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Friday 6 May 2011

Articulating Sounds As Visual Imagery: Sam Belinfante, Penumbra, mima, Middlesborough

Review by Jareh Das

As you approach mima (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) in Centre Square the viewer is confronted by a resounding female operatic voice. One wonders where this voice is coming from; it starts, stops and as you listen attentively, words are not being sung but rather, short energetic hums float through the open space. At the entrance of mima, there is a muted video on a screen. It keeps going in and out of focus, the singer unrecognisable as it zooms in on her mouth, but where is the sound being emitted? I take a seat and then viola! I hear that voice I heard earlier in the square, it's very faint in the gallery's atrium but the longer I sit, the more prominently the voice oscillates.

For his first presentation at mima, London-based artist Sam Belinfante presents Penumbra (from Latin paene 'almost' and umbra 'shade') which is the indistinct outer-region of a shadow or the idea of being at the edge, fundamental to the piece. Belinfante came up with the idea for Penumbra after being invited to visit the gallery, the work being a direct response to its unique architecture and extensive open atrium space.

Belinfante's projects endeavour to bridge the gap between the visual and the musical, his works existing in a curious space between performance and documentation. The artist is also interested in the unspoken, the transience between sound and meanings, at times influenced by Cageian notions of chance encounters. Penumbra exists as both audio and video although these two elements have been intentionally split by the artist across two floors of mima's gallery spaces.

Visitors are able to move between both levels and either piece together muted video with the sound emanating from the terrace, or experience them as separate but associated works. The mysterious voice is that of renowned opera singer Lore Lixenberg who the artist requested to take an improvised journey across her voice. During this process an array of sounds, both intentional and accidental, were emitted as she gradually searches for a clearly voiced pitch. As sounds emerge, so do the images on the screen, with a camera lens pulling in and out of focus in symphony with the singer.

As a sound installation, the show demands the viewer to spend time and reflect on the voice of the singer, it makes you really listen and wonder about what constitutes 'the spoken'. Belinfante's decision to make this sound commission and video exist as separate but interrelated works allows for this sound piece to extend to into the realm of the visual, making sound exist on par with visual imagery and thus questioning how we articulate sound as visual imagery.

Sam Belinfante's Penumbra will be on show at mima, Middlesborough until 10 July 2011. For more information please visit: www.visitmima.com

Tube Lines, 2008
3-Channel Video Installation
Courtesy the artist

The Wider Narratives of the Middle East: Rabih Mroué, The People Are Demanding, Iniva, London.

Review by Jareh Das

Lebanese artist, theatre director, playwright and actor, Rabih Mroué presents his first UK solo show at iniva which centres around ongoing conflicts in Lebanon and the Middle East since the Lebanese Civil War. The Lebanese Civil work ended in 1990 and lasted for fifteen years. Its effect was devastating as it resulted in almost 300,000 civilian casualties as well as a mass displacement of Lebanese people.

For I, the Undersigned - The People are Demanding, a last minute intervention by the artist directly responds to the current political events and the socio-political climate in the Middle East; what one could describe as a modern uprising or people’s revolution. By replacing the exhibitions original title, I, the Undersigned with The People Are Demanding the exhibition places itself with the narrative of the contemporary situation in the Middle East. This new piece, on the window of the gallery, is a list of action words - to switch, to bitch, to prostitute, to gain, to win, to pin, to sin, to overthrow, to live, to love... The work is an acknowledgment of the ongoing renewal of collective unity, visually and physically linking the exhibition to the street and beyond. The iconic slogan ‘The People are Demanding' is being heard in cities across the Middle East where a people's revolution is unfolding in front of our eyes.

Je Veux Voir (I want to see) (2010), is an installation made up of a single looped video piece and collage mixed media installation. It is based on Mroué's experience of co-starring with French actress Catherine Deneuve in a feature film in 2008. On a visit to South Lebanon, Deneuve went to see the aftermath of the 2007 Israeli attack on the South of Lebanon with Mroué for what was his first visit back to his native village. It depicts the actress walking through the rubble of the village, repetitively calling out 'Rabih! Rabih!'. This was recorded at a point when Deneuve lost the artist, its effect poignant both in the physical and metaphysical symbolism of the aftermath of war. It’s as if it represents a displacement of the artist and a homecoming to a home that does not exist any longer, or exists in an alien form, due to the aftermath of war.

