Organized by the nonprofit YARAT Contemporary Art, this exhibition debuted in the arsenal of last year’s Venice Biennial and is now on view in the futuristic Zaha Hadid–designed Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan. The show’s curator, Dina Nasser-Khadivi, has gathered works by sixteen artists—from Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Georgia—some of whom currently live in New York or London, and the artists’ homelands are a main theme in all the works.
Aida Mahmudova, founder of YARAT, presents her sculpture Recycled, 2012–13—made with ornamentally crafted mirrors that produce a dizzying play of shadows. The work alludes to the relationship between memory and modernization. Farid Rasulov also conjoins tradition and the present day. His Untitled #4, 2013, refers to rapid architectural changes—the work brutally clamps glass ornaments made for windows between concrete slabs—in a powerful image for Baku, where so many traditional houses have been destroyed for high-rise apartment buildings. In this institution’s curved walls and vast open spaces, Rasolov’s sculptures emphasize all the more the ever-narrowing space for customs.
In his film The King of Black, 2013, the Iranian artist Shoja Azari takes up the “Seven Beauties,” a poem by Nizami Ganjavi, which dates from 1197. In it, a king tries to fathom the cause of suffering and is seduced by beauty into paradise, where his impatience leads to his expulsion. The actors are dressed in contemporary clothing, while the backdrops are painted in the tradition of Persian miniatures, which creates a strange timelessness. Azari’s film is an allegory of the manipulation of pleasure. Here, as in the rest of the works on view, there is not an explicit political or geographic connotation, but rather there is an appreciation for the currency that common roots and traditions—as a centralizing, driving force—have today.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
The exhibition “Mapping Asia” is a unique response to one of the most frequently posed questions at Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive: How is “Asia” defined? “Mapping Asia” takes up the conundrum from diverse vantage points, from artworks, performances, and talks, as well as materials from the archive.
Boundaries are fluid, culturally and physically. A newspaper clipping from November 14, 2013—“The World’s Newest Island” from the South China Morning Post—reports on the creation of a new landmass off the coast of Pakistan. The troubled legacy of partition, meanwhile, is referenced in Naeem Mohaiemen’s Kazi in Nomansland, 2009, which comprises stacks of postage stamps issued by India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh depicting poet and activist Kazi Narul Islam, each country competing to claim him as its own.
A display of Han through Yuan dynasty ceramics bearing Islamic and Roman stylistic influences complement Francisco Camacho’s film A Parallel Narrative, 2014, which examines early links between China and pre–Hispanic America. Predating even the celebrated voyages of adventurer Zheng He, the film postulates the location of Fousang, first visited by the monk Hui Shen in the seventh century.
In deft shorthand for the persistent debates surrounding Orientalism, the exhibition includes the song “Getting to Know You” in a scene from The King and I (1956). While the clip ends with a clumsy exchange between Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam over slavery and Abraham Lincoln, Anna’s primly catchy song reminds us that, after all, Asia is a continent we’re still “getting to know.”
More than seventy pieces, including videos of politicized performances and sculptural installations, make up “Turbulence,” Mona Hatoum’s largest solo exhibition in the Arab world. Hatoum’s work is organized nonchronologically within a trail of rooms, placing the familiar and the unfamiliar, the static and the mobile paradoxes that have prevailed in the British Palestinian artist’s thirty-year career into new dialogues.
The first video that confronts the visitor is Roadworks, 1985, documenting a performance in which the artist walks barefoot through the streets of Brixton, a pair of Doc Martens tied to her ankles. The lumbering boots, tailing Hatoum’s every step, as would a policeman or a skinhead stalker, foreshadow the uneasiness that will dog the visitors who snake their own path through the rest of the show. Another video, The Negotiating Table, 1983, depicts the artist motionless wrapped in a body bag; entrails are smeared over her body, which lies atop a wooden table. Nearby loom the more recent sculptures Daybed and Paravent, both 2008, threatening, over-dimensioned cheese graters refashioned as injury-inducing furniture. The intensity of The Negotiating Table seems to infect this sculptural duo: The bloodied, static body in the video prefigures the potential for bodily harm that the visitor might encounter by grazing the enlarged implements.
The notion of latency is central to Turbulence, 2012, the centerpiece of the show. The installation comprises thousands of glass marbles. This fragile balance lurking in a carpet of tiny spheres (and the potential for havoc should it unravel) conjures up Hatoum’s greater oeuvre and what Edward Said called “object(s) without a conclusion”—works that foreground the irreconcilable, full of unease and irresolution.
Ala Younis’s latest solo exhibition, “UAR,” offers a deceptively straightforward visual archive of Egypt’s second president (1956–70) and Pan-Arabist leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Photographs, illustrated journal covers, and other ephemera celebrating the Syrian union with Egypt (1958–61) or documenting Nasser’s funeral (1970) appear alongside several C-prints, mixed-media works, and an extended series of pencil tracings on carbon paper by the artist. These include, Mickey Mourns Gamal Abdel Nasser, 2014, a tracing of the cover of the popular Mickey magazine established in 1959—a staple of the Nasser era. Younis appears interested, foremost, in the role of spectacle in shaping the leader’s career and legacy. At the same time, she insists on the significance of the invisible, or, rather, the repression of the visible in the operation of spectacle.
Her interventions in this register are subtle and thus easy to miss. A stereoscope arranged on a table in the gallery is equipped with images from the period of Nasser’s reign that at first appear to be original black-and-white photographs. Upon closer examination, however, the satisfying illusion of convexity produced by the conventional stereoscopic image can be seen to have been interrupted, divided into distinct, horizontal planes, which achieve a similar effect through alternative means. The exhibition coincides with the run-up to the presidential elections in Egypt, and images of the anticipated winner (who is, like Nasser, an army man), Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seem to have acquired a similar ubiquity and relationship to the repressed. In this context, the exhibition’s whisper resonates clearly.
Zhang Hui is a painter who works in tight cycles, spending months or years on a particular subject or in a particular style before moving on. His cycles can be so distinct and so diverse that they appear, at times, as if they are the work of different artists altogether—a product of his close relationship to the conceptual milieu that congealed around the “Post-Sense Sensibility” exhibitions in the late 1990s and produced other prodigious artists such as Jiang Zhi, Liu Wei, and Qiu Zhijie.
In his most recent cycle, Zhang works primarily in a seductive palette of indigo and white highlighted by deep gray shadows. The gallery is split into two exhibition spaces connected by a long line of framed sketches, hanging diagrams, and conceptual notes: On one side the artist has installed a cogent group of new works from this cycle, and on the other he has selected thematically related work from the past several years. As a result, his latest works feels less isolated and less sudden, even if it is what holds together most cohesively. Within the newest paintings Zhang has used floating blue lines over a white field to depict a flight attendant pushing a beverage cart, a metastasizing chain-link fence, a cluster of hard hats, and the facade of a social housing block. These images offer specific technical possibilities, and their definition as objects at times collapses into the way they are processed as paintings (the hard hats, for instance, are titled Blueprint.Assemble, 2014).
Zhang describes this exhibition as a “plaza,” where he can trap a variety of alienated objects plucked one by one from his stream of consciousness. Open space for the artist is something akin to a drafting table: a surface upon which one might isolate, diagram, and reconstruct an idea. The titles of all the paintings in the exhibition include Blueprint, referring to a nascent web of perception that is intended, perhaps, to make sense of it all—a modular and casual structuralism for our time.
