make it
a pattern.

-Colleen Grennan 

Phil Collins, soy mi madre @Victoria Miro Gallery, 24 November – 18 December 2009

In his new film, soy mi madre, showed at the Victoria Miro Gallery, Phil Collins stages a reality as illustrated in a classic telenovela that would make the prime-time of a private TV channel. Forces of Good and Evil unleash themselves in a world dominated by exploitation, burden secrets and burning passions. A world where servants are wearing lace aprons and senora is drinking Japanese sparkling water with a few drops of lemon. And although economically victimized, the poor (that radiate with humanity and common sense) live with the hope that we are all equal in front of God. However, the social status is always subject to change; the relations between the two classes are so fluctuant that at anytime, an illegitimate child can flip over the social hierarchy.

Inspired by Jean Genet’s The Maids, Phil Collins explores the social relations through the medium of telenovela – a TV format that tries to blur boundaries between social classes, though it builds the plots on the economical division itself. As in his other projects – They Shoot Horses (2004), The world won’t listen (2005) the artist is engaging with the local community, this time the Latino immigrants in Aspen. The work conceived as a standard episode of a telenovela series is constructed on a set of oppositions that intensify the social inequalities and build up the dynamics of the film. The luxurious décor contrasts with the economical difficulties of the servants. The humble attitude of a devoted maid conflicts with the indifference of the rich lady she serves. Moments of quietness are disrupted by sudden bursts of emotion (often hysterical). A dualistic reality, yet very complex.

In almost half an hour, you are witnessing scenes of turmoil that make the action so dense as if in the lives of these characters happens more in 30 minutes than in your life in a year. And when one of the characters passes through the film set and breaks the moving image convention by exposing the film team to the viewer, you are reminded about the manipulative character of the camera. A camera that accentuates the theatrical performance of the characters and creates the illusion of continuity even when the original cast is replaced by other actors (as often happens in telenovelas that reach hundreds of episodes). A camera that is confined to one location, not because of the script’s constraints, but because of budget.

When approaching a telenovela, there is always a risk to transform the discourse on this medium into a parody by highlighting its clichés and absurdities. On the contrary, Phil Collins takes this medium very seriously. He investigates the mechanisms and aesthetics of telenovela in an attempt to assert that there is something more complex about this medium behind its frivolous and simplistic appearance.

 

The Unilever Series. Miroslaw Balka @ Tate Modern

By getting into the Tate Modern, How It Is – the new work by the Polish artist Miroslaw Balka selected for the 10th edition of The Unilever Series – makes the viewers rediscover the huge and imposing space of the Turbine Hall, playing with it in a kind of architectonical mise en abyme. Balka’s installation – or sculpture as the artist refers to it – is a giant grey steel box, 13 metres high and 30 metres long, which offers its back to the visitors as soon as they come into the museum space. You must walk through the entire length of the Turbine Hall before arriving at the entrance of How It Is and, if you want, you can also wander underneath the installation, suspended on tall steel legs immediately recalling the pilotis of Le Corbusier’s architecture.  

A wide ramp is the access point to Balka’s massive container. At the top of it, you still can’t say what there is inside the box. The most exciting part is, in fact, when you arrive and hesitate at the threshold. On the border dividing light and dark, outside and inside, crossing the line in-between the know and the unknown. This is the moment: excitement mixed with fear, trepidation and apprehension. You finally take courage and slowly, step by step, going straight on or feeling your way along the felt walls, you are inside the gloomy chamber. Gradually your eyes adjust to the obscurity and the deep black is broken up into a multitude of fascinating shades of grey.

An almost dark but thick emptiness is the content of the box. Nothing else. Well, nothing else besides you and another bunch of noisy people sharing the same moment. And that means: giggles and flashes everywhere, animated conversations and naughty children running up and down the ramp. Fairly annoyed, you can’t wait to get to the end and there, turning back, you face the entrance, light appears again and so the threshold you crossed just before. But now you know how it is going beyond it.

How It Is is also the title of a novel published in 1964 by Samuel Beckett: the apparently endless journey of an anonymous narrator crawling on mud as a metaphor of purgatory. Copies of the books, which Balka suggests to be only one of his innumerable references, fill up the shelves of the Tate’s bookshop: the perfect end for a day spent at the museum-fairground with a “smart” souvenir to commemorate your experience.

In a separate room of the Tate Modern or, alternatively, available online, visitors can watch a video where the artist comments on his commission at the Turbine Hall. Balka takes us to his secluded world in Otwock, outside Warsaw. The artist’s family house, now converted to his studio, is lost somewhere in the countryside, not far from the train station where thousands of Jews, during the Second World War, were transported to the concentration camp in Treblinka. A humble but dignified atmosphere surrounds the composed voice of the artist, recollecting fragments of his own past and common memories. The poetic character of the narration reveals the beauty of small and fragile things, that speak in a whisper. It is the same elegiac quality you can perceive in most of  Balka’s works, some of them made of ash, soap and hair. It is the same that now is irremediably lost in the hubbub of the Tate.

Giada Consoli

Apichatpong Weerasethakul “Primitive” Musée d’Art Modern, Paris

Eight short-films, some photographs, drawings and sculptures compose the exhibition “Primitive”, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, inspired on a book called “The Man Who Could Recall His Past Lives”, written by a monk. The films take place at Nabua, a village on the Northeast of Thailand, home country of the artist, and they depict the life of young adults (or old children) of that region (which has been occupied by the Thai army from the 60’s to the 80’s to control the insurgence of Communism). In a practice similar to that one of the French filmmaker Jean Rouch, the films happen in the intersection between documentary and fiction: the characters are playing themselves to the camera.

The first film (Primitive, 2008) is shown right from the entrance, though there are no benches to seat and see it. It starts with an open plan of a landscape, reframed by an empty billboard structure. The sequence that follows is a lower plan of this same landscape, occupied by boys playing soccer with a ball on fire. Behind them now there is a white canvas projection screen, placed on the grass as a monolith, which starts to burn when is hit by the ball. We then see no longer the boys, only the burning screen, again reframing the frame, and we see thunderbolts very far away. With this film, the artist introduces all the elements that will be present on the following works: the light (of all kinds), Buddhism, memory, agriculture landscapes and the combination of innocence and perversity.

At the second exhibition space we see large-scale photos of the personages of the film, which are always the same ones. It was unnecessary to introduce them to the visitor in photos, and it’s ironic that the largest room of the show is actually the most disposable. Entering the door on the right side there is a room illuminated only by the projection of six films on simultaneous screens of various dimensions, mainly without sound. Only three of them are disposed on the walls, the other three are hung by ropes from the ceiling, an interesting choice that allows the spectator to see the films from both sides of the screen. Whereas now the curators were thoughtful to put a bench in the centre of the room, they were not in regards of the signalization: there were no captions of the films. Also in this room, and with captions, are two drawings of burning houses, displayed on the walls as light boxes.

At the end of this space there is another exhibition room with a large-scale double projection. The beauty of it is that, on a different direction from what we normally see in double-projections, the films are not reiterating each other, but are complementary discourses, gracefully constructed. The images are filled with delicacy and emotion, almost without dialogues between the characters, which invariably behave both with naivety and violence. Though the elements are always the same, Mr. Weerasethakul develops unique narratives for each film, with beginning, middle and end (as he not only works in the boundaries of documentary and fiction but also on that one of filmmaker and artist) exposing his mastery in telling a story. The exit of this room lead us back to the Photo’s room, where we see a page of the inspirational book of the show with a Buddhist passage hung on the wall and in front of it a real gun displayed vertically from the floor. Unnecessarily to put such a literal object in a territory full of delicate and subtle signs.

– Maria do Carmo M. P. de Pontes

Anselm Kiefer, The Fertile Crescent, at the White Cube

Anselm Kiefer

The Fertile Crescent

At the White Cube, Hoxton Square

16 October – 14 November 2009

The German artist Anselm Kiefer presents his new works at the White Cube. The Fertile Crescent, in Hoxton Square, displays four large paintings inspired from photos taken by the artist, over the past ten years, in India and its brick factories.

Remnants of human production and emptiness to the horizon are at the essence of these artworks. The references to archaeology and history are ubiquitous; and the past where human activities had been, but no longer exists, is suggested. Kiefer uses words in his titles to allude to ancient history. Heliopolis means the sun-city and is one of the most ancient Egyptian towns. Rows of bricks stretch to the warm and empty horizon. Kiefer’s magic is to confer texture to his paintings. The cracked clay, the muddy aspect of the surface transmit to the viewer the heat of the place as well as a sense of the tactile. Sand storms almost cause itchy eyes.

The emptiness of these landscapes and the underlying reference to humankind convey poesy and myth. Archaeology, excavation and human artifacts are emphasized with the display on the gallery floor of broken pieces from amphora. It adds a third dimension to the smeared clay on the walls. As if these smashed fragments create a path to the painting displayed in the center.

In Shevirath Ha Kelim, the terracotta texture drips almost out of the canvas and becomes the broken ceramics. Here ancient history is underlined by the way the bricks are piled. It forms a pyramid. Every element in Kiefer’s world, title, shattered pottery, paintings of sun-dried mud bricks recall ancient civilization.

The title of the exhibition, The Fertile Crescent, is written on the wall as an echoing voice of these distant landscapes. It refers to Mesopotamia, the first civilization, the first writing system. Cuneiform writing is still unresolved like these mysterious artworks.

Another historical allusion can be mentioned, the underlying reference to the holocaust. It haunts subconsciously these paintings of bricks, and their unrepresented kilns. A dried and deadly deserted landscape insinuates a ghoulish part of history. The artist has always been dealing with the reminiscence of this collective memory. This horrific side of history is a recurrent theme for him.

Kiefer has been charged with boredom in his repetitive, empty representation of landscapes. However, he obviously produces large scale meditative and poetic machines. His work leads to think about human history. In our doomed world, he uses the past to engage with the present.

By Anne Duffau

http://www.whitecube.com/exhibitions/kiefer/

Gerry Judah: Babylon @ Flowers, London, UK 20 Nov – 24 Dec 2009

Often buildings are not given time to decay. Many are interrupted by a sudden death and left fossilized in partial horizontality. Such violent anti-architectural gestures found in modern urban conflict zones, are meticulously reiterated in the paintings of Gerry Judah, whose solo exhibition Babylon is currently on view at the Flowers Gallery in London.

