Review /

Ruth Ewan Camden Arts Centre / London

In 1793, during the French Revolution, the French government introduced the French republican calendar — part of a widespread nostalgia for the rationalism of the Enlightenment era that also included a new legal and social order and the founding of a measurement system that would eventually become the metric system. The French republican calendar is the subject of Ruth Ewan’s exhibition at Camden Arts Centre.

A system of symbols and icons to represent each day of the new calendar, all related to nature and agriculture — the ubiquitous cultures of 18th-century France — was produced in collaboration with artists and horticulturalists. The days are grouped into twelve thirty-day months, each comprising three ten-day weeks, and given new naturethemed names inspired by the weather or season (Harvest, Rain, Frost, Fruit).

Ewan has collated all 365 items featured, and she has arranged them in a thoroughly museological display. The notion of the calendar as a collaborative art project is foregrounded, and the efficacy of her task becomes comically pedantic — where a date is represented by Carp (25th Flower), a large plastic bucket of water houses a carp.

Row upon row of variously sized and colored plant trimmings and agricultural tools line the gallery’s perimeter, and gallery-goers shuffle round clockwise, printed calendar in hand, examining the items. Months are color-coded, and numbered dots sit adjacent to every object: little petri dishes of salt, zinc, lead; cuttings of heather, fir, sugar maple; an axe; an animal pen; an almond.

A red clock presides over those reading the wall text. At face value the show can seem close to the monotony of a ticking clock, but under closer scrutiny it becomes apparent that this clock, something so familiar and mundane, is in fact a decimal clock — a radical and fundamentally revolutionary reappraisal of a deeply established system. With her rigorous collation of specimens and antiques, Ewan invites her audience to reimagine even the most basic notions and to ask what revolution could mean for each of us.

by Nick Warner

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Physical Machine / Madrid

Museo Reina Sofia is presenting a special week dedicated to dancer and performer Steve Paxton. Flash Art talked to João Fernandes, the deputy director of the museum and curator of the event.

Why Steve Paxton in Madrid?

For an art museum it is a privilege to present him and his work, offering the audience a rare moment of contact with one of the central figures in the history of art and dance in the 20th century. His presence in Madrid is evidence of one of our museum’s goals: to present some of the ruptures that opened new possibilities for art in the last decades. It continues a program in which the museum already brought to Madrid authors like Merce Cunningham and Simone Forti. My curatorial interest is to integrate the ephemeral inside an art institution, giving visibility to some of the major artists who were challenging art and surpassing any limits that could be attributed to it.

Paxton was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at Venice Biennale Dance 2014. His influence is important, but he still remains quite an obscure figure.

Steve was always far away from the spectacle industry. He never corresponded to the dominant models framing art inside the business. He preferred to experiment and try new languages for the body instead of pleasing an audience with things already known. His generosity, working together with his colleagues, and his intimate and radical experimentation with movement, gesture and rhythm made of him a referential figure for many artists. In some ways, he is an artist for artists, but at the same time his work is so open and generous he can be an artist whose work can help everybody to rediscover art and life through movement and dance.

As Sally Banes pointed out in her 1974 book “Terpischore in Sneakers,” Paxton has always considered the body a “physical machine.” Today, what are his main influences?

He redefined the possibilities of dance, crossing choreography and daily life, using collective improvisation and collaboration, giving visibility to the artistic creative process instead of working for the idea of spectacle. Steve is part of a fantastic generational paradigm shift that invented a postmodern dance context, fostering new relationships between art and movement and between art and life. Yvonne Rainer once said Steve invented walking. Steve crossed dance, art and life, opening all these contexts to incredibly rich possibilities for gestures, movements, concepts and ideas. “Contact improvisation,” a concept he shaped, became a new chapter in the history of dance. Several artists and choreographers are developing their works with many of his ideas and experiments in mind. Think about artists like Tino Sehgal or choreographers like Emmanuelle Huynh, for example.

The program will include “Bound,” a choreography from 1982, performed by Slovenian dancer Jurij Konjar. What is Jurij Konjar’s role in interpreting Paxton’s teachings?

To interpret today is something physical and conceptual: in a way to preserve and to reenact the ephemeral. A performer has to research, to reflect upon, to preserve and to change something existing to make it actual. The body of the performer is today’s real museum of choreography. In Bound, Jurij Konjar preserves an incredible moment in the recent history of dance. An interpreter is always a curator: he takes care.

by Patrick Steffen

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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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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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