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a good neighbour / 15th Istanbul Biennial

Curated for the first time by two artists, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, the fifteenth Istanbul Biennial may surprise those who expected a radical project — one grounded in the theatrical and humorous approach to institutional critique that has characterized the duo’s most accomplished interventions since the mid-1990s, such as opening a fake Prada store in the desert outside Marfa (Prada Marfa, 2005), or the staging of a play in which the actors are all notable twentieth-century sculptures (Drama Queens, 2007).

That is precisely the direction that Elmgreen & Dragset’s previous curatorial endeavors have followed: engaged to work on the Danish and Nordic pavilions at the 2009 Venice Biennale, the two transformed them into perfectly reconstructed domestic spaces, orchestrating, with their very recognizable imprint, the participation of another twenty-three artists and designers, each one of whom contributed to the hyperrealist mise-en-scène.

In Istanbul, instead, the duo have opted for a lighter touch: the exhibition is free of curatorial tricks, of a rigid and programmatic layout; it is spare, sincere, unburdened by theoretical superstructures. Even to a fault.

Grouped under the title “a good neighbour” — suggesting themes of home and proximity but also cohabitation, privacy and fear of the other — are works by fifty-six artists, thirty of which are new productions. Unlike the previous Biennial curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, which was spread across the city, including various hard-to-reach places, this edition is restricted to only six neighboring locations and can be visited without any particular exertion, taking one’s time with the works.

Some of these are notable: a mural by Latifa Echakhch, featuring the figures of protesters (reminiscent of Gezi Park’s demonstrators), that appears as though already corroded by time, on the verge of fading away; an installation by Lydia Ourahmane, with a live trumpet solo performed on the concrete frame structure of a house under construction, as a commentary on the environmental and social degradation of her native Algeria; a video by Erkan Özgen, showing a deaf-mute boy miming the Siege of Kobanî from which he’s escaped; or Alper Aydin’s installation, in which a bulldozer blade pushes branches and bits of chopped-down tree trunks in the corner of the gallery (another echo of Gezi, and of environmentalism as a metaphor for the struggle for human freedom). Monica Bonvicini’s Hausfrau Swinging, a 1997 video installation, is still incredibly current, especially in a country that is returning to discussions of whether a woman’s place is not in the home, and where domestic violence is on the rise.

Though the works just described might suggest otherwise, the Biennale’s references to Turkey’s current historical and political moment are never overt — a fact for which the curators have been criticized, as they have agreed to work on a large public event (albeit one organized by a private foundation, the IKSV) in a country where freedom of speech is increasingly restricted. In fact, subtle messages of dissent but also hope are disseminated throughout the programming. For example, as Elmgreen & Dragset told, in the choice to show Lee Miller’s photographs taken after the fall of Hitler — already seen at Documenta 13 — or to exhibit works by Liliana Maresca, the Argentinian artist who passed away in 1994, linked to the political events surrounding Argentina’s return to democracy in the 1980s. Pedro Gómez-Egaña’s large installation, which shows a secret, underground life taking place beneath the apparent order and decorum of a bourgeois interior, aptly expresses the state of the cultural scene in today’s Turkey (and wherever freedom is not guaranteed) as well as its determination to continue survive. Yet the most significant reflection prompted by the Biennial is of a universal nature, embedded in the deep wound that our era of walls, exclusions and social divisions has inflicted on the very concept of humanity. Choosing a theme of propinquity, coexistence, closeness, appears in this context like an invitation to take an interest in others, to look at and participate in lives taking place next to but also very far from our own.