Judah’s works could be more accurately described as a hybrid between paintings, sculpture and architectural models. Near the death-spreading epicenter of the canvases, hang unnerving ruins of miniaturized settlements and buildings that have met their inglorious end. Parts are still erected but deprived of the direction builders would have given them. Instead, they come out horizontally from the canvas, and their bones stretch to meet our still breathing bellies – an ominous act but more likely, a disguised hope for human touch. They seem to menace the wholeness of our body with their dismembered communication remains, with the void at the end of the stairwells and the deafness of the satellite dishes. At the same time, their positioning on the canvas seems to follow the stillness of a photograph – it somehow allows emotional distance and contemplation from “above”. The physical threat and the psychological retreat that is offered, are as conflicting as the presence of so much absence, delivered in so many meticulously destroyed fragments.

Gerry Judah’s “dead zones” could be anywhere from the Middle East to Eastern Europe, from Baghdad to Belgrade.There is a similarity in death, despite being a unique moment in one’s life or the life of a building. But while his previous works Frontiers (2005), Angels (2006) or Motherlands (2007) were all executed in a ghostly white color, in this body of works he adds black and red. There is a distinct growth in emotions. What red has supplemented for, is the pain that is absent in his bloodless white cityscape of murdered ruins. Red is also limited only to his circular canvases, making them less perfect of a geometry, and more doomed in this human madness of modern warfare. In a sense, his paintings are a sculptural rendering of the otherness, the collapse of a unified society be it by language, religion or memory. God, in an act similar to Judah’s, destroyed the Tower of Babylon that its unified people were trying to build to reach heaven. With this injurious behavior, diversity was restored.

Gerry Judah has been working with this theme and materials for the past few years, each time convincingly depicting these unrecoverable urban landscapes. The political and aesthetic contents of those miniaturized aftermaths of war maintain their autonomous status on the canvas until the repetition loses its power to activate further political thought, and the visual takes over. Even then, saturation comes fast. And before it all becomes ruinous memory, it sadly occurs to us that the geometry of an interrupted and broken architecture is sometimes more telling about our contemporaneity than the intact architecture in which we live.

Snejana Krasteva

John Baldessari: Pure Beauty

The highly comprehensible John Baldessari’s retrospective at Tate Modern, allows the clearest understanding of his work yet to be seen on British soil. With works that range from 1962 to 2009 divided into 14 rooms with accompanying wall texts, one can unmistakably acknowledge the interpretation Jessica Morgan, curator of the exhibition, made of Baldessari’s oeuvre.

The problem with retrospectives though, is that they tend to have the final word on anartist’s practice. We can say that after a retrospective, everything which was still not institutionalized, is finally integrated in a canonical reading. This exhibition is, among other things, exemplary of this phenomenon, and it can be terrifying to acknowledge that in this case we are dealing with one of the most decisive conceptual artists. This and this alone can make us even more cynical about art’s true capacity to transpose its restrictive boundaries and have an effective role at the core of an informed publicsphere.

Even so, Pure Beauty has already established itself as one of the most important exhibitions, which took place in the London art scene this year. The exhibition begins with three rooms where we’re encouraged to dissect mostly paintings made between 1962 and 1968 where the use of written language on canvas is the main feature. With it Baldessari established what would be the conceptual drive of his praxis in these first few years, namely the critique of the connection between artwork and authorship and to what were then the aesthetic considerations around artworks. The fourth room continues largely dedicated to language, but here starts a second phase of the exhibition with the prominence of photography based works, which will develop throughout the next 9 rooms.

At the beginning of the 1970s we’re told that Baldessari moved to Los Angeles and turned his attention to the movie industry and advertising world. His behaviour towards these spheres would be marked both by open curiosity and sharp cleverness. In works such as How to make a good movie (David and Irene) from 1973 or Ed Henderson suggests sound tracks for photographs from 1974, we can see precisely this: a man who stands outside the Culture Industry but who cannot be immune to its effects on a large section of the American population. With these pieces he clearly brings Hollywood within a research framework, on which Cindy Sherman may be regarded his most significant heir.

The use of cinematographic images continued to be broadly used in Baldessari subsequent production. From room nine on, this theme is contextualized, in the artist’s notorious juxtapositions and Pure Beauty pays a fair homage to this aspect. By putting originally unrelated images side-by-side, Baldessari creates new meanings, which force us to really admire his intelligence and sense of humor. On this matter Kerryn Greenberg speaks about the ‘power of suggestion’ and suggestion is precisely what vividly pops out of pieces such as, Man and Woman with Bridge, 1984, or when we see a group of pelicans looking at a woman with her nose bleeding.

As soon as I left the exhibition though, I felt Baldessari’s work as something in direct relation to what, in 1967, Theodore Adorno had said about museums as being sepulchers of artworks, works that no longer have a vital relationship to the present. Within an institution as Tate Modern, which finds itself at the frontline when it comes to exhibition making, a different retrospective would have been expected.

– Ricardo Romero

into the role

Daisy!

 

Through exhibiting Deimantas Narkevicius’s ‘into the unknown’(2009), BFI made a statement to 20 years anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

Deimantas edited the footage stored in ETV Collection of socialist propaganda films in BFI National Archive. Archive achieved a meaning of re-drainage in his work not just to be reviewed or for inspiration. By recontextualizing the footage, he made homage to the propaganda and purpose, which is in very opposite spot of the purpose of the propaganda itself.

 

People in the film are unknown in the abnormally clear structure of the socialism society, which allocates people ‘into the role’. However, smile on the face, unconscious face in working and undistinguished moves of fingers are the traces of that they have their own stories not as a person in the social structure. For us of todays, the kind of the clearness of socialism structure looks rather naive when compared to the insidious performativity of the capital. The agreed power allocates people in to the role unknowingly.

 

In ‘the dude effect”(2008), the protagonist, operating the missile in the office behaves according to every step in detail as he did in the period of socialism. Seeing him in motion reminds viewers that socialism, the biggest experiment in human history was realised once there. As the collapsed system achieves the life and narrative, the legacies of the battlefield in the film archive the narrative within the history which remind the simple fact that the past is similar with present in terms of narrative.

 

We, living in the society of Democratic in surface, do have propagandas and dogma as in socialism. They are in media and our automatically thought, trained as members of capitalistic society for being survived. No one educates to produce propaganda of capitalism or to live within it but we deliberately to do so. Do we need two decades for our being beyond the position in the society? As we find it in Deimantas film.

Erika Verzutti – Swallow Street

Swallow Street Gallery, a second exhibition space of Hauser & Wirth Gallery dedicated to new artists, could easily be taken by a store, as its façade is a show window and it is located in a very commercial area of London. Thus, the exhibition is given to us from the out side, but the pedestrian who wishes to take a time and get inside the gallery to see it more carefully will be pleased to see Erika Verzutti’s new works.

The Brazilian artist has created three sculptures and one drawing for this show. The first work we see is the sculpture “Peacock and I”, where the body of the bird is depicted as a pineapple and the feathers are a grid of painting brushes. Though the piece is made on bronze, the brushes are painted, not continuously but in a random way, as if they have been used just before being relocated to the work. The base of the sculpture is carefully modelled, and we can perceive the hands of the artist creating a volume similar to a volcano. This gives us the idea that the work is being conceived right there, at the instant of looking, showing it self to us. The piece seems to be growing, as in a “fertile practice”. This organic aspect, which appears in both theme and aesthetic forms at Verzutti’s work, is an important key for the comprehension of the artist production and constantly appears in her practice.

Walking a bit further, at the right side, we see the sculpture “Starfruit”, a vertical sequence of piled starfruits with a pomegranate in the middle. Here the base, as the top and the centre of the work, are twigs, delicately arranged to sustain and unit the whole: spreading above, crossing in the middle and rising at the top. Also here the sculpture is made on bronze and drops of painting, but now only with white ink. This sculpture is conceived as a Totem, immediately reminding us of religious cults and protection symbols, but here the group is made of fruits and not animals and there is nothing to be worshiped except the fact of being art, which now more than ever can be excessively “object of desire”, but is any art supposed to be worshiped?

The third sculpture seen in the exhibition is “Baby octopus” and, in a different manner than the two previous, displayed over regular pedestals, this starts in the floor, cross the air until the roof and than fall. The sculpture begins with tangled yellow rope from where one line goes off this confusion, is fixated on the floor by two piled bricks, rises until the ceiling where it’s hang by a small wheel, gets down more 5o centimetres and only then we find the baby octopus, finally fished. The piece is made by the traditional bronze but also soft clay, which is the body of the sculpture, and here again the tentacle shape is given by brushes, eight, to be exactly.

The last work exhibited is a drawing titled “Ballerina”, presenting us another animal, an undeterminable one, composed by a round pink body, which remits to a potato, and four pencils stacked in this body, operating as legs and given stability for this animal and a sense for the drawing. Cute, but unnecessary to be shown together with such interesting sculptures.

– Maria do Carmo Pontes

Guided Tours at Auto-Italia South East

An exhibition without artists…

Guided Tours organized by Katie Guggenheim is a new permanent fixture at Auto-Italia South East. The project consists of the work of three curators Bettina Brunner, Kathy Noble and Francesco Pedraglio. Each curator addresses the convention of the museological tour in a different form. Brunner chooses the interview, Noble, the review and Pedraglio, the audio tour. The gallery Auto-Italia South East inhabits an old rundown Volkswagen garage. At the time of this review, the gallery appears empty. The front of the building is a car showroom complete with shop-front windows, linoleum tile floors, and display cases built into its back walls. When you turn the corner you enter a large vacant room with brick walls, metal garage doors and a rotting wood floor. It is cold and dank. Through this room you can enter an even larger garage space with concrete floor, this is probably where most of the repair work was once done. According to the press release Auto-Italia “is awaiting demolition”. No doubt this is one of the possible futures of the space, however the gallery has been able to avoid this fate for some time now. The future of the space, as well as its past, has been fantasized in the curators’ projects.