The duo solo exhibitions of Hua Weihua and Yu Bogong begin and end in staggered temporalities that befit the rapid development of Beijing, acting as an antidote to and a rift on overproduction. Using mostly found materials from Heiqiao Village, Yu has built a provisional structure for a vodka distillery system for five hundred bottles of his eponymous brand of vodka. Rows of empty bottles line blue shelves. The interior space, marked by the infinity-sign wall mural titled Yu Bogong Vodka, 2014, is adaptable for artists, writers, and curators to host events where the alcohol can be consumed during the exhibition’s forty-three-day span.
Meanwhile, Hua’s Waiting for Business, 2014, an off-the-meter taxi service, territorializes the city itself. The gallery’s reserved parking space is demarcated in the same blue paint of Yu’s vodka logo. Inside, on the counter, the artist has left a stack of calling cards that depict a red BMW convertible speeding down a blurry landscape. The actual taxi, a white Fiat Palio Weekend, can be seen in Hua’s diaristic entries on Action Space’s website, which he inaugurated with images of his urine street-drawings that resemble a rose and a chrysanthemum.
On the evening of the vodka launch, Yu and his collaborator Megumi Shimizu’s distillation process was in full view. Past midnight, some visitors dialed Hua’s taxi service, only to find that his cellphone had been turned off. The failure of an easy car ride concedes a rare lucidity of social interdependencies; another jolt of de-synchronicity to keep us awake, to be fully present.
Billy Childish’s latest solo exhibition, “Edge of the Forest,” reinstates the instinctive, as opposed to the overtly intellectual, relationship between work and viewer. The six intensely personal paintings on view recalibrate the experience of looking, drawing us into a world of slow, simple pleasures.
United by Childish’s palette of turquoise, fuchsia, ochre, and deep purple, and evincing broad, sweeping strokes, the paintings were executed on a monumental scale, the exposed oatmeal gray of the linen canvas becoming a baseline for the work. The collection comprises self-portraits, family portraits, and bucolic scenes captured near the artist’s home in Kent (known to the British as the Garden of England). For instance, in the titular Edge of the Forest (all works 2013), the gaunt and quizzical figure of the artist can be seen emerging from the protective camouflage of a low tree branch. In Amongst Cactus, a father and daughter stand surrounded by a riot of cacti and fuchsia-bearded trees, the father’s heavy Depression-era silhouette contrasting with the daughter’s bare feet. Reticent and wary, the girl stands some distance behind her forebear, who seems to address the viewer with the formality reserved for a guest. The figures in Girl with a Stick, dressed for winter, resplendent in astrakhan hat and fedora, appear to have been interrupted on their walk amongst the naked trees, pausing politely and self-consciously for the viewer.
The exhibition manages to bypass the default settings of our experiences of contemporary art, resolutely evoking an age of innocence that has since been lost. Visceral and intuitive, the works defy categorization, making any attempt to critique them on ideological, or other such grounds seem heavy handed and perhaps a little churlish.
Visitors to Antony Gormley’s current show at White Cube, “States and Conditions, Hong Kong,” are greeted by a stumbling block. Ease, 2012, a lump of iron boxes, is placed directly in front of the gallery’s main entrance. It’s a deliberately jarring placement that forces a small detour and a shift in perception; think of it as a palate cleanser that readies visitors for what lies ahead.
The exhibition nods to Hong Kong’s hyperdense high-rise environment and the ways in which it is experienced. This is made clear by Murmur, 2014, an enormous structure of overlapping steel frames that fills the entire ground-floor gallery. The piece is mirrored by another work upstairs, Form, 2013, which is small and dense but has a presence that is in some ways even more intrusive than that of Murmur. Indeed, Gormley has clearly taken pleasure in exploring the nuances of White Cube’s two-story space. Three works occupy the staircase between the floors. The iron-block sculpture Small Prop III, 2013, sits halfway up the stairs, leaning forward like a complaisant butler, while the steel bars of Strain II, 2011, installed high up on the wall, map the contours of a human body. The same steel bars are used by Co-ordinate, 2014, to bisect the entrance to the second floor, a rebuke to the natural order suggested by the gallery’s architecture. Two more steel-bar sculptures, Secure, 2012, and Transfer, 2011, are installed in a corridor that also serves as a library, drawing attention to the service elements that lurk around the margins of the gallery space: light fixtures, water pipes, and exit signs.
It is these playful touches that make Gormley’s exhibition so successful, highlighting not only the links between human form and architecture, but the public’s understanding of built space. Rarely is one so conscious of every step taken through a gallery. The effect lingers even after leaving White Cube and plunging back into the concrete canyons of Hong Kong.
Banknotes are memories. In “Spring and Autumn,” Shao Yinong and Muchen present part of their embroidered replicas of obsolete banknotes on large-scale transparent black silk that suggest the fleeting nature of power and its effect on collective memories. Varying only in size and color, favoring the golden palette of traditional Suzhou silk weaving (it took nearly ten years to complete the whole series, not entirely on show here), these diaphanous veils are suspended in rows in the gallery, inviting keen observers to study their fine details and ponder the idealized territorial claims and national values manifested by the successive governments who commissioned the originals.
Presiding at the entrance, a large, scintillating portrait of Sun Yat-sen in 1942 10,000 Chinese Note (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), 2004–2010—a replica of a Republic of China banknote—testifies to the ephemerality of governments and the fundraising needs of revolutions. On its right, the only non-Chinese reference on view, 1908 100 German Mark Note (Goddess), features an imperial German Reichsbanknote in which the goddess Freya, as centerpiece, is flanked by female figures serving as personifications of industry and agriculture. Other shimmering magnified reproductions of out-of-print currency promote the finest iconography of Chinese nation-building, such as advancing trains, the temple of heaven, marching people, and healthy multi-ethnic groups enthusiastically united.
By combining an element of the occult with a direct approach to the social anxieties associated with authoritative states and by relying on numismatics and ornamentation, the artists not only extract the essence of historical symbols, but also engage in a spiritual transformative process that adorns the emotional, political, and economic passing of time.
Sex is messy. Establishing a correlation between high population density and a diversity of carnal urges, “Ten Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong” is a five-venue show spread across town that addresses an arguably decreasing local libido, through the aesthetics of the crowded and the homoerotic. More generally, it open-mindedly speaks to the nonmainstream practices of BDSM, Internet sex, and paid sex. Works by thirty-nine artists in media including painting, drawing, photography, digital animation, video, sculpture, print, and installation—mostly overtly phallic—give the exhibition a messy, overcrowded thrift-store feel.
