Interview /

Jake Cruzen and Jared Madere / Mother Culture

Mother Culture is a new gallery and digital platform founded by Jake Cruzen and Jared Madere in December 2017. Based in Los Angeles, Mother Culture will collaborate with many contributors from a variety of fields, including parenting, sustainable living, contemporary art, journalism, spirituality, music, education and social consciousness, to create digital content as well as physical exhibitions. The current show, “EVERYTHING IS MORE THAN ONE THING FUTURE FEEL GOOD,” includes works by Jacolby Satterwhite, Bunny Rogers, Darja Bajagić, Suzy Amis Cameron, James Cameron, and Dachi Cole.

Patrick Steffen: From Bed-Stuy Love Affair to Mother Culture in Los Angeles. Why Los Angeles?

Jake Cruzen: We had three years of conversation and planning that led up to Mother Culture. We had ideas about a place that celebrated life and generated creativity of all kinds. When planning things out we often say to each other, “let’s get rid of the quotes,” and what we mean is that we want to try to help democratize creativity by allowing a mixed vocabulary that doesn’t rely so heavily on a know-it-like-the-back-of-my-right-hand grasp of the history of fine art. Above all, California is the wonderland for dreamers. In short, with this new venture, we are definitely more interested in communal values, nature and celebrating creation as a whole.

Jared Madere: Nobody can like good in NY. They like putting thumbtacks in their knuckles for Instagram and bragging about how their mom cried when they saw the blood dribbled on their baby photos. I love seeing my mom smile too much and couldn’t live with the lie.

Jake Cruzen: We are creating a place that puts a high value on a good life, actualized community and celebrated effort. A blend of languages is very appealing to us. Our current show, “EVERYTHING IS MORE THAN ONE THING FUTURE FEEL GOOD,” was put together to form an exhibition of artists that had these aforementioned qualities while still expressing an alter-universe of their own.

 

PS: The geographical organization of the city is very different from New York. Will this change the way you work within your artistic community?

JC: Yes! We are already working with a local vegan chef to give away bag lunches to the community we are a part of. We are also working on a local youth art exhibit. We want to create a platform that can help anyone who is doing positive creative work and community initiatives. We are working with doulas from LA and helping to organize a podcast and video series that appeals to unconventional motherhood. We also have a giant off-site project in the works that primarily focuses on sustainability.

JM: I like being able to pick up artists’ work in my car instead of telling them to bring it over on the bus. I used to spend a lot of time crying if I missed a blackberry yogurt sunset, but now if I miss it today it’ll be there tomorrow.

JC: And the weather makes it so you can be naked most of the year.

 

PS: Your platform addresses very wide social goals. You mentioned parenthood, sustainable living and spirituality, among others. With art spaces proliferating in the city, a clear identity is necessary to identify newer ones. What is your main goal?

JC: It’s a real challenge for us to isolate any one of those goals. The elements we are focusing on are the actual interests and challenges in our day-to-day life. I have a baby on the way.

JM: In conceiving of Mother Culture it was very important to us to create a platform that reaches beyond the art-world audience most familiar with our work and this flavor of inquiry in general. With most other expressive/creative avenues audiences are much wider, whereas with art a huge percentage of the audience is highly professionalized within the industry or a very committed and interested third party (collectors, turbo-fans, fashion/furniture designers, architects, etc.). Not many second-grade teachers have the same relationship to the summer group show at Petzel, the Triennial or even Venice, as they do with the top forty cycling through the radio on repeat that same summer, or whatever collusion of forces gives rise to culturo-distributive phenomena like Memoirs of a Geisha, Infinite Jest, A Million Little Pieces or The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK. Art has tunneled or weaseled its way out of the majority of its responsibility of engagement with the larger society, declaring that it will be a cultural laboratory at the far corners of the social fringes, exploring only the most esoteric and rarified subject matter, such that its fruits are only shared with the mainstream as quickly as an advertising agency can figure out how to exploit them through their translation into an ad campaign (a kid graduating art school in the late 2000s sees Clown Torture [Bruce Nauman, 1987] and pitches the Burger King “Wake Up With the King” campaign to seal their interview at Crispin Porter). We are interested in genuinely engaging an audience on a wavelength beyond connoisseurship directly through the programming at Mother Culture.

 

PS: Can you share a few highlights of the 2018 program?

JM: Our program is fluid in the sense that our exhibitions do not necessarily have hard beginning and end dates and thus the space functions more like a living organism whose belly sometimes contains bubblegum for eight years and/or crab larb for five minutes depending on what fairground the lizard is dining at. Sometimes you take a bite of winter and, surprise, you get a mouthful of spring.