Pedraglio’s work takes the viewer on an audio tour of Auto-Italia via an interview with a member of the fictionalized “Auto-Italia Group”. We are not sure what the group’s purpose is, but we get the feeling that they are a secret organization in hiding. Pedraglio’s description of the space is incredibly detailed, transforming otherwise overlooked aspects of the dilapidated garage into necessities for the group’s survival. For instance we are told that the red painted concrete of the garage floor is actually a special luminescent dye that lights up in the dark allowing for the collective to gather at night without needing electricity. This narrative is cleverly posed in relation to the looming demolition of the building. We are reminded that the gallery is still very much running when the unnamed Auto-Italia Group member states “Auto-Italia is not dead, some of us are still around this place.”

Noble and Brunner take on the ultimate curatorial freedom, an imagined show. Each curator is able to construct an immaculate exhibition without ever having to answer to a board, negotiate with an artist, or supervise a technician. Noble reviews a show at Auto-Italia that includes re-staged works by Sturtevant and Andrea Fraser that are then re-enacted by the gallery directors themselves. She “curates” content that questions the original while simultaneously creating a review of an exhibition that has no origin. The original does not exist, and that is Noble’s point. Brunner’s interview with Dan Graham is a dematerial collage of the artist’s writings. It also includes an imagined installation in the space. These projects are reminiscent of Katie Guggenheim’s 2007 exhibition at Auto Italia, “A History of Two Mountains/One The Original/Two A Copy/Both Equally Heavy” in which artworks were re-made independently of the artists to whom they were attributed. Claiming that the copy becomes as valid as the original.

As this project is permanent, its context will shift as objects are brought in and out of the gallery. In its current state the architecture of the space becomes fore-grounded but other meaning will be performed when the conditions of the site change.

Becky Koblick

Olivia Plenda, Aadieu Adieu Apa (Goodbye Goodbye Father) at Gasworks

Olivia Plender is well known as a an artist practicing under the school of Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics. Taking historical research as her starting point, spectacular and absurd historical events are unpicked via a satire of the strategies of capital. The installation employs a variety of forms, all appropriations of historicising systems; a propaganda film, an touristic advertisement, a museum model and popular printing posters from bygone eras. The shifts in mode imitate the morphing and accommodating drive of power structures, and the critical Leitmotif for the artists is an equally morphing inserted fiction.

In her installation The Empire City (2009), the systematic classification of empire is illustrated as a museum style architectural model of a World Fair in Wembly that took place in 1924. Plender chooses to satirise historising ceremonial devices in her addition of fictitious countries and contemporary political conflicts. Colonial rule requires theatrical spectacle to induce a passive response in the subject. Plender ruptures the selective narrative employed by the history books by magnifying and elaborating on the unfitting absurdities of reality. Museums, being the didactic child of empire make the artists’ realisation of this critique all the more successful.

Plender’s video installation; What is England? (2009) is a touristic lecture on the history of Wembley and footage of the area as it is today, followed by a parable of a visit to the world fair of 1924. The latter part of the film uses the postcard as a device as we are shown an image of the interior of the fair whilst a female narrator describes her tense visit. The consumer’s instincts are overcome by the expectation and myth surrounding the all encompassing exhibition and doesn’t hide a disappointment at herself for purchasing a trinket which seems blatantly superfluous. The narrative acts as an allegory for participation in capital where the perpetuating and seductive quality of exhibition encourages a passive consumption on the part of the audience. Plender shows us the touristic traces of empire in our current society, and offers her own elaborations as allegories to warn against passivity.

By Helen Kaplinsky

Anne Hardy @ Maureen Paley

Anne Hardy

At Maureen Paley

9 October-22 November

Anne Hardy is exhibiting her new works, six photographs in large formats, at Maureen Paley. All of them are images of empty interiors built in the artist’s studio as if their occupants had suddenly left.
The fascinating aspect of these works resides in the choice of the objects and colors. Hardy constructs an interior from second hand-things, they have lived and a familiar reminiscence in the picture captivate the viewer. The rebuilt spaces are meant to be part of interiors where social activities take place, such as clubs, member rooms, class rooms, workshops, study rooms, etc… In Incidence (2009), for example, the interior seems to be taken from a snooker room. Here, the artist intent to represent two spaces in one image. The viewer faces a wall, onto which three mirrors are hung and reflect the rest of the room. Some chairs and billiard cues have been left on situ. The reflection in the mirrors reveals a predominance of dull brown and white colors on the walls, contrasting with the watery green wall facing the viewer. This last tone has been chosen in order to bring a redolent feeling, this is a color that has been seen in motels, or in cheap bars. It invokes one’s memory. Hardy chooses the right color, light and material to bring the viewer into a familiar ambience; these spaces create a certain reminiscence. It is as if the smell of old butts, beers and the green baize from the pool table permeates the spectator’s nose. The clacking sounds of the pool balls and people comments haunt this picture. The striking element in these images is even if they are deserted places or have been suddenly left, they are still active breathing spaces. Hardy creates “Still-life” settings that captivate the viewer. Where one would expect a human reflection or even a shadow, it is only the reflection of another mirror that appears, sending the audience back to the vacant space loaded with living objects. Each detail has been throughly though, the artist constructs the space and works on its details and finishes it in three months; and then, once the image is shot, everything is destroyed. There is a real process of creation, life and death, that only the artist controls. Hardy uses a large format camera and manipulates artificial lighting to emphasize an atmosphere.
In Unity (2009), a secret reading group could be imagined having meetings. The space is created by a semi-circular shaped wall, in which are built little alcoves set up with individual seats. Each of these niches is lit up from its ceiling by a ray of natural or artificial light. A churchy atmosphere emanates from this image by the celestial lighting and by the way the room is set like in the choir of a chapel. But the mystery of the real function of this room is still unresolved. Could it be a secret space for a hidden community into a derelict nightclub? Some hintes are given: books abandoned on the floor, walls painted in black, cob webs invaded corners, old black party banners falling down… It is still not enough to enlighten the viewer on the real usage of the space, and he remains puzzled.
Hardy’s images ask the spectator to use his imagination, to recall, to interpret with his own memories. At the same time, one has to accept not being able to solve the real utility of the room. Paradoxically, the unknown and the reminiscent are always suggested. The artist creates familiarity in unexpected and uncanny interiors that leave any narrative possible to the viewer.

http://www.maureenpaley.com

By Anne Duffau

Yinka Shonibare, MBE: “Willy Loman: The Rise and Fall” Stephen Friedman Gallery, 15 Oct-20 Nov, 2009

-Stef Hirsch-

Yinka Shonibare’s current exhibition, “Willy Loman: The Rise and Fall,” presents a combination of large-scale photography, collage, and sculptures, paired with an uninhibited use of historical and cultural references. The exhibition results in a well-crafted body of artwork that unfortunately relies too heavily on the desire to recontextualize the artist’s canonical visual vocabulary. In the end, the exhibition, while purposefully theatrical, projects itself as a series of highly superficial constructions.
Divided into two spaces, the front portion of the gallery presents a group of large-scale, highly stylized photographs as well as a life-size installation of a crashed red car. A slouching mannequin resides within the car, expectedly dressed in one of Shonibare’s repeatedly used faux ‘African’ Victorian suits. Furthermore, as anyone who has previously seen any of Shonibare’s work might assume, the figure is beheaded. It is in reference to this car that the press release gives the viewer the first (of many) external references. In this case, the car responds to a photograph from 1898 entitled: “The First Fatal Car Crash;” according to the gallery (or is it indeed Shonibare’s instructions to the gallery?) this photograph “records death as a spectacle for the first time.” Still, while it might just be enough to develop an installation that directly confronts the spectacle that can surround an accident, or even death itself, this is only the beginning of Shonibare’s highly constructed narrative. Reading on (in the press release) we learn that the mannequin is meant to represent Willy Loman, the protagonist of Arthur Miller’s 1949 play “The Death of a Salesman.” Loman can be seen as the quintessential character of greed and despair, for at the end of the play he commits suicide in order to gain an insurance payment.
Still, Shonibare goes even further to reposition “his” version of Willie Loman into the context of a larger, even more complicated set of visual interpretations. Inspired by Gustave Doré 1861 etchings of the Nine Circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno, Shonibare presents four large photographs with Loman (presented as an old man) standing amidst the highly stylized scenes of naked bodies lifelessly sprawled out on the floor, overcome by snakes, pig blood, guts, and gore.
While anyone who has even the simplest memory of “The Death of a Salesman” will associate Willie Loman’s character with tragedy, it becomes entirely unclear as to why this faux-African Victorian suit dressed man should be repositioned among the theatrical photographic reinterpretations of the Nine Circles of Hell. What do we, the audience, Loman, the character, and Dante’s Hellish scenes gain by this contrived juxtaposition? Nothing.
Continuing on to the back room of the exhibition, the viewer is confronted by a group of large paper collages hung on the walls. These works combine newspaper clippings, images of shit (literally), and other symbols with random written thoughts and ideas about current socioeconomic conditions. Formally, the collages are as messy and boring as Shonibare’s larger thesis (if it even can be said that there is one) of the exhibition. The artist’s desire to present a “natural reaction” to the chaos of the world comes off as overly contrived and pointless.
Lastly, three puppet-sized headless mannequins sit in the center of this back room, carefully positioned on individual wooden tables. These figures are once again adorned in Shonibare’s typical garb, although here they each have a large set of feather wings attached to their backs. They stand hunched over with their hands reaching up to the sky. Beneath their feet read quotes taken from (thank you press release) Congressional testimonies made by three head honchos of American car companies. With this, it finally becomes clear that Shonibare wants us to link the desperation, failure, and greed that he attempts to evoke with the work in the back room with theatrical tragedy of Willie Loman in the front space.
Shonibare wants to us to lament the current social and economic status of our highly troubled world and clearly he thinks that the best way to do that is to take some stylized photographs of characters in struggle, dress them up in ironic textiles, and juxtapose them with Congressional statements? It’s time for Shonibare to change up his repertoire and stop recontextualizing his patterns into a plethora of other contexts in the effort to symbolize something that is actually “important.” In this specific case, Shonibare might as well have saved the time, effort, and energy and cut out an image of Madoff’s face and pasted it onto Medusa’s body.

