Review /

Cheng Ran Galerie Urs Meile / Beijing

Through a range of video, installation and photographic works produced during his two-year residency at Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam, Cheng Ran experiments with the ways stories are told.

He subverts narrative language and logic, constructing illusions of infinite space and time adrift. In the “work-in-progress” video Storyboard Film (2015), Cheng Ran appropriates the storyboard technique in film production, documenting plans and alterations vis-à-vis the actual creation of the work. He describes a series of proposed scenes, shots and camera angles while doodling on computer drawing software. However, his monologue, sounding like fragmented muttering, does not coincide with what is visually represented. The unfinished film becomes a deconstruction of storytelling, an exercise in free association that reveals endless imaginative possibilities and our subconscious inclination to seek them in the abstract.

Before Falling Asleep (2013), a four-channel video installation, adapts popular bedtime fairytales sourced from Aesop’s fables, Ivan Krylov and Hans Christian Andersen. These fables — anthropomorphic in nature — are reinterpreted through Cheng Ran’s personification of an animal, a plant or a natural element. He reverses the symbolism of these objects, employing youthful actors to replace them; he thus gives faces to The River and the Pond and human forms to the pigeons in Aesop’s Two Pigeons. In his poetic and sensualistic retelling, the moral principles are lost and our perception of narrative space and time fades. Like a child, we fall into a liminal trance between a world of dreams and allegories and waking reality.

The exhibition title “In Course of the Miraculous” derives from Bas Jan Ader’s three-part performance In Search of the Miraculous, which culminated when Ader disappeared at sea while crossing the Atlantic in a one-man boat — an art world fable in itself. Ader’s narratives are both highly personal and obscure; the success of his work is never in its completion, but in its undertaking. It is purposeful in intention and conception, simple in execution. Cheng Ran also embodies this spirit. Continuing to explore the spatial and temporal territories between the language of storytelling and its visual elements, he leaves us anticipating his return from across the void.

by Sarah Sulistio

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News /

Peter Kersten on Dial Records / Hamburg

Dial Records is a music label founded in 1999 in Hamburg by Peter Kersten and David Lieske. On the occasion of the release of All, a compilation curated by Carsten Jost and Bianca Hauser to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the label, Flash Art talked with Peter Kersten.

How have the more radical transformations of clubbing culture affected the label?

Throughout the years Dial Records has always been a nonconformist label seeking a particular variety of club music — ambient, piano works, suicidal guitar drones — whatever seems to be interesting and relevant for us. With the appearance of James K, DJ Richard and Dawn Mok in the compilation All we are happy to continue our approach. Stefan Tcherepnin contributed with the United Brothers theme “I Want To Be Art,” which serves also as a link to the program of our gallery Mathew, based in Berlin and New York.

Does the fact that you are based in Germany, specifically in Hamburg, affect your programming in any way?

Dial is and has always been an international imprint. We never regarded the label as being German or American, just because we work and live in New York City, Berlin and Hamburg. We’ve never even had a proper office in these cities. That is maybe one reason why the label never got stuck inside a certain scene or genre.

The past few months have been marked by two releases of your solo project Lawrence: A Day in the Life for Mule Musiq, and Manhattan for Smallville. How do you deal with your dual role of owning and directing a record label and being a music producer yourself?

Plus touring as a DJ, having the band Sky Walking and running two galleries in New York and Berlin? It is just amazing to be part of so many influential projects. I can’t complain about boredom in my life — it has always been a bit too exciting.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Arena /

Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island

U., the narrator in Satin Island, a new novel by Tom McCarthy, takes pains to lower reader expectations right at the outset of the book. “Events!” he says in an aside.

