Amar Kanwar’s ongoing project The Sovereign Forest captures the changes and destruction caused over the past decade by the severe industrial interference caused by mining in the traditionally agrarian state of Odisha, India, and it also tracks resistance among the state’s communities. Since its inception, the piece has grown into a multimedia research platform in which Kanwar displays found and collected images and legal records. He does this not in an evidentiary way, but by creating fictitious archival constructions that are rooted in poetry, consequently forming an artificial memory. Rejecting individual authority, Kanwar turns his voice into many, allowing the audience to participate and contribute to his political and perceptive output.
Occupying all of TBA21’s exhibition spaces, this multisensory exhibition (which shares the title of the project) features two films, an installation of rice seed samples, three videos projected on large handmade books, and a documentary archive of previously suppressed evidence and factual and fictional records of the conflict—contributed and supplemented by visitors. The archive is presented in an “evidence room,” within which visitors are allowed to bring, research, and discuss materials about violent interventions in their daily lives and environment. All of the works come together to create multiple ways of understanding and illuminating the depths of this modern war without using the formal information provided through journalism and forensic research. Rather than taking a documentary, informative, and testimonial look at the crime as it is actually happening, Kanwar orchestrates traces by interweaving his own texts and poetry through the work, instilling a sense of collective belonging to this particular history. The show queries conventional distinctions between fact and fiction by asking how a story—in particular one characterized as traumatic—gains potency through the efficacy of poetry.
Large, bright windows and dim inner spaces, landscapes plunged in melodramatic light alternating between idyll and dystopia, isolated protagonists with grotesque features, and bleak images that anticipate the catastrophic political developments of the 1930s: In this overdue exhibition, Franz Sedlacek is fairly characterized as a “Chemist of the Imagination.” With a magic-realist, graceful brushstroke, he offers a view on a shadowy world, he exaggerates an oppressive present with dark tones, and he transforms the uncanny into the transcendental.
Sedlacek, who was born in Breslau (then part of the German Empire, today the Polish city of Wrocław) in 1891, is relatively contemporary compared with the antediluvian artists who most commonly become subject to retrospective artistic rediscovery. His oil paintings of the 1920s and ’30s—representative of a fantastic combination of the influences of the Neue Sachlichkeit plus a skepticism of progress and neo-Romantic seascapes—also feel timely in that they invoke, as does so much very contemporary art, oppressive atmospheres and irritating states of mind. Sedlacek officially joined the Nazis in 1939 and his paintings negotiate the turbulence and disavowals of the First Republic and the repressive climate of Austrian fascism. “In my work I can say with colors what I think of my contemporaries without being sent to a concentration camp,” he once surprisingly said.
“Viennese Painter Revels in the Grotesque” was how Life magazine categorized his paintings in 1937. The canvases bear the traits of caricature; the parodic quality of his work was also manifest in his theatrical works, short films, and grotesque-absurd poems. Providing just a snapshot view of his career, this show, with its images of cities, still lifes, interiors, and landscapes, captivates with a visionary power that has lost none of its intensity.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
The Romanian duo Mona Vătămanu and Florin Tudor have been making work about the transitions of Communist to post-Communist societies since 2000. The title of their exhibition in Vienna, “46º19'41“N23º12'44”E Geamăna,” refers to the geographic coordinates of the gold-mining region in Romania where they shot their latest film All That Is Solid Melts into Air, 2012–13. Not only are precious metals unearthed there, but also a large-scale overexploitation of nature is exposed. The film shows tracts of land that are saturated with poisonous chemicals, through slow-motion camera pans across green, ochre, and red marbled surfaces that at first seem like paintings and on closer observation materialize into a thoroughly apocalyptic scenario. A sound track underlines the destruction of nature represented here by means of abstraction. Excerpts of speeches by Socialist politicians such as Salvador Allende of Chile and Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, as well as a reading from the Book of Revelation, turn the work into an impressive, total composition.
