Friday, 28 November 2008

Supercream_magazine, issue no. 00: Event online!

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.

Tetris re-construction
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.


562 words of intellectual claustrophobia

Valentina Ravaglia

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

Loose Associations Lecture, Ryan Gander, Brighton University, 2004

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

Carlos Basualdo: An Anthropology of Art (Why your past was present in our future)

Pt 2

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

Cyprien Gaillard: Glasgow 2014
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

Steve McQueen: Hunger

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[1]”. 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.

[1] Hannah Arendt (1970): On Violence. New York: Harvest. p. 46

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Decasia - Sophie Risner

Death Through a Lens,

A review of the film Decasia

by Sophie Risner

Screened as part of The Time Machine series at the British Film Institute, Southbank, Decasia is a contemporary noir masterpiece spinning on the axis of history through film. Celebrated director, Bill Morrison and musician Michael Gordon worked together to forge a visual testimony to the death of the image and the trial of artistic expression. Running for just over an hour, Morrison, who’s production company Hypnotic Pictures entangles our mind within the landscape of sublime decay - throwing out the rule book obsessed with tinsel town colour, here Morrison like Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allan before him finds black and white cinema the resting place for Decasia. It is the sublime that comes to the foreground when beginning to describe the narrative of a film that survives purely on the lack of a conventional narrative.

Interested in the dying nature of Nitrate film, Morrison took decomposing archive footage found at the George Eastman House and the Museum of Modern art, New York and choreographs an insight into how this medium struggles to survive the test of time. In one scene a couple dance happily together, a feather twists and turns from the woman’s head, whilst the tails of the mans coat swings merrily, all the while their faces; black holes of decomposition, the edges of the image rotting the reality that this moment is no more. In another, a camel walks from the left to right hand side of the screen, across hot sand dunes, faltering and repeating their tracks abnormally, looping in a sardonic dance implying that the camel actually enjoys the trek in the mid day sun. Kids accompanied by nuns in death shrouds loam, coaxing children into a building, the image distorting and correcting itself beginning to burn and ooze its own morbid decomposition.

All the while Gordon’s symphony plays court to the name of Morrison’s production company, hypnotically trancing each moment with spot-on cohesion. The introduction of an electric guitar into the sound of the orchestra momentarily brings this decay up to speed. Gordon who was born in Florida and after a brief time in Nicaragua moved permanently to Miami takes inspiration from the irksome heat blazed beaches of America’s east coast. Thriving a composition through late 60’s, early 70s stoner expressionism, the sometimes almost deafening ballad that accompanies Decasia remembers the seething reality of a Nixon presidency, the burn of Vietnam and the unpacking of Cambodia, an instrumental dedication to moments best tried to forget set to imagery totalizing the reality of decay. Hard felt feelings that are all too prevalent within today’s current political climate. The fact that this comes from the bowels of the post American Hollywood nightmare, with both Morrison and Gordon rendering a clear message home, that beauty and perfection, CGI and impressive effects, are mere superficiality, the same can be accused of an art world hinging on the importance of restoration. Large scale concepts that not only survive, but build gradually with every scene. Decasia uses the method of a conventional film, with a slow and tense beginning building to a crescendo end, radically subverting it’s original conceptions, but unlike a conventional film, Decasia makes no excuses for nostalgia. Moreover, with Gordon’s impressive musical attack, this film classifies death as entertainment, objectively rendering the passing of time as an increasingly important aspect of cinematographic progression, leaving in its wake the realization that decay is all too inevitable.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

An ecology of art, ecosystems, Landmark Exhibitions and Frieze Art Fair.

Pt one
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?

Tatiana Trouve, Centre Pompidou, 15th June – 29th Sept

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.

Gordon Matta-Clark

The Sienna contemporary Art Center
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

Bernd Behr - Alexia Goethe Gallery, London.
29th February – 7th April 2008
Daniella Saul

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

Dubossarsky & Vinogradov - Vilma Gold, London

26.1.08 - 2.3.08
Daniella Saul

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 and Vlatka Horvat - Sophie Risner

Tim Etchells & Vlatka Horvat
‘Insults & Praises’ & ‘Promises & Threats’
Art Sheffield 08 (Sheffield Biennial)
‘Yes No Other Option*’

16.02.08 – 30.03.08

Millennium Galleries

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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Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Laughing in a Foreign Language - Sophie Risner

