Tuesday, 3 February 2009
With the close of Lydia Gifford’s recent exhibition this November Laura Bartlett celebrated one year in existence in her narrow slice of space in Clerkenwell. Situated between two buildings this oddly shaped sliver is a seemingly impossible place in which to mount an exhibition, yet Bartlett has managed to make it work. Focussing on discovering younger or lesser known artists, she has carved out a dedicated stable of rising stars such as Becky Beasley, Nina Beier & Marie Lund, Lydia Gifford, Stefan Burger and Sophie Macpherson. Resistant to certain formal displays, the narrowness of the space has provoked some very specific responses from the artists invited to show there. Beier & Lund, for example, wedged a number of long objects between the walls; fishing rods, garden forks, walking sticks, bits of timber, all borrowed from a 68 year old man.
One year’s programme at any gallery comprises such diverse operations and opposing forces that any survey resists homogenisation. One must be aware that an adequate reading of the accumulation of material and outputs produced during a year requires a plurivocal approach, not to mention an indepth analysis. What inevitably results from such an enterprise is a series of assumptions and part-truths alongside more informed judgments of what curatorial concerns the gallery owner herself has. However, given the strange relationship any commercial gallerist has to what might be named a curatorial practice, it seems inappropriate to assume such strategic authorship. Yet, especially with Laura Bartlett, I would argue this is not the case. One could argue that the commercial sector increasingly allows a much greater curatorial freedom than that allowed in public galleries and museums. As Bartlett herself proves what is called curation is not a universal paradigm; to argue she has a ‘practice’ as such would be wrong. Or, rather to argue she has a sustained investigation of particular claims, counter claims, hypotheses, theories, provocations and the like, would be wrong. What Bartlett does express in her role, however, is a sensitivity to specific situations. As she invites only a small number of artists each year we could embark on an adequation that would link these practices together, yet I would suggest that any such endeavour necessarily underestimates the diverse practices collected together. Bartlett’s position is a curatorial one, one with a particular freedom to manoeuvre afforded to her by the market, but not one that is determined either by specific requirements, due to funding for example, or institutional pressure, or more general requirements such as an answerability to a populous or the state.
What is curious, then, about particular commercial galleries is their use of the relative autonomy granted to them by their position within the market. The freedom of capital gives them a very specific relation to art practice more in the model of a small independent gallery, but with an extremely inflated budget. How this is utilised critically is of real interest. Artists exhibiting within a commercial gallery, of course, have a bipartite relation to the art world; both within it and at the same time expected to be critical of it. But as commercial objects do their position within the market flatten or de-radicalize the critique?
Adorno suggests that the solution of critical art is not to refuse commodity, as this would just weaken art, marginalising it in a world where commodity dominates, or positioning it as the yet to be commodified (to oppose the dominant ideology runs the risk of being recuperated into it). His argument would be that the artwork must mount a critique out of its role as commodity by a subversive mimesis of it. Adorno asserts that the art object is both autonomous art and commodity, both destroyed by and a product of capital, both its critique and its ideology. It is this exact possibility that commercial galleries such as Laura Bartlett provide. Today critique is no longer easy to spot. The political content of work is diminished, not so much because there isn’t the taste for it, but that the lessons of history have been learned. Capital is flexible, it is able to accumulate and accommodate. Any direct attack against capital merely strengthens it. What is required now is a different conception of critique, not dependent on direct opposition, radicalised politics or the anti-commodity. The space it would seem to embark on this is inside these small galleries. Exactly because they are involved in the movement of capital the artwork has the possibility to exist both as commodity and its critique.
8th December 2008, London
Kjærgaard’s reclaimed timber plank construction leads mutely into the gallery. Elegant yet nebulous, the wooden alleyway describes an opening and a long deep recess rather than a pathway. Lodged in the back of the recess is the disproportionately large lift, still occasionally in use, utilised by Kjærgaard to house the small projection of her recent film work, Into The Pyramid (2008). Beyond the lift is a further construction out of the same timber planks, similarly horizontally slatted and screwed together with small black screws. Although neat and well made the whole structure is haphazard and precarious, threatening to fall and engulf you at any moment. At the back of the gallery the wooden slats give way to an amorphous tangle of material, rope, wooden fruit boxes, the legs of a strange figure, a badly made kite or small hang-glider model all sat atop a rusty bike. This element of Kjærgaard’s installation is in collaboration with the other artist in the show, Mary Mattingly, and engages in a very different register than her previous installations. Although seemingly chaotic and ad hoc, on closer inspection, Kjærgaard’s structures belie her architectural training. Carefully poised on the edge of collapse they suggest a hasty addition, the provisional and anxious constructions of humans on the brink of extinction, of fleeing tribes or dilettante tree house builders. However, despite not being fixed into the floor or ceiling at any point, these planks have been sawn specifically for this space and as such are wedged firmly and screwed securely to each other, producing a surprising rigidity. Accompanying the installation are four large scale paintings depicting further imagined wooden structures, a grand piano, a typewriter and one of her ongoing obsessions, a boat.
Arguably, the key to Kjærgaard’s practice lies in a conjunction between the sea and the land, the paintings of boats depict them left perched on high ground at low tide, and her wooden platforms and houses are shown balanced on precarious stilts or in the crooks of branches high in the canopy. In fact, one could go so far as to suggest that the sea and land in her work are conjoined also in their absences. Boats without water and houses without foundations suggest a fiercely fluctuating tide, the occupants of both caught short or wise enough to build high above land. But there is another element at play. Kjærgaard parasitically intervenes to create sculptural structures, employing short term and cheap constructions that go up and come down fast, resting in the space between architecture and object. Like a Scandinavian take on the favelas they are human in their materials yet aspire to gestalt greatness. Forever falling in on themselves yet simultaneously holding off the moment of final ruination, these architectural interventions develop temporally sensitive apocalyptic fantasies. Oscillating between utopian dreams and end of the world nightmares, the structure threatens to both thrust upwards of its own accord and collapse without warning.
