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Monika Szewczyk and Hendrik Folkerts on Documenta 14 / Kassel

Documenta 14 in Kassel will open to the public on June 10, 2017. Flash Art spoke to curators Monika Szewczyk and Hendrik Folkerts about some of the themes in this edition and the challenges of presenting a show in two such profoundly different cities as Athens and Kassel.

How has Documenta 14 manifested as a public presence in both of its constituent cities?

Monika Szewczyk: I think it’s important to say that the public program has already been taking place on a weekly basis in a place where people can access it, before the public openings. Some of it is in the municipal gallery in Parko Eleftherias, named after the statesman Eleftherios Venizelos; but of course, eleftheria means “freedom,” so there is a kind of resonance that comes with the name. We started the public program with “34 Exercises of Freedom” involving different artists exercising freedom in many different ways. Not much was prescribed, discussed or guided as to what freedom was supposed to be, so it produced, in some way, a real polysemy. There is a language of diversity and polyphony that circulates around public institutions, but I think this moment was different because it trusted artists to redefine the meaning of freedom through actions and rituals, or rather exercises — keeping in mind that freedom is never something you possess but something that must be constantly renewed to exist.

Monika, in a recent press conference you spoke about the notion of value — the way that museums or art institutions can be stores of value — and about how these forms of value relate to larger economic questions. Could you speak about this and the ways you’re hoping to realize it in Documenta 14?

MS: We’re interested in looking at the way value is asserted ceremonially, the way it’s a kind of social agreement rather than something stable and held, even though the ceremony often involves material substances that are highly stable: things to anchor oneself to. I think we arrived in Athens looking out toward the Acropolis at the EMST and asked ourselves, “What is this place?” The Acropolis was many things in the past; it began as a temple to the virgin goddess Athena Parthenos, and the statue of the virgin inside functioned as a kind of bank — holding a lot of gold and a lot of ivory looted by member states of the Delian League. So it was a place of worship and a space of constantly reasserted value; and then it was a Christian church during the Byzantine era, then a mosque as well as a gun store. Now it’s a tourist attraction, but one which still holds a kind of sacred value because people still have a sense — as with a lot of Greek antiquities, but particularly with the Parthenon — that this is a kind of holy place, a space of strong energy that need not be captured by institutional religion.

Hendrik Folkerts: As much as the EMST is a national museum of contemporary art, Documenta has, for a very long time, existed as a symbolic exhibition with strong connections to a particular German history and culture, with very strong political and ideological undercurrents. I think this movement between Athens and Kassel is about questioning that history and trying to assess what kind of a value Documenta adds — perhaps on a monetary level, as it continues to define its relation to the art market, but also on a historical, cultural and political level.

Hendrik, you’ve spoken of how spaces have expectations of audiences, of how they can exert a kind of pressure by their design or arrangement or, as with Documenta 14, by displacing and recontextualizing artworks from one institution to another in a way that crosses both physical and political geography. How do you see audience reception functioning in relation to this displacement and recontextualization?

HF: Something Adam Szymczyk raised in the very beginning — which I only later came to understand in full — was that in the experience of the exhibition there would be a sense of loss; not only because for over a month things will be going on simultaneously — so you’ll never be able to access everything at the same time — yet also because not everyone has the means or the will to visit both cities. So the exhibition’s bi-located structure, its displaced configuration, will play quite an important role in the experience; not in the sense of, “ha-ha you can’t see it,” but more symbolically — how to despectacularize and reconfigure the way we look at exhibition-making and spectatorship.

MS: You’re supposed to give people plenty; you’re not supposed to give them loss. Within people’s experience of both cities, I think there’s an expectation that people will actually get lost, so there’s this sense of loss where you can’t see everything, but there’s also a sense that in order to learn you need to lose yourself in a place rather than allow a Cartesian grid to organize all the information for you.

Shifting our focus to the works themselves: Monika, you’ve spoken about the role of weaving as a technology in some of the works on show. Given weaving’s resonance in Greek mythological terms, could you explain how it features in the wider exhibition?

