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Reporting from the Front Architecture Biennale 2016 / Venice

The theme of this year’s Architecture Biennale, “Reporting from the Front,” focuses on the tangible effects architects can have on human and ecological crises — first and foremost the plight of people displaced by war and economic collapse.

The exhibition in the German pavilion, “Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country,” is one of its highlights. To epitomize the nation’s open-border policy and welcoming of over one million refugees in 2015, four large sections of the walls of the historic building have been removed for the duration of the Biennale, making it the only exhibit that will stay open at all times. The designers of this year’s exhibition, Julian Schubert, Elena Schuetz and Leonard Streich, founding partners of the young Berlin-based architectural practice Something Fantastic, focus on rapidly changing urban environments and on communal housing. Alongside Frankfurt’s Deutsches Architekturmuseum (DAM), curator Oliver Elser, project coordinator Anna Scheuermann and author Doug Saunders, they reflect on a comprehensive checklist of conditions necessary for the growth of neighborhoods where immigrants can thrive as actual citizens and not merely temporary guests. The lessons derived from Saunders’s painstakingly researched book, Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World (2011), are clear: the key prerequisites for a successful integration process are affordable and high-quality housing, access to work, small-scale commercial spaces, good access to public transit, networks of immigrants from the same culture and a tolerant attitude that extends to the acceptance of informal practices.

Several projects address the global housing shortage and its underlying concerns, including urban decay (of note is Inês Lobo’s research on this theme for her project “Mosque in Mouraria” in Lisbon), unaffordability and gentrification. Anupama Kundoo and her practice strive to design spaces that are durable and humane as well as affordable. In her workshop “Life Afterlife” with local students of the faculty of architecture, she examined themes of urban obsolescence and the possibility of upcycling waste, including waste produced by the Biennale itself. The effect of unrelenting gentrification over the lives of some of London’s more vulnerable citizens is explored in the “@Gaybar” project. In collaboration with Daata Edition and Zuecca Projects, artists Hannah Quinlan and Rosie Hastings display “Gentrification,” part of a series that seeks to “rematerialize historic gay bars as containers for queer discourse.” Set in the Bauer Hotel’s ground floor foyer, the exhibition features six videos of empty gay establishments and soundscapes.

Transitory, public and shared spaces across cities and macro-regions are explored throughout the Biennale. Curated for the Australian Institute of Architects by Amelia Holliday and Isabelle Toland with urbanist Michelle Tabet, the arresting exhibition “From the Edge” presents the municipal pool as a vital public space in the culture and social life of the continent. Public pools, many of which are threatened by funding cuts, play a vital role in bridging barriers and bringing people and communities together. Personal and political identities are questioned and reframed in these oases of “everyday pleasures.” Elsewhere in the Brazilian Pavilion, one is reminded of the elegance, beauty and generosity of the public projects as well as the smaller domestic dwellings designed by Lina Bo Bardi. The farsighted Italian-born architect pioneered the incorporation of traditional building techniques and materials into the glass-and-concrete language of architectural modernism in Brazil, the country where she lived from 1946 until her death in 1992. The fine home she designed for Valeria P. Cirell in São Paulo (1958) has endured the whims of tropical weather thanks to its thick brick walls tied through lumber beams, its porches covered by dense shrubs. Bo Bardi’s larger multiuse spaces — the beautiful Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) is one — are welcoming spaces for gathering and public life.

The vast range of activist thinking, research and social engagement on display at the Biennale reminded me of artist Anri Sala’s touching tribute to his friend Edi Rama, the former Mayor of Tirana and Prime Minister of Albania since 2013. The sixteen-minute color video projection with sound Dammi i Colori (2003), one of the works on view in a recent retrospective at the New Museum in New York, considers the attempts to affect the urban transformation of Tirana and reverse its fortunes; from a city where one was forced to live to one where one wanted to live.