The Unilever Series: Miroslaw Balka, How It Is – Tate Modern 2009

Your rational self speaks out amongst the ever-enveloping darkness, and declares to your brain to turn back, it’s not safe. Your vision is now impaired. It’s a dangerous situation, and you must turn back to the light and reassurance left behind.

Wait, hang on a second, it’s OK. You’re in Tate Modern.

Miroslaw Balka chooses to work directly with experience. Through this he creates installations, sculpture and video that cause thorough and physical interventions with the viewer. Investigating elements of human catastrophe, Balka explores how ‘trauma’ can be communicated through his installations.

It would seem quite difficult to pin down exactly how one feels upon entering the giant structure Balka has placed in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. What was once an old shipping container, the giant, black steel object stands at 13 metres tall and 30 metres long, crossing the boundaries between installation and architecture.

Upon entering the Turbine Hall you are met with the rear of the heavy, huge and industrial looking structure. The container is lifted off the floor on stilts, allowing enough room for people to walk underneath and explore the new environment, between the bottom of the structure and the floor. Some choose to miss this part and walk directly around the periphery, preferring to asses the giant object first, like a small timid animal unsure if a larger more dangerous predator is sleeping or not.

Walking up the ramp that leads into the structure, you join other people in some kind of unified experience. One thinks that this could be some terrible anti climax. It looks like it anyway, but the further you venture into the darkness is when a particular feeling begins to creep over you, and alarm bells start ringing in your head. A chill begins to seep through your body and the experience begins to emulate a sinister and unsettling journey to a solid and dark end.

The walk into the giant structure resonates with powerful political and social issues that are at stake in Balka’s practice. Relating to Poland’s history and experience as a country during the Nazi occupation, one could relate the experience of walking into what feels like a black hole, as Jews on the way to their execution, herded like animals. This very action of walking into the black shipping container could also reflect present very relevant issues based around immigration.

Once the initial fear begins to disperse upon the realisation of the fact that you’re in a safe institution, a fascination begins to take over, a curiosity that takes you further into the darkness.

What is particularly unusual about the experience Balka gives to the viewer, is not only the serious lack of spatial awareness, but also the visual consequences of such an abnormal environment.

Moving through the container the solid and reliable aspects of lightness and darkness begin to be toyed with. It would seem that light and dark almost switch places. Other people around you no longer have shadows. Instead their physical forms, in various parts of the adventure, are slightly lit by an unfamiliar light that does not seem natural, casting soft light shadows of humans that could not operate in the real world.

Here Balka has created a stunning, physical intervention that engages with the audience. More importantly, the significant ideas and concepts behind the work provide the viewer with a set of tensions and a freedom of meanings. The viewer is a literal active contributor to the work, forging an equality between the artist, the ideas and the interpretation that is vital for such work to be understood and appreciated.

By Matilda Strang

The Walthamstow Tapestry

The Walthamstow Tapestry

Grayson Perry at Victoria Miro, 9 October – 7 November 2009

 

Nothing new, but a different focus this time in the Grayson Perry’s show at Victoria Miro. In contradiction to what you might expect, the focus of this current show is not the ceramics but is taken up by the enormous monumental tapestry nearly filling a whole wall of the gallery space. The tapestry is bursting with ironic figurative references to consumerism mixed with a pseudo-religious iconography related to the historical tradition of the craft itself.

The tapestry’s epic story begins with a divine hand holding a card saying Prudential above the head of a woman giving birth. Following the river of life, knights named Heinz, Pepsi and Aldi riding the back of their horses surround a grandmother holding a child baptized 7-11. Passing a castle, the knights manoeuvre their way towards a young girl named Coca-Cola holding a doll, which resembles a crucified Christ.  The story ends with a 17th century boat with Mastercard as its figurehead which follows the same wind as the fire fighter named Dior. They all head towards either the gates of heaven or hell. The two rich men and a princess called Vodafone offer precious gifts and to bribe the devil but death is inevitable.

The irony in this work is as indispensable as Perry’s craftsmanship. They are a magnificent combination which has evolved into a great piece. Perry is clearly cynical while zooming in on some of the figures on the tapestry, his political statement against consumerism becomes very evident.  His use of pseudo-religious iconography seems to be a little far fetched and makes you wonder if this is done solely because of the historical tradition this size tapestry self-evidently seems to relate to. But the description of Perry’s work by Andrew Wilson in a catalogue for the mid-nineties exhibition at The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam still seems relevant. Wilson states that; “What Perry enacts here and throughout his work is an opposition between an orthodox world of conventions and values, and a perverse grotesque world which calls accepted hierarchies into question.”  This is highly related to his ceramic vases, which are known to be socially and culturally subversive. They question the position of the craft itself but even more Perry uses the supposed innocence of this craft to carry his opinions. As a viewer you need to come close to read beyond the shimmering beauty of the surface. In case the of Flowers, Ideas and Circles (2009) the role of the art market is questioned. Perry appropriates a mixture of images representing Damien Hirst’s ‘un-saleable’ diamond skull, a portrait of the artist Steve McQueen who represented Britain this year, at what is known as the most prestigious international biennial in the world: the Venice Biennale, in conjunction with Jeff Koon’s Rabbit. Perry is commenting on the current economic crisis and uses his ability to combine the inescapable alliance between desire and overheated consumerism-enhanced dreams with delicacy and craftsmanship.

– Fleur van Muiswinkel

Bunker. Robert Kusmirowski @ Curve Art – Barbican Gallery

It is difficult to remember how The Barbican’s Curve Gallery was before Robert Kusmirowski’s installation. An unstable bridge leads the viewers inside a damp and gloomy space, walking through several doors and corridors that follow the route of an abandoned rail track, running the entire length of the gallery. The young Polish artist, taking part in “Polska! Year” – a project aimed at introducing some of the most interesting Polish artists to the British public – has meticulously reconstructed a bunker, like those in use in the “World War Two”.

Everything in the Bunker is fake – except for the concrete walls of the gallery that have become part of the artwork. Everything is a perfect reproduction of reality but it seems so authentic and genuine to make you doubt about what is invented and what is not, and it changes so much your temporal and spatial perception that you end up wondering if you are still in an art gallery or if a futuristic time machine has magically taken you back to the past. Abandoned in a smelly and dark room, clothes and old shoes, empty food cans, some papers scattered on a table. As if someone has gone away a moment ago, leaving traces behind. A copy of The Daily Mail of December 23, 1941 entitled “St. Paul stands unharmed in the middle of the burning city” together with a black and white photograph of London – the invisible capital hidden by a cloud of smoke. On the opposite wall, a yellowed map of the Barbican Art Centre. That is because the present site of the gallery was destroyed by air raids during the Second World War and after was rebuilt in its current brutal architecture. The bunker refers to all these historical memories of course, but it also aims to become a dramatic, symbolic simulacrum of every war. Some Polish references screw up even more our understanding of reality creating a patchwork of history and its simulation.

Be it the reconstruction of a Polish cemetery (D.O.M., 2004), an artist’s studio of the communist era (Double V, 2003), or a train wagon such as those used to bring prisoners to concentration camps (Wagon, 2006), Kusmirowsky – who started his career as a copyist of documents and objects for the Polish People’s Republic – is always fascinated by the idea of travelling back in the time, making viewers deal with the complex relationship of history, memory and nostalgia.

There is no doubt concerning the immersive atmosphere of the Bunker, and you have the feeling to be in front of a decadent ruin of the past. The more you walk through the installation, the more you are fascinated by its illusionistic appearance, questioning yourself about the relationship between truth and artifice, original and fake, and the representational power of art. In the end, the viewer is overwhelmed by how the artist has masterfully handcrafted the whole scenario rather than by what this stands for. And in this fictional game the weight of the dramatic history that Kusmirowsky attempts to evoke,  seems slightly to lose significance. Maybe because we are reassured by the fact that there are no bombs bursting outside, in our civilized Western cities, and our viewpoint remains that of observers which, only for a moment, haughtily assume to understand what it means living in a bunker.

 by Giada Consoli

Goshka Macuga: The Nature of the Beast

Some artworks stay with us longer, and we may not even suspect it until we find ourselves in front of them, for the fifth time. Picasso’s Guernica is probably one of the most magnetic artworks in this sense, and if at Madrid’s Reina Sofia we can find pretty much the same thing (the eight metre long painting continually surrounded by some 30, often distracted, visitors) at the Whitechapel Gallery, we have a brand new opportunity to re-engage with the artwork.

The yearlong site-specific installation by London-based artist Goshka Macuga on display in this space has in itself two different yet complementary readings. First by presenting the 1958 tapestry copy of Picassos’s Guernica, we’re sent back to the relation the gallery had with the original artwork back in 1939 (hence the site-specificity) and secondly, by showing the actual tapestry we are invited to return six years in time to the polemic Collin Powel’s speech at the United Nations headquarters, when the work was conveniently hidden.

In addition to the tapestry Macuga choused to integrate  David Zeiger’s celebrated 80-minute documentary film Sir! No Sir! in direct relation to a cubist-like sculptural portrait of Powel. By doing so the artist emphasize a deeper opposition to US foreign policy, which becomes even more significant if we think that only one month after NATO’s air strike in Kunduz – which took the live of dozens of Afghan civilians and opened a crisis on Barak Obama’s policy for the Middle East – Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. We can infer that neither the Kunduz massacre nor its motivated reaction, both inside and outside the Democrat party, was felt accordingly to its real meaning.

The central piece of the exhibition however (and the only one which was actually made by Macuga) consists of a round glass table where we can find information from several sources: from the the bombing of Guernica in 1936 and political propaganda from contemporary activist movements (such as SmashEDO and David Rosenberg’s East End Walks), to documents related to the display of the original Guernica at the Whitechapel in 1939 as a reaction to the Nazi-Germany world domination plan. Through an express invitation from the artist, the visitors may gather around this table and use the tapestry as a background for their discussions. This call has been until this moment widely accepted on the part of schools mostly related to cultural studies and visual arts, confirming the importance of such institutions in the maintenance of a critical public sphere. In this sense, Macuga’s intervention was particularly successful.

The Nature of the Beast, the title under which all these works are shown reveals, in a similar way as to what so many artists have been doing for the past six years, that the possibility of a critical take on international politics didn’t remain on the often-idealized sixties, but on the contrary just need to be activated through meaningful initiatives, without being a falling prey to political activism.