A rather stark contrast to this minimalist but empathetic Biennial is offered by the sparkling Contemporary Istanbul fair, which coincided with the days of the Biennial’s opening. The co-presence of the two events, in addition to a healthy program of openings in public and private spaces, signaled that the energy — not least economic — which had made Istanbul one of the most animated cities of the international art scene is anything but extinguished. The fair, this year in its twelfth edition and headed by a new director, the London-based collector and curator Kamiar Maleki, is constantly improving in terms of both presence and quality; nonetheless, it still bears witness to the almost complete scission between the market-driven tastes represented by the fair and the conceptual radicality and aesthetic sophistication that the Biennial has been bringing to the city for thirty years — and that the best Turkish art amply incarnates.

by Cristiana Perrella

(Translated from Italian by Tijana Mamula)
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The New Spirit of New York Fashion Week

Change was welcomed this season by the New York Fashion Week press. As heavyweights Rodarte, Proenza Schouler, Thom Browne and Joseph Altuzarra left for Paris, critics such as Cathy Horyn and Anna Wintour amped up fervor for the new designer vanguard.

One could argue that this acknowledgment of emerging voices seemed delayed considering the city has been producing a cohort of young art-aligned designers since the early DIS magazine moment. Nevertheless, now that these fringe labels are gaining establishment recognition, do we need to reassess their unorthodoxy?

Is it right to analogize “emerging” with “experimental”? Eckhaus Latta, who have been designing since 2011, received accolades from Vogue for the “buzzy brand’s most coherent and accomplished collection yet.” Refinement in Vogue terms generally translates as greater buyer applicability. The label, known for an aesthetic of undoing (seams, hems, bodily fragmentation), produced their most done-up collection yet, rehashing their previous styles with less risk; look two could’ve been cut out from a COS collection. Yet unremitting is their notoriety for casting a slew of non-models — the S/S ’18 protagonist being the pregnant artist Maia Ruth Lee — rehearsing their position as a networked community of creatives.

Shayne Oliver’s relaunch of Helmut Lang was one of the most awaited shows of the week, bustling with industry professionals and an effervescent H.B.A. crowd. Since Lang’s departure in 2005, the label has operated in purgatory, producing one forgettable collection after another. Oliver dramatically upheaved the house with new fetishistic verve, one with harnesses and cock rings. It will be this verve, though, that will distance some. The brazen sloganeering that renders everything Supreme™ certainly won’t impress the essentialist Helmut Lang believers.

Telfar was one of the most provocative moments of the week, not because the designer delivered spectacle but instead thanks to his ongoing twelve-year-plus study of uniformity. Unlike other runway shows that entertained the appeal of gender fluidity through casting, Telfar Clemen’s societal investigations are grounded in what constructs a universal unisex. How does the ubiquity of the polo shirt function across gender and class? How do uniforms circumvent the temporality of themes? These are thoroughly interesting questions — questions that have placed him as a finalist for this year’s CFDA award. He also revealed the outfit he designed for the hamburger chain White Castle with the statement, “1 look on 12,000 models.” Vogue quotes him: “I want people to aspire to wear the same thing that the person serving them is wearing and to actually meet them.” An inventive proposal that expands the role of the fashion designer into new anthropological terrain.

What about the other fringe designers outside the aforementioned big three? One condition that seems to unify the new spirit of emerging design is the speed at which it can travel from the margins to the center. Learning how to work within the widening attention economy, young labels can seize global visibility through the quick assemblage of image-ready design. VFILES is good example of this system, which values the impact of the image in obvious design one-liners and gimmicks, and in doing so extracting the gains of social-media metrics. And despite Vogue’s Nick Remsen’s often scathing reviews of the cheap VFILESification of fashion, its traction can be demonstrated via the machine of clickbait fashion press, epitomized by i-D and Dazed. Within this schema of data aggregation, labels must be elementary.

Jacquemus’s influence cannot be understated here. Exaggerated silhouettes with a macro, uncomplicated design approach, appropriate for the consumption of the four-sided frame, can be seen across the likes of Vaquera, Matthew Adams Dolan and Luar. These clothes offer the quick gag of a giant sleeve or a floppy tie. Then again, at least these designers understand how to pull off clowning. The witless new collection of Adam Selman, who declares that “fashion should be fun and bold,” culminates as a banal denim and gingham Topshop spinoff series. Lou Dallas offered a nice reprieve from the macro approach with misadventures in woodland crafts. The designer’s use of dead stock fabrics, while a material practice, operated more as a conceptual gesture to remind us the lived process of cloth. The collection, presented at Bridget Donahue, felt like an exciting technical upgrade from her previous shows.