This Biennale’s good intentions make its shortcomings all the more striking. One example: for his first public event, the curator Alejandro Aravena assembled an all-male-over-fifty-years-old-active-in-the-global-north panel to discuss the topic of infrastructure. That no women, no practitioners from the global south and no younger practitioners were invited as speakers belies such a lack of awareness, to the fact that the current system it purports to criticize is, in practice, flawed and systematically biased, that it defies belief. Better then to remember the wondrous Peruvian “Plan Selva,” a large-scale educational project in the Amazon region, and recall Lina Bo Bardi’s unflinching conviction that “the spirit of modern architecture” is to be shaped by “a love of humanity.”

by Francesca Tarocco

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Volcano Extravaganza 2016 Fiorucci Art Trust / Stromboli

From Homer to James Joyce, the peripatetic journey of Ulysses underlied “I Will Go Where I Don’t Belong,” the sixth edition of Volcano Extravaganza, led by French artist Camille Henrot with curator Milovan Farronato. Amid ominous waves and strong Aeolian winds, news of canceled ferry boats and people being stranded on their way to the Sicilian island of Stromboli, the week-long festival opened under the appropriate theme of naufrage.

In the domestic setting of the Fiorucci Art Trust House, a group exhibition curated by Camille Henrot explored the allure, perils and exoticism of navigation and shipwreck with depth and a touch of humor. Entering the gallery, one was met with a mural drawn by Henrot with swift and incisive strokes, of fantastical creatures and men copulating in extravagant positions among blue waves. Artists’ contributions found their place alongside vintage prints of ships at the mercy of the elements and curious black-and-white photographs of life at sea from Henrot’s family collection. In this context, Mike Nelson’s sculpture Diyagram (Amnesiac beach fire), Maria Loboda’s Witch’s Ladder, composed of a marine rope intertwined with pheasant feathers, and Isola e Norzi’s Elsewhere, a telescope through which a point in the landscape refers back to itself, conjured the life of a castaway in an otherworldly, spellbound dimension. A YouTube video of sailors in drag parading for a beauty pageant found its counterpoint in a series of prints illustrating the propitiatory ceremony of Crossing the Line. The rite marks the passage of the equatorial line into what was believed to be an inverted world, where people walked upside down, men became women and social ranking was turned on its head. The trepidation and erotic desire connected to a subversion of roles and the possibilities of becoming other set the tone for the week ahead.

For the first time, Volcano Extravaganza shifted its focus from the erupting energy of Mount Stromboli to an introspective dimension, by reflecting on the mutable and unsettling condition of ‘belonging’, with evenings dedicated to the exploration of themes such as ‘isolation’, ‘inadequacy’ and ‘danger and eroticism of distances’ among others.  The volcano seemed to respond by taking a background role, rumbles and puffs of smoke discretely punctuating the hours. Artist David Horwitz shared aphrodisiac and prophetic herbal infusions, inviting people to record their dreams while on the island — the volcano is known to procure vivid and prescient dreams. Maria Loboda’s enigmatic piece Nobody could explain this, that’s the way it was, a sedan chair whose interior displayed objects left behind — a fur stole, a tub of Advil, slippers, bleached animal bones — appeared each night at a different location like a vision, alluding to a mysterious and elusive presence that seemed to precede one on the journey.

Invited artists spent three weeks at the Fiorucci residence “La Lunatica” producing site-specific works. Presentations included screenings, exhibitions, music events in collaboration with Vinyl Factory and other gatherings, all providing a blend of entertainment and opportunities for exchange and reflection. Although the festival is free and open to the public, it is attended mostly by an inner circle of artists, curators, collectors and journalists, none of whom “belong” on the island but many of whom feel compelled to return. It was soon apparent that, whether an artist or participant, one had to surrender to the natural elements and embrace a spirit of jovial improvisation.

After days spent in failed attempts to cross the turbulent seas, artist Ragnar Kjartansson found land, much like a Robinson Crusoe washed ashore with a guitar as his only resource. His performance, rearranged from a beach at sunset to the open-air arena of the local nightclub Megà, took on an enthralling and tragicomic air. The occasion deserved bursts of fireworks and a champagne toast as his blasé delivery was accompanied by two enchanting assistants — who acted as living microphone stands — and aided by the bewitching voice of singer Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir. After all, he pointed out, the best way to reach Stromboli from Iceland should have been through the connected craters of volcanoes as described in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The negotiation of interior and exterior worlds, their fluidity and interchange, was a recurrent thread. Having spent long periods of time on Stromboli over the last couple of years, artist Joana Escoval invited participants to follow her for a walk into unknown territory. With the help of volcanological guide Stefano Oliva, the artist created a new trail through the thick vegetation of the mountain, opening up a pathway that would be walked for the first time and then soon disappear, engulfed by wild shrubbery. Away from the tourist-beaten track, the participants set out late and proceeded slowly, a haphazard group ill equipped for trekking but keen on discovering what lay ahead. The path was punctuated by stops in which metal objects created by the artist — who experiments with the effects of metal bonds on her skin, breath and moods — were selected in the landscape. Like antennas receiving signals from the ether, the metal objects were worn or carried along the way, acting as conductors between the energy of the body, the mind and that of the environment.

