Critical writing from the expanded field of contemporary art.


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Ben Eastham


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Patrick Langley, Francesca Wade


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Novuyo Moyo


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criticism@e-flux.com

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              Juliana Huxtable and Tongue in the Mind
              Harry Burke
              As a teenage indie fan, I spent countless hours on peer-to-peer file sharing platforms like LimeWire and Kazaa, and later blogs and MySpace pages, on which I discovered bands like the Velvet Underground, Boredoms, and Gang Gang Dance. Each products of art scenes, these acts not only soundtracked my adolescence but, by showing me alternative ways of listening and living, sparked my curiosity for contemporary art. In their New York City debut at National Sawdust early last month, Tongue in the Mind forged a novel branch in the art-rock lineage. The project follows almost ten years of collaborations between artist Juliana Huxtable and multi-instrumentalist Joe Heffernan, also known as Jealous Orgasm, who are joined by DJ and producer Via App on electronics. Huxtable’s art practice spans creative registers, and muses on themes including furry fandom and the psychedelic edges of queer desire. An acclaimed DJ, her inventive sets defy genre and expectations, whether she’s playing Berghain or the basement of a bar. Tongue in the Mind synthesizes these pursuits, and evidences the trio’s musical and artistic maturation. The performance was the finale of “Archive of Desire,” a week-long ode to the Alexandrian poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863–1933), programmed by the ...
              On Trevor Paglen’s unstable truths
              ​R.H. Lossin
              Trevor Paglen’s early work was made while George W. Bush was marching the United States and its allies into a war justified by an image that was neither real nor fake. Despite the convenient, racist confusion of Middle Eastern countries in the minds of many Americans, it was widely known that Iraq had no relationship to the attack on Wall Street in 2001. And so the pageantry of legitimate aggression was obliged to produce another justification for Operation Iraqi Freedom: proof that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. When Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council in a bid to secure international sanction for the invasion, what he presented was a set of blurry, ambiguous satellite images of what appeared to be buildings. The official reason for invading Iraq was a specific, actively enforced interpretation of some grainy shapes. Before Powell’s UN speech transformed the grainy shapes into sites for nuclear weapons production, the tapestry of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937/55), which depicts civilian death by aerial bombardment and hangs at the entrance to the Security Council chambers, was covered up. Wars are always fought with propaganda, but this one began with an image whose facticity ...
              “El Dorado. Un territorio”
              Sylvie Fortin
              For days, I couldn’t get Charles’s gold supertunica off my Instagram feed. The newly minted king had leveraged gold’s hallucinatory power: he could count on Meta’s algorithm, designed to mine attention. The word “hallucination” was coined by Thomas Browne, to whom the English language owes more than 750 others, including “computer,” “coexistence,” “exhaustion,” and “indigenous.” These disparate expressions of power, currency, and representation coalesce in “El Dorado. Un territorio,” on view at the waterfront Fundación Proa in La Boca, where the Spanish landed in 1536, as the Matanza River—South America’s most polluted waterway—meanders past the art institution. Developed collaboratively by Fundación Proa, the Americas Society (New York) and Museo Amparo (Pueblo, Mexico) to explore the myth of El Dorado, its multivalence, and its contemporary resonances through the work of Latin American artists, the project comprises three distinct exhibitions. This serial form reflects, according to the organizers, the concept’s core elusiveness and its diverse manifestations around Latin America since 1492. It also refutes the very idea of Latin America—a geopolitics imagined by colonial capitalism and sustained by neoliberalism—by presenting three locally-specific approaches to the myth. In Buenos Aires, the project’s first iteration brings together works by twenty-seven contemporary and several anonymous ...
              “Solid sources”
              The Editors
              The collapse of faith in political institutions that shapes the present might be traced back to a bad faith reading of an image twenty years ago. “Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” insisted US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN Security Council. These “solid sources” included a set of blurred satellite images that represented—he claimed—a facility producing the weapons of mass destruction that would justify the US-led invasion of Iraq. As R. H. Lossin points out in an essay on the work of Trevor Paglen that we’ll publish this month, the war that fatally undermined both the rules-based international order and the presumption that its leaders should be accountable to truths was predicated on “a specific, actively enforced interpretation of some grainy shapes.” What is at stake when images are used to construct realities conducive to power? How, as political subjects with our own biases, can we make informed judgements of images that support multiple interpretations, or are of uncertain provenance, or refuse altogether to be read? And how do we respond to the tendency to build dangerous conspiracies out of images that are, like the grainy shapes in Powell’s PowerPoint presentation, ...
              Sophia Giovannitti’s Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex
              Wendy Vogel
              In the opening pages of Working Girl, Sophia Giovannitti—artist, writer, sex worker—makes a case for her choice of “pleasure work” over the drudgery of a day job. “When I say make pleasure work, I mean to sell sex and art,” she writes, “not because doing what you love makes work more bearable, but because the particular economic conditions in these industries facilitate maneuvers and scams that allow people to work less and do what you love more.” Given this fiery beginning, I expected a full Marxist takedown of the art market, or perhaps an angry manifesto à la Virginie Despentes’s King Kong Theory (2006). Giovannitti borrows elements from both, at a cooler temperature, as she argues for working the system to one’s advantage. Threading together memoir and criticism, her volume charts a journey through contemporary art addressing prostitution and pornography, the blind spots of movements like MeToo, the politicized actions of sex workers, and finding a way to live beyond labor. The bulk of Giovannitti’s text toggles between a discussion of erotically charged art and her own experiences navigating sex work. Drawing from scholarship by art historians such as Julia Bryan-Wilson, Giovannitti revisits a handful of now-historical works. She considers ...
              “A Posthumous Journey into the Future”
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              I fell into a Star Trek hole during the pandemic. That period was saturated with the overwhelming nausea I felt watching people with power respond disastrously to the crisis, both at the micro level of small art institutions and the macro level of national politics. By comparison, the people responsible in the Star Trek universe—Worf, Dax, B’Elanna Torres, Jean-Luc Picard (maybe not Riker, he always struck me as a bit lecherous)—seemed principled and empathetic. It was like Pepto-Bismol for the mind, a thick, bubble-gum pink pharmaceutical relief to an on-going shitshow. The series’ version of reality included an intact concept of the future and clear protocols for every kind of existential crisis. I found that, given the circumstances, I could ignore the Federation’s institutional resemblance to the United Nations and its problematic and unexamined investment in rationality. Everyone deals with future-dysphoria differently, but a recent group exhibition at the Uppsala Art Museum, “A Posthumous Journey Into the Future,” struck me as a rich study of the alternatives to escapism. It presents the work of nine artists whose works consider the intractability of the future. Curator Rebecka Wigh Abrahamsson justifies the ensemble as an example of archipelagic thinking, a notion proposed ...
              69th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
              Ben Eastham
              Styling itself as the “oldest short film festival in the world” as well as, rather less memorably, the “largest festival in North-Rhine Westphalia,” the annual gathering of filmmakers and producers at Oberhausen offers the latest opportunity to reconsider questions that have shadowed the festival almost since its inception: what do we mean by short film, and how does it relate to the wider fields of cinema and contemporary art? As the classification has been subsumed into “moving image” and migrated online and into the gallery, should we now think of it as a testing ground for approaches that might percolate into mainstream film-making, another channel through which artists might express ideas not confined to a single medium, or a discrete art form with its own histories and non-transferable stylistic characteristics? In proposing rather vaguely that it might be “the experimental field on which future film languages are formed,” the festival’s own literature betrays some of the anxieties arising from the attempt to corral proliferating styles, formats, and economic networks into an overextended category. First impressions of the International Competition were that its curators were perhaps too eager to accommodate all these possible interpretations, and several more besides. Entries were divided ...
              18th Venice Architecture Biennale, “The Laboratory of the Future”
              George Kafka
              In a recent interview with the New York Times, Norman Foster questioned why “we shouldn’t be converting seawater into jet fuel and decarbonizing the ocean at the same time.” Meanwhile, the 10,200sq mile Neom mega-project planned for the Saudi Arabian desert comes with claims of a “new benchmark for combining prosperity, liveability and environmental preservation.” As the architecture profession contends with the ingrained relationship between climate emergencies and built environments, both statements exemplify a tendency towards techno-solutionism in vocal sections of the industry—and betray an approach to design that overlooks material extraction and environmental destruction to justify extravagant capitalist projects behind weak masks of sustainability. For all its challenges—the unmanageable volume of content, the density of text, the opacity of curatorial approaches—the 18th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale offers a firm and timely challenge to this trend. Typically understood as a global state of the union for the profession and broader spatial practices, this edition (titled “The Laboratory of the Future” and curated by Ghanaian-Scottish architect and academic Lesley Lokko) is largely unflinching and rigorous in its selection of projects which reject techno-solutionist sustainability, opting instead for a showcase of architecture for “decolonization and decarbonization.” These themes run through ...