JC: Mother Culture exhibitions will have a longer duration than most and will give birth to new objects and events as they unfold. We have an accomplished team and are really excited to be working with Milo Conroy from Cloudburst, Kate Hillseth and Cindy Conrad from Young Art, and Marie Heilich from White Flag Projects. We are really honored to be working with Dachi Cole, Dese Escobar and Jessi Reaves, and those are the artists we will unveil projects by next.

by Patrick Steffen

read more
In Residence /

Forty Tomans / Tehran

Dan Bodan spent November 8 to December 8 in residence at the Goethe Institute in Tehran. Flash Art invited him to write a travelogue during his time there. This is the second installment.

I show the driver the address from my phone. “Niavaran? Forty tomans, ok?!”

I’m moving today. I’ve caught a taxi on the street in Central Tehran, in a working-class area near a military university where I’ve been living for the past week in a shared flat with five male art students in their early twenties. There was some miscommunication with the embassy, and they thought I wanted to “live close to local artists.” When I explain that this is a somewhat inappropriate setup given that I’m thirty-two years old, my host looks at me shocked and exclaims, “You ARE?? But you look so young, like a teenager!” It’s an exchange I’ve grown so weary of by now that I avoid discussing my age whenever possible. My neoteny, something I once considered a secret weapon, has made me increasingly insecure with age, as I wonder how it might actually be affecting my emotional and professional growth. Forever cradled in kid’s gloves, will I remain soft?

The toman is a unit used by locals for transactions instead of the Iranian rial because it divides the price by ten. So forty tomans (which actually means forty thousand tomans, because the “thousand” is already implied) actually means four hundred thousand rial. I’m told the math will quickly become second nature, but by the time I leave Iran I’m still just handing piles of colorful banknotes over to vendors and letting them take their pick. It’s a considerable time saver.

The taxi driver throws my suitcase in the back seat and instructs me to sit in front with him. He’s a pleasant man and is very excited to be driving someone from outside Iran (though I can’t help but detect a sliver of disappointment when I tell him I’m Canadian. “Oh… So no America?” Nope, sorry.) This curiosity about Westerners is something people had prepared me for prior to my arrival; it is very true that strangers will come right up to you on the street and ask where you are from, welcome you to Iran, and in some cases invite you to dinner with their family. My second day in the city, while waiting outside a restaurant with a friend, an elderly lady in full chador walks up to me with the kindest smile on her face and, translating through my friend, tells me how happy it makes her that foreigners are visiting Iran again. I don’t know if I’ve ever made anyone this happy before. I can honestly say that none of the guys I’ve dated have ever looked at me so lovingly, and most would be happy to maintain a moratorium on my presence in their lives. I’m genuinely touched. 

The taxi driver weaves his way through the thicket of Tehran’s notorious rush-hour traffic. A trip that on paper shouldn’t take more than a half hour will run into the ninety-minute mark. I feel safer driving during rush hour though; it feels less likely we’ll end up in a serious accident while driving at a snail’s pace in a tide of cars almost uniformly colored white or black, speckled with green and yellow taxis and large blue municipal pick-up trucks from another era. The blue trucks, I’m told, are to be avoided at all costs because they don’t have brakes. No brakes?
“Other cars are the brakes.”
(I assume this is a joke until the very next day when I see one slam into a parked white passenger vehicle and no one seems to pay it much attention.)

Tehran has a metro population of over fifteen million, and it seems like everyone has at least one vehicle. Despite efforts from the government there is still very little in the way of enforced traffic regulations, and the only time I see people heeding traffic signals is when two highways, at least eight lanes deep, are required to intersect. My first day, wondering how exactly I’m supposed to cross the street, my friend grabs me firmly by the arm and drags me directly into the flow of traffic and waltzes me calmly to the other side. Like jumping into the ocean, the worst part is the first step; once inside you give yourself over to the current and come out refreshed (except when you don’t).

As a result of all this driving in vehicles with mostly outdated engines, Tehran is terribly polluted. It’s my first experience with heavy smog, and I can’t help but be impressed with the way it inhabits the city, floating through everything like animated mist in a Disney film, softening the details of faces, consuming the mountains and cityscape at will. On days when there is no wind and the pollution stays thick within this city flanked on three sides by mountains, the sunset becomes a spectacle of gorgeously diffused, all-embracing amber, gold, and champagne pink you can see between your fingertips. The director at Mohsen Gallery asks if I’m handling the air quality ok.
“I actually quite like it,” she tells me. “To me it’s a part of the city.”
Beautiful but unfortunately breathtaking in the most literal way; it’s a major public health issue, the cause of many deaths annually and a contributing factor in the government’s plans to move the capital elsewhere.