The three minute long film, Into the Pyramid, is an edited series of still images of the abandoned Russian city on the edge of the arctic circle, Pyramiden. Becoming much more than a research trip, Kjærgaard’s exploration of this desolate ex-mining town on the Svalbard archipelago in Norway is a dispassionate yet engaged retrieval of visual language that feeds into her continued project. Boasting the most northerly bust of Lenin, Pyramiden was evacuated in 1998 by its Russian owners Arctikugol Trust because it was too expensive to maintain. Despite Pyramiden’s sad history, the film engages less in nostalgia than an aesthetic endeavour. Indeed one of Kjærgaard’s self-imposed rules is ‘no people’, suggesting an abandoned mining facility as the ideal location for the film. In fact, ruin as by product of lack of human involvement doesn’t seem to be Kjærgaard’s project at all, instead, she re-imagines the ruin as a productive or creative act. There is a play here between her intervention into ruin and her intervention as ruin. Take the title of the exhibition, Ruins of the Future. Ostensibly this suggests dismay at the failed utopian modernist dream. However, I would argue that this title names two distinct possibilities. Both the possibility of the ruination of existing buildings in future time and the ruins of the idea of the future. Or, the ruining of the future. But, to be clear, this work isn’t the representation of ruin as such, but what we could call adapted-ruin. Figured as personal dwellings amassing like favelas at the edges of state control, the structures are both utopian and at the same time antagonistic, a constant reminder of human endeavour in the face of government abandonment. Could one then read Kjærgaard’s work critically? As a strongly democratic or anarchist critique of statist visions of utopia? One could situate this work within the structure of an anti-regeneration argument. The adapted-ruin as an individually productive site of egalitarian resistance to dominant forces. Yet I am uneasy doing this. The strength of Kjærgaard’s work is that it rests only lightly and temporarily, constantly moving on, being constructed and destroyed at regular intervals, to be reduced again to its constituent parts. This throws the work into sharp focus. As architecture it is only temporary, and not nearly large enough or sturdy enough to house a family, yet as object it is too imposing and active in a way. It rests, then, between the two, like the conjunction of sea and land, Kjærgaard’s work acts doubly, at the edge of abandoned civilisation and at the height of utopian dreams.
23rd November 2008
On the moment of death, when, as Blanchot might say, one is hung between existence and non-existence by the merest of threads, will the crossing be perceptible? Will the transcendental moment, the cut between two forms of discourse, between that that is sayable and that that is absolutely un-sayable, one cannot speak of death, be marked by a sublime experience? The ‘white light at the end of the tunnel’ as the imperceptibly thin plane that is passed through, just a few protons thick, reduced to a point by our position within it. As a metaphor for avant-garde art practices that surpass the discursive limits of their own particularities, that cross the boundaries between, say, art and the rest of society, art and non-art, this is rather blunt, but let’s run with it. In his seminar at the Whitechapel last year Robert Linsley picked out G. Spencer Brown’s idea that “when the frame is noticed it is crossed”, and suggested that “with reference to art we can probably also observe the opposite, namely that to cross the frame is to render it visible”. His suggestion, that the very process of the crossing makes visible the boundary, and the imperative in Spencer Brown that one must cross the boundary once it is noticed come to act doubly on the discursive limits of art. Modernism is supposed to operate as such. A working through of its own presuppositions necessarily involves an investigation of its boundaries, as it is the boundary of the system that is the precise definition of it. This double movement, to notice the frame is to cross it, and to cross it is to render it visible, has the figure of the cleave. That to cleave is to both to cut apart and to bring together. In the crossing of the boundary one is both marking it and passing beyond it. The path breaking, then, that renders what is broken through perceptible also joins the inside to the outside. At the moment of my death then, I am not only crossing the Styx, I am a bridge across it.
With Anthony McCall’s recent retrospective at the Serpentine it is difficult not think of moments of death when traversing not just the space occupied by his solid light drawings, but the very planes of existence created by the solidity of the beams of light themselves. Refracted off smoke, the light comes to operate as solid form.
9th January 2008, London
A man fires six rounds from a revolver towards a metal can whilst strapped into a weight loss vibration belt. The gunman’s hand vibrates too violently for his shots to be accurate. None hit their target. This neat vignette is mildly humorous and absurd. One wonders if Signer would have shown the film had any hit their target. If the can had been pierced would this film have worked? If the gunman had been successful then the film would not have been.
Old Shatterhand is a fictional character in sixteen western novels by German writer Karl May and is reportedly the alter ego of the author. His name refers to his ability with a rifle and the character in the books and 1964 film of the same name certainly exhibits an outstanding accuracy. Old Shatterhand was also the inspiration for a character played by Stewart Granger called Old Surehand, supposedly the meaning of sure hand being easier to grasp for its American audience.
Indeed shatterhand invokes stutter, shake, or scatter. Not the image of a western crack shot you expect. Glass shatters, as do plates or crockery. To be shattered is to be tired, exhausted. The gunman’s hand is shattered by exertion on the slimming machine. He stutters at the decisive moment, trembling before the decision to shoot, the decision to kill. The German gunman in Karl May’s novels wouldn’t stutter before taking the shot, Old Shatterhand here implies his hand fires a shattering shot. He shatters his victim. In Signer’s film the shots are scattered about his target, shaken off course by his stuttering, trembling caused by the (non-)exercise machine, the machine that exercises you without you having to work. Is this not exactly Zizek’s Interpassivity? Interpassivity, where something is experienced for you, where, following Marx, “things believe instead of us”. Zizek gives this example:
Is the Western liberal academic's obsession with the suffering in Bosnia not the outstanding recent example of interpassive suffering? One can authentically suffer through reports on rapes and mass killings in Bosnia, while calmly pursuing one's academic career (The Interpassive Subject, Slavoj Zizek)
One can calmly have the exercise experienced for you. Old Shatterhand as the ideal interpassive subject. Impotence lost by interpassivity, the subject supposed to believe has belief believed for them and can’t hit the can. All old heroes have to die.
7th February 2008, London
In ‘Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring’ Steve Claydon has permitted himself the luxury of the unapologetically grandiose task of cultural restitution. In his file notes Claydon asserts that ‘Strange Events…’ concerns itself with certain exceptions, flaws, aberrations, yawning apertures and flowering discrepancies inherent in taxonomic, historical, and aesthetic groupings. We shall begin by accepting Claydon’s claims to a redistribution of typologies and allow ourselves the luxury, indeed, to follow his curatorial argument.
Curation as happenstance; with a selection of objects and things that, through a process of becoming art (what he equates with the Heideggerian ‘Work-Being’), are selected purely for their ‘thingly’ character, Claydon comes to move away from two distinct curatorial models. On the one hand the more conservative method of selecting work to illustrate a theme or idea of the curator, to develop a narrative, on the other, the recent rash of curators that curate as artistic practice. This move, the curator suggests, is due to a pure love of the work. He has no thesis as such. His assertion that the show explores the problematic and elusive penumbra where the art object somehow distinguishes itself from the utilitarian or craft object through means of discretion or bombast seems to touch on what it means to exist on the discursive limits of art. However, the political move that Claydon makes here, whereby his questioning of modernism’s enunciation of the regime of art comes to bear on the specific objects he has selected for this show, is restricted to only objects he loves. This is the rub. Indeed, to say ‘I love you’ is immediately to cause violence, it is to say to all other things ‘I don’t love you’. What Claydon does then, put simply, is to form necessary limits of exclusion. By doing so he performs the very symbolic discrepancies within modernism that he flags at the beginning of his notes. The limits are necessary because any form of entering into an enunciation regime (as Latour calls it) unavoidably describes a closure of knowledge. Which is to say that to speak is to delimit. It is also, however, to speak for, to make oneself heard, to split the regime. And this split is the important moment here in representation. As we are aware, Bruno Latour, in his ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik’, points to democracy’s etymology:
The word "demos" that makes half of the much vaunted word "demo-cracy" is haunted by the demon, yes the devil, because they share the same Indo-European root da- to divide. If the demon is such a terrible threat, it's because it divides in two. If the demos is such a welcome solution, it's because it also divides in two. A paradox? No, it's because we ourselves are so divided by so many contradictory attachments that we have to assemble.