“If you want those, you’d best stop reading now.” Instead, what he offers is a claustrophobic glimpse at the inner workings of his mind as he tries to compile the Great Report, an ethnographic document that is meant to be the “first and last word on our age” — the age being presumably now, and the “us” being himself and his audience. Tasked to do so by his boss, Peyton, a corporate guru of sorts who speaks in meaningless aphorisms — “A city has no ‘character’; it is a schizoid headspace, filled with the cacophony of contradiction,” for example — U., an anthropologist, is less interested in discovering universal truth, and more in following the threads of his own dull imagination. Topics that consume him — including parachute deaths, oil spills and his desk at home — are peppered with references to theories posited by Erwin Schrödinger, Alai Badiou, Gilles Deleuze and his hero, Claude Lévi Strauss, as if to bolster his own brilliance through name dropping.

The book is written very much in McCarthy’s signature style. Details are not merely mentioned; rather, they are obsessively described in flat, precise language that renders them colorless, beaten into the ground, so that when one pictures a scene from the novel, they see not a landscape, but rather a computer simulation emptied of human life. The difference between Satin Island and Remainder, a book about a man who recreates a catastrophic accident until he becomes the creator of the catastrophe himself, is that the former does not follow a linear narrative. Instead, it experiments with a current trend in literature — a trend that increasingly reads like laziness on the part of the writer. McCarthy is writing less a novel than a very, very long blog post, inserting anecdotes and observations as they come, and then leaving them hanging in the air, assuming that in their lack of resolution, the reader will consider them profound truths to be mulled over. It’s a technique also used by writers like Ben Lerner and Karl Ove Knausgaard, with better success — an obsessive description of the personal is used as a sort of allegory for contemporary life. But the role of a writer, arguably, is not merely to float ideas; it is to shed light on what has previously remained formless or unspoken. The most profound realization U. has in the entirety of Satin Island is that immortality may be gained by hiring someone to send text messages after they die — something that anyone who knows a deceased person with a Facebook account has already realized.

Despite the desire of the narrator in Remainder not to create events, but rather, to replicate them in exact, precise detail, the novel lent itself well to a cinematic adaptation by Omer Fast, which is completed but has yet to be released. The story had a resolution, and moreover, a gloriously violent one. It is hard to imagine that Satin Island could ever be made into a feature film — perhaps instead an installation in a colorless, gray box, with rectangular, gray boxes to sit on, and on screens scattered throughout the room, recreations of U.’s dreams, which are the only interesting thing about him, or the entire novel. In fact, the sort of floating, untethered format of Satin Island, in which the contemporary is shown in spits and bursts, fits itself perfectly in the current environment of the art world, which is dominated by exhibitions that capture an ahistoric “nowness” backed by mid-20th century theory but without context.

Toward the end of the novel, U’s self-reflexive narrative is broken by Madison, his occasional lover. She tells him a story about being arrested in 2001 while protesting a G8 summit in Genoa. After being beaten by police, she is taken to a villa outside the city. There, she is left in a room with a portly man who first shocks her with a cattle prod, and then directs her in a series of strange, vaguely erotic poses. Despite her exhaustion, he forces her to dance for hours. By the end, he is sobbing in ecstasy. Afterward, she falls into a deep sleep and then catches a bus to Torino-Caselle.

Madison’s story is rich with texture — a Buñuel film in a single chapter. But the implausibility of the situation she describes, especially given the fairly believable situations that take place in the rest of the novel — for example, U. goes to conferences and visits his friend in the hospital — calls into question whether or not U. is a reliable narrator. And if he’s an anthropologist working in the basement of a corporation, then does the U. stand in for “you,” the reader? And if that’s the case, is the Great Report, which U. never finishes, and everyone, even Peyton, seems to forget about, ultimately this novel? In the sort of formless void the narrative creates, anything is possible — the point being that McCarthy asks “you” to do the work, and absolves himself of the responsibility early on.

