Review /

Diamond Stingily Ramiken Crucible / Los Angeles

Despite being indoors, the show is lit solely by the kind of big mobile floodlights that feature in eerie drive-bys of midnight roadwork. Diamond Stingily’s “Surveillance,” likewise, pushes a startling crispness out of the black.

The lights are the biggest thing going. Here and there in the wide space are black and brown fabric dolls, ranging in size from a few inches to the stature of toddlers. Some have button eyes, others dresses; a number are simply rough bundles of thread. They are propped into corners or against utility panels, alone or in pairs, both hiding and pinned in plain sight.

The wires trailing between the gallery’s two large rooms allow you to trace the relay: four security cameras in each space feed to a flat-screen monitor in the other. The white walls and concrete floors are nondescript enough that it’s not clear who is watching who, and you almost expect to see yourself on screen — but the layout makes this impossible. The setup recalls certain video relay/delay works by Dan Graham, but maybe because surveillance and self-veillance are now so quotidian and complete, Stingily’s is a joke without mirth.

The gallery’s warehouse windows are papered over with the New York Times — pragmatically, sure, since the artist lives in New York — but it also turns a gallery that could be a sunlit storefront or otherwise open to the public into a dim, secretive space. Such a warehouse could be a mafia hideout or a sweatshop, but is more likely a banal, honest, private enterprise. The CCTV rig, too, is a flat, off-the-shelf technology. And if the weird lights and unblinking cameras seem vaguely ominous, it is partly because Stingily calls her show “Surveillance,” and wraps the show in news meant to sell newspapers — as if information overload is the only good camouflage left.

by Travis Diehl

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Dance Office /

Curator on the Move

Marc Streit has been an associate artistic director at Tanzhaus Zürich since 2011, and has worked as a cultural entrepreneur and artistic organizer for several institutions dedicated to contemporary dance and performance art. In 2012, he founded the zürich moves! festival for contemporary arts practice in performing arts.

In the first installment of Dance Office, he discusses his recent projects and the ongoing evolution of how curators, practitioners and audiences understand dance and performance art.

Your practice is multifaceted; how do you define your curatorial focus?

Marc Streit: I understand myself as a networker, organizer, contextualizer, producer, artistic director and host in the field of contemporary performance and dance. This description is important to understanding what it takes to put together contemporary performance projects in today’s art world.

How did you start being interested in such a specific field?

What fascinates me most is the fact that we are dealing with real bodies, humans, and an audience which has to be taken into account, not only in the artistic creation of pieces but also in the mediation and presentation of these artistic works.

Live performance rooted in dance and theater has always been my main interest, and the recent development and shift in the field keeps nourishing my interest. I am very much driven by the creative process in performance practice, in which failure and slippage are integral parts as well as vulnerability and precariousness due to liveness and ephemerality. Precariousness is also reflected in the programming of contemporary performance and dance, as the perception of the audience is as individual as its diversity.

I am interested in hybrid forms of contemporary performance, and a key aspect is to always try to put a work in the right context or format. By contextualizing and queering both bodies and spaces, I am looking for experiences that push boundaries and investigate our contemporary society beyond physical performance. I usually work around a different topic. My research and the process of constructing a certain program is always inextricably tied to an overall discourse and the content of the respective artistic works that are being presented alongside each other. It is always a balancing act in order to make an attempt to frame an artistic work and yet give the work itself enough room and let it speak for itself. I like to incorporate a discursive dialogue, which should support the accessibility of an artistic practice and use theory to juxtapose ideas and interpretations.

How has the field of dance and performance production changed since you started curating?

Over the last two decades, it has certainly found new modes of production and new formats for presentation. Not only is there a new audience, but the people contextualizing these platforms have experienced a shift in their role, as their so-called “curator profiles” keep evolving.