Weaving together political concerns, those of sexual identity in particular, there are, for instance, the paintings of Agung Kurniawan and mimeographs of Hou Chun-ming in the Sheung Wan Civic Center. Addressing the tensions inherent to colonial history, as well as issues of national identity, the works employ allegorical, ingenuous graphics to depict fornication between virile, sometimes dismembered bodies. Over in Connecting Spaces, in Roee Rosen’s film Tse, 2010, political extremism is exorcised through willful pleasure: Two members of the Israeli BDSM community engage in flogging, ultimately prompting the sub to spit out quotes by extreme-right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman. More personal pursuits are also explored. Hito Steyerl’s Lovely Andrea, 2007, a video documenting its subject’s quest in Japan to find a twenty-year-old bondage photo in which she modeled, emphasizes the erotic value of limitations and life’s randomness. Ultimately, the show encourages individuality. In the cheerful video excerpts from The Trilogy of Sinai: Sex Love and Hope, 2013, Dr. Petula Ho Sik-ying interviews Hong Kongers in public spaces: for example, a wife who hopes to dissuade her husband from having sex with her by charging him for it; a recently postoperative transsexual giggling over her new vagina; and a churchgoing man acknowledging the importance of sex for a successful Christian marriage.
Avoiding sensuality, courtship, and sexiness in favor of themes of loneliness, passive violence, mismatched relationships, politics, and freedom of choice, this emancipated exhibition acts as a release, thanks to the liberation only full disclosure can bring.
For her debut solo exhibition at Ren Space, Shanghai native Lu Yang presents a new multimedia dreamscape that features an army of nauseatingly adorable cancer cell protagonists in videos, plush toys, figurines, paintings, and screenprints. The show’s conceptual centerpiece, Cancer Baby (all works 2014), is a gaudy video installation, in which a singing and dancing cancer cell lightheartedly chirps about the essential futility of the human struggle, while inviting viewers to sing along with various slogans, including, “Mommy, daddy, please don’t kill us.”
The rest of the exhibition stems from this video and echoes its characters, colors, and content. For instance, in Centro C-Ball, the artist offers two large tumorous baubles dangling from the ceiling, and countless cancer cell figurines are strewn across four glass cabinets for C-Baby Toy. Exploiting aesthetics of disgust and nausea, Lu negotiates moral boundaries here by emphasizing that expelling cancer is akin to expelling a part of the self. Kimo Kawa Babies, five figurines depicting human organs such as the heart and the bladder, exemplifies this. Each figurine is equipped with an agonized face, as one or two cancer cells ravish its surface. Though almost comical in appearance, the objects’ matte visceral exteriors, which are enhanced by hues of fleshy mauve, are uncomfortable to behold. The cancer cells blend seamlessly with each organ, seemingly at one with the host.
The show’s playful superficiality is coupled with an infectious optimism about the very real threat of cancer and human mortality. Lu’s Technicolor attempt at leading the viewer on a cathartic journey is often underscored by a central message—one tirelessly depicted, sung, and imprinted upon the viewer—to “love.” Whether such an ambitious goal can be achieved in the framework of a commercial gallery show remains to be seen.
This exhibition of video artwork by seventeen international artists takes the horizon line as its subject, using Jan Dibbets’s included filmic series of sea and sky, “Horizon – Sea,” 1971, as cue. Shanghai might be an ideal setting in which to contemplate the concept: The exhibition title’s elision could also refer to the city’s dissolving horizon line, where buildings across the Huangpu River still appear faint in the distance.
In Kimsooja’s reflection of Nigeria, titled Bottari-Alfa Beach, 2000, for example, the sea has been flipped above the sky much in the same way Dibbets’s work tilts perspective. Giovanni Ozzola’s video, Garage—Sometimes You Can See Much More, 2009–11, displayed on a wall of an empty room, depicts a life-size garage door opening up onto an open sea, changing our line of sight while also blurring the lines of the gallery space.
Some works also stretch the concept of worldly delineations to those that move laterally, inwardly, or even without direction. In Wang Gongxin’s The Other Rule in Ping Pong, 2014, a ping-pong table is deconstructed and reconstituted into three screens: A tabletop screen projects each side of the table while two upright screens show unlikely opponents, such as a man’s mouth, which spits out the white ball and another man hitting it with a shovel. And in Zhu Jia’s It’s Beyond My Control, 2014, a looped video shows a hand faintly penciling in the edges of a corner of the gallery. Here the border between art viewing and art making dissolves. Like a horizon line, the demarcation suggests a kind of infinity.
The key strategy in Soghra Khurasani’s solo debut is repetition. Each of her woodcuts and etchings features blood cells, either soaked in red or leached of color. Hundreds of these ring-shaped motifs populate Khurasani’s compositions—at times appearing like erupting volcanoes or a field of blooming roses—evidently suggesting a human presence in volatile and fecund landscapes.
“One Day It Will Come Out,” the title of the show, which includes a set of three fifty-six-inch prints of the artist’s rivers of molten lava filled with red blood cells, could be thought of as a foreboding. The placid Silent Fields 1 and 2, both 2014, on the other hand, feature clusters of Khurasani’s signature red blood cells amid picture-perfect blue skies, green grass, and red roses. Here, it appears as if the anger and the outrage prominent in the volcano triptych, also titled One Day It Will Come Out, 2012, have been overpowered.
Cocurator Sumesh Sharma’s essay links the use of blood cells as a figurative device in Khurasani’s artworks to the rise of Hindu nationalism in India and to a gruesome gang rape on a bus in New Delhi that caught the world’s attention two years ago, among other issues. Khurasani’s output can be ominous if examined in conjunction with the resounding electoral victory of Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister who has been accused of supposedly abetting a pogrom against the minority Muslim community. Using both tranquil and ferocious frameworks for Khurasani’s use of blood cells in her work, however, may allude to the way crimes are being conveniently covered up in India for the promise of a better future.
“A Terrible Beauty,” Meera Devidayal’s first solo exhibition in five years, addresses the afterlives of Mumbai’s defunct textile mills. Though Devidayal relies on the aesthetic and nostalgic allure of ruins in her documentary photographs of the crumbling buildings, she also reimagines their existence through painterly interventions. For instance, the canvases Rose Garden and A Terrible Beauty (all works cited, 2011) offer dreamlike landscapes superimposed over expansive views of massive, roofless factories. Here, wild foliage in the photographs and painted rows of blooming roses and tulips triumph over a dilapidated emblem of Mumbai’s industrial modernity. While Devidayal’s fantastical visions of rejuvenation may seem trite and kitschy—they mimic popular posters and locations of Bollywood music videos—they deeply resonate in this city as it faces an acute shortage of open spaces.
In much of the rest of the exhibition, Devidayal abandons hypothetical propositions. The video Staircase to Nowhere juxtaposes a flight of steps with an escalator, referring to the conversion of one of the city’s iconic mills into a mall. Meanwhile, A Leveled Playing Field uses animation to show grand glass-and-steel towers emerging from a concrete skeleton that was once occupied by the working class. This impending future is already a palpable present for other mills. Yet the site pictured in the film still lies vacant, waiting its turn. The structure’s clandestine use as a cricket court affords Devidayal an opportunity for a fantastical insertion: Players of the national team appear as spectators of a match at the mill through digital fabrication. Fictional interludes such as this one imbue the sites of the defunct mills with renewed potential, even if they remain in the realm of impossibility.
The compartments and departments into which we segment the world is a testament to how we read it: in fragments and chapters, with imposed order. Dayanita Singh’s Book Museum, 2014, is a portable collection of books with photographs from her series “File Room,” 2013, and from her mother’s series “Nony Singh: The Archivist,” 2013, affixed onto each of the book’s covers. The former’s images record piles of paper, columns of cabinets, and repositories of registers in damp basements, while the latter documents the melancholy of living between generations.