In a second gallery, Vătămanu and Tudor present the installation I dreamt the work of another artist, 2013, which was originally developed for the Kunsthalle Lissabon in Portugal. Here, construction materials such as rebar, gratings, dirt, and sheets of polyethylene are arranged in relation to a photograph of a photograph of a man in an exotic setting that they found in a garbage dump. “The image,” the two artists say of this work, “led us to some connection between geographical areas, some narrative that could link our modernist utopia in Eastern Europe with other stories maybe in Latin America or elsewhere.” The precariousness of contemporary living conditions in a post-Communist context take on a sculptural form of expression in this piece—globalization meets art, and content, ultimately, meets form.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
This comprehensive retrospective of Franz Erhard Walther’s energetic five-decade career is carefully balanced, showcasing his process without overt interjection. It also layers his recurrent concerns—of artistic autonomy and social relations, utility and language—in a series of five well-paced rooms.
The first gallery opens onto a field of cloth objects collectively titled The Store of Trial Sewn Pieces, 1969–, which are frank in character: Austere capes and rolls of fabric hint at an indeterminate use-value—these objects suggest camping equipment or military gear, yoga props or stage furniture. Yet their flaps, abstract folds, and vaguely organic shapes prevent function from being precisely located, leaving the objects suspended between usefulness and senselessness. Nearby, early “instrument” pieces, such as 100m Schnur (100m Cord), 1963, are displayed on a plinth and contextualize Walther’s work specifically in terms of tools: material as well as social.
Language appears both as a poetic forcein Sternenstaub (The Dust of Stars), 2007–2009, an illustrated diaryand as physical intervention, in Walther’s comically large interactive structures: The plush textures and removable parts of Das neue Alphabet (The New Alphabet), 1990–96, for example, explore how words bear upon physical life. Depicting what could be protest tactics or Minimalist choreography, photographs from the early ’70s show the original enactments of the fifty-eight actions of 1. Werksatz (1. Work Set), 1963–69the most intimate of which, such as #20 (Gathering), a sit-in of five people arranged on one of Walther’s canvas squares, and #30 (Closeness), an apron-like garment which pulls two men closely together by the neck, separated only by a panel of fabricexpose the gap between the serviceable titles and their potentially political implications. Far from an empty institutional gesture, the show’s re-performances (in addition to a performance by the artist, viewers are invited to enact several of the 1. Werksatz actions) are in keeping with the forthright vitality of Walther’s practice, where action is inbuilt, and a requisite aspect of viewing.
Whether working with 35-mm film or state-of-the-art digital video technology, Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni play with temporal conventions of filmmaking. Referencing the past, present, and future, the eleven works included in “The Unmanned”—the artist duo’s first institutional show—establish an eerie alternate reality wherein humanity is barely present and automated technology reigns supreme.
The exhibition opens with Untitled (La Vallée von uexküll), 2009/2014, an ongoing series of digitally filmed desert sunsets. Made using progressively higher-definition cameras, each video is screened on a correspondingly high-tech projector. Five such digital recordings are shown here in a suite of walled-off but connected white-cube rooms. Notions of time and progress in these videos—which are as hypnotic as light installations by James Turrell or Doug Wheeler—are both subtle and stirring. Though the series as a whole is overwhelmingly white, in the company of the 2014 depiction of a distinct glowing orb surrounded by a graduated halo, the 2009 video appears vastly different—more blown-out and pixelated. Each projection documents part of the Earth’s rotation in minutes and, cumulatively, the series measures five years of technological advancements.
Chromatically and conceptually more complex, a trilogy (also titled “The Unmanned”) that describes man in competition with technology was appropriately shot from cameras attached to drones or otherwise controlled by computers. The most straightforward episode is 1997—The Brute Force, 2013–14, which portrays the room where chess champion Garry Kasparov suffered defeat to IBM’s Deep Blue on May 11, 1997. As the camera pans around the abandoned set, narratively significant details (miniature Russian and American flags, a framed poster advertising “Kasparov vs. Deep Blue: The Rematch,” the final chess board) are treated to the same detached examination as ostensibly irrelevant minutiae (paint cracks, a dangling coiled phone cord, swaths of drab gray carpeting). This disconcertingly nonhuman POV, the work of a camera mounted on a computer-programmed robotic arm, is a chilling illustration of technology’s unsympathetic brute force.
