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In Toronto: Nuit Blanche with David Yu

This was my first time attending Nuit Blanche Toronto
and I was determined to make the most of the event. I speak of  Nuit Blanche in formal terms: event, festival, etc.. but really for those who do not know – Nuit Blanche is a one-night only art party with dramatic interactive art works taking over the entire downtown core of Toronto.

Actually Nuit Blanche is not a homegrown event. Toronto appropriated the concept of the "white night" from the original event in Nantes, France. Now Nuit Blanche events have spread across the globe under different monikers, but still hold true to one common goal:  to create art happenings that transform and take a city hostage for one night. The transformative experience and party-like atmosphere widens the audience to contemporary artwork as well as gives artists the chance to work in sites and venues not normally available.

As soon as I stepped on to the subway platform making my way to the central areas of downtown Toronto -where most of the projects were taking place - I was aware of the impact that this event has created. My subway car was filled to beyond capacity, the atmosphere excited, the chatter reflected anticipation of experiencing “weird” and “fun” art experiences. Really?... was I hearing this correctly or was this a symptom of having my private spatial bubble so far invaded that my mind has finally collapsed and I have officially started to loose it? It must have been the way that the city of Toronto has advertised Nuit Blanche as an all night art party that has contributed to this overwhelming interest in fine art.

The Feast of Trimaichio in Queens Park was my first stop. The nine channel symphonic video was an amazing visual set amongst the dark park where it was installed. The screens surrounded the audience in an enclosed space where they were treated to overly sumptuous visuals of beautiful people working out on treadmills, lounging in digitally crafted ostentation, and creating actions that point to a sexually charged nature. The pace of the work was perfectly edited giving enough away to allow for our MTV trained minds to “get it”.

In the middle of Yonge St was Athea Thauburger’s The Police Station. This performance seemed to be a direct response to the police action suffered by Toronto during the G8 summit. Performers dressed as police officers raided the crowds and arrested people under an unspecified profile. The police would all explode out of their make shift station and canvas the street rounding up people that fit their profile. Naturally, confusion and noncompliance ensued. The work was edgy, especially since the performer cum police officers looked very real. To put it starkly Toronto lost faith in the Toronto Metropolitain Police Unit after G8 and Thauburger’s work asks us to explore how we as a society can be “policed” when there is no transparency of the law that is outlined to us.

L’echo – l’eau by Richard Purdy was based inside the MaRs Center where Purdy created a  two inch pool with logs. Viewers were invited to walk along the water barefooted and navigate logs placed within the walking path. This experience was one of the biggest anti-climaxes of the night. The line was miles long by the time I arrived for this installation. The experience of walking the logs barefoot in water didn't create a profound experience shift. There was no epiphany reached. I do get that it was about the slight gesture of experiencing this phenomena and Purdy was literally asking usto get our feet wet within an art experience. The work just did not live up to the scope that it could have been.

(Image: Christine, Irving, Heart Machine (installationn view Toronto, Oct 2011). Courtesy of Derek Flack @ BlogTo)

On the other hand, Heart Machine by Toronto artist Christine Irving lived up to its promise absolutely. The sheer fact that this sculpture debuted at the Burning Man festival set the tone: fire and a whole lot of it. Making my way down the street, I could tell I was close from the frequent explosions of fire reflecting off the offices surrounding the parking lot where Heart Machine was installed. It seemed as though a piece of Burning Man had fallen into the centre of Toronto. A truck with turn tables parked beside the work provided a 1990’s drum and base rave vibe. Ravers wearing fun fur, ruffs, and animal ears were dancing everywhere; there was more fluorescent than one can shake a glow stick at. The energy was up with people cheering and entranced by the explosions of fireballs. Not giving away anything of my past, the experience was super-authentic. It was fun, free flowing and infectious.

Completely juxtaposing the frenetic action in Heart Machine was Isabelle Hayfur’s calm video installation Ascension at the Metropolitan United Church. There is something about the architecture of churches that creates a sense of somber calm. The work projected an endless pathway of archways mimicking the the interior of the church. A resonating tone reverberated throughout the chapel increasing in intensity until it reached its crescendo where the video slowly blurred into a half-light and half darkness oblivion. The inescapable ideas of life and death combined with the location made this piece very succinct.

(Image: Tibi Tibi Neuspiel & Geoffrey PugenThe Tie-break, (installation view Toronto, October 2011). Courtesy Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto)

Two of the best events in Nuit Blanche this year were situated literally side by side on the festival map. Tie Break was a performance by Geoffery Pugeon and Tibi Tibi Neuspiel where they reenacted the tie-breaking tennis match between John MacEnroe and Bjorn Borg during the fourth set in the 1980 Wimbledon finals. The performance was supposed to be a stroke per stroke replay of the exact match. Here, the instant reply was transformed into a nostalgic performance. A great side to this performance was the involvement of the audience as a third performer within the work, as both performers and audience engaged in this fanciful time warp.

(Image: Iain Forsyth and Jane PollardSoon, (installation view Toronto October 2011). Courtesy Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto)

Moving on, I came upon Iain Forsyth's and Jane Pollard's intense installation titled Soon.  Several spotlights searched an enclosed courtyard area surrounded by tall office buildings. Sounds of helicopters and deep tones projected into the enclosed space created an air of anxiety. Viewers within the space were tracked by spotlights crisscrossing and searching, the beams of light enhanced and exaggerated by rising smoke caused by fog machines installed throughout the entire courtyard. The installation kept viewers on edge by the controlled theatrical chaos where one can enter and be completely caught up within the drama of spectacle.

Nuit Blanche Toronto was an amazing experience. The artwork saturated the entire downtown core. It allowed viewers to re-explore, re-discover their own city again. Even public artworks that were not on the festival map were given special attention by art seekers. I literally witnessed people posing for photographs beside public pieces of art that have been installed for decades. The night challenged the city to be involved, to interact with the work and event, and to view public spaces in entirely new ways. At 5am I was on my way home happily exhausted, mentally stimulated, and art rich.

~David Yu, a writer living in Toronto

(Top 2 images: AES+F, The Feast of Trimalchio, 2009-2011; Courtesy Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto and  Image on homepage: Courtesy of

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 10/24/11

Looking for Enlightenment at the Venice Biennale

Apart from the alternate appeal of the national pavilions at the Giardini and the unavoidably touristy city of Venice, the main show at the Arsenale is what I look forward to the most, every time I visit the Biennale. The main reason is I like the idea of a main show with a theme and a title, with its own rhythm – which is also why I don't like art fairs: apart from the clutter of average-looking artworks that clogs your aesthetic perception five minutes in, there is just no story behind it. Following someone's narration, sticking to some kind of perspective, that's a real challenge.

I hope you will forgive me, then, if instead of focusing on what I thought were the highs and the lows of one of the biggest and most articulate art events in the world (as others have already done better than me by now) I will merely try and share my two cents about what I felt were the main differences between Bice Curiger's vision, the current ILLUMInations show, and Daniel Birnbaum's, the 2009 Making Worlds show.

As I reported for Ymag two years ago, Making Worlds reflected the increasing interest of the art community in architecture, along with issues like world development and sustainability. From its very title, a quote from analytic philosopher Nelson Goodman, that Biennale was a celebration of intellectual effort, an often future-oriented, rational vision of world making.

Bice Curiger's show has a different feel to it, meaning it seems to be much more about feeling, rather than thinking. Instead of building new worlds, the artists this year seem to be more concerned in exploring the old ones, digging through the layers of the past and their own personal memory. This is clear at the Giardini chapter of ILLUMInations, featuring paintings by Tintoretto and a psychedelic revisitation of traditional vedute by Pipilotti Rist, but also in the meta-pavilions by Song Dong and Franz West. The Chinese artist's work – a labyrinthine installation reproducing his childhood home through an architectural patchwork of old doors and panels – definitely contrasts with Yona Friedman's similarly aggregative approach from the previous Biennale: the former embodies a dialogue with the past, the latter a proliferating process involving scrap materials and legitimating itself in its own making. Like Dong, West also recreates a personal environment: his Viennese kitchen-studio, which for the occasion – unlike the functional Biennale café that earned Tobias Rehberger a Golden Lion in 2009 – is repurposed to host artworks by other artists.

Another subtler juxtaposition we could make is between the color-changing corridor by Cildo Meireles, from Making Worlds, and this year's installation by James Turrell. The former was a spatially divided transition across a well organized color palette, a walk through a physical architecture where each space sequentially related to the previous and the following one. The latter, instead, is rather a non-space, an experience of  - supposed, alleged, as you prefer - perceptual and spiritual elevation, achieved by immobility and seamless chromatic transition.

I could make similar comparisons between national pavilions as well – the wood installation in this year's Russian pavilion, evoking a certain wearing effect of time, versus Liam Gillick's more aseptic and analytical use of the same material in the German pavilion, two years ago – but then we would get caught up in the personal narrative of each artist, which is not what I wanted to do here.

Overall, I had the feeling Curiger's show was – predictably, I guess – more feminine than Birnbaum's, at least more about those things that are most commonly associated with femininity – feeling, sensitivity, memory, and so on.