– Ricardo Romero

Mat Collishaw Hysteria, The Freud Museum

Visiting the former house of Sigmund Freud in northern London, I’m surprised to find a traditional “object-on-display-museum” combined with installations of contemporary art. James Putnam, with a background in Egyptology at the British Museum, has taken an uplifting turn on exhibition making. Here, furniture, old antiquities and ancient sculptures form a scenery of the life of Freud, but also a platform for the contemporary art by Mat Collishaw. Rather surprisingly, this doesn’t clash or turn out confused, but instead evoke a somewhat uncanny feeling. The works of Collishaw, all centred around Freud’s development of the theories of Hysteria, are subtly inserted and linked together with the existing objects. Along the stairs as almost invisible paintings, Intecticide 13 and Intecticide 18 (2009) or more evident, as in Freud’s study, where light sound emerges from record players installed on tree-stumps growing out of the floor, Total Recall (2009).

The pedagogical impetus of the museum is of course to tell the story of the famous psychoanalyst. Displaying the objects of Freud’s life makes this story  intimate and very personal. This does not, however, as you might think, create a much deeper understanding for his writing and theories. Watching cheerful films where the Freud family celebrates birthdays together with people from the upper classes, fail to reach further than the affectionate level. The traditional part of the museum simply displays a historical perspective, without asking questions. Here, the contemporary approach could be an excellent attempt to take you one step further, by pointing in other directions of Freud’s inner life. Aesthetically, this attempt succeeds in not colliding with the surroundings. This is a good start to introduce the viewer to look beyond, without a violent interruption in the viewing process.

Unfortunately, the content of many of Collishaw’s works, falls into the category of illustrative art, without a narrative of its own. The juxtaposition of the art and the objects of the house correspond almost too well. A more critical approach would have been desirable. The theme being Hysteria, one of the most controversial and disputed diagnoses, I see no reason not to explore the socio-historical framing of the term deeper. However, the placing of the artworks on Hysteria in its habitat of construction is interesting, and do create a deeper understanding in terms of in what context the diagnosis was constructed. Freud was a white, upper class, patriarch (who collected colonial treasures) who lived and worked at the beginning of the 20th century. His research in the area of psychoanalysis was immense, but timebound. Collishaw’s artworks do bring this fact to mind, but in a too venerable way. It would have been interesting to see contemporary art that didn’t only accepted the greatness of Freud laid out by the museum, but also asked further questions.

– Katrin Ingelstedt

CURATOR’S SERIES #2: SCULPTURE OF THE SPACE AGE @ DAVID ROBERTS FOUNDATION 2.10.2009- 19.12.2009

Dear Matthew Young, who are you? I have a letter in my hand addressed to you, but I’m sure we have never met. As if paid to unveil your culpable past, I investigate and learn that you were hired to kill a well-known person; you were late for the opening of the Scultpure of the Space Age show in 1979 at the Serpentine Gallery and behaved disorderly, for which you were actually fined; you are coming to that same exhibition that opens sometime tomorrow, although its a bit less than 30 years old. And you were a bit too drunk to explain the details.

Although it seems confusing, it is actually a very simple time-travel exercise. I’m sure all of us have had a chance to revisit that moment 15 years ago where we were simultaneously in the future that is even ahead of the present from where we are currently missing but haven’t moved from. This happens to works of art and to entire exhibitions too. I know this because the show Sculpture of the Space Age exists, by a definition of reality as “the state of things that actually exist”, and it is in 2009. But in other dimensions, it happens in 1979 and almost happens in the 90s. Instead of the usual sober explanations that dictate how we view the works, Raimundas Malasauskas, who has investigated Mr.Young’s fictional life and curated this show, wrote him a private letter. There, he thanked him for coming back for the inauguration after Mr. Young’s had broken the window and jumped to another time; but jumped where? Perhaps returning to finish his cocktail at the other opening – in the short story by J.G.Ballard, where the exhibition was first mentioned. Or maybe Mr.Young came out of the boxes where Graham Grussin and Jeremy Miller had stored the materials of that same non-existing exhibition that they tried to curate 10 years later. But it was Malasauskas with the help of Ryan Gander, Mario Garcia Torres, Gintaras Didziapetris and Rosalind Nashashibi who finally revisited the past to return just on time for the drinks in November 2009 and finally meet Mr. Young in the Ames room.

Investigations into little-known or simply unknown events from the past, present or future are not unfamiliar neither to the curator, nor to the artists invited to re-imagine this intriguing fictional exhibition. For them and anyone drawn to time-travel, be it as a disguised tourist from the future, a romantic visitor to the past or as a pirate bound for inter-galactic treasures, a starting point is to be found in almost anything – a novel, a painting, a smell, or an odd looking stone. Malasauskas reminds us of the power in that “ability to exchange experiences” – the art of storytelling, which seems to be “falling in value”, as Walter Benjamin writes. The reader of the letter addressed to Matthew Young that seems to have slipped through the “worldlines” and accidentally fallen in our hands, has to have this ability to connect invisible dots and construct one reality from another. It is as looking through that blue glass lit by the blue light above – you see another exhibition on the other side, it is smaller and distorted. Distorted are also the boundaries of the works: I still cannot tell where one artist finishes and when the other starts. They seemed to have exchanged each other’s minds and penetrated that fictional brain that traveled at the speed of light. Like galactic antiques found in the time-tunnels running through the stomach of the universe, were these fragments of a stolen character captured in a space in our time – bits of broken glass, a blank exposed film, displaced tiles from the aluminum floor, a blue vase… If in the Space Age they really invent a time-machine (or have they already?), there are no limits to what our present could look like with the imagination of those who dare to ride it, as the four artists prove it. And as the exhibition itself, so does a time-machine presuppose an impossibility of a stable present, where contemporary is just another word for a reality that is “not-just-there-yet”.

After all, since we are all chronic realists, if it weren’t for the imagination, Mr. Young would have had to ask permission from the polite doorman before breaking that glass, missing the whole point and maybe being late again for the opening. But then again – the show hasn’t really opened because you haven’t seen it yet, so perhaps…tomorrow?

by Snejana Krasteva

 

Re-Imagining October, Calvert 22

The exhibition presented at Calvert 22 is a visually rich manifestation of the former Soviet Republic, homage to the “Soviet Utopia” that has been lost since 1991, remembered and experienced through the work of numerous artists who collectively and consequently prove it as dystopian. Viktor Misiano talks about the idea of “progressive nostalgia”, a notion which refers to the artists’ post-communist background, a sort of political identity which reflects through their work throughout their practice: “It is nostalgia not only for the past that was, but for the one that could have been – in other words nostalgia for the future”.

Superficially the exhibition seems to have been curated with this notion of “Soviet utopia” in mind. All fourteen artists’ work co-exists equally within the space, with no linear curatorial narrative to result in any sort of artistic hierarchy. All fourteen artists work towards a common goal by challenging past soviet socialist values; all fourteen artists with the exception of one (Natalia Nosova) are represented through video form, either video art or cinematic film: “Remember that of the arts for us the most important is the cinema” is one of many quotes stenciled onto the walls, all this reminiscent of a perfect recipe for a perfect society/exhibition.

The spectator upon entry is overwhelmed by a sense of freedom, a choice to decide his own trajectory within the space when confronted with two sets of stairs, which either lead to the upper or lower floors of the gallery. The other immediate realisation which comes to mind once inside the space, is that you’re surrounded by a plethora of sound and visual sequences that exist simultaneously, all equal for they are all made from a similar medium and consequently all visually powerful due to this commonality of “progressive nostalgia”. 

Unfortunately the demand expected from all the work results to this gradual loss of freedom that the spectator believed to have been originally bestowed with: when walking around the gallery, the video projections which are on display in all corners of the gallery, begin to dictate one’s time and space – all of them demand equal attention, equal understanding and equal appreciation. What was at first believed to be free, socialist and utopian becomes bound, dictated, and dystopian. A space consisted solely of a large number of video and cinematic work is unrealistic, for the spectator might not have the time ‘requested’ to watch and completely absorb what’s on display.

Finally, I wish to point out that the curatorial concept seems to revolve around Derek Jarman’s film, Imagining October, hence the title of this exhibition; Re-Imagining October. The work was made in 1984 after Jarman’s visit to Moscow and draws vague conceptual and aesthetic parallels to that of Eistenstein’s original film ‘October’. The parallels however are not necessarily coherent and are as ambiguous as Abderrahmane Sissako’s film also screened within the space. Therefore the presence of Eisenstein’s original film would have proven to be indispensable in an attempt to link the rest of the work together. Conclusively the question which lies in mind is why Mark Nash and Isaac Julien chose non Russian and Eastern European artists as the core of their exhibition at this newly converted warehouse which is solely meant to promote Russian and Eastern European art?

The purposeful “juxtaposition” of video art as well as cinematic film, has as a consequence to work against the spectator rather than for him. The overwhelming sense the viewer receives once within the space makes it somewhat impossible for one to appreciate everything as a whole.

 

Marina Doritis

Raqs Media Collective – Frith Street Gallery

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Raqs Media Collective – Frith Street Gallery

8 July – 30 September 2009

 

ESCAPEMENT

 

Hours, minutes, seconds is what gives our day a logical structure. Clocks are there to help us keep track of the logic and gives visibility to the natural element of time to move forward. We often try to catch up and are nearly always in a status of being late for the actual time we are in but we can’t escape from it. In their new installation, Escapement shown at the Frith Street Gallery in London, Raqs Media Collective questions what it means to be living in a constant state of flux and movement, time that is building up while you’re not even finished with the last second you had just been able to catch up with.

 

On entering the gallery space, you are presented with a round transparent sculpture on a white pedestal, lit from above. The sculpture seems to represent a city landscape in which skyscrapers dominate. The haste and speed of city life is caught in the material. Made from glass and arranged in a circle it seems as if the sculpture refers to infinity. Positioned opposite, are clocks connecting the viewer back to reality again.