MS: I have mentioned this amazing woman, Bia Davou, who was somehow completely on point in connecting cybernetics to the epic tale of Penelope through diagrammatic, graphic works. We also have another artist involved, Irena Haiduk, who works with weavers and seamstresses in the former Yugoslavia, and who also activates more industrial textile manufacture, aware of its history as a forefront in the industrial revolution, as well as the informatics revolution. So this story keeps circling back.

HF: In the exhibition at large we’re looking at how weaving, which is established on patterns, relates to a score as an object in contemporary art and performance. There has been a lot of discourse produced around scores, but we’re interpreting it quite openly, thinking of a score as, on the one hand, an instructional device yet also as a notation that can be interpreted and performed freely, by anyone. At the EMST, we’ll be presenting an artist from Hungary, originally from Serbia, Katalin Ladik, who’s been producing visual scores based on sewing patterns, newspaper clippings and actual music notation, but also on computer chips found in radios and handheld devices. She reads that source material with her voice and produces sound based on them. The relationship between pattern (the score) and the body (her voice) are open to many interpretations. So you’re going to see and hear how these relationships are woven together in this body of work, yet also in many other artists who deal with patterns, weaving and scores.

MS: There’s a center in Athens called the Mentis Center for the Preservation of Traditional Textile Techniques, whose director, Virginia Matseli, told me of how the various threads leading into the grooves of these machines actually follow traditional Greek dances. So you see the bobbins performing this incredible choreography on the machines, whilst there is this sense of choreographing as another kind of weaving, in a beautiful dialectic. We keep coming across these connections that open up once again a discussion about Greek mythology, in which weaving is portrayed as this ultimate way of making. Athena is a goddess who, amongst other things, is also the patron of weaving.

by William Kherbek

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Britta Peters, Kasper König and Marianne Wagner on
Skulptur Projekte Münster

This year, just as Documenta is engaged in a dialogue between Kassel and Athens, Skulptur Projekte Münster has sought to collaborate with Marl, a city that, despite its close proximity, has experienced a very different social and visual development since the end of the Second World War. The exhibition has always stood out for its sensitivity toward art’s democratic role within public space. The fifth edition will open to the public on June 10, 2017 and is a timely chance for reflection a decade on from the last. Flash Art speaks with curators Britta Peters, Kasper König and Marianne Wagner.

The “Out of” magazine series that accompanies Skulptur Projekte 2017 calls attention to ways in which our experience of sculpture has changed recently, mediated by an increasing digitalization of life. How do you see our understanding of public space having changed since the last Skulptur Projekte a decade ago, and how does this year’s exhibition reflect that?

Skulptur Projekte Münster: Since we are in the middle of a rapid development, it is hard to define the situation we are in now. But digitalization changes our ideas of public and private dramatically, that’s for sure. The term “private” today only seems to fit for property, no longer for private data or a private atmosphere. Numerous aspects of the term “public” might, these days, be understood in terms of “transparency,” which doesn’t necessarily lead to a critical public — think of Trump and how little all the knowledge of his lies and manipulations affected the election. In some sculptural projects the questions of digitalization are very much in the foreground — for example Hito Steyerl, Aram Bartholl, or Andreas Bunte — in others it is a more implicit subject. A lot of works are reflecting the body, which can be read as a way to think about digitalization; focusing on a body which disappears and is substituted through digital and mobile devices.

From its beginnings Skulptur Projekte has engaged in a robust dialogue with municipal authorities and private entities, emphasizing its democratic foundations. Has the current political climate brought a greater urgency to this edition, perhaps informing its greater emphasis on performance?

SPM: The first two editions of Skulptur Projekte caused a number of conflicts with the citizens of Münster, additionally kindled by the local press. Since 1997 this relationship has altered towards one of greater acceptance, even including a misunderstanding of the exhibition as a city marketing tool, something the curators and artists are definitely not interested in. These days it is just part of the frameset we have to deal with. The interest in performance takes its starting point from various directions: the interest in the body, as well as questions about sculpture and time. What does material presence mean and how does this relate to a more ephemeral experience? The latter may also be felt very strongly, remaining as lively in its remembrance as the encounter with a material work of art. In Münster one encounters a lot of “ghosts” of former art works, and the performance pieces will add some new ones. It is important that the exhibition itself is always set up temporarily, even though many works have stayed in the city since 1977.

