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Cricoteka and the Uncanny Return of the Avant-Garde Corpse

As the famous line from Citizen Kane goes, “Memory is one of the greatest curses inflicted on the human race.” And it goes without saying (or without watching the movie, for that matter) that it is the memory that makes us fully aware that the past cannot return nor can it be buried.

This very curse is the order of the day for a museum. What a museum makes all the more evident is that, for better or for worse, we can only remember in our own ways, and that there can be no archive without distortion.

As for the subject matter, Cracovian Cricoteka — the Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor — has an interesting story to tell. Set up in 1980 by Kantor himself, the institution was meant to be a multifunctional space: part museum, part center for research. Kantor, whose creative activity was preoccupied with a ghostly presence of the past, conceived of Cricoteka, perhaps in a somewhat utopian way, as the “living archives” that would be able to preserve his work as a “living material, not as a petrified fetish object.” After the death of its creator ten years later, the institution, increasingly resembling a place of undisputed worship, focused mainly on a pious conservation of the master’s legacy. As a result, it became a well-functioning archive, but not a particularly “living” one. Not until very recently.

In a few months Cricoteka is moving to a new location, and several new initiatives for the institution suggest that it is at a transition point. The yet-to-be-opened building, designed in the shape of a table with a missing leg, seems to form an architectural equivalent of Kantor’s idea of the “impossible monument” or “poor object” — a wrecked everyday object, deprived of its use value and by this very deprivation pointing towards the past and at what was irretrievably lost. The building itself — notable not only for its ambitious design but also for the vast exhibition space, library, archive, theater and music stage — carries the promise of a truly new beginning. Still more promising is the way in which Cricoteka has recently begun digging beneath its own foundation — redefining its goals and rethinking the basic premises of its functioning.

And such is the fortunate case withits most recent project called Radical Language — an intensive two-day program held in December 2012. Indeed, the project appears as the first step towards “connecting the institution to contemporary art practice” and, at the same time, as a decisive attempt to reread Kantor’s legacy. What is at stake, for both Cricoteka and Kantor’s heritage, is the possibility of actually living on, which necessarily means living on in new, different ways. The event, curated by Joanna Zielińska and Maaike Gouwenberg, consisted of a series of lectures, video screenings and various performative actions (in addition to the works mentioned below, the most noteworthy are two videos by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys along with a performance by Michael Portnoy), and was accompanied by an exhibition in Kantor’s studio and a book publication. The latter, besides being an instructive guide through the entire project, contains “event scores” by Yoko Ono and one of Kantor’s manifestos.

Seemingly, the opening lecture by Yann Chateigné Tytelman sets the theoretical frame for the event. Tytelman pursues the links between Kantor’s creative output and what is going on in contemporary art today (including, but not exclusively, the works of the artists taking part in the event), placing his emphasis on some recurrent motifs, guiding ideas and formal practices. As the brochure reads, the project as a whole “seeks to find the points Kantor’s art has in common with the activities of contemporary artists.” To be sure, Tytelman makes a number of compelling points on the subject. Still, the same brochure makes clear that Radical Languages wants to be read as a manifesto of a sort, and like most good texts, it is not about what it claims to be. Rather than just a way to set Kantor’s work against the background of contemporary art, Radical Languages appears to be something much more ambitious, subtler and necessarily less conclusive. The narrative that emerged during the event touched upon issues that are vital — and not only for an the institution that is currently somewhere between no longer and not yet: How can we reread the past in a way that would enable us to address the future? How shall a museum share the claims of the past without allowing it to become merely a burden?

Thus the second “staged lecture” offers the most incisive description of the whole event: “a ventriloquist séance as an attempt to breathe a ghost into the dusty, avant-garde corpse — a new reading of esoteric trash in the spirit of an academic freak show.” In Sebastian Cichocki’s performance the dusty, avant-garde corpse is Robert Smithson, incarnated ina life-like replica — a dummy (made by Tomasz Kowalski). As he is interviewed by a soprano singer, his voice keeps coming from elsewhere (just like Kantor’s voice throughout the whole event) via a ventriloquist, which makes his presence somewhat more-than-human (and “less-than-human” at the same time). For the most part, this “Smithson” doesn’t really seem to be bothered by the questions and, in quite a nonchalant, arty-farty manner, he just goes on talking about physics, linguistics, geology, the universe and anything that takes his fancy. Significantly, he makes several statements on museums, some of which are worthy of quotation:

“Museums always carry a promise of something exciting and invigorating. This promise is there for the asking, suspended in the air. But the only things we actually find in them are traces of somebody else’s memories.” “Visiting a museum is a matter of going from void to void. Blind and senseless, one continuous wandering around the remains of Europe, only to end in that massive deception ‘the art history of the recent past.’” “I’m attracted by the idea of clearing out museums. It would be a positive commitment to their function as mausoleums.”

