Posts tagged ‘Art’

Re.Act – performancekunst der 1960er und 70er jahre heute

Yoko Ono, Cut-piece performance, 1965

Curated by Bettina Knaup and Beatrice E. Stammer “Re.Act – performance art from the 60s and 70s today” could be seen from December 13th 2008 through February 8th 2009 at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin.

Documenting performative works from 24 artists spanning across two generations, the exhibition intended to document and reflect the diversity and complexity of feminist performative strategies which appeared within a wide range of social and political contexts. Including works by performance movements from Eastern and South Eastern Europe as well as the former GDR, the exhibition documented many artistic and socially critical strategies of the 1960s, 70s through today.
In the intersection between art and life, private and public, performance offered the ideal medium for examining, deconstructing or reinventing female identity back then, in this way forcing a certain reevaluation of the attributions of femininity in mainstream culture.

Among my favourite performers are Yoko Ono (J/USA) whose performance “Cut Piece” both in its historical and re-staged 2003 version could be seen, Valie Export, Ewa Partum and the younger Kate Gilmore (USA) with her strong sometimes mocking performances.

Without intending to be an historical survey but simply present historical positions together with more recent ones, establishing relations between both generations was really the goal. Moreover the exhibition intended to show women artists working today that what they are doing is more related to their predecessor’s achievements than they are ready to admit, sometimes out of blunt ignorance. What the exhibition failed to show however, is why today’s performers seem not to be interested in political strident, ideologically didactic but instead choose to mock certain gestures of the past and mostly transmit a certain sense of an impossibility of change or uneffectiveness of certain actions, thus undermining any possibility for idealism. Today’s disbelieve and sense of impotency or frustration remains to be understood and represents the most urgent question.

May 12, 2009 at 7:08 am Leave a comment

“Political/ Minimal” at the KW Berlin and the road conceptualism has travelled

Francis Alys, Paradox of Praxis 1

Recently, while visiting „Political/Minimal“ curated by Klaus Biesenbach at the Kunst Werke in Berlin, I found myself wondering about the possibility of keeping on doing conceptual work today. Afterall hasn’t conceptualism exhauted all its self-reflexive possibilities already?

Done only one or two years ago, some of the works in the exhibition explore a classical reportoire of forms which are usually associated with minimal art from the 60s. Instead of repeating its typical hermetism this revived minimal brings forth all kinds of political issues.

I was specially impressed by Terence Koh´s piece, an unpretencious pink triangle which mimed the real one sewed in Men´s shirts to differentiate them as homosexuals in concentration camps. This fact alone explains and contributed to their small survival rate.

In Derek Jarman´s film „Blue“ (1993), an empty blue surface is projected together with a soundtrack revealing quotations from the artist´s diary as he went blind because of AIDS. The film, his final work, accompanies the disease process on an almost daily basis. Speaking of quotation, Tino Sehgal performed “Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things”, a dance piece based on some of Dan Graham´s and Bruce Nauman´s historical performances.
All works pointing to the fact that contemporary conceptual works seem to have abandoned the self-reflexivity and hermetic level which characterized conceptualism in the late 60s and early 70s to embrace aesthetic, personal or political experiences foreign to historical conceptualism.

In itself, this use of former formal structures and strategies to convey a whole new meanings represents an openness. No doubt, did self-reflexivity correspond to a specific moment in Modernism, in which different disciplines took themselves and their own field of research as their own prime subject matter, be it as a reaction to the threat of new disciplines popping up or, the trend of interdisciplinary methods or, a specific socio-political context.

Self-reflexive new media artworks conceptualize their own technical specificity, like Paik exploring things like the effects of magnets in electronic images or, pioneering live broadcasting or, Vito Acconci developing work which played with the possibilities opened up by closed-circuit, etc. in some sort of parallel to Greenberg’s ideas on self-specificity on painting.

Instead of representing a certain decay or a dead end, self-reflexivity has come to include a broader sense. The exhibition “Political/ Minimal” teaches us exactly how historical conceptualism surpassed its own hermeticism to embrace a whole new series of issues outside itself.

Given their specific nature, media art works occasionate an unforeseen and totally different relation with the society they are produced in and which they are produced for. Technology is part of all levels of our life, it is designed to be automatic and acritically assimilated, its is filled up with corporate values and hidden intentions (to force a new need upon us, to makes start a new behaviour, etc) and is distributed through whole different channels. It is in this sense that works reflecting upon the effects and consequences of technology could also be considered self-reflexive.

