Review /

Äppärät Ballroom / Marfa

The group exhibition at Ballroom Marfa, curated by Tom Morton, begins with Damián Ortega’s The Root of the Root (2011–13) and finishes with Shimabuku’s Oldest and Newest Tools of Human Beings (2015). Ortega’s installation is a sculptural composition of tree branches carved by a community of chimpanzees in Nigeria. Shimabuku presents two vitrines featuring Neolithic hand-axes and Apple products of uncannily similar dimensions.

As our species evolves over time, the social need to mark a presence, via the body or invented tools, remains the same; the scale of our ergonomically designed objects has not changed. In the space between these two pieces, presented one in front of the other in the main exhibition space, Morton focuses on the mammalian hand — specifically “the tools it touches, holds and uses” — as a means of understanding the human species: its evolution, aspirations and failures.

CGI video works by Ed Atkins and Cecile B. Evans relate to Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 novel Super Sad True Love Story, in which the “Äppärät” is a fictional smart-phone-like telecommunications device. Atkins and Evans use technology to comment upon and capture a typical zeitgeist, anchoring the show in a dialogue between past and present. In other works, the presence of the physical hand is literal, as for instance in an ironically playful work by Roger Hiorns, which invites the viewer to interact with a freezer, or the otherworldly cyborg hand of Paul Thek’s Untitled (c. 1966–67) from his “Technological Reliquaries” series. Elsewhere, the hand is presented as the tool of creation, as in Charles Ray’s painted steel sculpture Handheld Bird (2006) or Melvin Edwards’s sculpture series “Lynch Fragments.”

“Äppärät” covers a gigantic span of time. A cinematographic metaphor comes to mind: the pieces displayed in Marfa suggest the opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. From prehistory and the discovery of basic tools to an ever-increasing level of technological mastery, human beings are still figuring out essential ways to thrive. A central obstacle, among others, is the burden of physicality, embodied here with an outdoor installation by Roger Hiorns. This new work, A retrospective view of the pathway (falling sculpture) (2010–15), is a headless body formed by prosthetics used in the movie industry, stuffed with pages from Heidegger’s Being and Time (1927); its content and form are equally important.

Suspended by an electromagnet on the patio wall, it falls to the ground at unpredictable intervals, each time obeying the law of gravity. The fall of this inanimate body echoes the early research of choreographer Steve Paxton, as documented in the video series “Fall After Newton” (which is not part of the show). Curiously, Paxton’s research with gravity and momentum eventually lead to the introduction of a specific approach to movement in which the use of hands was discouraged.

by Patrick Steffen

read more
Arena /

Taylor Macklin / Zurich

Taylor Macklin opened in 2014 in Zurich. Run by five artists — Adam Cruces, Gina Folly, Michèle Graf, Selina Grüter and Thomas Julier — the space initiates conversations between students of the Zurich University of Arts and emerging artists worldwide. In this exchange, Flash Art poses a few questions about the idea behind the artist-run space and its potential future.

Switzerland, and Zurich in particular, seems to foster a culture of artist-run spaces — New Jerseyy, Hacienda, Marbrier 4 and Circuit, just to name a few. Why do you think that is? Do you think it is in reaction to Switzerland’s economic climate, which seems to favor commercial galleries?

All the spaces you mentioned have or had particular ideas that are/were different. In regard to the economic climate, besides a thriving commercial gallery sector, there’s generous state funding for the arts, which provides a counterbalance. As for Taylor Macklin, it is important to notice that the project is linked to the Zurich University of the Arts. It was founded partly because of the school’s lack of an exhibition space that would show alumni alongside international artists. Our interest in this exchange led us to found Taylor Macklin.

Your inaugural exhibition, “Raid,” was a mail-art project in which artists based outside of Switzerland sent work via email or snail mail. A bit like iTunes, which has become the main conduit of the music and film industry, it is almost as if the space was the end point where the message was delivered. The idea of a network seems to be a recurring topic in your program. Do you think it is symptomatic of your generation?

