Tales of a City /

The Vancouver Model

I land in Vancouver on a fairly gray and cold mid-March afternoon. The taxi passes skyscrapers amid a backdrop of emerald-green trees and glaring blue mountains on the north shore.

As we drive down Davie Street, I recall the very first minutes of Hookers on Davie, the 1983 documentary by Janis Cole and Holly Dale, depicting Vancouver’s West End at a time when the neighborhood was a beacon for the city’s sex workers. My room at the historic Sylvia Hotel, at the foot of Davie, overlooks the very chic English Bay and its impeccable joggers. That night, we head over to a screening and reading at Model, an artist-run space and the studio of several local artists in the Downtown Eastside. Andrew Berardini delivers an intense excerpt from his upcoming book on colors, concluding with his definition of Puce: “A smashed flea filled with your blood stains puce.” This is followed by “Fetish and Figure,” a film program I put together on the fetishization of objects and bodies, which begins with Kenneth Anger’s 1947 short film Puce Moment.

The legendary Vancouver rain catches us the following morning while I prepare my afternoon talk on the iconography of 1968 in Polish posters and French affiches for Presentation House Gallery’s Countercultures Forum, organized by curators Helga Pakasaar and Jesse McKee. The conference is an eclectic ensemble of presentations by local writers, such as Michael Turner, and international speakers, like the sound-art Estonian punk-star KIWA. He looks just like the secret son of Julian Assange and David Bowie, and he blows my mind with his illustrated history of soviet underground music. Vancouver-based artist Isabelle Pauwels bring the day to a close with a rather uncanny reading. Her unimpressed detachment and wry humor echo some works in the gallery’s exhibition on the historic Vancouver collective the Mainstreeters; notably the unforgettable covers of a short-lived magazine from the early 1980s, aptly named L’Ennui.

The next day we’re visiting Isabelle in her flat in New Westminster, a historical city located outside of Vancouver. As we drive onto a street of suburban houses from the 1970s, Jesse’s riot grrrl compilation blasts emptyspaces:brokenplaces/letloose (fight song) by female punk rock band Red in Reverse, and it feels like we’re suddenly transported to the Pacific Northwest of the 1990s. Back to the city, it is time to see Tiziana La Melia’s exhibition “Innocence at Home” presented at CSA Space, where she painted over plates of metal shaped as birds and fish, backlit with hollow LEDs. Tiziana is definitely one of the most appealing young painters in Vancouver, and she shares a studio with Rebecca Brewer, with whom we discussed the feeling of guilt at being a female painter. Her roughly human-shaped cubist paintings on felt are admirable. We’re walking down Chinatown, the neighborhood that the hotel clerk recommended we not visit (pointing to a Starbucks on the map instead), and we’re with artist Ron Tran who is working on his upcoming exhibition at the non-profit space 221A, for which he will reinterpret merchandise from several stores in the neighborhood. In the courtyard of 221A, Ken Lum has installed a miniature Vancouver Special — the archetypal post-war Vancouver family home, with its faux brick and stucco — scaled relative to its 1970s property value. Heading further into East Van, we pass by Lum’s neon cross, entitled Monument for East Vancouver, that is mysteriously floating above the intersection of two roads in this traditionally working-class neighborhood. The work seems to echo the popular American “Jesus Saves” neon, except here it mimics a local gang tag and is filled with a Vancouver-specific mixture of sarcasm and local pride. An apocalyptic silver sunset greets us in the parking lot of Geoffrey Farmer’s studio. The magic man of “the couve” serves us tea and cakes and shares his enthusiasm about Merce Cunningham’s performance staged in 1972 at the Shiraz Festival of Arts in Iran. He talks about Los Angeles a lot, and I can’t stop thinking how opposite the two jewels of the west seem to me: sparkle vs. shadow; loud vs. hidden; gold vs. emerald.