The books, which contain full-page black-and-white photographs from both series, are placed into a grid on a bookcase that folds and reopens into a set of predestined permutations and combinations. Compositionally, the photographs begin to map upon each other: files of folders seem to mirror a line of ladies, which mirrors a scaffolding of picture frames or a chorus of chairs. The individual books, which can be bought and may be cut up, are—as is Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise(Box in a Suitcase), 1935–41—both serial copies and artisanal objects. Even as the contractible bookcase records the reproducibility and anonymity of an industrial age, it stands renewed, every cover a variant, and every locus of display conditional.
This particular installation is self-reflexive at multiple levels: First, it is a museum within a museum, standing amid sculptures from ancient India on the second floor of New Delhi’s National Museum; second, it is an archive of archives; third, the structure folds open just as the individual books fold open. These layers only continue to appear as the images stack upon each other and the metaphors repeat themselves. You, the viewer or the protagonist, must find a formula—a Choose Your Own Adventure—in order to navigate the mischievous mathematics of stories made by chance and manifold.
Like a perfect cherry blossom, Daan van Golden’s idiosyncratic solo exhibition “Made in Tokyo” lures the viewer in to take a closer look. The Dutch artist could be called a painter, a photographer, or even a playwright of pieces that anticipate theories about the death of the author, and this show digs into his past as an English teacher/model/bit-part player and (artist’s) artist based in Japan between 1963 and 1964. The paintings van Golden made while living in Tokyo appropriate patterned motifs such as flowered and checkered wrapping paper from local department stores as well as those from handkerchiefs and other textiles. Although meticulous in their compositions, these translations always bear lingering touches of conscious imperfections, and such visual cracks open up their formal planes. For instance, the image of abstract shapes (rather than a material quality) resurfaces as a wandering character that changes through time and space—like a sign stripped of meaning, creating new possibilities. A highlight is the floral-patterned Untitled (Tokyo), 1964, introduced as recurrent background motif in more recent works on view and as relic from his 1964 solo show at Tokyo’s Naiqua Gallery.
A second body of work offers his recent series of “Double Prints,” 2012, digital collages in an intimate format that blend his past and present; for instance, an image of a Japanese issue of the Beatles’s LP Meet the Beatles features in Study Pollock/Made in Japan, 2012, which also paradoxically adapts Pollockesque drips. Interspersed throughout the show is an eclectic digest picked from van Golden’s photographic series “Youth is an Art, ” 1978–96, a work that blurs art and life and shows his daughter Diana growing up (to age eighteen) and traveling in various environments. A slide projection that documents his own life in Tokyo, including an installation view of his Naiqua exhibition, is presented alongside the thoughtfully grouped works. If ever a gallery show could be called context-sensitive without being didactic or stiff, it is this small but mighty one.
For his first solo exhibition in Japan, San Francisco–based Hiroshi Tachibana has fleshed out a new set of ten small paintings. Assembling traces of the subconscious, the works document and stage a phenomenological drama of the visible and the invisible. Tachibana’s unpretentious abstract paintings catch the eye with nuanced, lustrous color schemes exposed by the works’ textures, which resemble papier-mâché and dyed fabric, and thus consciously reflect abstraction’s function beyond the pictorial.
Against the backdrop of the white cube, at first hardly discernable, three bright-scaled works interspersed in the space gradually enter the view. Palette, Paper Towel and Catalog (Magritte) (all works 2014) depicts organic, nonfigurative light-gray and incarnadine color traces that aggregate to approximately geometrical shapes and emerge in an almost-three-dimensional, ghostly presence on a double-toned white ground, which is highlighted by pink and blue speckles. Orange Line with Kiki (Trace) collects clumsy shapes reminiscent of letters or numbers over an unevenly cropped blue-white-patterned ground while entering in a formal dialog with a zigzagging orange line in the lower half of the canvas. In Palette and Palette (trace) a white-graded rectangle is overlaid with flecks of color from found palettes from the artist’s studio, establishing a space-time relationship between site and non-site.
An almost-libidinal attraction drives the viewer towards the soft-glazed sculpted surfaces that result from Tachibana’s indexical translation process. Also in the colorful and more visually articulate Catalog (Magritte) and Kiki (Trace) and Green Painting and Uta’s Math, paint was first applied to uneven polyurethane plates by his daughters, then peeled off and rendered onto the canvas in a lavish spread of gel medium. The appeal of these embalmed skin-like transplantations, which at times recycle older works, is reinforced by their function as shifters—empty signs that are only filled with meaning through the titles that bring in material and souvenir, art and life as external referents.
Nobuyoshi Araki’s latest show, “Love on the Left Eye,” which opened on his birthday in accord with an annual tradition of the artist to commemorate life, remixes frozen erotic poses with surface studies—for example, Tokyo’s urban space, the rusty cargo bed of a truck passing, a panel cutting a passerby out of sight. Araki has compiled a visual diary of sixty-five prints, hung neatly across the gallery. Included is an image of a woman dressed in a flowered robe holding a blue toy carp—a symbol of love—as well as a range of women’s bodies exposed in provocative poses. Araki soaked the right half of the negatives in black marker ink before printing the photographs, effectively blotting out that part of the image. The technique gestures at his own physicality, specifically a retinal-artery obstruction that came about in 2013 and permanently deprived him of half his sight. At that same time, the blinking craquelé of vanishing surfaces adds a new layer of formal perception.
There are also more personal images—for instance, a fantastic zoo of dinosaur toys kept on his terrace—which mix emblems of love and death in self-ironic combinations, creating not just a cinematographic foray but a fragmented dictionary of beloved sites. For instance, an image of Tokyo covered up in heavy snow, resounds with famous views of his series “Winter Journey,” 1990, which documented the untimely passing of his late wife, Yoko. Reflecting how his own mortal body deteriorates, Araki grants a vital image of perception.
Tsumari, in a remote region in northern Japan where Yasunari Kawabata’s 1948 novel Snow Country (Yukiguni) takes place, remains relatively cut off from progress with its late introduction of major roads and train lines. In their latest exhibition, which offers black-and-white photographs shot in this area, the Beijing-based artist duo RongRong & inri offer an intimacy that also evokes the imagery of pure isolation described in Kawabata’s masterpiece. Since “Fuji,” 2001, a previous series in which the artists declared their passion for each other under Japan’s iconic mountain, RongRong and inri have become well known for their support of photography—for instance, in 2007, they established Three Shadows in Beijing, the first art institution dedicated to the medium in the country. Some of the photographs in their current show were commissioned by the 2012 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and are being shown for the first time in Tokyo.
While the couple still occupies most of the images, the most moving photographs in the “Tsumari Story” series, 2012, show the artists as parents (they have three children). In one, RongRong holds his son’s hand as they look over a wide, idyllic rice field. In another, the naked figures of mother and children look out over the snowy landscape from a cedar bath. In Tsumari Story no. 2-5, 2012, a snowy forest holds two figures standing close to each other in the mid ground—possibly the artists or their children—with faces obscured by traditional woven straw hoods.