Is it crass to reference Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski’s endlessly referenced text The New Spirit of Capitalism? Then again, we’re dealing with a particularly crass fashion, one deemed bohemian through the use of non-models and gimmick virality. If emerging designers want to pursue experimentation, no longer can they simply work against standardized silhouettes; the challenge now is to frustrate the attention economy through which fashion at large is standardized.

by Matthew Linde

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Volcano Extravaganza 2017 / Naples, Stromboli

At a summer home tucked a stone’s throw away from the island’s humble center, Stromboli, Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece, is projected every night, regardless of how many people show up to watch. The venue is the very same location where the radiant Ingrid Bergman stayed during the film’s production — the love nest where she would allegedly meet with Rossellini for late-night rendezvous.

Perhaps this daily ritual keeps the memory of the film alive — a film that massively iconized a vivid Strombolian imagination. As Gilles Deleuze theorizes in Difference and Repetition (Columbia University Press, New York, 1994), it is the act of repetition that reveals the core essence of the subject at hand. It also generates difference whereby every iteration produces a different experience for the subject that bears witness to it: on the one hand, a fixed structure given by the soundness of essence; on the other, the mobility of subjective interpretation.

This discussion around Rossellini’s film could be extended to Volcano Extravaganza 2017, the summertime contemporary arts festival organized by Fiorucci Art Trust. Curated by director Milovan Farronato, the festival has been colonizing the dreamy Aeolian island for seven years now. In partnership with UK music enterprise The Vinyl Factory, the 2017 edition made its way to Naples, too.

This year’s “artistic leader” Eddie Peake presents “a constellation of performative acts” under the rubric “I Polpi” (The Octopuses), which collectively explore the body, its limits and its excesses; in addition to performances it includes site-specific murals in the Fiorucci Art Trust Stromboli location.

Peake, a British artist who graduated from the Royal Academy, explores themes of sexuality, language and self-portraiture. Less frequently, he focuses on reenactment and repetition (and therefore difference) — concepts that, by destructuring the notion of “variations on a theme,” make up the backbone of “I Polpi.”

In music, a variation on a theme is a relatively simple structure based on a melody presented in its original form and then successively reconsidered through variations. In “I Polpi,” Peake applies this strategy to his new performance To Corpse. In theater slang, “to corpse” means to involuntarily break character by hysterically laughing. He appropriates the term by making it the title of a series of five performances in which five dancers interpret his choreography for twenty minutes or so. The choreography itself is the weft, or at least the fixed motif across all five acts. The warp is much more complex; Peake invites musicians, artists and poets to propose their own drastically altered interpretations. The space, too, transforms each time across the astonishing backdrops of Naples and Stromboli.

July 13, 2017

Animals (a reenactment of the 2012 performance Touch) is the first performance, a thirty-minute, five-on-a-side soccer game set in The Morra Foundation’s courtyard. With the exception of cleats and socks, the players are nude and play head to head on a makeshift court. The initial eroticism of the active male musculature is quickly desensitized and transformed into a candid nudity, similar to that found in a locker room. The light just before dusk warmly kisses this unconventional stadium as the audience wildly boos and cheers — a scene that is a nod to an Italian stereotype. The game is a tie, 7-7.

July 14, 2017

Variation 1 of To Corpse unfolds with electronic musician Actress in the courtyard of the Naples museum MADRE. Five dancers squeezed into white bodysuits perform an alien choreography that evokes sex, clandestine desire, violent impulses, hatred, infatuation and love. Actress’s music supplies a cosmic dimension.

The second variation takes place hours later in the picturesque setting of San Giuseppe delle Scalze, an abandoned (yet not deconsecrated) church from the seventeenth century. An ethereal atmosphere is amplified by Gwilym Gold’s mystical music. The performers, dressed entirely in black and sporting white Reeboks, evoke priests born of some profane religion. Their spontaneous Dionysian gestures transcend space.