For the social field is absolutely split, ruptured, fragmented and to enter into discourse is to act within this field to produce this split. But re-presentation (for this is surely what Claydon is involved in above all else) inescapably relies on the distance between that that is being represented and that that is doing the representing, and at the same time relies on an absolute transparency that can never be achieved. In Emancipation(s) Ernesto Laclau proposes that 'transparency requires full representability, and there is no possibility of achieving it if the opaqueness inherent in radical otherness is constitutive of social relations' (p.5) and i would propose the inverse, that full representation requires full transparency. Which is to say that the structure of democracy and representation operate in the same way; namely they both rely on a movement of radical difference and universality concurrently. There must be a commonality for difference to be constituted operationally within social discourse.
Steve Claydon’s exhibition, then, comes to bear on what we might know as a British modernist history by re-presenting artworks that have a thingly quality in common offering an entry into the regime. Our question would be, does Claydon’s selection have enough of a relation to modernity for his claims regarding the rehabilitation of them into the regime? Or more specifically, how does he read the exceptions, flaws, aberrations, yawning apertures and flowering discrepancies he sees in history? If on the one hand his selection is a means to set right an imbalance, to offer an alternative, then he is in danger of over simplifying the political in this problematic. However, if he suggests the show enacts a certain failing democracy, if he understands what we might call the dialectical nature of modernity (following Adorno and Horkheimer’s formulation of the Enlightenment as a dialectical process, haunted by the violence inherent in rationalism, rather than as the Kantian model of a linear process of perfection), then we may just allow him this one.
29th January 2008, London
Thursday, 29 January 2009
By focusing on the strategies and career manifestations of this curator it is possible to begin to understand the role of curating as being as much dissemination as a method of constant questioning. It is the experimental nature of a cross-curatorial design which, at first brought me to bear on the actions of this curator. A non-declared action to a specific premise of practice alongside a multi-interpretive, interdisciplinary approach navigated all by the understanding that, for a subject such as curating knowledge is core. Moving in and out of moments which look towards what is at stake as much as trying to navigate a constant critical aspect to a career hinging on the narrative of visibility.
Having begun their education in the arts at the University of Westminster studying Architecture it would seem the natural process to align with the creative urges of The Architecture Foundation or the Architectural Association, but the idiom of a curator begs the difference. To side-step the plans of the reality of their vocational suggestion and ask for a more generalized visibility, this curator decided to practice outside of their remit, maintaining distance whilst always reverting back to product. Saying this, the word general does not compute within the language used by a curator, who, for over three years has looked towards systematizing a coherent relationship with one of the most traditional and oldest institutions of our age. Currently, but for not much longer the path of practice has lead this curator to maintaining an adaptive but strictly not substitutive mark on the National Maritime Museum, unlike those already come before it is not in the nature of this curator to staple themselves to the day-to-day slog of their institution of choice, remaining ever distant yet surprisingly present, curating is as much part-time as it is full-time. Saying this, making do is not the mentality of a curator who has asked of Lawrence Weiner the space held by ships and sails.
Here, subversion comes into play as another technicity of the contemporary curator. It is by working as the curator of the National Maritime Museum which oddly echos the gains of a BA in Architecture, for both beg of this curator for the imaginative potential of space. Working not necessarily within the bureaucracy of an institution but suggesting to be more objective is not just a motivation at play at the National Maritime Museum but surrenders itself a game plan for a curator who simultaneously lecturers and teaches at an international art college. Helping implant or maybe impart with knowledge is something a school of curators need to quickly learn the ropes of. Teaching is not the requirement of curating but ought to be, something this curator manages to successfully symbolize. Crossing both the museum threshold and the threshold of the art college helps a curator to maintain a good generative objectivity as neither / or is correct protocol for a curator whilst both manage to be exact examples of what a curator may or may not wish to embark upon. Distance here becomes keys as each occupation helps subvert the other, leaving the path always fresh, practice for curating doesn’t just become a 9 to 5 mentality but one with parallel universises, skies and galaxies.
Without getting too washed up in the romance of what a curator does, it is time to romanticise the curator, to continuously find joy in expressionistic encouragement for student-explorations from Photo 50 to Contested Ground marks a curator who isn’t afraid to actually remain faithful to art and all it may detail. It is the detail of curating which can be viewed through intense contextualizations; ranging from the depths of Foucault to the bowels of Axisweb Journal, Art Monthly as well as web based activity for Nought to Sixty at the ICA and the latter known Unrealised Projects, all help to maintain a distance from the aspect of curating by using textualization as a tool with which to reformat the aesthetic of curating with each and every manifestation. The ability to remain a curator for my own understanding is not the case of merely understanding the topic or gain at hand but making this understandable. Forcing and encouraging is a burden but also a freedom, looking at a momentum which continuously subverts the boredom of an office curatorial design is a privileged position and one well received by a tireless worker, the depth of distance is encouraging, juxtaposing Avalanche at the Chelsea Space in 2005 alongside the recent offering of Renee Greens Endless Dreams and Water Between, light years of difference in approach and conception arrive. The remains not becoming a ridiculous accolade of congratulations but actually begging to begin to see through the ‘role’ of a curator as being irrepressible, you’ll have to run to keep up but a sprint might just leave you behind when forced to examine the dynamic of a curator who admires the small depths found in No.w.here alongside Cell Project Space. Through all of these many manifestations, layers and complexities one aspect reinforces itself, that, in order to have a strong curatorial practice one must attempt a curatorial distance.
Friday, 28 November 2008
Supercream_magazine is an online publication. It investigates the cluster of meeting points between disciplines and fosters writers, curators and artists to experiment in an expanded field with production and its reception. For Supercream_magazine, publishing means to render visible discussions and creative processes that evolve in its surrounding field. U-turns and roundabouts reveal the publishing stratagem, while reflecting an independent-minded readership belonging to a creative and critical environment.
In this issue:
Is the new really contempoary?
Wiebke Gronemeyer on Nought to Sixty at the ICA
Seven Days in the Art World
Sarah Thornton interviewed by Soledad Garcia.
When Things Cast no Shadow, or the Exhibition as Nothing in Particular
Valentina Ravaglia on the 5th Berlin Biennale.
The art fair revisited: Art fair as event
Daniella Saul on the last Frieze Art Fair
A short visual History of what curating should be
By Konstantinos Dagritzikos.
Nest, Flat 3, 481 New Cross Road, London.