Of the more than thirty-six sculptural projects that remain in situ in Münster from earlier iterations of the exhibition, are there any that feel especially resonant to you right now?

SPM: The so-called public collection is very important, because it offers the public a longtime relationship with the presented works of art. Some of the contributions of the artists from 1977 to 2007 are stronger than others, but the majority hold great aesthetic power. Some of them, for instance Maria Nordman’s plant-based work De Civitate from 1991, lay “dormant” for over twenty years and now seem to get more relevant. By contrast, Bruce Nauman’s Square Depression, proposed in 1977, was only realized in 2007. It is certainly of the most interesting ones.

This edition is marked by the collaboration between Münster and the nearby city of Marl. What was the rationale behind this, and how has this dialogue been born out?

SPM: To put it in a nutshell: the identities chosen by the two cities after World War II — reconstruction and continuity in Münster, radical modern architecture in Marl — could hardly be more different. For various reasons, art in the public space plays a decisive role in both. Whereas the development in Marl can be understood, broadly speaking, as an integral element in the conveyance of a modern humanist worldview, it would be another decade before the first Skulptur Projekte was realized, in conflict with and in opposition to the conservative town society. All this makes the exchange very interesting for both sides. And it is not far between the two, only sixty kilometers by car — everyone can visit and appreciate the different settings. For the fifth edition of Skulptur Projekte this collaboration means to open a window: not only focusing on Münster, but to put this island-like city — with its educated, wealthy population working in administration or at the university — in a relation to the surrounding Ruhr region, which was formed by the rise and fall of industrial work.

by Alex Estorick

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Jim Shaw Inaugurates the Marciano Art Foundation / Los Angeles

Maurice and Paul Marciano, the two brothers who founded the denim company GUESS?, realized a tour de force with the opening of their new art foundation. Located in the Windsor Square neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Marciano Art Foundation is housed in the iconic Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, designed in 1961 by Millard Sheets. At its peak, eighteen thousand people were members here, all men, from very diverse backgrounds and ethnicities.

The space was renovated by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture and opened to the public last Thursday with the first major Jim Shaw exhibition in Los Angeles. Bigger than “The End Is Near,” presented last year at the New Museum, “Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum” is a labyrinthine display of furniture, stage sets, robes, backdrops, wigs, regalia, paintings, drawings and sculptures across fourteen thousand square feet in the former masonic theater space.

Much of the material that the artist used (wigs and backdrops, for instance) was found on site, as they were props for masonic plays and initiation rites. When asked to curate the inaugural show for the Foundation, guest curator Philipp Kaiser connected the dots: Which L.A. artist, interested in the esoteric and emblematic figures of power, could do something fantastic with these monumental theatrical backdrops and other relics? Jim Shaw was the ideal candidate. After his New Museum show, this project seemed like a good fit, a natural progression for his use of occult imagery and reappropriation of found material. But the artist didn’t just stage the found artifacts. He airbrushed, cut through, manipulated and repurposed the original pieces, most of them from the 1960s and 1970s. He also found some pieces lying dormant in Hollywood warehouses, and included his own artworks. The result is a remarkable show that reactivates the temple’s aura and purpose, culminating in an ironic interpretation of the apocalyptic end of Anglo-Saxon power.

by Alexandre Stipanovich

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It Is Happening Again / Twin Peaks

The original version of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is lost, and it now only exists as copies and as a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. In this way, as art historians like David Joselit have argued, the avant-garde is based entirely on a copy. I might extend this to suggest that the avant-garde is therefore a cliché; art history and cultural studies are melodramas wherein everyone is typecast. We know what to expect.