30 Artists exploring humour around the world

The Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre

25.01.08 - 13.04.08

Laughter is a tricky idea to represent - what makes us laugh and why we do it are two very different questions, thus under these conditions it can then be said that this is a bold move for the Hayward to attempt such an investigation into the theme. 'Laughing in a Foreign Language' sees a move towards the commodification of laughter in a 'time of increasing globalisation.' One of the first realities of this show is that it is incredibly weighed down with numerous video pieces. In an ever-digital age this is not particularly shocking but in curatorial terms it goes against the concentration of thought and time placed on this investigation. The shear historical importance of laughter per se means that any exhibition that tries to deal with it has to demand a certain attribute towards the past. Here, Brechtian 'alienation' is explored alongside themes of purposelessness and displacement. Generally speaking this exhibition seems to be overreaching its key themes and at many points seems to find the crafting of a pure assemblage of the funny more of a struggle than a joy. Samuel Beckett’s ‘Worstward Ho,’ 1983 has not only become the key text for recent explorations within art currently but integrates itself as a key paradigm within this exploration ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,’ becomes a get out clause within this exhibition’s exploration, marking not only the justification of failure within the remit of this show but the misunderstanding of failure within comedy. It is one concept to create a dialectic on the quite popular theme of failure within art but surely to bind that to failure within art and laughter is an over prescription of optimism. Mami Kataoka attempts to address this over-prescribed condition of predicating failure to the possibilities of such a global investigation into art and laughter. Is it possible for a show to address such global differences and such different artistic approaches in a bid to unify under the complexities of the funny?

Olaf Breuning’s video 'Home2' explores through a westernised irony the concept of tourism and subsequent breakdown in communication; based in Japan, Papa New Guinea and the Swiss Alps the film finds Olafs protagonist donning masks, playing with locals and screaming ‘I’m gonna meet the natives!’ it’s an uneasy film that seeks substinance in English / American irony yet suffers from an over prescribed length that wilts the humour more than lets it flourish. The polar extreme to this can be found in Janne Lehtinens beautifully subtle comments on the age-old tale of Icarus, here Lehtinen dares to mastermind comedy through the photographic, not easy – especially as most of the show is tragically shown through a video lens, rendering the idea that comedy is something experienced as a moving quantity over the still. Lehtinens ponderous moments of failed Icarus experimentations sum up wonderfully the key element of failure, as through these mini-tales we unpack Lehtinens own inner frustrations and not just sympathise but can see the ridicularity embedded within them. If Lehtinen could be described as subtle then Kalup Linzy’s 'Conversations wit de Churen' is anything but. Linzy embarks on a soap-opera pastiche based on an African-American ghetto family. Most of the footage is badly shot and the over dubbing embaressingly mis-placed - making the work uncomfortable viewing yet essential when transcending the show. Explicit sexual scenes and jargon are interspersed with mundane moments exploring the central characters relationship all performed to one another by the means of mobile phones. Other video work include Kutlug Ataman's 'Turkish Delight,2006' which finds the artist performing for the audience a highly improvised belly dance, wearing traditional turkish attire the artist mocks what he perceives as the conventional global stereotype of Turkey through an almost 3D motion self-portrait. Meanwhile Guy Ben-Ner also finds comedy through self-portraiture, one of the most striking video pieces Ben-Ner's 'Wild Boy' filmed in the artist’s own house and featuring his son looks to the role of father and son within art theory. Here Ben-Ner's son plays a feral child adopted by Ben-Ner. As the tale unwraps we view Ben-Ner teaching his adopted son how to read and write, eat and become human. The end product is awkwardly haunting yet intriquing, there aren't any major moments for clarity of the funny, but it does push towards crafting a relationship that trivializes humanity rather than glorifying it.

On a pictorial note the English contribution to the show manages to bark the obvious, Jake and Dinos Chapman de-face William Hogarth prints with the same mis-placed irony that saw them de-facing Goya in their entry to the 2003 Turner Prize shortlist. Though nothing particularly new, these painfully illustrative moments reflect perfectly back onto the Samuel Beckett concepts of 'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.' The Brothers Chapman manage to mastermind dark European illustrative mischief whilst working so incisevely within the Beckett remit. Shrigley equally finds it hard to step outside of his comfort zone, plastering the walls of the last Hayward space with slogans, wordy commentary and images that staple some kind of injustice and failure to the artists life experiences. Sadly through his more-than-notorious style there is more of a sense of repetition than a crafting through the shows key idea of Laughter.

