Review /

Elisabetta Benassi Magazzino / Rome

Memories of the twentieth century and its ghosts reside, for Elisabetta Benassi, in its machines. Engines, gears, sheet iron, and the powerful-but-now-obsolete imaginary with which they are connected, are often the starting point of her research. The Roman artist interprets such objects as concrete symbols that prompt reflections on the history of the Age of Extremes and the failure of its modern ideologies.

From the vintage motorcycle of Timecode (2000), in which the artist envisaged a young Pier Paolo Pasolini riding through the outskirts of Rome; to the old test track of the Lingotto in Turin in Terra (2003); to the desolation of the scrap yard described in Tutti morimmo a stento (We All Died Struggling) and Suolo (Soil) (both 2005); to the Morse code lamp used by warships and the antiquated device used to read microfilm in All I Remember (2010); to the present exhibition, which treads a path between objects and spaces, narrating an epoch when the dematerialization of the postindustrial economy seemed still some distance away.

The title of the exhibition, “Letargo” (Lethargy), plays on the opposition between natural and artificial, and is taken from the eponymously titled work in the courtyard (2016): an old Ford Escort station wagon (belonging to Francesco Clemente) in whose trunk, filled with earth, two enormous turtles seem to have found their ideal habitat — in fact two cast-bronze shells.

Or, again, on the pegboard of Salamandra Zaf (2016), covered with car emblems that make reference to zoomorphic forms, to Mimetica (2016), an artificial palm tree used to conceal radio antennas, angled between two of the gallery’s spaces, as if to acknowledge the domesticated exoticism of the Roman surroundings.

Beside the palm, one encounters Autoritratto al lavoro (Self-Portrait at Work (2016), a vintage, gasoline-powered garden tiller branded “Officine Meccaniche Benassi.” The artist positions herself in the same suspended time as her machines. Appropriated from different fields of production, they become tools for reinterpreting history, for understanding change and its consequences in the present.

by Cristiana Perrella

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News /

Independent Art Fair / New York

During the first weekend of March, Independent returns to New York City for its eighth consecutive year. The fair has become known in both its New York and Brussels locations as a kind of palate cleanser within the by-now highly formalized international art fair circuit: with a strong curatorial emphasis, and a policy of continuous rotation among galleries, Independent battles the fatigue of the fair experience by striving for “museum-quality” shows from all of its fifty-one participants.

Most if not all of the curatorial thinking behind the fair, which takes place over three floors of Spring Studios in SoHo, is thanks to Matthew Higgs, the YBA champion and current director of arts institution White Columns, who has served as curatorial advisor for the fair since its first edition. Several curatorial positions and strands will emerge from the 2017 selection of galleries and artworks, most notably an emphasis on solo exhibitions by women artists. These includes native New Yorker and Yale MFA Darja Bajagić, whose studies of sexualized digital image cultures will be shown by CARLOS/ISHIKAWA, and Italian artist Tatiana Trouvé, who will present architectural works with Galerie Perrotin.

Regardless of whether art fairs were ever a place to discuss politics, a number of booths will focus on artists, many of them women, queer or of color, who were prominent in the heated 1980s Reagan era — an offering that may resonate with our current political moment. Howardena Pindell, whose abstract paintings deal with issues of race, gender and representation, will show at Garth Greenan Gallery, while Pictures Generation artist Barbara Bloom’s seminal Travel Posters from 1981 will be on display at David Lewis.

Meanwhile, German artist Thomas Bayrle (who is currently the subject of a retrospective at the ICA Miami) will receive some long-due attention in New York. London gallery Project Native Informant will present new print editions of Hal Fischer’s seminal Gay Semiotics from the 1970s. In combination with site-specific art works by David Shrigley, Cory Arcangel and Melike Kara, it might all add up at Independent.

by Jeppe Ugelvig

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Review /

Hanne Lippard KW Institute for Contemporary Art / Berlin

To enter “Flesh,” one has to mount a spiraling milk-lemon staircase set in the middle of the main gallery hall. One could easily imagine this cinematic architectural constellation as the setting for a scene in a David Lynch film. On reaching the top of the ascent, the threshold opens out onto a luxurious salmon-pink carpet, making the enamel-clad staircase railing the only object in an approximately twenty-five-square meter glass-walled cube.