As Smithson suggests, it is a museum that makes clear that, after all, it is not so much the past as it is the ruins of the past that memory retains. Still, these ruins turn out to be enough to make us feel overwhelmed with the majesty of tradition (even if it is never fully read), and what we get, instead of excitement and invigoration, is a sense of weariness with the past and its demands. The question remains: Can we get rid of all these traces of someone else’s memories? Can we just clear them out? The protagonist’s compulsive interest in the institution of museum brings to mind some sort of a Freudian negation and suggests that the solution to the “museum problem” may not be that simple. What’s intriguing in this context is that Sebastian Cichocki used some of Smithson’s writings as the basis of the monologues, but at the same time made the speeches much more ambiguous and exciting than Smithson’s texts actually are.

As for the ventriloquist, Ian Saville, he also had his own performance during Radical Languages. Saville is the inventor of “red magic” (to use the term coined by the magician himself) and so far the only representative of the genre. He took up red magic to combine the largely abandoned social project called Marxism with conjuring tricks in order to “make international capitalism and exploitation disappear.”“In a true socialist manner, I’ll not only show you the trick but also how it’s done,” declares Saville at the beginning of his Cabaret Act. But his demonstration leaves open the question of what a truly socialist manner actually is.More importantly (especially for Cricoteka), he found an utterly original way of bringing the masters from the past back to life. During his Brecht on Magic show he not only, almost literally, carried on a conversation with Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx (to be more specific, with a ventriloquist’s dummy of Brecht and a “talking” portrait of Marx), but he also played out their theories. In fact — and in all seriousness — the entire show can be seen as a complex demonstration of the Brechtian concept of the distancing effect.

Surprisingly (or not), the weakest part of Radical Languages is the one that most directly refers to Kantor — Calling Kantor for a Pattern by Voin de Voin and Ancelle Beauchamp. During the performance there were some drawing games, a bit of playing with puzzles and even an attempt to make everyone dance, but the whole thing hardly came together. “The act of interpretation is done by the collective spirit and supported by Kantor’s ghost, which we are going to call in a séance,” announced the artists, but you’d never know it from the performance itself. Somehow everything got just too fancy to work out.

This cannot be said of Elmgreen and Dragset’s video (originally a theater play) Drama Queens. Itlooks likea camp version of Toy Story, but in the video it’s not the toys that turn out to lead secret lives, but the “seven 20th-century superstar sculptures.” The superstars — from Jean Arp’s Cloud Shepherd to Jeff Koons’s Rabbit — are trapped on a theater stage and do not really know what to do with themselves (“Fellas, now that we’ve got an audience, I propose we each make a series of numbered statements about art,” suggests Sol LeWitt’s Four Cubes, while Rabbit is trying to get a party started). Since they are all well accustomed to museal practice, for a moment they are trying to make some sense of the very fact of being gathered in one place (“Is there a pattern of some kind?” “Are we distant relatives?”). But most of the time, feeling somewhat degraded by each other’s presence, the iconic sculptures — much like the various aesthetics they stand for — keep on looking down on each other and cannot really find any common language. Still, they are as one when it comes to museums, even though they all feel out of place there (Giacometti’s Walking Man complains: “It’s not a normal life. Not a normal life at all.”), and there is nothing they fear more than being put into oblivion, namely, into storage (“Yes. Even the word sends a shiver,” says Walking Man). At the end, Rabbit delivers a speech that provides a straightforward, dark insight into the cruel nature of time and/or the audience: “They tell you you’re great. That you’re truly, truly now, the moment. The fucking Zeitgeist. Studio 54 or whatever. But in the end it goes. They just wanna see something that they never saw before.”

Enclosed in the book that accompanies Radical Languages is Kantor’s Zero Theater Manifesto, which sheds unexpected light on the entire event. Consider how Kantor imagined the way in which an actor should deal with a text s/he is given: “On the one hand, there is the reality of the text, on the other hand, the actor and his behavior. The actor’s behavior should paralyze the reality of the text. [The actors] treat the text as an alien entity, try to fathom its meaning (…), but finally when they realize the futility of their action, they discard it and suddenly forget it. This process means dismembering of logical plot structures, building up scenes not by textual reference but by reference to associations triggered by them, juggling with chance.”

While dealing with Kantor’s legacy (that is to say, with Kantor’s “text”), Radical Languages turns out to have followed his instructions, though in quite a subversive manner. Yet, through this very manner, Kantor seems to have made his uncanny return to Cricoteka. As Harold Bloom used to say, “The dead may or may not return, but their voice comes alive, paradoxically never by mere imitation, but in the agonistic misreading performed upon powerful forerunners by only the most gifted of their successors.” And Radical Languages proves that, hopefully, Cricoteka is becoming one of the most gifted of Kantor’s successors.

by Justyna Wąsik

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Interview with Brian Butler

Patrick Steffen: I’d like to start our conversation from your recent performance, Union of Opposites, presented at Art LA Contemporary in conjunction with the gallery Annie Wharton Los Angeles. There is a video projection, sound, light and a live performance. There is a very poetic and sensual dimension in the first part and then there is an aggressive and somehow disturbing dimension. So, I thought that it could be a good example of the range of your work. What was your main intention with this work?