Korean artist Lee Bul’s first major European museum exhibition begins in the air. Cast in white polyurethane and suspended across Mudam’s I. M. Pei–designed glass and concrete atrium, two squads of sci-fi species appear frozen in the midst of a celestial ballet or battle. Perhaps a little worse for the wear (variably missing arms, legs, and heads), the hard-bodied, humanoid “Cyborgs,” 1997–2011, face off against the amorphous tentacled “Anagrams,” 1999–2006. Alternately evoking classical Greek marbles and “Star Wars” creatures, these ghostly human-scale beings appear to have arisen from Lee’s alien universes and landscapes exhibited on the museum’s lower level.
Playing with scale and legibility, Lee’s topographies are ambiguously utopian or dystopian. A Perfect Suffering, 2011, is part of a sculptural series featuring helical metal armatures adorned with shiny chains, crystals, and glass beads. Hung from the ceiling, these steely, glittering chandeliers are also microcosmic landscapes—floating mountains colonized with winding roadways and Frank Gehry-style buildings. Installed atop a table like an architectural model, Mon grand récit: Weep into stones… (My grand narrative: Weep into stones), 2005, recasts real-world attractions—an upside-down Hagia Sophia, a roller coaster-like ring road, a flashing billboard—as a miniature amusement park ride that is at once anachronistically futuristic and ancient. Having observed Lee’s sci-fi terrains and creatures from afar, the viewer also has a chance to experience these elaborate fantasy worlds from within. Past a black curtain and through a low-ceilinged tunnel (Souterrain, 2012) is a large-scale installation whose mirrored floor is populated by two structures whose curious forms tempt the viewer to venture inside. The more disorienting is Via Negativa, 2012, a snail-shaped labyrinth made of wood, mirrors, and LED lights. Excerpts from psychologist Julian Jaynes’s text on the bicameral mind (in English and Korean) plastered to the structure’s exterior walls appear a vain attempt to verbalize the overwhelmingly discombobulating experience of Lee’s hall of mirrors.
Perhaps Kara Hamilton, in once characterizing her work as “critical decoration,” was also describing the works by fellow artists Christine Roland, Angie Keefer, and Steffie Christiaens that are included in this exhibition. Cooperation and interaction between the works of these participating artists within a crossover between art and craft are essential elements in the show, which is not so much about fashion but involves historic notions of female-gender-related dressing, and the tools and materials by which the clothing was made.
Every material seems to have a specific meaning, such as in Horsehair Pins (all works 2013), made of silver and threads of white horsehair by Hamilton and Roland. The silver reflects the value of the time-consuming labor involved in sewing, while the horsehair relates to the padding of tight-fitting corsets. Christiaens’s handmade shoes, worn at the opening by the gallery’s director Maxine Kopsa, consist of an interwoven pattern, which the artist applied according to the specific natural characteristics of the different materials used. Works like these are as discrete and precise as the unassuming female toil depicted in, say, a Vermeer painting.
The text-based work Where Were We, 2013, by Keefer is another case of an interactive work: The text, now part of Keefer’s ongoing project www.servinglibrary.com, was appropriated by Hamilton into a metal street sign displayed on the Kunstverein’s facade. Hamilton’s Weights, 2013, small silver paperweights that resemble chess pieces at first glance, are actually casts of tiny peculiar bits of garbage. Their fragility, their white-silver gleam, and their unfinished trumpet-like base convey a sense of doubt and a playful acceptance of a “lack of a solution.” It’s an open ending you wish to see more often in works of art.
Rob Voerman has taken to task a direct social and political engagement in the presentation of his latest exhibition, “The Fifth Season.” This is also the title of the large installation, which seems arranged like a workshop, that one reaches first when entering the gallery: It functions as a place for discussion and other programming open to artists, political lobbyists, art institutions, and neighborhood community groups. The hanging lamp above the work’s invitingly large table is made up of slides of images culled from news coverage of war, slain animals, and crashed financial charts, among other topics, casting a brooding yet communal atmospheric light from the middle of the room.