If Making Worlds was about conquering the future, using artworks to plan the changing of the world, ILLUMInations starts from a rather traditional notion of art: a life-changing inspiration. Of course such light cannot be shed by art alone, but a good piece can reflect that light. And it's the case of Monica Bonvicini's melancholic intervention in the last room of the exhibition, where the neon lights and the mirror staircases are appropriately accompanied by the song “La musica è finita.” And by the glimmering of the sunlight on the canal water, somehow reflected onto the room's walls from the outside.

~Nicola Bozzi, a writer living in Amsterdam.

(Images: James Turrell, Ganzfeld APANI, 2011; Monica Bonvincini, 15 Steps to the Virgin, 2011; Song Dong, Para-Pavilion, 2011; Cildo Meireles, Pling Pling, 2009; Tobias Rehberger, Biennale Café, 2009.)


Posted by ArtSlant Team on 10/24/11

From Paris: On Heels and Other Highs by Frances Guerin

On September 15th I celebrated my 5th-year anniversary in Paris.

I moved here temporarily, with all intentions of returning to London after six months. I meet so many Americans who come through Paris in search of a dream: “what brought you to Paris?” I ask, always interested in what makes people move countries, move cultures, and choose to live in a different language, on a different continent. What motivates people to live on the outside, as a foreigner in a city that insists on reminding us we don’t belong? I would say that 90% of the time, the answer to my question is, quite simply, “I always wanted to live here, it was my dream.” But of course, life in Paris is not like it looks. It may be the most beautiful city in the world, but the city is not kind to everyone who comes here and looks to it for elegance, charm and a world of romantic make believe.

I ended up here by default, and so I have few expectations and certainly don’t have a dream awaiting realization. And together with that, I am more or less content to be an étrangère, not to belong, to create an identity somewhere around the edges of a city that, in its own way, nevertheless welcomes diversity. I think of myself as different, not Parisian, and have no real desire to ever be. And then that belief gets shattered when I have visitors from America who hold up a mirror that reflects all of the American ways that I have already shed, all of the Parisian rituals that I am always in the process of adopting. Yesterday, I sat with an American friend in a café discussing high heels. My friend was amazed at the number of women who strut through the streets of Paris, across the cobblestones, up and down the stairs of the metro, and of course, who ride bikes in anything up to 5 or 6 inch heels. Wedges, stilettos, chunky or razor thin, it doesn’t matter.

(Image: Frances & Jen in heels. Photo © Maria Aragon)

It had never occurred to me that high heels could even be a source of intrigue, or that wearing them was something women might not do all over the world. Since I have been in Paris I have begun to wear high heels, but I always thought I was merely keeping up with changing fashion, rather than adopting the cultural norms of the city. I have heels of different heights, different shapes, all the way from designer stilettos I only wear to a party or a dinner that I can travel to by bike, to Mary Janes from DSW that I wear day in, day out. The minute I have to walk in my designer high heels, I am in trouble: I may wear heels, but unlike the women walking in and out of Yves Saint Laurent on Avenue George V, I haven’t yet mastered the art of mobility in stilettos. The uneven stairs of my 18th century apartment building are as far as I go. I manage to wear 5 or 6 inch wedges to the library, but not stilettos because of the spaces between the panels of wood decking that I cross to get from bike station to library entrance. For every activity I have a different height in heels. And for every surface I tread in Paris, there is a different kind of heel.

In the mornings I often feel as though I am on a stage when I go running down Boulevard Richard Lenoir: men stare, children point, the dogs all run towards me. It is as though they have never seen a runner, or sometimes I wonder if it’s the attire that attracts attention – shorts and running singlets are perhaps too revealing for the demure Parisians. Whatever it is that has all heads turn as I run through the streets, the same cannot be said for women in high heels. In spite of the absurdity of wearing high heels in a city that is best navigated on foot, the heads turn with desire not incredulity as women of all social strata, from mothers with babies, through shopgirls, to the rich and famous on Avenue Montaigne parade the streets, usually with confidence, but at times with what looks to be painful difficulty, in the highest of heels. And while only the homeless people on Boulevard Richard Lenoir dare talk to me in my running shoes, when in heels, conversations abound.

In French, heels share their word with the claws of a bird of prey. Les talons are appropriately termed as the symbol of Paris’s performance of heterosexuality. For high heels are the mark of a city in which men admire women, constantly, especially in heels. And they are a mark of a city where women, acutely aware of their femininity, typically minimize that admiration. With their large talons, women can loom over their diminutive French men, just as the female eagle overpowers her male. But whether Parisian women's power is, like their city, anything more than a visual appearance, I am not sure. What I am sure of is that in the mirror of my American friends visiting Paris, I see that after five years, I may not always be as different as I think I am. I may not yet eat the top off the baguette as I walk down the street, and I may insist on breaking form by running through the streets in the morning, and I may turn heads by laughing out loud in restaurants, but in my heels I have succumbed to their ways and perhaps, momentarily, might pass for a Parisian.

And since it's Fiac week in Paris, and the beautiful crowd is all afoot, I will celebrate my anniversary with a visit to Galeries Lafayette.

--Frances Guerin, a writer and film historian living in Paris

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 10/17/11

In London: East-West Divide by Daniel Barnes

As a professional devotee of the East London art scene, I found myself transported into another world when I went for a wander around the private views in Cork Street W1. Private views are a staple of the art world: galleries open their doors after hours and provide drinks so that artists, curators, gallerists, critics and audiences can meet. Beyond this standard, however, there is a divide between East and West London galleries which reveals an art world replete with difference and rich in opportunity.

The London art world as we know it today is relatively new, having evolved in seemingly organic and unstoppable fashion over the last two decades. Nowadays, especially in the East and increasingly in the South, it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without happening upon a commercial gallery, a complex of studios, a pop-up event or an artist-run collective. But, as Gregor Muir recounts with apocalyptic zeal in his Lucky Kunst, before the explosion of British contemporary art headed by the YBAs, London was a provincial backwater of the artworld.  

There is a palpable energy to East London, where people are eager and passionate about their practice and always flexing their entrepreneurial muscles to sell work, ideas and visions. The East London scene blends the seriousness of commercial galleries with the playful opportunism of artist-run initiatives like open studios in Hackney Wick, and it accommodates the full spectrum of artists from the emerging to the established.  Private views in the area are manifold and of varied quality in terms of work exhibited, crowds attracted and drinks served, but they all have a unifying vibe about them. Whether it is a private view at an established gallery like White Cube, Maureen Paley or Carl Freedman, or an altogether more gritty affair as those on Redchurch Street or in someone’s studio, private views out East are networking events as much as anything else.

It hardly matters who you are or whether anyone knows (or should know) you, people talk to people at these events because the mutually accepted purpose is not to see the art, or at least not to buy it, but to hunt down the next big thing. Artists look for shows, commissions and buyers; gallerists look for artists and buyers; curators look for artists and galleries; critics look for assignments and collaborations, and so on. The whole thing is a welter of rampant self-promotion, a thriving mass of ideas, ambitions, desires and talents.

One thing that delights me is the freedom and informality of these private views. There is no sense that anything is off limits: you can drink as much as the free bar has capacity for, and you can attempt to strike up a conversation with anyone, even Tracey Emin (although my experience of that has proved awkward). You are free to flash your business card around and drone on about your latest earth shattering project as if nothing else matters, and people will generally listen politely and then reciprocate. Since I am not one to dress for occasions, owning as I do only one good shirt and no suit, I find it comforting that these events have no dress code; you can turn up looking as scruffy or prim or as eccentric as you like.

From Hoxton and Shoreditch to Bethnal Green and Hackney, the East art scene creates a comfortable bubble with more art than you could ever possibly consume. So imagine my surprise when I ventured out of my safe zone and into the more sedate and formal world of Mayfair private views.

In West London, the first thing to note is that the galleries – without exception – are utterly pristine, sterile white boxes with designer furniture and the art all laid out like precious treasures. It is not uncommon, out East, to find a painting placed on the floor against the wall because there is no space to hang it, a bar to be created from an undressed trestle table or for the only seating to be a few mismatched chairs that look like they were reclaimed from a skip. No such slapdash informality is tolerated on Cork Street, however, where bars are dressed with linen table cloths, no one would dream of sitting, and artworks are meticulously hung with vast spaces in between works.

The people, too, are radically different, not least indicated by the fact that the West London private views only serve wine in glistening glasses. All the men are dressed in suits, some in business suits and others in trendy variations thereof, while the women wear cocktail dresses or something similar. Everyone who is British speaks impeccable BBC English, and they all kiss and hug the continental way. They are older, too, than the crowd I am accustomed to; hardly anyone – apart from the bafflingly affluent gallery staff – is below middle age.

These people also appear to already know each other. Nobody seems to talk to strangers, unless they are expressly introduced by a mutual party, and they don’t talk about art. They talk about their children and families, their holidays, their hobbies – simply banal things that you think they could have saved for the aisles in Waitrose. Rather than the opportunistic networking events of East London, the private views in West London come off as socially-driven events where one merely has to make an appearance.

So on my sojourn that evening, I turned up looking quite as I normally do – in skinny jeans, a Primark shirt and decrepit plimsolls – and instantly felt grossly underdressed and violently out of place. At one point, a high-ranking member of the gallery staff spoke to me. Initially we talked about the art, although she seemed impatient once she decided I was neither a buyer nor a somebody.