In this sense, some works no longer conceptualize around their specific technical functions and language but on their impact on us, on society at a larger scale instead.
Moreover, works dealing with self-reference, quotation, referring and reflecting upon icons of the past, should also be thought of as self-reflexive works – Duchamp´s Gioconda with a Moustache when mocking artistic value, cultural tradition, etc.

Self-reflexivity in media art thus includes works dealing strictly with the technical specificities offered by the medium (formalism), works dealing with the consequences for the individuum and society derived from the specific technical possibilities opened by the medium and works referring, quoting other works within a given cultural tradition (linguistics).

May 10, 2009 at 12:19 am Leave a comment

“Still Men Out There”, an exhibition by Bjørn Melhus in Istanbul

Until the middle of last April a selection of Bjørn Melhus’ works could be visited at the Amerikan Hastanesi Sanat Galerisi ”Operation Room”. Presenting key works within the artist’s oeuvre, such as “Again & Again “„The Oral Thing“ (2001) or „Still Men Out There“ (2003) – from which the exhibition borrowed its title -, the show also featured more recent pieces like his 2008 multi-channel video installation „Deadly Storms“.

The selection offered the viewer the opportunity to grasp several decisive aspects in Bjørn Melhus’ work. Namely, the artist’s multiple attention to the worlds of American commercial film, television pop music and publicity, the coexistence throughout his oeuvre of pieces in which the artists embodies all the media roles and pieces in which he consciously redraws himself from and which result more abstract. Finally, a certain performative aspect was made available through the documentation published in the catalogue for occasion of this exhibition showing the intense and rich pre-production work in Bjørn Melhus’ films.

Manifold, the exhibition provided the viewer with the opportunity to compare works regarded upon as „classical“ – those in which the artist himself appears and enacts different characters -, with a work like „Still Men Out There“. Less “recognizable” as a Melhus’ piece, “Still Men Out There” is basically a pure synchronized sound and light installation in which the artist consciously redraw his own figure from. Next to pieces which are figurative and in which Melhus embodies different roles, the artist has also created pieces in which images are reduced to abstract fields of color. Both strategies have in fact always coexisted in Bjørn Melhus’ production. His absence in some of his works is not as unusual as one might think and is not without consequences for the overall understanding of his work. Far from being an isolated example, one must only think of „Emotional Fields“(2007), „Murphy“ (2008) or Melhus’ successive tree houses to recognize just that. Significantly all these works have been produced in parallel to the ones in which the artist plays different roles, including that of a woman, and which the public specially identifies the artist for and critics have payed most attention to.


Thus missing a trademark – Melhus himself -, “Still Men Out There” (the installation) contains however other characteristics of the artist’s work, such as the exploration of the conventions of film (American war cinema in this case), repetition and multiplication of effects and found sound footage.
Placed on the floor in three concentric circles, the eighteen monitors show their screens facing up. Monochrome color fields alternate rhythmically, pulsing to the sound of machine guns. The soundtrack, composed of snippets from mainstream war movies includes everything a good war film needs, from marching troops, to tragic love, to gunfire, to heroic soliloquies. These sequences of monochrome image, script and sound produce a penetrating effect. At times full of pathos, other times purely kitsch, “Still Men Out There” stresses the highly entertaining and spectacle qualities present in American mainstream war cinema. The work’s sources are well documentated, “Still Men Out There” takes on sound footage from “Platoon” (Oliver Stone, 1986), “The Thin Red Line” (Terrence Malick, 1998), “Black Hawk Down” (Ridley Scott, 2001) and “We Were Soldiers” (Randall Wallace, 2002).
Melhus is interested here how cinema, as the greatest manipulative technical dispositive of all times, has been conditioning our feelings and behavior in respect to what our cultural notions, in this case of war and death, concern.

Regarding this, the artist has said in an interview: “Still Men Out There is not a statement about war or politics (even if the material does refer back to this reality), but is about evoking and exposing cinematic stereotypes”. But this is only partially true, for in the end the work does open into the ideological workings of cinematic war representation.