The problem when forming this debate comes from the innards of what comedy and laughter actually ‘do.’ The response to a claim that a show exploring general themes of laughter is far to obvious, less was the contract of genuine hilarity and more was a construct built on exploring how the weird and wonderful world we live in responds to the notion of unification through the funny. We may not have laughed, giggled and erupted our way around the Hayward but at least Mami Kataoka dared to formulate a dilectic between comedy and the contemporary issue of globalization. Some of the works integrate themselves into this discourse and truly become moments of global observation whilst others lean too heavily on the Samuel Beckett illusion plastering their purposelessness at their core. It is this juxtaposition of failure and intrigued success that finds the show at the Hayward not finding its discourse in the materials of comedy production but in the essence of comedy effect. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Janne Lehtinen, Scared Bird, 1998 – 2004


Does Janne Lehtinen really believe he can fly?
Janne Lehtinen, Scared Bird, 1998 – 2004
Laughing in a Foreign Language
Written by Robert Dingle

The Icarian Sea, near Icaria (an island southwest of Samos), takes its name from the story in Greek Mythology of Icarus and his farther Daedalus. Having been imprisoned by King Minos within the labyrinth (the home of the Minotaur), Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings for himself and his son made of feathers and wax. Ahead of leaving his farther advised Icarus not to fly, either, too close to the sun, as its heat would melt the wax, or too close to the sea, as the wax would dampen. Icarus being overwhelmed by the sublime feeling of freedom that flying gave him forgot his farther advice and sawed into the sky. The wax melted, his feathers disappeared and Icarus fell into the sea.

Scared Bird, a sequence composed of eight large photographic Lamda prints, sees the artist try to surpass Icarus in a series of unsuccessful attempts. In each image the artist is frozen, either poised at the moment just prior to an attempt being made or contemplating the unforeseen errors in the aftermath of an effort gone amiss.

In the former, the image captures a moment of indeterminacy. The expectation and intention is clear. The artist, surrounded by wings, fins and sails and adorned with a ‘do-it-yourself’ aesthetic, is seen preparing to undertake a leap of faith. Through an act of bravery and in the face of seemingly stacked odds, the artist is held to a point of potential; a moment of generative possibility where any number of latent outcomes still remain open.

In contrast, the other images depict the lone figure, no longer surrounded by his avaitory trappings or the expectations they formerly embodied, rather, he remains central to the image, but surrounded by wreckage. The risk has been taken and the outcome determined.

Our initial reading of this work leads us to believe that it makes clear the divide between expectation and reality. The ‘before and after’ images seem to explicate how the process of failure can operate i.e. when the distance between expectation and reality no longer meet but become misaligned.

But what happens when realization no longer equates reality? When reality becomes fiction? We cannot ignore the fact that the work harbors a conceit. Does Janne Lehtinen really believe he can fly? The answer, although I have never met him, I am certain would be ‘no’. This leads us to understand the work as a series of attempts that rely upon the staging of events. Lehtinen does not expect to fly, he does not enter a realm of doubt or not knowing, he expects to fail and his expectation corresponds to reality.

Scared Bird becomes a successful illustration or interpretation of the idea of failure and leads us to acknowledge the well-established paradox intrinsic to failure i.e. failure can never be an objective, as when achieved, reverts to becoming a form of success; one successfully fails.

Icarus can be read as a fictional metaphor for failure. He shows us that an unorthodox act entering into a realm of doubt can produce a space of opportunity. However as Icarus pushes the limits of this prospect the conjectural possibility of failure eventually becomes an actuality.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Fire under Snow: Darren Almond

Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, 14 Wharf Road, London N17RW
18 January – 30 March 2008