This is not what I had come to expect. I have been given to expect an inclusive environment where ideas are exchanged and art is discussed freely, where people are welcoming and open, and where they are at least willing to pretend that art matters more than anything in the world. It is worth mentioning that I saw some good art in West London that night, but that is not the point. The point I am making is that I found London’s art world polarised along geographical as well as social, ideological and intellectual lines. The discovery of this difference does not discourage me from going out West again but only warns me to be prepared by taking a well-to-do friend and dressing for the occasion.

~Daniel Barnes, a writer living in London.

(Images: Personal photo courtesy of Daniel Barnes; A typical scene outside a private view on Vyner Street; Courtesy Sweet and Sound; An interior view of a West London gallery space; Courtesy OLX)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 10/10/11

20121011082642-baldiey it's called class war, Dan
or if not class war, the fact is that London is extremely divided by social class and that's even reflected in the art world. Having said that, we are tired of some of the slapdashery of the East End scene where to be grimy and toss the art about is accepted as a bit "cool". And we're particularly tired to the way that here "out east" too many people use exhibitions as a chance for a p**-up. Finding vomit outside the space isn't really a nice finissage to a good show. We're trying to reach some kid of midpoint between the ethics and aesthetics of east and west, on a zero budget, mind! .....
20111030224846-me_-_vin 'Always like this' .......... Leon
Yea unto the middle ages my friend ............. we just have to keep trying to ring the changes that will bring about the vision of art as seen by Joseph Beuys ............ where we will at last be free to exchange ideas and our words and pictures without fear or prejudice . and perhaps this has always been the quest of the artist ...........

An Odyssey: In Athens with Himali

I am at the crossroads of Sophocleous and Athinas: seek the truth and gain your wisdom. A bronze statue of a man in a tail coat and cravat looks like Socrates, and I converse with him about the paradox of knowledge. On Aristotelous Street, I imagine a large-scale unity of time, place and action. In the distance, the Acropolis hangs above these streets like the form of Time above a city of clocks. To land in a historic civilization of Philosophy is a lofty task at the least: my eye searches for the Form in the Reality, the Mystic in the Reason. 

Yes, only in Athens could clothing stores be mistaken for gods. Here, Zara may well be the sister of Aphrodite, and Gucci, Apollo's attendant. Even the graffiti on street corners is tagged 'Chaos.' I spend my first day here wandering the Parthenon, leaving a coin at the gates of Zeus, imagining that when I arrive at my friend Haris' house (an artist and a friend from college), the walls will be covered in books by Plato and blueprints of Byzantine architecture and maps of the Christian cosmos.

Instead, I arrive at a dining table soaked in color: green beans, okra, lettuce, feta cheese, tomatoes, olives, lamb cakes, carrot stew, potato chips, multigrain breads, eggplants layered with minced goat meat, and a dessert of almost obsessively rolled baklavas covered in pistachios. Haris' whole household awaits my arrival. Her dogs bark, her parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, grandmothers talk fast, loudly, hugging and kissing each other, boasting about Greece and its ruins between unabashed conversations about jealous boyfriends and gossipy wives, pretty necklaces and embroidery and gardening and siestas.  

As I fall asleep into the crisp air of the bulbous cypress trees, I imagine the Scales of Justice, weighing the lofty ideas of Greek philosophers and playwrights and everyday, modern life on another. Which one rises? The dining table, in all its pomp and fare, seemed starkly at odds with its more stoic, intellectual past. 

A contemporary rendition of Hercules Menomenos at the Petra Theatre depicts this weight perfectly. The story follows a traditional Aristotelian pyramid structure, tracing the life of Hercules, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, his image of heroism and his desire to make his first born, king. The story reveals his thirst for power which leads to a madness that makes him kill his wife and children. When he realizes what he has done, he repents. 

The tale is told entirely in Greek, but I am riveted, not only because of the setting, which mimics the old Dionysian and Herode theater, but also because of the postmodernist, absurd, fragmented rendition of the narration. The men are in business attire, the set is stark, the women wear secretary clothes (with an intermittent entrance by a woman wearing a naked suit). There is an accordion, a lute and a trumpet that lend the story its lyric Chorus quality. They seem irreverent to the history of theatre, and yet the looming rocks in the back provide perspective into man's size amid the grandness of nature, and the central stone on the stage becomes a point of wisdom, where only the elderly in the cast step, and where Hercules experiences his final repentance. 

He can no longer look at the ruin he has caused, and the light of reality (and in this case the stage) is harsh in his face. He asks to be enveloped in a white sheet, which begins to resemble the white reconstruction sheet at the Parthenon, and when revealed from underneath, he is restored, anew. 

And so is the reconciliation between now and then. The old is, in some ways, being restored here. The foundation is the same, the aesthetic base one of a deep condolence with theism. The deep bloodline of philosophy seems to be embedded in the boisterousness of modern Greece. For Aristotle, happiness was not a state of being but a way of living that expresses all we are meant to be. When we live fully, we feel joy.

Here, the modern family's nature is not opposed to the gravity of the country's intellectual past, instead the past informs the now. Even the flag's nine stripes, which is being waved so often in Greece's current economic crisis situation, represent the nine muses of art and civilization, while the colors blue and white represent the sky and the clouds, the ocean and its foamy waves. Somehow the scales between Ideas and Actuality do not tip one way or the other, and perhaps this is because of my conversation with Socrates, him in a cravat, me in jeans, who taught me that the paradox of knowledge is the awareness that knowledge is infinite, we are finite, and thus, it can never be fully consumed. For now, a plate of feta and tomatoes and a story of a jealous boyfriend will have to suffice.

~Himali Singh Soin, a writer living in India.

(Photos: Athens, by Martin Gevonden; Central Market, Athens, Greece, by madlyinlovewithlife; Theatre at sunset, by Sally Taylor.  All images under Creative Commons license.)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 10/3/11 | tags: Classical Athens traditional graffiti/street-art modern

Children in Galleries: Love 'em or hate 'em

Children in galleries are a bit like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.  To some, they are unbiased viewers of art, the perfect receptacles for knowledge, waiting to be bitten by the art bug.  To others, they are tiny terrors invading the personal space and peace of everyone around them. 

I remember being trapped in a room at the first Museum of Everything show in Primrose Hill, surrounded by screaming brats and vowing that I would never let my hypothetical children ruin anyone else’s quiet Sunday afternoon.  Recently, however, I’ve started changing my mind and the René Magritte show at Tate Liverpool reminded me why.

Art used to be sacred, the terrain of the rich, religious and aristocratic.  Now it has to be accessible, non-elitist, always in the public domain and referencing themes we can all identify with.  Art has changed its remit; it no longer has to glorify a deity or demonstrate wealth, and can instead offer a commentary on anything that appeals to the artist. 

In terms of artistic development, this broadening of scope is wonderful.  However, when it comes to how the gallery space reacts to the speed of developments, questions are raised as to how far to push the boundaries, especially for those of us who still believe art to be sacred. 

Even now, galleries tend to be visited in hushed tones, but should this awe-struck, respectful silence be replaced by music, for instance, or – even worse – dominated by conversation?  Similarly, should children by allowed to run free or should they be taught that art deserves their best behaviour?  Does it indeed deserve ours?

It seems as though the type of show you visit determines the approaches of those around you.  Tracey Emin’s show at the Hayward Gallery, for example, screamed its content at the viewer and was intermittently filled with the artist’s own voice through a series of video works.  This encouraged visitors to discuss the pieces on display in much more than a whisper, although this may have been because many found the show controversial, if not offensive. The Magritte exhibition, in contrast, displayed work that set itself apart from the viewer, and as a result the show was practically silent, pierced only by the opinions of the offspring of two visiting families. 

The overwhelming feeling you got from watching these kids run from painting to painting, pointing out the bits they liked to their parents, was that they weren’t intimidated by their surroundings.  They did not even register that everyone else was quiet.  They were having a great time and they will most probably go on to associate art galleries with fun.  How many adults do that?

I love the grandeur of institutions like the Royal Academy and the elitism of Mayfair, where you feel special for frequenting such beautiful places.  I even love the achingly hip snobbishness of Shoreditch, which is even worse than West London because an area that's youthful and shabby should logically be more welcoming, even to those of us who look ridiculous in skinny jeans.  The vast majority of these places are visited quietly but, as viewers, we could learn something from those kids.  There is definitely something to be said for expressing the joy derived from engaging with new works of art in the very simplest way: with laughter and a big smile. 

~ Alex Field, a writer living in London.

(Images: Two kids Look at Rothko, AGO, photo by Eric Parker; Art as excercise, Olafur Eliasson's Ventilator, at MoMA, New York, photo by WhatDaveSees; All images used under a Creative Commons license)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 9/22/11 | tags: children

Alex ,Even I like when children look at the paintings or visit the gallery or museum from their childhood then only they will develop the love towards the art . In India we don't have many museum and the parents are least intrested to take their kids in musseum or a art gallery.Thus we should always welcome kids in such places . Thanks Sumita Chakravarti
Alex, I love it when kids look at art! -- especially if their guardians are helping them to enjoy and understand the experience in their own way. My mom used to take my sister and me around to galleries pretty much from the time we could walk and talk. Apparently we preferred Miro and Klee, and used to make up stories about all the "figures" we could find in the paintings:) Now we're lifelong art lovers. -- Andrea in Amsterdam

Downtown Sound: Rhys Chatham at the Kitchen NYC

I had a vaguely patriotic feeling going out on the eve of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The papers had done a good job conveying a maddeningly nebulous public threat, running front-page pictures of our boys-in-blue armed and on the ready. Terrorism, to many, is purely psychological and images are rightly and widely considered among its most effective weaponry. This being the tenth anniversary was, predictably, a big deal; there were major memorial services and an extensively articulated program of pictures organized for commemoration.

