Cécile B. Evans

270-276 Kingsland Road, Entrance on Acton Mews to rear
October 15–December 6

Cécile B. Evans, Hyperlinks or it didn’t happen, 2014, Single channel HD video, color, sound, 22 minutes.

In the Dantesque world of Cécile B. Evans’s video Hyperlinks or it didn’t happen (all works 2014), a digitally rendered likeness of Philip Seymour Hoffman is our Virgil, among a number of other virtual actors, including a spam bot, an agoraphobic YouTube celebrity, and a holographic pop star crooning “Forever Young.” As if speaking from the beyond, PHIL implores, “And please, don’t call me uncanny.” A fair warning that the old critical models need not apply here.

Identity is not obsolete, though. Race and gender are loaded issues throughout Evans’s exhibition, which is rounded out by photomontages and assemblages. For instance, Hyperlinks or it didn’t happen incorporates archival evidence of a time when computer programming was considered women’s work. The video’s associative logic also conjures a bodiless character reading Ralph Ellison’s famous novel as she concedes that older women “become invisible,” connecting back to the former historical elision. Evans is attentive to the ways in which the digital realm compels new relationships between physical reality and mediated images, one effect of which is figuration itself being redefined. Death and mortality are frequently evoked in mass media and throughout this show, as in the inclusion of a widely circulated video of an airline Ebola scare or in the virtual resurrection of Phil. The potency of such a digital figure complicates traditional distinctions between the living and nonliving, not least because of the character’s ability to circulate as a commodity. As the video’s meme-quoting title suggests, questions of belief and proof are at stake in these new forms. PHIL shares our uncertainty regarding how to feel about it all, asking, “Is this a tender moment, or does it make you want to laugh?” Both.

Phil Taylor

“Schizo-Culture: Cracks In The Street”

129-131 Mare Street
October 3–December 7

View of “Schizo-Culture: Cracks In The Street,” 2014.

This exhibition is a major presentation of research into “Schizo-Culture: On Prisons and Madness,” the 1975 Columbia University conference where the Semiotext(e) publishing collective introduced radical French philosophy to a North American audience. The 1978 book Schizo-Culture was revised and republished earlier this year and edited by the group’s de facto leader Sylvère Lotringer and London-based writer David Morris. Extending that catalogue’s examination of the conference’s potent legacy, this display, cocurated by Morris, Paul Pieroni, and the artist Katherine Waugh, brings together extensive audio recordings and documentation along with works from the conference’s original participants, including some of William Burroughs’s ’80s “Shot Sherriff” paintings, posters from Plastique Fantastique—such as thr s nt & nvr hs bn nythng t ndrstnd, 2013—and Vivienne Dick’s video She Had Her Gun All Ready, 1978.

Most striking is an untitled, black-and-white collage made this year by Semiotext(e) cohort Hedi El Kholti, whose source material was the 1978 published tome of Schizo-Culture. From a distance it looks like a large-scale, hazy scrawl of jumbled words and overlaid images displayed like a wall of graffiti. But up close, it turns into a makeshift reading room—recognizable are excerpts from a variety of magazines, postcards, and poems. The arrangement overall is similar to the publishers’ installation in the last Whitney Biennial—which was criticized as merely an archive of past publications and ephemera, but that criticism is unwarranted here. Instead, this exhibition visually demonstrates the group’s lively philosophies addressing the creative potential associated with schizophrenia. El Kholti's piece exemplifies this in its attempt to break down formal hierarchies, also evident in social structures, in favor of fragmented and therefore original methods.

Ajay Hothi

Wangechi Mutu

16 Wharf Road
October 14–December 19

View of “Wangechi Mutu,” 2014. From left: Sleeping Serpent, 2014; Nguva, 2013.

Luscious pools of rose and cyan might lure viewers close to the surfaces of Wangechi Mutu’s latest collages, but once there, they would confront the gaping, fanged mouths and scaly skins of the figures inhabiting each piece. These works are inspired by the nguvas of East African coastal folklore—siren-like creatures who tempt and threaten fishermen—and by the erotic and sinister connotations of snakes in biblical mythology. In addition, a new sculpture and video signal the artist’s interest in the rich symbolism of the ocean as a mysterious and life-giving environment, whose currents also sustained colonial trade routes, casting new historical meaning on the sometimes-violent rendering of bodies across her work.