A different kind of negotiation was required at Amira Ghazalla’s powerful delivery of the meandering story Buffalo Head — collectively written by Camille Henrot with Jacob Bromberg, David Horvitz, Maria Loboda and Milovan Farronato — in which participants were elicited to democratically vote at each narrative bifurcation, sending the protagonist into a tale of sexual transformation, disguise, endless wailing and desperation, or a princely marriage.

The figure of Karin in the iconic Rossellini movie set on Stromboli — a displaced POW who fails to integrate with the conservative and closed-minded island community — was another point of reference when exploring states of displacement and alienation. Touched by the personal histories of people who found Stromboli a more hospitable place and chose the island — a site of postwar exodus and now a holiday destination — as their home, an important part of the festival involved local inhabitants in a hosting role. For five nights, Strombolians opened their homes for pleasant evenings around mouthwatering home-cooked food and the screening of movies selected by Henrot. In the era of Netflix, gathering together in front of a television transported one back to the times when this was a social and community-reaffirming experience.

Under the auspices of a hypnotic red moon, the festival concluded with Exile, a shared nighttime journey back to Naples for a final stop at Camille Henrot’s exhibition Luna di Latte at Madre. The striking 1980s-inspired interior of the neon-lit Siremar restaurant provided an anachronistic and suggestive setting for a “glam” gala. While some passengers were already asleep on deck, David Horvitz distributed the last of his magical infusions, and participants took turns throwing hand-blown glass spheres containing the artist’s breath overboard into the moonlit waves, speculating aloud about the exotic shores to which they might be carried.

Whether escaping, arriving, leaving, being stranded or choosing to make a foreign place one’s home, the idea of life’s transience permeated the experience of Volcano Extravaganza, which this year turned away from the spectacular in favor of what felt like a contemplative experience. Thus, although engaged with pressing themes of exile and displacement, the curators chose to steer away from the current crisis in the Mediterranean, opting for a mythical and existential reflection. The evening concluded with Anna Boughigian’s poignant speech, reflecting on the painful and isolating nature of exile as well as the endless possibilities that dislocation affords: “At the end does anybody belong to the planet? I don’t know if anybody really belongs to this planet. So everybody who lives on this planet somehow is in exile.” As the temporary community that was drawn together during the week dispersed to other ports and onward journeys, one could not help feeling the fragile equilibrium of our sheltered, privileged existence.

by Silvia Sgualdini

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Uncountable Youth / Moscow International Biennale for Young Art

While state-run art institutions in Russia experience uncertain times due to funding cuts and the dismantling of existing infrastructures, the fifth Moscow International Biennale for Young Art opened in all its glory, reflecting a reshuffling of the ruling elite.

The main show features almost ninety artists from more than thirty countries, but the number of participants in collateral events scattered all around the city is practically uncountable. There is the sense that the whole of Moscow, like the town of Gatlin in Children of the Corn, has been occupied by youth. The “reverse ageism” of this edition has reached a parricidal peak: not only is “young art” exclusively promoted, but curators, commissioners and designers were also hired based on their biological age (they must be under thirty-five). It also differs from previous Biennales in that the two so-called “strategic projects” that accompany the main exhibition are tailored by foreign curators. Although they foster little dialogue with the local art scene, these three components successfully showcase three popular philosophical approaches to art making and curating.

With its manifesto-like tone, curator Joao Laia’s “Hyperconnected” refers both to object-oriented ontology and theories of the Anthropocene as two ways of decentralizing the primacy of human subjectivity. Proposing a conflation of culture with nature, it also privileges relations over entities — something that modern philosophy since Descartes has strongly rejected. Colorful, bright and kitschy, this exhibition stuffs all four floors of MMOMA at Ermolaevsky Lane with different hybrids and assemblages in which the digital becomes coextensive with the natural. Neringa Černiauskaitė (aka Pakui Hardware)’s eccentric structures give these ideas a proper aesthetic expression: she puts anthropomorphic elements onto rolls of real lawn, adding LED lamps, epoxy, food dyes and microcontrollers. In somato-, techno- or biocapitalism the body is no longer integral, but is fragmented and penetrated by new technologies that, in Preciado’s parlance, are “soft, featherweight, viscous, gelatinous.” However, such a flat ontology as proposed by Laia, in which causal relations become wanton and promiscuous, undoes the idiosyncrasy of the arrangement. Proposing attitudes rather than subject matter, and echoing the last Documenta, it does not subsume them under an authorial voice.