It is extremely significant that we are being offered the spectacle of war with no images (except for monochromatic images), in this way addressing directly what has been described as “American media’s refusal to show the American dead and injured in the war” in recent times. On the one hand the work pervades the idea that one can no longer trust any image of war to be authentic and that the only solution would be the renunciation of all imagery. This feeling is a direct consequence of the on-going control of images of war scenarios since the Golf War – from which only generic night shots of Bagdad under attack were divulged. And the so-called “embeded journalism” in practice since the Iraq war – when journalists march alongside the troops during their advance – which results in a loss of objectivity, and also contributed to a general sense of crisis due to the conflict of interests it generates.
On the other hand, because we can identify the audio sources of the installation, it is forcing us to deconstruct the cultural references regarding war on cinema, thus awakening all sorts of images of war which lie dormant in our heads and which obviously have been shaped by the mass media.
“Still Men Out There” is not only exploring the impact of American cinema on our collective memory but also forcing us to admit that some of our notions are being actively designed by it, against historical facts and in favour of specific ideologies.

The work is thus not only bringing cinematic stereotypes into light but also forcing us to consider the reception of cinematic war representation critically. The sound and its different moments borrow a narrative structure to a work, which is in itself abstract. As already noted, this “practice of fragmentation, destruction, and reconstitution of well-known figures, topics, and strategies of the mass media opens up not only a network of new interpretations and critical commentaries, but also defines the relationship of mass media and viewer anew” (Schmidt, Bremen, 2002).
By exposing the mechanisms of mainstream cinema, Melhus rebels against pre-established simplifications and global cultural standardization. Admitting that no images exist today outside of the corporate media, Melhus’ works contest such iconographic hegemony.

Both fascinated and disgusted by the American mainstream media culture, Bjørn Melhus has made his field of research what others would hastily judge as American “trash”. In a meticulous and consequent way he has been thus exposing the manipulative power of modern media by successively paying attention to several genres, including Hollywood films, news TV channels or the talk show format, just to name but a few cases.

With his systematic examination of different mass media frameworks, Bjørn Melhus has been exposing the stereotyped voices, gestures and slogans which are being conveyed on a daily basis and which seem to be dictating our behaviour despite of us. What to do with this awareness, a sort of pledge for responsibility, is the question left open to every single viewer.

(Excerpt of my review published in RES – Art World, Issue #02 May, 2009)

May 9, 2009 at 11:16 am Leave a comment

Key Ideas on New Media and Self-Reflexivity- in short

1. Self-reflexivity is by no means exclusive to the field of the arts but a common preoccupation of different disciplines in the XX century
2. Whenever a new medium appears it must struggle to define its own field of actuation and pertinence against all existing mediums
3. Different mediums borrow from and influence avidly each other
4. New media ontologically favour manipulation and experimentation
5. Media specificity must be found in the medium’s structure and technological premise
6. This strategy and belief is not exactly new but was mimed from painting
7. New media – and not just video – took on a critical position against television and what it represented

October 18, 2008 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Key Ideas on New Media and Self-Reflexivity

Nam June Paik, Budha TV, 1974

Whenever a new medium appears it must struggle to define its own field of actuation and pertinence against all existing mediums. This contributes to the development of a speech of self-specificity, as the struggle between painting and photography – when photography first appeared – testifies.
„As with the introduction of every new medium, video encompasses a process of development from a technical novelty to the formation of media-specific forms of expression, which reflect the basic technical conditions governing the apparatus aesthetically and, finally, culminate in the cultural connotations of a new medium, which can assert its singularity in setting itself apart from other media”.(Yvonne Spielmann, Video The Reflexive Media, MIT, 2008)

Opposing already existing mediums doesn´t completely describe this process, for each new medium also wants to achieve recognition from the others and even share some of their features. The emergence of the photographic in different media – in the computer for instance – is only but one example of this.
“The desire for immediacy leads digital media to borrow avidly from each other as well as from their analog predecessors such as film, television and photography. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media”. (Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation, Understanding New Media, MIT Press, 2000)

In this sense, it seems that „all a new technology can do is to define itself in relationship to earlier technologies of representation“ (Bolter & Grusin, 2000)

As tools, and artists always seem to be the first ones to experiment with them -, and due to their inherent manipulative character new media possess an ontological feature which favours experimentation. This also leads to the development of a speech of self-specificity.