Brian Butler: I wanted to create an overall experience, a tactile and physical experience, as well as visual, mental or even spiritual, a sort of consciousness altering experience, through all of these elements. I wanted to create a collective out-of-body experience. My work it’s more about a feeling or an atmosphere…

PS: What was the main feeling that you wanted to suggest through Union of Opposites?

BB: It has to do with what we could call a solar consciousness. It’s a metaphysical concept; heliocentric consciousness as opposed to earthly or geocentric consciousness. Metaphorically, it relates to the change of seasons, for instance the transition of day into night is observed from a geocentric perspective but if we expand our consciousness to a solar or heliocentric point of view, the sun is still there, whether it’s morning or night, and it’s just our perspective that changes. I try to shift our perspective, transcending dualities.

PS: And that is from where the title of the performance comes?

BB: Yes, that’s right.

PS: Were you satisfied with the result of it?

BB: I was happy with result, yes.

PS: Is satisfaction important for you or is it that you don’t care about the final impression and your goal is the exploration of your own material?

BB: Being satisfied is a very subjective experience. My motivation is to present this ritual in an authentic way: authentic to how I feel in my sensibilities, hoping that it would communicate with the audience, without altering it or compromising in a way that I think would please them. And it was an experiment.

PS: Do you usually review the tapes that you might have recorded during the performance?

BB: That is important, but I feel like I have a good awareness of it, having a strong background in film and how a performance has an impact on camera or to an audience. I don’t have to review the tapes; I have a good idea, coming from the rehearsals too.

PS: Considering you control what you want to achieve, it seems you have a clear perception of your impact on the audience. You work more through perception than through analysis…

BB: Right, I have a clear feeling and a vision that corresponds with that feeling. The challenge is to technically realize that feeling and that vision.

PS: Is it because your main background is experimental cinema?

BB Yes, I come from the experimental film scene through my work with Kenneth Anger. I mainly studied with Kenneth, and before I produced documentary films through a company in New York, so I learned mainly through a process of creating.

PS: How long have you worked with Kenneth Anger?

BB: Over ten years. Well, I have known his work a lot longer and before I discovered his work, I had interest in mysticism, the occult, music and a lot of the elements he was dealing with in his art. When I discovered his work, it was first time that I saw an artist combining all these elements…

PS: Does he give you a feedback on the quality of your work? When you work together, do you exchange opinions?

BB He’s not really the type to analyze things; he doesn’t really operate in that way. When you’re in the process, you know if you are getting what you want.

PS: One thing that was really striking in Union of Opposites, was the stage presence of Annakim Violette…

BB: We made a film before, it was last year in October. She is like me, she is very intuitive and this work is not based on a verbal communication… It transcends what can be communicated verbally which is why I chose Annakim. Her presence expressed elements of the ritual in a very visual way.

PS: You were like animals on stage…

BB: We were able to tune into the same energy and it came just naturally, since we have a similar overall vision. I felt that Annakim was very much in tune with that.

PS: I had the feeling that she knew exactly what to do, but at the same time everything was spontaneous and improvised, in the proper sense of the term. Was your performance very structured? For example, the relationship between the two of you, was it something you had structured before or was there a lot of space to improvise?

BB: There was a lot of space to improvise, but again, I had prepared certain fixed geometrical patterns and figures, which incorporated the idea of inversion, like counter clockwise motion and reversed pentagrams. That was the motivation behind our movements, and she was expressing visually and physically the energies that we were working with.

PS: Sound was also very important in the performance…

BB: Yes, I utilized very low frequencies played through 1000 watt subwoofers which were positioned in a way that the audience would experience a physical sensation from the frequencies, more than they would hear them.

PS: And where do your gestures come?

BB: The origins are from what you would call Western magick or Western mysticism, which has its roots in the Kabala, which has a lot to do with mathematics and geometry. Aleister Crowley made a lot of futuristic advancements on those concepts, he was the one that started to introduce the ideas about inversion, turning things upside down and shifting the point of view.

PS: Do we need to have an understanding of the occult and ritual magic to appreciate your work?

BB: I don’t think so, I think it’s more a feeling of it, since those things tend to be so complex…

PS: Let’s go back to another work you made in the recent past, “Night of Pan”, which features Vincent Gallo, Kenneth Anger, and has screened all over the world including the Cannes Film Festival…

BB: This work is a depiction of a personal experience I had as a result of my spiritual practices. I cast my friends to portray certain archetypes and built the sets mostly from objects in my home. It’s a metaphor for the transcendence of reason which initially can be perceived as a form of insanity – when you reach a point where logic no longer serves you.

PS: For the whole video, you used the Adagio in G Minor by Tommaso Albinoni as soundtrack…

BB: Yes, I did a shorter version of 42 seconds, for a program called “OneDreamRush” which was commissioned by the Beijing Film Studio and 42 Below Vodka; 42 directors were invited to each make 42 second films. It was quite a challenge, but that’s how I got it funded and for that film I created the music; it was very fast paced, very condensed.

PS: But let’s talk about the seven minute version…

BB: I did experiment with making a score, but I felt that it distracted from the pictures, since the music was changing too much or was too dominating, or even too dynamic. The visuals were very rich so that the Adagio by Albinoni fit into the structure, as well into the pace of the film.

