Review /

Arthur Jafa Gavin Brown’s enterprise / New York

There is no such thing as a silent majority. The expression became a popular euphemism for Middle America when Richard Nixon used it to justify the US’s continued military action in Vietnam. Since then, the silent majority has served a heinous political realism—power, as such—but, in the nineteenth century, it conjured an afterlife among the dead.

Against the false universalism of the former, Arthur Jafa’s video Love Is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016) emerges from the latter definition, though it offers a more ecstatic, vital and apocalyptic vision, that of the children of men.

The brief work condenses an incantatory pastiche of black culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And Kanye West’s gospel-like “Ultralight Beam” scores the video, though Jafa affectingly edited the appropriated footage slightly off-tempo from the song. A football player outruns his opponents and James Brown catches his breath; a young woman smiles to the camera and Malcolm X raises his hand. The video collects gestures, intense for their vulnerability. In one segment, a woman staggers in front of an audience, only to play it off as heart-melting poise and swagger. Jafa suspends resolution, developing a cinematic grammar of black identity honed to the bittersweet.

A fine line separates visibility and exposure, and the range of footage heightens the tension between black bodies and our cultural gaze. The video is also a spiritual, and Jafa reinforces a desire for deliverance through kids. Startlingly, a young boy slaps his mother in the face, yelling, “Mommy wake up!” His voice, like his innocence, buckles under his furious entreaty. Throughout the video, Jafa concentrates on the moment of impact, which is profoundly chilling in scenes of police violence. There is no time to prepare for a cop’s running tackle of a woman, and no time to reflect after. The quick editing renders the collision’s brutality visceral.

For Jafa, the task of visibility involves making black identity felt — a theme shared by “Ultralight Beam,” which refers to a divine and redemptive light and, seemingly, ultraviolet light, an invisible frequency that nonetheless penetrates the skin. A blazing sun punctuates the video, at times possessing a placid splendor, at others bursting forth. The video’s abrupt ending is deliberately disenchanting. Suddenly woken from a dream, the threat of the forthcoming administration is utterly pressing, though the black community has already been more intensely burning.

by Sam Korman

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Review /

Peter Wächtler Chisenhale Gallery / London

Peter Wächtler’s Far Out (2016), a four-minute animated cartoon, presents visuals whose deceptive simplicity underscores the work’s narrative complexity. A catchy rock-and-roll tune captures one’s attention in the otherwise dark space.

The animation is projected on a short wall built to divide the gallery in half lengthways, positioned central to its width. Wächtler plays with audience expectations and a somewhat elementary idea of entertainment by constructing the visuals to fit the duration of a rock song.

The film is composed of just thirty-five frames. The artist has described its slightly hypnotic quality as akin to that of a screensaver. A black screen, the distant sound of wolves howling in the night, fades into an almost fixed landscape, where a character in a top hat and tails walks away, his back turned to the viewer, toward a moonlit castle on top of a barren mountain. The Gothic night scene is complete with a full moon, a flock of black bats hovering over the castle and a mysterious light mist. A slow zoom gives the impression that the character is approaching his destination, while his walking remains static.

The backbone of the work is its soundtrack, composed and sung by Wächtler accompanied by up-tempo boogie piano music. The lyrics tell of the opportunities on the road ahead as well as the desire to leave a troubled present behind. They appear in large subtitles on the screen, but as the singing gets increasingly hysterical, the written words start to disassociate themselves from the song and turn into a monologue.

There are moments when the viewer feels addressed directly: “Choose your way and so will I, this road will never ask us why” is the refrain. The choice of cartoon animation opens a space for absurdity — at one point the moon explodes in the sky — as the narration becomes disjointed and unreliable. Caught between carefree excitement and uncertainty, Wächtler’s work is rich with pathos, melancholic and farcical. Like the slurred but insightful speech of a drunken man in a bar who has seen it all, it draws from the outlandish to touch deeper truths about existence.

by Silvia Sgualdini

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Review /

Akram Zaatari Galpão VB / São Paulo

Vila Leopoldina is a former industrial district undergoing verticalization in the form of a series of generic high-rise apartments. It is here that Videobrasil has organized “Tomorrow Everything Will Be Alright,” the first survey of Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari in Brazil.

While the title sounds more like an affirmation of Temer affiliates associating themselves with the recent right-wing coup here, the exhibition itself brings together a number of works that call attention to image-making conditions in the Arab world as well as a certain homoerotic cosmos within it.

On entering the warehouse, viewers are confronted with a timeline of Zaatari’s production. In this antechamber the curators have assembled a series of monitors featuring short documentaries in which the artist contextualizes his practice, commenting on early works such as Teach Me (1996), Crazy of You and All is Well on the Border (both 1997), which he produced while working for Lebanon’s Future TV. Also included are photographic works acquired by the Arab Image Foundation and collated by Zaatari alongside Walid Raad.