The third episode is performed during sunset at Solfatara, a shallow volcanic crater where jets of sulfurous steam are lauded for their miraculous healing properties. Poet Holly Pester accompanies the choreography with an absurd tale about an affective disease that torments with distance and solitude. “I’m tired, I’ve lost the revolution,” she repeats in resignation.

July 15, 2017

The rhythm relaxes on the SNAV ferry bound to Stromboli with the 2005 performance Fox, a work created by Peake and Sam Hacking during their time at the Slade School of Fine Arts. A performer dressed in a fox suit is positioned in front of the boat’s bar. A second performer joins in, liberating the first performer from the mask and taking on the role of the fervent fox. The second performer then gives the first performer his clothes via a stuffy swap that takes place inside the costume. Finally dressed, the first performer can now remove the fox mask while dressed in the borrowed clothes. This act is repeated four times in total.

Next, a 2016 performance by Peake and dancer Emma Fisher, titled The Megaphone Duet, is staged on the Scari pier in Stromboli. Dressed in a black bodysuit, Fisher attempts to dance under the guidance of Peake’s stern gaze until Peake takes the microphone and interjects: “I love to watch you perform, move and dance. Do you love me?” In response, Fisher approaches him and hysterically screams, “No fucking way.” She proceeds to slap Peake in the face and then quickly embrace him. A power dynamic is evident, like the relationship between master and student — or perhaps a case of Stockholm Syndrome.

July 16, 2017

Peake’s bodies are pervaded by a reforming frenzy and a violent frailty. The epidermal surface is the site of clash and reconciliation, of internal and external conflict. The experience of each variation is fully shaped by the music and the spirit of the setting.

Variation 4 of To Corpse is held at Club Megà in Stromboli around midnight. Evan Ifekoya and Victoria Sin’s music accompany the five performers, who are now completely nude and covered in shimmering gold powder. The performance is vigorous, alternating between erotic moments and thematic undertones of vice and excess — a stark contrast to the next performance.

The fifth and final variation is set on the shoreline. There is no music this time; the only audible rhythm is the island’s soundscape. Waves lapping at the shore caress the silent choreography. The dancers’ figures are silhouetted by the dawn sky, bringing the performance to a silent, static coda marked by the closing curtain of a oncoming storm.

by Giulia Gregnanin

(Translated from Italian by Bana Bissat)
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Learning from Athens Documenta 14 / Kassel

Is Greece a metaphor? Two months after the opening of Documenta 14 in Athens, the Kassel edition followed with the still-unanswered question of what we learn, have learned, are learning from Athens. It figures a lossy, allegorical Greece: a field in which critical narratives about global dispossession, austerity, migration, historical democracy, historical fascism and cultural production might alternately be thought through and acted out.

In a recent interview in art-agenda, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis noted the exhibition’s simultaneity with the liquidation of Greek national assets (“fourteen regional airports, extremely lucrative ones as Santorini, Mykonos, and so on”) in a sale to the German-state-owned Fraport. One can imagine that the revenue these airports generate, which previously might have been directed to the Greek public services rendered moribund under austerity, now contribute to the wealth of the German state, whose funds, in turn, have brought Documenta to Athens.

What does it mean for a lender to learn from a debtor? In a 2016 issue of C Magazine (in a text unrelated to the exhibition), Candice Hopkins, one of Documenta 14’s team of curators, considers the relationship between learning and power: “‘Pedagogy’ stems from the Greek, paidagōgos, which denotes ‘a slave who accompanied a child to school.’ Perhaps paidagōgos implies learning from the dispossessed (although clearly those doing the teaching had little choice in the matter).”