While winding up along an elevated highway I notice a tattoo of a fish on my driver’s arm, peaking out from beneath his T-shirt. I remove my hat to show him the protein enzyme my friends tattooed on the back of my head as part of a viral marketing campaign. He’s thrilled by this.
“Tattoos, SO good!” In Farsi and gesticulation he tells me he has an even larger tattoo on his back. Of what?
“Also Fish. BIG fish.” At which point he plugs his phone into the car speaker and starts to play Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” at full blast. He says her name aloud and puts his hand to his heart in total admiration.

He then goes on to rattle off a list of things he thinks are bad or good, indicating bad by crossing his forearms in front of him, good by giving a double thumbs-up (though traditionally this has the opposite meaning in Iran). These gestures, as well as the fifteen or so words of English he knows and the three words of Farsi I’ve learned, will constitute a pidgin we’ll use to communicate for the remaining hour or so.

The highways through the northern neighborhoods of the city are lined with chenar trees, and represent one of the few unifying features of the city. They look ancient, but I’m informed by a friend that in fact most were placed there in the mid-nineties by Gholamhossein Karbaschi, Tehran’s reformist mayor who oversaw a number of large urban-renewal projects throughout the city before being tried and convicted on corruption charges viewed by many as a politically motivated attack by conservatives and hard-liners who opposed then President Khatami’s reformist agenda. Is that what my friend thought had happened?
“Probably, but he was probably also a bit corrupt as well. There’s a lot of corruption in Iran. It’s not like it’s a secret.”
Ah, “corruption” — the unifying vice for peoples everywhere.

As we pass the Imam Khomeini Mosalla, a monumental but unfinished mosque/conference center under construction for well over a decade and still nowhere near finished, my taxi driver sighs and his tone changes to something a little dourer.
“Canada, good. Germany, good. Iran, good.” He pauses for a moment.
“Iraq, bad.”
I’m caught off guard by this and don’t know how to respond. I just look at him confused.
“Iraq, very very bad.” He repeats.

At this point our made-up language fails us. I’d like to pull out my phone and try communicating with Google Translate, but it’s not good enough yet, and besides, the Silicon Valley dreamers have yet to develop an app to simulate the empathy needed in conversations like this. (And the fact that they might not be that far off from actually developing such a tool fills me with dread.)

In the West (maybe everywhere) I feel it’s more common to assume that the defining event in Iran’s twentieth-century history is the 1979 cultural revolution; which might be true in some ways, but after visiting it’s pretty clear that the wounds of the Iran-Iraq war cut far deeper than is usually expressed abroad. More than a small percentage of the streets in Tehran are named for martyrs, and the faces of young men lost in war are printed all over the city, at small street-level shrines or blown up the size of office buildings. While a lot of this is obviously an extension of the country’s impressive propaganda machine, the grim realities of the war are pretty difficult to ignore here, and I’m disappointed in myself for not knowing more about it before arriving. It makes me a little sick to acknowledge that atrocities might actually require their own PR division.

If the revolution was a spiritual triumph, the war was a human catastrophe. 

I hesitate.
And then carefully reply, “I don’t know, I’ve never been.”
Oh, how Canadian of me.
He doesn’t understand, but looking at me I think he realizes he’s making me uncomfortable and immediately waves his hand in the air as if to wash the slate clean.
“Ok, ok ok. But tattoos? Good!” he laughs and shares more of his favorite pop music.

We finally break free from the traffic gridlock and wind our way up the foothills, above the clouds of yellow-green smog and toward Niavaran, one of the wealthiest areas in Tehran. Located just at the base of the Tochal Mountains in the east of the city, Niavaran had been the retreat of shahs for centuries before Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made it the official residence of he and his third wife (whose French art school training is on full display here) in an exquisitely decadent modernist palace (complete with a motorized retracting roof) ten years before he would be ousted in 1979.

The area surrounding the palace is now home to some of Iran’s most elite in a dense concentration of high-rise luxury condos fabricated in a faux neoclassical style. They’re horrifying but impressive, similar to Ceausescu’s palace in Bucharest, with huge marble columns, baroque detailing, and gilded gates. I’m surprised that there is little of the “Gulf Futurism” favored in other Islamic capitals and wonder if this has anything to do with Iran’s complicated history with both Europe and the Arab Peninsula. To make the trip from the center to here, to witness that dramatic of a shift, that level of clear inequity is as mystifying as it is frustrating. When I send a photo of my building’s opulent front entryway to my friend he replies, “You totally manifested this! How do you feel?”
Conflicted.

While taking a walk through a nearby park my friend asks what I think of the neighborhood and I tell her I think it’s “pretty crazy this exists” and it makes the revolution even more difficult to understand. She tells me to read a poem by Mehdi Akhavan Sales, a well-known revolutionary poet, titled “Inscription.” In it, a village of people all chained together read a message carved into a large stone that tells them the answer to their woes is written on the other side. Collectively they flip the stone, only to find the same message inscribed on the other side. 

