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