Excerpts of a diary
Artwork by Christl Mudrak.Text by Sven Schuch.Translation by Elea Himmelsbach.
Future Re-enactment to the Unwittingly Involved
A reconstruction by Matthew Stone and Catherine Borra.
An artwork by Nathalie Bikoro.
Watch Chris Crocker blink
An artwork by Yorgos Tsalamanis recounted by Elea Himmelsbach.
A Case Study
An article by Kostas Maronitis
A youtube extravaganza by Joao Florencio.
One song, one take, one cab
Black cab Sessions reviewed by Nina Trivedi.
When in high school, I was never able to finish my essays before the bell rang. I would spend a long time feeling the stream of ideas flow from my brain through my nervous system and enjoying the satisfaction of seeing them take shape in mazes of ballpen ink. Grinding my teeth in concentration, recounting the assignment in my head over and over again, I would compulsively draw forests of conceptual maps as if swept away in a sort of adrenalin rush and follow them in a linguistic treasure hunt that I could carry on ad infinitum. Sometimes words, phrases, paragraphs would just pour on the ruled page, smooth and pleasantly shaped without an effort; at times finding a fluid structure and painstakingly selecting the most appropriate wording to articulate my ideas would require disproportioned amounts of distress and frustration, when a temporary lack of synonims would make me feel like a complete illiterate idiot, and I ended up trapped between a couple of unnecessary parenthesis I didn’t know how to get rid of. In any case, I would inevitably spend the last minutes of the test time sweating over a barely legible draft, my right hand stained with ink on one side and sore out of the vehement engraving gesture of my childlike handwriting, desperately attempting to transcribe the scribbled manuscript in an orderly copy I wouldn’t feel ashamed of submitting to the teacher.
I never wanted that moment to come. I found the imposition to produce a definitive version with so little time to reflect and elaborate cruel and unfair: they give you a stimulus and a purpose, only to then cripple your creativity with a time limit. But I soon found out that I had a real problem with containing myself when writing, so much that I would never write without a purpose and a time limit, scared by the physical and mental endeavour that the act of self-expression would require, not to mention the time expenditure. I was never able to keep a diary, as every time I tried I ended up spending almost the whole night ranting and mentally masturbating in written form about anything that crossed my mind.
So, when it comes to recounting and/or critically analysing an esthetical and intellectual experience, in order to transmit an idea of it to the reader and to provoke curiosity or at least a slight synaptic movement, I cringe at the idea of having to manage that in five hundred words. I sure consider it a very useful exercise in self-discipline, but I doubt I would ever come up with something really worth reading in this format. I can maybe barely begin to express a concept in said amount of words, but due to the review form, I am also supposed to add some factual information and descriptive parts that take away precious space. I could allow myself an experimental, autobiographical moment, but I’d feel like I’m missing the point. Does this count as a review of my dysfunctional mental activity?
But words must be running out by now. Let me check... tools, word count: five hundred and twenty two. Or nine? Well, thirty three now. Time to stop.
For those who don’t have the gift of synthesis, the shorter the text, the bigger the effort. And I’m too lazy to keep it short.
[Written in March 2008]
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Written by Robert Dingle
Loose Associations is the title given to a lecture series performed by the artist Ryan Gander. Accompanied by a series of slides the talk draws an intriguing line between seemingly disparate points on the cultural map. Reminiscent of a conversation among friends congregated around a table, the subject roams aimlessly, linked only by seemingly trivial facts. Gander weaves a subtle constellation between facts, semi-fictions and fictions.
The term loose associations principally refers to a derailment in schizophrenia where the phrase designates the manifestation of a thought disorder whereby the patients responses do not correspond directly to the interviewer's questions or where one paragraph, sentence, or phrase is not logically connected to those that occur before or after.
In September 2004 Gander delivered a version of his Loose Associations Lecture at Brighton University. Being typically digressive and in true anti-Sherlockian fashion, he guided the audience on a meandering journey. Beginning from point A - a discussion of desire paths in urban planning, to point B - trauma lines meant to direct traffic flow in hospitals, to point Z - a scene from Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later in which Cillian Murphy ambles a deserted London, while just off-screen, Gander points out, thousands of real-life drivers are irately honking their car horns. Along the way connections are made to everything from invented languages (Elvish and Klingon), the British TV show Inspector Morse, a historical fragment concerning British longbows, and a lawsuit the artist Gillian Wearing brought against Volkswagen.
Gander’s dialogic and conversational work offers us an alternative model through which to view the course of history. Allowing us the possibility to rethink a notion of the past under a new set of coordinates, his associative methodology maps divergent constellations that show us the fragility of our own dominant historical ideology. It permits for a consideration of an alternative possibility for viewing the course of history from a predominantly linear trajectory accompanied by a singular narrative towards a more associative form underpinned by the possibility of a process of cause and effect.
His development of narrative systems, often underlined by a dry sense of humor, are reliant on the gap in meaning produced within language. Gander treats this space as an opening of latent possibility, a site where storytelling writes and revises the course of history over and again. As the telling of a divergent and associative path of events unfolds accompanied by the slippage between fact and fiction, an oscillatory movement occurs, as temporarily we are able suspend our disbelief and imagine an alternative course to history.
If art has the possibility to reform dominant narratives, are we then able to forge new relations and retell an alternative history of art? It makes little difference in knowing Churchill’s famous quote that ‘history is always written by the victory’s’, as history is always rewritten by Ryan Gander.
Monday, 24 November 2008
Written by Robert Dingle
In his paper delivered at the Tate Modern conference entitled Landmark Exhibitions: Contemporary Art Shows Since 1968, Carlos Basualdo proposed the passage from the 1960’s conceptualism to feminism and collaborative practices as a potential shift in our awareness from an historical understanding of the autonomous art object to an anthropological experience of art.
Basualdo begins with the tentative proposition of viewing art as an ecology, rather than examining it from the perspective of a collection of discrete objects or the relations between objects. Ecology, for Basualdo is formed in relation to systems, in which the event comes to signify large scale international exhibitions, a term which he determines (separately to Ralf Rugoff whom he references) as including the commercial activities of art fairs along side biennales and international museum exhibitions.
So why would the migration of autonomy be connected with large-scale international exhibitions? Basualdo begins with the 1960’s as the decade in which the Greenbergian notion of the autonomous art object was brought into question. He associates with it the emergence of the figure of the curator, a blurring of the boundaries between the artist, curator and critic and the dissolution of artistic medium. As the notion of autonomy became increasingly cross-examined so too were the places of its sanction. Museums became scrutinized, as exhibitions became the main vehicle by which these new forms of practice (these new forms of enquiry) came to manifest themselves.
Basualdo implies that the crisis of the autonomous art object (the crisis of the modern art object) could be described or folded into the increasing importance of the event. Stating that looking from the event permits us to describe more anthropologically this transitional period as ‘the unravelling of the increasing hegemony of the event that has not ceased to develop from that time onwards’.