Vancouver bids farewell with an unexpected parapraxis from a movie script: a lost car, a missed flight, a serendipitous re-direction to Kitsilano Beach and a dramatic sunset by the edge of the city of glass. I guess this is what happens when a place is too charming and a host too caring. Later that night we reverse the fortune, visiting Tamara Henderson and Julia Freyer’s joyfully messy studio, on the eve of their production for a collaborative exhibition at ICA Philadelphia. The journey ends a second time at the Pelican, a restaurant on East Hastings, a cult nightspot for northwestern night owls. It rains again. Run and catch your plane.

by Martha Kirszenbaum

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Review /

Pablo Vargas Lugo Museo Tamayo / Mexico City

The work of Pablo Vargas Lugo is unapologetically intellectual yet imaginatively playful. His latest solo exhibition, “Micromegas,” is no departure from the artist’s methodology, which constructs inventive narratives through illusion and perception.

Micromégas is the protagonist of a 1752 short story of the same name by Voltaire. The character is banished from his home on the star of Sirius. Together with a colleague from Saturn, he visits the planet Earth, where they engage with a group of philosophers who are convinced that the universe was created specifically for mankind on earth.

This story is a metaphor for Vargas Lugo’s body of work in the exhibition. Here the artist weaves micro-universes into the narratives of mega-universes, both real and fabricated, and which co-exist in a quiet and poetic tension. Eclipses for Chapultepec, 2013, specifically embodies these levels of intellectual play that the artist employs with perfectly choreographed moments of illusion versus reality. The piece is a video installation of a previously recorded performance in which a group of students animated the six eclipses visible from the National Auditorium between the years 2014 to 3000 in Mexico City. The choreography is accompanied by a thirteen-piece orchestra playing arrangements of Johannes Brahms’s fourth symphony. The installation creates moments that are visible to the human eye; however, the eclipses will occur over the course of one thousand years. Thus, anyone present at “Micromegas” will not live long enough to see every one of the eclipses with their own eyes. Eclipses for Chapultepec plays with the definition of reality, creating and recreating real yet fictitious moments at the same time.

The entire exhibition is full of these games. Vargas Lugo constructs and deconstructs narratives on both macro and micro levels, alternating between real and fabricated. The artist plays with perception in order to slowly break it apart and complicate it further.

by Leslie Moody Castro

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News /

The Elegant Paranoia of FAUX/real / New York

Tipping between wearable sculpture and conceptual accessories, designers Mari Ouchi and Louis DeCicco use fine metals, mesh and rubber to create visual riddles that slither over the delicate skin of wrists and necks. Their FAUX/real is a hybrid jewelry line and art studio; the difference between the two classifications is based solely on the object’s scale.

Beginning with their first collaboration, for FW10, “theDEATHofFAUXreal”—suggestive geometric pendants on limp chokers, the campaign a pastiche of blurred film stills, Internet cats and Albert Einstein — the pair has turned to unusual sources of inspiration. Representing the remaining physical strains of contemporary life in a digital world, series include “Work Out/In” (SS12), tense curves and heavy metal modeled after Pilates machines and free weights; “Subconscious Supermarket” (FW14), chains covered in bright plastic and rubber to resemble grocery-store candy (Mentos) and a necklace visualizing jumpy nerves caused by caffeine and over-stimulating packaging; and “Bread and Butter,” interlocking bracelets in soft white rubber and rich yellow gold. The line’s latest, “The Bathroom Paranoia” (SS15), creates a pastel-hued horror film, a nightmare in lavender and beige tones, enveloping soap suds and rounded corners of an all-white bathroom studded with pearls and softly polished silver and gold.

The animated accessories sometimes metastasize into installations, such as “Elegant Paranoia,” their exhibition at nonprofit institution White Columns in New York. A glowing scent diffuser hides behind a panel of carpeting; enlarged style patterns, including rubber cords, circular mirrors and snaky lines, illustrate a mise-en-scène for absurd interactions and multi-surface tension. A bracelet from last season’s collection appeared in artist collective Shanzhai Biennial’s slick photographs, themselves a parody of luxury advertisements as part of their installation for the Frieze Art Fair, dismantling the fable of wealth as beauty while positioned in (and commissioned by) a glamorous art fair. FAUX/real also collaborated with artist Anicka Yi for a group of sculptures in 2013, hinging the artist’s textured, organic installations with the designers’ rubber and metal interventions. We can expect future designs to draw on humor and insolence as much as precious materials.

by Jennifer Piejko

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Review /

Dora Budor New Galerie / Paris

Indebted to a techno-gothic aesthetic with roots in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and David Cronenberg’s cinema, Dora Budor’s first solo show at New Galerie explores a post- and transhumanist corporeity.