I believe that the transition of Tino Sehgal’s work, in the early 2000s, from the classical stage to the museum — namely, after (untitled) (2000) — has contributed to this change and opened a new field of opportunities for dancers and performances. This has also opened the field to an exploitative and populist approach to dance, seen as a form of mere entertainment or decoration of the space without a particular curatorial reason. How many times in the recent past have we seen dancers crawling down the stairs of a museum? I blame it on a lack of education and understanding of the field, but also on a pure desire to exploit a field that is new and therefore “cool.” What is your stance?

Contemporary dance and performance in the visual arts context is about witnessing the here and now, about sharing time and space. The fact of exploiting an artist or performer is a question of how you frame a certain situation or performance and how precisely the space and the respective audience is taken into account. What one needs to understand is that there is no scheme that can be applied to all the various forms of representation in contemporary performance practice. Therefore each work of art has to be treated individually and dealt with as a very unique construction with real bodies in real time requiring a very particular sensibility.

Can you give an example of this from your recent curatorial projects?

A very good example is the performance Supernatural (2015) by Simone Aughterlony, Antonija Livingstone and Hahn Rowe, which I first saw in the studio during rehearsals in Zurich. It immediately appeared to me that the work needed a certain proximity in order to speak to me. Even though the piece was originally created for the theater, I proposed the artists present the piece in a white cube during the zürich moves! festival, and later in an outdoor parking lot in downtown Los Angeles, during the Queer Biennial II.

You co-curated the Queer Biennial II in 2015 in Los Angeles. Among the performances, I’d like to mention François Chaignaud’s Dumy Moyi (2013), a powerful work about identity and the pleasure of performing. I consider François to be among the most talented performers of this generation, with a physical and intellectual dedication to exploring the meaning of movement on stage that is astonishing. The last time I was so moved by a dance piece was in 2002, when I saw Pina Bausch in Café Müller (1985). After that, for me, it was like a desert. I thought I would never again be moved by dance in such an intense way; then came François…

Indeed, François is an exceptional thinker, creator and performer, with a practice that challenges themselves every single time anew and yet facilitates the spectator and catapults them into another universe. An exceptional example of an honest, intimate, complex, stylized and yet disturbing artistic practice.

You also founded the zürich moves! festival, an annual platform breaking boundaries between different contemporary practices in the performing arts. Can you talk about it?

Every year the festival program is done around a different topic and builds a different curatorial context. The artistic work is presented in various spaces and through multiple collaborations ranging from site-specific projects, the black box, the white cube and off-spaces. The multifaceted platform creates time-based experiences, engages and challenges the embodied presence and abstraction of the body. The very core idea of the festival is to bring contemporary performance to more hybrid spaces, disrupting the distance between performer and audience, creating an artistic flow and breaking the traditional and classical idea of normative thinking. During the past six editions, I forged the festival into a happening of artists and spectators, an intersection between art and life.

In order to put together the programming for zürich moves! not only does the individual artwork have to be taken into consideration, but also the overall dramaturgy of the entire format, in the sense that the artwork itself and the experience created by the work — the geographic location of the venue, the time and duration of the work, the number of people — have to be taken into account while organizing the festival.

What are the key questions you have to keep asking yourself in the course of your practice?

Where and when is it most appropriate to present a piece, and what effect will that have on the perception of the work? What is the aim of the artist? How much attention can be given to a piece as a spectator and how much attention is needed? What is the maximum number of spectators in a space? What experience is conveyed through the work? Do I allow people enough time to reflect on a piece? Therefore it is essential to see each work before inviting an artist to collaborate.

How do these questions and answers apply to a pragmatic curatorial choice?

When I saw the work #NEGROPHOBIA (2015) by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko for the first time, the space seemed too big to me and I asked Jaamil whether he could agree to show the piece in the same setting but in a much smaller venue. It seemed to me that through the dimension of the space the spectator was able to dive into this very important and powerful artistic creation, which is disturbing and soothing at the same time.

