Thematic Hangover

For emerging Southeast Asian art scenes striving for recognition within the international landscape of contemporary art, Venice is obviously a major focal point.

Southeast Asia had little involvement with the Biennale until 2000. Since then, Southeast Asian artists have been gradually invited to participate in the various curated sections, and, for the past decade, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia have had solid representation with their own national pavilions.

At the 2015 Venice Biennale, a number of Southeast Asian national pavilions showcase outstanding artists and curatorial concepts. Yet recent cancelations, decades-long hiatuses and debates over fraught selection processes have revealed complex mechanisms still at play, and bring questions of national representation and cultural diplomacy to the forefront.

For the first time in fifty-one years after its one-time participation in the Biennale’s 32nd edition in 1964, the Philippines returns to Venice. Following a rigorous selection process, art historian Patrick Flores’s project “Tie a String around the World” was chosen by a panel of jurors out of sixteen submissions. Commissioned by the National Commission of Arts and Culture, Flores told Flash Art: “I think the government has realized that a Philippine presence in the global contemporary art scene is a timely response to the robust ecology of the local art world. This is way to offer a platform for that ecology to further thrive elsewhere.”

Developed out of prior research, the installation at Palazzo Mora explores the first film ever made about Genghis Khan — an early 1950s collaboration between Filipino artists Manuel Conde and Carlos Francisco. Flores chose two contemporary artists to work with this premise: Manny Montelibano and Jose Tence Ruiz. “I thought that the former’s video work and the latter’s installations responded well to the theme I was trying to cast,” Flores said. The project both speaks to the country’s current predicament in the South China Sea and offers a broader allegory about world making and the notion of possession. By choosing artists from different periods in history, from the 1950s through to the 1990s, Flores also attempts to introduce viewers to the history of modernity in the Philippines.

Singapore, on the other hand, has taken part in every edition of the Biennale since 2001; particularly successful projects include Ming Wong in 2009 and Ho Tzu Nyen in 2011. Singapore was absent from the 55th edition due to its participation being under review by the National Arts Council. There was understandable consternation and a momentary loss of confidence from the Singaporean art community, prompting an open letter, signed by some two hundred arts practitioners, urging that the decision be reconsidered. Singapore is now working toward a long-term lease of a pavilion space at the Venice Biennale. David Teh, a Southeast Asian art specialist and also the director of Future Perfect, commented: “Their system for finding candidate artists doesn’t always yield compelling proposals, and after the recent successes, there was apparently a sense that the field was thin. I’m quite sure that was wrong, and while I can’t speak impartially of course, Charles Lim’s pavilion proves it.” Curated by Shabbir Hussain Mustafa and with the support of Future Perfect, the highly anticipated pavilion showcases a culmination of the artist’s ongoing series “SEA State,” initiated in 2005. Referencing Land Art of the 1970s, the project traces the geographical contours of Singapore as well as its biophysical, political and psychological position through the visible and invisible lenses of the sea.

Indonesian artist Heri Dono is exhibiting the site-specific project Voyage – Trokomod at the Arsenale. It is only the second time Indonesia has had a national pavilion. Coming full circle, Heri was also invited to exhibit in the 2003 “Zone of Urgency” exhibition curated by Hou Hanru, making him the first Indonesian artist to take part in the event since Affandi’s participation in 1954. As with many emerging scenes in Venice, it is often the private sector that leads the way, in the absence of government support. Heri Dono’s project is organized through the private efforts of Restu Imansari Kusumaningrum of Bumi Purnati Indonesia, an independent legal entity that supports the arts. Project advisor Carla Biopen said: “For Imansari and the artistic team whose pursuit for culture is of central significance, it has been an uphill struggle. Cultural diplomacy urgently needs a well-planned and formulated national cultural strategy.” A cross between a Trojan horse and an Indonesian Komodo dragon, the Trokomod rejects Western hegemony and speaks to the plurality of contemporary art today. Biopen continues: “Metaphorically the ancient-looking giant Trokomod represents a metamorphosis from the depths of memory, rising up as a futuristic submarine within a spirit that surpasses mere pluralism and equality.”