The room, situated at the top of the KW Gallery, has been engineered especially for the work; the site-specific environment is one of Lippard’s largest to date. However, the space is far from comfortable. The 1920s meringue-like color palette is relaxingly kitsch, but the ceiling is low. The panoramic view offers a mild respite when seated below the claustrophobic lowness of the roof, but one is only able to look out onto the walls of neighboring buildings, whose lines add to the urban severity of the installational framework.

Four speakers are set into each corner of the room, from which Hanne Lippard’s dulcet tones start to reverberate. Her voice is choreographed to move from speaker to speaker:

“How do you see yourself in ten years?

What is the reason for a human being?”

Lippard’s production of language focuses solely on the essence and use of the voice, merging content and form from the hyper-real everyday into a hypnagogic state. Her distinct vocalizations, gentle but probing, deliver prosaic texts in almost-perfect English, with a twang of a Norwegian accent. Lippard lulls the listener through clarity but articulates surreal mindscapes through free-form associative patterns. Her voice blurs into uncannily vivid scenarios in the viewers mind. Viewer’s ears are fed imagery via a Freudian-style shopping list, while Lippard moves from pickpockets to dick pics to picnic’s to lost earnings to lost earrings.

The work’s duration is around thirteen minutes in total, which is slightly disappointing as it’s the only work by Lippard in the gallery. Just as you begin to melt into the flesh of her voice you are brought back to your own physical presence. Abrupt and fleeting, Lippard disappears from our consciousness as we descend the stairs once more — from her maxi subconscious into the minimalism of the white cube.

by Penny Rafferty

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A Vogue Idea /

Promesse du Bonheur / ___fabrics interseason

___fabrics interseason was founded by Wally Salner and Johannes Schweiger. Since 1998, they have produced twenty-two collections, initiated a bachelor’s degree program in fashion design for Kunstuniversität Linz, and have participated in more than twenty exhibitions, including the third Berlin Biennale and Manifesta 7. The term “interseasonal,” which refers to clothing that falls outside the two major annual shows, is suggestive of design’s liminal space. 

Their work, along with labels like BLESS, has been canonical for opening new interdisciplinary models for fashion. While haute couture challenges wearability through the spectacular, ___fabrics interseason instead explores clothing codes through a sociopolitical approach to fashion rituals. Although the label ended in 2011, their nuanced criticality still echoes today, in contrast to the hyper exposure of the fashion industry.

___fabrics interseason was a curious example of a label that existed on the periphery. Your work dealt with installations, performances, music and material studies. What was your interest in anchoring this practice in fashion?

Johannes Schweiger: We had no background in fashion studies, but we both, Wally Salner and I, studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. During my studies, my artistic projects already dealt with issues of clothing and fashion. It was not really about making garments or wearable props, but more about an institutional critique of the system of fashion — modes of presenting, mediating and consuming fashion.

In the beginning, ___fabrics interseason had a strong focus on the performative aspects of fashion, literally using the method and form of a fashion show as a tool to communicate social issues and phenomena. Even then the garments of our collections were not necessarily designed under a fashionable/wearable aspect. I would say this started when we founded the company and went to Paris to present our collections during fashion week and further sold them to shops worldwide. ___fabrics interseason had a broader brand philosophy, and its approach toward fashion combined design, fine arts, music, film and text in a simple and natural way.

Working from and at the periphery allows you to stay in focus. It might also mean that your gaze at the center is critical and objective, if the center represents a corporate-run brand whose only aim is to have a huge turnover by the end of the year.