Another example was the one-on-one encounter with artists in “Eternal One-Night Stand” in collaboration with Random Institute for zürich moves! 2015. A wooden labyrinth construction led the visitor through eight different spectacles and private encounters with the artists. The evening entailed one-on-one performances in which each visitor experienced each performance on their own. Each spectator got to spend ten minutes with the eight participating artists before moving on to the next “box” along the wooden maze. Once in the sequence the visitor could only move forward and had to commit to the eighty-minute cycle. The installation ran over the course of five hours.

Finally, can you talk about your position at Tanzhaus Zürich, one of the most important centers for contemporary performance and dance in Switzerland, and its current architectural development and renovation?

Tanzhaus Zürich was founded in 1996 as Tanzhaus Wasserwerk and is mainly funded by the city of Zurich. In 2012 one of the buildings at Tanzhaus Zurich was destroyed by a fire. A new, state-of-the-art facility is being constructed and should be finished by the end of 2018. The new building will improve conditions for dance professionals (studios, a main stage plus a professionally equipped studio stage) as well as the general workflow (larger technical service spaces and storage facilities). Tanzhaus Zürich will definitely gain more visibility and further broaden its reach beyond Switzerland.

by Patrick Steffen

Dance Office is a column dedicated to contemporary dance and performance art.

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News /

The Reopening of The Bass Museum of Art / Miami Beach

“I call that Bazooka Joe pink,” says the man dispatched from New York to spruce up Ugo Rondinone’s forty-two-foot-tall Miami Mountain (2016) in preparation for the reopening of the Bass Museum of Art on Sunday, October 29, 2017.

He’s gazing up at the topmost boulder in the stack of five, all freshly repainted in a rainbow of graffiti-resistant fluorescents, but could just as easily be describing Miami’s signature hue. According to Rondinone, whose clown-filled solo exhibition “good evening beautiful blue” inaugurates the renovated Bass, “Day-Glo color is the most artificial color that you can get.”

Nature and neon, art and artifice flourish under the blistering Miami sun, and the two-year, twelve-million-dollar transformation of the Bass, founded in 1964 by the city of Miami Beach with the donated collection of residents John and Johanna Bass, promises to extend the institution’s role as a cultural hub well beyond the annual bacchanal of Art Basel. Rondinone’s Miami Mountain, an Instagram sensation since it was installed outside the museum last fall to kick off a decade-long collection-building initiative, is just the tip of the iceberg.

“The Bass is Miami Beach’s contemporary art museum, and what we’ve done with this new design is create spaces where you can spend more time with the art,” says executive director and chief curator Silvia Karman Cubiñá. Architect David Gauld, working with Arata Isozaki (who designed the museum’s previous expansion, completed in 2001), carved out an additional forty-seven percent of exhibition space within the existing building, a 1930 Art Deco edifice by Russell Pancoast that began its life as a public library, bringing the total area to 41,000 square feet.

A series of clever moves — replacing the space-hogging central ramp with a sleek staircase, enclosing a terrace to create a sky-lit pavilion for special events, reconfiguring another part of the first floor to make a dedicated space (and entrance) for educational activities — and cosmetic enhancements (an overhauled lighting system, fresh floors and finishes, new signage) combine to create a more polished, integrated and flexible museum that is intuitive rather than daunting to navigate.

Once lobby-less, the new Bass boasts a central gathering space with ample comfortable seating. On one side is a constellation of LED signs that read “welcome” in an array of languages. This Welcome Wall is a new site-specific work by Cameroon-born, Belgium-based Pascale Marthine Tayou, whose solo show “Beautiful” shares the opening bill with Rondinone’s. An exhibition of recent work by Mika Rottenberg will debut in December.

“We’re an urban museum,” says Cubiñá. “You bump into this museum while you’re walking to the beach or a restaurant, and we take that responsibility quite seriously because if people can bump into art, the possibilities are endless.”

by Stephanie Murg

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Review /

Boris Charmatz Volksbühne / Berlin

“I envision a choreographic forest in which no dancer ever repeats any of the gestures, each of which will be shown only once and will vanish as soon as it has been executed — like an ode to the impermanence of the art of dance.”