PS: I asked you about that since this is not the kind of music I would associate immediately to your work, but it fits perfectly, and it suggests an interesting contrast… How did you work with Vincent Gallo?

BB: I didn’t really need to give him too much direction, I just explain the situation and then he comes up with a great idea. It was improvised, it was a live performance on his part, it wasn’t like we were shooting takes over and over. He had an idea of the character and went into that state, and that’s what we captured.

PS: Your work is based on live performances, music, sound. But you also display artwork in galleries

BB: I create installations which combine video, sound and sculpture. For me, sculptures or objects are another way of altering space, using geometry, color, and symbols.

PS: Rituals…

BB: That’s very ritualistic.

PS: Why are you so fascinated by rituals?

BB: Everything is more or less a ritual and it’s a way of accessing other states of consciousness, other worlds, it’s a way of interacting with things that are intangible, for me.

PS:Let’s talk about the future, and the evolution of your oeuvre. I can envision you working in opera and theater. I think that your universe coupled with Richard Wagner, or The Tales of Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach, for instance, would be interesting…

BB: Yes, I feel I could express myself in those realms of theater, film and more elaborate sculptures and performances. I am very much into Richard Wagner. I’ve studied The Ring of the Nibelung and I think it’s one of the greatest works of art of the 20th century. The story is just very universal and strong, and I have seen the production a few times. The whole work is so strong, on so many levels. It has also a very clear spiritual dimension, but it’s also very dramatic…

PS: And Wagner’s oeuvre it’s very ritualistic!

BB: Yes, in Parsifal for instance, the knights of the grail and all these elements are very, very ritualistic. So that could be a source of inspiration for me in the future.

by Patrick Steffen

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Natalie Frank Studio Visit / Brooklyn, New York

I recently visited artist Natalie Frank in her Bushwick, Brooklyn based studio and we decided to sit down for an interview. I met Natalie in 2007 when she was a visiting artist for the Studio Art Program at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education and have followed her career ever since.

She is a contemporary painter, focusing on the figure, narrative and the space between abstraction and figuration. Natalie will have a solo exhibition at Fredericks Freiser in October 2012 and I decided to focus on this and her visual expansion of deconstructing the figure within her paintings and practice.

Katy Diamond Hamer: Hi Natalie, thanks for the taking the time to chat! I know you’ve been quite busy and have recently traveled for an exhibition in St. Barth’s, in the Caribbean at Space SBH Gallery. Why don’t we start there, tell me about the exhibition and how you got involved.

Natalie Frank: I met Natalie Clifford through some wonderful painter friends and she put me in a group show she curated at the Eden Rock Gallery in St. Barth’s where she was curator. When she left to start her own gallery, she offered me a solo show in her own, brand new space in Gustavia, the fancy part of town on the island, near Gagosian’s gallery, who she sometimes collaborates with. It is a beautiful space; she is a lovely woman; and I thought it could be an interesting audience for the work. I also got to go for a week and a half for the opening!

KDH: I know you were trained in a very traditional, figurative manner. Where did your interest in the figure arrive and did you realize you had a specific skill level for portraiture before delving into this type of painting which carries a significant historical weight?

NF: I started doing figure drawing from life when I was 13 years old. The narrative – the stories that people tell and use to construct their lives, whether it be religious, humanistic, mythical, social, was and is my entry point into painting and the figure. I am fascinated by the relationships and the ways in which people communicate and build their worlds. I was always particularly drawn to painters who used the portrait – often in service to a larger narrative – to focus, foremost, on the individual. I began by looking at the German and Austrian Expressionists: the ways in which color, as well as expression, could relay a “real” feeling of what it meant to be human and alive. In my studies at the Slade, University College London, I began down the path of locating the figure in a more constructed, or literary narrative. I was looking at Rego, but also Stanley Spencer, Freud, Kitaj and Blake. I would say I have followed the portrait first as a young student in terms of its literal meaning: an expression of the person where the face is predominant; into a more literary understanding of how to represent a person through story, and now, I am focused on combining both of these aspects with a heightened awareness and appreciation of what the paint can also do, its expressive capacity. I am very interested in locating the figure between representation and abstraction which seems to be a very contemporary preccupation.

KDH: As your practice expands, it seems that you are finding more ways to deconstruct while also staying true to your own hand and style of mark-making. Are there any artists who you are currently looking at or do you find yourself trying to detach from a certain pool of art knowledge when making work?

NF: I am always thinking of the artists who came before me. Certainly not an anxiety of influence, but these painters are like old friends, always nearby. I am looking at a mix of old and new, painters and artists working in other media. The last few months I have been thinking about Kitaj, Beckmann, Mike Kelley, Robert Gober, Robert Overby, Kohei Yoshiyuki, Currin, Condo, Daniel Richter, Sugimoto, Sherman, Neo Rauch, Tiepolo, Oehlen, Pettibon, Kentridge (especially The Nose), Degas and always Velazquez. Also, de Kooning. His retrospective left me exuberant and agitated. As my work has changed over the past two years (I am so looking forward to showing this new and much changed work in October at Fredericks Freiser!) the mix of artists I am looking at has expanded and morphed more towards abstraction in narrative and form.