We cry when we are supposed to, and we scream despite already knowing that the monster is lurking under the bed. However, when the lights come on, we are left shaken, even though we predicted every twist and turn before the opening credits.

Duchamp, I do not think, wanted to or imagined that he would change the landscape of modern art, and the same is true for David Lynch when he co-created Twin Peaks with Mark Frost over twenty-five years ago. The original TV series, in conjunction with Lynch’s films, created a visual, thematic, and sonic repertoire so unconventional that of course everyone had to copy it. However, what was unique about Twin Peaks was that it was, in fact, a collection of every possible cliché; it was as if, in the spirit of Duchamp and the submission of a urinal to the Society of Independent Artists, Lynch wanted to give the finger to mainstream television. Twin Peaks played back — in a brilliant surrealism, or perhaps hyperrealism, only barely removed from real life — the enticing shames of popular culture, especially regarding the abuse of women onscreen.

So how do you copy what is already a copy? In the two-part premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return, aired last Sunday on Showtime, Lynch is unafraid to imitate himself. There is another death and another series of mysterious clues, but gone is much of the teary-eyed teenage drama (which I loved), and in its place is a distillation of everything “Lynchian.” We are now treated to long stays in the Black Lodge’s Red Room for instance — more perhaps in this two-hour premiere than in the entirety of the original series. This is extremely gratifying in some ways, but I wonder how this will develop vis-à-vis arguments that Lynch has become too self-referential.

On the contrary, I see a more personal and ultimately effective kind of copying here. Several scenes in the premiere are distinctly reminiscent of David Lynch’s paintings and early films while a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It will be thrilling to see Lynch doing his best impression of himself, or perhaps what one imagines fans want from him. This, I think, is the essence of Lynch’s continued criticality and historical importance — to show us what we want and render our desires both glamorous and repulsive.

by William J. Simmons

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Midnight in Athens / Documenta 14

Televised on the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) since last December and continuing through the end of Documenta 14 in September 2017, the film program “Keimena” (literally “Texts”), curated by Hila Peleg and Vassily Bourikas, represents one of a number of ways in which the exhibition has sought to embed itself within national Greek discourse.

Occupying the midnight slot on Monday nights on ERT2 — a broadcast channel that was shut down in 2013 and subsequently reopened after strikes and protests — the project serves as a deliberately “public” intervention. Yet its program is exceptionally broad and international, screening both shorter and feature-length films by filmmakers working across documentary and fictional genres. The exhibition has been keen to stress how the works function within the guidelines of ERT and public broadcasting, while the introductory texts preceding each screening are designed to provide a broader contextual frame.

From the first night’s showing of Mumbai-based directorial duo CAMP’s From Gulf to Gulf to Gulf (2013), documenting the vicissitudes of life at sea through mobile phone footage shot by the sailors themselves, to the most recent broadcast of trailblazing Iranian Parviz Kimiavi’s The Garden of Stones (1976), which follows a deaf-mute shepherd across wide open plains in near-metaphysical sequences of light and sound, the program examines the condition of the individual in a sometimes breathtakingly universal fashion, crossing continents in space and oceans in time. The program’s audience has continued to widen, in part due to the opportunity to view films — a number specially commissioned by Documenta — that would otherwise be restricted to select festivals. Theo Prodromidis, an artist and filmmaker based in Athens, sees the project creating a precedent for more “risky” programming in the country, while the recurring leitmotif of seafaring in the Portuguese film Rabo de Peixe (Fish Tail, 2015) as well as in Allan Sekula and Noël Burch’s The Forgotten Space (2010), seems designed to return the arc of the program to Athens’s maritime heritage, and perhaps more specifically the cession of control over the port of Piraeus to the China Cosco Holdings Company.