              Prismatic Ground 2023
              Leo Goldsmith
              “The situation now is quite different,” the critic Fred Camper wrote in 1986. Camper, in his much-debated essay of the same name, was marking what he termed the “end of the avant-garde” in film: a transition away from an earlier conception of artists’ cinema, from the 1940s to the 1960s, as a more or less unified aesthetic movement, one premised on an “original sharpness and uniqueness” under whose banner the avant-garde filmmaker marched as a kind of aesthetic shock-trooper, and toward a more uncertain future, “dissolving in a kind of indistinct haze, in which the degree of difference from the commercial mainstream [...] seems to be lessening.” In his essay, Camper mounts his arguments in largely formal terms, suggesting that the drift of experimental filmmakers into academia since the mid 1960s, the routinization of films into avant-garde “sub-genres,” and a postmodern distaste for the language of “masterworks” and grand statements, signaled the terminus of the avant-garde’s distinctive and urgent project. But surely other factors, including the rise of video and the partial dispersal of the New York avant-garde scene—which increased access to the means of media production and widened the often narrow coterie of its adherents—led to the impression that ...
              “Retrotopia: Design for Socialist Spaces”
              Sierra Komar
              To turn left upon entering the darkened exhibition hall of “Retrotopia: Design for Socialist Spaces” is to encounter a motley, utterly heterogeneous collection of objects ranging from the decorative to the domestic to the medical. Nestled against one wall is Cosmic Fantasy (1965): an experimental public sculpture work by Lithuanian artist Algimantas Stoškus consisting of luminescent slabs of stained glass arranged, Tetris-like, on a series of suspended geometrical forms. Adjacent to this is a mint condition Saturnas vacuum cleaner—the ultimate kitschy fusion of lofty, celestial aspirations and household banality—complete with orbiting moon wheels and ring. In a vitrine just opposite the Saturnas is the least recognizable item of the group: a tubular, vaguely biomorphic form that appears to be woven out of some sort of textile. This, it turns out, is one of the first vascular prostheses ever made: a specific model of artificial aorta manufactured in 1960s Lithuania using re-engineered German ribbon-weaving machines. Selected by Lithuanian curator Karolina Jakaitė, this eclectic assemblage of objects and artworks (along with contributions from other Lithuanian creators like sculptor Teodoras Kazimieras Valaitis and architect Vytautas Edmundas Čekanauskas) is one of eleven unique “capsules” that comprise the collaboratively curated “Retrotopia.” In its simultaneous diversity ...
              “Heavy Rotation Infra-habibi-technics”
              Najrin Islam
              Unassuming objects—such as grocery cartons, essential supplies, orange peels, shopping carriers, polythene bags, suitcases, a towel, and a lighter—occupy a large hall of Kunsthalle Bern. Elsewhere in the space, a discarded scratch card lies on the floor beside stacked chairs and potted foliage on wheels. Assembled by artist duo Valentina Ornaghi and Claudio Prestinari, these tableaux stage a material sensorium of the ubiquitous. Fragments of Campo del Cielo meteorite are dispersed across the walls in various permutations as well: a cosmic extension of the morsels that constitute the ordinary. In “Heavy Rotation Infra-habibi-technics,” makeshift infrastructures such as these evoke motion and traffic as well as incidents and happenings that are furtive, off-ledger, or premised on informal networks. These unmoored objects—available to touch and vulnerable to pilfering—are presented in ways that resist easy attribution to the contributing artists, attesting to a different logic of exhibition-making. This reluctance to discretize the works further manifests in the illustration of weather patterns that substitutes for a labelled floor plan, indicating a merging of indistinct “atmospheres.” The orange peels, for instance, refer to a film shown in an enclosed space on the floor below. In Cow Heaven Brawl Cloud (2023), the artist Laura Nitsch films ...
              Nalini Malani’s “Crossing Boundaries”
              Jayne Wilkinson
              After more than fifty years as a pioneering video and installation artist, Nalini Malani maintains a rigor, criticality, and joy that transcends her work’s challenging subject matter. Given that this is the Karachi-born Indian artist’s first solo exhibition in Canada, it’s a curiously small sampling of projects, but nonetheless encompasses the conceptual approaches for which she is best known: strong feminist and activist perspectives on issues related to gender, race, bodily autonomy, and democratic rights; highly charged source material drawn from current or historic events; diverse literary references combined with shadowy, impressionistic figuration to produce immersive video environments; and an ongoing concern with erasure as both aesthetic device and political gesture. Can You Hear Me? (2018–20) is the centerpiece here, a nine-channel installation comprised of eighty-eight individual iPad animations projected across three walls. Each short segment repeats its own brief narrative in frenzied, arhythmic patterns, and is accompanied by a musical score that ranges from soaring and dramatic to cacophonous to (sometimes) barely audible. It’s a tumultuous and relentlessly dynamic experience, with no single focal point. Much like a painted or sculpted frieze, there is no distinguishing one vignette from the next, no firm contours to scenes that bleed across ...
              14th Gwangju Biennale, “soft and weak like water”
              Jason Waite
              The cavernous exhibition hall of the Gwangju Biennale was built in 1994 and intended to host only one exhibition. Walking through the same structure—comprising four mega halls connected by ramps, and still in use by the biennale—feels like exploring an abandoned world expo site. These vast spaces have vexed curators from Okwui Enwezor to Maria Lind, yet this year’s artistic director, Sook-Kyung Lee, has embraced the rickety structure. Instead of constructing new white walls to conceal the building’s decline, Lee and her team have largely left the space as it stands, with the exception of a few partitions of uncut boards and natural-fiber panels. This sensitivity to exhibition environment carries through a thoughtful, slow-moving show that allows ample space for each work to be considered on its own terms. Reflecting Lee’s artist-centric approach, it’s a relatively intimate biennale: seventy artists, many presenting new commissions. A focus of these is textile installations, which demand a particular attention to their making. I-Lann Yee’s Tepo Putih Ikan Masin (Salted Fish White Mat, 2023) is a hanging composed of woven-together north-Malay mats, typically used for drying fish and in other domestic settings. A colorful, shimmering work, it brings disparate references to mind, including kintsugi ...
              New Rules of Immersion
              Chris Fite-Wassilak
              At the heart of Mike Nelson’s Hayward Gallery retrospective is a wooden workbench. Chained to it is a series of Halloween masks: Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, a few scary clowns. The bench is embedded in a dense web of steel mesh that sprawls through the gallery, the haze of mesh dotted at points with concrete heads on hooks that bear bugged-out eyelids and gurning teeth, evidently made using the masks as casts. Studio Apparatus for Kunsthalle Münster (2014) is the high concluding point of this exhibition of Nelson’s detailed and ominous theatrical installations, fully occupying its Brutalist surroundings, as well as providing a concise summation of his work. After wandering through the creepy maze of The Deliverance and The Patience (2001), banging open dozens of doors and dodging other visitors in order to inspect each cramped room lined with cryptic clues—a pantheistic altar in one, a worn-down travel office in another—the sense of being a detective, on the hunt for the whys and whats, is heavy in the dusty air. The masks feel like a tacit acknowledgement of the roles we’re meant to play here: we’re not just any detective, we’re a B-movie detective, pursuing these ready-to-wear cinematic monsters through ...
              SofijaSilvia’s “Pendulum”
              Tom Jeffreys
              SofijaSilvia’s photography touches upon those tender, knotted moments when care for the more-than-human becomes almost inseparable from a politics of domination and control. She returns to loaded institutional sites—like zoos, cemeteries, botanic gardens, and museum storage units—but also places in which aesthetics are more subtly constructed—nature reserves, managed woodlands, and the private retreat of a Communist dictator. Employing various deft framing and display strategies to bring together work across a range of scales—from A6 to 1.5 meters across—made between 2001 and 2022, “Pendulum” addresses local and global catastrophes: earthquakes, forest fires, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Its very presence at the University of Zagreb’s botanical garden is a result of the 2020 earthquake that damaged almost 2,000 buildings across the city, including the Art Pavilion, which had commissioned the exhibition and which remains closed. “Pendulum” responds both conceptually and materially to this context. The garden opened in 1891, when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is a reminder of botany’s proximity to imperialism, and SofijaSilvia effectively unsettles the epistemic hierarchies upon which such institutions were founded. Most of the works are inside a high-ceilinged timber pavilion, built to exhibit wooden products made by prisoners at a forestry exhibition in ...
              On Peter Hujar and Newspaper
              John Douglas Millar
              The critical literature on the photographer Peter Hujar’s work remains relatively slight, and that of value slighter still. One explanation for this is the limited primary material available; Hujar was coterie-famous in his lifetime, but never garnered the exposure that would generate a significant body of contemporary criticism. For reasons in part attributable to his difficult childhood—his father left before he was born, his mother was an irascible and sometimes abusive drinker who left him with his Ukrainian immigrant grandparents for the first years of his life—Hujar refused paternalism of any kind, either toward himself or his work, and he maintained an ascetic, almost Beckettian attitude toward speaking on behalf of either. He wrote almost nothing about his photography for publication. Many of his letters are lost. On the single occasion he was invited to speak before an audience he failed to prepare and froze at the lectern. He granted very few interviews, and in those he did allow he is a bristling, sprung, nervous subject, evasive to the point of embarrassment. In the only extensive interview he gave, conducted by his sometime lover and protégé David Wojnarowicz, almost the first thing he says is that he will not discuss ...