By Wiebke Gronemeyer

Upon entering the gallery’s premises 600 identical clocks forcefully carry out their task: keeping time. Nonetheless, the clocks in this sculpturally overloaded installation,
Tide (2008), act out more than this, questioning the objectivity of the passage of time. Indeed, these 600 clocks are unstoppable: each time a digital number on the computer-controlled synchronised clocks flips over to mark the passing of another minute or another hour, the gallery space physically reverberates. However, this overload of homogeneity lets us question time and its duration: should we think more often of the difference between an apparently objective chronometry and our subjective tools of measurement, based on experience and constituted in our memory?
Ideas about memory in relation to the subjectivity of time permeate all of Almond’s works in Fire under Snow: Darren Almond, his new exhibition at Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art in London. In his film
In the Between (2006), the artist deals with evocative meditations on time and duration, geography and displacement. The fourteen-minute long, three-screen high-definition film was shot in Tibet and China on the Quinghai-Tibet railway, the world’s highest train route. What Almond pictures is an ongoing itinerary, harnessing the symbolic and both the personal and historical potential of objects, places and situations. The visual juxtaposition of the outside landscape and the interior of a Buddhist temple turns out to be countermanded by the interference of the corresponding sounds: the clattering train and the monks’ monotone chanting. Thus, the linearity of this itinerary becomes undermined, affecting its narrative character. The work is on a very literal level still to be understood as depicting aspects of duration, both on screen and by means of sound. In addition, on a more abstract level, it is much more about a contemporary attitude that can be read through the train as a metaphor, making its way across a whole continent: a characteristic of an aesthetic of globalisation. Almond surpasses and subverts the notion of an itinerary as a means to an end that is not recurrent to itself. As he interlaces the different narratives – the train and the monks, the dominating and the controlled – the artist goes one step further of portraying the evident contrast between the industrial and the spiritual and reveals how even such a clash of culture can, in its narrative structures, have something in common – time, duration and the effects it has on the individual, on both sides of the story.
This nostalgic longing seems to filter through the other works in the show.
Bearing (2007) is a single-screen projection depicting the daily routine of an Indonesian sulphur miner, monitoring him on his way in and out of the mine, carrying the toxic material. The more than evident beauty of the landscape strikes the moral disguise that is evoked by the harmful characteristics of the sulphur, confronting the viewer to position himself out of his comfort zone in front of a high-resolution screen in London towards the social reality in Indonesia. Aren’t our reactions, whether they be compassion of fascination, be understood as unethical and thus wrong?
Night + Fog (2007) consists of six large-scale black-and-white photographs of dead forests surrounding the nickel-mining towns of Siberia. Again, Almond highlights pollution and its damaging consequences, relating to our historical situation, recalling similarities to the symbolic potential of pictures taken in the woods surrounding Auschwitz and Birkenau. Is a longing for the past as a means to an end for a contention with contemporary culture to be understood as how Almond lately, more poignantly, introduces nostalgia into his work? Whether this is a path worthy to explore could be a question to address in the future. As for now, it seems not to detract from the political claims he makes with his work but to strengthen them through carrying the symbolic antipodes, beauty and barbarity, image and sound, to their extremes.

Sober Realism

Images of Society. Contemporary Painting at Kunstverein Hamburg, 27.09. – 31.12.2007.

By Wiebke Gronemeyer

The concern of the exhibition
Images of Society. Contemporary Painting is expressed as “to explore the relation of painting to society”. More precisely, the question Yilmaz Dziewior posed in this recent show at the Kunstverein in Hamburg/Germany is one concerned with the political dimensions of recent paintings. The exhibition features several works by Minerva Cuevas, Eberhard Havekost, Victor Man, Corinne Wasmuth and Wawrzyiec Tokarski, among others, including easel paintings, murals and installations, that suggest relations between art, society and its politics, ranging from representational to repudiative characteristics. Thus, according to Dziewior, the works in respect to society advocate – referencing Jacques Rancière’s “aesthetical regime of the arts” – that in political matters there is no outside, since art and politics are but two different modes of articulating and dividing the sensory world; any hierarchisation of methods of productions becomes irrelevant.
Johannes Wohnseifer’s
Spam Paintings present an attempt at a critical engagement with low-culture consumerism. For this exhibition he subscribed texts from Spam E-mails, offering Viagra, penis enlargement procedures and university degrees onto previously patterned aluminium plates. These patterns appear as cracks on the surface that disrupt any reading of the superficial words and sentences. Hence, Wohnseifer visually transports the de-coding system of the e-mails onto the surfaces intending to emphasize on their exemplary characters for the relationship of today’s society with those dangerous accidental by-products of digital communication.
Gunter Reski’s paintings of images and words introduce proverbial peculiarities: images could be read as literal and words strike through their visual figurativeness. Both elements complement each other in these works, where Reski ambivalently relates images and words without asserting any correct interpretation of that relationship, thus enhancing an oscillation between the painting and the viewer, ascertainment and doubt, identification and critical reflection.
Caroline von Grone’s way of countering the social is literally one of
underpinning. The artist chose to work for several days in the subway of the underground station “Steinstrasse” in Hamburg; a highly frequented place, not so much as a tunnel for commuting passengers, as a home to drug- or alcohol-addicted women and men. The site-specific portraits, executed as “plein-air” paintings, picture the characteristics of the passage offering a correlating reality between the site as it is and the moment when one goes through it; usually this is one where the aesthetics of the site seem to be the reduced to their functionality. As the artist translates the three-dimensionality into the plane surface of the canvasses, she suggests an encountering with the site and the social circumstances it provides and/or evokes. Forasmuch, is the artist’s work for the exhibition to be understood as calling into attention an underpinning of social behaviour and attitudes or is it, far more, blaming us, as we seem to need a portrait of it on a canvas to actually encounter with real aspects of social life, whose issues we usually try to avoid?