What Basualdo situates to be at stake is the potential for us to pass from a restricted understanding of art based on the relationship of objects or the relationship of objects to certain subjects, towards a fully anthropological experience of art. One in which large-scale international exhibitions may have the ability to become a theatre for such anthropological deployments. Revisiting the first Venice Biennale Basualdo attempts to examine the conditions that brought it into being. Subsequent to determining four central motives (politics, publicity, market and tourism) he leaves us with little more than positing that a clear analysis would prove a useful tool in understanding the limitations of the event now. The purpose of which would hopefully act as a way to disentangle the event from the limitations that don’t allow us to explore what it may be in the future.
Basualdo’s shrewd and enlivening polemic inspires a rethinking of art history, redirecting the focus from the relationships between objects and towards examining the conditions of the event itself as a way of understanding the production of culture more clearly. However, what Basualdo neglects to declare is how this methodology would come to operate. What would an anthropology of art look like? And in what ways could it help us to disentangle the event from the limitations currently holding its potential back?
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Hayward Project Space
7 October – 16 November 2008.
By Jenine McGaughran
Herbert Rappoport’s 1962 film ‘Cheremushki’ is a musical comedy portraying Russia’s youth gleefully embracing the hope their new world offers them. This satirical, light hearted film see’s its protagonists singing and dancing joyfully in celebration of a new form of architecture. A scene pictures a young couple rushing through their prospective home remarking on its modern construction, from its walls, floors, doors and windows to its contemporary furnishings and appliances, all the while proclaiming it to be ‘a beautiful dream come true’.
This wonderfully kitsch, Hollywood-esque moment sums up the anticipation felt throughout the Cold War period, the notion that ideas transformed into tangible reality could come true: that Utopian ideals in the form of social housing projects could actually help solve the problems societies faced.
It is within Cyprien Gaillard’s Glasgow 2014 that the failures of such ideals are documented. Three large-scale photographs depict former high-rise blocks reduced to heaps of rubble. Cairns, the titles of these works, reflect the significance Gaillard bestows upon these mounds, venerating them from masonry fragments to monumental status. The piled debris alludes to much more than mere rubble; each title contains the name and dates of the former buildings, acting as an obituary. However, these images not only lament the loss of former dwellings, they mourn the passing of the hope social and structural regeneration invested in the housing projects of the 1960’s. In Cairns (12 Riverford Road, Pollokshaw, Glasgow, 1967-2008) the dead look upon an urban space not akin to the one they once inhabited. Pollokshaw, formerly a town with independent status nestling on the periphery of the city, was annexed into Glasgow in 1912 to meet the demands of urban sprawl. The familiar terrain of its former inhabitants was cleared to make way for high-rise blocks purpose built to impose a notion of community and ease the slum poverty of the post war period. Having witnessed the creation, degradation and demolition of the ‘streets in the sky’ these ruinous headstones bare witness to the failure of such government expectations.
Gaillard pays further homage to these buildings with Cenotaph to 12 Riverford Road, Pollokshaw Glasgow 2008. This monument, composed of recycled concrete from the demolished housing estate, has been placed within a secret garden only visible from inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Here Gaillard’s obelisk stands as a memorial for more than Pollokshaw, placed at the centre of Hubert Bennet’s iconic Brutalist building Cenotaph commemorates both the passing of 12 Riverford Road and the faith society invested in urban regeneration.
The scene depicted in Cairns (131 Allan Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow, 1965-2007) is no longer surrounded by looming tower blocks; demolition was completed in 2007 to make way for the Athletes Village for the forth-coming Commonwealth Games in 2014. The mission of the Commonwealth Games Federation is to improve society and the general well-being of those inside the Commonwealth, with every decision measured against their core values of Humanity, Equality and Destiny. Indeed such notions are not so alien to those put forward in the development of key campaigns such as Homes for Heroes in the years following World War Two. Here Gaillard makes clear man’s traces in nature, exposing modern architecture as contemporary ruin and nature constantly on the cusp a man’s domination and vice versa. A space that not so long ago was populated with derelict tenement blocks has become the proposed site for East One, a 39 storey residential tower block. Another city regeneration project uncannily like the ones presented half a century ago, attempting to achieve different goals but ultimately risking a similar fate.
The Lake Arches shows two men enjoying their carefree leisure time amongst Ricardo Bofill’s Saint-Quentin-en- Yvelines. This still thriving post modern housing projects was built on outskirts of Paris as one of the original ville nouvelles in the early 1960’s. As both men dive into the manmade lake, placed in the heart of the community, one emerges from the lake bloodied as a result of coming into conflict with its shallow bed. Here Gaillard simultaneously communicates the unforgiving nature of the landscape and man’s continuous attempts to manipulate and master it. Like man has rejected the imposed ideas of a Utopian way of life, the grey green waters of the lake have rejected this man’s attempt to commandeer it.
Brian Dillion articulates what lies at the centre of Gaillard’s work in his discussion of ruins stating: ‘The modern ruin – the industrial ruin, the defunct image of future leisure, or the spectre of Cold War dread is in fact always, inevitably, a ruin of the future’.
On the surface Glasgow 2014 takes an almost romantic stance on the failure of idealised aspirations for the future through the picturesque rendering of urban decay. However what is at stake is exposing man’s traces on the world and the world’s ultimate rejection of them.
Monday, 17 November 2008
Towards and Economy of Means: On Violence
By Wiebke Gronemeyer
On October 31 the critically acclaimed film Hunger by British artist Steve McQueen was released in the UK. McQueen, who will represent Britain at the 53rd Venice Biennial in 2009, portrays in his debut film, a production commissioned by Channel 4, the last days of Bobby Sands, the hunger striker who was the first to fast to death in a range of enduring protests against British governmentality in Northern Ireland. Hunger shows fragments of a traumatic chapter of recent British history as an odyssey of epic gestures of violence, resistance, and power.
The film is set in the H-blocks of the Maze prison in Belfast in 1981. Bobby Sands is the leader of a group of convicted IRA members who were fighting against the withdrawal of Special Category Status, which the English government had abolished in 1976 and therefore no longer recognised them as political prisoners. The convicted republicans articulated their resistance to the non-political status through visceral actions such as the ‘dirty protests’: as they were prevented from using the hygienic facilities because they refused to wear prison uniforms and went naked except for blankets, they smeared their excrements on their cell’s walls and flooded the prison hallways with their urine. The prisoners’ resistance to state power is answered with cruelty and brutality. The prison officers exercise their power in sessions where they forcibly shore and scrub the prisoners accompanied by the penetrating rhythmical noise of policemen thwacking plastic shields. Recognized as a psycho-mental technique for torture, the sound should scare other prisoners and drown the cries of protest and resistance they roared.