              Counterpublic 2023
              Noah Simblist
              What is a public? According to the literary critic Michael Warner, it is a relation between strangers bound together by law, belief, or shared experience. But as he also points out, the public is a dominant community that excludes subaltern groups who must form “counterpublics” to create alternative forms of community and discourse to survive the onslaught of structural oppression that the public produces. This notion inspired the St. Louis–based triennial Counterpublic, founded in 2019. Its second iteration features thirty commissioned artworks spread throughout the city. Artistic director James McAnally, along with a curatorial ensemble that included Allison Glenn, Risa Puleo, Diya Vij, and the “public secret society” New Red Order, chose artworks in relation to a city that has faced both Indigenous displacement and racial violence, from the 1857 Dred Scott case to the 2014 murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson police. The resulting exhibition successfully calls attention to the ways in which these and other complex histories are embedded within the city’s urban fabric. Counterpublic 2023 feels like a combination of Documenta 15, centered on community and collaboration, and Prospect, a triennial that focuses on the social and political dimensions of New Orleans. Its deep ...
              Bispo do Rosario’s “All Existing Materials on Earth”
              Elena Vogman
              A number of extravagant garments, marked by generous color schemes and complex embroidery, open the first of three luminous rooms in “All Existing Materials on Earth,” curated by Tie Jojima, Aimé Iglesias Lukin, Ricardo Resende, and Javier Téllez. Its central piece, Manto da apresentação [Annunciation Garment], catches the eye with a multiplicity of details, inscribed with colored threads against a light-brown ground: signs and drawings of objects, names, numbers, abbreviations, and streets of Brazilian cities, utensils, boats and a model of a large sailing ship. A photographic portrait of the artist wearing his magnum opus reveals not a fashion designer but a Brazilian psychiatric patient. The descendant of Black slaves, Arthur Bispo do Rosario (1909/11–1989) spent forty-one years of his life in mental health institutions while accomplishing his “mission.” On the side of the short exhibition text, another mugshot-like portrait of the artist is displayed on the patient card from Colônia Juliano Moreira, the hospital where Bispo was interned. He is described as “indigent,” a wandering Black beggar bearing no documents. The card repeats the police record from December 1938, when Bispo was arrested in Rio de Janeiro and diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia.” It was the month of Bispo’s revelation: ...
              Mixed up and placed together
              The Editors
              In his forthcoming essay on Peter Hujar and Steve Lawrence’s Newspaper project, John Douglas Millar quotes the art historian Marcelo Gabriel Yáñez as saying that the purpose of that publication “was that images were brought together from disparate contexts, mixed up, and placed together in a way that forced meaning and correspondence beyond their apparent lack of connection and/or hierarchical distinctions.” Given that we will publish Millar’s text in close proximity to a piece on the Brazilian artist Arthur Bispo do Rosário, who used his time in a psychiatric institution to create a body of work that advanced his divine mission, and a review of the latest Gwangju Biennale, which promises to focus on responses to the political crises of the present, something similar might be said of e-flux Criticism’s program. And the purpose served by these juxtapositions might be the same: not to flatten different forms of cultural expression into the increasingly stretched and unstable category of contemporary art, but to generate new meanings through the friction that occurs when various forms rub up against each other. If contemporary art is an unstable typology, then a publication devoted to its criticism might attend to the points at which it ...
              Claire Dederer’s Monsters
              Orit Gat
              I hate to admit that on my honeymoon in New York I watched Woody Allen play the clarinet at the Carlyle. My ex-husband was a huge Woody Allen fan and at the time (for the record, I was very young) I had a loose sense that Allen was bad but didn’t know the details. And I loved Annie Hall (1977): Diane Keaton, her outfits and personality, the joyfulness of it. I wanted to love it; to love it, I had to avoid difficult questions. Or just one question. “What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” This is the issue at the heart of Claire Dederer’s book, which tackles the dilemma of whether the artist’s biography can be separated from the work. In his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes argued that to look away from biography enables the “birth of the reader,” indicating that it’s on us—readers—to come to terms with the moral ends of looking at art. But what happens when the artist was also an abuser? Dederer, a film critic, opens with Roman Polanski, charged with drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl. The book goes on to discuss Allen, Michael Jackson, J. ...
              Elizabeth Price’s “Sound of the Break”
              Lua Vollaard
              A tremble, a silence, and a piercing clatter: “Sound of the Break” derives its name from a sequence in Elizabeth Price’s video installation A RESTORATION (2016), which displays what a voiceover calls “a great hectic gathering” of archival images of vessels from Oxford’s Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums. A disembodied choir argues that these objects are made to be broken, so that their echoes can resound. When a Boscobel Oak wineglass falls and breaks off-screen, the choir declares it “a small sacrifice” of which “the great rumble resonates.” A RESTORATION brings together many of Price’s recurring motifs: choirs of synthetically generated voices; archives absent from the historic record; interwoven technological histories; architectural plans as conceptual metaphors; sardonic institutional critiques; and untold feminist cosmologies. It is one of four works in her solo exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (the building, fittingly, is also home to a music school). Two dark spaces, each displaying two video works shown consecutively on loop, connect to a central viewing room in which four screens show new video lectures, made in 2020 during lockdown in London. Other works here include FELT TIP (2018), on how information technologies transformed the workplace; UNDERFOOT (2022), on the sonic ...
              Photography Report: Imaging Racial Capital
              KJ Abudu
              That photography has become one of the most banal visual interfaces in twenty-first-century life is no new observation. Every day, millions of people upload scores of images to privatized servers; encounter even more images on algorithmically governed online platforms; and craft their lives in accordance with the cohesive textures of branded imagery. With this, one might ask whether photography’s critical force and relevance has waned in our image-saturated present or, conversely, if its pertinence has been heightened by the unique burden it bears in reflecting on its ethical, political, and aesthetic relation to the accumulating heap of images. Three recent photography-led exhibitions in New York City forged unexpectedly generative dialogues, laying bare photography’s embodied contradictions. These exhibitions, by LaToya Ruby Frazier, Tina Barney, and Buck Ellison, suggest that the medium’s dissonant valences symptomize the wider social contradictions of racial capital and its attendant global crises. Installed at Gladstone Gallery is LaToya Ruby Frazier’s More Than Conquerors: A Monument for Community Health Workers of Baltimore, Maryland (2021–22)—after its first showing at the 58th Carnegie International, for which it won the Carnegie Prize. Eighteen metal IV poles are arranged into a minimal grid, their fluid-filled bags notably absent, evoking the spectral gravity ...
              “Refigured”
              Travis Diehl
              Among a spring flush of screen-, code-, and tech-related museum shows, “Refigured” at the Whitney stands out for its concision. The exhibition’s frame may seem vague—the human figure vis-a-vis technology at times verges on a universalized body—but the five works by six artists pulled by in-house curator Christiane Paul from the Whitney’s holdings maintain a fairly tight focus on the physical possibilities of digital bodies, from statues to demigods to talking heads. In Auriea Harvey’s Ox (2020) and Ox v1-dv2 (apotheosis) (2021), for instance, a muscular, berobed humanoid called Ox—which the wall label describes as an avatar for the artist—appears three times over: a pigmented statuette around 20 cm tall, a 3D model presented on a monitor, and an AR version pinned nearby and visible through an iPad tethered to its plinth. The artist’s intentions notwithstanding, Ox exists in digital and psychic “space” as a concept, a potentiality, and these various renderings are all concessions to display in a physical room. In fact, as each new struggling trillion-dollar metaverse venture demonstrates, even state-of-the-art interfaces between the digital and physical “realms” remain pretty clunky (and the hardware here is not state of the art). The redundancy of Ox means there are ...
              Jimmie Durham’s uncompleted project
              Elizabeth A. Povinelli
              In his 2022 book Il rovescio della nazione [The reverse of the nation], Carmine Conelli tells readers about a group of Jesuits who have just returned to the region around Naples in 1561 after years of evangelizing in the Americas. Having honed the skills of spiritual conversion across the Atlantic, they dedicate themselves to doing the same amongst the wild southern “India italiana.” Naples was not merely one moment in the terrifying spiral of European history, it was arguably ground zero. As Maria Thereza Alves has shown, the Spanish invasion of Aztec and Inca worlds carted shiploads of crated silver into the ports of Naples, kicking off price inflation throughout Europe and initiating an exploratory arms race among the major powers of western Europe to find new worlds to claim and sack. Courts heard testimony about the rights of Europeans to slaughter or enslave others on the basis of their wild nature. Soon the same was said of lands within Europe. Mad contortions of self and other ensued. “Let’s do to us what we did to them,” runs the idea, “because some of us are wild and primitive, and yet none of us will ever be like any of them, ...