What one expects an exhibition to do — and what collusions with instruments of repressive power one accepts as normal in the name of discourse — likely depends on what one understands an exhibition’s value to be. Some see an inherent value in exhibitions and their making, while others don’t. Documenta 14’s most visually iconic work, Marta Minujín’s Parthenon of Books (2017), is a re-creation of a monumental work originally erected in Buenos Aires in 1983: a to-scale replica of the Parthenon, rendered in metal scaffolding and filled with books. The Buenos Aires version used banned books excavated from the storage of the just-deposed Argentinian military junta; the Kassel version uses books banned in other contexts. Facing it to the north is Banu Cennetoğlu’s BEINGSAFEISSCARY (2017), a text installation whose title replaces the name of the Fridericianum on the building’s facade, reproducing its distinctive lettering; the phrase is borrowed from Athens graffiti. Facing the Parthenon of Books to the south is a temporary Polizei station marked with Documenta signage. Though “being safe is scary” reads, in an art context, as a platitude about the threat of hegemonic culture, the presence of Documenta-branded art cops brought to mind unintended resonances between the repressive state, the politics of public safety, and contemporary art’s structural relationship to the verboten (both real and imagined).

My own learning at Documenta began among the works of Lorenza Böttner, whose paintings, drawings and photographs are presented in the Neue Galerie alongside archival materials documenting the armless transgender artist’s life and practice, which seems to have otherwise had few public presentations following her death in 1994. A framed photograph documents one of Lorenza’s public performances of painting: standing on the sidewalk, she uses her feet to paint a canvas in front of a few onlookers, marrying the aesthetic figuration of the painting with the labor of its making, a political act insofar as the fact of Lorenza’s body itself is political. Other works trade in the malleability of gender and its markers: in a few series of black-and-white portraits, Lorenza’s face and hair are subject to transformations in style, fluidly borrowing from the masculine, the feminine, the elaborate and the peculiar. In a drawing on paper, Lorenza’s body is rendered in two vertical halves, split along the gender binary, with each side styled differently. The central piece in the small installation dedicated to Lorenza’s work is a large painting dated 1985, in which Lorenza, seated, cradles a baby in her lap, feeding it with a bottle she holds in the crook of her neck. Alongside Lorenza’s self-imaging of a disabled, gender-nonconforming body as vital, autonomous, expressive and erotic, this central portrait of the artist as a vision of care and social reproduction reads like the freedom to choose what one’s body means.

Installed in one of the exhibition’s glass pavilions on Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse, Vivian Suter’s Nysiros (Vivian’s Bed) (2016–17) stages hanging sheets of painted, unstretched canvas, a surfeit of colorful, ordinary pleasures. A central wooden bed within the installation is made up with sheets of painted canvas, with additional paintings stacked underneath. Vivian’s Bed reminds me of that of Jean Rhys: the British-Caribbean writer who, near to the end of her life, poor and obscure and sick with alcoholism in the British countryside, lived with what would make up the manuscript to her best-known novel, Wild Sargasso Sea (1966), in a pile under her bed. The image of the genius female invalid — and its attendant fluidity between waking, sleeping and working — is one that forgoes the preciousness (and the implicit gendered and classed stratifications) of distancing cultural production from the domestic and that, for all its other sadnesses, seems to bear a measure of private freedom.

The possibility of private freedom also figures in Rosalind Nashashibi’s video Vivian’s Garden (2017), of which Vivian Suter herself is the subject. On view in the Naturkundemuseum, it’s a short, affective portrait of Suter and her ninety-five-year-old mother, Elisabeth Wild, and the house they share in Panajachel, Guatemala. Nashashibi catalogues routine intimacies, adjacent to art practice, in the course of Suter and Wild’s days. Suter scratches paint over canvas, carries a framed panel through the jungle. In a wheelchair, Wild makes collages from paper and magazine clippings. They discuss Suter’s former husband: “You changed your life, you got rid of your husband”; “He was scary”; “He changed several times.” Nashashibi soundtracks the video’s end with a pop song, Sébastien Tellier’s L’amour et la violence (2008), and there’s a pleasure in both how incongruously cheesy it is while nonetheless making the story feel big. At Neue Galerie, a room is dedicated to a selection of Wild’s small, framed paper collages — architectural, graphic, poppy and bright.

