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.