Grandfather, Father and Son, 2010, brings together material from the library of Mroué's grandfather, a religious scholar turned Communist; a treatise written by his father during 1982, the year of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, and a story by Rabih Mroué himself in 1989. This largely text based installation is an accumulation, a certain kind which dwells on the personal history of the artist. By telling personal stories or biographical stories, Mroué could be viewed as assuming the role of storyteller although he aims to isolate often overlooked, yet vital strands, within the broader tendency: the use of story form in contemporary art as a means of comprehending and conveying recent social and political events.

Although seen as a biographical piece, Mroué describes his practice and approach to art as 'biographia', a concept or proposition that is more open ended which does not have a beginning or end. It is non-linear but more fragmental, a fusion of fiction and reality. Biographia presents a more circular reading of history as opposed to one that has a predetermined beginning and end. Rabih doesn't think art should be involved in ethics, in the context of the Middle East, he feels the history and current conflicts suspend it from the ethical. How can one describe an area of conflict as one that responds to ethics, when war invariably demands choosing a side, i.e. a dichotomy between good or bad. In a state of urgency of conflicts, there is no ethical and he feels, art should play opposite of ethical, postpone these concerns and present the situation as best as it can, in this case continually reference the phrase The People are Demanding...Change, Progress, Fairness... The list goes on.

I, the Undersigned - The People are Demanding continues at Iniva until May 14. For more information please visit their website.

Je Veux Voir: installation view at Rivington Place
Courtesy the artist and Thierry Bal

Thursday 5 May 2011

Predominantly Political Art? Peter Kennard, At Earth, Raven Row, London

Review by Kara Magid, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond, The American International University in London.

Painters George Shaw and Karla Black, sculptor Martin Boyce and video artist Hilary Lloyd are shortlisted for this year’s Turner prize, to be held at Baltic, Gateshead. Hilary Lloyd is nominated for an exhibition at Raven Row gallery in London, which she filled with video projections that also became, along with their AV equipment, a sculptural installation. Raven Row is a relatively new non-profit contemporary art space in Spitalfields. Their latest show, Peter Kennard’s At Earth is a captivating look at Kennard’s practice of forty years through photomontages, paintings, and new digital images made with Tarek Salhany.

The interior of the gallery itself is designed in a way that is minimal yet intricate. The walls and staircases are entirely white although there are vine patterned sculptures that protrude from the walls giving the gallery’s interior some character. Due to the whiteness of the building’s interior, visitors are encountered with a quiet hush once they step inside. All is calm and the first image one is struck with is of a photomontage that combines a dazzling depiction of the planet Earth attached to two silver instruments. Upon further inspection, these instruments begin to look like can openers and in this way the spherical Earth seems flattened, like the top portion of a can. The ideology inherent in this image is that the globe and its resources are entirely under a system of mechanized control. How long can humans twist and turn and alter the planet so that its natural resources become unhinged?

The dazzling nature of the first photomontage is intriguing enough so that one is not let down when they learn the entire gallery is full of Kennard’s work. Due to the amount of detail and thought that the artist has put into these works it is suitable that his show is the only exhibit at the Raven Row. As a whole, his works must be viewed with patience and each image demands consideration from its viewers. The first floor combines large-scale paintings with photo montage and most of Kennard’s large-scale paintings are grouped together stylistically. Some of them have a minimal quality about them as if the artists’ mere suggestion of certain forms will require the consideration of specific subjects from the viewer. Located in the foreground of one large-scale, black and white painting, there appears the top portion of a sphere that has been cut in half. The shape is reminiscent of helmets that were worn by military forces during the Vietnam War. This impression becomes even stronger when one’s eye moves to the top portion of the painting - here there appears the silhouette of an army in line, all of which are wearing helmets. At this point, the political implications inherent in Kennard’s works become undeniable.