KDH: Painting as a medium presents so much historical resonance. I always think of the Italian Renaissance, which is one of my favorite periods of representation and narrative, and you mention looking at Tiepolo. I know you’ve also spent time in Florence, Italy. Can you talk a little bit about your experience in Italy and how it inspired your work?

NF: It was a magical time to have what added to 4 months in Florence and Umbria, on grants from my undergrad, studying at the traditional academy and learning their processes. Italy was an important place for me to start, in many ways. As a young woman, it gave me the space and time to explore, myself, my practice and a part of the world and art historical tradition in an environment that was both idyllic and historically vital. I went to all of the chapels with Giotto and Masaccio and Piero. Seeing the Brancacci Chapel, the beginning of humanism and the Renaissance, left me awestruck and solidified my belief that art can tell stories, get at what it means to be human, and transmit the unknowable. The study abroad I have done also left me with a strong commitment to the rigors of art and art making, the discipline that comes with the practice. It gave me formal tools that I have digested and adapted to my own purposes and current practice.

KDH: Traveling in Europe is so important for artists, I agree! Knowing you are originally from Texas, and currently based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, can you talk about the New York art scene and how you feel you fit in, if at all, within a large body of young artists, painters sculptors etc. Do you ever feel that New York is over-saturated with art or do you think that the quantity of artists and galleries is symbiotic to the process of making work.

NF: I love being here and feel extremely lucky to be able to do what I love for a living. I love being part of a community that is provocative and constantly changing. It is exciting to be in New York, surrounded by friends from grad school, undergrad, friends of friends, everyone making work, curating it, writing about it, contributing their unique vision to what feels as if it is a very enmeshed community. I try to get out and around to see what’s being made as often as possible. Also, I love going to artists studios and trading visits, everyone’s practice is so unique. I am really inspired by friends – some amazing painters I know, that when I leave their studio, or we have conversations about art, is invigorating. The intensity of the dialogue here, from all angles surrounding art is intense and incredibly engaging.

KDH: Would you be able to make this particular work in any other city? Do you ever feel that it is somehow specific to New York.

NF: There is a specific community here and I know I am influenced by fellow painters and artist friends. Right now, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I think my new work is very much of my time and place, how could it not be, I am here!

KDH: I have followed Fredericks Freiser for quite some time. Congratulations on joining the gallery! As you have an upcoming exhibition slated for October 2012, do you have anything in particular regarding content that you are focusing on for this solo show?

NF: I am thinking about the idea of Transfigurations. I just had Lawrence Weschler, a writer I have admired for years, by the studio, and we had such a good visit speaking about narrative, the feeling of “humanness”. I just read his wonderful new book “Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative” and it is one of those convergences that he writes about that when he was here, I was describing the idea behind my upcoming show: getting at the inside of people and their narratives, to try to figure out what is at their core, and he pulled out the newest New Yorker that had a story called Transfiguration about a man who had one of the first successful face transplants. His photograph looked exactly like these portraits I am making – a melange of features and lines and an exterior that draws attention to what we understand to be human – humanesque. Weschler writes about the uncanny valley as an area where people accept and understand portraits and figures to be human – but they can be blue or slightly distorted, or in the case of my work, conglomerations that are part rendered, part illustrated, part abstracted paint. When they become radically close, but still not completely, identifiable as human, then the human viewer does not accept the figure she is looking at as like herself. So, in this show, I am painting autopsies, inspections, an exorcism, an image of two people hovering together in a lover’s stare, all attempting to find, tease out, understand, take apart the human figure and its mystery.

KDH: In mentioning autopsies, inspections and exorcisms, you are dealing subjectively with the abject. Your work has always been aesthetically pleasing and while it still is, now you offer a challenge for the viewer to decipher content that isn’t always pleasant. Tell me about this process, where your inspiration comes from and if you’ve ever been embarrassed to show some of these paintings to someone like…your mother.

NF: My mother is actually my biggest supporter. And as a former trauma nurse who worked in a sex change clinic, the influence might stem the other way! I don’t think about the subject matter as abject, just human. The raw feeling of what it means to have and lose power, feel violated and violate, to expose and hide, all of those dualities that make us more then characters in a short story. I do love paint, and have been told I am a painter’s painter – I also love color. I am aware that these qualities soften the harshness and directness of the subject matter. But, I figure that nothing can be heard while screaming.

by Katy Diamond Hamer

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Talking Galleries MACBA / Barcelona

From September 19 through 21, MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporanei de Barcelona) hosted TALKING GALLERIES, a three-day program that brought together an international community of art professionals to discuss the role of a key player within the contemporary art circuit: the gallerist.

Promoted by local gallerist Llucià Homs and organized by LA FABRICA — a private Spanish enterprise that collaborates with various partners to develop cultural programs and initiatives — TALKING GALLERIES provided a context for gallerists to speak to an audience also mostly made up of gallery representatives (111 out of a total of 172 participants, mostly from Barcelona and Madrid). Experts outside the commercial sphere provided moderation and guidance.