I spent the evening ringing in another, older, anniversary; one geared to the ear instead of the eye. The Kitchen, a legendary alternative art space in New York, celebrated its fortieth birthday by inviting Rhys Chatham, founder and director of the Kitchen’s music program, to curate two nights of shows. Chatham followed suit and invited a number of composers who had also been part of the Kitchen’s earliest musical programs.

Jokes were made about the old days, when the floors were hard wood and that’s what you sat on. Most of the audience was, like me, too young to have been there, but laughing politely at the jokes of older generations is just one way of paying your dues, so say certain elders of mine anyway. The house, by the end of Chatham’s welcome, was full.

Chatham titled the event, “Pioneers of Downtown Sound.” My sense of the downtown sound in New York right now comes from disc jockeys in skinny jeans and is for dancing. The pioneers, it turns out, may have been amongst the earliest to produce music with a synthesizer, looping and sampling in the most elemental of ways, but it sure as hell wasn’t for dancing. In fact it fit somewhere between the atonal structures of Philip Glass and the anarchic sound energy of the Ramones.

Laurie Spiegel, a short wiry woman with long brown hair, opened with a recording of her first performance, Harmonic Rhythms, at the Kitchen back in 1971. To create that piece Spiegel used the Buchla 100, a beastly analog synthesizer, rumored to be able to stop a heart if tuned to a certain setting. The recording was raw but potent, like a buzz saw orchestra. Chatham followed with Echoes 1, playing a cornet in Bb and making tremendous use of pedals to loop and warble. The sound had a seventies flavor evocative of Eastern mysticism. It created an atmosphere of alternative movements: skittering, chopping, droning. The sounds seemed to recede and then swell up like a great wave. Chatham called it “biodegradable and macrobiotic.”

Spiegel closed the first set with a piece called A Harmonic Algorithm that fused her favorite bars of Bach with pure Spiegelian sound textures. Despite the fact it all came out of a synthesizer the music had a distinct naturalness to it. Sweeping patters evoked small birds in flight; extended chords became whale calls. The music didn’t seem to progress so much as sway back and forth like the limbs of a great tree in a heavy gale, until a haunting note crept in and the piece boomed with an erumpent closure.

The second set belonged to Tony Conrad. Conrad, a tall fellow with thin-rimmed glasses and tightly cropped snow-white hair, was accompanied by Eli Keszler on drums and Karen Waltuch on viola. Their song, Untitled Performance in D, moved through so many sonic topographies that if mapped it would be more varied than the landscapes of Colorado. Conrad alternated between his violin and a homemade instrument clamped to a table that he referred to only as “the long sting instrument.” This instrument was electrified and playable with a bow or a mallet. At times Conrad plunked away at this deep metallic instrument with his violin still under chin.

The piece began and ended with a pulsing pattern, driven by Keszler, which Conrad and Waltuch seemed to slide around. As the song progressed Waltuch emerged as its backbone, while Conrad plucked and scrapped scumbling notes out of his instruments. Keszler shifted from a dirge-like pound to a pace quicker than a cricket’s heartbeat. At one point he put down his sticks and played the side of his snare drum with a bow, drawing splinters of sliced sound out of his percussion instrument. There was clearly a pattern the trio was moving through, but it was porous, with lots of space to improvise.

Afterwards I rode my bicycle down the west side highway, pedaling in the direction of the big blue memorial beams and listening to this dissonance of passing traffic and lapping river water. The Twin Towers were opened in 1973, two years after Rhys Chatham debuted his musical program at the Kitchen. Forget about forty years ago, Chatham had said, think about forty years from now. What images, what sounds, what stories will survive?

~Charlie Schultz, a writer living in New York.

(Images: The Kitchen, photo by Peter Kirn, Creative Commons license; Rhys Chatham performing at "Pioneers of Downtown Sound" at the Kitchen, 2011, courtesy of the Kitchen, New York; Rhys Chatham at Islington Mill, Salford, 2011, photo by Man Alive!, Creative Commons license.)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 9/18/11 | tags: music performance experimental

On the Bosphorous, Istanbul at sunset

It is difficult to describe the warmth and friendliness of the Istanbullus, and it’s even more difficult to put into words the breathtaking, but somehow heartwrenching commuter ferry ride across the Bosphorous from Karaköy or Eminönü to Kadaköy.

As we travelled from Europe to Asia, across waters that have supported the passing of thousands of years, from Romans to Byzantines, Ottomans to Turks, waters that enabled trade, commerce, and pleasure since the Middle Ages, we slipped with ease into the city’s daily life.

Contemporary Istanbullus are not so different from commuters anywhere; they read the evening paper, talk on cell phones, listen to iPods, watch us with fascination, the intruders to their ancient world. They might stare, but never with any obvious disdain. On the contrary, the man who circulates with tea treated us as he did all the other customers, and two men spoke to us one night as we returned home from Kadaköy after dinner; they were interested in where we came from, what we were doing, how six of us from four different countries could possibly know each other. I was nothing but charmed by the locals of Istanbul.

The city’s magnificent skyline is another story. It’s complicated. As the sun sets, as it rises, and even in its midday intensity, the sun is the exclamation mark that asks us to look at this city over and over again. In fact, the sun and the light over the Bosphorous will ensure that we never look away, that for generations to come like those that have been, we will notice the magic and mystery of a restless, forever unexplained world. As the city’s skyline cuts a dramatic figure against the setting sun, on its way from yellow to orange to red, it is not only eerie and mystical, but also, somehow, devastating. In the serenity onboard, sipping tea, watching the waves as they chop against the side of the ferry, we look at that skyline and we remember the centuries of injustice: the power struggles, occupations, religious persecution, even when the city was at its most powerful. And we wonder where these social imbalances are today, in a city that clearly has other things on its mind.
It is not Christian or Muslim, neither Western nor Arab, filled with synagogues and churches, wanted by no other, yet in good relations with all. It is said that the growing size of the Turkish flags that adorn poles at every possible juncture is the measure of the shame of the Turks, their shame at isolation and rejection despite the grandeur and longevity of their past. The enormous crescent moons and stars have less to do with strength, power and the age of country and culture, and are said to reflect the Turkish need to hide the shame of the people that nobody wants.
In a city filled with dreams and fantasies that are caught by the haze and humidity as it hovers over the skyline, a skyline defined by minarets, mosques, towers and palaces, it’s easy to imagine day to day life might be difficult. And this difficulty is somehow made visible and audible in the very magic of the sun, sea and clouds as they mysteriously fill the sky over the Bosphorous Strait. There is nowhere in this world quite like Istanbul. And there is nothing in Istanbul quite like being on the ferry from Europe to Asia at the end of the day.

~ Frances Guerin, a writer living in Paris.

(Images: Courtesy Frances Guerin)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 9/12/11

I loved your description of Istanbul. I am artist, a Danish painter, who has a studio in Istanbul, in Galata-Tünel area, the socalled Soho of Istanbul. For the time being I am working in my studio in Antioch near the border of Syria. Best regards. Bente Christensen-Ernst.

Berlin: All Hours, No Time

They say when you move your problems move with you. Changing cities won’t make a new you. I know this. But nothing underscores this so well as when you are riding around in the back of a taxicab through the Saturday morning light of Berlin, having left a club that is still going until 7am. I have a bad habit of staying to the bitter end, bars, clubs, wherever. But how do you beat that? To borrow a quote from the comedian Larry Miller, “You don’t defeat the night, the night defeats you.”

“Are you staying until 7?” I asked the cute girl with perfectly straight bangs named Clementine. She was wearing a black t-shirt and black skinny jeans; everyone was wearing black or black with gray or white. I was wearing an ultramarine blue shirt and brown corduroys. Then she rhythmically moved her crossed leg as she watched the crowd dance; she had on low-top Chuck Taylors. Everything was achromatic. The color came from the dancing lights overhead, which were like green lasers and occasionally switched to tiny specks of red arranged like points on a grid. She looked at me, sliver glitter around her eyes. “Yeah. And then maybe to another club.” Because there are clubs that open in the morning when the clubs that are open until morning close.

It was a place of no time. The music was synthetic. There were no lyrics and the bass pulsed. It kept speeding up, slowing down and transforming while still staying the same. And it was amazing; it wasn’t “unlike anything I’d ever heard,” it was like everything I’d ever heard had been filtered so only synthesizers and bass remained. The music, as basic as everyone’s clothing, went on forever in the black box with the green lights. It was eternally that time of night when it stops mattering how late it is and it is just the present tense. Except when I walked outside the sky had changed from black tinged orange by streetlights to a beautiful pearlescent white grey blue.