Thailand has taken part in the Biennale every year since 2003, when Apinan Poshyananda introduced the first Thai Pavilion. Following the exhibition of esteemed Thai artists like Arin Rungjang and Wasinburee Supanichvoraparch in 2013, Thailand’s selection of Kamol Tassananchalee this year resulted in major controversy within the Thai art community. While the senior modernist painter has no doubt been a respected artist in the country for many years, he is relatively unknown on the international contemporary art circuit, prompting questions of whether he is a contemporary artist at all and debate over the opaque selection process. It is understood that the system Thailand had for selecting artists, which was linked to their national Silpathorn Awards, was abandoned this year due to bureaucratic in-fighting within the culture ministry. There has been no satisfactory reason for his selection and, unfortunately, almost no promotion of the project.

National pavilions are, of course, instruments of national representation. Yet the question of artist selection is arguably more loaded in Southeast Asia than in Europe or America. David Teh notes: “Let’s not forget that the governments of this region are predominantly still authoritarian. In many Western contexts, contemporary art isn’t primarily a vehicle of the state imagination. In Southeast Asia, though, many contemporary artists are still preoccupied with problems of national identity — partly because these are complex stories that some artists care about, but perhaps more because institutions and the market have developed identitarian product lines that have sold well on the global stage. So there’s a kind of thematic hangover, and it does affect selection for Venice.”

by Lucy Rees

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Review /

Sarah Conaway The Box / Los Angeles

At first glance, the show is unified more by palette and an economy of gesture than by medium.

Nominally a photographer, here Conaway presented not just photographs that assert their status as objects — a strategy that has become her signature — but objects themselves, sculptures cast in bronze. These forms echo those seen elsewhere in the show, provoking a sense of déja vu when one encounters in three dimensions what one previously experienced as images, reduced to two.

Between these two poles are the collages. Some, like Empty Collage I and {Depression} Drawing (all works 2015), have been reduced to a point that feels deliberately painful, evoking both the anxiety inherent to an artwork’s dependence on context and the ephemeral feeling of photographs. What these works share in common with a more pictorial collage like Empty Vessel is the distinct sense of bas-relief. There’s a rawness to the sometimes roughly scissored components of these pieces, or the puncture holes in {Depression} Drawing, which call attention to the dimensionality of the surface.

After Empty Collage I, the first photograph one encounters is Fabric [Shroud], which similarly enters into dialogue with the suggestively homologous subjects of the “Figures” (the series title refers both to a C-print and to a series of bronzes), the vaguely anthropomorphic forms in Mourner [Horizontal] and Mourner [Vertical], and Fabric [Ascetics], among others. It seems that the solid, sculptural forms of the “Figures,” in particular, are what lie concealed under fabric in the “Fabric” series, but the question is deliberately left unresolved, provoking a dilemma of exchange. The visual analogies that arise between works, in the context of Conaway’s spare, tightly controlled vocabulary, finally evoke something like a Saussurian sense of the whole show as a system of differences that gain meaning only at the price of an irrecuperable arbitrariness.

Indeed, language seems not so much the heart of “Empty Vessel” as the vessel itself, through which the exhibition comes to encompass nature and civilization, history and memory, the passage of time and the physical architecture that contains it and sets its tempo. This is evinced by the titles of the works themselves — (Oval) Moon, The Battle [Left Panel] and [Right Panel], the sculptures Archway, Dwelling, and Screen. Yet what is really notable emerges from Conaway’s interest in reduction, which seems to underpin her formal understanding of photography itself. While she’s often compared to Surrealists like Man Ray, the way the works in this show withdraw from the very associative possibilities they suggest leaves the strongest impression and brings Giacometti to mind in particular.

by Jared Baxter

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Report /

All the World’s Futures / 56th Venice Biennale

If there is a hint of irony to be found in Okwui Enwezor’s curatorial approach for the international exhibition of the 56th Venice Biennale, perhaps it resides in his title, “All the World’s Futures,” and the fact that the exhibition compresses together the least visionary scenarios we could expect from a worldview cultivated through visual art.

“All the World’s Futures” does not suggest any future; neither for art nor for the world in which art exists and to which it bears witness. That is to say, it offers no future interpretable as the product of a positivistic evolution of history or an “improvement” due to innovation. Instead, the exhibition presents the future as an unavoidable reiteration of scenarios that make up our past and present. “All the World’s Futures” cultivates a single truth: entropy is the defining dynamic of the world. For every force there is an opposing force, often more powerful: for wealth there is poverty; for work, alienation; for justice, injustice; for good, evil.