The motif of water allows Mutu to experiment with fluidity on both formal and thematic levels. Collaged elements such as knives and masks float freely through the washy, painted fields that spread and congeal over their vinyl grounds. Life cycles and transformational states also feature strongly throughout, as in Sleeping Serpent, 2014, a fabric and ceramic sculpture of a snake with a woman’s head—a bulge at the center of its thirty-one-foot-long body may connote either pregnancy or satiety. The exhibition also debuts the video Nguva, 2013, in which the aquatic temptress is born from the sea and explores the world above land. The work’s mythical ambience is countered by contemporary details like the nguva’s bright-purple fingernails that sensuously graze the crevices of tree bark. The jewel tones and earthy hues that make up the video’s mise-en-scène are echoed throughout the exhibition and seem to imply a duality between the mystical and the worldly, or fantasy and reality.

Allison Young

Shanzhai Biennial

17 Brook's Mews, Mayfair
October 14–December 13

View of “Shanzai Biennial,” 2014.

Perhaps having grown tired of the now well-worn economic arc of the gentrification of neighborhoods, which artists have in turn already gentrified, the collective Shanzhai Biennial—Babak Radboy, Cyril Duval, and Avena Gallagher—has embraced the poorly concealed machinations of urban regeneration by slickly rebranding the process into a prudent and aspirational investment for this exhibition. Their misleading moniker, which signifies neither a real biennial nor a particular place but refers to the Chinese term for knocking off designer goods for the black market, figures the artist as a luxury accessory sold through the art market’s lifestyle brand.

The installation SHANZHAI BIENNIAL NO. 3: 100 HAMILTON TERRACE, 2014, is the sole work in this show, and features an opulent, red-lacquered and carpeted real-estate office selling a fifty-million-dollar (or thirty-two million-pound) property located at the titular address in London. The absurd price was flaunted at the Frieze Art Fair last month with a similar installation in this gallery’s booth. Both iterations of the work feature a glossy advertising campaign composed of backlit posters and sleek videos. Created in consultation with London brokerage firm Aston Chase, the ads’ imagery mimics tropes of high-end fashion, with groups of models posed around a vast indoor swimming pool at the property or sitting in pairs looking into the distance—evoking a vacant luxury. With this polished campaign—searing in its execution—the collective steps in front of the seemingly inevitable problem of artists’ urban displacement by harnessing their commercial value for their own ends. In drawing a big red circle around the next hot property, this group’s members stand to gain directly from speculative real-estate markets that usually crush artists.

Jennifer Piejko

KP Brehmer

56 Artillery Lane
September 25–November 30

KP Brehmer, Farbengeographie 7, Lokalisierung von Rotwerten (Color Geography 7: Location of Shades of Red), 1972–73, paint and pastel on melamine, 86 x 47".

“Reality changes,” Bertolt Brecht once said, and “in order to represent it, modes of representation must also change.” K. P. Brehmer’s exhibition thinks through two opposed terms in the history of art: realism and abstraction. Brehmer deploys the tools of bureaucracy—maps, graphs, indexes—in order to survey the effects of capitalism on everyday life. In the enlarged chart, Seele und Gefühl eines Arbeiters (Soul and Feelings of a Worker), 1975, an undulating grid registers the day-to-day emotions and drudgery associated with work. Predictably, in Brehmer’s Cold War world, feeling “neutral” or “neutral plus” prevails over “happy” or “hopeful.”

Realkapital—Produktion (Real Capital—Production), 1974, displays three painted graphs charting the fickle state of corporate profits. The swirl of sinuous lines, painted on self-adhesive film on top of melamine, is viscous and aggressive—specifics are lost in transcription. Similar to the undated Schuldentilgung der öeffentlichen Hand (Bailout of the Public Sector), Brehmer’s graph appears irrational and crisis prone. The graphs are not crafted to display information per se, but a general attitude towards the economy. Understanding falters, and so it should. In a détourned topographical map, Farbengeographie 7, Lokalisierung von Rotwerten (Color Geography 7: Location of Shades of Red), 1972–73, Vietnam is visualized as as blood stains. The challenge of this work, however, is that an altered topology does not operate in the same way as a cognitive map, whose form is less symbolic and schematic. When abstraction merges with realism, instead of allegory, the results are demanding rather than diagrammatic.

Andrew Witt