Berlin is a great place to have fun but it is nearly impossible to get anything done. Left to my own devices I drift into a fucked-up schedule of very late nights and very late mornings (afternoons). Berlin is perfectly conducive to this kind of living. You meet up with some people, go to an art opening. Everyone is smoking and godammit if having one with your beer while standing next one of Josh Kolbo’s Robert-Morris-but-with-photos-instead-of-felt pieces doesn’t seem like the most satisfying thing to do. Then you and your friends are sitting on a graffitied concrete block in a park (none in the city have lights but are strangely still safe at night) drinking a large bottle of Sternberg and smoking Swiss cigarettes called “Fred.” Or you meet up with some other people to go to an opening for a group show at a space operating out of the showroom of an old tile factory, stand outside, drink some more, smoke some more and wonder if you are ever going to get around to reading one of the three books on your self-assigned reading list. Such are the first five days.

Next week is when the fun really starts. Perhaps comparatively dull since it is art-related. Like in art cities the world over it is the beginning of the gallery season. The perennial flagship fair Art Forum Berlin is not going on this year but satellite fairs are continuing anyway. Most promising is “abc art berlin contemporary,” an exposition that exists somewhere between art fair and curated exhibition. This year “abc” centers on painting, and while this sounds a bit drab, artists not known for taking brush to canvas are included, such as Rineke Dijkstra, VALIE EXPORT and Ceal Floyer. Additionally there are about a billion openings. There are too many to name but I am looking forward to quite a few including Shresta Rit Premnath at Nordenhake, Dan Peterman at Klosterfelde and later in the month Cosima von Bonin at Galerie Buchholz.

I am sorry to miss a few things back in Chicago, though. In particular Zachary Cahill’s show at threewalls. His folk-art tchotchke-like sculpture at Roots and Culture in February was hilarious and brilliant in its simplicity—a depiction of Karl Marx reading Barack Obama’s “Dreams of my Father.”

But let’s face it; Berlin is definitely going to be more exciting than being in Chicago.

~Erik Wenzel, artist and senior staff writer living in Berlin.

(Images: Berlin Alexanderplatz; Am Friederichshain at Bötzowstrasse, 5:30 am; Work by Philip Grözinger in I-1 The Artist as Curator's Art at Schau Fenster; Berlin Alexanderplatz seen from Karl-Marx Allee; Courtesy Erik Wenzel)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 9/5/11

ABOUT TO BURST: The Art World’s Intern Bubble

Unpaid Internship. A two-word phrase that makes any young creative cringe. The concept of providing work for free is an unfortunate reality in most every field and is particularly indicative of a troubling larger issue within the artistic community. In an industry that already has a difficult time solidifying the marriage of labor and capital, an expectation like the unpaid internship warps the entire market. What could be a hands-on learning experience often falls flat, discrediting and disheartening the next generation of artists, curators, designers, gallerists, museum directors and critics.

If you are a near or recent college graduate, you spend a lot of time thinking about, fretting over, and searching, searching, searching for a job. NYFA listings run through your head when you can manage to sleep. The feeling of a real job -- one with benefits, a salary, that means something to you -- is right there, beyond an unbridgeable gap. You can feel it brushing your fingertips: you know you are qualified and capable. What can take you from the seemingly uncrossable collegiate sea to the sands of the happily employed?

Give it all away, for free.

Internships can be a great thing. When the work is meaningful, your time is valued, and a kind of respectful reciprocity is observed, the work experience can be professionally crucial and personally revolutionary. A good internship provides the space to get a handle on the foundational elements of an industry: the ins and outs, the protocol, and routine. Interning offers a chance to present oneself, formally, to the professional community within which you are finding or creating your place. If this kind of exchange is happening, the banality of washing a few dishes or archiving news clippings isn’t even that big of a deal. When the quality or amount of work far overextends the time spent learning skills and exchanging ideas, however, we’re left with an inequitable relationship whose repercussions reverb through the art market.

A friend of mine is an artist. By next year, she will hold a BFA from a well respected private university. She religiously upkeeps her own practice, making work as often and varied as she can. She speaks two languages, writes well, studied in three countries, and has work experience in several facets of the art world. Yet, in her search for a summer job, she was expected to work full-time, five days a week, as a studio assistant for an established artist for no pay. This should make your jaw drop. “I asked the studio manager how he expected anyone to be able to do the job,” she recounts, “and he said, ‘Honestly, I have no idea.’”

This is the plague of young cultural producers: how can you find an entry point into a competitive community structured around connection and persona when the base requirement is free labor? For well-educated creatives, the quest for meaningful employment is a double bind. Even when your resume includes a roster of years of past internships, jobs, projects, you can still come up underpaid. How long can one give it up before something comes back? The expectation that college-educated cultural producers must work for free to eventually, hopefully, reach a reliable source of income sets a standard across the board that devalues labor within the industry at large. When the bottom line is free labor, the market shifts. In other words, there is always some twentysomething out there who can work full time for nothing, making what should seem a flagrantly impossible and illegal requirement somehow acceptable.

“Internships are the face of privilege,” writes Ross Perlin, author of the recently published Intern Nation. The stipulations of internships inherently vet the privileged and well-connected, “restricting opportunities to those able to work for nothing or for a pittance – or sometimes even pay the price in cold hard cash.” All internships at major New York art institutions require at least two full days a week for a standard, typically undergraduate- or recent-graduate-filled, semester-long position. Most all are unpaid, with a few exceptions of conciliatory stipends. The healthiest I found was $1600 for a semester’s worth of a twenty-hour work-week. Even then, compensation works out to around five dollars an hour, significantly below the New York State minimum wage of $7.25 for an hour’s work.


Not everyone can afford to give away their time for free. Last year’s New York Times expose on unpaid interns mentions an Amherst senior whose “parents were not delighted that she worked a summer unpaid.” Forget disappointed parents -- for some of us, it’s a landlord, gas company, and bursar office whom must be kept happy. The bone most often thrown is academic credit, a policy increasingly enforced in light of recent attention to the legality of unpaid interning. While well-meaning, the insistence on school credit simply reinforces the barriers that keep anyone but the most privileged from taking fancy internships with well-established cultural institutions often so essential to the beginning stages of professional life. “I am not going to pay a thousand dollars a credit to work for free,” a budding curator frustratedly insists.

In creative industries, the internship is seen as necessary stepping stone, a way to get your feet wet, break in, test the waters and all those other corporate-tinted cliches that fundamentally translate to entry-level. The general consensus of the internship as the connector between education and employment relies upon a few assumptions. For one, the intern relationship assumes a kind of gain in creative capital that could potentially be worth the value of labor and time. We assume the employer is fully invested in finding ways to transition the intern into an income-yielding position, whether that be a job, stipend, or reference. This can take time, especially in the creative world, where many qualified people work towards the same limited number of roles. How long can one wait?

Don’t get me wrong -- I have been an unpaid intern, and don’t regret a second of it. Sometimes, what you learn really does make your time worth it. Dissecting an arts publication from the inside, carefully peeling apart the specific work flow and getting to know the person behind each part is worth it. Spending time with an artist or curator whose work you respect, becoming a part of the process through which shows and works are birthed and raised, can be inspirational. Exposure can pay off too: in a community where friendship and business intermingle freely, getting to know and be known can make all the difference. Several artists' assistants I know have been paid in artworks, a kind of reward that can be incredibly meaningful. Not only does a print or drawing provide an intern with a value-filled monument of their labor made manifest, but also insists on the value of the artwork itself.

People have a hard time understanding the mostly closed circuit of the art market, and the misunderstanding of art as somehow outside of the sway of economics persists. What does it mean for an emerging generation of cultural producers to reconfirm the devaluation of creative and artistic labor? Can we afford to accept a baseline that blocks out much of our potential pool for exciting new ideas and energy because they can’t afford an internship?


An internship should be a life-changing experience. It should leave you with something more than with what you began. An intern should leave something behind too, and a good internship makes you want to do that more than anything. After spending months putting energy, time, and ideas into a project, you should feel inspired. If it’s done right, we could be encouraging an influx of brilliant, fresh cultural producers to work just that much harder to find work that makes a difference, a way to turn ideas into realities, and make the frustratingly resilient intern bubble, just, pop.

~Hannah Daly, a critic, curator, and creator living in Brooklyn.

(*Images: Collin Penetrates Module, Miami, 2010. Sarah + Olivia Color Chart, New York, 2009. Maya Looking, DC, 2009. Three Kids On The Edge, Portugal, 2011. All photos by Hannah Daly.)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 8/29/11

Shan Studio and Gigonline: Don’t wake the neighbours

It’s midnight, Beijing-time, and in the darkened living room of a small apartment near the city’s second ring road, two figures quietly attend to their bank of equipment. The performers, Taurin Barrera and gogoj, appear not entirely there, in a world of their own, working away in an environment with few sounds filling the room aside from the rustles of their movements. Projected on the wall beside them are gogoj’s wave-form lightning strikes, reacting to some unheard input, building from simple shaped waves through to complex smears and many-dimensional structures as the feeds become ever more complex. The silence in the room contrasts starkly with the sounds and visuals each performer is producing within the walls of the equipment and immediately dispersed away online to a small audience that has gathered from around the world to experience False SIP, Shan Studio’s first Gigonline.