              Raqs Media Collective’s “1980 in Parallax”
              Patrick Langley
              Charles Jencks was a pioneer of postmodern architecture—or “bastard classicism,” as his American detractors put it. In 1979 the American-born polymath and his wife, the garden designer and historian Maggie Keswick Jencks, purchased a large townhouse in London’s Holland Park and extensively redesigned it over the next five years. At once a family home and a “built manifesto,” The Cosmic House nods to Ancient Egyptian, Baroque, and Hindu architecture, modern science and urban planning, the Zodiac, western philosophy, and much else besides. Jencks integrated his eclectic references into a rich (and kitsch) symbolic scheme that sought to reconcile micro- and macrocosms: domestic pleasures and cosmic immensities; private gags and philosophical traditions. A cantilevered spiral staircase at the center of the building, for example, doubles as a model of the solar year with fifty-two steps for each week; at its base is Eduardo Paolozzi’s circular mosaic Black Hole (1982). Leading off from this mosaic is the basement gallery, home to an elegant exhibition by New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective. (Jencks was co-designing the gallery with his daughter Lily until his death in 2019; the museum opened to the public two years later.) Founded in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and ...
              Bayo Alvaro’s “¡Suéltame!”
              Gaby Cepeda
              Bayo Alvaro’s recent sculptures—evocative of strange, alien flora—recall Karen Barad’s descriptions of a “queer performativity” of nature. In this conception of the natural world, nothing is ever exclusively male or female, animate and inanimate; nor is it simply good or evil. Rather, there is endless potential for change and intra-action. The pieces in Alvaro’s third solo show in Mexico City and his first with Deli—a recently opened branch of the New York gallery—appear laced together in symbiosis, reflecting the ways in which living beings continuously tend towards and transform one another. The young Mexican artist has previously worked across photography, collage, and installation. Here, the focus is on sculpture. The fifteen pieces lushly spread across Deli’s spacious, four-room gallery showcase Alvaro’s approach to sculpting forms that defy easy categorization, ambiguously poised between plants and animals, living creatures and inanimate objects. Alvaro’s objects are particularly lucid examples of a common trend in contemporary sculpture: his seductive treatment of materials sets him apart from more discursive, didactic attempts. Each room feels thoroughly articulated. Pieces are placed in proximity, as if engaged in intricate dialogue, while smaller works are arranged as if to form an intimate ecosystem. Such is the case in the ...
              “Bruno Schulz: The Iron Capital of the Spirit”
              Ewa Borysiewicz
              In 1942, the Jewish-Polish artist and writer Bruno Schulz was murdered in the street by a Nazi officer. Though his weird and immersive short stories—many of which are set in his hometown Drohobych and in a dreamscape rendered after it—have lasted, most of his art perished with him. The small fragment of his visual oeuvre which survived the war has often been sensationalized, reduced to mere embodiments of the artist’s masochistic and fetishistic fantasies. Thankfully, here curator Jan Owczarek proposes a more nuanced take, setting Schulz’s work alongside that of contemporary artists who share his interest in forging personal, ambivalent mythologies. The title of the show is sourced from an interview with the artist in which he suggests that artists tend to explore a limited number of subjects across their creative lives. The exhibition charts the handful of visual themes towards which Schulz leaned—genre scenes against a city background, or conversations set in tiny rooms—but his overarching subject, returned to obsessively, was the depiction of gendered power dynamics. The opening work—a 1919 self-portrait in pencil on paper—serves as a good example. Here, we see the artist, his gaze fixed on the beholder, leaning in front of a drawing board. The ...
              “Unschöne Museen”
              Aoife Rosenmeyer
              One institution considers another: in a pugilistic text that frames the dense exhibition “Unschöne Museen” [Unbeautiful Museums] at gta exhibitions—part of the ETH Zürich’s architecture department—curators Fredi Fischli, Niels Olsen and Geraldine Tedder mention that recent events at the Kunsthaus Zürich catalyzed this show. The latter behemoth is currently addressing questions of provenance and funding after unflattering investigations into its relationship with donor Emil Georg Bührle. In 2021 the Bührle collection, on long-term loan, went on show in a purpose-built Chipperfield-designed extension to the Kunsthaus. Bührle, who died in 1956, became rich selling arms to Germany under the Nazis; his businesses later cooperated with the government of South Africa under Apartheid. The Kunsthaus’s gestures towards openness in this regard—such as commissioning ongoing additional research on the provenance of works in the Bührle collection—feel overdue. Nonetheless, it’s staggering for anyone who arrived in Switzerland this millennium that Hans Haacke exhibited Buhrlesque at Kunsthalle Bern back in 1985. Recreated at gta, two shoes made by Bally (a Bührle subsidiary) double as candle-holders on an altar decorated with other Bührle references—all venerating a framed issue of Paratus magazine (the official periodical of the South African Defense Force) celebrating a South African military visit ...
              “Cinema of Sensations: The Never-Ending Screen of Val del Omar”
              Herb Shellenberger
              A quick survey of a handful of my peers—among them several experimental filmmakers, curators, and academics—revealed that none of them recognized the name José Val del Omar (1904–82). This came as a surprise to me, given that Val del Omar is perhaps the most foundational filmmaker of Spanish avant-garde cinema. My peers’ responses were ample if anecdotal evidence that the Museum of the Moving Image’s “Cinema of Sensations: The Never-Ending Screen of Val del Omar” is not only much needed; it should also provide an eye-opening look at the work of a visionary artist who is too little-known outside his home country—even to those who are invested in the subject of experimental film. “Cinema of Sensations,” in the museum’s temporary exhibition gallery, demonstrates that Val del Omar was not just a filmmaker but a technician and inventor, cultural critic and theorist, and a trailblazing artist whose work and ideas spilled across many forms and media. This chronological exhibition opens with Val del Omar’s first films, made in rural towns that he visited during the early 1930s as part of the Misiones Pedagógicas (Pedagogical Missions) literacy campaign. It closes with the techno-futuristic experiments developed at his P.L.A.T. lab, a live-in studio space ...
              Rose B. Simpson’s “Road Less Traveled”
              Alan Gilbert
              The new human may not be very human after all, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As Sylvia Wynter argues, the Western concept of the human—or, more specifically, the category of Man—was created at the dawn of the early modern period to establish distinctions between Europeans and non-Europeans that granted the former the right to enslave and exterminate Indigenous populations in what came to be called the Americas, before quickly pivoting this framework toward Africa. The movement away from divine, Christian authority to a secular and legalistic one rooted this constructed racialism in the developing discourse of humanism. And while the consequences resulting from the designations “human” and “not human” quickly spread throughout the economic networks of the era, they were also generated in the cultural sphere with its race- and gender-specific “overrepresentation of Man,” as Wynter terms it. What is the legacy of this European idea of the human when considering the proliferation of various modes of figuration in contemporary cultural production? Rose B. Simpson’s “Road Less Traveled” contains ceramic humanoid sculptures that look simultaneously ancient and futuristic. Do these works represent a human form that exists on either side of the five-hundred-plus-year history delineated by Wynter? In ...
              73rd Berlin International Film Festival, “Forum Expanded”
              Asia Bazdyrieva
              The “Forum Expanded” section of the Berlinale, an assemblage of exhibitions distributed across three venues and any number of screens, charts the points at which cinema meets the visual arts. This year’s edition, titled “An Atypical Orbit,” aimed to set in motion “fluctuating proximities—political and personal legacies which often lie in shambles” and to “challenge the status quo through exhibiting works that redefine cinema.” In attempting to solve two problems—to host a platform for political articulation, and to critically engage with moving images and media as such—the Forum Expanded faced a conundrum: its archival and historiographic approach, as well as the aesthetic and political emphases in the overall selection of works and conversations, induced a certain lethargy: a sense of being unwilling or unable to respond to those current emergencies which do not yet have established narratives. In Betonhalle’s entrance corridor, Tenzin Phuntsog’s Dreams (2022) set up the exhibition’s dream-like ambience. The work portrays a sleeping couple— immigrants from Tibet to the US—floating in space against a quiet, blueish monochrome background. The pair reappear in a two-channel video, Pala Amala (2022), posing silently in nondescript settings. These large-screen, meditative works sat in contrast to the small, phone-like screens which ...
              Only connect?
              The Editors
              “The problem of criticism,” wrote John Berger, “is fundamentally the problem of connection.” The celebrated autonomy of modern western art might have freed it from the old institutions, but this did not lead to the anticipated reconciliation of art and life. Instead they drifted away from each other, and so criticism emerged to bridge the gap by connecting artists to audiences who might have other things to do with their lives than keep up with an increasingly specialized discourse. Or that might be one function: Berger is careful to distinguish between “studio criticism” and “public criticism,” the former intended as feedback for the artist (the critic as intellectual advisor to the creative community) and the latter for a non-specialist spectator whose position in relation to the work the critic must assume. The first responsibility of the public critic is therefore to relate the production of artists to the issues shaping the world through which its audience is living (“it is criminally irresponsible,” wrote Berger in 1955, “for any intellectual today not to consider his and every subject in relation to the threat of the H bomb,” to which we might add some more recent catastrophes). The question of what ...