If I wake up at 6 AM, from the window of my tenth-floor condo I can see the sun rise over a magnificent view of the city. Over the course of the next hour it will slowly disappear into a cloud of exhaust. Beautiful, toxic gas wraps the city up for another day, but I’m mostly safe from that up here.

Today I’ll teach myself to deseed a pomegranate like a professional. With a knife, score it along each membrane, pull it open, then smack the shit out of it with a wooden spoon.

Dan Bodan is a musician who lives in Berlin. He has spent the past seventeen months traveling.

 

read more
Review /

Beautiful New Worlds. Virtual Realities in Contemporary Art Zeppelin Museum / Friedrichshafen

Perhaps it’s the ever-so-slight motion that catches your eye. The first thing you see as you walk into the Zeppelin Museum’s “Schöne Neue Welten” (Beautiful New Worlds) exhibition are little viewfinders, dangling on springs. They’re tethers between this exhibition on virtual reality and its unlikely venue, a provincial German institution devoted to the history of airship technology, housed in a gorgeous Bauhaus railway station. Each viewfinder contains a sample of stereoscopic images used to promote zeppelins in the early twentieth century, black-and-white photos refracted into a 3-D illusion. For head curator Ina Neddermeyer, this primitive virtual world was a vital preface to the cutting-edge realms that form the exhibition.

The parallels are dark, and perhaps all too apposite. This is, after all, an exhibition about the political uses of technology. Where once zeppelins became flagships for fascism, so too have virtual technologies abetted a contemporary variant on that ideology. About halfway through the exhibition, two films dueling on opposite walls complete a terrible loop. One shows virtual reality being used to train American soldiers, while the other shows how it helps treat the PTSD they suffer as a result of the wars they fight (Harun Farocki, Serious Games I & III, 2010).

The effect is brilliant. From sunny halls to darkened corridors to spartan rooms, there’s attention to flow and presentation that enlivens every aspect of the exhibition. Yellow guardrails, seemingly ripped from a Metro somewhere, gently guide visitors through the open-concept space.

One notable presentation stands out. Becoming Dragon, by Micha Cárdenas, is a 2008 mixed-reality performance in which the artist dramatized her experience in the online game Second Life. It is presented at the Zeppelin Museum as a recording of the artist immersed in the game, projected onto a wall. She lived as a dragon in the game for 365 hours, intending to parallel the imposition of a yearlong waiting period for transgender people who sought sexual reassignment surgery. If you were forced to take a yearlong test to prove you are who you know yourself to be, why not become something else in the meantime? Those possibilities blossom in gaming universes, and several of the works in the exhibition play with that.

The politics of a new commission from New York-based German artist Florian Meisenberg, whose installations combine painting and sculpture with digital media, are more subtle and certainly more playful. Pre-Alpha Courtyard Games (raindrops on my cheek) (2017) is an elaborate VR setup in which you manipulate a virtual wireframe that only you can see. Onlookers, who see only your disembodied hands projected onto a nearby wall, must piece together for themselves what you are doing.

Meanwhile, the more visceral politics of the refugee crisis manifest in the virtual film Journey to Mars (2016) by Halil Altindere, which ironically posits Mars as the only place willing to accept Syrian refugees (this pairs neatly with another piece — Forensic Architecture’s Saydnaya, 2016) — which shows how VR can reconstruct Assad’s prisons from the memories of its survivors). Like the Nest Collective’s Let This Be A Warning (2017), also included in the exhibition, Journey is a virtual film. But Warning is more unsettling as it’s slightly more involving, with your interactivity limited to looking around furtively while rooted in place. You are an interloper astronaut on an African world, treated with all the loathing and suspicion that migrants to Europe often experience. Your highly constrained ability to move makes this piece brilliantly expressive; you feel like a helpless passenger rather than a mere observer. This urgent masterpiece from Nairobi anchors the collection.

You’ll find wickedly involving porn here (Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s DICKGIRL 3D(X), 2016) and weirdly wonderful commentary on Silicon Valley (artist duo Banz & Bowinkel’s Palo Alto, 2017) — all held together by the through line of political implication. Most important of all, however, a case is made for emphasizing the reality of the virtual. The line between simulation and the reality it imitates becomes blurry here, as it should. Neddermeyer and her colleagues deserve credit for capturing it all.

Still, one imagines, in a few weeks’ time there’ll be more than a few broken headsets, toppled PC towers and impossibly tangled cords from all the inevitable roughhousing that the equipment will experience. Reality intrudes in more mundane ways, after all.

