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The End of an Era / Girls

Each Sunday during its run, since 2012, I watched Girls by myself, beginning in a college dorm and then in several dinky New York apartments. Girls has been a private phenomenon that defined the better half of my twenties, and this Sunday it came to a sobering and surprising end.

The finale is so intimate as to seem small, but it is as epic and poignant as the last episode of The X-Files. Indeed, Girls always made ostensibly insignificant emotions seem vast, affording viewers the chance to experience being at once individually validated and invisibly adrift in a sea of other people’s feelings — both real and projected.

My evolution alongside the series began in part as a comical venture. It provided an arena wherein I could laugh at the foibles I saw so forcefully in myself, which was followed inevitably by a healthy dose of self-hatred as a result of my identification with the characters. It allowed me to indulge my aspirational tendencies and fall in love with what I wanted more than anything — a glamorous emotional legibility.

When Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) began to exhibit signs of anxiety and depression, everything changed. What was once a self-deprecating diversion became deadly serious, and my solo viewing of Girls became claustrophobic as the series progressed. It instilled the fear that my “artistic” self-regard, my masochistic inhabitation of my own thoughts, is destructively bereft of meaning, that it is all a cliché. As I found myself empathizing with the vain but sincere Marnie (Allison Williams), or harboring jealousy toward Hannah’s growing success as a writer, I worried that I was at best morally bankrupt and at worst the millennial stereotype at the center of so many Girls think pieces.

At the outset of the final season, I asked both my best friend and my beleaguered therapist why I found the show so moving, and neither could provide an answer. In approximating my own answer, I understand that I cannot speak to the social truths of the series. Girls was not created for me — a gay man with no lived experience of the rightfully female-centered issues Dunham explores with regard to gender, sexuality, illness, professional advancement and violence. I can only offer a provisional and personal guess about the show’s significance.

It comes down to the ability of Girls to depict and imagine loneliness in a way that no other television show has. Girls presents a beautiful and heart-wrenching parade of broken dreams, false starts, and small triumphs that are at once distant and as close as your own skin. In this way, Girls invited you not to identify with its stories, but rather to position yourself in proximity to them with an unflinching abandon.

by William J. Simmons

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Every Time a Ear di Soun / Documenta 14

Released in 1984, the video for Queen’s single “Radio Ga Ga” places the medium of radio in the semiotic ecology of early modernism. Freddie Mercury’s lyrics, complete with references to the “wars of worlds” and the “old time stars,” not to mention the video’s borrowing of imagery from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), create an unmistakable aura of nostalgia around radio’s cultural position.

Despite Freddie’s assurances that radio’s “finest hour” is still to come, to pop fans of the 1980s — increasingly accessing music and information via television, and exposed to the seemingly inescapable logic of MTV — radio was already becoming a medium of the past. Yet a funny thing happened on its way to obsolescence. Not only did radio survive the 1980s but, in an age of podcasts and the unhinged rantings of Alex Jones, the medium has arguably adjusted more seamlessly to the digital age than broadcast television (certainly more so than MTV itself). And so the idea of a radio program to accompany the resolutely forward-looking project that is Documenta 14 may not be as incongruous as it might have seemed back in 1984.

From April 8 to September 17, 2017, under the curatorial guidance of Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Documenta 14 presents a staggeringly ambitious series of works for radio, titled “Every Time a Ear di Soun,” to accompany the exhibitions in Athens and Kassel. Including contributions from thirty artists, the project expands Documenta’s partnership between Greece and Germany to radio stations in Cameroon, Lebanon, Colombia, France, Indonesia and the United States, playing a mixture of new and archival material excavated from the participating stations’ vaults.