The aesthetic of this film is very much determined by the stillness with which McQueen captures these sequences. The camera almost never moves, rather, different angles represent different perspectives and translate the observations of the camera into the atmosphere of the cinema. One of the situations the camera reveals is a young policeman who is supposed to not only bang his plastic shield, but also battering naked prisoners that are trailed through the hallway. He can’t take the situation with its horrifying and disturbing noise and bursts in tears. In another shot nothing is heard or seen apart from the urine laving below the cells’ doors flooding the cold and narrow hallway. What the cameras portray is not a narrative representation of what happened inside and outside of the Maze at the heart of the Northern Irish conflict. The visual compelling images not only translate the situations’ atmosphere into the cinema but much more the claims that are at the heart of this conflict – on both sides.
McQueen’s film spreads its sympathies around, devoting time to the wardens when beating the prisoners, but who also had to clean up their mess in the cells and lived on the outside of the prison with the constant threat of reprisals by the IRA. The distinction between culprit and victim, good and bad, becomes blurred. Their underlying forces of power become apparent, visualized through the highly atmospheric images. This culminates in the 22-minute long conversation shot between Bobby Sands and Father Moran, a priest who he has summoned to announce his planned hunger strike to the world. Shot almost in a single take, the camera remains static showing the two men facing each other across the table. This dialogue in which soon the priest tries to talk Sands out of the strike and accusing him of a misconceived pride and selfishness, reveals the forces of all political belief and bondage, which regardless of the reasons for it and effects of it share a stubbornness that McQueen intensely translates to the audience with the stoic use of the camera and its perspective.
The film portrays the body as the last resource for protest with an almost unbearable intensity. The last part of the film is entirely devoted to Bobby Sands hunger strike, of which he died after 66 days. The more his body strength ceases, the more those sunken eyes and haggard face become a powerful tool for resistance against the withdrawal of Special Category Status. The captured violence and power to which Bobby Sands subjects himself in his hunger strike commands an intense commitment by the viewer that is exposed towards a disconcerting resonance within in an extreme economy of means. The body resists its natural desires and therefore the hunger strike embodies a resistance against the current situation as a moment of endurance. A hunger strike is in fact a reverted form of violence, because the violation is solely turned against oneself, or at least one is deeply invested in the act of violence, (i.e. Kamikaze suicide attacks). As Hannah Arendt pointed out, “violence is distinguished by its instrumental character”. In the case of Bobby Sands it is a means not only to destroy the power of the English governmentality but also a form of resistance that, in turn, led the attention onto the violence with which they were treated. Although Hunger may not clearly articulate a political and moral positioning or focus on ideology or public policy, the film maps out a relationship between power, violence and resistance in which the audience as the observer becomes an extension of the camera. What the film shows in its carefully composed consecutiveness of scenes are the relationships between the prison officers and the imprisoned, the inside and outside of the Maze with its internal and external circuits of communication and information. These relationships follow a structure that is one of dependency, of not only physical but also political and social affiliation that can be instrumentalised. Through the imagery of the film we observe not only the violence with which the prison officers treated the convicted but also how outside of the Maze the IRA resorted to violence against the British. What both have in common was the aim to destroy the power of the other. "Violence," Arendt writes, "can always destroy power. (…) What never can grow out of it is power.” The ambiguity of the film of not clearly articulating a political or moral positioning not at all diminishes its relevance, as some reviews of the film pointed towards it as not being political enough. What the film captures in moments when the voice of Margaret Thatcher emphatically denies the validity of the republican’s cause or status, are the forces of political system that still today try to claim their issues as present and pressing. McQueen counteracts those scenes with silent single shots of Bobby Sands fragile body awaiting its death at the time when he was elected as a representative of the republicans for the British Parliament in 1981. The relationship between power, violence and resistance is one of strategic actions and counteractions.
Through the evoked highly emotional atmosphere of the film by means of the meticulous construction of consecutive scenes, McQueen not only exposes the viewer to an economy of means but actually makes a strong political claim. The composition of the film not only reveals systems of power and violence as a means of resistance but goes further and hands over the judgement to the viewer, as the audience becomes the target of McQueens atmospheric observations, not Bobby Sands or the prison. This is in itself a highly political claim as McQueen pointed out in a recent interview: “It’s not about left and right, or right and wrong. It’s more about you and me.” Hunger is an urgent reminder of the function and dysfunctions of this period in British and Irish history, questioning weather the relationships between power, violence and resistance that succumbed this situation wouldn’t still be in place on other levels, with other players in the game, but following the same hidden agendas.
 Hannah Arendt (1970): On Violence. New York: Harvest. p. 46
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
by Sophie Risner
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Written by Robert Dingle
At the conference Landmark Exhibitions: Contemporary Art Shows Since 1968 held at the Tate Modern Carlos Basnaldo opened by making the statement ‘the history of exhibitions can be seen as an ecology of art itself’. Such a statement stands to reason to be followed by the question(s), what would an ecology of art look like and how would it function?
In 1866 the German biologist Ernst Haeckel provided the etymological basis for what we now come to understand by the term ecology. Combining the Greek word oikos, for ‘homestead’ with logos, for ‘wisdom’ he yielded oekology, now rendered ecology, to mean the study of the household of nature. It was in relation to this underpinning that in 1927 Charles Elton defined the modern subject of ecology as ‘the study of animals (and plants) in relation to habit and habitat’ (Elton, 1927)1.
The first imperative of ecology is to understand the cause and maintenance of variety, diversity and the complex relationships that underlie the seemingly simple system of fuelling the biosphere from the sun and radiating back its energy as heat. The second imperative is to understand both the laws of communal living and the individual relationships among the vast array of species and population densities living today.
The biosphere becomes in such a case the totality of all separate ecosystems, this includes all living plants, all animals, all processes of decomposition together with the air, soil, and waters in which life is persevered.
An understanding of the ecology of art, following Elton would thus be the study of art in relation to habit and habitat, exploding the relationships, intricacies and interactions between artists, artworks, dealers, museums, institutions, curators, exhibitions, galleries, private and public sectors, art fairs, biennales and the art market. A much more complex and intricate process or procedure of study than simply viewing exhibitions as the sole historical markers or traces of arts ecological progression, although to some extent that is exactly what they are.
We could simply put it: the ecology of art could be considered as the study of the art world. Comparable to the biosphere, the art world is itself constituted by a series of ecosystems, which are the inextricable links in the spectrum of relations, actions, transactions and exchanges in regards to the habit and habitat of art.
Thought of as the basic ecological unit the term ecosystem was refined by the British ecologist Arthur Tansley in 1935. Tansley’s stipulates that an ecosystem could vary from being as large as the entire biosphere or as small as the cup of a pitcher plant.
How can we come to view the ecosystem as an ecological unit in comparison to the art world or biosphere? And how would the inspection of the individual, overlapping and multilayering relationships and interactions exhibited within the ecology of art fall in line with the tendencies exhibited in all manner of other varying ecological systems? How could we begin to describe an ecosystem within the ecology of art?