Museums still haven’t quite figured out how to bridge the virtual/physical divide, and the Zeppelin Museum is no exception. The headset itself is, invariably, an art object in any installation — a point made clear by the contribution of a VR set from the 1990s displayed here under glass. At the Zeppelin Museum the headset is, in the case of Altindere’s Journey to Mars, surrounded by a semicircular mural depicting the sci-fi publicity of the installation; in the case of Let This Be A Warning, suspended spider-like from the ceiling in an austere room; in the case of Courtyard, adrift on a carpet surrounded by the carpet-like playfield of Meisenberg’s virtual world. An attempt was clearly made to give each headset and computer a meaningful place in the installation. Banz & Bowinkel leaned into it by making their computer tower a glittering, branded affair of plexiglas and LEDs.

Art and design are restored to their unity here; the tech is part of the aesthetic experience. But the displays remain somewhat anarchic as well. As with VR itself, there is no final word on what it all means, what it’s all for, or where it’s all going.

You can see this as a failing, but it must have been so with the zeppelins of old. And we again return to the unsettling analogy that frames this exhibit and wonder if we’ve already sailed into the storm.

by Katherine Cross

read more
New Wave /

When You I Feel / Issy Wood

New Wave is a column profiling the next generation of emerging artists.

Opulence calls for strong effects; wealth speaks its clout through ornament. To have choice parade as public dilemma evidences a kind of fortune. In the case of Issy Wood (b. 1993, USA), ordeals of the haute-monde and power relations based in the practice of real fantasies are part of an arena that shimmers as delicately feudal lacunae. Her oil paintings are born from a decadent climate populated by silver tureens, flawless manicures, compact mirrors as amulets and the odd, bizarre minaudière. In Back at the V&A (2017), for instance, a black necklace bust displays a wiry, filigreed Art Nouveau necklace. Oil on velvet, it is a frontal and saturnine image.

Such objects speak to a milieu composed of trite concerns, periodically engaged in mini dramaturgy such as consultations, lunches-as-event or vestibule gossip, each weaving a gendered commentary. It is an environment where taste hardens like lacquer, dietary requirements become indulgent declarations and styling bears the tracery of anxiety. Typically working a dark palette, Wood’s atmosphere haunts the elite, blending gothic antique, pointillist incredulity and Jean Dupas contours with allegory and necromancy. Like a monogram, “IW” appears in slippery ways, like a skin rash over breasts undone from corsetry in IW (2017) or as a tempestuous celestial core of Saturn in The Supervision (2017).

Her first solo show in London, “When You I Feel” at Carlos/Ishikawa, consists of three large paintings bordering a central room, its interior floor tiled and chalked with various calligraphic glyphs. A vis-à-vis or “confident” chair, two-seats conjoined in an S-shape, occupies the center — a set for disclosure, a therapy session. Wood’s paintings fall short of proper sexual identity, yet her choice of meticulous ornament generates the greatest articulacy. Though outside of historical category, should a clock start ticking, be sure it’s a Cartier keeping perfectly expensive and excruciating time.

This distance lends Wood’s aesthetic an alien seduction; it also extends Wood’s practice from sadomasochism’s play of violence to an exploration of genuine control. “Glamour” epitomizes what’s on offer here, that is: from early eighteenth-century Scottish origin to mean enchantment, a spell; and from the Latin grammatica, associating glamour as technique, a discipline. Here, glamour is put to use both as instrumental phantomic polish and illusionist, carnivalesque reserve. Arguably, Wood relays a flickering opacity to a culture understood as clear as plastic; you can see more should you want to.

Supplemental to the oil paintings in “When You I Feel,” a book includes notations, sardonic exchanges and diaristic entries from her blog, chewandswallow. On the cover is an alien face gawping into her cell, complete with Brazilian blow-dry, thick rouge at the lip and fresh manicure. Complexion pine green, her eyes are classic mutant: wide atramentous pebbles. Her nose is minute. At once earthen and nebular, her gloating is fossilized. Though extraterritorial as a woman, one would imagine her frequenting Harrods on the hunt for a fresh autumn stole.

It is through Wood’s writing that location becomes tangible. She is well aware that desirability rearranges space, and that solitude can accelerate the mind’s decay. Oftentimes, her attention is toward the female elite whose diaries are littered with consultations with the local surgeon and diagnoses from their svelte, modish dietician. In the dialogue THE HEART TO HEART, surgeon (2) and patient (1) renegotiate anonymous stretches of skin. “1: Somone’d better really encroach on my personal boundaries in the workplace after all this. 2: Oh you needn’t worry, and I can assure you he will be a GQ subscriber. Let me show you my pen before I begin my annotations, here it is.” The entries read like episodic vignettes and apologia, often mid-crisis, accusation or realization: “I am dripping in jewelry I am completely riddled with accessory oh god the EMBROIDERY.” (For Wood, epidermal strain is never far from adornment.) Polarities are assured, there is a predator, and there is prey. Peppered with imperatives, parochial whining and incidental tragedies of luxury, these notes are close to a body aware of medical enhancement, amplifying a psychology footloose. As though sampled from the doldrums of Sex and the City, the tone is both beleaguered and rapturous; seeing high society with both a medieval and dystopic spirit.