Ahmet Ogut, Nástio Mosquito and Olaf Nicolai have all contributed new work, while a commission from Aslı Çavuşoğlu juxtaposing radio as a news medium with fortune telling charts the relationship between medium and information. Natascha Sadr Haghighian is also set to collaborate with the composer Nicolas Bussmann on a project in which news broadcasts are sung, thus blurring the line between radio’s twin lineages, information and entertainment. Ndikung has spoken of the importance of foregrounding the physicality and materiality of sound itself, and of the ways music exists as a modality of information regardless of any accompanying textual factor. To this end, musician Satch Hoyt will also be participating in the project, with Africa and its broader sonic environment set to feature in his contribution. Such cultural and physical geography is, no doubt, the crux of a Documenta more geographically dispersed than any previous iteration.

Whether or not “Every Time a Ear di Soun” constitutes radio’s finest hour remains to be seen, but the recognition by the Documenta curators of its continued importance in the twenty-first century does render Freddie Mercury’s mellifluous prophecy a good deal more plausible.

by William Kherbek

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Learning from Athens / Documenta 14

There’s been an audible hum throughout Athens for some time now. The murmurings first began at the end of 2015 when it was announced that Documenta – whose permanent home is Kassel in Germany­ ­­– would be staged in tandem in the Greek capital, shining a much needed cultural spotlight on a city under serious strain. Developing from a whisper amongst cultural institutions to a ubiquitous chatter among the city’s population; an exhibition which has kept the majority of its details under wraps until the last minute is now upon us. “Learning from Athens” will open to the public on April 8, 2017.

The dearth of official announcements regarding the exhibition has been mitigated by a rich public program of discussions and workshops since September 2016. These have been directed by Paul B. Preciado, the exhibition’s most visible face in Athens up to now. Hosted for the most part at “The Parliament of Bodies” in Athens’s Parko Eleftherias (“Freedom Park”) in a building that previously served as the military police headquarters during the junta of 1967-74, the program has ranged between identity politics, gender, sexuality, deinstitutionalization, migration, yoga, necropolitics and cooperativism. It has also included appearances from individuals as diverse as Terre Thaemlitz and Antonio Negri, and has inspired a flurry of discourse most evident in “Learning from Documenta”, an anthropological discussion group set up externally to the exhibition. Founded by Elpida Rikou, a lecturer at the Athens School of Fine Arts, and Eleana Yalouri, an Assistant Professor at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, the project has involved a large number of international speakers critically observing the exhibition’s presence in the city. The group has posed questions ­– including to the Documenta team themselves – relating to artists’ Non-Disclosure Agreements, the semantics of the exhibition’s working title, as well as the political implications of art-making in the city today.

The show’s largest exhibition space will be the newly-inaugurated National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), a quarter of whose collection is being moved to Kassel’s Fridericianum ahead of the opening of EMST’s permanent collection later this year. This transfer exemplifies the current dialogue between the two cities and their institutions, whilst also problematizing cultural exchange at moments of political tension and historical import.

Various projects have sought to reach beyond the artistic community in Athens and to participate directly in the life of the city. These have included a large, albeit cryptic, poster campaign of a pixellated “14”, alongside more conspicuous weekly broadcasts of experimental documentary and narrative films, titled “Keimena”, on Greece’s state TV network. Transmission has been a noticeable leitmotif in the run-up to the exhibition, part of an attempt to avoid limiting the experience of Documenta to its physical confines.

Artistic director Adam Szymczyk has openly sought a move away from “eventness”, a position he articulated at the event to inaugurate Every Time a Ear di Soun, a radio program comprising both new and archival recordings scheduled to be broadcast internationally twenty-four hours a day during the exhibition across stations from eight different countries. The show is due to begin with a parade of twelve riders on horseback circumnavigating the Acropolis along its pedestrianized walkways as they re-enact scenes from the Parthenon frieze. They will then continue their “human-equine ensemble”, as Documenta have termed it, over the course of a hundred-day 3 000 km journey to Kassel, passing through the Balkans.