              A. Laurie Palmer’s The Lichen Museum
              Brian Karl
              You’ve probably stepped on some quite recently. Or at least walked by, or even sat on a patch, though perhaps without registering what “they” were. Ordinary, near ubiquitous, seemingly static or at least glacially slow-growing, and not particularly cute or charismatic, lichen are seldom observed consciously at all, much less celebrated, related to, or clearly understood. Like a riddle straddling the edges of the living and the physical environment—faint dustings of powder or inert, wispy fronds—lichen occupies a subliminal place in most other creatures’ perceptions and consciousness. A. Laurie Palmer’s ongoing The Lichen Museum project, on which she has been working for more than a decade, resolves in a new book that endeavors to re-focus human attention as an act of aesthetic intervention—i.e., both conceptually as well as perceptually. A series of thematically oriented chapters (“Lichen Time,” “In Place,” and “More than One” among them) interleave excerpts from ecological texts and interviews with scientists with her own accounts of lichens and lichenology, and range from natural observation to philosophical abstraction. Reading this work thus feels like taking a series of walks with a particularly curious and sensitive companion, consistently attentive to otherwise neglected facets of the actual environment. Yet Palmer’s ...
              “Anatomies of Languages Lost and Found”
              Mirene Arsanios / Dina Ramadan
              In her collection of essays and stories, The Autobiography of a Language (2022), Mirene Arsanios both yearns for the comfort of a mother-tongue and rejects the nationalistic confines of monolingualism. In doing so she develops some of the themes previously explored in Notes on Mother Tongues (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2020) and A City Outside the Sentence (2015), a chapbook produced by Ashkal Alwan. Raised in a number of languages, the New York-based Lebanese writer and founding editor of the Arabic/English literary magazine Makhzin floats through the spaces between them in search of an ever-elusive narrative. Spanning significant personal and political changes for Arsanios, The Autobiography of a Language is an exploration of the possibilities and limitations of the narrative form, the frailty of the human body, the pain of dislocation and the trauma of lost inheritance. Through experimentation with style and form, language is dissected, its innards turned inside out, its distortions and contradictions laid bare, messy, and tangled. Dina Ramadan: Perhaps we can begin by talking about the time frame of this book. These essays and stories come from very different moments, personally and politically, locally and globally. Mirene Arsanios: Yes, thanks for noticing the temporal arc of the ...
              18th Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival
              Dylan Huw
              This year’s Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival (BFMAF) took place for the first time in the spring, befitting a rich slate of films that explored themes of renewal: of history, archives, and land. Loosely dedicated to emergent practices in the space where “cinema” and “artists’ moving image” intersect, BFMAF has since its inaugural 2005 edition taken as given the intertwinement of the aesthetic and the political, and refused antagonisms between fiction and non-fiction, shorts and features, old and new. While experimental documentary forms dominated its eighteenth edition, many highlights looked to the liberatory capacities of narrative fiction and performance, as subjects and strategies of excavation. A mini-retrospective of films by Anastasia Lapsui and Markku Lehmuskallio, curated by long-time BFMAF programmer Herb Shellenberger, formed one throughline. The duo’s films are made among the Nenets people of Arctic Russia, of whom Lapsui is a member. Their distinctly embedded cine-poetics—a “Fourth Cinema” practice developed over the last four decades—anchored a festival in which queer and Indigenous modes of documentary fabulation proliferated, as filmmakers exploded specific ties to land and place through performative, sublime, and fantastic means. Life on the CAPS (2022), the final part of Meriem Bennani’s sprawling trilogy of speculative fictions, ...
              “Signals: How Video Transformed the World”
              Dennis Lim
              “Video is everywhere,” begins the wall text at the entrance to MoMA’s largest video show in decades, as if on a cautionary note. Equally, to borrow an aphorism from Shigeko Kubota, subject of a recent MoMA exhibition: “Everything is video.” (It is worth noting that Kubota said this in 1975.) In tracing the evolution of video from its emergence as a consumer technology in the 1960s to its present-day ubiquity, “Signals” covers a dauntingly vast sixty-year span. A lot happened—not least to video itself—in the years separating the Portapak and the iPhone, half-inch tape and the digital cloud, and as the material basis of video changed, so too did its role in daily life. This sprawling, frequently thought-provoking show proposes a path through these dizzying developments by considering video as a political force. In their catalog essay, curators Stuart Comer and Michelle Kuo call the exhibition “not a survey but a lens, reframing and revealing a history of massive shifts in society.” Not incidentally, this view of the medium—as a creator of publics and an agent of change—is in direct contradiction to a famous early perspective advanced by Rosalind Krauss, who in a 1976 essay wondered if “the medium of ...
              Martin Wong’s “Malicious Mischief”
              Mitch Speed
              In a 1988 catalog essay, the poet and critic John Yau sketched out the social dimension of Martin Wong’s painting and sculpture. A self-styled “representative of an economically oppressed urban class consisting largely of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians,” the American artist had been snubbed by curators and critics. A quarter-century after Wong’s death, this injustice has been corrected, and this Berlin retrospective of his antic, steamy, humane, and superlatively accessible take on Chinatown San Francisco and New York, from the 1970s to the ’90s, has been lauded. But there’s an anxiety buried in this enthusiasm. In depicting a disappeared America, Wong’s retrospective holds a mirror to the lost world which surrounds KW itself. “Even now,” Wong wrote in a hand-calligraphed 1986 press release, “it’s like the moment in these paintings never existed.” His home cities—his subject—were being gentrified to oblivion. In 1984, New York Magazine wrote of Wong’s downtown Manhattan: “nowhere have the tensions and dramas of [gentrification] been more starkly displayed.” Set aside the differences between the cities and eras, and the same has recently been true of Mitte, the Berlin district in which KW is situated. Nocturne at Ridge Street and Stanton (1987) shows an unpeopled but warm ...
              “Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982”
              Kim Córdova
              This March, OpenAI launched GPT-4: the most sophisticated iteration of the chatbot launched last year. Buried in a white paper concurrently (and quietly) released, OpenAI noted that when asked to solve a CAPTCHA during testing, GPT-4 pretended to be blind and hired a TaskRabbit worker to solve the test on its behalf. “No, I’m not a robot,” GPT-4 told the worker. The exchange makes clear that the societal effects of corporations vying for industry dominance, through the kinds of AI software that Hito Steyerl has called “statistical renderings,” are only just beginning to emerge. Opening during this new space race, “Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952–1982” at LACMA meets this precarious moment with a review of the early collaborations between artists and computers. “Coded” presents art made when access to computers was limited to the military, well-capitalized conglomerates, and select universities. By settling its focus on the late- to mid-century era, the show evades both novelty and the obsolescence traps common when technology is the subject. During this period, the outputs of mainframe programs were constrained to paper printouts, plotters, or microfilm: not the media we might now associate with digital art. But traditional materials were no guarantee for ...
              Peter Wächtler's “A Life on Stage”
              Pedro Neves Marques
              In many of Peter Wächtler’s video works, nothing much seems to happen. In Untitled (Vampire) (2019)—one of four such works on show alongside a series of gesso and bronze sculptures of planes and animals in his first exhibition in Portugal—a Nosferatu copycat, living within the dusty and humid confines of a mountain castle, spends his time writing letters to be delivered at the nearby village; kisses his undead wife on a balcony at night; sleeps with his arms folded over his chest; then goes back to writing letters. In 2013’s animation Untitled (Rat), an anthropomorphic rat repeatedly wakes up in its bed, leaves, presumably goes about its life, and returns back home in the evening. All we are offered by way of context is a single, hand-drawn shot of the rat’s proletarian room. In 2018’s Untitled (Clouds), a quirky dragon with a cutesy straw hat flies about a landscape reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian. In Like a Palace (2022) a group of time travelers hop between epochs—the Stone Age; Ancient Greece; the Industrial Revolution; Late Capitalism. All of these works, except the last, have circulated widely in museums and galleries. Like a Palace is a premiere, yet the complexity of ...
              Heman Chong and Renée Staal’s Library of Unread Books
              Dan Visel
              Marcel Duchamp almost had a career as a librarian. In November 1912, having given up on painting for the first time, Duchamp enrolled in library school. Soon, he started work as an intern at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, where he read about perspective and made notes for what would become The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915–23, often referred to as The Large Glass). His period as a librarian was a crucial moment of transition: just as he abandoned art for books, he would end up dematerializing the art object, realizing that the notes he was taking might be more interesting than the work they putatively described. The Large Glass, ostensibly the end-stage of this part of his career, is ultimately less generative than The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Green Box) (1934), the suspiciously library-like set of notes that might combine, if assembled the right way, to make The Large Glass—or something else entirely. A book can be seen as a node in a web of potential relationships—between author and reader, books past and future, even seller and consumer—modulated by the ecosystems around them which make such connections happen. The library is tailor-made for relational ...