Grand dame of plastic artifice, American comedian Joan Rivers has made several appearances as surrogate in portraits of Wood’s mother, and in many ways Rivers’s scathing and indulgently vulgar stand-up echoes Wood’s writing. In Free to Chat (2016), her winking turquoise face hovers amid lunar cycles; in mother as young joan rivers (2016), a sweeping, tucked brown bob meets a vulpine gaze.

Rivers was a unique example of high society that reckoned with stardom via the expulsion of its vulgarity. She became a bastion of its mocking, using herself as damage control. Her life is something we may look back on and embellish, though to be a star, you also have to be a bit of a monster.

by Alex Bennett

read more
Interview /

Jean Pigozzi / Miami Art Week

Claudio Santoro in conversation with art collector, photographer and philanthropist Jean Pigozzi at the Galerie Gmurzynska booth at Art Basel Miami Beach.

Claudio Santoro: I spent hours in the “Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier” exhibition at Fondation Louis Vuitton. Do you have more plans to exhibit your collection?

Jean Pigozzi: We’re going to do an exhibition of works by Bodys Kingelez, who created the model cities from the “Art/Afrique” exhibition. We will have a show next spring at MoMA, in May 2018. That’s the first time that an African artist will have a solo show at MoMA.

 

CS: Can you tell me a bit about Bodys Kingelez?

JP: He’s from Congo (Zaire) and, sadly, passed away. He was a documentary filmmaker who would make these individual buildings. When I met him I said, “Bodys, why don’t you make a city? It’s much more interesting.” So he started making these very big cities that would have like twenty buildings. I own four of the big cities, and I think he made seven. Fondation Cartier has one, Agnes B and someone in Germany. At MoMA we are going to do a virtual reality thing with Oculus, where you will fly inside the city.

Bodys was completely self-taught. I don’t know if he knew who Le Corbusier or Zaha Hadid were or anything. That’s why I’m so interested in African artists. Pre-internet. They had very little information, so everything that they did really came from the inside, or from tradition, or completely from their imagination, or from a few magazines they could see. That’s why I like that work.

 

CS: Surrounding Bodys Kingelez’s cities were Congolese night scenes painted by Moké. I’m always reminded of them when I see colored lights reflecting off someone’s skin.

JP: I gave one of these paintings to a friend of mine who showed [Francis] Bacon. And Bacon said, “This guy can really paint.” And Bacon was not an easy man to impress.

 

CS: When you’re away from home, what might trigger a memory of your collection?

JP: I go to Japan quite often because I collect Japanese art, so I go and buy stuff there. I go to every fair and hundreds of galleries and museums every year, but I’m very focused now, so I really only buy African and Japanese art.

 

CS: Why did you decide to focus on Japanese and African art?

JP: Because you have to be focused on your collection. A lot of these collections are not interesting because they have one Warhol, one Prince, one this, one that. It’s not interesting. I’m trying to collect in depth, so if I like an artist, I’ll buy ten pieces by the artist. The artists I buy are more reasonable. You couldn’t have ten Van Goghs or ten Picassos, even though some people do. If you go to a provincial museum, they will have one Sisley, one Rembrandt, one Yves Klein. So they only know one example of the artist’s work. If you go to MoMA there are five Yves Kleins, so now you understand what the works are all about. If you saw the show we did at Louis Vuitton, we showed five to ten pieces of each artist, so you could really understand in depth what the artist is all about. That’s what I find interesting.

 

CS: What made you want to start collecting?

JP: I’m a sick collector. I collect anything. I would collect toothbrushes. I collect absolutely everything. If there was something like “Collectors Anonymous” I would be there, but it doesn’t exist. There’s very little I buy from the gallery. About ninety-nine percent of my African collection we bought directly from the artists because there were no galleries representing them. The Japanese works came from galleries in Tokyo.

 

CS: How did your collection start?

JP: I had a collection like a bad dentist from Minneapolis. A little Clemente, a little this, a little that. And then I became friends with Charles Saatchi, and he told me my collection was ridiculous. So I went to a show in Paris called “Magiciens de la Terre” about thirty years ago. And I saw some African art in the show, the day it was closing actually. I called the museum the day after and asked “What are you gonna do with this stuff? Can I buy it?” They said no, because it was owned by someone else, but that I could meet the curator called André Magnin. I asked what he was doing now and he said: “My dream is to keep going to Africa.” So I hired him, and for twenty-three years we worked and put this collection together.