Tomorrow Everything Will be Alright (2010) unfolds through a series of miscellaneous filmed images: cars moving through tunnels, a typewritten dialogue between two ex-lovers, the last sunset of the twentieth century. Zaatari interrupts the flow of video installations with a series of sexually explicit, though notably vestigial, drawings, entitled X Tube (2010). Based on found footage of erect phalluses and their penetration of a watermelon, these images are notable for the overt erasure of the male nude’s head. The show concludes with Dance to the End of Love (2011), which reiterates the heterogeneity of Zaatari’s production. Installed in austere fashion, a four-channel video projection juxtaposes the sounds of a synthesizer with found web imagery of men handling arms, performing stunts in SUV vehicles, and muscle-flexing in front of the camera. Away from São Paulo’s downtown queer scene, Zaatari’s work addresses the queer aura of macho stereotypes in unfamiliar surroundings.

by Tobi Maier

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Joachim Bandau Galerie Thomas Fischer / Berlin

Born in Cologne in 1936, Joachim Bandau’s early experiences of war-torn Germany undeniably shaped his later fascination with bunkers as architectural forms. All of the historical drawings of the 1970s and ’80s shown here took inspiration from Paul Virilio’s 1975 book Bunker Archaeology.

In the work (Paul Virilio – Bunker Archéologie) 8.6.1976 (1976), Bandau sketches the thick, solid, modernist forms of these bunkers in heavy graphite, softened by pale pigment washes of his watery coffee. Numerous individual architectural models are depicted upon the page, one after another, their imposing walls and magnificent curves reproduced with taxonomic accuracy. Executed with bold crosshatching to emphasize the curve of the structure, Bunker 19.4.78 (1978) is almost anthropomorphic, its windows appearing as deep-set black eyes resting within a dark helmet, a sinister architectural equivalent to Jacob Epstein’s Rock Drill of the previous war. By contrast, the drawings from the 1980s use essential lines only, and are elegantly worked onto the pages of a British book of lithography from the 1840s. Their thick, creamy appearance adds a soft, gentle quality to structures wallowing in complex pasts.

Elsewhere, a number of the artist’s small-scale bronzes from the 1990s protrude from the walls at different heights. Composed of compact shapes and perforated by window-like indents, works such as 17 (2005) mimic the formal structure of the bunkers themselves (though the artist maintains that these are unrelated). Their simple geometrical forms have a paradoxical lightness suggesting cubic emanations; Thomas Fischer has noted how “they look like they might be part of a bigger piece hiding behind the wall.” While these bold shapes recall Donald Judd’s Minimalism, they seek less the autonomy of the constructed object and more an architectonic delineation of space, as structures with their own social history: shielding, protecting and hiding.

by Louisa Elderton

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Sadie Benning kaufmann repetto / Milan

According to the gallery’s press release these works, all produced this year, explore the complex relationship between the body and the way in which it is defined. This applies to the way Benning’s bodies are framed and manipulated pictorially and to their relationship with her larger body of work, which has consistently problematized the way gender is framed within cultural discourse.

A number of the painted works here incorporate hand-drawn sketches, enlarged in a way that renders the rigid and imposing human figures of the originals delicate and fibrous, especially when swallowed within bands of flat, sometimes sickly, color.

The effect of the overlaid beige sketch pad in works such as Bra People 1 and Excuse Me Ma’am is to emphasize Benning’s uncomfortable amalgamation of different media in a way that accords with the apparent hybridity of the figures themselves. These faded passages, superimposed over fragments of MDF panel, are analogous to Pollock’s Untitled (Cut-Out) (1948) and Out of the Web (1949), whose cut-out areas Michael Fried once described as “blind spots”. In Sun, Soundwaves, Benning indeed replaces the body of the human figure with the bleached “figure” of the sun. But for the most part, her bodies continue the thread of her past video practice with a Pixelvision toy camera, which from the beginning sought to question our social and political blind spots.

In this exhibition, the artist’s colorful webs call to mind childlike experiments with early computer-based painting programs that were contemporary with Pixelvision. In fact, their bold strips and deliberate spools exist somewhere in between the two, the casein in the paint seeming to slow down the frame rate with which we view them. Benning’s paintings stall their subjects between two frames of reference, and in doing so they continue to question our binary ways of thinking.

by Alex Estorick

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Review /

Danh Vō White Cube / Hong Kong

For his first solo exhibition at White Cube in Hong Kong, Danh Vō presented politically charged works in which language and object are always in play. His gestures here are rooted in the leitmotifs of his prior productions, in particular identity and authorship. 

For Vō, a work’s materiality transforms it into something universal. Installed on the ground floor of the gallery, Lick me, Lick me (2016), a Roman marble sculpture on top of a contemporary glass refrigerator containing a wooden head of Jesus, suggested a meditation on the preservation of time. Inside the fridge, imprints of bottles are evident, hinting at a consumerism more openly stated in Untitled (2016), a gold-painted Budweiser box made in Thailand. The interior of the box reveals fragments of the original American flag featuring thirteen stars. These works join a commentary on the allegorical power of objects — indeed, objects as relics — and on the marketplace.

Much of the first floor is dedicated to an installation previously exhibited at the Crystal Palace of the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia in Madrid. With an expansive title too long to reproduce here, based upon lines spoken by the demon in the film The Exorcist (1973), the work consists of over 450 fossilized mammoth fragments suspended from the ceiling. Repeating the monologue to oneself, claustrophobia reigns as fossilized fragments gently encroach upon one’s vision, defining a moment between the birth and extinction of flesh. An ivory figure of Christ dangles among these relics, apparently passing judgment on our illegal trade of resources. The artist here toys with viewers, who are forced into the role of worshippers, examining the installation from below.

Vō is not attempting to intimidate the viewer with his titles, but rather is acknowledging that objects are able to form a relationship with the viewer, and to act on their own behalf.

by Carol Tam

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