The collection descriptions are often long, impressionistic explanations of cultural phenomena, functioning as ficto-critical analyses to frame the collection. Topics have ranged from Tupperware, Japanese consumerism, masculine anxiety, etc. What was one of your favorite collections/works?

That’s difficult to answer after such a long time, but it might be a trilogy of collections dealing with the subject of normality projected on the surface in different fields (Spring Summer 2002, Fall Winter 2002/03, Spring Summer 2003). The series was called “constructed normality” and had the subtitles #PromesseDuBonheur, with the focus on “New Poverty;” #ModernNervs, dealing with psychic (ab)normality; and #clubMed CHLOR, in which we concentrated on the idea of gated holiday resorts and female sex tourism in the 1980s.

Your collections often addressed a loose fabric that, as an abandonment of the anatomy, is also explored in your installation work. This provocation of fashion’s boundaries was also being tested by another label, ffiXXed, who approached fabric’s multiplicity in translating non-garment outcomes. What is your relationship to fabric in your installation work — for example the piece for Manifesta 7?

For Manifesta we continued with a project we realized a year before (tapestry #1). In this open-air installation we worked with handwoven rugs and carpets that were made of the leftovers from all the previous collections, cut into thin strips and woven in the most simple way you can imagine: warp and weft. The idea behind it was not really a recycling aspect but more the leveling of different collections (with all their concepts) into a new design product. The carpets/textiles can also been seen as a form of painting and have different dimensions, the biggest ones measuring two by twenty meters.

One of my favorite collections was “Adhocracy f/w 2004/05,” which was also featured in the third Berlin Biennale. Could you explain this work?

“Adhocracy” was conceived both as a collection and an installation piece that included a performance for the third Berlin Biennale. Then, almost fifteen years ago, the rise of smart technologies and the phenomenon of the flash mob was quite virulent, and we linked this idea of Dadaistic nonsense gatherings with the Surrealists, who handed out heads of lettuce to passersby to bring some fantasy to the course of standardized, everyday life. But do not forget: the surrealists were an elitist group. Anybody who acted against the imaginary disordered rules was quickly conjured away!

The principle upon which these ad hoc groupings came together was simple: sometime, somehow, somewhere. We questioned if this phenomenon could be the future of democracy, a kind of a high-speed variant of democratic consent-formation in the age of wireless communication. For its presentation during Paris fashion week, we organized a fake flash mob at the Louvre/Union Central des Arts Decoratifs, where the group of models lip-synched Kevin Blechdom’s interpretation of Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer.”

What was it like heading a fashion course at the university in Linz? What was your approach to fashion pedagogy?

Working with students is a matter of giving and taking. Of course there are specific curricula to which you have to stick to, but the most important thing with teaching is to stimulate and promote independent thinking: free thinking is for free! I am still doing design seminars in Linz and at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but I mainly teach at the Technical University of Dortmund, at the Institute of Art and Material Culture/Anthropology of Textiles. Wally Salner is teaching in Munich.

Are you still interested in fashion today?

Of course, I follow fashion. I still think it’s an interesting and powerful tool to communicate with your surroundings and mediate certain issues via fabrics and garments.

by Matthew Linde

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Review /

Evelyn Taocheng Wang Château Shatto / Los Angeles

The ubiquity of massage parlors in Western cities has not completely divested the practice of its associations with exoticism. In the 19th century, they suggested hidden thrills for Orientalist painters, like Gerôme, whose imaginary baths teem with scantily clad maidens.

They provided fertile grounds, too, for Leopold Bloom’s masturbatory fantasy in Ulysses: “Time to get a bath round the corner. Hammam. Turkish. Massage. Dirt gets rolled up in your navel. Nicer if a nice girl did it. Also I think I. Yes I. Do i in the bath. Curious longing I. Water to water. Combine business with pleasure.”