Written by Robert Dingle
Born in Italy, but now based in Paris, Tatiana Trouve has become recognized for her project Bureau d’Activites Implicites (Office of Implicit Activities), which she initiated in 1997. The BAI immerses viewers within remote environments in which the organisation and classification of objects and activities are particularised according to the artist’s own personal specification.
4 between 3 and 2 is Trouve’s most recent exhibition, held at the Centre Pompidou and is produced in recognition of her reception of the 2007 Prix Marcel Duchamp. On display is a series of Touve’s polders (a term used by the artist to indicate a series of sculptural installations reduced in scale and generated as a point of departure from her BAI series).
Trouve’s exploration of differing registers of duration takes the viewer through a series of dimensional shifts, as implied by the exhibition’s title.
At either end of the main space piles of black sand tirelessly accumulate, pouring out of two small incisions made in the wall. The inexorable flow of sand compels a sense of time as it persistently accumulates. A space of simultaneity opens up effecting the present/future relation. The sand registers the immediate progression of time while indicates a more disconcerting prospect. As every footstep around the sand acts as a potential cause, triggering minor landslides, the viewer implicitly helps perpetuate the slow and inadvertent lose of territory. The piles of sand disperse outwards from their centers as they gradually swallow up everything constituted within the space.
Recessed in the walls of the gallery are a number of waist-high glass doors, which open off into a series of mirrored miniature corridors. Situated behind the walls of black sand they describe an alternative mode of duration. The passages replicate an endless mirroring of space, a constant deferral perpetually evading the viewer as though acting out a Borgian fiction – The library of Babel and its infinite structure of hexagonal libraries containing books on the true narrative of every living person and additionally every misprint and variation of each narrative. In his compendium of selected writing, Two-Way Mirror Power, Dan Graham comments on the mirror:
The mirror’s image connects subjectivity with the perceiver’s time-space axis. The symmetry of mirrors tends to conceal or cancel the passage of time, so that the overall architectural form appears to transcend time.
Occupying the central space, Untitled (rope) 2008 is positioned equidistantly between the piles of sand and the glass corridors. The rope with each end loosely curled on the floor, appears frozen in time. Tossed in the air and fixed at a point of apex it forms a walkway or transitional point within the show. Its smooth linear composition produces a formal association between itself and the series of wall mounted dark monochrome drawings. It appears as a three-dimensional extension of the two-dimensional environments that surround it.
4 between 3 and 2 allows not only the fluidity of movement across multiple dimensions (from four to three to two), but additionally inspects various registers of duration. Generated from the interplay between dimensions (second and third) different relationships are forged between elements: sculptures, drawings, curved perspectives and the continuous fall of sand. As the quest and fascination of the forth dimension led Duchamp to formulate his concept of the infra-thin, Trouve’s search for a sculpture between 3 and 2 leads her to concretely render time in space.
6th June - 19th October 2008
written by Robert Dingle
The Sienna Contemporary Art Center having moved venue is marking its new exhibition space with a retrospective of works by Gordon Matta-Clark curated by Lorenzo Fusi and Marco Pierini. The curators intention is made clear from the press release: ‘The aim of the show is to propose a reconstruction of the artist's varied and prolific career, ranging between the most diverse languages and forms of expression from the end of the Sixties until his premature demise in 1978’.
The space couldn’t be more appropriate. Keeping to schedule has meant the few remaining snagging issues of the build continue to be visible. The section of partly painted stairwell, trailing wires throughout the corridors and the abrasive surface of the interior render (scratching anything coming into contact with it), all appear perfectly coordinated with the work to the extent where on occasion, they appear staged.
The exhibition is ordered chronologically and accompanied by an almost entire filmography. The numerous drawings, diagrams and plans from the artists ‘building cuts’ project, make up a large proportion of the exhibition raising questions about the role of documentation and the presentation of work within the context of the gallery.
Opening with Garbage Wall (1970), a wall constructed from found objects and refuse, the work establishes a set of recurrent themes that are carried throughout the exhibition. Whether its the environmental awareness and evolution of materials demonstrated in Glass Brick (1971), (where a transformative process turns disused glass bottles into an environmental construction material) or the assembled archival material of Fake Estates (1973-4), (a collection of auctioned off ‘gutter-spaces’ in New York) Matta-Clark’s interventions have retained their poignancy as they confront issues that remain pertinent.
Glass Brick was designed to become a low cost construction and building material of easy production. At the time Matta-Clark offered it as a resolution to the predicament of high numbers of homeless people and the failure of affordable housing policies in New York City, though under the conditions of the current economic context and particularly in light of a potential global recession the work acquires new significance.
From the transformation of materials including architecture and urban environments, Days End (1975) poses the question of how an unoccupied city pier can be converted into a city park. Matta-Clark wrote in one of his notebooks that he was less interested in designing buildings (having initially trained as an architect at Cornell University), than he was in converting a building into a state of mind. A process he described in a letter to the New York Department of Real Estate as ‘making sculpture using the by-products of the land and the people’.
Navigating the exhibition it becomes apparent the extent to which entropic processes underpin Matta-Clark’s work. What results is a palpable experience that underlies the topical importance to show these works three decades after they were produced. We need only to look towards a handful of recent exhibitions and talks, such as Ecotopia the 2007 Second ICP Triennial of Photography and Video, Artful Ecologies: Art, Nature and Environment the 2006 conference held in Falmouth and Ecovention, to witness the inclined debate surrounding the role art and artists within society and in relation to the environment and ecology.
The exhibition offers us a laconic and detailed insight into the production and ideas of Matta-Clarke’s work, presenting us with an image of a highly skilled individual proficiently attuned to the social ecology 1970’s America.
Tuesday, 25 March 2008
29th February – 7th April 2008
German artist Bernd Behr films and photographs his subjects much like an archaeologist might exhume his subjects for closer exploration and investigation. Part documenting and researching, part poetic meditations, his camera finds architectural sites steeped in history and recently abandoned, models for an investigation of failed structures. His method also acts on another plane, gradually unfurling the potential of such structures to be released from their architectural functions, testing their performative possibilities in front of the camera.
Behr’s 35 mm photographic slide installation “Amoy Gardens” (2007) was filmed in the eponymous residential and shopping complex in Hong Kong, found to be at the centre of the deadly SARS outbreak in 2002 when the faulty ventilation system was found to have freely spread the virus throughout the extensive complex. Behr films quick snapshots, the salient feature being the lack of human presence due to the mass evacuation that ensued following the disaster. The car park ramps, a ground floor doorway, a harbour shot from a balcony, a crumbling exterior staircase, broken plumbing, interminably long escalators and numerous ventilation shafts. A voice over accompanies the piece, of a Chinese woman stuttering through an English reading of Le Corbusier’s treaty on “Exact Air,” for the development of an efficient ventilation system for his housing projects in the 1930s. The camera simply records the empty aftermath of the evacuation, the building now a hollow shell. While the moving image element of the work retains a degree of independence from the audio, the voice over creates a proposition for the building, a possibility to rehabilitate it through twentieth century modernist architectural building practices. The incongruity at this point is emphasised subtly, yet unmistakably– despite, or as a result of massive Chinese economic expansion, lessons might still be learnt from older, European experimental practices that deal with such essential practicalities as an efficient plumbing system.