The exhibition indulges in epic tones that are inevitable due to its vastness. And in fact it twists and turns through moments that, less for the size or visual impact of the works than for the grandeur of the gestures that they imply or the drama of the scenarios they evoke, act like a Greek chorus commenting on the vicissitudes of human existence, giving them an anecdotal quality, translating them into allegorical form. Moreover, the tradition of realism that constantly emerges here appears committed not so much to documenting as it is to providing “models” of reality. Many wars are represented, for example, but it is above all war per se, in its worst possible terms of armed conflict and tragic destiny. We are confronted with a number of recognizable weapons, like Cannone semovente (1965) by Pino Pascali; but as this was created from car parts and remnants, it simply assumes the aspect of an automatic canon, and in fact it does not fire. Cannone semovente is displayed in dialogue with a rich collection of Lynch Fragments (1963–on going) by Melvin Edwards, wall-hung sculptures that resemble an assemblage of tools and weapons from the Middle Ages, dark and menacing; and with In the Midst of Things (2015), a choral performance by Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, a musical arrangement born from the distortion of the score of The Creation (1796–98) by Joseph Haydn, in which cacophony and melody confront one another — just as the group of choral interpreters move back and forth in the space between the works of Edwards and Pascali. War is never interpreted in a theatrical manner in the exhibition, but is represented so that rather than having an effect on the imagination of the spectator, it appeals to the “imaginary”; in other words, to the cultural baggage of signs (visual, auditory) that the viewer associates with war. Hence, walking through the video installation Now (2015) by Chantal Akerman — multiple projections of deserts accompanied by chaotic noise — gives the spectator the sense of moving along trenches or some border marked by the tragedy of geopolitical battle.

The tension created between epic narrative and accounts of everyday existence flows throughout the whole of “All the World’s Futures” — the intensity of one nullifies the purity of the other. These dynamics force the viewer to glimpse a dualism in every gesture in the exhibition; the more extreme it appears, the more it suggests a counterbalance of cynicism and mistrust in its own efficacy. Three volumes of Capital (1867–94) by Karl Marx will be read aloud throughout the whole exhibition, under the direction of Isaac Julien. This is hardly dictated by an ideological attachment to the text: recited by actors on a stage for the general public, often as they simply pass through from one room to another, Capital may sound superficial here — a bland theoretical discourse without any connection to reality, or a relentless “subtext” on the passage of time. In a similar way, the series of Manifestos (2013–ongoing) by Charles Gaines, a musical notation of political speeches, oscillates between the suggestion of a more accessible form of social communication and the risk of political rhetoric transcending into demagoguery. The scale models of public art, Realized and Unrealized Outdoor Project by Isa Genzken, invite viewers to assess the imposition of a form and image on an urban panorama, and therefore on the social fabric, but in the sphere of a hypothetically possible project and, therefore, necessarily also possibly a failure. Like her models, Two Orchids (2015), the monumental sculpture that Genzken has placed in the Giardini, almost as an ironic statement on the revenge of the natural against the artificial, seems a solemn yet ultimate gesture — an echo of all those weak, pathetic gestures that flow through the exhibition, from Gedi Sibony’s abstract landscapes painted on trailer panels to the gaunt, almost emaciated human figures by Georg Baselitz, all hanging upside-down..

Whereas the last two Venice Biennales — “ILLUMinations” by Bice Curiger and “The Encyclopedic Palace” by Massimiliano Gioni — focused on the good health of universal thought in relation to creative output — the first an unconditional hymn to the industry of art, and the second a close examination of knowledge systems with purely humanistic inspiration — “All the Word’s Futures” certainly offers a far more oppressive vision of the state of things. In a certain sense it criticizes the fact that aesthetic experience can lead to an encounter with the sublime — that it can present itself as dazzling, enlightening or even terrifying. In the three-channel video installation by John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea (2015), archive files and other unpublished material offer a holistic narrative in which deep ocean underwater exploration, high seas slave trading and whale hunting seem like activities that are triggered reciprocally, dialectic forces within the entropic system that is the history of humanity. In Vertigo Sea, every image is vertiginous and tragic: the abyss, naturally, but also the slave driver who pushes the slave into the sea, the harpoon that splits the flesh of the whale. Confronted by these images, and often throughout the exhibition, we tritely ask ourselves: why? And yet, even though we are aware that basically human action is always influenced by deep reasoning, many motivations remain obscure, incomprehensible or impossible to share.