The space moved into an apartment on the outskirts of Zurich about two years ago. For our inaugural exhibition, we wanted to outline the diverse perspectives that make up Taylor Macklin. The works of the invited artists were shown alongside pieces from a Zurich-based mail-art collection. We wanted to show that networks in the art world have a history, and that they have already existed before our hyper-networked generation. We tried to connect the contributions of the invited artists with its loose ends.

I noticed you showed Zurich-based artists such as Mitchell Anderson and Vittorio Brodmann as well as American artists Amy Yao and Anicka Yi and Italian artist Davide Stucchi. Some people say alternative spaces are a necessity to form a community and develop a dialogue within a city. Do you think this is an outdated concept? Would you say Taylor Macklin’s dialogue is more local or global?

We think that inviting local artists as well as international artists creates a vibrant and fresh dialogue within a city, which may also merit international interest. Inviting artists is very important, since, despite the city’s very active art scene, there are very few residencies for foreign artists. Also, Zurich is very expensive, hence artists from abroad rarely move here. We don’t think of local and global as mutually exclusive categories.

You are five artists running one space. How do you agree upon the program? Would you say you follow a curatorial model? Also, what is the methodology behind your program, and how does it nourish your own personal work as artists?

There’s no real system. There are many more people involved in Taylor Macklin than the current five people organizing the daily business. We invite guest curators, friends suggest projects. So, the program of Taylor Macklin is the result of a much broader conversation. Running Taylor Macklin confronts us with quite a bit of information, which in one way or the other might influence our individual practices.

What’s next for Taylor Macklin? How would you wish for it to evolve in the future?

The program has become more and more open-ended. Again, it’s about broadening our conversation. Currently, we’re working on a program for the Istituto Svizzero in Rome for April and May, in which we want to bring together simultaneous strands of communication. We will close the Istituto’s main gallery and branch out in the various types of rooms in this monolithic building.

by Tatiana De Pahlen

read more
Report /

Native Global Land Fondation Louis Vuitton / Paris

France has always been a country of asylum for Chinese artists. After the First World War, it was where painters such as Zao Wou-ki and Chu Teh-Chun developed their careers. In the 1990s, Paris became a vanguard destination for contemporary Chinese artists fleeing the Tiananmen revolution, like Yan Pei Ming and Huang Yong Ping. At that time former Minister of Culture Jack Lang welcomed artists and curators, who have since taken up residence in France and participated in many thematic exhibitions about China.

It has nevertheless been ten years since any Parisian institution has focused on this scene, which has continued to evolve at a dizzying speed ever since emerging as one of the most significant markets of the 2000s. What is the situation today? What remains? And how is this art scene, traditionally seen as a rebellious one, developing? Who are the new players? These are questions that the Foundation Louis Vuitton has been keen to answer with the exhibition “Bentu: Chinese Artists in a Time of Turbulence and Transformation.”

The word “Bentu” means native land. In the field of contemporary Chinese art, this term does not refer to any form of nationalism, but encompasses a dialectical concept that reconciles the “local” bentu with the “global” bentu through a process of critical rediscovery.

The show presents a mixture of now-historical artists born in the 1950s, like Ai Weiwei, Huang Yong Ping and Zhang Xiaogang, as well as younger artists born in the 1980s, such as Hu Xiangqian, Liu Shiyuan and Hao Liang.

In an interview with Philip Tinari (director of the Ullens Center and the show’s co-curator, with Laurence Bossé), Xu Zhen, one of the artists in the exhibition, drew attention to the fact that his generation (he was born in 1977), as part of an increasingly global network, no longer claimed a Chinese identity; thus the issues of artists such as Huang Yong Ping seemed quite alien to him. Incidentally, Xu Zhen claims Jeff Koons as the most influential model in China today.

And it is possible that Xu Zhen, all on his own, incarnates this disparity of styles, which is deliberate in his case. His studio in Shanghai contains as many works as it does different forms: videos that look like publicity spots and documentaries; traditional ceramics with mutating shapes; abstract pictures; figurative frescoes; soft sculptures made of fabric; and monumental sculptures made of concrete. One has the impression of visiting an artists’ collective — which is not completely wrong, because his company, MadeIn, produces works both for him and for others.