The love and intimacy between the artists and their children presented in the “Tsumari Story” series is one that transpires amid a setting of white snow, farms, and forests. It is in the relationship between all the elements—the family, house, and nature—where beauty is found. The couple wholly invests in the belief that their life is inseparable from their art, and with “Tsumari Story,” their art is inseparable from their awe-inspiring surroundings.
For the inaugural touring exhibition of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, curator June Yap has brought together nineteen works by sixteen artists and collectives from eleven countries, represented in diverse media such as painting, photography, video, sculpture, and installation. Following iterations in New York and Hong Kong, this final show in Singapore marks a homecoming.
The legacy of certain local historical events, ideologies, and religions has influenced many of the works. The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 is a recurrent concern, for example, in the work 1:14.9, 2011–12, by Shilpa Gupta and Amar Kanwar’s Trilogy: A Night of Prophecy, 2002. In Norberto Roldan’s monochromatic painting F-16, 2012, the Filipino artist juxtaposes the image of an American fighter jet cruising over modern-day Afghanistan with the unsettling words of US President William McKinley on the colonization of the Philippines: “There was nothing left for us to do but to take them all; and to educate them and uplift and civilize and Christianize them.”
Some of the most compelling pieces also deal with perceptions of womanhood and family. In Kanwar’s meditative film, A Season Outside, 1997, which is also part of his “Trilogy” series, the narrator describes the households he documents in the border village of Wagah as “scenes of unspoken stories.” His own mother told him of the women who, during the upheaval of partition, hammered nails into the windows of their homes to try and prevent the men from coming in.
From afar, Bangladeshi artist Tayeba Begum Lipi’s stainless-steel Love Bed, 2012, is alluring and beautiful. Up close, the viewer can see that the bed, a symbol of rest and comfort, is made of razor blades. Where the mattress would be, small blades have been strung together in delicate chains. The suggestion of violence, both domestic and political, is here made subtle and defiant.
In one photograph from the “Workers” series by Sebastião Salgado, a woman raises a shovel above her head (Worker on the canal construction site of Rajasthan, India, 1990). A scarf with light shining through it is draped over her head and across her body; she wears metallic cuffs with tassels on her arms and more jewelry on her neck, fingers, and nose. Salgado has captured her mid-effort: The scarf billows, and the tassels lift with her movement. The woman’s face is full of strength and story.
Salgado’s photographs are uplifting and grand, evidence of the compassion and wonder with which he treats his subjects and of his readiness to view the ordinary as heroic (in this case, the laborer as goddess). His focus on black-and-white photography adds to the epic feel of his works. By leaving the color of various objects in his compositions ambiguous, Salgado allows for a degree of interpretation on the part of the viewer. So a vibrant scene of a crowd on a platform in Church Gate Station, Bombay, India, 1995, might take on a different significance when the subjects appear to all be wearing white, the color of mourning.
Fifty-three gelatin silver prints are on display at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, spanning twenty years of Salgado’s career, with selections from his latest series “Genesis” alongside older collections such as “Migrations,” “Workers,” and “Other Americas.” The exhibition coincides with a large-scale presentation of 245 photographs from “Genesis” at the National Museum of Singapore. This series is the outcome of an eight-year expedition during which Salgado travelled to some of the most remote regions on Earth to document the impact of globalization on landscapes, human tribes, and wildlife. It is a majestic and soulful paean to the planet.
Yeondoo Jung’s “Spectacle in Perspective,” curated by Nayoung Cho, is the artist’s first museum-scale solo exhibition in Korea since his being named Artist of the Year by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in 2007. Along with his early photographs, the exhibition presents one of Jung’s recent experiments with media technology, Virgil’s Path, 2014, and a collaborative performance and installation, Crayon Pop Special, 2014. Though the artist has introduced elements of advanced technology into his show, he maintains his interest in an age-old concern: the dreams and fantasies of ordinary people.
Virgil’s Path is a virtual sculpture experienced via Oculus Rift, a head-mounted device originally designed for 3-D games. Deployed in front of Rodin’s imposing sculptural groupThe Gates of Hell, 1880–1917, part of the museum’s permanent collection, the device almost completely covers a participating visitor’s field of vision to create a virtual reality that overlaps with the actual scene of the sculpture. Looking through the headgear, gallerygoers watch Rodin’s hundreds of looming bronze bodies slowly transform into fleshy graphics that almost appear to be at arm’s length.
If Virgil’s Path speaks to the destiny of human beings, whose desires and guilty passions are constantly unfulfilled, Crayon Pop Special is a kitschy homage to this tragic human drama. The work consists of a performance video that features the middle-aged male fans of an actual K-pop girl group, Crayon Pop. Outfitted in the ridiculous helmets and quirky tracksuits favored by the stars, the corps of “uncle fans” cheer enthusiastically to the instrumental accompaniment of Crayon Pop’s hit songs. Next to the video is a large stage outfitted with lighting and sound equipment, forever prepared for the arrival of Crayon Pop. The fans’ dream—to obtain full access to their idols—won’t come true, but their unquenched passion nonetheless livens up their mundane lives.
“Secretly, Greatly” presents artworks by the three finalists of the reality-TV competition Art Star Korea, which premiered in late March. The show gave fifteen artists the opportunity to compete for substantial rewards: a cash prize of $93,000 and a solo exhibition at a prestigious gallery in Seoul. The show also set no restrictions on the contestant’s age, education, or occupation, which resulted in over four hundred applicants. The final three—Hyeyoung Ku, Jae-hyun Shin, and Byung-seo Yoo—survived the ten episodes, in which they underwent art-school style criticisms by five judges after each weekly “mission.”
The current exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art was the site for the concluding episode and features the final three works. Wearing a blood-red chiffon gown and a silver wig, Ku enacted Sincereness of the Tilted Stage (all works 2014) a spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. Yet the tilted stage and the muffled sound revealed that she was not actually acting as conductor, only imitating one. Alongside four kinetic installations that addressed both personal and political issues, Yoo offered Artist’s How Are You?, in which he set up a desk and two chairs to discuss the meaning of art in contemporary society with visitors. For Shin’s Trailing: Drawing Performance in Fifty Days, which comprised video, installation, and live performance, he additionally prompted visitors to consider solutions to a nuclear disaster. Hailing from Yangsan, a town near the Gori nuclear power plant in Korea, Shin examined how this decrepit facility represents an immediate source of acute anxiety. On a screenlike piece of canvas, he wrote the names of residents living within an approximately twenty-mile radius of Gori. Yet soon after, the names disappeared as the ink dried out. The work stands as a countermemorial, and, in the end, Shin won the competition.
Ku will perform the piece every Saturday afternoon until the end of the show. Yoo is determined to be present at the desk every day, and Shin intends to keep writing the names onsite while the museum is open and until this exhibition ends.
The Hebrew title of this exhibition (“צעדים בוני אמון”) translates into English as “Confidence-Building Measures,” a term to which the world of international relations refers as CBMs. Developed during the Cold War, CBMs are strategies designed to increase trust between hostile parties through the establishment of common ground. A similar drive to reduce tension between warring factions—with others, with the environment, or within the self—is the basis for this ambitious show. Including thirteen artists and choreographers working from the early twentieth century to the present, “Set in Motion” surveys work that deals with the body as social agent and dance as social action.