By contrast, “Time of Reasonable Doubts” (curated by Silvia Franceschini with Valeria Mancinelli at NCCA) remains within continental tradition — its very title alludes to Cartesian skepticism. One could say the whole show spatializes “the transcendentals,” rendering them palpable and solid. Following in the tradition of Foucault, it imposes the Kantian notion of “conditions of possibility” onto the field of discourse and knowledge, foregrounding the way perception is structured by “the protocols that govern the present moment.” Compared to the more loose and open-ended “Hyperconnected,” this austere and rigorous show prefers traditional mediums, achromatic colors and endless texts. Selected artworks interrogate documents and fictions in all possible ways: juxtaposing original and remake (Urok Shirhan’s Remake of Paul Chan’s “Baghdad in No Particular Order”, 2012); erasing faces and personalities (Basma Alsharif’s The Story of Milk and Honey, 2011); or applying photo-etching techniques onto digital images (Mikhail Tolmachev, Line of Site, 2015). But a generally sterile and highly aestheticized atmosphere negates the political acuteness of the latter piece, which is perhaps the only one in the whole Biennale that tackles issues around hybrid warfare in Ukraine.

The main project, “Deep Inside,” curated by Nadim Samman from an open call for entries, is situated somewhere in between these two antithetical approaches. With all his eloquence, Samman speaks of the same problems that were raised by Laia — namely how today’s discrete entities and fixed borders are being penetrated — but with anthropomorphic lenses discarded. At the same time, he goes back on his words, emphasizing that scientific knowledge allows new forms of “deep” control that may manipulate what until now remained untouchable. Nevertheless, this new political regime, like Franceschini and Mancinelli’s project, contains fractures that artists can occupy and actualize through different modes of resistance. To emphasize his statement, this huge blockbuster exhibition finds spatial analogies within the interiors of Trekhgornaya Manufaktura. For instance, Alvaro Urbano pierces a hole in a wall (Untitled, 2015) that opens onto a fictional landscape, while Rustan Söderling’s film Eternal September (2015), with its quasi-Tarkovskian manner, drowns in the darkness of deindustrialized chambers. Still, despite reflecting new modes of surveillance, synthetic technologies and data trajectories, none of the works take into account the disposition of power that lies right on the surface.

Trekhgornaya Manufaktura, the textile factory that played an important role in the 1905 Revolution, was recently bought by oligarch Oleg Deripaska and then violently purged of its workers and tenants. By hosting an international biennial, it hopes to attract potential developers and renters to make another creative cluster of young cultural prosumers. Of course, this lack of dialogue with the local context is not a drawback of any of the shows in particular, which, one must admit, differ advantageously from previous editions; it is, however, a structural problem with the “Young Biennale” itself, which since its inception has been more about networking, self-presentation and CV development.

by Andrey Shental

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What We Do for Money Manifesta 11 / Zurich

Manifesta 11, the latest edition of the roving European biennial, seeks to explore what makes its current host city, Zurich, tick: work. It’s a reductive idea that the curator, artist Christian Jankowski, has chosen for an exhibition titled “What People Do for Money.”

One assumes the curator knows that people everywhere work to financially survive. Still, the exhibition fetishizes the idea that artists and members of the art world might interact with pedestrian workers. In addition to a large group exhibition, thirty artists were paired with different professionals to shadow and get inspiration for what are labeled “joint ventures.” These projects are mainly spread throughout the city in their real-world locations. A floating fort on Lake Zurich projects a rotation of documentary-style films created from all these interactions. Most of them, anyway.