While Documenta has faced criticism, Szymczyk has been at pains to stress the importance of the exhibition participating in the life of Athens, rather than as an operation to airlift the art world into the city. The recently reopened basement of the Athens Conservatoire is due to host one of the major group exhibitions alongside a series of music events; while arts organizations such as Atopos cvc have hosted artists in residence in the city. Even Aboubakar Fofana’s fabric bookmark – due to be included along with the luxury “Documenta 14 Reader” catalogue ­– has been dyed with imported indigo and woven at Mentis, the famed crafts and passementerie workshop now operating under the auspices of the Benaki Museum. That museum’s complex, as well as the Yiannis Tsarouchis Foundation and many other locations will host the multiplicity of events taking place over the three months of the exhibition.

by Andrew Spyrou

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Out of Body, Time and Place / Skulptur Projekte Münster

Describing his choice to present Skulptur Projekte Münster every ten years, the project’s cofounder and artistic director Kasper König says, “Ten years are perfect: Westphalian and laid back, campfire instead of beacon.” Initiated in 1977, this year’s edition is the fifth in the project’s history, and opens to the public on June 10, 2017.

Scheduled to always coincide with Documenta, Skulptur Projekte’s purpose has been to create a public space with art, rather than for art, inviting artists to create site-specific works that recalibrate the global present, reflecting our current conditions and pushing contemporary concepts of sculpture. As such, past artists have included Joseph Beuys, Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenberg, Richard Long, Richard Serra and Rosemarie Trockel, to name but a few.

This year’s curators, Britta Peters and Marianne Wagner, have described how the rapid increase in digitized culture over the past ten years has presented a clear shift in the way our public and private spheres operate. Data storage and user-generated economies have become intertwined, with the line between work and life becoming ever more permeable and blurred. Says Peters: “The challenge for 2017 will consist in holding one’s ground in the present-day art-as-lifestyle atmosphere.”

Inviting artists to visit the city in advance of submitting their proposals, this year’s forty-three participants represent a broad spectrum of ages and nationalities: Cerith Wyn Evans (b. 1958, UK), Jeremy Deller (b. 1966, UK), Hito Steyerl (b. 1966, DE), Thomas Schütte (b. 1954, DE), Oscar Tuazon (b. 1975, US), Mika Rottenberg (b. 1976, AR), Pierre Huyghe (b. 1962, FR), Ayse Erkmen (b. 1949, TR), Monika Gintersdorfer (b. 1967, PE), Lara Favaretto (b. 1973, IT), Barbara Wagner (b. 1980, BRA), Gregor Schneider (b. 1969, DE), Emeka Ogboh (b. 1977, NG) and Alexandra Pirici (b. 1982, RO) are just some of those who have been announced in advance.

A magazine has accompanied the show’s development leading up to this summer’s opening. Each issue — respectively titled Out of Body (spring 2016), Out of Time (autumn 2016) and Out of Place (spring 2017) — took a topic fundamentally linked with the concept and experience of sculpture. With art historian and museum director Anselm Franke writing about the “Groundlessness of Art” in the recent concluding issue, we are left wondering how connected “figure and ground” will be in this age of “digitality and capital.”

by Louisa Elderton

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Exercise of Freedom Documenta 14 / Athens

­­Several months before the official opening of Documenta 14, which has chosen Athens as a forum alongside Kassel in Germany, last September saw its inauguration with “The Parliament of Bodies” in Athens’s Parko Eleftherias (translated as Freedom Park).

Drawing from the name of the location designated as the first of the exhibition’s spaces by the municipal authority, the building, which previously housed the headquarters of the military police during the junta (1967–74) and is adjacent to a former detention and torture facility from that period, hosted thirty-four “exercises of freedom.” These varied from speeches and actions to workshops and musical performances. All dealt with the diverse notions of “freedom.”

Within the structure, sixty-eight movable faux-concrete blocks, designed by artist and architect Andreas Angelidakis, serve as soft ruins on which to perch, and locate ancient Greek democracy within a modernist frame. This juxtaposition of the assumed formality of antiquity and a contemporary Western architecture serves as an apt analogy for the exhibition itself, sensitively yet openly referring to the tensions experienced when hosting such a large-scale exhibition and public program dealing with provocative issues in a city grappling with many issues of its own. Adam Szymczyk, the artistic director of this fourteenth edition of the exhibition, has been quite clear from the outset that the exhibition “can only visit Athens as a guest, with all the limitations and possibilities such status implies.”