Satin Island is revealed to be an industrial dump of an island in one of U.’s dreams — he connects this place to the real world Staten Island. When U. travels to New York for a symposium, he takes the subway down to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal with the intention of connecting his dream world to the physical one, and ultimately, decides not to get on the ferry. To do so, he said, would be “meaningless.” In this case, the problem is not only the lack of resolution — if Satin Island in itself is meaningless, is that a comment on the meaninglessness of signs? — but also the venture into the real. The way U. describes not only the New York Harbor, but also the passengers of the ferry, is lazy — he says that the people waiting for the ferry are “bored, frumpy, tired, unhealthy, overweight and generally just very, very normal,” a generalizing observation that reads more like a judgment. The book works best when it frees itself from the mundane, and allows dreams to color the frumpy phrases. If only McCarthy had spent more time connecting the dots than proclaiming there were dots to be connected.

by Brienne Walsh

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LA Talks /

Archive Fever / ROGERS

Opened in October 2014, ROGERS is a storefront art space in Cypress Park, a neighborhood on the Eastside of Los Angeles. It is run by a shadowy curatorial collective. In lieu of a website or an Instagram feed, ROGERS has a Yelp page where exhibitions are announced and documented in terse phrasings and fuzzy images. They currently enjoy a perfect five-star rating.   

Why “ROGERS”?

We all had an admiration of the art of Roger Payne as his treatment of the frame reminded us of Pere Borrell del Caso’s Escaping Criticism (1874). This became a metaphor for the space of the gallery. At the same time, we were all interested in social and communal pain as we watched the slowing-down Roger Federer end his epic career. And of course the colloquial CB talk of “roger that” meaning, in all ways, the affirmative, we got it! The gallery becomes an explosion that insists on breaking social conventional structures of the commercial gallery, yet always a depressing resignation of the winding-down of an aspiration: that has a depressive and analytic tone, knowing one is at the end of a moment just as we have begun.

What were the organizing principles, interests and intentions in creating an anonymous, collectively run art space?  

There is an influx of spaces around town and the idea was to do something as casual as possible. No exhibition cycle as such, no formatting or scheduling constraints, no program, and no so-called curatorial vision. We wanted to revisit the idea of “paper exhibitions,” but almost taking it too seriously while simultaneously disregarding it on the spot, and ending up with exhibitions in the space. To play with the idea of decision making in curating, and how collectively we can make shows that are not coming out of a kind of consensus, as is usually the case – so in a way thinking about the questions of taste, network, publicity and visibility. Therefore we also, for instance, only have a Yelp page that our visitors can like and in a way thinking about the conditions of criticism today.

Iconic Artworks from 1920s to Present from the collection of Aaron Moulton w lamps by Pentti Monkkonen” was your first exhibition. What are the contents of Aaron Moulton’s archive? 

The idea behind that show was to throw Aaron’s archive into the woods. The archive represented a period of Moulton’s active engagement with documentation of artwork and how it’s represented in print media – pre/post-internet questions around circulation, dissemination and reception of art beyond its immediate context and therefore expanding its site/context/reception, etc. But the trees here turned the gallery into the kind of opening, or Lichtung, as Heidegger refers to. Here the archive is more of a fragment, a cul-de-sac, a “woodpath” that perpetually reaches out and yet never throws itself out of the woods.

Your second show was George Stoll. The exhibition, according to your Yelp page, consisted of “works that haven’t been shown bc the body of work evolved or turned into something else, some prototypes and preliminary models.” What was your interest in showing these abandoned pieces and prototypes?

It mainly came out of the discussions with the artist. The question, which is a very common question, is when is the moment of completeness, what separates a prototype from a work? Perhaps the exhibition was the respondent to the call, the famous telephone call that Ronell talks about. We were hoping to respond to the call of the work that was rarely seen and that the ideas in the works are very much visible in lots of current works that come many years after George’s experiments.

Your current show is Oliver Payne and Nick Relph’s “Mixtape.” As I understand it, you’ve recreated the original installation from Gavin Brown in 2002. How did this come about?

When the idea of this show was presented to us, we were particularly interested in showing this piece that, in a way, browses through the rapid changes in subculture and how it, in a way, now kind of resonates in the neighborhood as the cultural landscape of this side of town is going under transformation. It also very much sets precedence to lots of works that followed it that set similar conceptual structures and brings together diverse sets of cultural references but is now streamlined with recent digital technology and such.

In all three of the exhibitions so far there seems to be a bit of “archive fever” going on. Was this planned? Do you see the program as predominantly concerned with the archival in some way?