Except for a single door opening, the installation is closed off to the rest of the gallery space. Voerman’s tinted windows and stained-glass patterns made of cardboard and colored plastic adorn any other light source. But through the glass, the rest of the exposition is still visible: a collection of watercolor drawings and sculptural works in the artist’s signature crude style, made with materials such as unfinished wood, house paint, epoxy, and bronze. Unité d’Habitation (all works cited, 2014) consists of a tall standing sculpture made of a wooden stilt-like construction and colored with references to Mondrian’s palette. Sitting on top is a warped cardboard model of Le Corbusier’s famous building in a seemingly derelict state. The drawing installed across from it, Inverse Modernity, is an equally forsaken vision, yet in this depiction traces of humanity are slightly discernible. Voerman seems to want to confront us with what it means to turn our backs on the greater modernist narrative and start over again. Only, this time, we’ve been equipped with the tools and materials more immediately attainable after a would-be apocalypse.
Thomas Rentmeister’s work has often been referred to as “dirty Minimalism” due to his unambiguous choice of materials and the way in which their forms become abstract when presented out of context as products rather than works of art. Nutella hazelnut paste, refrigerators, and Penaten cream are arranged and mixed together as if a child had determined their placement and form in the white cubic spaces. In fact, many of the ingredients Rentmeister uses are chosen based on his childhood memories of their smell, color, and consistency. For the artist, the translation of these memories is explicitly part of the artistic and conceptual value of his work. It warrants a sense of humor and allows the work sly references to Minimalism, Color Field painting, and even Dadaism.
For this exhibition in Amsterdam, Rentmeister chose to show work from the past eight years, excluding previous pieces that have focused more on the olfactory sense. The most recent work from 2013 (all works are untitled), the centerpiece of the exhibition, is a canny reference to Conceptual sculpture: A rusted cast-iron rake and a pillow lie heavily on an immaculate, soft white duvet. Its relationship to a work from 2012—wherein a neat row of paper tissues is displayed on the ridge of a stainless-steel sculpture hanging on the wall—is interesting due to a specific similarity. Once again, placing the aesthetic over other sensorial qualities is toyed with in a dialogue with a sculptural complement. Only here the focus of the work stems from the serial quality of the tissues that lie on top of the neutral—and therefore impersonal—horizontal form.
Navid Nuur’s “Lube Love” presents an artist who unperturbedly incorporates the basic foundations of Conceptual art in his work, while at the same time modifying these into a completely new language. Nuur’s exhibition showcases a very personal etymology that allows room for humor, failure, beauty, sensuality, and even a hint of anthroposophism.
The first room viewers encounter is dedicated to Nuur’s personal regard for the color black. On the wall is an large-scale text piece that details a candid fictitious interview between him and black, in which he professes his faith in its formal as well as magical properties. In the back of this space, a new work—‘Untitled’ The Inker’s Inn, 2013—allows visitors to the show to get a tattoo of Nuur’s design (free of charge), with black ink as the only available option. A similar work of devotion is on view in a following room—‘Untitled’ Let us meet inside you, 2005–13—wherein water from Nuur’s studio becomes the object of adoration. Hundreds of bottles in blue crates are filled with water from a tap that Nuur brought from his studio and had connected to the museum’s water supply. On the inside of a label affixed to each bottle is the title of the work, legible only through water and glass.
Such works reveal not only the artist’s curiosity about his chosen materials and their properties but also how he incorporates that constellation of materials into a whole. Further on in the show, the walls are painted with different pastel-hued paints, each containing its own vitamin complex. Nuur seems to believe that it’s his responsibility as an artist to provide an alternate way of reading and seeing. (For example, in his textual works, which act as poetic footnotes throughout the show, he treats his dyslexia as a tool, by playing with the manner in which words are spelled and combined to create what almost becomes a new language.) But, more than that, he seems to also consider himself responsible for engendering the collective conditions that best foster these alternatives. Or, to cite a work constituting nothing more than the badge visitors receive upon entering: “We Share Air.”