The dearth of official announcements regarding the exhibition itself has been mitigated by a rich public program of discussions and workshops since September, directed by Paul B. Preciado, the festival’s most visible face in Athens up to now. Covering a broad range of topics including identity politics, gender, sexuality, deinstitutionalization, migration, yoga, necropolitics and cooperativism, the continuing public program has seen appearances from individuals as diverse as Terre Thaemlitz and Antonio Negri, and has inspired a flurry of discourse, perhaps most evident in the independent “Learning from documenta” anthropological discussion group, who have also invited a large number of international speakers to critically observe the exhibition’s presence in the city, including by investigating the semantics of the exhibition’s working title, “Learning from Athens.”

Announcements that have reached beyond the artistic community in Athens include that of Keimena, the weekly broadcast of experimental documentary and narrative films on Greece’s state TV network, Every Time a Ear di Soun, a 24-hour radio programme that will broadcast internationally for 3 weeks during the exhibition, and that of a parade of twelve horses that will circumnavigate the Acropolis along the area’s pedestrianized walkways during the opening event of the exhibition, with the troupe depicting scenes from the Parthenon frieze. The horses and riders will continue on a hundred-day journey to Kassel, riding through the Balkans. With Athens experiencing an unprecedented proliferation of peripheral artistic happenings, excitement for the eventual opening of the exhibition continues to brim.

by Andrew Spyrou

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What Is To Be Done? The Armory Show / New York

For the 2017 edition of The Armory Show, the fair invited curator Jarrett Gregory to reinvent its Focus section. Traditionally highlighting art and galleries from a specific region, Gregory has reimagined Focus as a series of complementary solo presentations. The project “What Is To Be Done?” includes Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise, Deana Lawson, Roman Opalka, and Koki Tanaka, among others artists. Flash Art speaks with Gregory about her motivation to make wider social and political systems visible.

How did you arrive at the incendiary title “What Is To Be Done?”

I’ve borrowed the title from the feminist novel written by Nikolai Chernyshevsky in 1863, which follows the heroine’s liberation from familial patriarchy. The decision to reference this work came after spending some formative time in Moscow. I was struck by the parallels between the second half of the nineteenth century and the current political situation — specifically regarding the annexation of Crimea and the state’s policy on censorship. I wanted to draw a line from the present day to this period in history when people were galvanized to upturn the status quo.

Chernyshevsky wrote What Is To Be Done? while he was imprisoned in St. Petersburg for his socialist beliefs. He was permitted to write only because it was a novel — the pages were checked before they were released to his publisher. I think they must not have read them very closely; although every point is made indirectly, the content is clearly radical, even today. It was published immediately and read avidly by young intellectuals as a call to change one’s life. It became instrumental in spreading the utopian ideals that led to the 1917 Revolution.

What were the main challenges this politically charged show faced within the traditionally conservative context? When you cite Jimmie Durham in the press release — “To use art as an escape … is a sign of inhumanity.” — it seems like some push back or resistance.

I didn’t face any opposition regarding the content; I was very lucky because Ben Genocchio and my colleagues at the Armory were enthusiastic about taking risks. The context of the art fair was particularly interesting to me and I wanted to construct something that responded to this as well as to the present moment, so economy emerged as a theme that ties the projects together. Durham’s writing has been a touchstone for me; I believe that art should engage with the world, and that is Durham’s point. The presentation could definitely be seen as resistant, even a little rebellious.

Would you consider the show a model for or a reflection on art’s ability to incite change (or unrest)?

It’s a reflection certainly, but not a model. I’m curious about what art can do today: What are the rules and how can we reimagine them?

by Sam Korman

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