              Refik Anadol’s “Unsupervised”
              ​R.H. Lossin
              It is widely accepted that propaganda makes for bad art. But propaganda is not always an Uncle Sam poster. Sometimes it is a towering, spectacular argument for the supremacy of the machine; an exercise in post-industrial American triumphalism, surveillance technology, and repressive deep-state R&D disguised as visually appealing, non-referential images. The United States has a long history of cultural campaigns aimed at furthering its imperial goals. The Museum of Modern Art’s historical connection to the CIA is—like Radio Free Europe and the Congress for Cultural Freedom—among the more notable examples of the government’s intervention in our civic life. But despite our awareness of these operations, the potential propaganda function of abstract and non-representational art rarely enters into its critical reception and evaluation. Perhaps the idea of propaganda is so thoroughly wedded to realism in the American imagination that MoMA’s collection seems unimpeachable. Maybe the term “propaganda” has become, through popular use, something that is only used by one’s political opponents. While it is tempting to argue that cultural control is now mediated by a confusing, irresponsible, and diffuse spectacle of corporate greed, Refik Anadol’s “Unsupervised” (2022) suggests that we should reconsider the utility of a more vulgar analysis of visual ...
              “People Make Television”
              Brian Dillon
              For much of its century-long history, the BBC has been an object of nostalgia in Britain. It began as a private company, and in 1927 a royal charter decreed its mission to “inform, educate, and entertain” the nation; the corporation is funded today by a television license levied on all households that watch its output. The public-service remit always appears to have been better fulfilled in the past, during a vague and movable golden age. Public service, of course, has rarely meant public access or participation. An exception was the work of the Community Programme Unit, which in 1972 began soliciting program ideas from interest groups and campaigning organizations. Around three in ten proposals were accepted; successful applicants were then provided with a small budget, a production team, and a final say in the show’s edit—subject to legal niceties and the BBC’s sometimes vexing commitment to “balance.” Copies of the finished programs were given to the groups who devised them, but most were never broadcast again. “People Make Television,” an absorbing exhibition at the newly reopened Raven Row, includes over 100 of the CPU’s programs (alongside other public-access projects of the time), and seems to conjure a genuine lost era ...
              Where is the Queer Rave?
              Francis Whorrall-Campbell
              At the end of last year, the performance work Dyke, Just Do It (Excerpt) premiered as part of the roving queer rave INFERNO, hosted for the second time at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. An ensemble of self-identified dykes writhed, kissed, and ripped a button-down shirt, while glitching monitors and a towering projection flickered between footage of the virile bodies, commanding slogans, and images produced through designer and director Sweatmother’s “triple-baked method,” which uses a synthesiser to warp and interact with live audio and visuals of the performers in real time. Dyke stages a version of queer sex inside the rave; a performance of sexuality which blurs the lines between diegetic and “real” desire, as the non-professional dancers turn back into ravers and even the screens could be mistaken for high-concept club design. Dyke references LGBT kiss-ins, where gay desire becomes a public theater of protest, spectacularized but not faked. Placing these gestures alongside the visual language of advertising, Dyke speculates on the possibility of seeing the media’s voyeuristic commercialization of lesbianism through the same lens, reimagining these representations of queer desire as part of a sincere, underground economy of identification. The commercialization of queerness is not only present in ...
              Charles Atlas’s “A Prune Twin”
              Erik Morse
              When Charles Atlas quit as filmmaker-in-residence at the influential Merce Cunningham Dance Company, in 1983, after more than a decade, he decided to embrace a younger generation, a different continent, and a more public medium. These changes coalesced around the Pandean figure of Michael Clark, a former prodigy of London’s Royal Ballet School who in 1984 began to sketch out a punk- and club-inspired choreography with his own newly founded dance company. That same year, Atlas produced two works of videodance—a genre of experimental dance film, popularized by Atlas and Cunningham, in which choreography is designed for the camera rather than the stage. These two films, Parafango (1984) and Ex-Romance (1984/1987), feature performances by Clark, Philippe Decouflé, and former Cunningham dancer Karole Armitage. They are set in vernacular places such as airport lounges and gas stations, and are spliced with news footage, presenter commentary, and video transmission signals. Both spotlight Clark as the enfant terrible of London’s post-punk underground, and the combination of his fauvist choreography with Atlas’s camp visuals captured a Baroque aesthetic that would characterize its queer subculture throughout the decade. A Prune Twin, originally commissioned by London's Barbican in 2020, consists of a multi-channel video projection sourced ...
              Regina José Galindo’s “Anestesia, Anistia, Amnesia”
              Oliver Basciano
              In 1960, angered by the deeply skewed land deals between the right-wing dictatorship and US companies such as United Fruit, a group of left-wing army officers tried to wrest control of Guatemala. They failed and over the ensuing 36 years, tacitly aided by Washington, the government coordinated the murder and disappearance of an estimated 200,000 people, most of them indigenous Maya civilians. In her video La Verdad (2013), for more than an hour, the Guatemalan performance artist Regina José Galindo reads out traumatic testimonies from the victims of these events. Shot from a single static camera, it is the first of three documentary works in this small show, each of which is given its own room. Galindo wears a white top against a black background, reading in monotonous Spanish from a stapled block of paper: “they took out the baby and tied it up and there were some who got together to make a fire.” It continues in this gruesome and unsettling vein until, around five minutes in, a man enters the frame. Galindo stops reading and puts her head back. The man injects a dental anesthetic into her gums. As the drugs begin to work, the artist continues, her ...
              Merlin James’s “Arrivals”
              Jonathan Griffin
              My attention is more or less guaranteed by any exhibition that offers, within the initial sweep of its first gallery, a painting of an airport luggage carousel; a near-monochrome canvas, composed from grubby, rectilinear sections; a close-up picture of a blowjob; and a boisterous abstraction incorporating a tail-wagging dog and a swipe of glitter. All of the above were painted by the Glasgow-based, Welsh-born artist Merlin James, who has long been notorious for the confounding heterogeneity of his output. At any one moment he might be working on a landscape, an interior, an amorphic abstraction, a painting on translucent fabric showing off its elaborately contrived stretcher or frame, and/or an erotic painting of Betty Tompkins-level explicitness. Sometimes, he has said, he doesn’t know which direction the painting will go in when he starts. Often, his media extend beyond acrylic on canvas to include sawdust, metal filings, clear acrylic medium, ash, floor sweepings, or clipped human hair. Though widely respected in Europe, he is less well-known in California. “Arrivals”—which shares its wry title with that painting of the airport—is his first exhibition in Los Angeles, and the first time that many local viewers will encounter his elusive and occasionally perplexing work. ...
              “What are we now?”
              The Editors
              Writing in these pages, R.H. Lossin suggested that the discipline of art criticism emerged as one way to answer a question that might be formulated either as “what is it that has happened to us?” or “what are we now?” We’ve recently been asking just the same thing. So, 250 years later, it might be time to revisit the question and to reflect on how art and its criticism might help us to understand the change through which we are living. What strategies are available to us? It has become critical and curatorial cliché to say that we can understand the present by speculating on the future—see the art world’s periodic infatuation with science-fiction—or by reimagining the past—through the revision of those historical narratives that shape the societies in which we live. But amidst a deluge of exhibitions promising to excavate the past, it is hard to escape the feeling that in the current climate it might be easier to dedicate an exhibition to historically or geographically distant wrongs than to attempt to intervene in the issues playing out on the neighbouring streets. To be clear: the impulse to look away from the present is not only understandable ...
              Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment
              ​R.H. Lossin
              In 1784 a Berlin newspaper invited responses to the now-familiar question “What is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant’s reply retained the question as its title: a choice which has contributed to the sense that the question has, always, already been answered. But we keep asking it, and Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” now ranks high among often cited and rarely read texts of the Western canon. It contains some dependable platitudes concerning free expression, as well as the exhortation “Sapere aude!” (“Dare to know!”), frequently taken as the most succinct version of his answer. “Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment” at the Harvard Art Museums brought together 150 prints, drawings, and books in order to examine how images contributed to the production and dissemination of Enlightenment knowledge between roughly 1720 and 1800. The accompanying catalog is an homage to Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie (1751-72), with twenty-six alphabetically arranged articles on topics that shape our own understanding of eighteenth-century thought. According to Elizabeth Rudy and Tamar Mayer’s entry on “Time,” the very act of looking backward as a mode of inquiry is an intellectual operation that would not be possible without the notion of history that emerged in this ...