Moving through the gallery, Kennard’s exhibit becomes increasingly anti-war, albeit the ways in which Kennard has chosen to represent this theme is varied. In one photomontage, there appears a circular table that is surrounded with men in business suits, a symbol in the upper left hand corner of this work representing NATO, the military defense alliance. With this found image reminiscent of a conference room, Kennard inserted a bundle of missiles as the centerpiece to the table in the room. Here he uses photomontage in order to satirize the violent nature of military defense. This missile motif is applied consecutively throughout the first floor; in one piece Kennard has positioned the missiles by outlining one section of the globe. This gives the impression that the globe is a head of a body while the missiles are spiky clusters of hair. Some of Kennard’s pieces are meant to evoke a social awareness in the viewer while others are simply clever arrangements. In all of Kennard’s works, there is a real sense of tactility. The artist is precise and careful with the media he has chosen to employ. With the amount of time that Kennard has given to his works, the pieces have a handmade and almost intimate quality about them as if the viewer is glimpsing into a scene that is closed off and without a sense of time.

The most impressive set of Kennard’s works are also located on the first floor. They are carried out entirely in black paint, although it is impossible to imagine that these images weren’t carried out in charcoal. Perhaps this is due to the softness with which Kennard has painted details of facial features. One can make out the sweeping lines of a nose or the faint outline of an eyelid. The additional details of these faces are to be filled out by the minds-eye of the viewer. This idea again supports Kennard’s heavy reliance on minimalism. These paintings are bare and solemn - although each face is minimal, they are also individualized. He pays tribute to victims of war and desperation that have been lost in time. It is as if they fade helplessly into the black paint with which he has depicted them.

There is a definite sense of loss throughout the At Earth exhibit whether it be viewing the loss of our natural resources or the loss of human life. In one digital image, Kennard presents us with land that is dry and cracked as a flowing faucet intrudes the land in the foreground. From the faucet, black liquid that is reminiscent of oil pours out. In another image, a power plant’s smoky pollution is represented by pounds eloquently put together in the form of billowing factory fumes. So carefully has Kennard put together this photomontage that the viewer clearly makes out Queen Elizabeth’s face on the appropriated currency that has been used in order to represent smog. Kennard’s works are meant to represent the prices that might be paid as a result of destruction. While some of his images drive this point home a little too hard, such as the depiction of a soldier that is pointing a loaded gun at a child, the viewer leaves with sensitivity for human and economic destruction. In leaving this exhibit we might be reminded that time is running out and it is never too late to replenish life and the Earth’s natural resources.

Peter Kennard At Earth continues until 22 May. For further information and opening times please visit www.ravenrow.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 40 includes features on James Turrell, Wim Wenders, sculptors Alice Anderson and Kate MccGwire plus an extended feature on the Making is Thinking show at Witte De With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Original photomontages, 1972–96
Courtesy of Peter Kennard and Raven Row

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Contemporary Lighting Design: WOKA, Vienna

WOKA was born in 1900, they produce handmade reproductions of exclusive lighting-fixtures from the early 20th century. Handmade in Vienna, with original tools using the highest quality materials, these lamps represent design at its best. We caught up with Christiane Büssgen, Creative Director.

You’ve been creating unique and distinctive lamps and lighting since 1900. Can you tell me more about the history and development of WOKA throughout the past century?

Absolutely. In order to explain how the company has evolved, we need to consider the historical evolution of commercial craftsmanship. It’s a complicated movement but I’ll try to summarise. In brief, up until the beginning of the 20th century the language of form in architecture and design, especially in ornamental pieces was determined exclusively by historical examples. Towards the end of the 19th century, resistance began to stir in the avant-garde and the Arts and Crafts movement formed worldwide to preserve craftsmanship in the arts. WOKA today stands for classic and innovative design that incorporates this commitment to craftsmanship. Taking inspiration from Wiener Werkstätte, the French Art Deco and the German Bauhaus – WOKA continues to develop new designs to fit with contemporary lifestyles and that represent innovations in lighting design.

