Tony Oursler’s “PriV&te” draws on the artist’s long-standing concern with the implications of data’s encroachment on personal life, in particular Big Brother’s and big business’ yearning to map and identify the human face. This series of seven large and colorful head-shaped panels, four of which are inset with video screens that play animated composites of erratically moving facial features, borrows dots, grids, and numbers reminiscent of measurements used in facial recognition software to adorn each panel. The panels’ surface textures affect a sleek, glittery mood of hyperbolic sci-fi technology.
The mouths featured on four of the LCD screens make largely illegible movements, and occasionally visitors can make out audible fragments of sober sentences. Due to their random timing and plurality, these recognizable phrases sometimes overlap with and interrupt one another, creating a clamor with a psychological gravity. Oursler’s characters, who frequently sound tortured or who appear to be in the midst of inner turmoil, tend to exist in existential spaces, and this series is no exception, albeit with a technological leaning. The largest, most impactful work in the show is EUC%, 2015, a wooden panel held upright by black sandbags in a Brechtian nod toward its own theatricality. By riffing on facial mapping technologies, Oursler is gesturing toward our increasingly quantifiable personal identities. He seems to suggest that if anonymity is becoming null in the crowds of public life, interior privacy will surely be next. This is a message with particular resonance in Hong Kong, whose residents’ recent struggles with the distant Chinese central government are marked by an increasing inability to maintain anonymity when voicing dissent.
Recent public art in Hong Kong has tended toward the lighthearted. Florentijn Hofman’s giant inflated Rubber Duck floated in the harbor in 2013 and Paulo Grangeon’s sixteen hundred papier mâché pandas appeared in flashmobs around the city in 2014. Antony Gormley’s Event Horizon, 2007, is a more cerebral public art project and a response to the island’s condensed and vertical environment. The artist compares his installation to acupuncture: minor displacements realigning the energy of the urban habitat in a healing way.
Gormley’s thirty-one life-size iron sculptures are indexical copies of the artist’s body. Many are positioned on key rooftops throughout Hong Kong’s Central district, such as city hall, the Standard Chartered Bank Building, and the Central police station. In cosmological physics, “event horizon” refers to the limit of the known universe. Here, scattered across the cityscape, the works expand our understanding of how we interact with space and with others, and they question how the built world relates to an inherited earth.
The surprise of glimpsing a human silhouette against the sky might be troubling to some observers—the connotation of suicide is unavoidable. For others, a game could be made of spotting all thirty-one. The project began in 2007, when it was reported that half of the planet’s population lives in urban centers, and it has toured several cities since. Gormley’s eloquent installation is a call to mindfulness in a hectic and densely built-up place, encouraging us to be still for a moment and look up.
Philippe Garrel was a teenage filmmaking prodigy—he wrote and directed his first feature at the age of sixteen, under the influence of the 1960s films of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Since then, Garrel has made over two dozen more features, with the latest—L’ombre des femmes (In the Shadow of Women, 2015)—premiering last year at Cannes.
In Seoul, Garrel is being honored with a cinematic retrospective that includes many of his early and more obscure films, as well as an exhibition at one of the city’s most prestigious contemporary-art institutions. The latter consists of three works shown on a loop, the highlight of which is a restored 35-mm print of Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights . . . (She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps . . ., 1985), an autobiographical film exploring Garrel’s breakup with a long-term partner—the musician Nico—and the birth of his son, the actor Louis Garrel. In the second room, across two screens, is Les hautes solitudes (1974)—a silent portrait of the troubled actress Jean Seberg, who is perhaps best remembered for her role in Godard’s Breathless (1960). At one point in Garrel’s film, she is seen swallowing a fistful of pills in despair—disturbing, considering Seberg’s actual suicide five years later after being the victim of a long defamation campaign by the FBI for her leftist leanings. Finally, on three screens is shown Le révélateur (The Revealer, 1968), another silent film, shot with three actors shortly after the events of May ’68 in a desolate, rural German town. Together, these films offer an apt vision of Garrel’s particular aesthetics of revolt: one rooted in the free associations of poetry and the rejection of systems.
Minouk Lim has installed The Gates of Citizen, 2015, in the middle of Auguste Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, 1926–28, and The Burghers of Calais, 1889, which are parts of the museum’s permanent collection. The artist removed the doors from four shipping containers and recomposed them into an open passage, in which Lim set an audio system that plays popular songs along with the noise from various types of vehicles. Between the artworks that represent the pain and suffering of human beings on the one hand and the heroic sacrifice for the sake of the community on the other, the container gates aptly stand for the artist’s consistent concerns of dispersion, displacement, and loss, all of which underlie the collective experience of Koreans in the twentieth century.
As an artist living in a divided country, where old Cold War ideologies are still relevant and mutual mixed feelings of hostility and sympathy toward the other are deeply rooted in people’s minds, Lim believes that the meaning of community and the formulation of its solidarity prompt unavoidable questions.
The Promise of If, 2015, the exhibition’s title piece, is a two-channel video projection that shows the clips from the now legendary TV show Finding the Dispersed Families, 1983. In a broadcast lasting 453 hours and 45 minutes, the show aired over 100,000 messages on placards, presented by individuals hoping to reunite with members of their families that had been torn apart by war. Re-encountering the pain of separation and the overwhelming joy of reunion, Lim allows us to viscerally experience the numerous possibilities contained within the hypothetical worlds of “if.”