 

The 27 clocks lined up and installed over three walls, all refer to another city somewhere on earth. Each of them refer to the actual time of the city but although we can read the time of that particular place, they don’t show it. The clocks refer to feelings and emotions – instead of hours – by using words like: anxiety, indifference, fatigue, nostalgia, fear and panic. They all use the same time/word indications and therefore one could be more attracted by the time in Bangkok than in New York. In general the cities referred to by the clocks, concentrate on places in Africa, Asia, South America and other parts of the world.

 

As a viewer you start to wonder: Which time are the clocks referring to? Is it our current time of haste and speed? What do they want to make us aware of, our contemporaniety? What does it mean to live in our current times? To be able to understand all the implications raised by the works we have to take a moment and stand still, think and reflect upon ourselves. The heartbeat that resonates in the room and the silent women in the four screen looped video heighten the energy to contemplate.

 

The show by Raqs Media Collective is a moment of quietness in our present hectic days. Being presented in a gallery situated just around the corner from Piccadilly Circus in the middle of London is not a problem at all. By having the installation behind masked windows it allows you to slow down and heightens your awareness of the moment your in.

 

By – Fleur van Muiswinkel

 

Raqs Media Collective

http://www.raqsmediacollective.net

 

Frith Street Gallery, 17-18 Golden Square

http://www.frithstreetgallery.com

Petra Bauer Present Swedish Stories at Gasworks 20/10/09

When Michel De Certeau published The Practice of Every Day Life in 1980 he cleverly shifted the power position from the producer to the consumer (user). If the user earlier had been a receiver without will or voice, in De Certeau’s reading he now appeared as the clever, witty tactician that transformed the producers means into his own possession.
Petra Bauer’s performance/lecture on how Swedish society is increasingly influenced by neo-liberal ideals, begins in her research of the Swedish versions of the reality TV series “Extreme House Makeover” and “Idol”. Bauer is a great fan of reality TV and has, over time, as these shows have become increasingly popular, gathered an homogeneous image of the new neo-liberal individual. Bauer states, “the neo-liberal individual is not born neo-liberal, he/she is educated and transformed by external forces” and she herself uses this very same technique in her performance. In the first part of her performance, Bauer invites the audience to view the process in succeeding in becoming the neo-liberal individual by using herself as the object of research. By performing her own attempt to apply to Extreme House Makeover, she visualises the TV network’s set of regulations. Who is that lucky person who is accepted to the programme and gets a new house? As the application process progresses, it becomes visible that a young divorced artist with a huge student loan, is not what the network has in mind when they’re looking for a family. What they are looking for is a happy, bubbly, “normal” family that is engaged in their community. The family might have been unfortunate in any case (the daughter might be blind or the husband having suffered a severe injury in a war), but despite all this they are fighters and role model citizens. That’s the kind of people that deserve a new home!
In the second part of the performance Bauer uses clips from Swedish version of X-Factor, Idol, to portray the characteristics of the neo-liberal person. She notes that participants successful in this show are not necessarily the young singers with the most unique talent and singing voice, but those who are most suitable for the programme format. Even if Bauer never defines the “neo-liberal individual” in one sentence, she cleverly portrays him by comparing phrases such as competition, raw human material, development, reflection without critique, adaptation and self-promotion to the people being shown in the programme. The TV network has an evident role as the producer who sets the rules for the participant (user). The network places itself in the role as a well-doer, who offers the opportunity of a future career to the young singers who fits their ideals. This ideal is of course, a perfect match with Bauer’s portrait of the neo-liberal individual.

An unexpected opening in the system suddenly appears however, when the young artist “Peter” enters the competition, unwilling to change his image and adapt to the system put forward by the programme. Peter only sings parodies of the songs he is presented to sing by the programme. If the audience wishes to hear him sing his own songs for real, he refers to his own web page. The jury of the show is obliged to judge his performances seriously (while sighing), but the audience loves him and as they hold the final vote, Peter continues in the contest. Even though Peter in many ways fits Bauer’s description of the confidant neo-liberal individual, he stands out in one important aspect. He, as well as Bauer herself, performs a critique of the system, even though playing along with its strategies. By doing so, they cunningly reclaim power from the producer. By participating in the medium without accepting their underdog position, but instead twisting the situation to their advantage and making audiences aware of power structures, they present themselves as great examples of De Certeau’s witty tactics.
– Katrin Ingelstedt

Head-Wig (Portrait of an exhibition) Selected by Paulina Olowska, Camden Arts Centre, 2009

Continuing Camden Arts Centre’s long-standing series of artist selected exhibitions; Paulina Olowska has chosen to bring together a dynamic mix of works by twelve international, contemporary artists.

The exhibition aims to transcend the traditional representation of portraiture, and explore a more contemporary stance on our understanding of this particular genre of art. Through the selected portraits Olowska develops an interest that revolves around ‘perceptual ambiguity’ in relation to portraiture.

This approach is reinforced when the viewer enters Gallery 1. Here a selection of portraits are placed strategically along the walls, allowing space for works that need it, whilst grouping together smaller pieces that employ photography, paint and film.  Each portrait has it’s own clear identity. This notion is emphasised by the selection of chairs and sofas placed in a neat line, running down the centre of the space. Each piece of furniture has a character, from old sofas with worn fabrics too garden chairs damaged by the elements.

These autonomous objects do not make up the exhibition, rather they are an informed additional structure to the show, perhaps a physical and mental vehicle to look at the portraits. You are there, in the seat, looking at the portrait, whist the portrait looks back out at you. Through this exchange that takes place within the gallery context, ‘looking at being looked at’, an interest of Olowska’s inspiration for the show, is successfully underpinned.

One begins to imagine what kind of people sat in these chairs, what are their histories, and futures. A narrative develops around such thoughts, creating a bridge between the objects and portraits. This relationship begins to animate both the furniture and the artworks, laying emphasis on what could have been inconspicuous aspects of the portraits and objects alike.

Throughout the exhibition Olowska’s paintings appear amongst other works that she has selected. There is a continuing influence for her contribution that takes the form of Jozef Mehoffers portrait, ‘Portrait of wife on yellow background’. The first is a reproduction of Mehoffers portrait, painted in Olowska’s own style, followed by a smaller and subtler canvas, which only references the work by its name ‘Head Wig’.

Mehoffer’s portrait depicts an elderly lady elegantly dressed with a large hat; however, depending how you look at it the painting can also portray a monster with a golden eye. Olowska uses this impression or concept, and transforms it into the reasoning and structure behind the exhibition. Cindy Sherman’s large photographic prints depict old characters of faces daubed with make up, whilst Katharina Wulff draws an almost disturbing and surreal portrait which contains a multitude of detail.

The first collection of such portraits presents a plethora of different emotions and impressions, from the outrageous, the hysterical and the intimate. Moving through to Gallery 2, the portraits begin to take the form of installation and video. The final room is where the clear idea behind the show begins to fall apart. A collaboration between the two artists Paulina Olowska and Catherine Sullivan is explorative, but the idea of how observing portraits can be perceived as a ‘hall of mirrors’ is lost. Objects by Sullivan are literally placed on Olowskas paintings, thus creating an installation of both painting and object. However these pieces do not contribute to the exhibition, rather they seem to demonstrate a new and different approach all together.

From this point it would seem that the whole concept behind the show, which was to show a selection of artists, selected by an artist, to explore the notion of portraiture, has got confused. Instead the artist has more so created her own artwork within the exhibition, thus penetrating the structure in a different way from all the other artists in the show.

Perhaps this could be seen as a slight hitch in the structure of an artist selected exhibition. The first gallery space was interesting – it represented the artists interest in portraits, and how when placed within a gallery context, the notion of a hall of mirrors is transfused, contributing to the poignant uncanny and surrealist experience some of the works create. But this sense and experience is lost in the two remaining two rooms, where the idea is explored further but in an irrelevant way.

By Matilda Strang.

GOSHKA MACUGA – THE NATURE OF THE BEAST, WHITECHAPEL 09

The first impact of seeing the recent exhibition of the Polish, London – based artist Goshka Macuga comes in form of a question: is that the real “Guernica” in front of me? Here, in London? While approching the artpiece, you realize that you are actually in front of a real size tapestry of the work, created in the 1950s by the weaver Jacqueline de la Baume Dürrbach in collaboration with Guernica’s author, Pablo Picasso. A quick look around and the visitor understands that, together with the table, the sculpture, the video and the pile of newspaper which also compose the show, he is not only facing but actually participating of Macuga’s site-specific “Nature of the beast”, an installation that, as a constant development of the artist practice, could also be described as collage.

A historical explanation is requested at this point. Picasso’s Guernica was painted in 1938 and pictures the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. The work was exhibited at the Whitechapel in 1939 with the intent, beyond that primordial one of showing good art, of raising funds for the Civil War resistance. The show was successful on that, since it could collect 400 pairs of boots for the soldiers. As of the political context of Spain, it was the artist will that this work (together with many others of him) did not come back to Spain until the country was a democracy, and therefore it was loaned to MoMA, New York, until 1981.  At the 1950’s, becoming too fragile to travel, Picasso authorized two tapestries copies of the work. The copies were commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller and, since 1985, one of them is loaned to the United Nations and is hung outside the Security Council Chamber in New York, serving as background for important speeches. But it didn’t in 2003, when the than US Secretary of State Colin Powell covered it while his pronouncing of Iraqi’s invasion. Macuga refers to this episode on another artwork here, a portrait of Colin Powell. The sculpture is made in bronze on Picassos’s cubist style, as if locating the former Secretary inside the painting as an active figure of the terrible war.

The table seen in the room is a round working table with glasses, displaying newspaper archives, letters and images of Guernica’s exhibition at the Whitechapel in 1939, as well as some articles and reviews about Macuga’s show. The work is strategically displayed in the center of the exhibition space, in front of the tapestry, and it ambitions the participation of the audience by inviting them to make meetings and discussions at the place. In front of the sculpture, on the ground, lies a pile of newspapers, again with articles stories and interviews related with the current exhibition and the original Guernica’s exhibition in 1939. It’s an interesting point of the artist to choose newspapers, a classic information vehicle, to work as a leaflet or catalogue of the show. Also as an invitation, the visitor could take one copy of it. The other work exhibited is a video with images and statements about the Iraqi war, the kind of video that we’ve already seen many times in many different medias and spaces, but which, specially in times like this, is never too much to look, and look, and look again.