We were really thinking about how Bassam el Baroni thinks about contemporary art as the moment when the canon was replaced by the archive. He talks at length about this, but in general this also coincides with the expansion of the art world and globalism in general. So while ROGERS is not strictly speaking an archival research project, it does look at how these kind of practices are now the everyday material of making exhibitions.

by Eli Diner

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Report /

Garage Museum of Contemporary Art / Moscow

Moscow’s cultural avant-garde may not be in the hands of the contemporary art system. For many, this could be difficult to acknowledge.

But in the aftermath of the opening of the Garage Museum’s new building, which took place on June 12, it seems that art discourse in the Russian capital — and perhaps in the whole country — is still seeking a distinct strategy in the face of the post-Soviet vacuum. After all, the most positive neoteric offering to emerge in this context, at least for me, has been the street wear of Gosha Rubchinskiy, a Moscovite photographer and fashion designer. Across only five seasonal collections, Rubchinskiy has managed to frame and convey to the world a specific imaginary of the New Russia that relies not on invention but rather on a disillusioned take on the failed project of the Soviet Union.

Contrary to Rubchinskiy’s clear-cut and realist approach, the Garage’s mission — a two-fold program that wants to combine a zealous xenophilia with a search for the true roots of Russian contemporary art — lacks, at least from what I could glean in its first iteration in this new building, a clear focus. In fairness, I had to take in an overabundant number of projects, evidently dictated by the frenzy of showing off the manifold activities of the cultural institution; and I felt oppressed by a latent stiffness in the museum’s ethos, as if nothing here had been given the benefit of the doubt, or allowed to mirror the vulnerability of a still precarious cultural landscape. The program seems instead to be built on the alleged knowledge of How We Must Lead Russia’s Art System into the Future — a presumption which, resonating in a former Socialist landmark like this new location, perhaps risks giving rise to another collective utopia.

Located in the recently revitalized Gorkij Park, Garage Museum’s new home is OMA/Rem Koolhaas’s conversion of the Vremena Goda, a prototypal restaurant erected in 1968 but soon neglected and never reproduced. OMA’s project respectfully and tastefully preserves many of the building features, from the basic spatial organization to surface decorations, in an attempt to emphasize what Koolhaas calls “the generosity of Soviet architecture” — a quality that doesn’t translate merely into capacity, but also into openness, receptiveness and the building’s ability to epitomize social values. Indeed, the architects gave the Museum a polycarbonate skin with two gigantic openings, rendering the site extremely porous to the life of the park.

Yayoi Kusama and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s exhibitions (the first in Russia for both artists) are the highlights of the opening program. While Tiravanija’s interventions wittily engage the Russian social landscape and the history of the building — he set up ping-pong tournaments, served pelmeni (Russian dumplings) and installed a DIY T-shirt factory, hosting both these activities within “pavilions” resembling typical Soviet bus stops — Kusama’s installations poorly convey any content besides their spectacular nature. It is here, in a mirrored room filled with pulsating lights that seem to strive to replicate the universe, or in the presence of trees wrapped in fabric bearing the artist’s famous red polka dots, that the Garage Museum’s overall narrative appears problematic. What sort of empowering educational or social dialogue can be pursued within a program that chooses to develop a project by an artist who is today a self-caricature, and who, notably, disseminates installations without even traveling to the sites of their execution?

It must be mentioned that the Kusama and Tiravanija shows are presented amid a number of side projects based on cross-disciplinary and theoretical investigations of underexplored topics of Russian culture. Three installments of the Museum’s so-called “Field Research” platform offer insights into subjects such as Cosmism, a late 19th-century philosophical movement that advocates for the idea of cosmos as a universal order; the production of African and Arab filmmakers who studied in the USSR from the 1960s to the late 1980s; and the resonance on the Russian lifestyle of the American National Exhibition, held in Moscow in 1959, which showcased US achievements in the fields of technology, fashion, manufacturing and culture.