Sheng Jie, also known as gogoj, is a Chinese video and audio artist, who established Shan Studio in 2010 in an apartment amongst the hutongs in central Beijing. Sheng began Shan Studio as a way to extend her own practice, as, “like every artist there are times when you close the door and do your work, but at the same time I wanted to open the door to receive people.”

For such a small space, Shan Studio is adaptable to many purposes: as a residency space, it has living, working and sleeping areas; as a teaching workshop it provides facilities for creating and demonstrating audio and video production techniques; the living room can be repurposed for small performances, as well as used as a lecture space.

The various types of events produced and hosted here reflect Sheng’s set of interests in working with sound and visuals. Her background was originally in music, her father being a famous concert violinist, but Sheng was also drawn to the visual arts with a focus on video. Her work and her aims for the Studio cross these two areas: “those two parts are a very important part of my background: that I could study music and then drawing – the sound and the visual.”

While working as a guest teacher at The Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, she came into contact with many students who wanted to learn about these links between video and audio. But the professors were unable to devote their time to just this subject, so the students were often left to their own devices, which is where the initiative for Shan Studio arose.

Eventually, dissatisfaction with the university environment convinced Sheng to stop working there and concentrate on the Studio as a platform for knowledge and exchange. The money to support such an endeavour comes from her commercial work, and the fees paid for the artists’ residency, teaching and workshops. Aside from that, the other events are free: “they are simply ways to help people who want to learn something.”

Since opening, the Studio has hosted four international residencies and laid on some seventeen events. These include workshops that teach software and hardware skills, and what Sheng calls Freetalks which provide more relaxed presentations of artists’ work, emphasising a two-way flow of conversation between the artists and audience.

The events at Shan Studio are open to all, and often include students from CAFA but also many students from other university departments, including cinema, fashion and industrial design. This mixture of backgrounds creates a conversation that is important for Sheng: “they meet each other because they want to learn the same things. They can also exchange the information between them and also with the artists.”

The Studio presentation room is very small and usually fits about fifteen or twenty people, a number that Sheng feels encourages connections between the people more easily. The biggest audience was a standing room only event with around thirty people for a performance and discussion with Yan Jun, a well-known Chinese noise artist.

Many events at the Studio have dealt with software technologies, such as Max/MSP, a popular tool for the creation of sound, visual and interactive work. But Sheng is adamant that there is not only one way to work, saying that any software is just a tool:

“Young Chinese people often focus too much on these tools. A question all the time is what software they should use. But I create these events to show people you have many ways to do things, maybe not with Max at all. You can do things without software, just with hardware.”

American electronic musician and sound new-media artist Taurin Barrera was resident at the Studio just prior to the False SIP performance, conducting a three-day workshop demonstrating his Max/MSP patches:

“Taurin can only speak a little Chinese, so trying to explain his patches was very complicated. He finally gave up and spoke only in English with participants volunteering to translate for the others who didn’t understand. It was a very interesting ambience, because all the people are trying to guess what he was saying!”

Gigonline is the latest development at Shan Studio, developed in collaboration with Taurin: “I have a neighbour who is very sensitive to any sounds. Gigonline is a way to perform without disturbing them, and I can open the showplace to many people, and they don’t need to move from their own rooms.”

Technical limitations are accepted and deliberately incorporated into the broadcast. This first Gigonline: False SIP with Taurin incorporated “webcams, DIY synthesizers, medical equipment, projectors, busted radios, and many unconventional instruments.” For a broadcast event, the reality is that the internet can be very slow in China, but this becomes a feature and not a bug for the performance. Sheng revels in these restrictions, describing the internet as: “the best distortion box ever created.”

~Edward Sanderson, a writer living in China.

(Images: Courtesy Shan Studio.  Bottom image courtesy Edward Sanderson)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 8/21/11 | tags: sound digital

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It's really about love.

That was Amy Sadao, Executive Director of Visual AIDS, speaking in 2010 at the Postcards from the Edge benefit show. She was talking about continuing the dialog about HIV and AIDS through art and activism, keeping alive the works of artists who have died from the disease, and providing support to a community of HIV+ artists. This has always been the goal of Visual AIDS since its beginnings in 1988.

AIDS is as much about love as it is about loss. Consider, for instance, the compassion we have and feel in caring for a friend, a lover, or a family member who is ill. This image of compassion, of feeling, was absent from how the popular media, blighted by fear and ignorance, portrayed the environment of AIDS in the 1980s. And from seeing the acronyms of HIV and AIDS alone, it might be difficult to access the human experience in the seemingly cold letters abbreviated by science for the sake of clarity and convenience.

The discovery of the virus was mired in misinformation and homophobia. In 1981, when the Center for Disease Control first published a report about five young men being treated for a deadly strain of pneumonia, a link was drawn between infection and homosexuality. In 1982, GRID—gay-related immune deficiency—was inaccurately used to name the disease. It’s a dangerous link that has been difficult to sever, binding the image of love between two men with disease. Research and tests would prove that the demographics of the virus were not just young gay men, but also other people on the margins of society. In fact, the virus can be transmitted through contaminated needles and from faulty blood transfusions; through heterosexual intercourse and from an infected mother to her newborn. “AIDS”—acquired immune deficiency syndrome—became the official and more accurate descriptor. But it did little to combat the burgeoning ignorance and discrimination. It wasn’t until 1984 that the retrovirus, HIV—human immunodeficiency virus—was identified as the infectious agent that weakens the immune system, and which can eventually lead to AIDS.

Awareness about AIDS was slow to come, even in a media-drenched world of advertisement and corporate news, where images flash continuously through anyone’s field of vision, beckoning the eyes, and with it the body, to come have a look and take part in a brand—or to be overloaded, confused, and numbed.

These are the issues central to General Idea’s multimedia work Imagevirus, which co-opts Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE (1970) by replacing it with another four-letter word. AIDS becomes a grid that portrays and complicates the issues underlying the existence of the virus in an image-driven culture. From 1987 to 1994, the acronym infiltrated public spaces in the form of painting, wallpaper, poster, sculpture, etc. The writer and artist Gregg Bordowitz, writing on Imagevirus for Afterall’s One Work series (published in 2010), explores the complexities of the work, fleshing out its controversial character of linking the virus with love:

“Did love lead to AIDS? Of course not. There are no causal links, only resemblances and inferences. Certainly, AIDS, with its erotic components, enfolds love and its complexity. And certainly, by choosing Indiana’s LOVE, General Idea dragged along an entire art-historical genealogy that included Duchamp, Demuth and others.”

In Imagevirus, the connection between love and AIDS isn’t causal but metaphorical. As an acronym alone, AIDS could stand as a cold, formal abstraction. But linked with a known logo, bearing a resemblance to the colorful form of modernism, the word-image becomes a sensuous irritant that could begin a dialog about the virus in a public domain, or, at the very least, bring awareness to its presence.

“A virus, like all forms of nature,” Bordowitz writes, “must enter into language for humans to recognize its existence. If there are no words to describe it, it does not exist. But words are also images, and both are constituent parts of a larger picture registered and held by sensory experience.”

I could see how, in an atmosphere where there was a stifling and blinding mass of silence and denial about AIDS, a complex work like Imagevirus could be confusing and perceived as aloof and cruel. In the book, Bordowitz discusses the genesis of Imagevirus, imagining the members of General Idea (AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal) brainstorming and realizing the power of that work. Bordowitz does not shy away from speaking about Imagevirus being perceived as a potentially perverse conflation of disease and life-giving force. In fact, he dives in and confronts his own reservations about the work that he had held in the past. In the 1980s, the implications of Imagevirus ran the risk of dovetailing the ignorant and deadly misconception that AIDS was the consequence of a love considered illicit by right-wing conservatives. These contradictions are woven into the work; the way Bordowitz speaks about Imagevirus feels like a current of words that flows and connects various influences and ideas, from William Burroughs and Gertrude Stein to Marshall MacLuhan and television. He brings to light the conflicting characteristics of Imagevirus and the heated atmosphere into which it was introduced. Bordowitz doesn’t offer clean resolutions, but he doesn’t impose a cold interpretation either. He gives a personal, heartfelt account and scholarship of Imagevirus, showing the often unseen connections that the virus has presented.

There have been a lot of mixed messages about AIDS that continue to this day, but it is better to have them out in the open, blaringly visible, than to keep them hidden in the dark alleys of silence. In public, those nuances can be discussed and energized into action. But remaining in shadows like an unresolved trauma, they can fester as violence that repeats and propagates itself.

This past June, I saw a show of text-based works at La Mama Galleria, curated by John Chaich for Visual AIDS, that speaks against that self-repeating violence. “Mixed Messages” had a galvanizing spirit to it, probably because many of the works were created as agitprops and meant to rally people into action. With over forty artists and collectives, the show seemed to take its cue from General Idea’s Imagevirus, which was the oldest work there. Language, as word-images, becomes a way to access and feel sensuous, human experiences, which communication design, as advertisements have shown us, can stealthily and violently manipulate, distort, and dismiss. But with these works, graphic media is felt. It has body. The violence of written language, being able to sharply define a bodily experience at a distance, rendering it detached and cold, is subverted here to bring sensation back to the experience of reading and feeling the text.