As a company with such longevity, what do you consider to be the secret of your ongoing success?
It’s a combination of factors. Namely, trusting our instincts and continuing our commitment to quality, keeping our manufacturing in Austria and not being afraid to expand and go with the market. When it comes to design, the ability to be innovative and to redesign the classics in the form of new design for a younger, contemporary audience is essential.

Your creations are bespoke and, as such, entirely individual. From which sources do you generally draw inspiration for such pieces?
It depends on the request and what our clients are looking for. We work with the client to manage their expectations and to incorporate their ideas into the final design. For us, this is the best part. In particular, working with hotels, restaurants and private residences gives us the opportunity to be flexible in terms of the concept and the production.

Can you briefly describe the process you follow in making one of your lamps?
Firstly, there is the design. This will either be a piece we’ve been producing for decades or a custom made project. The process is tried and tested; brass makes up the base material for every lamp we produce, this is moulded, cut, shaped and sanded. The base is then polished lacquered or nickel plated and then the structure is ready. Next, and depending on the design, the lamp is assembled with mouth blown glass or crystals as well as handmade silk shades. Then, it goes through quality control, is packages, and leaves the workshop.

You’ve recently exhibited at Milan Design Week; how was this experience for you?
It’s the atmosphere at Design Week that really does it for me. We were showing with MMP in Zona Brera at Galleria Grossetti and met some fantastic retailers. It’s definitely a must as it provides a meeting place for designs from across the world.

For more information on WOKA and their upcoming events please visit their website: www.woka.com

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Manipulations of Form, Weight and Volume: Michael Sailstorfer, Modern Art Oxford

Review by Matt Swain

Modern Art Oxford hosts Michael Sailstorfer's first solo presentation in the UK, comprising mixed-media sculptural interventions exploring notions of flight, movement and displacement. These works often involve a shift in the context of objects, exploring themes such as movement and stasis, deconstruction and dispersal, lightness and weight.

The exhibition here is a new version of his recent work Wolken (Clouds) 2010. Large industrial tyre inner tubes are suspended across the ceiling of The Yard forming a remarkable and large installation. They are inflated, twisted and bunched, creating a cluster of cartoon-like black rubber forms, intertwining but not quite blending with the architecture. In doing so, Sailstorfer plays with form, weight and volume to the extent that you are initially unsure what the objective is. The strong odour of rubber hangs in the air which serves to emphasise their physical impact and you are able to interact by touching the tyres, or "clouds".

So are these dark clouds or amusing shapes? Located somewhere between surrealistic dream landscapes and the monumental sculpture of minimalism, this work dominates the architecture and all visitors to the exhibition, questioning our relationship with nature and making reference to it's size. The link to outside - clouds - is relevant as this is an outdoor exhibition and it is this connectivity to nature that provides the overriding visual message and stimulus. This does not detract however from the fact that this work is clearly able to be observed on several levels. Taken as a whole, it is all about taking something out of context and placing it into a new environment, a new world, using deconstruction as a method of construction.

Sailstorfer has previously made reference to the fact that he is interested in what sculpture can be and how it can spread out and use more space than it physically has. Essentially, he is a sculptural alchemist transforming previously useful objects into a cluster of useless objects with charm. Investing simple objects with fiction and romance, his work is not clothed in explanation, rather, there is a sense of wonderment and even melancholy which allows you to drift into your own personal space, whilst at the same time being very aware of your surrounding environment.

Alongside his presentation in The Yard, Sailstorfer has selected three films by US artist Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978) which are being screened in the Basement downstairs. Matta-Clark was best known for his site-specific works about space, architecture, deconstruction and urban environments and in particular his "building cuts", a collection of works in abandoned buildings where he removed sections of walls, floors and ceilings. Matta-Clark found unique ways of merging sculpture and architecture with performance and much of his work is a commentary on the perceived decline of the American dream at that time.

