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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