The exhibition’s centerpiece is a new commission by Israeli choreographer Yasmeen Godder, CLIMAX, 2014. The three-hour tour-de-force—the only live performance in the exhibition—includes seven dancers enacting a tension-filled, stripped-down group tango that incorporates props from Godder’s previous performances. From this center, the exhibition expands figuratively and literally into other galleries, incorporating a wide, almost unwieldy range of leitmotifs from the metaphysical to the political.
A glimpse into the history of modern dance is provided through video documentation of German Expressionist dancer Mary Wigman, as well as a digital screening of Babette Mangolte’s photographs of performances by Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Steve Paxton. Homage takes a twist with Mike Kelley’s Test Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses, 1999, a videotaped dance based on primate psychological experiments choreographed in the manner of Martha Graham. The convergence between amateur dance and popular culture is explored in Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion, 1983–84 and Tracey Emin’s Why I Never Became a Dancer, 1995, as well as in a brief excerpt from the first season of HBO’s Girls, in which Lena Dunham’s character Hannah rocks out in her bedroom. Israeli artist Nevet Yitzhak’s shrine-like installation explores the similarities between the traditional Ivory Coast dance Mapouka and today’s twerking trend, while Alona Harpaz films the continuation of Israeli folk dance tradition in Kfar Saba’s sports arena. Actions in Israeli-Palestinian border zones are encapsulated in Arkadi Zaides’s Capture Practice, 2014. Zaides isolates and reperforms actions filmed by Palestinians of Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories. By detaching these movements from their everyday exchanges, he reveals their inherent violence.
Dani Gal’s long-term fascination with historical memory is the basis for two of his films currently on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In them, Gal raises questions regarding personal and collective memory and the changing relationships between victim and perpetrator.
Inspired by an interview he conducted with Holocaust survivor and former police officer Michael Goldman-Gilad, Gal created a twenty-two-minute film titled Nacht und nebel (Night and Fog), 2011, which reenacts events of a night in 1962 when Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann was executed and cremated in Israel. The characters, among them Goldman-Gilad (played by Yaron Mottola), guard the ashes as they sit in silence in a police bureau, then in a van, and later in a boat to complete the secretive mission of scattering the ashes in international waters. By eliminating dialogues, enhancing sound effects, and adding a voice-over of Goldman-Gilad’s personal experiences from that night, Gal illustrates the participants’ deep moral unease and sense of detachment in this problematic situation.
Wie aus der ferne (As from Afar), 2013, is a twenty-six-minute film that traces a fictional meeting between Nazi architect Albert Speer and Holocaust survivor, architect, and Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Based on their peculiar and controversial mail correspondence during the 1970s, the dialogue reveals the ambivalence about their potential meeting and the scars left from their past. This is exemplified by Wiesenthal’s explicit memory of Mauthausen concentration camp, which Speer was responsible for planning, and where Wiesenthal barely survived the last few months of the war. By adding a voice-over of Wittgenstein’s text “Lecture No. 35” (1934–35) that discusses memory images, Gal contemplates how memories are created and maintained through different standpoints.
Both films’ documentary style produces a seemingly objective approach, yet the circumstances, as well as the characters, embody turmoil: guilt, pain, failure, and conflicted human pride.
In Nadav Assor’s latest exhibition, a trapped hexacopter, hidden behind a black curtain and tied down to the floor, reacts to visitors entering its space by hovering and praying, perhaps crying for help. The drone chants Ezekiel 1 in Yemenite style and catches random broadcasts from the local popular army radio station, Galey Tzahal (Waves of the IDF), all becoming part of Ophan, 2014, the first installation in an Israeli gallery to consider civil uses of drones and the first to involve a drone practicing religious devotion.
The inclusion of a central biblical chapter of Jewish mysticism, which has also been interpreted as an encounter with aliens, uncovers an ominous spirituality in the interactions between operators and their machines. In the chapter, the prophet charts a vision of a chariot of god, appearing from a fiery storm. Ophan, which translates as “wheel” in Hebrew, is an angelic, mechanic entity of a wheel within a wheel, controlled by the spirit of another angel. Here, this description of the “Ophan” signifies the complicated emotional relationships between a machine, its operator, and its creator.
Assor’s video Lessons in Leaving Your Body, 2014, further reflects on these relations of vision and power. The work’s protagonist, Jake Wells, is a DIY drone builder, First-Person View hobbyist, and Remote Control Minister. He is pictured in the film building a drone while preaching its use as a means for hope and an extension of bodily experience. In Wells’s world, drones allow him a divine perspective, to conceive existence as an all-seeing, all-knowing being. In society’s posthuman condition, illustrated through Assor’s work, civilian operators turn the machine unto themselves, unraveling the inherent failure of belief in finding a spiritual relief in machines of war and surveillance designed to survey, gather information, and control their movements.
Rounding out the third edition of Ashkal Alwan’s experimental art school, “A Museum of Immortality” is the last in a series of exhibitions anchoring a curriculum developed by the artists Anton Vidokle and Jalal Toufic. The show is based on a concept by Boris Groys, and actually tries to realize the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov’s wild notion of “The Common Task,” whereby a heady, hallucinatory mix of science, technology, political circumstance, and spiritual fervor reimagines the museum as a space for resurrecting the dead and immortalizing all mankind.
With the help of more than fifty fellow artists, Vidokle and Toufic have created a muscular, mazelike installation of stacked and angled boxes, display cases doubling as glass-capped wooden coffins. The range of people, ideas, and things offered for eternal preservation here is broad, uneven, and dazzlingly inventive in terms of materials and forms. Jessika Khazrik’s My Body If Only I Could See You (all works 2014), for example, pays tribute to the eleventh-century polymath Ibn al-Haytham and his Book of Optics by placing a pair of identical light fixtures face-to-face. Daniel Barroca assembles seven vellum sheets, among others, scrawled with notes and astral drawings in Alberto Caeiro to conjure the spirit of the titular Portuguese poet, who was, like Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos, one of Fernando Pessoa’s great literary heteronyms.
Inevitably, perhaps, several artists plumb their own autobiographies. But where Lynn Kodeih’s broadcast of 147 hours of psychoanalysis, Untitled, 8820 Minutes Ongoing seems excessive and self-indulgent, Tony Chakar’s How to Say Goodbye, a collection of at least as many cassette tapes, speaks beautifully to a time of loss and a sense of longing whose resurrection can only ever be painfully incomplete.
What makes it so challenging to write about Fahd Burki’s work is that no piece can be considered in isolation: Each contributes to an overall sensation—one of lingering unease. “Yield,” the young Lahore-based artist’s third show in Dubai, showcases a decided progression from the flat, futuristic-totem iconography of previous work towards less ambiguous but equally complex figures. In Gem, 2014, an angel-like character of sharp geometry and blocked colors, floats on a muted ground. Wide circles set within its rounded head approximate eyes that seem to stare flatly; broken lines at its arms’ ends read as clenched fists. The portrait of sorts resembles a linear, angrier version of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, 1920.
Like Klee, Burki seems to tackle heavy subjects (the dark side of utopia, alienation, death) with a reductive innocence. Plumbing the netherworlds of mythology, faith, and folklore, Burki’s works oscillate between being grave and comical, sinister and playful. Residuum, 2013, is an anthropomorphic figure articulated by black and white Perspex bars and cones, seeming to slide off a slab resembling that of a tomb. The grim scene—reinforced by the eerie title (are those cones little mounds of human remains?)—is somehow lightened by the stick-figure nonchalance of the character itself.