Some works directly allude to the human form as they can be worn or carried. For instance, there was a tote bag by Chloe Dzubilo and T De Long asking the viewer to pay attention to AIDS prevention, written in script on dark fabric. It is written twice, in lavender blue and white that overlap each other. To obscure, perhaps, or to emphasize the request for awareness.

Protest is more effective with signs and logos. And indeed there were a lot of posters (or works that resembled posters) by Experimental Jetset, Anthony Burrill, James Joyce, Nightsweat & T-Cells, and David Wojnarowicz. Their messages vary from ironic wordplay to poignant narrative.

Wojnarowicz’s Untitled (One Day This Kid…) (1990) is the most haunting. Although it does not directly address AIDS, it highlights the social limitations that AIDS has rendered visible: apathy and hatred from both the government and the public. A photographic image of the artist as a child is captioned by an oracular text listing the future of the boy as he discovers himself and the violence he will confront in a homophobic world.

Other works combine smirking irony and self-awareness with confrontational bluntness. Paul Chisholm’s makeshift crucifix, Love & H*I*V (2010), and Andrew Graham’s AIDS is God’s Curse (2009), are two of those purposely disturbing and inflammatory word-images. Like Imagevirus, they’re meant to make you feel uncomfortable with their double entendre. Chisholm’s vinyl letters on two crisscrossing pieces of plywood read “Fuck me I have… love and HIV." It’s a message that points to a complicated doubling which exists inherently in language. Fuck me, because I have love. Fuck me, too, for my circumstances. Similarly, Graham’s wordsmithry overturns Fred Phelps’s hate mongering by placing the onus on God; AIDS is His curse. Ultimately, as these artists have shown, the meaning of a word or an image comes down to the reading, to the context in which it exists.

I’m reminded of a painting by Paul Thek, who died from AIDS in 1988. The painting was not in the show, but I think its message is an underlying theme of the text-based works. Written in yellow, the following aphorism inhabits the violet surface of a small canvas as a sensuous text-body: "Afflict the Comfortable. Comfort the Afflicted." This is the power of words and images. They can act as aesthetic alarms to the senses, forcing the viewer to feel, to participate; he or she becomes implicated. Words and images can return us to an awareness of the body, to the erotic self that feels and thinks—whether it is the work of art we are confronted with or our very own human bodies. Reading Bordowitz’s writing is like that. It is a kind of affliction that, like the liquid surface of a painting, makes me aware of the sensuousness of his words and ideas, and of the painful history and present he speaks about; it shakes me out of a numbed comfort that can fall like a spell or a paralysis, and rattles me back into consciousness.


~Aldrin Valdez, a writer living in New York.

(Images: General Idea, Imagevirus (Poster), 1989; Courtesy General Idea; David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (One day this kid...), photostat, 30.75 x 41 inches, edition of 10; Courtesy Estate of David Wojnarowicz; Paul Thek, Afflict the Comfortable, Comfort the Afflicted, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 inches; Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin and the Estate of Paul Thek)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 8/13/11 | tags: multi-media painting posters aids text mixed-media

The Worst and Best Public Art in Chicago This Year (so far)

It’s already been quite the year for public art in Chicago, even if the year is little more than half over by now.  Unfortunately, “quite the year” in this case means a year I would already rather forget.

Millennium Park is undoubtedly the single most important and visible site for public art in Chicago with both permanent and temporary pieces.  Opened in 2004, four years behind its slated opening on the millennium, the park hosts two permanent public art works, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate and Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, as well as exhibitions of temporary sculpture.

There should be high expectations for the exhibitions in Millennium Park. It’s in the heart of downtown, attracts volumes of foot traffic, and has become quite popular, all of which are good things. This year saw an exhibition from sculptor Yvonne Domenge, following exhibitions from Mark di Suvero in Millennium Park and a group exhibition of contemporary sculpture from China, curated by University of Chicago Art History professor Wu Hung. 


Installation view of Yvonne Domenge in Millennium Park, April 2011. Black metal barriers now ring each work.

Domenge’s exhibition presents swirling globes of color and a sinuous abstracted tree, all fabricated out of metal, all painted bright colors.  All utterly boring.  As I wrote for my review of the exhibition, the aesthetic is as interchangeable as the titles of the work. To top it off, the sculpture is now surrounded by eye-gougingly ugly black metal barriers. Wu Hung’s sculpture show had personality and di Suvero is pretty important, but what we received this year was art that’s boring and lacking ambition. Regrettably this misfire will remain on view through most of 2012 as well.

And then J. Seward Johnson returned with a monstrosity. Now it could rightly be pointed out that this isn't public art; it sits on private land, was privately funded and was privately selected.  But that ignores the highly public location, at the beginning of Chicago's über-shopping stretch, the Magnificent Mile, and in the Pioneer Court, nestled next to the Neo-Gothic glory of the Tribune Tower, across from the beaux-arts beauty of the Wrigley Building.  Needless to say, like Millennium Park, this location gets a lot of traffic. 

Public art doesn’t necessarily have to be on city land or paid for by public money for it to be public, but it does need the public itself, and these locations get the public in droves. 

Mike Yen via Flickr.

The high-visibility location made the installation of J. Seward Johnson’s Forever Marilyn, a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe holding down her skirt lifted from the iconic pose from The Seven Year Itch (1955), impossible to ignore.  Well that, and the fact that you can see her panties if you move around to the rear.  This fact has not been lost on many male viewers, causing middle-aged men to act like prepubescent boys.  Thanks to Johnson we now have an opportunity close to home for what was dubbed on Twitter as “group perving.” I like the Flickr guy who decided to rate the reactions.

Johnson is a master of kitsch. It’s like he read Clement Greenberg’s definition of it and mistook it for a good thing: “Kitsch is mechanical and it operates by formulas.  Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations...Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times.” Yes, Johnson’s sculpture is all of those.  At least Jeff Koons attempts to rescue kitsch, or elevate it.  Again I find myself deeply looking forward to the end date of this exhibition, no pun intended.

Chicago is really in debt -- next year's budget already predicts a shortfall of over $600 million.  The Mayor is taking suggestions.  Literally, that is -- there's a website.  I suggest imposing a heavy tariff on all cross-state importing of J. Seward Johnson's work. 

The artists inspect a newly-finished piece. 

There was a bright spot in this year’s public art so far, and it wasn’t big or expensive, in fact, it was dirt-cheap.  For the opening night of Chicago’s newest art fair, MDW Fair, artist duo Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger quietly made outlines of their bodies with dirt on the grounds around the fair building.  Discovered by groups walking to the fair itself, the outlines were quiet moments of encounter, like the way we experience art in museums, the mere trace of a one-time human presence, now gone. The outlines also wore their impermanence on their sleeve, subject to not only the elements, but also vulnerable to an unsympathetic viewer who could destroy the figures with a mere kick of the foot.  They were mortal.

It's unfortunate that two of the best locations in Chicago will be occupied by sculpture that's both bad and not indicative of artists and art in the city. Not everything has to be gigantic and in steel for it to have a big impact; I will remember Miller and Shellabarger’s pieces for far longer than Domenge’s or Johnson’s.  It is ironic that in times of tight budgets and penny-pinching, curators and the powers-that-be are bringing in startlingly lackluster artists when they could easily find better ones in their own city if they only looked.

--Abraham Ritchie, Senior Editor ArtSlant living and working in Chicago.


Posted by ArtSlant Team on 8/5/11 | tags: public-art

Parallel & Simultaneous: Finley Gallery

After years of casual and abortive on-and-off thinking with colleagues about the possibility of starting a (non-commercial) gallery or some kind of project space, we finally found a form that makes sense to us and feels productive—even new.

This is to announce the inauguration of Finley Gallery.

The idea for Finley Gallery came out of the private act of borrowing a painting from an artist friend for a couple months with the excuse of investigating daily art viewing as an art writing experiment. The privateness of the act remains central, if expanded. Drawing on the long and venerable tradition of apartment galleries (generally opened under the commercial radar by artists in their own homes and for their own local community), we became interested in relocating the gallery into a liminally private and public space—not as private as an apartment residence and not as public as a commercial space or storefront.

Finely Gallery is located in the communal stairwell of the Los Feliz Villas apartment building at 4627 Finley Avenue. Suspended in space, it occupies the top half of a double-height architectural volume. Existing for the hypothetical benefit of the tenants’ daily reception, Finley is open to the building’s privately contained public, but can be viewed by the general public at any time through its streetfront window from the designated viewing platform. The space of the gallery is heavily trafficked by residents daily. It will dictate a totally different rhythm for viewing—one of repetition, cumulative absorption, habituation, motion, passing, ascent and descent.

Finley is an experiment in everyday, lay looking.

It is curious about new contexts, conditions, and frequencies for encountering art.

It wants to cultivate a specifically in-between private-public space, a shared threshold that transitions from public sociability to privacy.

Finley is into prioritizing the local.

It re-scrambles art viewing demographics in the hopes that the shared experience of looking can be a force of community-formation, a point of contact.

Finley is an experiment in durations of several sorts:

the extended time of looking at something daily over the course of a month;

the habituating, if uninvested and detached, experience of living (in a sense) with art but not owning it;

and the questionable duration of a “gallery”—the lifespan of a gallery—whatever that is and however long that lasts.