This self-specificity has erroneously been attributed. Nor the aesthetic dimension, nor the presentation dimension suffice as criteria for defining media specificity. This is easy to understand if we think of video. Ultimately its raw material is noise, which denote electronic signals, but these can be presented also as a sculpture or an installation. In this sense, nor the technical manipulation of the signals processes (its technical self-reflexion – Paik operating with magnets for instance), nor its presentation possibilities (single channel to multi video installations) are specific enough criteria to define the ontology of video.
According to Yvonne Spielmann, this must be found in video’s structure technological premise. She argues that “both Media (video and film) are concerned with visualizing an aesthetic-analytical discourse on picturiality, which brings into view structural phenomena from the medium in question”. (Yvonne Spielmann, 2008)

Morris Lewis, Alpha-phi, 1961
This strategy and belief is not exactly new, in fact it already occurred in painting. Formalism has always belived that everything necessary in a work of art is contained within it.
Clement Greenberg, who ambitioned using the characteristic method of a discipline (painting) to criticize the discipline (painting) itself, „not in order to subvert it but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence“, thought Maurice Denis’ early statement that a painting was ‘essentially a flat surface covered in colours arranged in a certain order’ through and through.
After his inquiry to painting Greenberg comes to determine that flatness and bi-dimensionality represent painting´s ontological qualities. Greenberg admitted that every medium incorporated conventions which had been borrowed from another art (narrative in history painting for instance), and which had to be necessarily expurgated so painting could be reduced to its absolutely unique characteristic(s). In this realm, „art“ became art’s only acceptable subject – art for art’s sake.
This notion of the arts as self-justifying (purily concerned with itself, striving to find its purity) was understood by Greenberg as a form of materialistic objectivity – in parallel to what contemporary science was doing. To Greenberg’s mind, this was being fulfilled by hard edge and color field painting.

Not only has New Media Art been concerned in exploring the medium’s structural characteristics but also its effects in general. In this way, the reflection about the use and meaning of images becomes very important and should perhaps be included as a part of the chapter on new media and self-reflexivity.
Images were always felt to be dangerous – we must only think of the Iconoclasm polemic – but technological apparatuses producing images do leave us the feeling that “it is out of control”. This fear is perhaps one more reason why new media are interested not only in exploring self-reflexive issues but also its effects, as if a way to get a hold on something which cannot be stopped.

From early on, new media – and not just video – took on a critical position against television and its system. Throughout History this critique was performed in different ways: the critique to Television as an instrument dictated and in service of corporate power; television as a flux of images which assumes the viewer as a passive subject; and whose only choice is the ability to change channel continuously (zapping).
Since there is no privileged image but a multiplicity of images in Television, our attention becomes slightly indifferent to content for it keeps changing very fast and no image is more important than the next. Susan Sontag sees in the type of image Television conveys, one of the reasons why we’ve become indifferent to horror images.

But more than opposing Television from minute one, Video has also adopted some of its features. In both mediums, image arises from its signal transmission technology and they both register rays of light onto a surface (in this miming Film, their historical precedent).

October 18, 2008 at 9:37 pm Leave a comment

old versus new – What on earth happened to May 68?

For a long time, the category of the “new” served as a criteria to judge the quality of an artwork. In this order of things, both the “classical” had its untouchable place secured by the patine of time and its recognized significance to a given culture (with aspirations of universality), as the new had its place just before subsuming into classic itself thus finding a label and reassuring our world view. The entire History of Art has understood its own role as the survey of this progressive linear development, in which a style would be followed by a next one, where influences where both picked up and rebelled against in a more or less deterministic way. This comfortable and traditional state of affairs has suffered multiple and decisive attacks throughout the XX century up to a point where criteria have become itself difficult if not impossible to find.

This tendency however, is not exclusive of the artworld but has become a strange feature of the time we live in. This thought has come in to my mind as I read British avant-garde musician, performance artist and blogguer Imomus´ recent post about his latest collaboration with freelance musician Germlin titled “Snoopersnapper, the glomming glam vampire“. In his late forties Imomus reflects on his latest collaboration with someone half his age, mocking on whom is taking advantage of whom and asking if Germlin instead of collaborating shouldn´t be rebelling against him (Imomus).

On the comments section an anonymous wrote something which I found particularly interesting and on the point:

“I don’t meet any angry youth. Although they’d have a point if they did get angry – the UK boomer generation has the property the young will never own, the pensions they will never see. They had the steady careers-for-life, and the free further education. People listened when they protested against wars, and they got to mess up the planet and leave it for everyone else to clean.
Today’s kids have more of a right to be angry than their parents ever did!”

Voilá! What on earth happened to May 68?

Its a pretty goddamn remark! And it happens to be truth (for a specific cultural sphere at least, for there is more than enough anger in this world specially religious and economical motivated and incomprehensible to me).
What happened to generation clash? Why did twenty year olds give up on street protest, political commitment, social engagement and even such basic things as voting? Nothing seems to move them, so focused are they on getting their 15 minutes fame on TV, becoming famous, earning lots of money, and by pulling out this sequence being loved by as many as possible! Why choose having a mind on something when one can take on different characters, assume different profiles on the web, be oneself and others at the same time?

