Austrian artist and filmmaker Constanze Ruhm has been contributing to the discourse on moving images through her exhibitions, films, curatorial projects, and writing since the mid-1990s. Though she is primarily known for her films that update feminist film theory and Brechtian dramaturgy, what is instantly striking in this midcareer survey is another less discussed aspect of her practice—namely, the exploration of possibilities for presenting moving images in exhibition contexts. The show’s circular design, which is based on the shape of a 16-mm reel, with a specially constructed cinema in the center, has been developed in collaboration with architect Golmar-Mina Kempinger-Khatibi and elegantly brings together Ruhm’s oeuvre.
Central to the exhibition—the axle of the reel, so to speak—is the series “X Characters,” 2001–14, which comprises films, installations, photographs, and web-based projects. In this impressive body of work, Ruhm has resurrected and given voice to iconic female characters from cinema’s history, such as Hari from Solaris and Nana from Vivre sa Vie. Played by contemporary actors speaking in German, thereby expelling any lingering sense of reconstruction or tribute, these undead characters interrogate their newfound and bewildering agency while often being absurd and farcical.
Framing “X Characters” at one end of the exhibition, Ruhm’s early computer-generated animations reference architectural spaces used in films. At the other end is her newest work, produced in collaboration with French filmmaker Emilien Awada, Panoramis Paramount Paranormal, 2015, which investigates the Saint-Maurice film studios near Paris (established in 1913, overtaken by Paramount Pictures, and then leveled by a major fire in 1971), thus employing architecture as the link that joins her diverse output.
Although Huma Bhabha’s hodgepodge of economic sculptures has earned her a reputation as “the artistic equivalent of a magpie,” critics continually scrutinize their knotty surfaces in search of topical significance: race, gender, politics. The Pakistani-born Bhabha, meanwhile, insists that she is primarily a formalist committed to the material challenges of her métier—a claim that her current exhibition of new works substantiates.
Titled “Wages of Fear,” the presentation purports to attribute significance to and extract meaning from the detritus of urban industry. Indeed, Bhabha sourced most of her materials—including aluminum and tires—from the land surrounding her Poughkeepsie, New York, studio, and the resulting assemblages may be interpreted both as vestiges of and cautions against waste. The charred, oil-slicked cork figure in From Beyond (all works 2015) resembles an apocalyptic totem, while Host, with its architectural armature of interlocking Styrofoam chambers and its percolations of dimpled clay, recalls a chemical plant post-meltdown. But these works are also self-reflexive, as their constituent substances were formerly used to build the very landscape they now symbolize and condemn.
Numerous untitled paper compositions are similarly indexical, recording the production of the neighboring sculptures. Placed on the floor while Bhabha worked, the sheets document blooms of residual cork dust she tracked across the brick floor, or flecks of spray paint that missed the mark. Like housepainters’ tarps, they bear witness to the struggle between an artist and her tools, facing off in the blank space of a studio.
Are we capable of imagining the world after ourselves? Can we conceive of our planet after a massive nuclear or ecological catastrophe, with only minimal traces of a defunct human existence and a few lingering fragments of mutated nature? The Finnish duo IC-98 (Patrik Söderlund and Visa Suonpää) says we can and should envisage just such an eventuality. They have created animated films that show the planet’s surface completely enshrouded in leaden skies and stormy waters, as in Arkhipelagos, 2013, and a large decaying tree that is the last living thing on Earth, as in the three-part Abendland, 2012–14 (though part one is not on view here).
The works displayed are dark and heavy, as if filmed at night. They move slowly, compressing days, months, and years into about twenty minutes each. And, because humankind is absent, the anthropocentric viewpoint is also missing. We witness a continually changing, allover image with no specific narrative or focus. There is an elegiac quality to these works, mainly due to their gloomy subject matter but also because they are based on hundreds of elaborate pencil drawings, examples of which are included here. This method gives the works a sad, gray, grainy quality that perfectly matches their emotional and political message.
Not long ago, I earned a well-deserved three Euros for sharing my thoughts on capitalism with what seemed to be a Stedelijk Museum employee facilitating Tino Sehgal’s “situation” This is Exchange, 2002. It was the fifth of the twenty or so situations that the Stedelijk is presenting throughout 2015, in the largest exhibition of his work to date. A week later, when I returned with a friend, the compensation had gone down to two Euros, as the budget didn’t reflect the overwhelming public attention the situation received—a convincing illustration of capitalist supply and demand.
Generally Sehgal’s situations come in two types: those in which the audience is spoken or sung to, raising awareness of socioeconomic and cultural issues (see This is propaganda, 2002, This is new, 2003, and This is so contemporary, 2004); and those that are self contained and create a barrier that only allows the audience to observe. These choreographed situations, which reveal Sehgal’s background as a dancer, are much more convincing than his Brechtian Lehrstücke (learning-plays) where, supposedly, the screen between performer and audience is lifted. In This is Exchange suspension of disbelief stops abruptly as you notice the museum employee is in fact an actor, and in This is propaganda, the tune just feels awkward.