Georgia Sagri was paired with a banker from Julius Bar and sought to create a double portrait of the situation of host and guest: the banker and herself, as well as herself and Manifesta. Sagri refused to be filmed for documentary purposes without final approval and control — that is, unless she was paid as an actress to play herself. When this was declined, she worked extensively on contract negotiations with Manifesta to ensure that she had complete control of her work, its presentation and her image. These meetings, as opposed to the ones between her and the banker, were filmed as a component to her total project, Documentary of Behavioural Currencies (2016), showing both an interest in and keen ability to challenge institutional systems of power and language. Exhibited at Bank Julius Bar on the tony Bahnhofstrasse, with a duplicate exhibited at the Luma Foundation, is a wood pavilion with a video of herself and the banker duplicating the systems of exchanges that Sagri witnessed while shadowing the banker. The other video, the one showing her negotiations with the biennial, Manifesta refused to exhibit, as well as the finished contracts showing their legal agreement. For this she called upon the local art space Upstate, unofficially completing her project in public and thus undermining the control this citywide institution believed it had over her as an artist and human being. The resulting film is beautiful and revealing, showing ingrained institutional power structures and sexism. The blurred faces and voices of Manifesta employees (at their request) are menacing and sinister, reacting against Sagri’s well-spoken stance to maintain her artistic integrity.

Continuing along this line, the other successful ventures in this sprawling affair are those that go beyond the one-liner of a profession and capture a fleeting human element. Mike Bouchet’s The Zurich Load, in which he worked with a waste management plant to form into cubes a day’s worth of excrement from his host city’s population, isn’t one of them. In a large hall reeking of ammonia, the blocks have been installed in a manner visually akin to the work of Walter De Maria. It’s vintage shock art minus the shock. Pablo Helguera’s blown up Artoons are New Yorker–style comics that fill the public walls of the Lowenbrau art complex. They’re typical art-world jokes that range from the witty to the morally questionable. One shows a museum director introducing an unpaid intern as the new curator, exposing that the line between knowing about a societal problem and taking a stand are worlds apart. Leigh Ledare’s The Here and the Now (Zurich Groups 1:1) is an extensive video installation showing the fruits of a three-day session with the group therapist he was paired with along with twenty-one participants. The video of the final session, in which the entire group is circled together for the first time, is mesmerizing and banal. Given no prodding, the group sits down and awkwardly fidgets and makes small talk. Over time they begin to confront one another and eventually take sides. There are tears, apologies and accusations subtitled in English from Swiss German. Ledare sits in the back, the camera focusing on him occasionally, as he watches, not understanding what is being said. It’s pure human interaction, like a high-brow reality show sans any manipulation, and it is mesmerizing and revealing about more than just these people. We’re all exposed as awkward and aggressive without provocation.

That these basic facts are not exposed further in Manifesta sheds light on why and what people actually do for a paycheck. Like a mask, the jobs we do for money hide us and help us for better or worse. Perhaps the broader failure of the theme is actually its success in connecting to the city of Zurich. Here order and societal responsibility can do nothing but trump any interpersonal stance.

by Mitchell Anderson

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The Present in Drag / 9th Berlin Biennale

“People are going apeshit over this!” Or so an artist participating in this year’s Berlin Biennale told me, via e-mail. “Is that good or bad?” I thought, not having yet seen the biennial myself at that moment.

My fingers tapped “apeshit” into Google for an exact definition: “to become very angry or excited.” So: both then. That’s exactly how you might characterize the general critical response to the biennial, titled The Present in Drag: some people are angry (very angry), others are excited (well, perhaps quietly interested is a better descriptor in this instance).

Curated by the New York–based collective DIS, the term “post-internet” was plastered all over the biennial — with accompanying tut-tuts and eye-rolls — long before it even opened. DIS are known not as curators, but rather, as cultural producers who founded a digital publication in 2010. Their thesis looks directly to the present for its theme, seeking to materialize our all-pervasive digital condition — warts and all. They describe in the following terms their interest in the paradoxes that increasingly make up the world: “the virtual as the real, nations as brands, people as data, culture as capital, wellness as politics, happiness as GDP.” DIS aims to decipher meaning amid this climate by commissioning a number of artists who use strategies of advertising, branding and marketing in their work, emulating the qualities of corporations in a world intent on commercialism and the AR dematerialization of the human.