And that is the great asset of this show: to call our attention to really look at things, objects and art, mainly “Guernica” that, beyond a major artwork (specially as a painting), is also a propaganda, and one of a kind that is, unfortunately, very contemporary. 

– Maria do Carmo Pontes

David Claerbout

In the projections shown at David Claerbout’s exhibition, House & Wirth Gallery (22 May – 1 August 2009), the artist called for a reappraisal to the concept of time in terms of his use of light, landscape and sound.

Belgian artist David Claerbout (Kortrijk, 1969) has been making video installations since the mid 1990s. His work is a research about the image between the stillness of photography and the motion of video and film. He has developed a special poetry based on the contradiction of the image. In an attempt to test the veracity of reality, he achieves a personal universe of hypnotic and paradoxical images by capturing the motion of photography and the stillness of film. His work is influenced by the Phenomenology and Gilles Deleuze’s books The Movement-Image (1983) and The Time-Image (1985) about the importance of gaze and point of view.

In his last installations displayed in this exhibition, he manipulates the experience of light and sound, to experiment with the paradox of temporality and to break down the boundaries between past and present, beginning and end. The artist questions the perception of time as a constitutive element to be experienced, allowing the narratives to leave room for subjective experiences. In Claerbout words, he tries “to create the conditions in which, whether one faces a narrative or not, there is no conclusion, no certitude.”

In Sunrise (2009), Claerbout plays with light conditions from the outset. The spectator has to be led by a gallery assistant with a torch, down a gloomy set of stairs towards the gallery’s cellar. After a few seconds, one can acclimatise the eyes to the darkness of the room and the projection itself. The space is the perfect setting for Sunrise, an 18 minute video depicting an almost nocturnal scene of a maid cleaning a beautiful modernist villa. Her deliberate choreographed movements and methodical timing ensure that this is her daily routine, which is reinforced and framed by the severe geometries and proportions of the architecture. Quoting the author, “Through its exaggerated sense of composition, the architecture presents itself as a sleeping monument to a past Utopia, or perhaps a prison for life.”

This long dark sequence ends on an uplifting note presenting a pseudo-romantic landscape. Just before daybreak, the maid leaves the villa. While she is cycling back home through the countryside the sun rises, to the accompaniment of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. “[The] paradox is that the end feels like a beginning and the beginning feels like something that is lifeless and dead”, as Claerbout explains. This notion is emphasized by the sunrise that blinds the viewer and fills the room with light. The character –according to the artist–, represents an immigrant worker, who eventually is freed from the luxury villa where she works.

The split-screen installation Riverside (2007-2008) translates a piece lacking narrative into an audio phenomenon. This dual-channel installation which fills the main gallery, plays with both audio balance and stereo sound in a soundtrack played through headphones, one for the left projection and other for the right. The two 25-minute projections, set in a valley with a stream, running concurrently side by side, depict the converging journeys of a young man, on the left, and a young woman, on the right. Through the unifying landscape and soundtrack of a babbling brook, the viewer eventually comes to realise that the characters are exploring the same quiet valley, though they are separated by time. As the artist explains, “The real actor in Riverside is that little stream.” Foregrounding the background and relegating character action to rote film conventions, Claerbout constructs an earthly idyll, similar to what one finds in the very best landscape paintings. Immediacy is undermined and everything seems far away, geographically as well as temporally.

In The American Room (1st movement) (2009) displayed in the room upstairs, Claerbout moves us through the camera in a freezing sequence of a group of people sat, ready to listen to a singer who actually never sings. The paradox in this suspended still-life scene lies in the movement brought by the camera and the sound. The music travels with the camera from left to right in the room, while the camera moves through this group of human statues, offering us different points of view of a simultaneous event and detailed portraits of the spectators. To achieve this purpose, the author manipulates the images by recording and gathering them in a digital composition, renewing our perception of the image, space and time.

Isla Aguilar

Cloud choreography and emergent systems- Keith Tyson @ The Parasol Unit

Keith Tyson’s new exhibition Cloud choreography and emergent systems is displayed at the Parasol Unit. The title describes the content of the show, clouds as a subject for his new work and his research on the process of creation.

Nature Sculptures (2008) and Nature Paintings (2008) are exhibited in the ground floor, these artworks contextualize his ongoing research. His thought process is revealed by his attempt to produce nature and creation, in three dimensions, as a cubic sample of cracked earth and in two dimensions with chemical paint reactions. Their support surface is an aluminum panel onto which the artist has poured several paints, pigments, and other chemical substances. As the title Nature Paintings suggests, the question of creating is as important as the result. Tyson refers to  these works as “paintings by nature” and “not of nature”.

The second part of the ground floor displays another aspect of Tyson’s work; here, he has initiates a game between the sciences and art. He plays with mathematical equations in this series by exchanging algebraic values, like numbers in equations, with imaginary words and objects, like a bucket or a pigeon. The scientific representation becomes a poetic image or a “word equation”.

Tyson’s Fractural dices (2008) are presented in front of these paintings, as a sort of sculptural answer to the painted equations. They are composed of a set of cubes in aluminum or plastic, each cube is in a different size and color. A literal roll of the dice determines the layout of the artwork; setting its size, color, position etc. The title suggests the fragmented geometrical shape as well as the unpredictability of the rolling dice. Tyson uses the observe nature of science and art to create an absurd and, at the same time, safe explanation for art creation, playing on society’s general faith in the logic of mathematic.

Upstairs, the pieces presented are from a new series of work called Cloud choreography (2009). It is a sort of encyclopedic catalogue of cloud formations that could be atomic or natural. When looking closely to these paintings, they are actually all details taken from famous images. Tyson calls them “historical clouds”; for example, one of them is part of a Durer print, another one is from a picture of 9/11 event.

Tyson’s creates a laboratory of curiosities on nature and creation. His artworks are meant to make the audience aware of his research in science and his reflections on nature as an ongoing process. His use of randomness and human presence are inherently poetic; displaying a relentless questioning on creationism and a philosophy which is both humorous and absurd.

By Anne Duffau

Omer Fast: Nostalgia

The South London Gallery’s presentation of Omer Fast’s three-part film installation, Nostalgia, proves itself as a well conceived and professionally produced artwork, regardless of its poor curatorial execution. Fast’s impeccable direction, cinematographic selectivity, and coherent conceptual objective sustain his project as an affective, ponder-worthy creation. The three films that make up Nostalgia effectively complicate the viewer’s understanding of time, truth, and narrative, forcing him or her to fundamentally rethink the constructed order of a history, story, and cinematic production.

Enter the first room of the exhibition. Fast’s first (of three) films airs on a small television screen hung on the center of a long black wall. This film presents (seemingly) documentary footage of a man who is constructing a simple mechanism (made of sticks and string) to catch a partridge. This effort, story, and/or cultural tradition will manifest itself in different ways throughout the rest of Fast’s project. Notably, however, this is the only time that viewer will witnesses the physical construction of this trapping device. This straight forward footage serves as the perfect foundation for the rest of the exhibition; the documentation provides a sense of history and truth, two constructs that Fast will reinvent, adapt, and reconstruct in his successive films.

Unfortunately however, this first film is impaired by one major factor: placement. While the curators made the effort create a dark space within which to view the film (this darkness eventually becomes impenetrable in subsequent corridors of the exhibition), the two large entrance doors to the first room are left ajar. This results in the outside noise coming from the gallery’s lobby to infiltrate the exhibition space. Film is often the hardest media to display well because one must essentially eliminate all light and sound. Still, in The South London Gallery’s space, there seem to be few external factors to deal with; the audio accompanying the first film was too difficult too hear, so much so I would perhaps even claim that the gallerists at the recent Frieze Art Fair managed to do a better job of creating a quiet and isolated atmosphere for a large number of film works amidst the crowds and congestions of the commercial madness.

Lastly, one might deduce that the curators neglected to place a bench or chairs in the first room of the exhibition because they inherently knew that the viewer would have to stand exceedingly close to the television screen in order to hear any of the audio coming from the monitor.

Luckily, poor audio was not an issue in the subsequent film installations in the exhibition, although the pitch black, maze-like corridors separating the three films were slightly hard to navigate. More than one visitor bumped into a wall (or two) during my visit. Minor installation-based negatives aside, Fast’s second film presents the viewer with an entirely different filmic experience. On a high-definition split-screen monitor, we witness Fast who is conducting an interview with a west African man. In this frank discussion, Fast questions his subject for details and specific fragments of his past life (he “currently” seeks asylum in London) to use in two movies. Cinematographically, this film projects two different changing angles of both men, simultaneously. The film forces the viewer to question the honesty of the interview “process.” As the viewer learns that Fast is attempting to capitalize on detailed descriptions of this refugee’s life (this man is purposefully very good at not giving Fast what he wants), it provokes questions about what one might expect out of an interview. The man eventually gives Fast a detailed description of the partridge trapping process, interweaving the highly constructed interview with the seemingly honest documentary on view in the first gallery. Preconceived notions of film genres, narratives, and the potential for multiple cinematographic interpretations of the same subject inevitably come into question.

For the final film, Fast continues to interweave narratives, relocating his interviewee’s description of the partridge trap within the context of a new (imaginative) narrative. Projected on a large screen with stylized scenes (think feature film), the viewer watches a disjointed narrative in which west Africa is a wealthy and powerful asylum for illegal English refugees. The story of the partridge trap relocates itself in this film in the context of a classroom presentation; a little girl gives a detailed description of the trapping mechanism (as it is described to her by her father), in the same way that Fast’s interviewee describes the process in the previous film. In this final installation of Nostalgia, Fast successfully constructs a futuristic narrative, thus complicating and reinventing the supposed truths of the two previous films.

In the end, Fast’s conglomeration of cinematographic techniques, and interweaving of narratives, creates a provocative multifaceted artwork. The South London Gallery’s curatorial disregards do not affect the overall accessibility to, and success of, the artwork. As the exhibition’s press release correctly states, Fast confronts the viewer with a “contemporary recollection of displacement and loss” that is “set in the future but which appears to have been produced in the past.” The viewer leaves the exhibition with a new appreciation of, and expectation for, constructed narratives. Nostalgia explores the benefits that can result from an artist’s decision to effectively complicate and expose the potentials of filmmaking.