Even pointing out this loss of values, this flatenning of ideals, “feels” old fashioned and that´s how serious the problem is! I am completely torned between how much qualitative change digital has brought us and the negative (inevitable?) associated aspects of the total mediatization of our lives taking place…

August 1, 2008 at 2:34 am Leave a comment

ON CENSORSHIP. “Imaginary Coordinates” at the Spertus Museum / Chicago

Imaginary Coordinates“, an exhibition curated by Rhoda Rosen at the Spertus Museum in Chicago, originally scheduled to be open through September 7 suddenly closed in the end of June allegedly in response to pressure from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and individual donors. As Deanna Isaacs reported on May 29 on the Chicago Reader: “The Jewish United Fund, a major Spertus supporter, had taken a look and promptly canceled a May 13 fund-raising dinner booked for the tenth floor boardroom. Michael Kotzen, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, says he moved the event after hearing from “a number of people who thought the exhibit wasn’t appropriate” in “content and point of view””.

The exhibition showed maps (including palestinian maps) focusing on different geographic interpretations of the Holy Land some dating back to the 15th century together with contemporary art by nine Israeli and Palestinian women artists, in what appeared to be an effort to open up and reconcile the museum´s permanent historical collection with contemporary art.

Quoted by Lauren Weinberg on June 20th on Time Out Chicago, museum president Dr. Howard A. Sulkin said: “We came to realize that parts of the exhibition were not in keeping with our mission as a Jewish organization and did not belong at Spertus. This exhibition caused pain for members of our key audience who felt it presented anti-Israel points of view.”

The central polemic of the show is that several of the works “implicitly criticize” Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. And pro-Israel supporters object to seeing work that is critical of Israel and supportive of Palestine within a Jewish museum.

Though there has been a refusal to which speficif objects were considered deemed offensive, Museum´s chair and the Spertus board of trustees reject claims of censorship. On one hand they say that “Spertus is not interested in going around and hurting people’s feelings”, and on the other that they are “committed to asking the hard-nosed questions about a lot of things” ?!? – a clear example of “the schizophrenic nature of this conflict” as Richard Silverstein has put it.
As Patty Gerstenblith bluntly writes on the Chicago Tribune on June 24: “It is unfortunate when donors wield more influence over museum exhibits than the museum’s professional staff and that controversial topics cannot be raised because of objections from a local community. Presenting viewpoints that may be unsettling and challenging are precisely the role that museums should play in our modern society”.
This should give us something to think about next time we discuss changing museum funding in Europe to be more like the american private donorship system!

Margeret Ewing, who seems to be the only one critizing the exhibition without political or partidary motivations, refers to the display of maps as adding little to a furthered understanding of the question of how the land of Isreal and Palestine is defined and to the exclusiveness of female contemporary artists as insufficiently explained within the exhibition!! Which is extremely funny, if you think about the polemic the show has raised and that Ewing – a sort of authority in art exhibitions´ critique – dismisses the show as “weak” from the curatorial point of view!

Lynn Pollack of Chicago´s Jewish Voice for Peace gave a very interesting statement to the Chicago Tribune. She said: “These are not fringe Palestinian and Israeli artists. These are mainstream artists who are able to display in their own country. Why can´t this art be seen by American Jews? It´s really a shame”.

On his turn, Richard Silverstein who runs a blog on on politics, culture and ideas about Israeli-Arab peace and world music, asks if the Spertus Museum “must pull its punches by cancelling an exhibit most viewers and artists found well within the consensus of political and artistic discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hasn´t lost the right to call itself and art museum?”.
And goes on to react to the patronizing attitude by Michael Kotzin (executive vice president of Jewish United Fund/ Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago who said that pieces “like those videos lacked context”) saying: “We can think for ourselves, thank you Mr. Kotzin. We don´t need to be protected from dangerous art, art that makes us think”.

Usually I don´t comment on exhibitions which I didn´t see. But, since this one was shut before any of us had the chance to see it, discuss and make an opinion not to mention that the uploaded video of the exhibition is no longer available on the internet and catalogues became extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find (I am lucky enough to have held one in my hands!), I feel my usual criteria shouldn´t apply. For me this is a clear case of censorship and one of great gravity for money and religion overruled freedom of thought, critique and dicussion!

July 21, 2008 at 5:23 pm 2 comments

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