Heatwave Wrinkle”, Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s current exhibition at Château Shatto, promises a different kind of business and pleasure, with an unorthodox trio of elements: painting, drawing and—you guessed it — massage. The exhibition, which takes up a single room, is dominated by five blue-curtained screens that partially obscure the view of a cushioned table. Human touch is its own currency here, with a ten minute massage setting you back $10. If you bring along a photograph of a landscape, you get a discount and a personalized narrative from your masseuse.

The glimpses afforded by this coy arrangement might heighten a sense of erotic tension, if in fact a rubdown were taking place. However, the table was unoccupied on my visit, and the artist, who has herself dispensed the massages in previous exhibitions (as well as professionally, during her studies), was absent. Consequently, the space felt somewhat denuded, which was exacerbated by the sparse hang of three paintings on the surrounding walls. Depicting various kinds of vessels, executed in thick, bold strokes, these large acrylic on canvas works look a little hastily made. While Untitled No. 5 (2016), a faint sketch of a vase with a Greek key pattern on its neck, has a spare elegance, it feels rather surplus to requirements.

Through two simple gestures – using screens to disrupt the gaze and endowing the masseuse with a narrator’s role – Wang transforms the parlor from a site of voyeurism into one actively authored by the participants. This is underscored by two delightful works on paper installed by the entrance, in which long-haired figures relax amidst fine-leafed foliage and the eddying flows of a river. In these delicate rice paper drawings, Wang takes care to represent people taking their own pleasure rather than performing for the pleasure of others.

by Ciara Moloney

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Review /

Elevation 1049 – Avalanche LUMA Foundation / Gstaad

Nestled among snowdrifts and Louis Vuitton boutiques, the Swiss resort town of Gstaad gives off an eerie, unnatural vibe — luxury seems to flow down its tiny, sun-drenched streets. Here, Olympia Scarry and Neville Wakefield have curated a selection of site-specific works on the edge of the unreal for the latest installment of Elevation 1049.

Each piece gives off a certain uncanny reality effect, none more so than Nicole Wermers’s The Violet Revs (2017), situated in a deserted pavilion terrace next to an iced-over swimming pool. A collection of cheap plastic chairs are reserved by black leather biker jackets. Silver studs glisten in the afternoon sun, but there is no sign of the rebel owners. Have they been abducted, perhaps? Will they return? Or are they all dead, lying at the bottom of the pool? The silent scene inspires a mixture of fear and glamour, and something else that is on the tip of your tongue.

Yngve Holen’s Leichtmetallräder (2017) also lends a touch of horror to the Swiss architecture. Bespoke alloy hubcaps glisten, their rims having been removed by a five-axis water-jet cutter. The sharpened and reappropriated readymades are mounted on the outside of a Bugatti showroom situated on the main promenade. The works blend into the ornate carved façade, mimicking Switzerland’s national flower, the Edelweiss. Traditionally the flower grows only amid the highest mountain terrain. Its bloom symbolizes a wild and daring temperament, for which the convertible cars below are just a modern-day symbol, their metal bodies drenched with adrenaline and a lust for hairpin turns.

A sense of the immaterial and our own insignificance is reflected in nearly every viewing experience. Douglas Gordon and Morgane Tschiember’s work As close as you can for as long as it lasts (2017) pays homage to the kind of ephemerality often found in early Land Art. A simple fire ring billows smoke into the glass-blue sky, accompanied by a call and response between the two artists — an oblique reference to yodeling. Their interpretation, however, takes on a more bloodthirsty, wolf-like cadence, as if stalking the range in a fit of desire and loneliness.

It is admittedly hard to define the exact narrative links that Elevation 1049 conjures, but this, in a way, is its strength. The exhibition offers moments of reflection as you wander up tiny alleys or hover in cable cars above alabaster peaks. In an art world that is normally dedicated to art-star tourism, the satisfactions of “Avalanche” are refreshingly fleeting. The surreal works sit majestically inside a traditional Swiss landscape, familiar to all. Like a luxury chocolate bar, the festival conveys an evanescent pleasure, sweet and fleeting.

by Penny Rafferty

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