Wang Bing’s Ku Xian (Bitter Money, 2016) instead trains its focus on neo-capitalism in China; set in the metropolis of Huzhou, it addresses forced urbanization and rural neglect simultaneously. The poignant, even intimate treatment of weighty themes is characteristic of the selection as a whole, and is particularly true of Avo Kaprealian’s Manazil bela abwab (Houses Without Doors, 2016), also released last year, which charts the changing life of a Syrian-Armenian family in Aleppo. Watching from their balcony as the city descends into a battleground, we experience their painful decision to leave as both a personal struggle and a historic reiteration of their ancestry’s experience of the Armenian Genocide. “Keimena” testifies to Documenta’s broadest reach and ambitions, both synchronic and diachronic, and a will to documentation that moves the exhibition beyond its physical confines.

by Alex Estorick

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Christine Macel on Viva Arte Viva / 57th Venice Biennale

VIVA ARTE VIVA” is the title of the 57th International Art Exhibition in Venice, curated by Christine Macel. The exhibition will be open to the public from Saturday, May 13, to Sunday, November 26, 2017, at the Giardini and Arsenale venues. Flash Art spoke with Christine Macel.

“VIVA ARTE VIVA is a biennial designed with artists, by artists and for artists.” The 120 participating artists and their practices have helped shape the structure of the exhibition around nine “chapters” that constitute moments of pause, reflection and confrontation, offering a range of viewpoints into the artist’s creative process. These include the “Pavilion of Artists and Books,” in which viewers can immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the artist’s studio; “Open Table (Tavola Aperta),” where artists will meet and converse with the audience; “Artists Practices Project,” a series of video projections made by the artists about their way of working; and “Unpacking My Library” — inspired by the eponymous Walter Benjamin essay — in which the artists talk about books that nurtured their process.

What was the reaction of the artists when you invited them to share with the public a more intimate view of their practice?

The artists have responded very positively to all parallel projects. In February we began to upload videos about each artist’s practice to the Biennale website, and this will last until the day before the opening, with more than one hundred videos available. By watching them, one gets the feeling of meeting the artist on a very special level, either through a sort of documentary that shows the studio, or in the moment of the making of a piece, or even through a sort of statement that can be sometimes cryptic but reveals a lot about the way the artist wants to represent his or her way of working.

For instance, the piece by Charles Atlas, in which he has asked a comedian dressed as an old professor to talk about him, is frankly hilarious, and it is in keeping with the heritage of West Coast performance; while the video proposed by Philippe Parreno remains quite mysterious, with an octopus filmed in its aquarium in the studio of the artist, an animal that has always been central to his imagination. The response to “Open Table (Tavola Aperta)” has also been impressive. You will have the chance to follow the process via streaming video — if not seated with the artist over lunch in Venice. This practice of conversation has always been so important for artists and curators that I wanted to extend it to the public, who is outside this reality. The project “Unpacking My Library,” which will be visible in the show as well as the catalogue, is now a sort of giant library to which the national pavilions will also contribute, creating a space to read, hang out or take notes in the Stirling Pavilion of the Giardini. All these books reveal a lot about the artists’ worlds and thoughts. I was, for example, surprised to discover that Senga Nengudi is inspired by Rumi, and this told me a lot about the more spiritual dimension of her practice.

How will the space devoted to creation evolve? From the painter’s atelier to the portable or immaterial studio, artists are constantly traveling around the world for residencies, projects and exhibitions. By presenting an artist’s studio at the Biennale, does it preserve its authenticity? Could the Biennale be a place for a collective production of knowledge?

There won’t be studios, but artworks dealing with the idea of the studio. It is more about representation, about the studio as a theme in the artist’s world. But here the perspective is a bit different. It is not so much about given images of the studio than positions of artists toward the studio as a place for idleness and quite intimate thoughts (otium) or as a sphere open to the public (negotium), with a tension between the necessity of being with oneself and the desire to open the studio to a dimension of communal life. This is visible in the room devoted to Franz West, in works dealing directly with the notion of otium, which was a real issue for him; and in the work of Dawn Kasper, who will move in with her studio in a six-month performance. Olafur Eliasson has created a space for his Green Light project, which evokes his way of working in the studio in Berlin, that is, like a collective laboratory.

Can you share few examples of how some of the fifty-two works realized specifically for the Biennale reveal aspects of the creative process?

