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Tala Madani La Panacée / Montpellier

For Tala Madani’s first solo show in France, Nicolas Bourriaud has selected seventeen paintings and one animated film, all about the “presence of light and the patriarchal théâtre de la cruauté.” With a grotesque and caricatural approach, Madani develops a male-dominant imagery. Her cartoonish style and loose, expressive brushwork render her figures fumbling and clumsy. Men run wild in a world of homo-social fraternity, of secret societies.

They appear at times aggressive, ludicrous, inconsistent and vindictive within darkly comic and uncomfortable mise-en-scènes. Often balding and paunchy, they engage in absurd activities and scenarios that fuse playfulness with violence and perversity. They are presented in their most primitive form, dominated by sexual impulses and inhabiting a universe defined by ritualistic behavior, buffoonery and debauchery. Madani seeks to “subvert a particular overflowing masculinity, a certain type of masculinity that is deflated.”

Light as an artificial and special effect is central to many compositions, as in her ongoing Rear Projection series (since 2003). Her figures are the source of light, projecting content from their “solar anus” onto the canvas. According to Bourriaud, “[it reminds] us of a searchlight whose purpose is to leave nothing cloaked in darkness. It’s a police dragnet, a crime-fighting tool, an aggressive raid. In Madani’s work, light never shows anything; rather, it blinds the viewer like a spotlight: too bright, it impairs the gaze.”

The majority of her paintings depict men playing with their anuses, penises or bodily fluids in childlike fashion. Concentrating on the unapologetic baseness of human behavior, Madani reveals the externalization of an internal process: excretion as both economic symbol and allusion to death.

by Timothée Chaillou

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Learning from Athens / Documenta 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Andrew Spyrou

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Ron Nagle Matthew Marks Gallery / Los Angeles

Ron Nagle’s landscapes float beautifully atop plinths in “Ice Breaker,” the artist’s current exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in Los Angeles. Each scenic vista sits in its own display case under glassed circumspection, wherein the miniature ceramic-epoxy-paint sites can be flipped through as brochures for exotic vacations.

Just as glossy images in magazines can become one’s only contact with the outside world — the beguiling, foreign lands of Diana Vreeland’s editorials are a case in point — Nagle’s maquettes grant the fantasy of far-off Lilliputian blue holes and Japanese tea rooms, ectoplasmic Kleenexes and stumps imbued with all the Romantic symbolism of Germanic forests. What happens on these atolls is left to the mind’s unexpected movements and, from there, it’s just one fantasy after another, like so:

One looks over a girl skinny-dipping in a man-made pool in Texas, her pink, pear-shaped bottom seen floating with dead leaves amid barren land (Intangible Assets, 2016). Another sees pearl-clad Japanese professionals in Real World Tokyo being served with “maybe a little zinger of Shibui.”¹ The scene is colored in the cracker beige, barely blue and berry tones of tearooms filled with politely screaming twentysomethings (Glorious Assemblage, 2016.) Elsewhere, a subtle landscape suggests a Morandi green come true (Witzelsucht, 2016), its colors mirrored in Don and Juan (2016.) The latter is nice to think of as a tableau of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in which a young man is eating a sandwich of ewe’s cheese upon a mountain pass. Across the way, a woman with flaxen hair passes by. Enamored, he follows her with a rosy blush, but not without first stashing his lunch in a cave. Months go by until the man returns; by then, his cheese is a moldy, growing green.

The aforementioned stump could be a vision of Caspar David Friedrich waiting for Caroline to text him back (Ghosting, 2016.) Littlest Murmur (2016) is a set perfect for two shoplifting teens hiding behind pink ottomans shaped like Turkish delights; two security guards search for them, threatening to call the police, unless the girls do them some wanton favors. Accidentally, they snicker from behind the confections and are caught. This work shares a sinful plushness with Message to Raphael (2016), which nods to its High Renaissance namesake. Seen from a particular angle, the eye sinks into pale décolletage, undeniably a picturesque landscape with cleavage cut in gold.