Fire Child (1971) 9.47mins, colour, silent, Super 8mm film, records Matta-Clark's process of making a sculpture, a wall made from rubbish and waste paper which builds a monument from decay and questions preconceived notions of what a wall is and what it should be. Fresh Kill (1972) 12.56mins, sound, 16mm film, fascinatingly records the destruction of Matta-Clark's own truck "Herman Meydag" by a bulldozer in a rubbish dump. Considering the theme, one is not expecting high art but there is an intriguing cinematic air to this. The relentless, punishing attack by the bulldozer, a barrage of noise and power and the circling birds above observing every detail (as is the viewer) create a bizarre almost Hitchcock-like parallel universe. At times, it is like the bulldozer is a bird of prey and the truck is a carcass, with only the blue sky in saturated colour to prettify the ugliness. Days End (1975) 23.10mins, colour, silent, Super 8mm film, reveals Matta-Clark working on an abandoned pier in New York where he cut out sections of the door, roof and floor. Immediately, the crushing silence contrasts with what you know would have been a crescendo of noise, both in the cutting sections and in the history of the once majestic pier. Cutting into the doors, light floods through the incisions creating spontaneous fragments and light shapes, illuminated by the sparks from the tools Matta-Clark is using, the highlight of which is a crucifix-like incision bathed in sunlight. Sailstorfer has selected wisely with three films which complement his own art and which extend the concept of construction and reconstruction.

In all respects, Sailstorfer expertly exploits the space and hijacks all visitors. Slightly absurd, genuinely subversive, you realise very quickly that you are becoming integrated with the sculptural form in the invisible space beneath the "clouds". The viewer is seized as if from ambush, making this an invasion of the senses.

Michael Sailstorfer Clouds continues at Modern Art Oxford until 22 May. For further information please see their website: www.modernartoxford.org.uk

Michael Sailstorfer, Wolken, 2010. Photography by Achim Kukulies
Courtesy the artist and Modern Art Oxford

Monday 2 May 2011

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception, MoMA, New York.

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception at The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 opens on 8 May, drawing upon MoMA’s unique and important collection of work by Belgian artist Francis Alÿs (b. 1959), who uses poetic and allegorical methods to explore the social realities of political concepts, including the cyclical nature of change in modernizing societies, the urban landscape, and patterns of economic progress. Alÿs’s personal, ambulatory explorations of cities form the basis for his practice, through which he compiles extensive documentation reflecting his process, producing complex and diverse bodies of work that include video, painting, performance, drawing, and photography. Organized in collaboration with Alÿs, this exhibition is conceptually grouped around three major recent acquisitions— Re-enactments (2001), When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), and Rehearsal I (Ensayo I) (1999–2001)— each on view for the first time at the Museum. Using the mechanics of rehearsal and re-enactment in urban environments, Alÿs comments on the politics of public space with both solitary actions and large-scale collaborations, where the culmination of many small acts achieves mythic proportions.

Francis Alÿs studied architecture in Tournai and Venice before moving to Mexico City in 1986, where he has lived since. While this displacement has provided him with a unique vantage point on the country, Alÿs’s awareness of his outsider status is reflected in several of his projects. Alÿs’s works frequently begin with an action performed or initiated by him that can be witnessed in real time but also discovered through its documentation after the event. Large-scale installations such as Re-enactments, When Faith Moves Mountains, and Rehearsal I (Ensayo I) contain each of these aspects: the conceptualization and planning of the piece and action, the action itself, the distillation of the action, the video documentation, and the related materials.

In 2001 in Mexico City, Alÿs performed Re-enactments, for which he purchased a 9mm Beretta handgun and proceeded to wander around the city’s downtown with the loaded gun in hand. After 11 minutes of walking, Alÿs was detained by the police and eventually released. With the cooperation of the Mexican authorities Alÿs re-enacted the very same scene one day later. Within MoMA’s galleries, a two-channel video of the original action and its re-enactment are projected side by side, while related drawings, maps, newspaper clippings, and photographs accompany the videos. The video presentation of the action alongside its re-enactment underscores the ambiguities between reality and fiction, while anticipating the way public safety came to dominate the social and political debate within Mexico during the first decade of the 21st century.

For When Faith Moves Mountains, 500 volunteers in Lima, Peru, were equipped with shovels and asked to displace a 550-yard-long sand dune, moving it four inches from its original location. This work — Alÿs’s contribution to the 2002 Lima Biennale, stages a collective exercise in futility in which hundreds of people attempt to move a mountain. The work raises questions about the outcomes of social actions, highlighting how substantial efforts can be out of proportion with the gains achieved. MoMA’s installation includes videos of the action, drawings, maps, and storyboards.