Since early in her practice, the body and its materialization has been a central concern. Bodysurfing (2012), a black and white video that she directed with Maja Cule, depicted four models rehearsing the basic grammar of fashion poses inspired by a Hollister ad campaign. More recent projects like New Lavoro (2013) and a series titled “Action Painting” (2013) commented on the body’s role within the realms of social competition and action movies, respectively.

Titled “The Architect’s Plan, His Contagion and Sensitive Corridors,” this exhibition is a further development of her “TimeToDie” (2014) series in which she reproduced on acrylic screens the bruises and injuries appearing in the movies Blade Runner and Elysium. She has organized the gallery’s space around props, skin appliances and other memorabilia related to sci-fi movies. Translucent silicone sheets gridded by electrical switches, metal pipes and other hardware cover part of the walls, suggesting an architectural metastasis. Scars from the movie 300: Rise of an Empire, recreated on the skin-like surface of these structures, accentuate this Promethean dystopia. Central to this staging are two cinema chairs in which red velvet has been replaced by dragon skin silicone. They are animated by the respiratory tempo of the cyborg chest that has been embedded in their backrest.

Substituting a cyberpunk aesthetic for the “corporate Bruce Weber” line of research that she previously pursued, Budor’s exhibition oscillates between Paul Thek’s early fascination with carnal excisions and Tetsumi Kudo’s post-Hiroshima terrariums. Indeed, Mike Kelley’s analogy between Kudo’s installations and “movie props from lurid science fiction scenes” could be perfectly extended to this exhibition. But unlike those artists, Budor does not embrace a pop euphoria. The only thing that remains from her prophecy is the wedding of a Mecha and a street sofa.

by Charles Teyssou

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News /

Florence Bourgeois and Christoph Wiesner on Paris Photo 2015 / Los Angeles

The third edition of Paris Photo Los Angeles 2015 will take place at Paramount Pictures Studios from May 1-3rd and will host galleries and art book dealers from 17 countries world-wide.

Paris Photo is growing, and I know that you want to expand its scope, inviting galleries that are not dealing only with photography, such as 303 Gallery, Bob van Orsouw and Carlier | Gebauer. What is your mission?

Florence Bourgeois and Christoph Wiesner: More than 55% of the galleries participating at Paris Photo at the Grand Palais are not specialized in photography. This figure is up 10% from 2010. Our mission, quite clearly, is to present the best in the medium and to promote the world’s leading galleries.

The competition in Paris is very high, especially with FIAC becoming one of the leading art fairs, and yet you are able to attract exhibitors such as David Zwirner, Gagosian and Thaddaeus Ropac. What is the secret of Paris Photo?

Paris Photo has an extensive collector base, strong ties to institutions and a faithful public following that is not the same as other fairs. Quality remains of the utmost importance to us and to our partners who support us, from the construction of exhibitor booths to our public programming and VIP services. Our exhibitors recognize this and are excited to be a part of it.

Can you tell us a bit about the role of publishers? Is Paris Photo a fair that can reach different kinds of collectors? Is photography still an affordable medium?

The photo book has an undeniable role in the history of photography. It has allowed photographers to communicate on a mass level, attracting both novice and serious buyers perhaps more easily than other mediums. Often a gateway piece for collectors, early photographic acquisitions are at the root of many important collections. Historic and unique works from artists such as Richard Avedon or Man Ray have seduced veteran collectors and set record prices at our fairs. Emerging artists caught at the right moment can be just the right budget for budding collectors. Paris Photo and Paris Photo Los Angeles are the opportunity to discover the largest panorama of the best of the medium on the international circuit.

Can you summarize the difference between your Paris edition and your new edition in Los Angeles? Why Los Angeles?