A deep sense of tactility runs through “Yield,” as Burki favors hand-driven media such as charcoal and pastel pencils on paper. The unsettling Seeking Eden, 2014, is overwhelmed by an ominous U shape of thin, masterfully applied colored-pencil lines against a black ground above receding stone slabs. Burki’s (newfound) screenprinting talent is evidenced in pieces such as Toward Light, 2013: A tree and a sun are reduced to their most rudimentary representations, nearly becoming logos; the latter ethereally dissolves in a yellow haze. Hung side by side, the two landscapes engage in an uncomfortable conversation on themes of hope and doom. Dialogues between the works abound in this sparse yet smartly hung show: The voices, like the images, leave an unshakable impression.
For his first solo show in Dubai, painter Kamrooz Aram has taken his ongoing interest in erasure up a notch. Adding to his reductionist repertoire of wiping off, sanding down, and scraping away the surfaces of his large canvases, Aram, in the aptly named “Palimpsest” series, introduces the near-universal gesture of the graffiti cover-up. Culled from the urban landscape, where wayward wall scrawl is obliterated by fretful officials or grumbling building owners, this potent gesture of overwriting an image (and thus creating a surface on which to layer a new graffito) is tangled up in Aram’s wider interrogation of abstract painting’s potential to engage social issues.
Echoing power shifts and political overthrows—the syncopated succession of old regimes, new republics, and intermittent revolutions—Aram’s surfaces are sites of upheaval and destruction, erasure, and excavation. Each of the seven works shown comports a grid-based configuration of flower graphics plucked from Persian-carpet motifs. Occasionally rubbing shoulders with signature modernist shapes such as triangles and dots, the floral elements are awash in a maelstrom of sweeping, blurring strokes, circular rub-outs, and the hasty back-and-forth marks of the cover-up.
The work is at once highly visceral and technically nimble. Maspeth Rituals (Palimpsest #14), 2013, for example, toys with pictorial space, ground, and field: A graphic black cover-up seems from a distance to be a superimposition, but closer inspection reveals it’s an underlayer. Modernist games abound in the painting Backdrop for the Structural Harmony of a City (Palimpsest #16), 2013, as triangles connect the flowers’ central dots, which occasionally also explode into larger circles.
Subtly penciled-in dates sometimes intervene amid the surfaces, as in Resistant Forms in Uncertain Space (Palimpsest #27), 2013. Here, the temporal nature of mark-making joins the already heady concerns at play in these works: Every mark marks a moment. In the complex layers of Aram’s masterful Palimpsests, temporalities, as much as images, are struggling to be seen.
Those of us stuck on the art world’s endless forced march will recall this Chiang Mai–based artist from the Thai pavilion of the 2005 Venice Biennale or from the last Documenta, during which she and her dogs lived for three weeks in a Kassel chalet. It still comes as a relief to see her art in a proper solo exhibition, spanning two decades of her career and including several works never before seen outside Thailand. Together, the works cohere into an impressive practice with several taut threads running through it: the fragility of identity, the tension between history and fate, the role of women, and—especially—the omnipresence of death in even the most modern society. (A concurrent show of Rasdjarmrearnsook’s work runs at the University of Sydney Art Gallery through May 3.)
Troubling wails bleed from the gallery that displays the three-channel video installation Great Times Message, Storytellers of the Town, The Insane, 2002, which documents female patients in a Thai mental asylum. As the three women tell their stories, some of which involve hideous abuse, they at times lunge into intense outbursts—yet Araya has obscured each of them with the same black-and-white blur, and the illegible images and overlapping sound drown the women’s specificity in a general, numb howl. More recent works are less explicitly death-soaked, such as Treachery of the Moon, 2012, a video showing Araya and her dogs from behind while they watch brainless soap operas and newscasts about Thailand’s political struggles. Yet this work, too, exhibits, around its sly humor, a melancholy awareness of Araya’s part of the brevity of all things.
Transience is also the subject of the titular seminar in her haunting video The Class, 2005, in which Araya stands at the front of a schoolroom speaking to six corpses arrayed on metal stretchers, and though they’re shrouded in white, their hairless heads peek out grimly from beneath the sheets. The artist isn’t bothered: She pauses to listen to their thoughts while we hear only silence, and then she consistently follows up with cutting responses that feel at once otherworldly and futile. In Thailand, only monks, all of them men, are normally allowed to be this close to cadavers, and her willingness to violate such an elemental taboo has a fair share of political force. But the video is also a synecdoche for Araya’s whole oeuvre: Her art is an ongoing debate with the dead, and it isn’t calm and worshipful, but rigorous and ceaselessly fraught.
Dowsing, or divining, is a practice that stems from ancient times, in which one uses rods or sticks to find a diversity of hidden objects, such as metals, oil, archeological remains, or even missing persons, under surfaces. In 2013, Netherlands-based Zimbabwean artist James Beckett, whose practice centers on revealing the nature of found objects and historical narratives, invited two dowsers from the United Kingdom to explore the grounds of various educational institutions in Amsterdam.
In this didactic exhibition, the results of the project are configured into an installation that investigates the representational machinery of museums. Dowsing Schools: Preliminary Findings and Corresponding Survey Kit, 2013, presents in two display cases a selection of books published between 1939 and 1980 devoted to dowsing, as well as a collection of Y- and L-shaped diving artifacts, such as a natural forked branch harvested from a British garden and an industrially made South Korean telescopic brass pen rod, from different locations. Exploiting traditional anthropological museology aesthetics, a survey kit with a variety of objects used by the dowsers to inspect the academies—including a plane table used for mapping, flags for marking the layout of buildings, a metal pendulum, a shovel, and a fiberglass umbrella—is also carefully arranged in the gallery.
Additionally, two audio recordings with the dowsers’ testimonials, describing their methods based on vibrations or electromagnetic waves to find objects, envision the practice either as a magical divinatory system or as a pseudoscientific praxis. With this work, Beckett explores institutional cultural modes of legitimization while becoming a dowser himself, revealing what is invisible: the subculture tradition of diving that exists independently from general, and more evidently artistic, view or knowledge.
Steve Carr’s solo exhibition comprises three works, but the six-channel video projection titled Transpiration, 2014, is the showstopper. Large-scale hyperrealistic carnations are strewn across two gallery walls—a pastel spectrum of baby blue, pink, and yellow—their quivering tissue-paper petals much larger than life. The effect is exhilarating and just a touch embarrassing, since the carnation is a lowly flower, ubiquitous and a bit tacky, and offers longevity over beauty.
Carr revels in offering the viewer the iconic and the imperceptible, the instant gratification and the longue durée, so things are not how they first appear. These luscious images eventually reveal movement, a glimpse of a petal folding or fluttering, and the carnations’ colors change, too, each pink, yellow, and blue slowly deepening. Carr has filmed a classroom science experiment with a time-lapse camera: Place a white carnation into dyed water, and the flower absorbs the water through its stem, adopting its dyed color in the process. The work’s points of reference are as avant-garde as they are populist: for instance, Warhol’s flower paintings that were in turn inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1959 film Testament of Orpheus (thus Carr returns the flower imagery to its cinematic roots).