Curated by Joanna Kordjak-Piotrowska, “Map” comprises numerous photographs, sketchbooks, documentary films, and paintings that take up the political atmosphere of Poland between 1947 and the end of the 1950s. The works address the nation’s creative dialogue with Western Europe, particularly France, as well as with the Middle East and Asia, shedding light on Cold War alliances between Communist countries and their sympathizers. What’s more, the presentation of these works reconstructs often nonobvious and changeable paths of intellectual exchange after World War II.
On view are Polish artist Aleksander Kobzdej’s politically charged sketches created in 1954 in Vietnam at the end of the First Indochina War. These significantly depart from the socialist realism and art informel styles that the painter is most associated with. Here, Kobzdej acts less as an artist and more as a reporter, depicting the signposts of an ongoing war. Kordjak-Piotrowska has juxtaposed these works with photoreportages and films by other artists. One notable example is Roman Artymowski’s slightly overexposed footage of 1960s Bagdad. Artymowski spent time in the city as lecturer at the University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts between 1959 and 1967, during which he made this particular work that, like Kobzdej’s, illustrate the relationship between travel and image production. Accompanied by a selection of Parisian sketchbooks from the late 1940s, which show the migration of ideas in and out of the Iron Curtain, the exhibition acts as a rhizome of references that substantially nuances conceptions of an artmaking system that might otherwise be perceived as myopic.
“The image is strong but next to it is the void,” reads a phrase in a recent work by João Louro. The statement may well be an axiom for the artist’s overall practice, which regards the image as an entity in itself and probes the space that surrounds it. Central to this process is the presence and absence of images and the role the spectator has in activating or reinventing them. In Lisbon, Louro presents two simultaneous exhibitions—one at the eighteenth-century chapel of Projecto Travessa da Ermida and another at Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art—that postulate separate takes on our relation to the construction and observation of imagery.
In “5 Minutes After Violent Death,” a speculation on the last images one will see just before death is presented. A group of twenty small black-and-white photographs and three large color light boxes—each with the same title of the show and dated 2014—from Louro’s personal archive suggest a hypothetical, filmic flashback of the entirety of someone’s life: sweet childhood moments, beloved movies, personal encounters, and memorable holidays. Though they are dispositive for the viewer’s own personal recollection, there are moments when the artist barely hints at a certain narrative, forcing the spectator to complete the picture.
In the gallery space, “The Cold Man” includes twelve canvases from the series “Covers” and the installation The Atomic Nature of Matter, both 2014. Comprised of a written introduction by a mysterious author and a series of documents, such as a personal journal, police facial composites, photographs, and newspaper clippings, the installation presents the story of a fiction writer who becomes a serial killer and murders to feed his stories. The paintings, however, are reproductions of recognizable book covers: In Ulysses, for example, Louro reproduces the cover of the book’s first edition but violently erases part of the blue background that makes up the Aegean Sea as if to unveil only the title and the author’s name. By denying access to the contents of the book, the paintings serve as triggers for the spectator to either imagine a new narrative or retell the classic stories by memory—much like seeing your life flash before your eyes.
“I is another" wrote Arthur Rimbaud words that apply well to the work of Portuguese artist Jorge Molder. For the past three-plus decades, the Lisbon-born artist has called upon his own image as a model for his photos. Two separate museum exhibitions documenting his practice have opened in his hometown, one at the Museu do Chiado and the other at the Museu da Electricidad. On view at the former is “Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief,” an expansive exhibition of works spanning 1989 to 2012 that showcases the variety of ways Molder fictionalized his own image. Throughout, the artist seems to have drawn inspiration from both people and situations that linger between reality and fiction—for example Pinocchio, 2009, in which the artist casted parts of his body in plaster. Similarly in the series of photographs, “The Origin of Species,” 2012, Molder appears in different postures in front of a black square; traces of his movement blur over some of the images, causing him to appear animalistic.