              Dhaka Art Summit, “বন্যা/Bonna”
              Pallavi Surana
              Drawing inspiration from a literal translation of Bonna—the Bangla word for flood and a common girls’ name—this sixth edition of the Dhaka Art Summit looked at the social and ecological impact of climate change in Bangladesh. Under the direction of Diana Campbell (the curator’s fifth edition), this theme is channeled through the imagination and playfulness of the eponymous fictional child as she grows up in an environment under threat. Of the many dichotomies that this edition sought to challenge across its nine days—disaster and regeneration, natural and built environments, binary gender norms—the most noticeable friction was between criticality and approachability. Campbell has insisted that she sees this research and exhibition platform as closer to a music festival than a biennale, noting that the previous iteration attracted half a million visitors. This attempt to navigate between the expectations of a visiting international audience professionally engaged in the art world and the desire to appeal to a large local audience resulted—across more than 120 artists, over half of them showing new commissions—in a curatorial impulse to foreground work deemed approachable and entertaining. Scattered through the main venue of the Shilpakala Academy were large-scale, colorful, eye-catching works. Bhasha Chakrabarti’s Tender Transgressions (2022–23) ...
              Beatrice Gibson’s “Dream Gossip”
              Juliet Jacques
              Beatrice Gibson’s first solo exhibition in Italy takes its title from Alice Notley’s column in the self-published 1990s New York zine Scarlet. In the column, Notley invited readers to transcribe their dreams, printing them alongside articles, poetry, and editorials about the AIDS crisis and the Gulf War, sharing with the Surrealists a feeling that dreams were both aesthetically striking and politically potent. Gibson’s response to Notley’s work includes three films. Ordet’s main space is dominated by the newest, Dreaming Alcestis (2022), in which Euripides’ heroine inspires a portrayal of the process of dreaming, and how external stimuli, experienced by day or night, shape the unconscious imagination. In Dear Barbara, Bette, Nina—a four-minute work made in Palermo in 2020 and presented on a small monitor, with headphones, to one side of the room—Gibson reads from a phone a letter to three older women filmmakers over a shot of her hands at rest. Deux Sœurs Qui Ne Sont Pas Sœurs [Two Sisters Who Are Not Sisters] (2019), loosely adapted from a Gertrude Stein screenplay written in 1929, is shown on a large screen in its own room. It provides a collective portrait of Gibson’s influences, friends, and collaborators—including Notley herself—in a time ...
              Hermann Burger’s Tractatus Logico-Suicidalis and Róbert Gál’s Tractatus
              Ryan Ruby
              “All great works of literature,” wrote Walter Benjamin, “found a genre or dissolve one.” This is no more true of a novel like Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913–27), about which the observation was made, than of works not typically recognized as literature. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) and Philosophical Investigations (1953), for example, attempted and failed to dissolve the genre of writing known as philosophy, only to found a different one, whose audience is mostly to be found in the slice of the literary field adjacent to the art world. Although the series of numbered propositions in the Tractatus owe a great deal to the pseudo-geometrical proofs of seventeenth-century philosophers like Spinoza and Leibniz, and the numbered paragraphs of the Investigations were modeled after an aphoristic tradition that extends from Epictetus to Nietzsche, both books were recognized as significant literary departures from the stylistic norms of the academic paper, and have proven more influential among those working outside philosophy proper than within it. Putting aside fictionalizations of Wittgenstein’s life such as Bruce Duffy’s The World as I Found It (1987) and Thomas Bernhard’s Correction (1975), this genre would include David Markson’s experimental novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress (1988), Guy Davenport’s ...
              Sharjah Biennial 15, “Thinking Historically in the Present”
              Ben Eastham
              On her first visit to Africa in the early 1970s, Angela Davis was surprised to find her speeches interrupted by dancing. Being pulled from the lectern whenever an idea moved her audience showed the philosopher and activist, she tells filmmaker Manthia Diawara in a work commissioned for the fifteenth edition of the Sharjah Biennial, how damaging is the western separation of intellectual speculation from embodied action. She proposes art as the form through which these two expressions of human freedom are reconciled. How it might do so is the question that haunts this sprawling exhibition of over 150 artists “conceived” by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by Hoor Al Qasimi. The difficulty is encapsulated by Diawara’s Angela Davis: A World of Greater Freedom (2023), which joins incendiary footage of Nina Simone singing “Mississippi Goddam” (1964) to Davis’s testament that the song did more to mobilize resistance than a thousand books. Simone’s performance leaves no room to doubt it, but the black box in which the film is screened leaves no space in which to dance it. Similarly, Bouchra Khalili’s The Circle (2023) combines accounts of the campaigns by which French-Arab workers asserted their rights in the early 1970s with ...
              Gordon Matta-Clark and Pope.L’s “Impossible Failures”
              Katherine C. M. Adams
              Gordon Matta-Clark’s film Bingo X Ninths (1974), which features a precise dismantling of all but the core of an abandoned house, has been projected at large scale along the first wall of 52 Walker. The door to the exhibition space intersects the projection, such that gallery visitors irrupt onto the image as they enter and exit. A perfectly circular hole, cut straight through the same gallery wall, also interferes with the clean transmission of the film. A layer of dust from this incision lines the gallery floor. It’s tempting to view such strategies as a literal self-reflexivity built into the gallery design: Matta-Clark’s canonical building cuts overflowing onto the gallery’s walls, making their mark on the present architectural space. Yet the pairing of Matta-Clark and Pope.L for “Impossible Failures” performs a different function, complicating Matta-Clark’s practice on a more fundamental plane. Here, Matta-Clark appears to work vertically, in the air, through various forms of physical suspension, while Pope.L works laterally, low-to-the-ground, worm-like. Drawings by Matta-Clark with subjects such as High Rise Excavation Diving Tower (1974) show lofty engineering schemes that seem to resist the pull of gravity. The artist’s three exhibited films all emphasize, to varying degrees, aerial vantage points ...
              Transmediale, “a model, a map, a fiction”
              Orit Gat
              “Alexa, I used to bark at you, now I say please and thank you.” This is artist duo !Mediengruppe Bitnik describing their work Alexiety (2018), featuring music written for the virtual assistant. It begins as a love song between user and device, then gradually gets darker. They discuss the work during a panel about the “Digital Middleman” with artists Farzin Lofti-Jam and Simone C Niquille, moderated by Silvio Lorusso, as part of the five-day Transmediale festival at the Akademie der Künste, which is complemented by exhibitions at the AdK, as well as a citywide public art project, “Out of Scale.” The Digital Middleman panel, its participants explain, developed during preparation from a larger discussion of our relationships to the platforms and corporations that shape our digital lives to a conversation about how companies like Google and Apple have come into our homes. Transmediale, the veteran arts festival begun in the late 1990s (with precursors dating back to the ’80s), has grown from a focus on the relationship between art and technology to a reflection on how our interactions with technology are now conditioned by its developments. Many of the works on view and panels in the festival considered advancements in, ...
              Saadia Gacem, Awel Haouati, and Lydia Saidi’s Archives des luttes des femmes en Algérie
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              A slim ochre publication by Algerian collective the Archives des luttes des femmes en Algérie, or archive of women’s struggles in Algeria, has the light, open feeling of a notebook. It was produced to accompany their installation at Documenta 15 in 2022. The book was sold out by the time I got to Kassel in early September, and I would have to wait six months to find a copy, finally, in Algiers, one of six remaining from an informal shipment that had arrived the week before. It is hard to find because the material Archives des luttes des femmes en Algérie reproduces—historical documents pertaining to women’s political organizations active in Algeria between 1988 and 1991—has rarely been seen, either inside or outside Algeria. The trilingual publication (in French, English, and Arabic) presents a selection of documents and photographs; an introduction and contextualizing essay about the International Women’s Day demonstrations on March 8, 1990, by one of the collective’s members, Awel Haouati; and a socio-historical treatment of the period in question by Feriel Lalami, an Algerian sociologist, political scientist, and feminist activist. Political tracts and photographs from what the authors describe as the “democratic breach” in Algerian politics are bracketed by ...
              Luis Camnitzer’s “Arbitrary Order”
              Paul Stephens
              Luis Camnitzer’s A to Cosmopolite (2020–22) is a marvel of precisely executed conceptual art—or as Camnitzer might prefer, “contextual art” (a term he has advocated since the 1960s). Writing through a 1972 Webster’s unabridged English dictionary, Camnitzer covers the gallery walls in prints that match each definition to a screenshot of the first search result from Google Maps that corresponds to it. The title of the exhibition is something of an oxymoron: by combining two classification systems, the cartographic and the lexicographic, Camnitzer reveals a myriad of cultural and political interconnections. The search results in A to Cosmopolite are proximate to Camnitzer’s own location in Great Neck, New York, thus making the project personal as well as global. Someone in Camnitzer’s digital orbit named their corporation “Aleatoric Media, LLC,” and that entry, like many others, stuck out to me as a viewer. I found the best way to explore the work was to read, in alphabetical order, every red location name—which took approximately an hour. When a name intrigued me, I consulted the corresponding definition and took a photo with my phone—reincorporating the physical work on the wall into my own personal datasphere. This work is, importantly, a remediation of ...