Encompassing five venues, art as a category of consumerism and cultural production spread throughout the city. Set within the ADK, a building that feels like a corporate headquarters made of glass and steel, Anna Uddenberg’s Transit Mode – Abenteuer (2014–16) saw wigged figures bent over to selfie-stick their asses; others comprised contorted torsos atop suitcases, a half-woman, half-traveler hybrid. With pert under-boob on display and glittering belly rings, these creatures oozed sex with their subjectivity sitting somewhere between porn star, yoga instructor and luggage store. At a moment in time when domestic travel is cheap and labor is globally circulated, Uddenberg responds with faceless, hyper-sexualized moveable cases — fill us with whatever you want — seemingly highlighting the ironic lack of any real identity or individuation allowed by this system.

Christopher Kulendran Thomas’s New Eelam (2016) asks how citizenship might be approached in an age when we travel incessantly and technology has accelerated our dislocation. Founding a real startup that provides access to apartments globally for a monthly subscription fee, he envisions a new form of boundary-less citizenship and collective homeownership. Presented as a promotional video embedded within a corporate environment curated by Annika Kuhlmann, Kulendran Thomas references the socio-economic systems proposed by, firstly, the defeated neo-Marxist Tamil Sri Lankan struggle, and secondly, Amazon, which has experienced an exponential rise to power and influence. Against this historical backdrop, he describes a global housing subscription that would function through an app, just like Uber or Airbnb — both of which have respectively transformed the taxi and hotel markets. So why not apply this logic to the housing market also, at a moment in time when people are stuck within a binary system of renting or buying (the latter available to a privileged few only)?

Leaving Sri Lanka as a child as the result of the civil war, the artist’s practice consistently references his country’s changing socio-economic structures and how this has impacted its people. With New Eelam, he widens the conversation to address a global platform; yet the degree to which his vision provides a useful alternative to the existing system is debatable. In prohibitively expensive cities, the housing market renders renters powerless and at the mercy of sky-high costs; so, yes, we need another option to prevent dynamic cities becoming homogenous spaces for a wealthy elite. Kulendran Thomas’ project could either provide an emancipatory and radical vision for all, or just another option for the wealthy few who already travel regularly.

Deborah Delmar Corp. created a juice bar, selling a green concoction called MINT. Pitting aspirational health food trends against the global fruit trade, her concurrent exhibition at Duve, “Headquarters,” realizes the HQ of the corporation and critiques the conflict of interest between the health of the individual and the planet.

Perhaps the most poignant works at the biennial were presented by Jon Rafman and Cécile B. Evans. Rafman’s View of Pariser Platz (2016) presented an Oculus Rift headset upon the balcony of the ADK. Initially reproducing the exact view from the balcony — including his sculptures such as his L’Avalée des avelés (The Swallower Swallowed) Rhino/Bear (2016), in which a rhino seemingly vomits or ingests a giant bear in an ouroboros cycle — this gives way to a hallucinatory vision of pavement-cracking, fog-swirling, animal-swelling mayhem, within which the viewer is implicated.

Meanwhile, Evans’s immersive video installation What the Heart Wants (2016) considers what constitutes a person in the digital age — machines being the intermediary that shapes us. In a large-scale underground gallery space, disembodied ears float about onscreen, while people remember a world of real bodies disposed of at the expense of our psychological stability.

The 9th Berlin Biennale — bb9 — shares its acronym with the long-running reality television show Big Brother. When this was first screened over fifteen years ago, the ability to observe the lives of others in a seemingly transparent way seemed revolutionary. Today, this reality television space has become hyperactive; we can constantly see into the lives of others through the Internet and social media platforms; everything is geared toward visibility and the selling of oneself. We are brands marketing ourselves to the world.

At a moment when Trump could feasibly be president, Brexit is on the horizon, the war in Syria continues to rage and refugees drown in the Mediterranean, we also navigate a disturbingly contrary space of popular culture: Bieber is king regardless of whether he is sued for plagiarism, and every tourist site is a selfie-stick opportunity. DIS taps into this zeitgeist, where human atrocities are ignored in favor of solipsistic trivialities. Some have seen this as a celebration of this present moment of spectatorship, a reinforcement of this value system. DIS are simply giving a physical body to the problems of the present, materializing these heinous superficialities to highlight the urgency of our current situation. Arguably, this is irresponsible, given the critical overtones that could and should have accompanied this form of content. Overall, the biennial feels shallow during a deeply complex time, imitating rather than holding the system to account.

by Louisa Elderton

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Waiting for the Barbarians EVA International / Limerick

Ireland’s biennial has been in existence since 1977. This year’s iteration includes more than fifty-seven international artists and is curated by the Senegal-based Koyo Kouoh.

Marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, “Still (the) Barbarians” — titled after the poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” by the Greek writer C.P. Cavafy — investigates the postcolonial condition of Ireland, reflecting on how postcolonialism continues to shape our present sociopolitical, cultural and environmental condition. References to enduring systems of exclusion and exploitation recur throughout the biennale.

The exhibition is spread throughout the city, with two main concentrations in the Limerick City Gallery of Art and Cleeve’s Condensed Milk Factory. The latter features a vast array of video work, sequential dark and cold rooms illuminated with moving images. Arguably the most powerful work within this section is Public Studio’s six-channel video installation Road Movie (2015). Three large screens stand in the center of the space as an imposing wall, carving the room into two sections. Portraying visual aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict, footage depicts houses, tree-lined roads, motorways and walls dividing the region. Imagery on either side of the wall differs, thus reproducing a feeling of segregation. Sound echoes throughout the vast room with voices that state: “It’s actually an existential war of Israel against Islam” and “the army refuses use of the roads.” The sociopolitical ramifications of Israel’s declaration of statehood in the postwar period of 1948 are depicted with affective strength.

A dystopian virtual reality is described in Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s digital video Finding Fanon1 & 2 (both 2015) — named after Frantz Fanon, a Martinique-born Afro-Caribbean philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose works are influential in the field of postcolonial studies. Two suited characters run searchingly through city docklands and concrete streets. The consolidation of wealth overshadows any potential for revolution in this digital creation, where people are described as spending their lives embedded in the “master’s plans.”

Also in the Milk Factory is Irish artist Alan Phelan’s Casement (2016), which directly addresses Ireland’s own political history, referring to the life of Roger Casement, an Anglo-Irish worker for the British Colonial Service. Knighted for his reporting on human-rights issues in Congo and Peru, he later heralded the republican cause before being executed as a result of the rising.

The quantification and analysis of acts of terrorism is the main focus of Eric Baudelaire’s FRMAWREOK FAMREWROK FRMWRAOEK FMRAEOWRK FWRREOMAKFEARMOWRK FORAMRWEK FWMAOERRKFOMARERWK FEMORWARK FMRWREAOK (2016). A wallpaper installation that stretches down an endlessly long partition, its monotone gray rectangles recall the refined language of Minimalism. The rectangles are text boxes that reproduce facsimiles of graphs, charts and data lists recording, for example, annual fatalities from Palestinian terrorism from 1978 to 1998 or international terrorist incidents and casualties from 1988 to 2003. The overwhelming mass of numbers and information dissolves into simple quadrilaterals amid an endless stream of data.

At the Limerick City Gallery of Art, immigration and the refugee crisis are a recurring reference. Mary Evan’s craft paper installation Thousands are Sailing (2016) depicts the faceless silhouettes of people in boats, moving toward nowhere to confront an uncertain future. Within the same room, Hera Büyüktasciyan’s Destroy Your Home, Build up a Boat, Save Life! (2014–15) contains rolled rugs bound together upon a wooden structure, unraveling and coming apart at the seams.

Perhaps most powerful is Philip Aguirre y Otegui’s Cabinet Mare Nostrum (2016), an installation in which blue coffin-shaped boats have been painted upon the wall, echoing and consuming the shape of the Mediterranean Sea. Drawings denoting the mass movement of people from Africa and the Middle East are presented in glass vitrines: silhouettes of people behind wire fences acting as portraits of a world in crisis.

Across the river in a freestanding mid-nineteenth-century building called The Sailor’s House, American-Korean artist Michael Joo intervened with the structure itself to present This beautiful stripped wreckage (which we investigate) (2016). Formerly a hostel for sailors, the artist approached the disused space as a corpus or body in its own right: one that needed piecing back together. With bare brick walls stripped to their most basic elements, Joo encountered a mass of timber in the barren back yard. Meticulously investigating this matter, he salvaged the building’s decaying wooden door and window frames, painstakingly piecing them back together and reinstalling them so that they hung just inches in front of their original sites, suspended on metal wires or pins.

The biennial weaves together complex and problematic histories of postcolonialism to bravely confront the humanitarian atrocities occurring in the world today. Many of these are happening on our doorsteps and within our Mediterranean seas, as people look for a route out of war-torn territories where extremist groups have prospered.

by Louisa Elderton

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