While Anton Vidokle’s This is Cosmos, the first film in a trilogy that the artist planned in the context of the “Field Research” platform, addresses hypothetical resonances of ideas related to Cosmism in our technology-driven reality and is a fascinating work of video art, the displays “Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy” and “Face-to-face: The American National Exhibitions in Moscow, 1959/2015” are nothing more than didactic gatherings of materials, often installed in suffocating, hard-to-decipher clusters. They are, in a word, stodgy. Let’s clearly state this: all these projects are “prologues,” early stages of what are undeniably licit and compelling research trends. But, one has to ask if the role of a cultural institution is to “show” research to its audience, regardless of the celebratory occasion, or rather to deliver findings, share methodologies and at least excogitate the right presentational format. (On June 30, the curators of “Saving Bruce Lee” will host a one-day seminar; this event will probably offer more than a display of film posters and a wall map diagramming the filmmakers’ intercontinental travel itinerary.)

It goes without saying that the future of Russia’s cultural landscape is tied to the future of the Garage Museum — and of other international, dedicated and genuinely experimental institutions that emerged in post-Soviet Moscow, such as the Strelka Institute and the V-A-C Foundation. In the fall, the Museum will open a major Louise Bourgeois retrospective. But the question of whether contemporary art will be able to play a progressive role in Russia remains. On June 12 another cultural institution was shut down by local authorities: the artist-run space Red Square, located in the Elektrozavod, a dismantled factory complex that has been taken over by artist studios and creative agencies over the last decade. Red Square was hosting the exhibition “Be Yourself: Stories of LGBT Teenagers,” a collection of portraits of young gay people, among the most persecuted communities in Russia today. This is just one of the serious, deeply rooted social issues that we all expect a liberal and forward-looking cultural institution to promptly address.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Review /

Asha Schechter Metro PCS / Los Angeles

Residents of Los Angeles may be familiar with the peculiar KFC franchise located at the intersection of Western and Oakwood Avenues in densely populated Koreatown. Its deconstructivist design presents an architectural anomaly amidst the cluttered strip malls of East Hollywood.

The building serves as the subject of Asha Schecter’s The Bucket, a single-channel video projected on one wall of Metro PCS, a storefront-cum-gallery that, like the architecturally ambitious KFC, manifests a high-low amalgam of commerce and culture.

Recorded with a Phantom 2 drone and a GoPro Hero 4 camera, the work treats an otherwise eccentric specimen of the fast food chain with documentary restraint. The end result may not astound “prosumers” or seasoned hobbyists but it is clear that the artist is not interested in cutting edge videography or technical exhibitionism as much as framing the relationship between that which is being recorded and the mechanism that records. Indeed, the building under surveillance, designed in 1988 by apprentices of Frank Gehry, borrows and updates features of “Googie” style architecture, LA’s coffee shop vernacular of the McLuhan mid-sixties.

In The Bucket, the medium is not only the message but also our protagonist. If drones provide access to the city’s landscape unimpeded by grids or gravity, Schechter’s work seems to frame the less perceptible operations of the image and its shifting modes of transmission and reception by treating these new forms of technological mediation with a Structural-Materialist tint. But how does one locate materiality within the immaterial space of digital video? Schechter finds it through subtle spatio-temporal stutters. While the camera makes its way around the building in steady waves of ascent and descent, at moments the image surface vibrates, almost imperceptibly, with digital disruption. Shadows and light shift illogically, while parked cars and figures appear and disappear with troubling fluidity. In one instance the drone hovers above the second-story patio, not quite capturing its reflection in the window of the empty restaurant, and the viewer is suddenly confronted with the camera as an object rather than a transparent means of vision. The soundtrack—an incessant buzz, machinic and guttural—also evokes an unsettling kind of interiority, a menacing will or intelligence that is not quite the viewer’s, not quite human. Perhaps an insect or bird, maybe even a chicken. The latter, of course, is not meant for flight but feast. Such irony is not lost on Schechter, and these nuances serve as insightful reflections on how we produce and consume our images.

by Olivian Cha

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