What is striking in Shanghai, a city in which private museums are opening one after the other, is the pharaonic size of certain studios. In the case of Zhang Huan (originally known for his performances) we find ourselves in gigantic, hangar-like spaces. Some sculptures almost touch the ceiling at a height of eighty feet. He has eighty full-time assistants and as many as three hundred when his projects call for more.

Things are a bit different in Beijing. The largest studio we visited, that of Liu Wei, will soon be destroyed. The surrounding area has been leveled, and a new city comprised of modern, high-rise towers will be built in its place. For video artist Cao Fei, one of the few women artists from China to pursue an international career, things are the same. She occupies an abandoned cinema that she is restoring (apart from the projection room) with vintage fixtures from the 1970s. She doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to stay there, because the whole zone is going to be destroyed to comply with a gigantic new plan for urban development. This restoration of an emblematic building, a vestige of the past, is as important to her as her films. It is quite interesting to see China begin to embrace the past, now that it will soon be completely nonexistent.

Hao Liang likewise borrows traditional procedures from landscape painting and calligraphy. When, incidentally, one visits the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), China’s most prestigious art school, there are only reproductions of the past. Certain portraits depict teenagers wearing sneakers, but the technique is still ancestral. Perhaps the future may be gauged by visiting the studio of Xu Qu, born in 1978, an ex-student of John Armleder at the Braunschweig University of Art. His studio is situated in “Dark Bridge,” a village where there are only artists and studios. Xu Qu produces abstract paintings inspired by the graphic design of bank notes. His conceit is critical of China’s rapid economic growth — the same economic growth that inflates rental prices such that studio occupancies are tenuous at best. Ultimately, the common denominator of all these artists is probably the same as anywhere else: a sense of precarity caused by neoliberal expansionism and rampant change.

by Nicolas Trembley

read more
Review /

Ellen Cantor CCA Wattis Institute / San Francisco

In Women in Dark Times, Jacqueline Rose discusses the paintings of Charlotte Salomon, a German-Jewish artist who generated hundreds of autobiographical semi-abstract gouaches during two years in exile from the Nazis, before she was killed at Auschwitz. Rose is interested in Salomon as a figure for a shadowy, ambiguous feminism, one of material, bodily terror and unstable yet entrenched politics. Rose’s Salomon is a useful paradigm for understanding the work of Ellen Cantor.

Cinderella Syndrome,” the title of the exhibition, is also a term for a pop psychological trope of the 1990s. The show proposes Cantor as a thinker of gender crisis, a theorist of Hollywood’s “final girl” without separation from reality. Several series of drawings, with a sense of formal distribution and biographical pacing not unlike Salomon’s, ring the gallery. Roughly finished, many in pencil, they are presented as supporting studies to the videos, whose careful editing betrays a sense of painterly line between images and a sharply intelligent intervention into cinematic time. A large screen at the gallery’s center plays five of Cantor’s videos, the show’s churning center. Evokation of my Demon Sister (2002) flits between the recognizable image of Carrie (1976) covered in blood and abstract clips of flame and smoke, thin layers of celluloid fading into blues and gray-blacks. In Within Heaven and Hell (1996) Cantor narrates a long-distance love affair over spliced scenes from the Sound of Music and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre; both are referenced in the monologue, which seems written prior to the film’s making. While some juxtapositions betray the film’s age (there is an irony specific to 1996), sequences of black out with music, the flashing lights of a search party moving through a disconnected street scene, and isolated forest greenery develop a lush aesthetic alienation. As Rose said of Salomon’s creation of darkness from color in her painting: “The most somber moments are in visual continuum with the rest of her life.”