These moments were, for me, among Documenta’s best. Other works bear mentioning: Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens’s Ecosex Walking Tour, which invited participants to take part in a commitment ceremony to the earth, and to visit the planetary clitoris, conveniently located in Kassel; Pope.L’s Whispering Campaign (2016–17), whose materials are listed as “Nation, people, sentiment, language, time”; Miriam Cahn’s wondrous, violent dreamscape nudes; and Gordon Hookey’s MURRILAND! (2016), a monumental history painting, rich with literary slippages, narrating the violent colonial foundation of the Australian state. It’s difficult to see these works subsumed into a project in which Greece is positioned as a nebulous other, to which anything — and especially any kind of marginalized identity — might be compared. On a bad day I would say that trafficking in inadequate metaphors is not a failure of the art system but rather its most reliable work, of which this year’s Documenta is an ordinary example. From Athens, we might learn that everything is either the same or it is different.

by Tess Edmonson

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Fuori Biennale / 57th Venice Biennale

Hanging from the vestibule of the Central Pavilion, and disrupting the white rationality of the entry colonnade, is Sam Gilliam’s Yves Klein Blue (2015). Its soft and colorful draping adorns a cheerfully carefree biennial, devoted to a Eurocentric joie de vivre.

Indeed, according to Christine Macel, art is a space that allows an escape from the present political turmoil, to reflect on the self and restart from the subject (a notion the curator defines as “neo-humanism”). “Viva Arte Viva” declares the defeat of art as an engine of transformation, offering instead a retreat into an autopoietic imaginative universe. To mark the border between interior and exterior and to underline the division between political and artistic realms are Gilliam’s polychrome banners. The flag represents a rejection of the present and a reaction to the past — more precisely, to Okwui Enwezor’s biennale and to Oscar Murillo’s black flags, which in 2015 were located in the same position as Gilliam’s work. But can a signal flag completely exclude today’s injuries, tragedies and emergencies? Is it enough to furl the previous standard and put an end to a discourse regarding, in this case, art as a tool for an ideal, for tangible regeneration?

In Laguna there are several examples of exhibitions able to capture the uninterrupted process of contestation and renegotiation. “Space Force Construction” is presented by V-A-C Foundation — a Moscow-based foundation opened in 2009 by Leonid Mikhelson, dedicated to the promotion and study of Russian art — in their new Venetian space at Palazzo delle Zattere. The exhibition deals elegantly with the relationship between political ideals and artistic utopias, proposing a dialogue between a hundred works of the Bolshevik period and others by contemporary artists including Wolfgang Tillmans, Tania Bruguera, Barbara Kruger, Cao Fei, Christian Nyampeta, and Irina Korina. The setup plays with scenography, reenacting historical installations (El Lissitzky’s Room for Constructive Art, 1926) or works never realized (Gustav Klutsis’s Design for Loudspeaker from 1922, preserved in a series of drawings by the artist) in a masterful balance between reality and fiction.

Another show that exploits the theatrical apparatus is Fondazione Prada’s “The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied” at Ca’ Corner della Regina. The exhibition questions the very condition of the image, taken to its limit, to a place where reality and deception blur. Artist Thomas Demand, director Alexander Kluge and set designer Anna Viebrock pool their expertise, crafts and visions into a total work of art: an expanded carillon that drives the viewer into a labyrinthine reflection on our era of post-truth media.

Macel has repeatedly described “Viva Arte Viva” as a hymn to creation. The curator’s balanced, harmonious tune and clean musicality tend not to correspond with today’s distortion and asynchrony — as the collateral events by Samson Young for Hong Kong and James Richards for Wales demonstrate. In his site-specific “Songs for a Disaster Relief” project, Young appropriates a number of hit singles created for charity, redeploying and distorting them to describe the absurdity of a pop culture unable to get to the root of the issues it purports to address. Richards offers an immersive experience: a reflection on an inner landscape accessed by rites of initiation, here via a sampling of sounds for the spaces of the church of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice.