The choice of working within the topic of contemporary painting seems to be not very obvious, as contemporary painting is deemed to feed art-market driven commodifying processes or conceived as attesting intellectual tediousness in the absence of any criticality whatsoever. However, in this case, the choice of painting was one that very well corresponds with the suggested Rancièrian set of ideas. Most of the works in
Images of Society. Contemporary Painting follow the line of thinking of a conflict between politics related to and concerned with the social sphere, as thematised in the works, but at the same time encountering the politics of the social cultural context in which they were produced. Hence, in Rancièrian terms the lines between spectator and stakeholder, the sensible and the intelligible, art and politics, fade, enabling a discourse in which hierarchies within communication become irrelevant. According to Rancière’s definition of the Sensible communication is no longer pertinent to a system of truth and lies but offers possibilities of examining and observing that operate across the grain from usual narrations. So do the exhibited paintings, as they question an an encounter with the social sphere in a medium, to which the comeback of Realism was heavily attributed in recent art history. However, the relationship between image and its application on the canvas is one that – exposed inside the gallery walls – no longer awaits reality to position against it, or attack it; more so, the works depict tendencies of reality, in some cases proposing changes, but in no cases executing them through their own medium. They remain tendentious, as Walter Benjamin would have called it.
In a similar way does the curatorial approach, as some critics have emphasized, arguing that political matters remain in the realm of re-presenting social motives, rather than presenting an encounter with them. However, this could have been the intention, one that is a subtle, but no less provocative, if contemporary painting is understood as re-investigating its relationship with realism, which implies a comment on the existing characteristics of social reality and their politics, which are themselves tendentious. In this sense, the exploration of the relationship between painting to society was a fruitful one, communicating against the established narration, insofar as remaining within the boundaries of contextualising political issues, not raising new ones.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Cy Twombly, Three Notes From Salalah. The grand opening of Gagosian Gallery Rome (or La Dolce Vita gets diabetes) - by Valentina Ravaglia

15 December 2007

For months, the specialized press had been wondering what exactly had led Larry Gagosian to open his seventh gallery in Rome. Why spend a huge sum to restore an entire palace, only a few steps from piazza Barberini, to open a massive showcase in a city that has very little interest in contemporary art and a totally marginal space in the international market? The answer is irritatingly simple: as Gagosian himself has declared, he’s just always loved Rome and thought, why not? I’ll do it just because I can. Just for the sake of it. And, of course, for the sake of publicity.

An aura of secrecy and glamourous lure had surrounded the whole operation, in a well calculated market strategy that worked particularly well in the spleen of the Capital of ruins. Until three weeks before the actual opening of the space, no one even knew what the inaugural show would have been. The local gallerists were terrified, as if Tony Hawks had just nonchalantly entered an amateur skateboarding contest. And in fact, the city shook at his arrival as it had seldom done before. The Mayor and the Minister of Cutural (In)Activities showed up in the afternoon to bow in front of King Larry, offering him Gold, Incense and any archeological site he may want to use to run his projects, which will undoubtedly enrich the cultural life of the City and of the Nation (has anyone even told them he’s an art dealer? Do your asslicking with a little more discretion, for chrissake). The entire street was closed to the traffic, a micro-army of policemen and security staff was drawn up on the site to enforce a zero tolerance policy on gatecrashers. The last time something like this has happened, it was when Mussolini borrowed a bunch of backdrops from Cinecittà to cover the slums from the sight of his friend Adolf, driving through Rome for an official visit.