This is how French choreographer Boris Charmatz describes his most recent work, titled 10 000 gestes (2017). Choreography without repetition would seem an impossibility, but in the case of 10 000 gestes the brilliance of the idea is exceeded by what it produces.

Encountering this work in Templehof Hangar 5 in Berlin, we are stunned by what washes over us. We don’t know where to direct our gaze, but we have the certitude that we will never embrace the entirety of what is happening in front of us, just as we are never able to fully embrace what is happening to us in our lives.

In the studio, each of the twenty-five dancers produced four hundred gestures that Charmatz has accelerated and amplified by human screams. But our experience is something else. Mozart’s Requiem slowly soars above the process and permeates the dance with a sense of ultima ratio, a final reckoning that we are witness to but are also subjected to, since the dancers will end the show by swallowing and trespassing the audience’s space. The way the stage is invaded at the beginning of the piece evokes the way each of us arrives in this world, alone, to be then thrown into a casual network of encounters that here mostly resemble collisions. We can follow the individual journey of a given dancer, whose actions may evoke the patterns and cadences of life, with collective episodes suggesting birth, religious gatherings, events of joy or mourning, or solitary wandering.

“In 10 000 gestes it is the ephemeral taken to the extreme that engenders the gaze and the thought of the spectator. The chaos of expenditure is so perfect that it vergers on immobility,” adds Charmatz. The dance proposes nothing less than the pure human condition in its most urgent essence; performed before our eyes, it allows us to reflect on our existence.

by Emmanuelle Huyhn

(Translated from French by Patrick Steffen)
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Game State /

Bottle Flipping and Pokémon Go

“The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

—Marcel Proust

The summer of 2016 will be forever remembered (particularly by those who were middle schoolers at the time) as The Summer of Bottle Flipping and Pokémon Go. And while the differences between the two pursuits are striking, they have more in common than is immediately apparent.

One showcases advancements in augmented reality; the other uses a plastic bottle. One has made the software development company Niantic Inc. millions of dollars, while nobody, as of this writing, has successfully monetized bottle flipping in any significant way.

The bottle-flipping fad involved simply pouring water into a bottle and propelling the bottle with a flick off the wrist in such a manner that it “flips” in midair and hopefully lands upright on its base. The game is governed by the laws of physics on Earth. The volume of liquid, the velocity and thrust of the bottle and its subsequent hang time, in which the bottle momentarily appears weightless mid-rotation, and the pull of the Earth’s gravity are the mitigating factors that control the spin and landing of the bottle.

For months children everywhere were carefully lobbing one-third-filled plastic bottles with the desired quantifiable outcome of achieving elegant landings — much to the profound annoyance of parents, teachers, nannies and anyone else that was paying attention.

It was a charming pursuit that joyously illustrated the pleasure in re-familiarizing ourselves with the mundane, finding different ways to engage with a “thing.” Plastic bottles, fluids and the Earth’s gravitational pull are intrinsic components of probably everyone’s everyday life. Bottle flipping merely ascribed new meaning and purpose to these actors and asked what else could be done with them.

Pokémon Go was the logical confluence of recent developments in augmented reality and a twenty-year-old fictional wildlife franchise. Through a smartphone app, the Pokémon game world’s fictional inhabitants are grafted onto the external world. Familiar surroundings and routines — the walk to school, the local park — all take on new significance as potential Pokémon habitats. Players temporarily adopt a new way of looking at familiar sights with the specific purpose of locating and capturing the Pokémon that walk among us.

Bottle flippers are “playing” the bottle in the same way that Pokémon Go enthusiasts are “playing” the neighborhood. Both activities pull into sharp focus two distinct frameworks, layered on top of each other, that are essential to our understanding of reality: the rules of society and the laws of nature.

By reorganizing these rules, players create a space that game theorists such as Johan Huizinga, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman refer to as a “magic circle.” “The arena, the card table, the magic circle,” says Huizinga, “are all in form and function playgrounds… within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.”