The event was structured around a sequence of panels that reflected the multifaceted profile of the “ideal” gallerist who constantly alternates between the roles of dealer/businessman and curator/philanthropist. Georgina Adams of The Financial Times and The Art Newspaper, Noah Horowitz of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art and director of the VIP art fair and Robert Tornabell, professor at ESADE Business School, Barcelona, led and moderated the talks that examined recent and developing market trends.

Addressing this past summer’s renewed economic turmoil, which presents similarities with the one back in 2008, a panel titled “Dealing with the Economic Crisis” presented guardedly optimistic viewpoints from both Adams and Tornabell, who offered an encouraging perspective particularly in relation to the 1990s.

Kicking off a panel called “The Future of Art Fairs,” Noah Horowitz gave his analysis of the current “art fair age,” citing the Internet as its most likely potential direction. He noted the example given by the VIP art fair, whose second edition, still under his direction, will take place in February 2012. One of his most interesting points about the fair specifically was the way that video art, understandingly enough, benefits from this type of “e-presentation.” Despite the fact that, as he pointed out, a third of the gallerists who attend fairs make most of their deals in that context, Horowitz argued that the high cost of international art fairs is unsustainable.

As for the gallerists on the panel, frustration and anger were the dominant emotions: Victor Gisler of Galerie Mai 36, Zurich, described what he sees as an insane situation in which an artwork’s exhibition at an art fair ends up adding value to the work. Pierre Huber of Galerie Art & Public, Geneva, addressed conflict-of-interest issues with a “once upon a time” story of two gallerists who both wanted to show Lucio Fontana’s works at a fair — a competitive situation that apparently had to have one of the two out of the fair (surely the weaker in terms of connections and establishment). This same speaker spoke disparagingly about incompetent fair organizers who also happen to organize food and jewelry trade fairs, and asked, in light of the international proliferation of fairs, why gallerists need to traverse the globe only to find the exact same art, collectors and overall environment — a point that Georgina Adams strongly supported.

The subsequent two panels — “The Gallerist as a Private Collector” and “Internationalizing the Gallery” — were admittedly far less inspirational and debate-driven. The former ended up as a self-celebratory slideshow of established gallerists’ collections that have or are about to end up beautifully and expensively housed in private foundations (one was reminded of the obligatory viewing of a newlywed’s wedding album); while the panelists in the latter recounted their experiences from which some obvious advice could be gleaned: learn English, the language of contemporary art; attend international art fairs, but only if you intend to keep going back; make good use of the Internet and search for existing gaps rather than adopt a copy-and-paste attitude. Surprisingly, apart from a shy intervention by panelist Luise Faurschou — who stated that her mission throughout her career was to offer artists a blank page for showcasing their work — none of the gallerists’ spoke of collecting in terms of supporting artists and their research. “I fell in love with the work and I had to have it,” was too often boringly repeated.

Truly fascinating was a presentation by Eduardo Brandão of Galeria Vermelho, São Paulo during the final panel called “Emerging Markets: Focus on Brazil.” Professor Brandão recounted how he came to found Vermelho in 2002 at the suggestion of one of his art students — and out of frustration at the slim chance of success even his most capable students faced upon graduation. Slowly and successfully he developed an undervalued target demographic of potential collectors aged 25 to 30, who speak the same language as Vermelho’s roster of artists, even if they are not versed in art history. Brandão also brought up a point of frustration with fellow panelist Ricardo Resende, Director of Centro Cultural São Paulo: the fact that museums and other public institutions take all the credit for showing young, emerging artists, while in fact their engagement actually starts and ends with the initial support of gallerists. Brandão pointed out that a commonly snobbish attitude by gallerists exists toward younger, seemingly unlikely collectors, which would have lost the professional football player that ended up to be one of Brandão’s main clients. However, it does still remain to be seen whether the pricing of new art is indeed approachable by young but not necessarily wealthy art lovers. Cultural elitism seems fairly nonexistent nowadays, but barriers built on wealth remain.

The director of Centro Cultural São Paulo was also questioned by Carlos Durán about his wish to build museums in all major Brazilian cities. Is Brazil certain that the Western model is the one to follow in order to promote sustainable development? This fundamental question was not even slightly examined, despite the clear struggle that Western museums and other institutions face.

For anyone who believes that long-term, truly successful entrepreneurship in the cultural realm, must be grounded in a community’s well-being; for anyone who does not aspire to become part of the elite that benefits from an underpaid and sometimes exploited cultural sector; and for anyone who suspects that past and ongoing financial struggles are signs of inherent failings, the hope is that an alternative and more sustainable system could be the focus of analysis and debate at the second edition of TALKING GALLERIES next year.

by Alessandra Olivari

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Interview with Neha Kirpal / India Art Summit / New Delhi

This year nearly 130,000 people visited the India Art Summit over the course of four days from over 60 cities worldwide. Upon first impression the art fair’s founder, Neha Kirpal, speaks with an enthusiasm fitting her youth; but what she has done for India is admirable for a person any age.