But the video installation on view is astonishing for its perceptual rather than metaphorical effects and is, ultimately, a gift for the patient viewer. Time sped up, then slowed down, and presented in high-definition lushness hints at other orders of perception. This is true as well for the two works that bookend Transpiration. They include a wall of perfectly gridded prototype golf balls for pro golfers, sliced in half to reveal their multicolored concentric interiors, and a small video projection of a mechanical bird set in front of a theatrical backdrop, filmed over the course of a day, but now condensed into seemingly artificial cycles of light and shadow.
Simon Starling’s latest exhibition, “In Speculum,” brings together a selection of six projects—incorporating film, photography, installation, and texts—that orbit the themes of process and materiality as well as of artist and industrial workshops. Each individual work intricately connects to different historical events, tempos, and places. Take, for example, two eponymously titled recent works from 2013, a film and a series of photographs, which were inspired by the nineteenth-century’s Great Melbourne Telescope. Like the majority of Starling’s works, the black-and-white circular film, realized with the use of a concave telescope mirror and telephoto camera lens in collaboration with the Swedish artist Maria von Hausswolff, interweaves past and present. The artist here has mixed improvised shots of his studio in Copenhagen with seemingly random historical and contemporary images related to the exhibition that continually come in and out of focus. The film, in turn, becomes an optical illusion of abstraction and figuration that, combined with a looped sound that resembles the creaking of a mechanical swing, perhaps suggests workshops as kaleidoscopic places where ideas and materials constantly change over time.
Another mind-bending work, titled Three White Desks, 2008–2009, was inspired by the story of a desk created by Francis Bacon in 1928 for the Australian writer Patrick White. After selling the furniture in 1947, White commissioned a copy of the desk based on a photograph but was unhappy with the result. Replicating this system, Starling commissioned three cabinetmakers in three different cities—Berlin, Sydney, and London—to make reproductions of the desk. The first was based on a vintage black-and-white photograph. The next two were created using a low-res image from the previous desk copy. Each replica is far from the original: They all vary in dimension and color. Repetition is characterized here by profound difference and distance, as well as a fertile source of humor and irony. Starling, with his peculiar ability to connect the dots of a constellation of historical data in elusive investigations, brings to light invisible yet meaningful material narratives.
Tino Sehgal’s debut and simultaneous exhibitions in Brazil (at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro and at Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo) transpire within the historical, social, and political contexts of this country's legacy of relational actions, structures, and objects, and underscore the importance of human interaction with an art museum. As one enters the show—the artist has requested no documentation—two uniformed guards perform Sehgal’s This Is New, 2003, in which they whisper headlines from the day’s local papers while scanning barcodes on entrance tickets. On the day of the exhibition’s opening, visitors learned that state prosecutor Joaquim Barbosa had reached a decision about the prison conditions for former politician José Dirceu. Another headline revealed the liberation of three military police officers who mistreated a woman after she had been wounded during a shooting in Rio. As news changes on a daily basis over the course of the exhibition, so will the contents of This Is New.
On the second floor, another, rather eternal, performance is presented adjacent to two bronze sculptures of Echo and Narcissus. While in Greek mythology Echo was a mountain nymph who tragically fell in love with the young Narcissus, who left her heartbroken, here two actors perform The Kiss, 2007—a slow-moving exchange of variegated body positions consumed with desire. Contemplating the entangled couple, visitors simultaneously perceive the echo of a uniformed singer proclaiming, “This is propaganda,” in This Is Propaganda, 2002. Placed around the corner from The Kiss and near a bridge overlooking the museum’s octagonal atrium, it is as if the singer’s stage resembles Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, evoking the idea of institutional critique that is often cited as one of the main characteristics in Sehgal’s work.
In a more intimate rear gallery, an additional uniformed actor presents This Is Good, 2001. Positioned between nineteenth-century oil paintings by Jules Victor Genisson of the Amiens Cathedral interior and Santi Corsi’s The Saturn Room, Palazzo Pitti, ca. 1920, in Florence, the actor performs a jumping jack whenever a new visitor enters the room. While these historical paintings convey a rather sacrosanct atmosphere, the presence of the actor in this gallery extends the instance of institutional critique with a prank.
While experimenting with graffiti in the late 1970s, the São Paulo–based artist Hudinilson Jr. founded the collective 3NÓS3 with Mario Ramiro and Rafael França. They collaborated on a series of urban interventions, obscuring monuments with bags and obstructing street crossings with tape during the height of the military dictatorship. Marginalized in the Brazilian art world for decades and now rediscovered (with a simultaneous focus on his work in the current edition of the Glasgow International), Hudinilson Jr. passed away in August 2013. This exhibition, the first solo presentation of his work in his hometown, introduces his vast erotic universe. Curated by Marcio Harum, the show brings together a selection of collages, sketchbooks, mail art, photographs, Xeroxes, as well as sculptures produced with acrylic paint on starched clothing.
The narcissism of Hudinilson Jr.’s work unfolds here. A vitrine features the undated series “Espelha-Me/Espelha-Me” (Mirror-Me/Mirror-Me), in which the artist used a photocopier to create portraits of his nude body. Another vitrine showcases one of his many sketchbooks, which is open to a love poem that he penned in red ink: “love = solitude . . . the artist is alone and solitary while working in the studio, I’d like to be alone while creating—but my entire life,” he wrote. In an attempt to convey the artist’s tales and histories further, the exhibition presents a revealing video interview with Hudinilson Jr., recorded between 2011 and 2013 and edited by artist Vitor Butkus, titled Tratado do Narciso (Treaty of Narcissus). Hudinilson Jr. himself features only as reflection from the mirrors in the midst of his apartment atelier, as the camera moves across the walls densely hung with art and ephemera and the carefully arranged sculptural ensembles of relics such as Greek statuettes, toy rhinoceroses, and religious symbols.
“Superlatives and Resolutions,” the latest solo exhibition (and first show in Brazil) by French-Algerian artist Neil Beloufa, speaks of a world full of promise yet lacking in solid achievements. It reminds the viewer how today we have access to limitless information that seems somehow to hem us in. We are addicted to being online, yet, despite the vast possibilities of the Internet, we feel like we live in bubbles that are as impermeable as they are invisible. The show offers various works in different media—painting, sculpture, video, and installation—all evoking the vicissitudes of contemporary life and underscoring the complexity of our desires for continuous connection.
Beloufa’s new paintings are made with MDF and metal. Some of them feature electric sockets embedded in their surfaces—occasionally with a power cord plugged in. One such painting powers the projector and the audio system of the large-scale installation People’s passion, lifestyle beautiful wine, gigantic glass tower, all surrounded by water in Judgement scales, 2014. This latter work is a modular structure made of a diverse array of materials, including paper, plastic, speakers, a video projector, and an iron grid. A ten-minute video in the piece presents interviews recorded in Vancouver, Canada, while a pleasant sound track plays in the background. In the interviews, people describe an ideal life from the Western—that is, North American and European—perspective, and the nonexistent utopias of their imaginings meld with a documentary form. In this way, a discourse constructed by Western society finds itself rooted in subjectivities.
Translated from Portuguese by Wendy Gosselin.