Both Fairs are strategically placed. Paris Photo Los Angeles returns for its third edition May 1–3 in the heart of a burgeoning art scene at the crossroads between art and cinema in Hollywood at the iconic Paramount Pictures Studios. The setting lends itself to a wider presentation of media, which includes moving image, and the introduction of cutting-edge young talent while also responding to a hole in the art market trajectory connecting the Asian, South American and US markets.

by Nicola Trezzi

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There and Back Again /

Where is the mass grave?

The guest country at the ARCO art fair in Madrid this year was Colombia. I was happy to see many practitioners I had met the previous year during a trip to this country, as well as those I’d met in Mexico City, Los Angeles, Paris and other cities, as Colombian expats are numerous, ambitious and very mobile. All of them still bear the trauma of the terrorism that hit their country in the ’90s.

For example, curator Natalia Valencia recalls, as a kid, hearing bombs exploding in her neighborhood in the morning, and her mixed feelings about it, as it meant that she probably would skip school that day. Artist Adriana Martínez and her classmates even had a special class that taught them how to signal for help in the event of a kidnapping. Problematics of disappearance, circulation and loss therefore saturate Colombian art in multiple ways, underpinning an ambivalent relationship to the body, seen as a place of immediate materialist celebration as much as a burden due to vulnerabilities that are too easily demonstrated.

The transiency of the body as a site of ideological negotiation in post-colonial times seems to be at the heart of Iván Argote’s latest film. Argote is a Colombian artist who has lived in France since he graduated from the Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2009, where he studied after an initial experience in the film industry in Bogota. In The Messengers (2014), presented during ARCO at the independent space Nadie, Nunca, Nada, No, Argote invited two young North American “leftists” (in the artist’s own words) to play themselves during a road trip to the small towns of Mompox, Colombia, and Arco de la Frontera, Spain.

Following a deliberately loose script that leaves room for improvisation and spontaneity, the film functions as a kind of initiatory tale. Its clever editing appropriates genres such as nouvelle vague, documentary and reality television. Argote aims to expose the contradictions — and predictable failures — of contemporary intercultural dialogue through a deconstructed, ambiguous narrative in which image, dialogue and sound construct a dystopic landscape that challenges our assumptions about exoticism and post-colonial power games. The film emphasizes the pale skins of the kids amid the locals; their self-assured commentary on historical phenomena,; the alternating loudness and silence that accompanies most Latin lifestyles; and the protagonists’ general uneasiness while smoking, eating or listening to music in their surroundings — an uneasiness accentuated by the ghostly presence of Argote, who can always be felt just out of frame. The kids even address him once directly, staring at the camera and asking, playfully, “Where is the mass grave?” The film intentionally confuses the two shooting locations: the actors wear the same outfits throughout the movie, and scenes and voices overlap so as to disrupt any sense of geographic and temporal continuity. The apparent similarity between Spanish and Colombian traditions, music and architecture induces at first an unsettling feeling that soon fades in front of distinctive moments  where cultural influences mix on a non hierarchical level, and whose authenticity relies on the elasticity they seem to sustain with their environment and the people who participate in them. As violent as a Vice documentary but more poetic and less definitive in its shape and tone, the video cruelly pinpoints the latent imperialism that colors the comments of the two kids. It is a cautionary depiction of recurrent neo-colonialist schemes hidden amid the purest intentions.

Exiting the screening, we hang out in the street and I think about the pilot that intentionally crashed the plane in the French Alps. I think about the Columbine shooting; about the Breivik mass-murder of young leftists on a Norwegian island in July of 2011. I wonder about the numbness produced by the Western world’s bodily insufflation through reification and objectification — that deep entanglement of merchandising and lifestyle. A negation of the body; its commodification into pure imagery. Is the violence of the post-colonial preferable to this numbness, to the oblivion of the feeling of death that might have led Andreas Lubitz to coldly kill the 150 passengers of the plane he was in charge of? No one will know what went through his mind as he slowly descended the plane toward the gray mountains while his colleague desperately attacked the shielded door of the cockpit. So weird to think that, perhaps, it was the first time in his life that he felt deeply alive.

by Dorothée Dupuis

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