“Sound Requires a Medium” comprises magical audio-physical installations made of ten thousand earbuds woven together into the hovering shape of a cloud, for a total of around twelve miles of wiring; a piano attached to reverberating contrabass amps; rotating wooden wheels that breathe into a bird-shaped mouthpiece; and a theremin-like instrument with a metal rod that you bite onto so that it vibrates the sound of a poem inside your head.
Maya Dunietz is a sound activist who composes and performs indie rock as well as avant-garde music. For her sound installations she creates specific objects and audio environments that use the bodies of visitors as instruments, rendering them into echo chambers within a meditative music box. This contrasts sharply with the bustling Carmel Market located right outside the CCA. There, peddlers compete for attention, busses hiss and howl, and the general level of noise pollution is high. Inside, we practice a different form of listening, one that unfolds in time and allows for genuine discovery. “Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused words. Man approaches it through forests of symbols, which observe him with familiar glances,” Baudelaire wrote in “Correspondences” (1857). Dunietz’s installation transports us through that forest, deepening our ways of listening, using audio to create a community that strikes a different, more harmonious chord than that of the trembling environment outside.
It feels as if you have walked into a dream. The colors in Philip Mueller’s new paintings are muted the way they are in a reverie, save for some luminous creatures and plants that glow effervescently. His fantastical imagination comes through at once. But it is the compositions themselves that make this otherworld feel so unreal. Lord Byron’s portrait on a surfboard greets viewers at the entrance for Byron BFSB (all works 2015). In other works on view, men lounge in the Alpine woods, ride horses, and hunt. Ghosts, dead swans, crosses, and skulls are just some of the symbolic paraphernalia that feature alongside the outlaws. Something about these hedonist-looking fellas seem like they’re mocking society. In Mueller’s Bonbonnière Bar BFSB, a Batman-masked subject grins cheekily, and in Café Landtmann BFSB you are made to feel like an intruder.
In the corner of the gallery hangs a solitary black leather jacket with the words BLACK FLAMINGO SAD BOY, indeed BFSB, on its back in white paint. You come to understand that Mueller has created a fictitious, clandestine gang of debauchees called the Black Flamingos and this jacket seemingly legitimizes their epicurean status. Every gang’s got to have one. These outcasts function purely on the pleasure principle and fend for themselves, decked in masks, in the woods. A walk around the gallery confirms that this solo show is a Freudian model of the id rendered artistically. It’s got escapism all over it.
Steeped in the tension of Puerto Rico’s financial crisis, the physical dispersion of art into public space and the wholesale impact of economic and governmental breakdown characterize the 4th San Juan Poly/Graphic Triennial. Presenting works from a variety of media that are all conceptually rooted in the conditions of printmaking—matrices, reliefs, mark making, and broad modes of dissemination—many of the triennial’s exhibitions are spread across the island, from the streets of San Juan to remote regions. Its most public project registers the contemporary spirit of decentralization not only spatially but also in the politics of the work: For Puerto Rican Master Printers, 2014, the young artist collective Printmakers by Printmakers pays homage to the legendary master printmakers of the island by wheat-pasting their life-size woodcut portraits throughout the city.
During opening events at the Arsenal de la Marina Española, one of the triennial’s central sites, some galleries were still awaiting the arrival of certain works. Several projects exploring site-specificity and questions about how global forces are felt on a local level flanked such voids. In a dark corner of the venue’s colonial building is Nicolás Robbio’s Puerto Rico, 6 AM, 2015, a sparse sculptural installation including a drinking glass, a magnifying glass, and overhead projectors whose refractions chart patterns that the blazing sun makes in the space as it enters through cracks in a worn door. In Karlo Andrei Ibarra’s performative installation Remnants, 2011, a tattoo artist inscribes passages from NAFTA on green plantains. Nearby, Alicia Villareal presents a grid of children’s desks bearing silk-screened maps and jigsaw-cut incisions in Engraving the Territory, 2009. In the context of this exhibition, the wood’s disturbing fault lines comment on the unsustainable fissures in national institutions and profit-driven geopolitics that continue to plague the island.
Over the years, Carlos Bunga has developed a meditative response to architecture that takes the form of sculptural work and site-specific installation. At the National University Museum of Art of Bogotá, a building designed in the modernist tradition by Alberto Estrada, Bunga puts forth an array of propositions that work against and within—and from and toward—context. His installation adds and subtracts content, and it unveils itself to be blatantly rational while at the same time, undisguisedly and somehow unexpectedly, it portrays a sublimation of the contemplative. Never in Bunga’s work had I seen such a rapturous atmosphere, with such little means, as in his intervention in the main interior space of the museum, where two basic elements, a horizontal cardboard strip and a succinct yellow plane, provided an immersive and ecstatic experience. Cardboard is a recurrent material in Bunga’s work. In the previous room it is used to create formidable walls and corridors that radically transform the museum’s architecture, but here it is reduced to its slightest expression, like a plane folded back onto a line, or perhaps onto an idea of a line; such is its silent subtlety.
Bunga’s approach in this project is manifold. In post-Minimalist fashion and through tumultuous action, square concrete shapes have been removed from the floor of the courtyard and stacked nearby. He has also cleared a rectangular surface of grass off the lawn, and an equally reticular ambition is developed in the adjacent space, with cardboard boxes stretching almost endlessly, echoing the structure of the roof. This was a clear example of Bunga’s interest in the precarious transcription of minimal art, much indebted to his signature formalism in opposition to the accomplished yellow paint works that called upon a psychological understanding of space and produced a rather welcome perceptual complexity.