Theory of Justice (1992–2010) by Peter Friedl is an extensive archive of photos from newspaper clippings, part of which is on show at the exhibition. The images are arranged on a series of tables in orderly layouts, grouped as if to form a storyboard. Observing the photos does not mean it is possible to recognize the events they document, or to decipher the criteria for the selection or grouping. They are arranged to invite a “sense of awareness” of their existence; they are equal to the world they represent. In the same fashion, the works of “All the World’s Futures” express a factual character: to put it blandly, by echoing the title of another previous Biennale, they don’t “make worlds.” They are not vectors of the collective imagination, but rather they provide us with an exact idea of a world in which tomorrow is more complex than we can imagine.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Review /

Amanda Ross-Ho Praz-Delavallade / Paris

For her first solo show at Praz-Delavallade Gallery in Paris, Amanda Ross-Ho has gathered a selection of fifteen new works: sculptures, wall-pieces, textiles and site-specific gestures.

The entire show hinges on the idea of visualizing space and the sensation of negotiating our location within it. The formal interplay between tools used in the artist’s studio and the gallery — gloves, palettes, patterns, rags, a small black paint pot, an eraser shield, a setsquare — signify the potential for art making in an exhibition setting. These basic objects and the ecology of the exhibition space are the cornerstones of her practice.

In “How to Remove Dark Spots” she explores her ongoing interest in this reflexive interplay between production and exhibition. Four cut-vinyl wall works are large-scale replicas of scribbles that can be found in WORLD MAP (2015), a found world map heavily inscribed with drawings, notes, calculations as well as the residue of personal activity (wine and coffee stains). This gesture connects the gallery walls with the space located in five scale models, and meets the terms of scale established by large-scale translations of paint-smeared black rubber gloves (Black Glove Right #1 and Black Glove Left #1, 2015), an eraser shield (Eraser Shield, 2015), a white cotton glove (White Glove, 2015) and a large hair scrunchie (Black Scrunchie (1258%), 2015).

In this way Amanda Ross-Ho has been gathering specific “gestures” over the years — such as hanging work gloves — and referring to them as “choreographed objects.” Here, the two large-scale gloves seem to embody the materiality of disappearance; and all the residue of the hand at work is made explicit. They act as both index and metaphor for all the gestures made in the studio and during the exhibition setting. Their shifting scale is an analog for close focus within her visual vocabulary. As she says, “Having an object reside within the same scale as your body is not dissimilar to pressing your eye-ball up against it and absorbing every detail.”

by Timothée Chaillou

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Nanni Balestrini – Tristanoil / Flash Art NY Desk

21, 22, 23.05.15

Opening: 21.05.15, 6:30 pm

Tristanoil (2012) is a movie by Nanni Balestrini (b. 1935, Milan; lives in Rome and Paris) generated by a software program that continuously reassembles approximately 150 clips. The movie can be described as an open, self-perpetuating structure in which a sole scenario recurs: the destruction of the planet through the predatory use of its resources.

Here Balestrini continues his inquiry into strategies of creative production that sidestep subjectively produced matter and the utter subtraction of self-expression. Indeed, Tristanoil was first developed in another form — the experimental novel Tristano, in which the artist assembled heterogeneous materials according to a combinatory system. First released in 1966, the novel is a cut-up of literary fragments sourced from crime novels, technical manuals, school textbooks, feuilletons and so on, which were mounted together by an early calculator. Hence, both the novel and the movie exploit combinatory principles, mathematics and programming over the subjectivity of the author.

Tristanoil fuses together three main sources of visual documents: the infamous TV series Dallas, ecological disasters (oil spills, air pollution, landslides and the overall defacement of the natural landscape due to uncontrolled industrial activities) and scenes from the financial world (above all from the 2008 Wall Street crash). Oil trembles over these images, as on the surface of the ocean, transfiguring the archival materials into a psychedelic narration of the detrimental effects of oil consumption.

Nanni Balestrini’s art has been exhibited at the 45th Venice Biennale and dOCUMENTA (13). Solo shows have been hosted by MACRO, Rome; Fondazione Morra, Naples; and Museion, Bolzano, among others.