 

CS: What do you think your collection says about you?

JP: It says a lot. Everything I do in my life is slightly different. I couldn’t imagine having a collection with a little Warhol, a little Clemente, a little Prince. I really wanted to have a collection that was very different. Nobody has my African collection. Now I have a very Japanese collection, and nobody is really collecting that either.

 

CS: That says something about you.

JP: I have no interest in being like everybody else. It’s not something that turns me on.

 

CS: And does that attitude translate into your photography?

JP: I don’t like people posing. I have no interest in people posing. So I try to take them when they are a little bit off balance. Not people picking their nose or doing drugs, but taking pictures that are slightly imperfect.

 

CS: Do you think you’re photogenic?

JP: Myself? No. But I’m not vain so I couldn’t care less.

 

CS: Do you prefer acquiring works in the context of a fair or gallery or directly from an artist?

JP: It doesn’t make a difference. For instance, here [at Art Basel] I did my shopping yesterday morning. I had a map and I ran from one place to another, and I did it, and it was done. I got three things yesterday morning, one African and two Japanese.

 

CS: Did you consider bringing your dogs, Charles and Saatchi, to Miami for the fair?

JP: They are in the South of France. They are very crazy, high-strung dogs. They would be running around driving everybody crazy. They’re not like quiet, living room dogs. I wanted to play some recordings around the photographs of them barking, but you’re not allowed to do that at the fair.

 

CS: How would you characterize Charles and Saatchi?

JP: They are very cute and affectionate dogs. They think they are smart but they have no understanding of space. They are not really interested in other dogs, but they love humans and expect people to talk to them. They’re Hungarian so they’re philosophers.

 

CS: Do you spend much time going through all the pictures you take?

JP: I don’t really go through them unless I have a project. I really just like doing “click.”

 

CS: Any final remarks?

JP: Sell toothpaste.

Claudio Santoro is Flash Art Online Editor

read more
In Residence /

Drinks at the Ambassador’s House / Tehran

Dan Bodan spent November 8 to December 8 in residence at the Goethe Institute in Tehran. Flash Art invited him to write a travelogue during his time there. This is the first installment.

“Well, the thing about the Greeks,” he says between sips of his crystal-clear German pilsner, “is that there’s not much to them beyond the first impression.”

“Oh, I don’t think I agree,” I reply and quickly take a long sip from my glass of Riesling, the first drink I’ve had since arriving in Iran nearly three weeks earlier. I’m speaking with the director of a Landesmuseum somewhere in Germany, and the already forced conversation is turning from polite to caustic with each new sip of wine.

Tonight I am a guest at the German ambassador’s residence in Tehran, a Mies van der Rohe-style villa in the center of an enormous fortified private garden in the Tajrish neighborhood in the north of the city, a short walk from the Tajrish Bazaar with its glorious view of the Tochal Mountains (whenever the clouds and/or pollution allow for it, that is). It’s directly neighboring a similar enclave for the Turkish ambassador, and I’m told that the two are actually connected to each other via an underground passage in case the Iranians take it upon themselves to occupy either structure like they did with the US and Saudi embassies (in 1979 and 2016 respectively). I haven’t been able to confirm this, but if it’s true it would be one of the few instances of German-Turkish collaboration in recent memory. My presence has been requested to celebrate the arrival of two German cultural delegations: one from Baden-Baden and one from Berlin, as well as “top decision-makers in arts and culture in Germany.” At this point in the evening I’m still one of the only “art-makers” in the room.

Upon my arrival I’m greeted by the ambassador himself. An imposing man, tall and stern, the archetype of a German bureaucrat. His handshake is so firm it feels like it could shatter my tiny Canadian hand as he grabs it demanding to know who I am. He doesn’t let go for the rest of the conversation, eyes never blinking, his stare burning into me as if trying to catch me in a lie. I realize in this moment I wouldn’t have the stomach for real diplomacy.

“I’m the Goethe resident.”
“But you are not German.”
“Uhh no I’m not —”
“And what is the purpose of your residency?”
“Ehh, well research I guess —”
“For what project?”
“Oh uh, well lots of them, music I suppose, and, ummm I was asked to write a column about the residency for a magazine.”

His wife, a friendly looking woman about my size, standing beside him and smiling pleasantly, takes particular interest in this. “Oh, how exciting! And what will you write about?”
“Oh, I’m not sure yet —”
“And WHERE is the money for all this coming from?” he interrupts, at which point my host from the embassy jumps in: “From Berlin! All the money is coming from Berlin, don’t worry, sir!”
“Well then, young man.” And with that he lets go of my tender hand and pats me on my shoulder. “Enjoy your stay in Iran, and tonight, please, enjoy some German beer!”