In this current polarized climate of art consumption drastically tipped towards the rich, Finley also hopes to open up possibilities for thoroughly experiencing work freely and close to home.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer and Jeff Hassay, two writers, curators and artists living in Los Angeles.

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 7/31/11

The Journey West Travel Office

As an agent of Spectacle, tourism fulfills manufactured desires, and you can’t get more manufactured — or at least programmed — than guided tours. Tailor-made to your requirements? Maybe so, but within your tightly regimented schedule (value-for-money!) you’ll see only what you want to see. But maybe those restrictions can be put to use to provide a frame within which to re-view our understanding of the sites that we visit, through a critical engagement with the processes and assumptions of tourism.

Setting up shop for the last two months in a tiny street front space in the historic Drum and Bell Tower area (once home to Beijing’s time-keeping apparatus), American artists Stephanie Rothenberg and Dan S. Wang have been running their Journey West Travel Office. The Office has been developed as a serious business, from their initial location scouting in this strategic area, to the process of engaging salespeople, whose subsequent travails as arbiters of the various package tours to passers-by become documentary material adding to the content of the piece as a performative intervention in the area.

The four available tours are to purposefully non-mainstream locations, and include The Majesty of Parking Lots (led by Ryan Griffis, “a leading expert on the history, economics, and aesthetics of America’s parking lots”) and The Great American Test Range Tour (led by author and expert on black-ops secret bases, Trevor Paglen). The tours serve as examples of what has become known as Critical Tourism, the seeds of which were laid in the ‘90s with the writings of Lucy Lippard and the actions of groups such as Critical Art Ensemble and REPOHistory. It serves as an exposure and antidote to the exercises in power relationships and the normalisation of historical and social meaning which tourism can embody.

Although this is the first time they have worked together, Rothenberg and Wang have a shared interest in art practices that investigate modes of production and consumption, tourism being one such process. As Rothenberg puts it, it’s in the nature of tourism to be an act of “social engineering”: its accoutrements and systems working with a type of “consumer propaganda” of its promised utopian experience.

Based on their experience of China, the inspiration for the Travel Office came from the artists’ awareness of the decontextualization of many cultural factors in this place.

“…it was the whole appropriation of Western iconography or cultural signifiers that then get really disconnected, decontextualized … I wanted to open up some kind of travel agency that could bring it back to where it came from.”

The result became what they describe as a “discursive platform,” a way to engage with the passers-by and investigate these utopian visions of travel versus the reality and its actual real-world impact.

The events organized in conjunction with the Travel Office served to expand its reach into the surrounding spaces and audiences:

“Finding the store, setting it up, doing the worker interviews, coming up with the worker chant – it becomes about the production of a travel agency, an exposure of the system … It was really important to have our own 'Journey West motivational exercise and chant'! The performances were a great way to activate the space around the Office.”

I reviewed one such event on ArtSlant a few weeks ago, Something on the Way by Alessandro Rolandi and Megumi Shimizu.

For American Independence Day, Rothenberg and Wang organized a celebration in the public square in front of the Office. On that balmy evening the square was packed with locals and tourists, with the ubiquitous rickshaws scooting through the narrow alleys showing people the sights. The celebration began with a dance routine prepared by members of the HomeShop community (a nearby artist collective) designed to mimic the pre-shift motivational chants and exercises workers are required to do. The HomeShop crew took on the role of “workers” dressed in “The Journey West” uniform of cowboy hat, red bandana necktie and company shirt. The dancers staked out their performance space, but had a tough time competing with the locals’ own line-dance groups that form every night in open spaces in China. Towards the end the locals began to edge the interlopers out a little, re-asserting their own space and imposing their own “normality” against the oddity of the Travel Office’s activities.

In the end, no sales were made, but success in these terms was, if not irrelevant, simply a side benefit of the project. During the interviews for potential sales-people, Rothenberg was advised by an MBA from the Yemen that their location may have actually worked against them in this respect, and Beijing’s business districts might be more suitable. Rothenberg came to reflect on the role of tourism in global business presence: “…big group tours nowadays are organized through companies, where they are sending their employees overseas so that they can experience and get to know other cultures – on those trips they’re interfacing with their potential clients.”

I think this investigation and response to the audiences in the area served as a point of clarification for the project as a whole. The hutong store sat within a hub of tourist activity, but tourists who were in consumption mode rather than research mode – would they want to buy another tour when they were already on holiday? For the local residents and workers the tours were usually too expensive for them to consider. But that provocation of out-of-reach realities had the productive potential to give some kind of interruption, encouraging a consideration of how could one be in a position to take part in these tours; what is the value of these tours to me; and, who are they really addressing? The process of weighing up your position in relation to the “utopian visions” of the Travel Office can perhaps open up a greater awareness and reassessment of one’s own wishes and possibilities.

~Edward Sanderson, a writer living in Beijing.

(Images: Courtesy Stephanie Rothenberg and Dan S. Wang)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 7/24/11 | tags: Tourism performance Spectacle China travel

“Happy Fashion”: The Four-Day Hustle to Legitimize Berlin’s Growing Fashion Scene

In the European capital, popularly imagined as the Mecca for counter and sub-culture devotees and long-known to take little seriously, it was hard to imagine what permutation Mercedes Benz’s Berlin Fashion Week would take. While Mercedes’ Fashion Week in Berlin is not new, it seemed this year there was a much bigger commitment to adding that superficial glitz that brings in the fashion jet-set accustomed to endless drinks, splashy parties, and lots of opportunities to be photographed.

This new level of commitment was initially palpable by Fashion Week’s new location; having been moved from its traditional out-of-the-way location at Bebelplatz to its new home; sandwiched between Berlin’s iconic Brandenburger Gate and the Reichstag, home of the German Parliament. For the more historically attuned visitor, the irony of placing the behemoth two-story “tent,” committed largely to excess and consumption, in the shadow of a location that has been the home of so many moments of historical and contemporary importance for Germany and the “West,” was hard to escape. 

It is easy to argue that in a city like Berlin, which has had countless moments of extreme violence and history-changing events, that it is impossible to put anything anywhere without being reminded of the city’s history. However, it is precisely these ghosts of the past embodied in the physicality of the city that makes Fashion Week here in Berlin so different from others. Does sitting on a runway only feet from where President Reagan made his famous speech calling for the tearing down of the wall that had for so long divided a city change the clothing being shown? Perhaps not, and definitely not for every visitor.

Moving away from the context in which Berlin’s Fashion Week is placed, there was a major hustle by both the organizers and the participants to add a gloss to Berlin’s four-day celebration of fashion in order to place it closer to the likes of similar events in Paris and New York. The hope being that eventually Berlin’s Fashion week will become permanently penciled into the calendars of international fashion editors accustomed to bopping around from fashion week to fashion week twice per year.

While ardent efforts were made by all involved parties, especially Mercedes and the other sponsors who clearly shelled out a lot of money to produce and promote the event, Berlin’s Fashion Week largely fell short of the quality and spectacle typically reserved for similar events in other cities. From the editors and journalists I spoke to from my position as tent-rat during the four day event, most were generally disappointed by both the clothing and creative direction executed in both the runway and studio events held at the main tent.

This is not to say that individual designers’ presentations did not stand out, but the general creative direction of the event was extremely muddled. From the roster of primarily central European designers and labels presented at the main tent, it would appear that Mercedes had decided to do a geographically focused Fashion Week, which differs greatly from how they are traditionally run, yet seemingly random shows by major brands like Diesel and Calvin Klein were also included, greatly confusing any attempt at a curated selection of geographically related designers. The lack of focused creative direction on the part of the organizers of the main event was coupled with a seemingly hurried process of designer selection: several designers were invited to participate only four weeks prior to the start of Fashion Week, leaving little time for many of them to formulate a strong and cohesive statement.

Berlin Fashion Week’s lack of coherence and general sense of confusion makes sense within the broader context of a city that as a united entity is relatively new, and is currently undergoing massive waves of gentrification that have been moving Berlin away from the gritty sub-culture hub that it has been known as, to a glittery European capital with all of the “high-culture” accoutrement common to cities like Paris and London.

As Berlin continues to try and formulate exactly what it is, events like Fashion Week, which present a strange intersection of the Berlin creative community with broader international commercial and cultural communities, are likely to become ever more common. I would argue that there is most certainly a place for a Berlin Fashion Week, based solely on the high volume of talented designers living in the city, but that attempts to make it mimic Fashion Weeks that already exist seem unnecessary.

There is plenty of room and time, however, for a Fashion Week to be produced that more intelligently embraces the unique environment provided by Berlin while also showcasing creative talent over commercial viability. Perhaps all that is needed to realize a more dynamic event is an abandonment of the Mercedes sponsorship, and the money that comes along with it, replacing it instead with an event run by and tailored for the fashion community growing in Berlin.

~Collin James Munn,  a writer living in Berlin.

(Images:The Mercedes tent being constructed in the shadow of Berlin's iconic TV Tower and Brandenburger Gate; Courtesy Getty Images ; This is what happens when money and soda hang out for too long; Courtesy Anita Stahl; View down of the fashion tent waiting room: prime location to see and be seen; Courtesy Brauer Photos)

Posted by ArtSlant Team on 7/16/11 | tags: fashion

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