Tristanoil is presented in conjunction with the release of the May-June issue of Flash Art International. In this issue: Martine Syms talked with Los Angeles-based artist Charles Gaines; Orit Gat met with Genius’s Tom Lehman, Christopher Glazek and Emily Segal to discuss where their website is going; Boško Blagojevic introduces New York–based artist Bradley Kronz; Mitchell Anderson reviews the art of Switzerland’s 56th Venice Biennale representative Pamela Rosenkranz; Cyril Duval considers the ongoing relevance of Tobias Wong, “the enfant terrible of the design world”; Michele D’Aurizio, Gea Politi and Lodovico Pignatti Morano met with three figures whose creative outputs are intimately tied to the city of Milan: Ugo La Pietra, Giorgio Armani, and Nanni Balestrini; Robin Peckham spotlights Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen; and Sylvain Amic discusses the work of Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani.

Flash Art NY Desk / Film Center
630 9th Ave (Btw 44th and 45th St.)
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New York, NY 10036
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Vetements / Paris

What is amusing about fashion is the thirst for the new every season: the new designer, the new model, the new location for the show, the new VIP going to the show.

This last fashion week in Paris everyone was chatting about Vetements, the label designed by a collective of friends that is taking Paris by storm. They even managed to bring Jared Leto and Kanye West to Le Dépôt, one the largest gay sex clubs in the city, where they staged a sharp, edgy fashion show. But don’t get them wrong: Vetements is not fishing for easy celebrity or shocking strategies. They are just focusing on their passion: making clothes. And it’s working. Flash Art chatted with Demna Gvasalia, their official spokesperson.

In a time when young designers post selfies on Instagram, you seem to be focusing on actual garments rather than on your image. But who is behind Vetements? How much do you want to say about yourself? Why you are so discreet? How did it all start?

Vetements started a few years ago, and it is first of all a story of friendship: a group of us were working for different companies, and we all felt a bit limited by our jobs in a corporate environment and wanted to focus on our very first passion of clothes making — particularly garments we would actually wear. Our friendship also came from a different place than fashion: we all cultivate a strong interest in scenes that are not directly related to the business. We loved the same music and club scenes in Paris, and by meeting over the past years we just felt a strong need to create clothes that we would actually like to wear.

Regarding our image, we think that our work speaks best for us; the product is the focus of our brand concept rather than the personalities behind it. We think today the garment should have exposure as a result of our teamwork. Also, most of us do not feel comfortable with photos being taken and exposed publicly, so the idea of staying behind the product was born naturally .

Your last show was staged in a sex club in the center of Paris. Invites to the sale were printed on cash resister receipts. I see in all those unique ways of communicating a strong connection to underground culture. The bomber jackets of the last collection make me think of club and rave culture. What are your references?

The bomber was linked to street culture, rave, skinhead dress codes. We really look at real life as our source of inspiration; receipts were linked to our idea of fashion being a commercial industry and product created to be sold and worn first of all. For example, we do find Paris very inspiring at the moment. Whereas a lot of people find the city boring and not inspiring, we love the energy that comes from some parts of the city. The way people organize their wardrobe around a few items is interesting to us. Cities like London or New York are already overcrowded with fashion-conscious people, and they relate a lot to what is in vogue at the moment. Our inspiration comes from somewhere else. The sex club where we staged our show was a simple decision, as it’s one of the few “clubs” in Paris that stays authentic. We just love the place.

A lot of people are pointing out a strong connection to the way Martin Margiela started his brand. I personally see a more conceptual approach, similar to the appropriation process of artists like Sturtevant. The result is oddly fresh and needed in fashion. How do you manage to create homage and yet remain so original?

Margiela’s aesthetic is close to ours, but we are not into seasonal concepts and have no ambition to be considered avant-garde. Our approach is purely garment-oriented, and our main purpose is to make real, authentic clothes that people want and need to wear. We just wish to be real clothes makers. Also different from Margiela, we did not choose to stay anonymous. We are eight people, and each of us has a specific role in design, press, product development and marketing. We are now completely open about our commitment with the brand Vetements, but we stay faithful to our idea of the collective.

Hoping that your next project will include a men’s line, I have to ask: What’s coming up next? How do you want to develop the brand?

We plan to concentrate on two collections for women at present, to establish a strong and stable industrial base. Once this is achieved we definitely plan to start a men’s line with the same creative approach as for women. Actually we can’t wait! We also are planning to open a store someday, probably in Paris.

by Daniele Balice

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