Shirin Neshat’s film Roja (2016) uses an alter ego to conjure surrealistic visions of the fear of the other and the desire to reattach to one’s homeland. This may be the most powerful work in her exhibition at Museo Correr, one of a larger constellation of monographic shows in Venice that includes the Italians Alighiero Boetti, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Ettore Sottsass, Marzia Migliora and Yuri Ancarani, as well as Marina Abramović, Pierre Huyghe and Philip Guston.

The exhibitions of Boetti and Sottsass are distinguished by the elegance of their settings (reflecting the collaboration with Fondazione Cini), while the shows by Migliora and Ancarani at Palazzo Ca’ Rezzonico and Café Florian respectively testify to the vitality of a mid-career Italian generation whose practices and areas of research are being constantly redefined.

The Philip Guston retrospective at Gallerie dell’Accademia frames the artist’s production within the literary and poetic milieu that surrounded him: from Lawrence, Yeats and Eliot to Stevens and Montale.

Palazzo Fortuny’s exhibition “Intuition” shares the Macellian discourse of the artist-shaman for whom creation is an uncontrollable act. The show is ambitious for the sheer number of artists included and the complexity of the installation; it presents works with a primigenial strength, such as Gilles Delmas and Damien Jalet’s video The Ferryman (Le passeur des lieux) (2016). Unfortunately the pieces are not always integrated within the whole, partly due to the building’s storied stratification.

Returning to Gilliam’s banners, their presence had the effect of highlighting the distance between the anesthetizing veneer of the biennale and the genuinely reformational spirit of the external exhibitions. This latter tendency is especially marked in the interventions proposed by countries whose freedoms are restricted, and by communities seeking independence or international recognition. A case in point is Taiwan, whose exhibition “Doing Time” at Palazzo delle Prigioni presents a small sampling of work by Tehching Hsieh, an artist whose envelope-pushing One Year Performances are always framed by a set of strictly self-imposed rules. Likewise, the project for the Native American pavilion, titled “Indian Water,” is conceived by artists Nicholas Galanin and Oscar Tuazon as a platform for cooperation and dialogue. Over the summer, the pavilion is due to host debates on the subjects of environmental catastrophe, seawater decontamination and global pollution — issues whose gravity has been magnified by Trump’s anti-environmental policies.

Taking a final step inside the Iraqi pavilion at Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, part of the official circuit of national pavilions, one feels ambivalence regarding history –– reunion and rupture, reverence and iconoclasm. Ancient artifacts, saved from looting at the Iraqi National Museum, and recent works, are displayed in showcases, reiterating both a distance between the work of art and the flow of life and the requirement for protection of the artistic object. At the end of the hall one encounters Untitled, Mosul, Iraq, 31 Oct 2016 (2017) by Francis Alÿs. This video, shot in the city of Mosul, films a hand that soaks a brush in a palette of ocher, earth and beige colors. With quick and determined gestures the artist tries to portray the Kurdish Peshmerga and the tanks that appear in the background. At a certain point the hand grabs a rag, scrapes off the painting and the action starts from the beginning.

It seems that the faceless author attempts to render an image both attuned to the situation and infinitely failing. This is because the world cannot be fixed in one form; but that does not mean, as Alÿs asserts, the artist can stop bearing witness.

by Giulia Gregnanin

(Translated from Italian by Alex Estorick)
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Art Athina / Athens

By the second day, the octopus had begun to stink. Exhibiters were grumbling. It lay rotting on the floor, hooked up to a car battery, sweating into the carpet — the work of American artist Tony Hope, shown in the booth of Ashes/Ashes. I was told the piece was meant to suggest the resuscitation of the creature, which, as attested to by the deepening stench, was surely a joke.

Really it would seem the young American sought to dramatize the nightmare of austerity and the doomed fable of reanimation in Greece with a staple of taverna cuisine. By day three, they had swapped the creature out for a fresh one.