India’s first appearance at the Venice Biennale 2011 is just one indirect result of her many efforts to represent India and bring her country together around art.

Jovana Tomanovic: The Art Summit is on it’s 3rd edition this year as the country’s only international art fair for contemporary art. How do you compare it to other art fairs such as ARTHK (Hong Kong International Art Fair) and Art Stage Singapore?
Neha Kirpal: The other fairs like HK and Art Stage Singapore and Art Dubai are destination fairs, where the domestic market is small compared to what is brought from outside. India is a very large country. My goal is to show the domestic market. Art Summit India can be compared only to the Frieze organization. I concentrate on making this art fair world class. But it was initiated to show Indian costumes, art and tradition. The focus of this year’s seminar program was to India present as a multifaceted cultural experience. I am trying to unite the art world in a country that is quite fragmented.

JT: Are the Indian collectors more interested in buying local or international artists? How many collectors did you invite?
NK: They buy in equal share. Indian collectors buy foreign artists and foreign collectors buy Indian artist, and both Indian and international galleries sell equally. We have 19 museums from all over the world. Another important aspect to us is the Indian Diaspora that take care of the intentionality of the artists. The Indian Diaspora is the third largest in the world and composed of nearly 25 million people living in almost every corner of the globe. Artists from this diaspora bring with them a unique perspective to the art world and I believe they have a crucial role to play in helping non-Indians understand India. And, at the same time, they bring their Indian sensibilities, narratives and contexts to their otherwise western perspectives.

JT: How many registered visitors did this edition have and how many compared to the previous two?
NK:Tomorrow is the last day. We estimate over 100,000 visitors will visit by the end. In the fist edition, attendance was 40,000 visitors.

JT: What is the maximum cost for one booth? Are there different prices for Indian and foreign booths? Did you invite a guest country?
NK: No we did not have a specific guest country and I am not planning to have one for the new few years. India is the focus country. There is only one price list for all galleries and it is 17,000 RS per square meter of booth space (about 30 euros per meter). This year we had 200 applicants and we selected 84 galleries.

JT: You founded the India Art Summit when you were 28, is that correct? How do you feel about?
NK: Correct, I just turned 30. I studied marketing in the UK University of Arts in London for three years, but I always wanted to live in India. So I come back with the desire to make an India art fair. To create a fair in India to me means to me spending time positively. I think that the Indian art community has been more fragmented because no one started an art fair before. Art in India is more a family business; it is missing real marketing. I wanted to contribute to the Indian Art scene but also to the larger concept of India. I spend all the year traveling and working on contacts and inviting people to learn more about India. I am a very proud Indian, and I want to change the Indian art market, sell India as a destination, and a viable market.

JT: What is the biggest difficulty that you have in organizing the Art Summit?
NK: Managing the costs for the international galleries is definitely the biggest problem. One example from China is that the government is not supporting us at all. But now with the new minister and an India’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale, I hope it will change. The custom import duties are also very expansive and we are working now with the government to structure a fund for fairs.

by Jovana Tomanovic

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Interview with Susan Hefuna

Bettina Mathes: What interested you in “Mapping Vienna” (a one-year site specific project in Austria’s capital)?

Susan Hefuna: What intrigued me was the opportunity of applying some of the techniques, media and strategies that have been part of my work for a long time to one particular city over an extended period of time. During those twelve months the city served as my laboratory. I created a number of nodes which, when connected by visitors and natives, form a second site, an alternative, ambiguous map of the city. I did costumes for the Opernball (annual Opera Ball Vienna), did work at the MUMOK museum, Belvedere museum, on the façade of a building, the FreudMuseum, etc. For all events I printed a postcard. I created a personal map all over Vienna that makes the familiar seem foreign, the public seem private, and which encourages questioning one’s own position while traversing the city. “Mapping Vienna” is like a drawing spread across the city. The project concludes in November with a show opening on November 19 at Galerie Grita Insam where the site-specific works will be presented in the gallery space. There will also be a catalogue documenting the project.

BM: I’d like to talk about the final intervention for “Mapping Vienna” at a storefront gallery at Berggasse 19, the building where Sigmund Freud used to live and see his patients before the Nazis forced him into exile. The gallery cannot be entered, and visitors look at the installation through the storefront’s large window. In this intervention a large b/w photograph that shows you sitting on an ‘oriental’ couch in a museum in Cairo, looking straight at the spectator is juxtaposed with a series of wooden masks hung on the gallery’s walls. The masks were inspired by those worn during the traditional Swabian-German Fasnacht (a festival the day before Ash Wednesday in Christian religions). You kept the types but used your own face to make each mask, which means you are, in a way, making the masks work for you. I wonder how far one can take the idea of masquerade. Let me tell you a fantasy: standing in front of the window, peeping inside the masks and the self-portrait evoke a primal scene of sorts — as if I was witnessing a moment of great intimacy between your self and the foreigner in you. Am I going too far?