Molder’s latest series, “The Scale of Mohs,” 2012–13, (on view at the Museu da Electricidad) features the artist as a gesticulating clown who is concerned with his appearance. The title refers to a scale designed by German mineralogist Friedrich Moh that indicates the hardness of minerals, ranging from soft talc to hard diamond. Given the attention to the surface of the face in these photos, the title could refer to the way human skin is inevitably scratched by time. The clown seems to sense his mortality, even though he is entertaining with full dedication. Part of the images looks like drawing or painting, even though that is a illusion, carried out in a digital printing technique. The clown, working on his make up in red and white, adds another layer to the confusion about the reality of the image.
An old showcase in the center of the gallery space, like those in jewelry shops and archaeological museums, contains nine small objects on a piece of black velvet. Nearby, a continuous line of nine fourteen-by-fourteen-inch photos, exhibited in black frames and white mats, mark two walls of the gallery space and a corner, while a third wall features nine short descriptions of each object in the showcase.
These components are the work of Daniel Djamo, a young Bucharest-based Romanian artist. His practice sometimes incorporates his own stories and objects, which, when transformed into images (whether photography or video), free themselves of affection and intimacy, and reveal an almost art-historical approach. It all seems part of an effort to reflect upon personal memories and archives, and create new conditions for them—by installing them in an aseptic pseudodiorama. The items in his solo show appear to form a game of fake tautologies, wherein the actual objects, their meanings from Djamo’s personal perspective, and detailed shots created with a macro lens all evoke the question: “What is the use of an art space today?” Djamo shows the viewer objects from his childhood—a special chimney sweeper, a pocketknife, a handkerchief, a bow, a St. George medallion—and then tells the story behind each of them, sharing the year in which he received them, their source, and their meaning to him. The photos are all details, apparently aleatorily chosen. Cut from the original objects, they’re alternately abstract forms (for example, something resembling a blue mandala) or precise representations, such as a metallic torso. The original is hardly recognizable in these depictions, which have become pure timeless icons, acts of exorcism.
The artist ironically plays with viewers, trapping them in Sherlock Holmes-ian thought patterns by compelling them to unceasingly read meaning into image. Djamo seems part of a new generation to whom personal experience is no longer subject or fetish but rather an object of research and a starting point toward a metadiscourse on art’s duplicity.
In his first solo exhibition at the gallery’s new Madrid location, Fran Meana tackles memories of twentieth-century history while inquiring into the tension between form and image, tangibility and visibility. At the heart of this show is a quaint pedagogical program from the 1910s at a small school embedded within a mining complex in the northern region of Asturias, an area destined toward hardship due to the dismantling of old industrial compounds. The school’s masters created teaching methodologies informed by the use of stone reliefs in geometrical patterns: Meana reaches back to these reliefs and fights their obsolescence through the use of contemporary tools. In doing so, he also questions issues related to today’s artistic concerns, namely those involving process and presentation.
In the series “The Immaterial Material” (all works 2014), Meana creates the same geometrical patterns on cement plates through the use of a CNC milling machine. There is a strong sense of the fragmentary since the cement plates are only small pieces of a larger whole, evoking ancient stele with abstract pictograms as they lean on austere metal adjustable shelves. Some of these shelves may be removed from the structure so that the stele lie bare on the floor. In other works from the series, some of the shelves hang on the wall, becoming tableaux of old black-and-white photographs of the school and succinctly drawn floor plans.
By asserting this profoundly analogical pedagogical practice, the exhibition sheds light on the transition from craftsmanship to modern technologies, one that is echoed by the shift from the vaporous images that still strive to preserve the memory of the school to the tangible and truly corporeal tridimensional forms the artist creates. Deeply concerned by the conceptual and narrative potential of display, Meana’s current show is so far his best attempt at merging formalism and content.
The practice of Rotterdam-based artists Iratxe Jaio and Klaas van Gorkum explores social transformation in the West brought forth by late capitalism. In their latest exhibition, organized by the independent curatorial group Latitudes, they examine the “image” of labor that has emerged as economic systems based on Ford-inspired models of mass production have gradually been replaced by immaterial, service-based economies. Producing Time In Between Other Things, 2011, for example, is inspired by the woodturning that van Gorkum’s grandfather picked up after retiring. The artists retrieved the wooden objects (made by the elder van Gorkum) from the homes of their family and friends across the Netherlands, and united them in the gallery alongside photographs of their original locations. The items sit on top of platforms, the supports of which are pieces the artists produced using the same lathe employed by van Gorkum’s grandfather while training in the craft.