Those of us who traveled from abroad to the twenty-second edition of Art Athina, the art fair founded by the Hellenic Art Galleries Association, inevitably read the event against the backdrop of the ongoing Greek crisis, even if that took the form of inert caricature, a dead cephalopod. Much as art fairs are designed to operate in a convention center bubble — a non-place where you are always spitting distance from New York, London, Berlin, Dubai — the Faliro Sports Pavilion Arena doesn’t hide the markings of its history so easily. Built to host taekwondo at the 2004 Olympics — Greece won silver in both men’s heavyweight and women’s middleweight — it has more recently been used for Syriza rallies and to house Syrian refugees. The stadium is part of a vast complex erected for the games, which now bears a distinctly neglected feeling — a contemporary ruin by the port of Piraeus. Lacerations and fixes make a patchwork of the temporary fencing around the grounds. I’m told that the government forbade any changes, improvements or even painting inside. The retractable stadium seating, stacked high against the walls, loomed over the booths, huge swaths of thinning dark cloth blacked out the windows, and small signs of entropy were everywhere.

The history of Art Athina itself was, in a way, inescapable as well. Founded in 1993, the fair has been marked by periodic scandal and corruption and has undergone a number of changes in direction. This year is the latest reboot, with a new director, Stamatia Dimitrakopoulos, brought in just three months before the opening and charged with, among other things, attracting more international participation to the fair, which has generally been exclusively Greek in focus. I learned that this is the fourth such peripeteia, in a section called Survey, a fascinating thumbnail exhibition documenting the institutional history of Art Athina through ephemera, newspaper clippings and a selection of works that had appeared in earlier editions. It posed the question of how to tell this history when faced with years of mismanagement and the failure to preserve materials and documentation. Among the works on display was Eva Stefani’s video installation National Anthem (2007), which combines pornographic images with the Greek national anthem, and which was confiscated from the fair in 2007 and led to the arrest of the director.

Across the rest of the curated parallel program you could trace a set of themes — distance and locality, Greece and the world. There was a tribute to Greek artist Jannis Kounellis, a key figure in Arte Povera who died earlier this year, focusing on his 1994 exhibition on a cargo ship in the port of Piraeus. It featured Heinz-Peter Schwerfel’s film Frammenti di un diario (1996), which follows Kounellis around Europe, folding his travels and the exhibition in the harbor into a kind of fictional diary. A video section, curated by Alexander Burenkov, presented a selection of works dealing with surveillance, precarity and interconnectivity, installed in a replica of Edward Snowden’s hotel room at the Mira Hong Kong. All of this was up on a large balcony overlooking the stadium floor.

Below, the game was, to state the obvious, one of sales. I heard rumors of who did well and who did not, but I wasn’t keeping score. The key dynamic that emerged as you moved down the rows of booths was one that grew out of this latest revision to Art Athina, the efforts to transform it from provincial art fair to something a little more global. Greek galleries predominated, rounded out by a handful from elsewhere in Europe and the United States. I was unfamiliar with nearly all of the work shown in the Greek booths, and it ran the gamut from lovely to kitsch. Painter Sofia Stevi’s booth with the Breeder offered an exhilarating moment in the sometimes-stifling arena, and AD Gallery had up a beautiful piece from Bia Davou’s Serial Structures 2 (1981), colorful threads woven vertically into a narrow strip of unstretched canvas, a craft translation of the rhythms of The Odyssey. Fascinating in its own way, however, was to see the work from some of the other Greek galleries, stuff that doesn’t conform to any of the familiar concerns, forms and figures of contemporary art — that is, truly local art — put in dialogue with the shipped-in booths, as in Shana Moulton at Galerie Gregor Staiger and Sophia Al Maria at the Third Line. Lingering over all of this was a question: not whether Art Athina might succeed in becoming a global art fair, nor whether that would, in turn, compromise something of its distinctively Greek character, but rather whether this has all come too late. You hear from gallerists how the fair circuit is becoming increasingly unsustainable; the model is in crisis. We might have another dead octopus on our hands.

by Eli Diner

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