The crowd of randomly gathered starlets, botox-faced mistresses, presentialist celebrities and other socialites seemed to have no idea what exactly they were there for. Everyone raved about the instant-classic oval room, and at times someone even tried to say something about the new Twombly series that was hanging in there almost as an excuse for conversation - small talk that local journalists managed to publish as malicious “rumours on the X million dollar Twomblys”. Truth is that Three Notes from Salalah is an intense cycle, as lyrical and compelling as ever; maybe a little mannered, true, but still in the manner of a great master that manages to reinvent himself after nearly 60 years of pure visual poetry.

In the meantime, a minority of collectors and art savvy people were trying to make sense of the logistics of that sort of tragicomic carnival, in order to finally get to the official networking area, also known as “the bar”. With a rather subtle coup de théatre, the refreshments were served in the garage-like basement of the palace (I am still unsure whether that wanted to look like some form of radical chic warehouse style interior design or if the construction workers were simply behind schedule with the renewal), where the aforementioned herd of socialites found itself totally stuck, as the invigilators, for some misterious reason, wouldn’t allow anyone to go back into the gallery space. “I am afraid you will have to go out and re-enter through the main door, miss”. Fine. Let’s hope at least the dinner will be less painful.

If I ended up actually enjoying the dinner quite a lot, it is only because it was so bizarre that I frankly couldn’t help finding it quite amusing. As a friend commented, the space where the gala dinner was served inside Palazzo Barberini looked “very Eyes Wide Shut”, with black velvet on the walls and an eclectic combination of candelabra, opulent tables covered in culinary decadence and Philip Stark chairs. The evening simply couldn’t get any more Fellinian that that.

After all, such exploits ought to be recognized as an integral part of what having Gagosian animate the roman art scene means. I am not sure whether he himself expected such a display of provincialism from the local bourgeoisie, press, politicians and art professionals - at least the ones who perceived him as a threat rather than as a positive chance to finally shake things around a bit -, but he undoubtedly received all the attention he had planned on getting.

Dear frustrated gallerists, dear so-called art writers and journalists, let poor Larry fulfill his little dream of having his own white palace in the eternal city. What’s wrong with that? If you have nothing better to do than talk about his grand opening as the event of the decade, it’s definitely not his fault. And whatever hidden strategical reason he may have, it really shouldn't shock anyone, considering the current state of the art system. Things seem to be finally changing for Rome's contemporary art scene, with new museum wings, young galleries, Gagosian, and the first “real” season of art fairs seeing the light at the end of February. The direction this change will take, though, is still quite hard for me to forecast.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Rousseau, Rancière and Hugh Fernley Whittingstall

7th, 8th, 9th January, 2008, Channel 4, 9pm
Written by Robert Dingle

The horse, the cat, the bull and even the donkey are generally larger in size and have a more robust constitution, more energy, strength and spiritedness than they do under our roofs.
Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s Chicken Out campaign is a call to adopt a more ethical approach towards poultry farming with regards to meeting increasing consumer demands within the market. In light of recent success, over the past several years, getting people to switch eggs from battery hens to free range (27% of egg production now coming from free range farms), Whittingstall’s experiment addresses the pressure poultry farmers are under to produce domestic fowl as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

Based in a shed in Axeminster, Whittingstall’s Chicken Out experiment recreates the conditions of battery farmed chickens in one end, and free-range at the other (both following regulations and guidelines set by the British agriculture ministry). Everyday the experiment was filmed and recorded, from the weeks of preparation involved in installing equipment up to the moment when the chickens would be ready to go to the slaughter house. What the experiment showed was that intensively reared chickens often meant birds with shorter lives, living in cramped conditions without ever seeing natural daylight. On top of this they would commonly develop sever injuries and disabilities, associated with unnaturally fast weight gain and restricted movement.1 In contrast, the free-range chickens experienced none of these illnesses, playing with brightly colored toys and spending between 8 – 10 hours outside everyday.

Throughout the experiment Whittingstall invited local residents from Axeminster, supermarket executives, members of the press, poultry farmers and a BBC television crew to come and experience the conditions within his experiment.

This type of inequality, relating to the conditions in which poultry is farmed (intensive and free-range), can be related directly to the economic and informative inequality among consumers. This dialectic offers Whittingstall the basis for his inquiry and relates to a general understanding of the term ‘inequality’, which Jean-Jacques Rousseau provides us with.