In the book Half-Real, Jesper Juul notes, “Huizinga is mainly interested in how such play activities persist after the game is abandoned: ‘the feeling of being “apart together” in an exceptional situation, of sharing something important, of mutually withdrawing from the rest of the world and rejecting the usual norms, retains its magic beyond the duration of the individual game.’” Juul goes on to say, “rules separate the game from the rest of the world by carving out an area where the rules apply; fiction projects a world different from the real world. The space of a game is part of the world in which it is played, but the space of fiction is outside the world from which it is created.”

The fictional world of Pokémon as presented in the game Pokémon Go is equally experienced on an electronic device and in real-world locations. The fiction of Pokémon is on the phone but the rules that make the play possible are in both the phone and the world outside the game. And even once you’ve deleted the app, the Pokémon are still out there, roaming the streets.

Smartphones took on a different role in bottle flipping. Their function was more passive during play but integral to post-play activities. Flippers would record and share their most impressive flips by means of the phone, though countless gigabytes of storage space were doubtlessly taken up by video recordings of failed flips. The phone was integral to the craze going viral, but, crucially, the actual game was not taking place on the phone itself. It was not a downloadable bottle-flipping game to be played on a smartphone.

It so easily could have been. After all, the physics-based puzzles of the mobile game Angry Birds were phenomenally successful. Flipping imaginary bottles on a smartphones sounds like a thoroughly plausible and modern use of time. But if the touch screen interface of the mobile phone provides no substitute for the real thing, Pokémon Go has shown us how an augmented reality bottle-flipping game could work: flipping virtual bottles and having them land in real space. A hybrid of Pokémon Go and bottle flipping could be the game that pushes parents over the edge in 2018.

by Oliver Payne

Game State is a column by artist Oliver Payne covering the mechanics, aesthetics and ideas of video games.

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Review /

Li Shurui White Space / Beijing

The painting practice of Li Shurui has long been an investigation into the visual experiences of light and color, and her recent solo show “LSR · Deep White” embodies a continuation and an expansion of her work over the past decade. With an increasingly spatialized and immersive approach, the artist blends both immense scale and controlled minimalism. 

Beginning in the gallery’s cavernous left hall, three works form a colossal painting installation. Wave No. 6 (2015) echoes her earlier light-based works, though, without the figural elements and shadowy bodies that appeared in earlier paintings inspired by LEDs and Chongqing’s nightlife, it represents a move further into abstraction. In more recent works, her exploration of sound waves provokes a synesthetic experience that fuses the visual and the sonic; the picture plane is released from its two-dimensional limits, summoning both depth and movement from flatness and stasis.

In a subtler vein, Wave No. 10 (2015–16) employs a restrained color palette of subdued dark tones in gridded, plaid patterns. Mindfile Storage Unit No. 201708 (2017), positioned between these two ten-meter-wide canvases from the “Wave” series, is a pearlescent orb informed by Li’s research into natural forms and religious architecture. Combined, the three works form a cosmic flag, an occult tableau that could be mistaken for a set piece in an Alejandro Jodorowsky film. Questioning the boundaries of the frame, Li draws the viewer into an experience that is both intoxicating and sobering; when viewed up close, the canvases create their own bounded worlds of vision as the edges of the frames vanish.

In the adjacent hall, the exhibition’s eponymous work Deep White (2016–17) presents a mesmerizing array of 114 canvases of varying dimensions, installed together in a rectangular configuration. As a totality, the installation resembles a pixelated composite image, one that shares both the aesthetic tropes of Photoshop color gradients as well as the landscape painting idioms of a pastoral cloudscape.

While the works refuse to traffic in any direct, referential meaning, the paintings obliquely evoke the ubiquitous presence of digital screens that dominate our contemporary visual experience. The calculated repetition of airbrushed dots displays a meditative — perhaps obsessive — practice that might strike some viewers as cold and alienating, yet the works might also be read as preliminary experiments that open up new ways of seeing. The exhibition suggests a new relationship to the natural world, one in which the manual practices of painting are channeled through the digital apparatuses that mediate our vision.

by Benny Shaffer

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