The creative process is a point of departure and is developed in the parallel projects. Then, of course, I hope that it will help the viewer to encounter the works with a different approach. This understanding will be deepened through the catalogue, which has more than six hundred pages dedicated just to the artists, with a lot of material, images and texts that tell a lot about their own worlds. The show itself is a sort of organic narrative that goes from the artist toward different dimensions through nine “Trans-Pavilions,” because they are transnationals. It draws a movement of extraversion toward the other, the environment, the unknown, in a sort of gradation. It will engage the viewer in a journey that addresses different dimensions of life, and it should provoke a lot of perceptions and thoughts about the necessity to rethink relationships — even the more speculative ones. Let’s take one example: Abdullah Al Saadi shows some boxes with texts in Arab, his own diaries, in the “Pavilion of Artists and Books.” When you look at his video, you understand how he works, on a small table at home, and you see his relationship to his beautiful and modest natural environment on the mountain of Khorfakkan (UAE). His solitary practice, introverted and also open to the immediate surroundings, from his family to the arid mountains around his house, becomes clearly understandable.

The number of artists participating in the Biennale for the first time is quite surprising (103 out of 120). Some of them are very young, like Katherine Nuñez and Issay Rodriguez from the Philippines (born in 1992 and 1991), while some artists are still largely unknown despite the importance of their work. Is there a convergence between the works of younger artists and works from the 1960s and 1970s? Does an artwork possess a prophetic character?

There are some works from the ’60s and ’70s in the exhibition, carefully chosen, that address some specific issues that I consider crucial for our time and that are in resonance with a lot of contemporary artworks. The “Pavilion of the Common,” for example, clearly shows a lot of older positions dealing with the issue of the common — how to build something in common in a time of strong individualism. Works by artists such as Maria Lai and David Medalla are still valid and being discussed by younger artists like Martin Cordiano, Yorgos Sapountzis or Marcos Ávila Forero.

The exhibition is articulated into nine Trans-Pavilions, whose names are very evocative, in particular “The Pavilion of the Shamans” or “The Dionysian Pavilion.” Is spirituality still alive in contemporary art today? Is it experienced or seen through an anthropological lens?

The anthropological approach has always been crucial for me, and I can see how artists themselves are deeply concerned by this kind of research. Maria Lai, for example, who is so interested in the ways of living and thinking in her native Sardinia, has rooted her works in her community of Ulassai and also the earth. Juan Downey, Ernesto Neto, Ayrson Heráclito, Abdoulaye Konaté and so many others in this biennial have all developed their work with a deep anthropological concern and a true sensibility toward some specific communities and their social practices. On the other hand, I see a lot of artists dealing with more spiritual dimensions of life. Take the example of Younès Rahmoun, a Moroccan artist based in Tétouan, who has a very conceptual practice based on the idea of the house/ghorfa. His thinking is deeply rooted in Sufism. To develop this type of work he has lived as a hermit under a staircase in his parents’ house. Again, it is not something new, if you think of On Kawara, for example — his date paintings address the question of time and infinity in a sort of conceptual/metaphysical way. The difference is that our times make these questions even more urgent, again because some artists envision themselves as “missionaries,” as Marcel Duchamp used to say, without any esoterism or reactionary movement against reason, but through a consciousness of a deeper meaning of art and the necessity to transform our reality. Ernesto Neto, for example, after his experience with the Huni Kuins, with whom he lived in Amazonia, said that it is not a time for revolution but for transformation. This can of course be discussed, but it is a significant statement.

In the press release, we read that the pavilions “flow together like chapters of a book” — they are “nine episodes that tell a story.” Is there one (or more) literary source that inspired “VIVA ARTE VIVA”?

Not directly, but I am an obsessive reader, and my own universe is full of books. The show is a show, but the titles I chose for the different chapters, which are not separated physically in the space but are only mentioned in the leaflet like an indication, are indeed like titles of books, more evocative than didactic. I hope they will activate the imagination of the viewers, which are to me, along with the artists, an essential actor in the exhibition.

by Sara de Chiara

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