In Work in Progress, 2013, Jaio and van Gorkum consider the gradual shuttering of factories across Europe, as provoked by the relocation of many Western manufacturing facilities to the East. A video documents an assembly line of rubber car parts in a Basque Country village, which are destined for international markets. One sees this mass-production at work in a plant managed by blue-collar workers, but also in a later phase during which a female immigrant workforce hand-finishes the components in informal facilities. Jaio and van Gorkum commissioned some of these contracted workers to make resin casts of Spanish artist Jorge Oteiza’s serial, miniature abstract pieces created in the context of his 1970s experimental “Chalk Laboratory” enterprise. These elements are displayed on dedicated shelves alongside a plinth on top of which lie their molds. By establishing a parallel between the alienated action of the laborers and sculpture’s formalist tradition in Spain, Jaio and van Gorkum resort to personal narrative as much as history to activate debates on art’s autonomy, or its capability to engage in a critical assessment of the real.
A sober and discreet Conceptualist, Isidoro Valcárcel Medina has had a five-decade career, and his influence on younger generations of Spanish artists is far from receding. Curated by Juan de Nieves, this museum-quality exhibition of new pieces is devoted to the artist’s profoundly personal insights into architecture. It comprises blueprints and plans regarding two projects related to a nearby private dwelling (El hilván [Basting], 2012, and A dos caras, a dos aguas [Two-sided and Gabled], 2013), and one site-specific intervention for the basement of the gallery (Escala 1:1 [Scale 1:1], 2013).
For El hilván, Valcárcel Medina intends to sew together the walls and windows of a house, piercing them and running a thick rope through. This piece is meticulously described in a typically deadpan set of floor and elevation plans as well as a video animation. But look closer: The documents convey ideas ranging from the malleability of apparently rigid architectonic structures to the vanishing boundaries between public and private domains. In another set of elevation plans, for A dos caras, a dos aguas, the artist suggests subtle transformations in the perimeter of the house, whose ductile walls would allow the emergence of bulges in both its interior and its exterior. In short, architecture here acts as a living organism, defining itself in dynamic and unexpected forms. In the basement, Valcárcel Medina’s intervention Escala 1:1—for which he has rendered measurements of the space on the white floor—represents an irrefutably tautological exercise that has formal similarities with Mel Bochner’s spatial measurements. Still, the Spaniard’s take on space is obsessive in its unambiguous quest for self-reflexivity.
Directed by Maria Lind, this dynamic project encompasses exhibitions, excursions, and lectures about the people and city of Tensta, a suburb northwest of central Stockholm. The immense program explores history and collective memory while pivoting around a seven-month exhibition cycle with a rigorous schedule of almost daily events. The current session (January 18 to May 18, 2014) sees the participation of over thirty artists—including Minouk Lim, Mila Ivanow, and Tarek Atoui—as well as architects, local collectives and associations, sociologists, cultural geographers, and academics who will discuss issues related to Tensta. Originally a farming area, today Tensta is home to nineteen thousand people, and many live in modernist apartments that were built in the late 1960s as part of a government initiative to solve the housing crisis. With this rapid growth, the identity of the suburb transformed dramatically; the project addresses the problems of a shifting collective memory and the role of cultural heritage.
The museum is a hub for fruitful dialogue. A highlight is Petra Bauer’s collaboration with the local Women’s Center of Tensta-Hjulsta (KITH), political scientist Sofia Wiberg, and architect Filippa Stålhane. Together they present eight “acts” or workshops focusing on listening as a political act and pedagogical tool. The acts thematically focus on housing, home, and living conditions. These ideas continue in the museum with the Grand Domestic Revolution’s open-source library, workshops from artist Ahmet Ögüt and the Silent University, and a lecture by Marion von Osten on her project-exhibition “In the Desert of Modernity—Colonial Planning and After.”