Cantor’s diaristic drawings and video montages of pop cultural material could be subsumed by easy comparison to the abject sexuality of her generation, the YBAs for example. However, the exhibition gives room to a selection of works that quietly unhinge such certain ground. The abyss Cantor cultivated through her work refuses the unity of any political horizon, instead opening a back door onto a feminist negativity valuable for its rejection of gendered affirmation. As with Salomon, we know less here, not more.

by E. C. Feiss

read more
News /

:ndex Art Book Fair / Mexico City

Good, well-produced books are hard to come by in Mexico — art books even more so. In the past, artists have been creative about procuring books and have generously pooled these resources among colleagues and friends. Recently, however, Mexico City has seen a cultural expansion that has extended to the book world.

Small and ambitious bookstores have popped up all over the city, and many focus specifically on art books. A more recent addition to this conversation is the :ndex Art Book Fair. Now in its second year, the :ndex Art Book Fair will take place in Museo Jumex from February 4 to 7. The theme of this edition will be independent publishers from Latin America and Europe. Following its inaugural edition in Guadalajara in 2014, :ndex has hosted a series of smaller satellite fairs, including a well-received presence within the 2015 Zona MACO international art fair.

:ndex looks to fill the need for dialogue about and distribution of contemporary art books in Mexico. The fair brings an international roster of editorial projects ranging from small local presses to larger publications with an established global audience. Two of the smaller (albeit ambitious) editorial projects in Mexico City, Gato Negro Ediciones and Buró-Buró, have a history of supporting artists with experimental publications. They will have a presence alongside the likes of Art Paper Editions and the Jumex Foundation. With its emphasis on art books, :ndex hopes to provide artists and editors in Mexico with broader resources and expanded readership.

by Leslie Moody Castro

read more
Review /

Mette Ingvartsen MoMA PS1 / New York

At the beginning of Mette Ingvartsen’s 69 Positions, the audience enters an open, steel-tube cage lined with various performance documentation from the 1960s. Dressed in a long maroon shirt, jeans, and matching Adidas trainers, Ingvartsen gathers us around her.

This will be a journey, she says like an expert docent, from unresolved histories of the body to a future proposition for sexual and participatory politics. The succinct introduction concludes with Carolee Schneemann’s email response to Ingvartsen’s request to recreate Meat Joy (1964), using the original performers. Our ecstasy was a response to the political anguish of Vietnam, Schneemann writes. Don’t limit yourself; find what bodies, old and young, mean today.

Throughout the three-part performance essay, Ingvartsen plays multiple personas simultaneously, creating an intimate sphere between sex, history, and ideology that is activated by bodies, hers and ours. In her deconstruction of The Performance Group’s Dionysus in ’69 (1970), she bounces throughout the space with spontaneous rapture. Her running commentary pokes fun at the anarchic performance, adding candor to her invitation to join. Ingvartsen is disarmingly capable as both playful mischief-maker and pedagogue, and as she strips down to her trainers, a nearby monitor reveals that her re-performance is an expert homage to the orgiastic original.

Except for her sneakers, Ingvartsen remains naked for the remaining two acts. Standing in front of a monitor playing her performance 50/50 (2004), she twerks while lucidly explaining that the goal of go-go dancing is “haptic vision,” which synthesizes touch through sight. Next, she explores erotic socialization, building an “orgy sculpture” around herself. It was not easy to discern what anyone felt while Ingvartsen gently conducted four people through close-range pantomimes of tongue-to-clit, finger-to-butt, mouth-to-ear, and sundry other more and less intense comings-together. In this palpably exciting, open, messy, and hypersensitive moment, Ingvartsen builds trust—rather than merely suspending disbelief—by embodying different power positions. If desire doesn’t belong to the individual, but rather to the social, she says, then it only exists through human relations, and is therefore a political agent.

In 69 Positions’ final act, Ingvartsen tours us through contemporary and historic fetishes. Bondage and mummification, electronic or musical stimulation, the molecular gender-hacking of testosterone gel—Ingvartsen uses these sexual practices—and texts, speech, histories, sneakers, etc.—to sublimate the boundaries between private desires. It is against this exploratory sexual space that we can judge her thesis, that politics is contingent on how we share the public body.

by Sam Korman

read more