-Stef Hirsch-

Rosalind Nashashibi, ICA, London

Rosalind Nashashibi, ICA, London

After winning the Becks Future prize in 2003, Rosalind Nashashibi returns to the ICA presenting several of her experimental 16mm productions from the past four years. Often pegged as anthropological and documentarian, her newest work is a perceptive glance towards the medium of film with a more deliberate cinematic approach.

Nashashibi’s 16mm film The Prisoner (2008) features artist Anna Gaskell in high heels walking the trail between the Hayward Gallery and the BFI (British Film Institute), a nod to Chantal Akerman’s 2000 film La Captive – which is an adaptation of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Shown simultaneously on loud side-by-side reels, the righthand projection lags a mere six seconds behind.  This is enough of a gap to suggest a pursuit between the split screens. The only soundtrack to the film is a lifted track from La Captive and the suspenseful clacking from Anna’s heels. We can arrive at the conclusion that the suit clad Gaskel is in effect chasing herself: a redirected commentary on the captivity of the art-world.

In the original film iteration, the “follower” is a prying boyfriend, paranoid about his girlfriend’s relationship with a female character.  He watches silent footage of the two friends in secret, on a projection comparable in size to Nashashibi’s.  The husband then projects (in a psychological sense) his own imagined dialogue in the midst of the clandestine footage.  Prisoner adds measured layers of voyeurism to an artistic narrative that has already been subject to thorough adaptation, weaving her own historical imprint.

A consistent tool used in this series of films is the usurpation of the camera  eye creating role confusion between viewer (spectator) and subject (projection).  Nashashibi’s power as the unseen artist is clear in the easy shift between audience capacities.

For example, in Eyeballing (2005), secret (unlawful) footage of off duty NYPD officers outside Lower Manhattan’s First Precinct is intertwined with static shots of interior and exterior architecture, objects, and spaces which reveal anthropomorphic faces.  Two pearl earrings (eyes) and a necklace (mouth) “peer” through a shop window toward a congested sidewalk. For once, the consummate observing body, the police, is being observed and henceforth scrutinized as they loiter, talk, lean, etc.  The film’s audience is forced to consider the idea that they too are being observed through the stagnant stares of faces imbedded within the surface of the city.  Presupposed roles of spectator and surveillance are either reversed or inverted, depending on your perspective.

By changing the way by which a filmmaker’s intentions are revealed, Nashashibi’s films leave an audience with new ideas about perspective within and around the time based art product.  Within her calm reveries, we are forced to recategorize what we know about video from documentation to suggestion to confession.

by Colleen Grennan

Re-Imagining October @ Calvert22

That day, I was unprepared to be touched. I pushed the door of the gallery, and I then caught in the air: “…I wonder if I love you, but it seems that I do.” People working in the gallery didn’t know what the song was. And yet, it filled all the space of the two floors; it seemed to be the voice-over for all the 15 films on view. The song was based on verses from Tolstoy’s In the midst of the ball poem, and was the music accompanying the projection of a landscape in Russia turned upside-down and played in slow motion. This piece by Dmitri Gutov was an insightful beginning of an exhibition that dealt with nostalgia what Tolstoy was known to have been “ill” from in his early years. The exact term, proposed in the catalog essay, is progressive nostalgia “ […] not only for the past that was, but for the one that could have been – in other words, nostalgia for the future.” So it’s a nostalgia not interested in its simplistic translation as homesickness, but one that looks at how artists have re-imagined their present by revisiting the past – a past so complex that none of the artists working in the post-communist countries can afford to ignore.

The exhibition Re-Imagining October digs deep in that unpredictable history of the former Soviet Union, where memory seemed to vanish, reappear or invent itself. The works by 14 filmmakers and artists from that region, working mainly with the moving image and photography, took me far in those moments not managed to be lived; those flashes of alternative choices that could have shaped differently the present. What if we were sitting in Eisenstein’s studio, imagining October through a cinema of small gestures? Or we poked Lenin’s eyes, and drew chalk breasts on the national heroes bodies? In the years after the fall of communism, jokes and caricatures of the era’s national idols, along with the vandalizing of communist monuments were ways of de-canonizing the past and somehow normalizing the present. And yet, when artist Kristina Norman replaced the Bronze Soldier that was relocated from the center of Tallinn as part of the de-Russification movement, and replaced it with a replica made of golden papier maché many people came to honor it with flowers. A deep anachronism in memory can be read here, as if being from the same region and having experienced the same things, didn’t necessarily mean coming from the same past.

Another aspect that the exhibition explored was the Soviet cinema as a medium – widely used as a propaganda tool and suffering greatly following the dissolution of the communist order. “Remember that of the arts for us”, Lenin has said, “the most important is the cinema.” So, interestingly, what can contemporary artistic practices in moving image with their “micropublic” achieve? It is difficult for an artist who works with this medium “to try and trace this aesthetic legacy [with the cinematic practices] in the present”, Mark Nash, co-curator of this show together with Isaac Julien, remarks in his catalog essay . “ [such artists] do not necessarily produce interesting work.” Some of them do, apparently, create masterpieces with just simple gestures of their camera.

Coming from a post-communist country, and sharing to some extent the same national memories, I do not attempt to summarize the depths that the works touch upon – there is enough coverage in the catalog essay. My goal is another – to celebrate these artists who are or will be like the figure of Vysotsky during his time – a prophet with no honor greater than Stalin himself.

– by Snejana Krasteva

Talking to strangers – Sophie Calle @ the Whitechapel

When it comes at a moment of separation in a love affair, every word that marks the end of the relationship is weighed, dissected and infinitely repeated by the victim. All that remains to the abandoned person (as you would like yourself to be perceived) is a group of sentences that will haunt you in the long or hopefully short period of mourning. Trying to find meaning to this discourse is part of the ritual of separation.

After receiving an e-mail from her lover in which he decided to put an end to their relationship, Sophie Calle asked 107 women coming from different professional backgrounds to analyse his letter. All these answers were gathered in an impressive installation that took the title from the last line dropped by the lover in the e-mail: Take care of yourself! and made the headlines at the Venice Biennale in 2007.

For the jurist the letter is similar to an act that cancels a civil contract between two partners, whereas for a criminologist the way the lover makes use of words and creates phrases are indicators of some features of personality. The artist’s mother finds the letter predictable yet well written in opposition to a savoir-vivre counsellor that considers the tone of the letter as being disrespectful to Madame.

This strategy of repetition upon which we come also across in the artist’s project Exquisite Pain (2003), not on display at the Whitechapel, is a way to get over suffering. By repetition, a personal story becomes less intimate, less intense. It is a mechanism opposed to the function of rehearsal in theatre where the more an actor repeats the lines and plays the character, the more involved he gets in the performance.

Interested in personal experiences, the artist creates stories by combining text and photography. For Sophie Calle, every story has the potential to become a work of art by the transition from the realm of the personal to the public space. In the Bronx project (1980), the artist asked residents of the South Bronx to take her to their favourite place. The artist took pictures of the spots and displayed the photos accompanied by stories that relate the experience of the protagonist with the chosen place.

Sophie Calle likes playing games. She likes submitting herself to the rules of a game, the product of her invention. In the Gotham Handbook (1988), for instance she accepts Paul Auster’s instructions to smile, talk to strangers and beggars and cultivate a spot in New York.

When the artist does not invent the game, she accepts to be part in one. Asked by an unknown man released from a long-term relationship to borrow her bed in order to overcome his grieving, she accepts the proposal without inquiry other than the technical aspects of transportation. The man’s request was probably inspired by one of her first’s projects The Sleepers (1980). For this project, the artist invited 24 people to sleep in her bed for eight days while she was took photos of them.

There is a piece of advice constantly repeated to filmmakers (especially scriptwriters): best stories come from personal experiences. When looking at Sophie Calle’s works, you understand why she likes Talking to strangers…


Can Altay @ Zoo Art Fair 2009, Arcade, Stand C9.

Can Altay @ Zoo Art Fair 2009, Arcade, Stand C9.

Istanbul based artist Can Altay made an appearance at the Zoo Art Fair, at the stand of London Gallery Arcade. Altay’s practice is rooted in architecture, which was his original choice of profession. His early art works were investigations into the social relations of space as observations (rather than proposals). Whilst researching his PhD (Department of Environmental Design and Architecture at Bilkent University, Ankara) Altay’s friends introduced him to the ‘Minibars’ of Istanbul, and he began to document them.

The ‘Minibar’ is an informal gathering of young people. Often inhabiting cleavages between residential and office buildings, bars and other ad-hoc constructions sprung up to establish the use and re-appropriation of space. According to Altay this phenomena was a life-affirming example of the city dwellers’ need and usage redefining the built environment. ‘Minibar’ (2001) a multi-media installation including photography, video and interviews lays evidence to Altay’s vision of the optimistic re-drawing by architectural vigilantes, and points to the energy of the moment of action. The project also relayed the subsequent obstructions implemented by local residents to prohibit the minibar gatherings, including other forms of architecture; security fences and metal bars. These territorial assertions are episodes in an on-going energetic process of negotiation, a constant fight for the de-architecture and re-colonisation of space.

The work shown at Zoo was a reinterpretation of the fabric of the Art Fair. Apparently at a visit to Freize Art Fair a couple of years ago Altay was struck by the significance the gallerist’s table plays in the spacio-politcal dynamic of the art fair. As an alternative to the horizontal and aura heavy desk seen at Freize, Altay’s stand furniture, designed especially for Zoo was a multi-directional armature which invited the potential for social engagement. Oppositional seating, an opportunity to knock knees with the gallerist, was combined with a permeable wall, made from a utilitarian arrangement of wooden batons and pinned together to support a series of publication projects by the artist (including on-going work Ey Ahali). The unit also incorporated a vertical stand, designed to prop a laptop upon, and underneath which was packed totum of general gallery information, such as artist portfolios.

Altays’ persistent observations are not prescriptive, as his work from one moment to the next could suggest a move from the celebration of the resourcefulness, to a need for proposals. Altays’ role has shifted from anthropologist, to actor, to producer. His work has journeyed from the observation of unpredictable re-configurations to the imposition of his own utopian vision, which if there is any justice in the world must be destined for re-appropriation, or ruin.

Helen Kaplinsky