There are more, but overall, the colors and verbal forms, flights of fancy and odd exchanges, are what foster giggles, lewd thoughts and unexpected encounters with one’s own mind. As promised, the tension is broken between a visitor feeling foreign in a familiar context and Nagle’s native language.

by Sabrina Tarasoff

¹ Ron Nagle interviewed by Bill Berkson, July 8–9, 2003, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
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Out of Body, Time and Place / Skulptur Projekte Münster

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

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

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

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

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

by Louisa Elderton

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Emily Wardill Bergen Kunsthall

Throughout Bergen Kunsthall, sounds provide a sensory glossary to Emily Wardill’s “Matt Black and Rat,” her first exhibition in a public Norwegian institution. The show travels to Lisbon’s Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in June, which is also the setting for the film work I gave my love a cherry that had no stone (2016).

Projected aslant and viewable from both sides, the audio that emerges from the walls seems to interrupt this film of a male dancer in a deserted building. Surreal and futuristic surroundings, temporally ambiguous, parody his gestures. Several works are inspired by Dorothea Tanning’s 1952 painting Some Roses and their Phantoms, which depicts a tablecloth and roses that resemble crumpled origami. The Palace (2014) comprises a voice-over on monochromacy — a condition whereby individuals see the world entirely in black, white and gray — as the camera oscillates over facades-cum-grainy reliefs. White, cast-resin button-down shirts yearn to escape the wall, seeking depth.

In their midst, the film No Trace of An Accelerator (2017) booms from a standing speaker: a trail of sonic bread crumbs that lead to the screen next door. Wardill’s ongoing research on fire, in which she algorithmically models its behavior, led her to a series of infamous, unexplained fires that took place in Moirans-en-Montagne during the mid-1990s. Shot on carefully constructed sets, the plot — developed through improvisation with the actors — involves an aunt trapped in a flame-filled room, her nephew and, played by the same actor, the disturbed arsonist and the fireman who dies trying to save her. The fire-starter pleads of his disposable medical gloves: “Please, please take them off, they’re not kind … too wet.” A fly crawls over a dimly lit nude woman who lies face down on a table. This moment incites the pyromaniac’s impulsiveness and ecstasy for smoke.

With room to wander freely through the show, Wardill nonetheless tacitly moves us where she wants. Words glide around the space, leaving impressions like circles after staring at the sun.

by Maia Nichols

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Cauleen Smith University Art Galleries / Irvine

Once ushered into the dark chamber there is a flush of sound. For self-defense, “The Warplands” is an exhibition pared of all administration. And short: the films extend to less than twenty minutes.

First comes an iPhone bibliography, the Human 3.0 Reading List (2015-16). A hand silently flips through books drawn on delicate graph paper crumpled by graphite and acrylic. Here, poverty of form and means are markers of humility that lend transparency to what she transmits. Cauleen Smith is learning to draw, producing works of both naivety and precision.

Farther along the wall, Lessons in Semaphore (2016) flows from a young man to an elder. We see the dancer taisha paggett dipping herself into a vibrant green pond of tall grasses that is an abandoned lot in urban Chicago. With two red and blue flags she signals the plenitude of her breathing life to a young boy, who mimes for her in semaphore.

The silent flickering of their 16-mm exchange is drowned out by a recording of Alice Coltrane’s One for the Father, pulling one toward its sound past a wall of banners from Smith’s 2015 Black Love Procession in Chicago. The words of Gwendolyn Brooks, “Conduct your blooming in the noise and the whip of the whirlwind,” shimmer in the light of their fabric. Now you sit before the film Pilgrim (2017).

You could watch it endlessly, this iteration of a longer project to be shown at the ICA Philadelphia in 2018. Coltrane’s voice announces once again the title of the song dedicated to her husband. Images follow of the California ashram to which she moved with their four children after his death, all calm readiness: the organ under its Plexiglas case, the reposing orange kirtan cushions, the temple in a valley below a mountain peak. Then come images of a tree in molecular fusion, and the blooming of daisies in an ecstatic shaker dance. It’s a happy thing watching how Cauleen Smith so accurately and soulfully bows to transmission.

by Noura Wedell

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