The human species has, I think, two sorts of inequality: the one I call natural or physical because it is established by nature, and consists of differences in age, health, physical strength, and traits of the mind or soul; the other kind we can call moral or political inequality. This inequality consists of the various privileges that some persons enjoy at the expense of others – such as being wealthier, more honored, and more powerful than others.
Rousseau, Discourses on Inequality

Supermarkets currently offer poultry farmers 3pence per chicken and if a healthy chicken does not make the correct weight it is automatically slaughtered. Responding to consumer demands, supermarkets are forcing poultry farmers to raise more birds, in worse conditions, for less money. Whittingstall believes that, not only are the production methods unethical and the quality of meat much lower, but the only way for change is to alter consumer demands, thus forcing supermarkets to adopt a policy in line with consumer attitudes.

Whittingstall acts to identify a current issue that is out of the public consciousness. He creates numerous campaigns to bring it into the public eye: working with locals in Axeminister to provide them with chickens for their allotments. Demonstrating how to be more economic with poultry (making two separate meals from one bird). Implementing changes to convert the suffering cafeteria of Axeminister’s largest employer into a green canteen. Demonstrating the stark contrast in current poultry farming methods. Inviting all Axeminister residents to a public talk about the experiment and current poultry production methods in the UK. Initiating a campaign to convert Axeminister into the first free-range town.

Whittingstall, in Ranciere’s term, acts in a sense, to re-distribute the sensible by indentifying an issue, creating a public and giving it a voice within the public sphere. His campaign has acted to change the public sphere, not alone but through a joint effort with Jamie Oliver, they have managed to influence specific supermarkets into making agreements regarding better labeling and setting dates to stop endorsing intensively farmed poultry.

This is chef acting activist. As Walter Benjamin identifies the author as producer to be an ‘operating writer’, whose mission ‘is not to report but to struggle, not to play spectator but to intervene actively.’ We see Whittingstall discarding his apron, Grande Toque and Judge Sabatier to become an animal rights activist, protesting, educating and demonstrating for a cause with a need to change.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Keith Tyson - Sophie Risner

Keith Tyson

Studio Wall Drawings 1997 - 2007

21.11.07 - 05.01.08

Haunch of Venison

6 Haunch of Venison Yard

'The Studio Wall Drawing exists in a space somewhere between a map, a poem, a diary and a painting'

Keith Tyson

The very nature of Tyson's most recent exhibition at the Haunch of Venison Gallery is something of a visual totem pole to the treasure trove of ideas and mechanisms that explode within Tyson's constantly irritated mind. In total we bare witness to 55 large framed pieces exhibited in a tirelessly over worked format onto freshly painted brown walls. Whilst the ground and first floor take a very specific position as predictably curated illustrative moments, the second floor is more intelligently worked. Placed directly next to each other the result is the creation of something tangibly close to representing Tyson's thought process and fear of specificity. Unlike the ground and first floor here, we have wall-to-wall Tyson. The Haunch of Venison's largest and most powerful space is dominated by the illustrator and turned into a shrine symbolizing thought made process. Tyson is certainly not an artist terrorized by procrastination as more than anything this show serves to isolate and belittled the spectator by the shear strength of Tyson’s illustrative command.

'The thing that keeps me awake the most at night, I have no doubt, is a very general terror of the specificity of things'

Keith Tyson

Here we find the main mechanism in understanding Tyson's feverish work ethic. His mode of representation is not one that finds harmony in the possibilities of subtly nor is he agreeable with an end product formulated by days or months of sifting and specifying. Tyson is an artist who wants you to bare witness to it all. The layering of ideas and irritations make up a complex poetry that demands hours to unpick. Mysticism is redundant in exploring Tyson’s path, almost walked over by years of negotiating the same artistic medium, it is evident that it is not the expanding of process that is key to Tysons work but moreover the expanding of the mind.

To expand on this intricate moment there has to become a moment of indulgence. Tyson is master of indulgence, most artists slave away forming a creation that at least heads in the direction of a conclusion, but with Tyson there is no fear of that, moreover the terror that Tyson brings us is the fear of conclusion itself. Shattering mere observation Tyson pulls at his thoughts to leave complexity in his wake. Problem in this expansion is not that it happens but that it serves to only create a hectic representation of an artist who seems unsure of his abilities, to counter what you think and produce is to criticize your approach whereas here Tyson merely embellishes his. The resistance to head towards conclusion makes this work often un-penetrable and predictable. So as I head towards my own conclusion I can’t help but question Tyson’s fear of specificity, does the fear of leaving out only mean that there becomes more room to put in?