Also exhibited is a large photograph, “Topographic Obscenities” (2007) in which a vertical landscape of rocks, debris and plumbing are fused together with sprayed on grey metallic concrete. Not only does this work magnify and condense the effects of the disaster at the housing complex, it “fossilises” them, amplifying the pull of history and mystery to Behr’s chosen sites.
The interest in the idea of fossilising, or a kind of architectural sedimentation is an aspect of Behr’s work that reveals itself through a focus on structures that have entered the transitional stage between use and subsequent abandonment. Robert Smithson’s idea of the “de-architecturalised” structure feeds visibly into the “Amoy Gardens” work and into Behr’s other works where the structure in question becomes an entropic entity. It embodies a notorious history, but with no apparent future use it further encourages fascination and mystery. Similarly, another of Behr’s works “Hotel Palindrome 2006, before Robert Smithson” not on show here, directly references and borrows notions of cultivating mystery or allure to entropic, transitional sites, as originally explored in Smithson’s work “Hotel Palenque” (1969-1972) an old, stylistically aberrant Mexican hotel built on the site of Mayan ruins undergoing several cycles of renovation and subsequent decay.
Behr explores the idea for the Hong Kong housing complex to revive its actual potential and therefore its filmic characterisation as being not strictly documentary, through the introduction of the audio voice over enacting a developmental proposal.
Borrowing from historical examples, successful or failed is one method Behr uses to offer up the potential to resurrect architectural sites of abandonment, if not in reality then for their filmic presence and resonance.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
26.1.08 - 2.3.08
Having recourse to the past for a style of painting now decades removed from the ideological aims of its politics, Russian artists Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov’s paintings of the decadent life of the Russian elite are a jarring juxtaposition of Russian contemporaneity seen through Socialist Realist formal conventions. Very large in scale and brash and vibrant with use of colour, the clash of form and subject- matter is an apt method the artists take up by which to produce and comment on a set of dichotomies. A fantastically ostentatious object of wealth is painted with the same rigour and on the same monumental scale as a typical Soviet School painting of a political scene might have been. A Russian supermodel typifies the rags to riches story of a generation of young women returning to Russia as members of a new affluent, cosmopolitan and sexy social class. The hedonistic, party lifestyles of the elites with their taste for the gimmicky and the vulgar emphasises the idea of individual wealth and glamour and the independence and freedom it brings. This section of society is presented in stark contrast to how one might imagine the majority of the population who are not afforded the privilege and benefits of post – Soviet Russia’s relationships with the western world. This idea is addressed by the artists precisely through their use of a formal style associated with (a failed) Communist ideology. What is more, Dubossarsky and Vinogradov’s paintings do not narrate neutrally. Not only do they juxtapose aspects of contemporaneity with a formal framework that denotes a historically incompatible vision for it, the artists often punctuate their scenes with a self- consciousness that seems in some instances to point to the unfamiliarity and strangeness of western fads and gimmicks. This manifests itself through the outward gaze of a character in a party scene or with a less subtle, but amusing approach depicting an alien following the faddish trend of owning a Chihuahua dog. The artists’ measured brushstrokes paint busy scenes and aspects of pop culture with a vibrant colour palette of acidic tones combined with more muted ones, to create works that do not appear to just represent revelry and wealth. They also seem to suggest that this manifestation of Russian contemporaneity is one that is not quite sure what it thinks of itself yet.
Thursday, 13 March 2008
Tim Etchells & Vlatka Horvat
‘Insults & Praises’ & ‘Promises & Threats’
Art Sheffield 08 (Sheffield Biennial)
‘Yes No Other Option*’
16.02.08 – 30.03.08
Four white smallish seats sit neatly in a square formation around 4 TV sets. Each TV set has a pair of headphones attached as is gallery protocol when showing ‘video art’ within the context of the gallery space. A-mid the various video pieces within the show the work of Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat stands alone as an intriguingly honest re-presentation of the core theme at play throughout this years Sheffield Biennial. The two artists sit next to each other staring at the screen engaged in the moment of what could only be described as a dialogue of ideas, thoughts, rouses and contemplations. Not once do Etchells or Horvat look at each other throughout this torrid exchange - a wonderfully choreographed love affair enriched through a strong linguistic dynamic.
This years title of Yes, No Other Option sheds light on constructs of expectation, performance and failure. The readiness needed to live within a world dominated by a 24 hour work ethic alongside expectations to succeed and do better slip side by side with moments of abject failure, isolation and professional redundancy as tropes within contemporary Fine Art production. Occupational success and failure current idioms that dominate cultural production, resurfacing every now and then as we are expected to work harder, get up earlier and work later. The arrival of the digital age is also significant moment on the passage of this framework; as the Internet adapts the home into an office and visa versa.
To surface this through the work of Etchells and Horvat we can only but see how such images of expectation can mirror and reflect back onto the discourse of a contemporary relationship. Etchells and Horvat spend this digital journey abusing each other in vast extremes then adoring each other all through sharp one liners considerately and exquisitely performed. Often with the recourse of a sly smile or giggle planted between the lips of the two protagonists - these moments are the only insight into the mounting tension in the room. A portrait of the constant pressure unseen within the maintenance of a relationship. The trick of this pieces intriguing introvert qualities lies in the notion of the unseen - the comments normally ushered behind closed doors to each other in moments of rage, lust and exhaustion. The statements within this piece said so convincingly to one and another have the knock on effect of a representation of closeness but in truth this complex play lacks a coherent plot.
Etchells, a director for experimental Theatre company 'Forced Entertainment' is acutely aware of irony and the importance of a well conceived dialogue, or in this case a well placed monologue. As this play unwraps Etchells wit forms a clever moment from mere individual statements to a charged linguistic collaboration, that unites over dividing Etchells and Horvat. It's a love affair of the most peculiar kind - but yet stands as an impressive feight of direction and even more impressively a formidable observation of society.
Here, the theme of the Biennial must be re-evaluated, Etchells manages to look deeper into this concept of failure, it necessarily being the moment of success engrained within a work ethic nor is it our ability to function in a world which commands and demands more, far away from this stands Etchell and Horvats comprehension of this years Sheffield Biennial as a moment of success through communication at a very basic level. The two video pieces sat innocently in the middle of the gallery space do more than just look into the Biennials core them it attempts to strike a blow at our ability to actually talk to each other another and this, it does, with extreme success.
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