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Jala Wahid Seventeen Gallery / London

Jala Wahid doesn’t mess around. Entering this basement gallery-cum-meat storage facility one is met by the jagged profile of a polished black spike, emerging from the wall like the fingernail of an irascible giant. Its title, Final Blade (all works 2017), indicates that this is the end of an earlier line of experimentation with jesmonite, a gypsum-based composite whose flexibility as a material has helped to shape the artist’s particular brand of bodily evisceration.

In No Hold Too Strong — a pair of oversized amputated thighs whose raw waist is treated with smears of red animal fat — a mixture of jesmonite and aluminum produces a dull, matte silver that appears numb to the pain. By contrast, Bare and Writhe, in which two rounded hunks hang from the ceiling on chains like the remnants of shorn carcasses, overlays its jesmonite base with a sickly green pigment enveloped in glass wax and honey. With a surface pockmarked by grapefruit peel, this is a vision of putrefaction as fascinating as it is nauseating.

Yet the thrust of the show is the compelling automythology produced by Wahid’s combination of uncanny bodily empathy and linguistic sensibility. This is exemplified in Akh Milk Bile Threat, a graffitied “Akh!” painted onto the wall in a mixture of pigment, breast milk and ox bile. Both form and content here reflect Wahid’s Kurdish heritage — the medium is used for body tattoos while the word itself defies translation, sitting on a spectrum between pain and relief. With meaning malleable and contingent on context, the work encapsulates the artist’s interest in Kurdistan’s undocumented histories and the extent to which they are “archived on a body.” Up close it is less a painting than a peeling, with the material’s curious consistency rendering it simultaneously permanent and fugitive. This vision of the body as text-in-flux is elaborated further next door in Oh Leander!, a video installation in which the “Akh” flickers across mutable stanzas against an oily mass of deep red gelatin. Addressing a world of confined spaces, Jala Wahid is becoming the bard of borderless meanings.

by Alex Estorick

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In Search of Expo 67 Musée d’art contemporain / Montreal

Fifty years after the fact, the utopian theater of Expo 67 — which welcomed an estimated fifty million visitors to the multilingual metropolis of Montreal — betokens a deferred promise of technological prosperity and global unity. Amid Canada’s troubled sesquicentennial celebrations, there is an understandable temptation to look back at the World’s Fair with nostalgia.

Instead, the nineteen works selected by cocurators Lesley Johnstone and Monika Kin Gagnon draw attention to fissures in the fair’s familiar image of geodesic uniformity.

Standout works include Omaskêko Cree artist Duane Linklater’s reimagining of a mural that once graced the Indians of Canada Pavilion. Long attributed to Norval Morrisseau, it was actually executed by an assistant due to government censorship of the indigenous artist’s candid depiction of a breast-feeding mother earth. Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn casts a critical glance at Canada’s vaunted history of multiculturalism, deftly weaving archival footage of an unlikely centennial project in small-town Alberta that greeted “alien” visitors with the world’s first UFO landing pad into an otherworldly allegory of the country’s fraught relationship with terrestrial migrants.

Leisure (Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley) reconstructs an experimental children’s play area designed by Canadian landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, whose tiny utopia has been unjustly overshadowed by the fair’s trademark multiscreen environments. Cheryl Sim revisits the futuristic apparel sported by Expo hostesses as a screen for multivalent desires. David K. Ross’s drone-mounted camera in As Sovereign as Love (2017) retraces the one-time trajectory of the fair’s dismantled mini-rail. Present-day barriers in its aerial itinerary poignantly mark points of rupture between the utopian geography conjured by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Terre des hommes, which inspired Expo’s anthropocentric theme, “Man and his World,” and a site irrevocably transformed by time’s passage.

by Adam Lauder

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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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Harry Gamboa Jr. Marlborough Contemporary / New York

During the Vietnam War, many Chicano youths in California joined the army as a way out of situations rooted in poverty. Instead of finding a brighter future, they often came home in body bags. East Los Angeles mural artist Harry Gamboa Jr., a Chicano himself, was appalled seeing his friends decimated against a backdrop of general indifference.

He took action, using the only medium he felt comfortable with: art. With a few friends, he created ASCO (a Spanish word for disgust), an art collective but also a cultural guerilla group dedicated to political protest. Active between the 1970s and ’80s, the collective’s work remains obscure to this day. Intrigued by the figure of Harry Gamboa Jr. and fascinated by the crossover range and power of the group to manipulate public spaces, Leo Fitzpatrick decided to curate “Harry Gamboa Jr. – The ASCO Years” at Marlborough Contemporary to shed some light on the group’s overlooked attempts to claim a seat for Chicanos at the table of American culture. The show is a selection of photographs taken by Gamboa (and previously included in the retrospective “ASCO: Elite of the Obscure” at LACMA in 2011) that capture some of the collective’s performances. The members of ASCO often portray themselves as metaphorical beings repairing, revisiting and criticizing the failing American dream.

For example, First Supper (After a Major Riot) (1974) was staged and photographed in the exact location where the police brutally attacked peaceful Chicanos mourning the death of Ruben Salazar, the first Mexican-American journalist to cover the Chicano community. As a symbol, supper carries a sense of comfort and familiarity; it is a routine domestic celebration. When ASCO has supper on Whittier Boulevard, where Salazar was killed, they mean to feel at home there from now on. As an act of guerilla symbolism, they’re taking back their land, giving meaning and resonance to the blood shed by their peers. By giving the streets new functions and meanings, they refuse the whitewashing of their history. The avant-garde group uses many references (punk and glam), but fear might be their strongest ingredient. Since they were scared themselves, they had to be scary to protect themselves.

by Alexandre Stipanovich

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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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Haroon Mirza LiFE / Saint-Nazaire

In the leviathan body of an old submarine factory resonates the unsettling pulsations of “/\/\/\ /\/\/\,” the reticular exhibition of Haroon Mirza in collaboration with architect Francesca Fornasari and musicians Nik Void and Tim Burgess. Replicating the thick envelope of the massive architecture of LiFE, an anechoic chamber encapsulates a scintillating fountain composed of two interlaced helixes of water, evoking the structure of DNA as well as the astrological symbol for Aquarius.

Through an immersive experience, Mirza convokes different physical phenomena, draws unexpected bridges from micro to macro and gives life to a vertiginous network. Indeed, here sound creates spatial forms as a way to represent the fabric of reality, a reality in which everything can be modeled as waves. Superposing different aspects of truth (physical and spiritual), Mirza seems to challenge our capacity for apprehending the world around us through interconnected works and media. As Lavoisier once said: “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed,” a mantra that is reified throughout the exhibition, especially via four large screens displaying multiple video sources (Ayahuasca rituals, the historical match in which AI AlphaGo beat professional Go player Lee Sedol, etc.).

Mirza concludes the show by reproducing the geodesic device situated at the top of the LiFE building. Within it, interstitial sounds from the above-mentioned videos are rebroadcast and transposed as erratic flashing lights. While this complex system is stimulating on a sensual level, it also draws multiple arcs between avant-garde sound pioneers (Alvin Lucier), Pictures Generation practitioners (Jenny Holzer, Gretchen Bender), cybernetic visionaries (Nicolas Schöffer) and various media theories. Borrowing from various fields of knowledge and transforming the result with a vast interdependent machinery, “/\/\/\ /\/\/\” is an arduous proposition, spectacular in scale and palatial in its multilayered scope — a kind of Rauschenbergian Oracle (1962–65) for the age of artificial intelligence and new cosmological paradigms.

by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos

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