For the duration of the exhibition, the Konsthall has also adapted the institutional title of “Tensta Museum,” an act that critiques institutional authority while simultaneously claiming that authority for as its own. This assumed title manipulates the hierarchy of institutional rhetoric (and associated funding) and reflects a desire for Tensta and its konsthall to be valued by the state. In all, the project weaves together a compelling cartography of a new Sweden: a country beyond stereotypes, which engages with a complex political and social landscape. It manages to orchestrate audiences into meaningful encounters with the city and boldly celebrates and gives voice to the multifaceted lives of the people and communities that form this place.
While the significance of Duchamp’s readymade is frequently taken for granted today, in this group exhibition of artists from different generations and with various sensibilities, the hundredth anniversary of the first readymades (Bicycle Wheel, 1913, and Bottle Rack, 1914) is celebrated with an anachronistic urgency. For instance, in Şakir Gökçebağ’s Sun, 2010, numerous black umbrella handles surrounding another black umbrella serve to focus the viewer’s attention on the object at the center. The piece’s circular shape echoes the clock installed on the back wall of the exhibition: In this work by Gülçin Aksoy, Untitled (Intervention on Ready Made), 2002, each hour is marked by the words I’M LATE. The wall clock is familiar, while the visually crowded dial becomes a ground on which the personal is expressed. It is perhaps a literal translation of the title of the exhibition, a readymade that is being crushed under a sentiment, losing its thingness to become an expression of a feeling.
Hera Büyüktaşçıyan’s sculpture Panarchia, 2012, is populated by gilded egg dishes, half-open to reveal stones. The corporeal phenomenon of swallowing, an orchestration that one never really consciously thinks about (except perhaps when swallowing is painful), is also an apt metaphor for our dealing with the world, separating everything into two: things we can swallow and things we cannot. The domestic setup of this object within the context of the exhibition thus serves as a nod to the wordplay and the transliteration of the debut readymade of 1913.
The highlight of the show is Vahit Tuna’s Armut, 1997, which is as elegant as it is funny. Mimicking an Edward Weston work, this black-and-white photograph features a pear that stands proudly. The Turkish word for “pear,” armut, when said aloud sounds like Duchamp’s famous signature R. Mutt, which is also inscribed on the side of the pear. The work is direct, literal, and a crucial addition to the century of readymades. Here it bridges the original context of the readymade, the locality of this exhibition, and the artist.
Curated by Elif Gül Tirben, this group exhibition is the first show at Tankut Aykut Gallery—a young, timely contribution to the rapidly growing gallery scene in Istanbul. The show brings together the gritty aesthetic of the neighborhood—where numerous small businesses can still be found, despite the rapid urban renewal that is transforming the area—with an unassuming visual language that runs throughout the exhibition. For instance, Fatma Belkıs and Onur Gökmen’s installation Company as Nose as Company, 2014, consists of a small folding wooden table, the type that is often seen bearing trivial commodities such as cigarettes or knickknacks on local streets. Here, however, over twenty noses walk around the tabletop thanks to small battery-powered motors: a Gogol story sprung eerily and excessively to life. Witty, understated, exchangeable, and reproducible, the noses evoke objects that would cheaply fill shoppers’ bags of goods, embodying both commodity fetishism and the functionality of objects.
Meanwhile, Komet’s States of Becoming a Bird, 2013, is a beautiful and diminutive sculpture encased in glass. This playful, handmade work contains perhaps the most direct reference to the title of the exhibition, as it hints at a state of becoming and the in-betweenness of character, both artistic and personal, as its abstract form (reminiscent of a horse’s head), emerging from the neck of a vase like something hatching from a shell or a chrysalis, hints at a state of becoming, an unfinished quality of character. Born in 1941, Komet is the oldest artist here by a few decades, and his work anchors the conceptual framework of the exhibition. Merve Ertufan’s Sketch, 2014, is another highlight. In this video, the artist sits and speaks with an illustrator who makes a sketch of her. One notices the board game Guess Who? on the table that separates them, and the air of self-consciousness that grows throughout the interaction. In the end, Sketch is a poetic stand-in for “the” artist in her studio.