The domain in which the artist most excels is the creation of highly intimate dances, as in: Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things, 2000; Kiss, 2002; and Yet Untitled, 2013. In these, Sehgal shuts the viewer out, and the dancer’s concentrated movements and interactions sublimate reality.
Essential to the latest iteration of the Norwegian Sculpture Biennale, “Art Belongs to Those Who See It,” is the mutability of the works. In a vibrant juxtaposition with the historical sculptures of Gustav Vigeland in this museum, the twenty-eight pieces on view by thirty-three artists create a vulnerable realm of steel, wood, concrete, textiles, rubber, and electrical signals, among other materials. For instance, in the main room of the institution, Steffen Håndlykken and Ingrid Lønningdal’s Projections, 2015—four painted concrete curtains installed on a wooden framework—creates an alliance with Vigeland’s sculptures while dividing the museum space and projecting nothing but the works’ analog and abstract form.
Matter is ambiguous throughout the show. See Omar Emanuel Johnsen and Magnhild Øen Nordahl’s four sculptural loudspeakers (Trialog, 2013), which offer a unique soundscape. In this room, visitors hear seven different chords that take turns overlapping with one another in a diatonic relationship. Meanwhile, Eamon O’Kane’s installation The Wood Archive, 2015, presents an array of small wooden objects that underline the temporality and social memory of natural substance. Nature is transformed, stored, and structured in an archive, reminding us of modern relations between art and memory.
Outside the museum, in central Oslo, Matias Faldbakken and Leander Djønne’s Void to Void, 2014–15, features large blasting mats—the kind used to demolish parts of the Governmental Quarter due to the damage of the July 22, 2011 bombings—placed on top of one another in a stack. Overall, the bienniale investigates the past, via histories embedded in and through objects’ materiality, to understand the present.
Curated by Nicola Lees and spread across two institutions and ten smaller satellite venues, the Thirty-First Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts is focused and precise, rare qualities in the usually excessive biennale format.
At Moderna Galerija, one of two institutional venues, two architectural gestures by Luca Frei elegantly frame the exhibition. Frei has filled the grooves that run around every wall in the space with white pebbles commonly found in gardens. Moreover, he painted a bright-pink frieze around the top perimeter of the central exhibition room, conceptually lowering the ceiling to match the adjacent rooms. This subtle blurring of artwork and exhibition design unobtrusively, yet perceptively, influences the viewer’s reception of the entire show. It creates a particularly successful and complex dialogue with the robust Auto Body Collision, 2014–, by Shannon Ebner. Depicting details of car-repair shops in austere black-and-white photography, she locates poetic potential in an industrial aesthetic and the violence of car crashes.
At the International Centre of Graphic Arts, a film work by Thirteen Black Cats, a collective founded by Vic Brooks, Lucy Raven, and Evan Calder Williams, stands out for its ambition and execution. Titled 1/56, 2015, it is the first installment of an omnibus film followed by fifty-five more chapters. Each fragment is to be shot on location in different cites, and this chapter juxtaposes lush footage from Ljubljana University Botanic Gardens with historical and archival material drawn from a diverse array of sources: the 1906 and 1959 race riots in Atlanta; the filming of Gone with the Wind; the American Civil War; and the Fronde civil wars in seventeenth-century France. This piece enhances and encapsulates the sense of historicity that pervades the exhibition.
Nasreen Mohamedi’s ink and graphite drawings recall remarks Nabokov once made about the narrative structures of Gogol’s stories. “If parallel lines do not meet,” he said, “it is not because meet they cannot, but because they have other things to do.” Mohamedi’s lines—precise and programmatic, drawn with rulers on gridded pages—also begin to divert from the Euclidian plane and bring forth strange, unpredictable geometries. As Nabokov put it, parallel lines can not only meet, but “can wriggle and get most extravagantly entangled, just as two pillars reflected in water indulge in the most wobbly contortions if the necessary ripple is there.”
The retrospective “Waiting Is a Part of Intense Living,” which will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art next year, features nearly two hundred artworks from several decades of activity. Although the reclusive artist left her works untitled and undated, they are arranged here in an estimated chronology, beginning with watercolors identified as circa 1960 and continuing through to drawings from the mid-1980s. While this attempt at chronology conveys a sense of linear stylistic development, the more interesting relations between the works ripple across and away from this straight line.
Alongside the drawings, paintings, and collages is a selection of Mohamedi’s black-and-white photographs, which were never exhibited during her lifetime. On their own, these are less striking and peculiar than the graphic works, but they point to a sustained fascination with what lines can do. In close-ups of weaving looms or water surfaces, for instance, lines are again shown in flux—shifting, bending, entangling, rippling.