For Rehearsal I (Ensayo I), Alÿs staged a scene in which the driver of a Volkswagen Beetle repeatedly attempted in vain to scale a dusty slope on the outskirts of Tijuana. The driver listened to a tape recording of a musical rehearsal by a Mexican brass band and mimicked the recording, starting and stopping as the band did. The installation includes several videos, paintings, and drawings. Eight other bodies of work are also on view at MoMA, including Tornado (2000–10), which was acquired by the Museum in 2011. For Tornado, Alÿs visited the highlands south of Mexico City throughout the past decade in a repeated effort to chase the whirling dust storms that occur annually in the region. With camera in hand, the artist attempted again and again to run directly into a tornado to penetrate the eye of the storm. Culled from footage recorded over a period of 10 years, the video symbolically combines the sublime with the unattainable and can be considered a metaphor for failed pursuits of utopian ideals, and man’s repeated attempts to persist despite inevitable consequences.

Challenging the powers of nature in a perplexing one-on-one confrontation, Alÿs recognizes human persistence and emphasizes the necessity to pursue ideals however unattainable or seemingly absurd. For Song for Lupita (1998), the artist has created an installation in which a film strip loops continuously through a reel that extends up to the ceiling, projecting an animated pencil drawing of a young female character pouring a liquid from one glass to another in an endless and poetic gesture. Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing) (1997), a five–minute video showing Alÿs pushing a block of ice through the center of Mexico City until nothing but a small puddle of water remained, is an allusion to the hardship involved in the daily survival tactics of many people in the region. Le Temps du Sommeil (1996―present) is an ongoing series composed of more than 100 small canvases of approximately 4.3 x 6” each, which Alÿs continues to rework as a sort of evolving record of visual ideas that develop out of actions or precede them.

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception expands to MoMA PS1 with a series of works that highlights the artist’s engagement with cities around the globe, from London to New York to Venice. These projects, which include The Modern Procession (2002), Guards (2004), and Duett (1999), reveal the sense of disconnection, fragmentation, and displacement often present in large cities, and also playfully attempt to overcome such disjunctions. A Story of Deception (2003–06), a 16mm film depicting a mirage looming on the horizon in Patagonia, representing that which is continually sought after yet inevitably out of reach, is also on view.

The Modern Procession was commissioned by MoMA to mark the Museum’s temporary relocation to Queens (2002–04) while its midtown building was undergoing a renovation and expansion. Through video, photographs, and drawings, the installation documents a ceremonial procession that occurred on June 23, 2002, in which Alÿs, musicians, and various participants traveled from MoMA to MoMA QNS, carrying the artist Kiki Smith on a palanquin and representations of works in the Museum’s collection, including works by Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Alberto Giacometti. On view is a two-channel video of the event, along with numerous archival materials related to it. The procession not only made the historic transition public and visible, but linked Manhattan and Queens through ceremony and spectacle. Guards includes a single-channel video in which Alÿs orchestrated the movements of 64 Royal Guards who entered The City of London by different streets, unaware of each other’s location. Upon running into each other, the guards would fall into step and march together, looking for more guards with which to join. Standing as a social allegory, the work reflects the tendency of individuals to seek identity in group formations.

For the 1999 Venice Biennale, Alÿs created an unofficial performance for the occasion, titled Duett. The piece begins with Alÿs entering Venice by train while fellow Belgian artist Honoré d’O landed at the airport, and each man is carrying one half of a tuba. After drifting through the labyrinth of streets, they eventually met three days later and reassembled the musical instrument. The work is emblematic of Alÿs’s exploration of estranged or misplaced halves striving for reconciliation. At MoMA PS1, Duett is displayed as a single-channel video along with photographic documentation and ephemera related to the performance.

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception opens May 8 and continues until August 1. For further information please visit: www.moma.org

Francis Alÿs
Re-enactments (2001)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
© Francis Alÿs

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