I’ve spoken more German in the past three weeks in Tehran than in almost twelve years in Berlin. Part of it is the residency and my hosts from the German embassy, but as I travel throughout the city meeting strangers I’m surprised by the number of people eager to practice their German-language skills with me.

“They’re very generous with visas for Iranians, it’s one of the easier places for us to visit,” a man at a local cantina-style restaurant tells me. “But they want to see how much you have in your bank account first, of course. HA HA.”

I remember applying for my first German freelance visa.

“They’ll want to see about eight thousand euro in your bank account,” everyone is told, though I’ve never actually seen this written down anywhere official. In most cases parents are called to do a momentary infusion of wealth (or permanent, depending on your creed). I wonder how much Iranians are supposed to have in their accounts and if they also have to take out an expensive national health insurance plan if they want to visit? Every time I pass the embassy in downtown Tehran there’s a crowd of at least fifty Iranians congested around the door waiting for visa services, waving application forms and passports above their heads. To me it looks like a scene from the fall of Saigon, but this is actually just the way Tehranese citizens line up: an orderly congregation of pushing and squeezing and politely explaining why one needs to go first. Amazingly, it seems to work, and everyone (mostly) has a good sense of humor about it. A ride on the subway at rush hour works in the same way. On my first day I’m told that I shouldn’t be afraid to really push my way on, that everyone’s used to it. Unfortunately no one tells me I need to push my way off as well, and I find myself on more than one occasion finally disembarking several stations after my destination. But otherwise the system works.

“Yes, it works,” I’m told, “except when it doesn’t.”

I try and imagine the same scenario except with Germans. I nearly faint.

Technically speaking, it’s not actually the Goethe Institute hosting me. The Iranian chapter of the cultural institute was shut down in 1987 after an unaffiliated German television comedy series made fun of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Since then they’ve only been allowed to open a German Language school and host events at a small German-speaking Protestant church established in the 1950s. Under the impression that I’d be attending a traditional Armenian Christmas market I find myself at this very church for a Lufthansa-sponsored Weinachtsmarkt. It’s packed with excited Iranians and expats lining up for Bratwurst and waffles, purchasing oddities normally found in the discount section of German grocery stores and handmade crafts by little old omas who have been shuttled in from the homeland to sit quietly behind their booths sipping warm punsch. There’ve even got stale brötchen sandwiches and a non-alcoholic Kölsch beer (“Would you like one?” Nein, danke.) A choir of children in Santa hats from the local international school begin singing Christmas carols and the entire room erupts into a sea of smartphones trying to capture this spectacle so familiar to me but probably a novelty to them. At one point they launch into a rendition of Ode to Joy and it strikes me that a mixed-gender choir singing the European national anthem in a Christian church feels like a show of German soft power more genuinely subversive than anything I could hope to achieve here performing songs about gay sex.

One of my Iranian hosts, a German-language teacher, asks why I make so much fun of the Germans. “Because I love Germany,” I tell him. Which is true, insomuch as I care deeply about the welfare of wherever I am. And I’ve made Germany my home for over a decade, participating in its culture, paying my taxes, inhaling its clean air, staking my claim, and I’ll be eligible for permanent residency soon, or even full citizenship. I see it as my duty to keep critical, lest the country turn itself into something nasty and embarrassing, a real possibility at this particular moment in time. I have invested a lot into Germany. My voice has a place in the conversation of its future.

“And what artists did you meet in Athens?” the museum director continues, as I eye the floor-to-ceiling abstract paintings adorning the walls back at the ambassador’s house.
“Oh, I mostly hung out with skaters.”
“I see, well…” and with that we’ve had enough of each other and in tandem quietly turn and walk away.

The Berlin delegation has arrived, led by a collective best known for their impressive street-art interventions, and the mood softens a bit. Later they’ll take me to a private party opposite the Lebanese embassy, where I’ll partake in some of the infamous Armenian “vodka” served in an unmarked two-liter plastic bottle and then decide the next morning not to drink again for the remainder of the trip.

As I’m leaving and the ambassador’s wife says her goodbyes, I compliment her home. She excitedly grabs my arm and pulls me to a small photo hanging on the wall. “THIS was the original building.” An impressive classical Persian mansion. “But it wouldn’t survive an earthquake so they needed to rebuild.” She gives me a tender hug.

I ask for a photo with the ambassador. I post it online with the caption, “Who’s the real ambassador though?”

It’s not rhetorical.

Dan Bodan is a musician who lives in Berlin. He has spent the past seventeen months traveling.

 

read more