SH: Yes, there’s definitely a personal element. For “Mapping Vienna” I chose locations in a rather intuitive and idiosyncratic way. When I saw Freud’s office with the collection of Egyptian statues on his desk, the couch with oriental carpets, it inspired me to install the masks and a black/white photo I took with a pinhole camera in Cairo in 2001. I’ve never before exhibited this photograph.

BM: Let’s talk a bit more about how your photographic work engages the personal. I’m thinking of the series of black and white photographs you took in Egypt. You inserted yourself into the stereotypical setting associated with orientalism, which for the European spectator looks realistic, while an Egyptian looking at the photograph recognizes it as staged. Would you see your work on some level as a labor of mourning, as an ongoing attempt to revisit certain spaces in order to inhabit earlier time periods, which now only exist in memory and documents of the past?

SH: I would like to quote an excerpt from Bassam El-Baroni’s text “Reframing Otherness” (2005). “In these photographs, that are allusions to late 19th and early 20th century orientalist daguerreotypes and the picturesque but stereotyping postcards of Lehnert and Landrock — Hefuna literally walks into the picture to intervene and disrupt its predetermined cultural signification […]. Despite their obvious autobiographical references, these photographs resist being labeled as self-portraits. Instead, they can be seen as representing the moments or lapses in time in which the artist has been able to subtly highjack the domineering photographic documents of cultural history, armed with little except a highly developed visual language and a sense of displacement. […] In doing so, Hefuna encourages a universal reading of the image unbound by the assuming mindset that cultural specificity and the unnecessary details of ethnicity make us fall into.”

BM: There is a certain kind of sadness in those photographs, at least for me. I do wonder whether “walking into the picture” allows for the recollection of lost or suppressed histories, histories, which are inscribed in and evoked by the physical presence of a real body.

SH: For me there is no sadness, I just try to move beyond ‘time and space’ beyond ‘belonging and not belonging’ to enter a space where there are no limits, no labels, no pre-judgments. People are captives of their own thoughts, rules, and customs; most of the time they are not able to see without judging or putting things in binary oppositions like ‘good or bad,’ right or wrong, etc.

BM: In your work you often engage and challenge the boundaries we draw to separate ‘us’ from ‘them.’ Can you talk a bit about the Mashrabiya Screens (2004-10) you’ve made?

SH: In my experience, most human beings are not able to see the world without a screen of social and cultural projections. I discovered the shape of Mashrabiya screens — windows, blinds, various cultural forms of architectural elements — in Cairo. The Mashrabiya protects the inside world from the outside; filtering the light and cooling the inside space; allowing one to observe without being seen. For me the Mashrabiya became an abstract symbol that operates in two directions with the possibility for dialogue, rather than closure. It separates, yet also filters and joins. It signifies the ‘in-between-ness’ of being in two cultures at the same time that it reflects personal experiences dealing with cross-cultural codes.

BM: How important is the audience for your work?

SH: Let me give you an example. I started weaving words into the Mashrabiya structure in a work, which was exhibited at the Louvre in 2004. For this exhibition I created a Mashrabiya the size of a door with the writing: “Woman Cairo 1425/2004.” If you were close to the work, the writing disappeared. It was only from a distance that you could read it. In another work I produced a wooden Mashrabiya, again the size of a door, with the word “Ana” in Arabic letters. The Arabic calligraphy is placed on the threshold between inside and outside. Depending on the cultural context of the viewer, s/he approaches the work differently. It can be seen as an abstract image, a pattern or structure, or the viewer can look at it as text, reading the word “ANA”[‘I’ in Arabic], which means the work assumes another meaning. This bilingual ‘framework’ plays with coding, and de-coding, different ways of viewing in different cultural contexts. Every viewer/visitor will see what she knows. The Mashrabiya becomes a screen of social and cultural projections.

BM: Can the audience be ‘mistaken?’

SH: I would like to tell about the key experience I had when I had my first solo show in Egypt in 1992, a high-tech multimedia installation. One of my digital photographs of a Mashrabiya screen was instantly perceived as a familiar object. By contrast, all Western audiences had associated it with the Western concept of abstract art. This first-hand and unexpected feedback from Egypt was a complete surprise to me. A different audience saw the essence of the work and not its reflection, without having read any of my intentions or knowing anything about my background. From then on, my work was somehow enriched by this dual feedback: the historical, scientific, and aesthetic context of the work perceived by a Western eye, and the references that were immediately related to familiar surroundings by Egyptians. The reading of the work depended on the codes of each culture, the same form could refer to different ideas and images from the past and the present. I learned that there is no such thing as the Truth, but layers of interpretations or perceptions. The observer is responsible for what s/he sees.

BM: Another important part of your work are the drawings you make. How do you think of them?

SH: In a drawing you cannot conceal anything. It is impossible to lie in a drawing. The drawing shows everything. A drawing has no nationality. There is no time and space. It is its own universe. I always say: look at the drawings of an artist and you know everything about the artist. All I can say is that I have to draw. I’ve always drawn and will continue to make drawings. My drawings sustain me.

by Bettina Mathes

Read Bettina Mathes’ text on Susan Hefuna in the November-December issue 2010 of Flash Art International.

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