              Reinhard Mucha’s “Der Mucha—An Initial Suspicion”
              Kirsty Bell
              For the last four decades, Reinhard Mucha has been making sculptures and installations that speak in the tongue of bureaucratic systems and engage a distinct object vocabulary. There are standardized furnishings of museum display and archiving (dark wood frames, felt linings, plate glass) but also behind-the-scenes elements of technical installation and found materials from the past. Elaborate wall-based sculptures are part display-case, part carefully crafted autonomous structure, revealing their workmanship with cross-section views. Rooms built within rooms provide extra spatial frames. There is something fetishistic in Mucha’s reverence for these textures and his compulsive collecting and archiving of materials and documents, but his works pointedly question whether what to show is equal to how. These tendencies unfold to the full in this two-venue retrospective—the 72-year-old artist’s first—in his hometown of Düsseldorf. A single large hall on the ground floor of K20 brings together several significant installations, the centerpiece of which is Das Figur-Grund Problem in der Architektur des Barock (für dich allein bleibt nur das Grab) [The Figure-Ground Problem in Baroque Architecture (for you alone is only the grave)] (1985/2022). This virtuosic construction conjures a Ferris wheel and “wall of death” from shiny aluminum ladders, office chairs and tables, trussed ...
              “EXIST/RESIST – Works by Didier Fiúza Faustino: 1995–2022”
              Nick Axel
              Along their descent down the ramp into the MAAT’s ovular, central exhibition space, visitors encounter a series of angular, austere, and imposing structures that are formally reminiscent of military architectures. Like medieval castle walls, with embrasures mediating the simultaneous necessity to look out while not letting anything in, gaps between the structures obstruct and frame views into a brightly illuminated, enfilade-like space. The perceptual logic of concealment and revelation is carried further by a series of circular cuts made to the structures’ inward-facing walls that confess their hollowness while presenting a panoply of material from the architect/artist’s dynamic, evolving, and multifarious practice. Over the nearly thirty years covered by this mid-career retrospective, Faustino has worked with buildings, installations, furniture, prosthetics, video, photography, speculative design, performance, and more to confront and transform the normative limits of architecture and the body, which, as his work proves, inextricably condition one another. This is evident in Asswall (2003), which creates a literal hole in a wall the size of a single body, and Home Suit Home (2013), which refashions stiff carpet into a garment for the body. But it is perhaps best demonstrated by the scale model of One Square Meter House (2001–06), a ...
              Walter De Maria’s “Boxes for Meaningless Work”
              Valentin Diaconov
              The Walter De Maria exhibition at the Menil has everything: guns (HARD CORE, a film from 1969, shows Michael Heizer and an actor dueling in the desert), swearing (“Color, Size, Shape, Shit” is number 25 on the list of One Hundred Activities, a score work from 1961), and even the faint possibility of a romantic encounter in the form of a pink mattress and a pair of headphones playing seductive and relaxing field recordings of the Atlantic’s steady breath (Ocean Bed, 1969). “Boxes for Meaningless Work” does not, of course, contain De Maria’s most iconic pieces—The Lightning Field and New York Earth Room (both 1977). But the show is rich enough to serve as a solemn reminder of what passed as artistic expression in the golden years of American Imperialism, when it was still possible for Minimalists to repackage the formal purity that had denoted universal social progress for Russians and Germans in the 1920s. It is interesting to look at the sea change in relationships between the avant-garde and infrastructure over this period. If the Soviet artist would overreach towards a platonic ideal of a sexless, classless, and ageless society, an approach best exemplified by El Lissitzky’s About Two ...
              Slippery turns
              The Editors
              I recently found myself telling an artist that her new body of work was “insubordinate.” I hadn’t premeditated the phrase, and I was surprised by it. It seemed like an overblown word to apply to works that were not obviously seditious: modestly sized still life paintings in oils. So conventional were the set-ups, in fact, that my first response had been to file these paintings away under headings established by critics long ago. But the paintings were much stranger than they first appeared. The more I looked at them, the more they slipped free of the prefabricated structures of meaning that laziness superimposes onto any object (or person) bearing the most superficial resemblance to any other category of objects (or people). Perhaps, I came to think, these paintings were insubordinate because they worked against the expectations established by their form. They were not armed uprisings against the dominant order so much as a subtle form of industrial action: a go-slow, perhaps, or factory line sabotage. Here was the same logic of a subversive film designed to escape the attention of censors: abiding by conventions only in order to undermine them. Or the novelist who, having been told her plots are ...
              Ričardas Gavelis’s Vilnius Poker
              Daniel Muzyczuk
              Begun in the late 1970s and only published in 1989, Ričardas Gavelis’s novel Vilnius Poker presents a nightmarish vision of Lithuania under Soviet rule as a rotting corpse, riddled with resentment and shot through with conspiratorial thinking. If the book feels newly relevant today, it is because it grounds a study of the political efficacy of conspiracy theories in close observation of the humiliating effects of colonial violence upon a populace. Gavelis’s novel examines connections between this phenomenon—in which paranoid conspiracies focused on abstract enemies, such as western liberalism, are marshalled in support of authoritarian regimes—and the decline of socialism in Eastern Europe. Vilnius Poker is divided into four sections, each narrated by a different character. The eponymous city is at the epicenter of a plot orchestrated by a network of forces which, in keeping with their shadowy nature, are referred to as THEM. THEY have agents everywhere. THEY are strong in the Soviet government, but THEY are also working on the other side of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, THEY have infiltrated every global power. In Vilnius, THEY seek to turn all inhabitants into mindless followers. Vytautas Vargalys, who works at a library, believes that the final battle between the ...
              An Expanded Cinephilia
              Lukas Brasiskis
              The Cinema Batalha in Porto was a landmark in the city’s film culture and played an influential role in shaping the cinephilia of generations of residents from its opening in 1947 through to its closure in 2003. The Batalha Film Center, which opened in December, occupies the same modernist building designed by Artur Andrade and responds to the rise of new, expanded approaches to cinema. Its inaugural program consisted of a complete retrospective of films by Claire Denis; “Politics of Sci-Fi,” a screening program curated by artistic director Guilherme Blanc and chief programmer Ana David; Premium Connect (2017), a video installation by French-Guyanese artist Tabita Rezaire that draws on a scene from The Matrix (1999); and a number of special events and discussions. “Politics of Sci-Fi” explored the interrelation between the genre and politics, presenting a diverse range of international films across seven conceptual chapters. Sci-fi films, as this program makes clear, do not only predict but also shape political futures; in turn, the political contexts in which such films are made can influence their production. Among the works shown was The War Game (1966), Peter Watkins’s anti-war mockumentary originally made for the BBC and suppressed in the UK for ...
              “Tangled Hierarchy 2”
              Ben Eastham
              At the heart of this group exhibition curated by Jitish Kallat are reproductions of the five envelopes on which Mahatma Gandhi, under a vow of silence, wrote messages to Lord Mountbatten on the eve of the Partition of India. The first of his scribbled responses to the last Viceroy of British India reads: “I am sorry / I cannot speak.” The phrase introduces some of the paradoxes that animate this brilliantly executed show about an historical trauma that continues decades later to be felt: silence as protest, mourning as action, absence as presence. The show opens in violence. Visitors to an exhibition ranged over two floors of a warehouse space in the backstreets of Fort Kochi are greeted by Zarina’s Abyss (2013), a woodcut print which renders the Partition line as a white chasm running like a wound through a black page, Mona Hatoum’s standing globe Hot Spot (Stand) (2018), its land masses marked out in burning electric filaments that cast the room in threatening red light, and the sound of bombs dropping, the source of which is Mykola Ridnyi’s Seacoast (2008). Shot in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, the short film syncs the noise with ...
              Grids and Clouds
              Caterina Riva
              Meta is a collaboration with TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. Following on from her essay on the work of Benoît Maire for Textwork, the curator Caterina Riva considers how the artist’s attitude towards waste and recycling resonates with her own writing process. Finding the right tone and structure to tackle Benoît Maire’s oeuvre was tough. My hunch was to adopt a journalistic approach—more New Yorker culture desk than contemporary art analysis—something that could bypass art criticism’s claims to objectivity, but also avoid a personal subjectivity that might risk alienating the reader. After having assembled information from and around the artist, i.e. the evidence, I had to establish my vantage point and the voice in which to make intelligible the cloud of philosophical, digital, and painterly information that surrounds and feeds Maire’s artmaking. When I studied Curating, one professor would insist on the foreground, background and middle ground as strategies to imagine the layout of an exhibition; it struck me that these three concepts could lend themselves to writing, and to this author, writing in her second language, trying to negotiate her materials and ideas within an ongoing ...
              Andrea Fraser
              Wendy Vogel
              In 2005, Andrea Fraser’s consideration of the art world appeared to undergo a transformation—from externalization to embodiment. “If there is no outside for us, it is not because the institution is perfectly closed,” she wrote. “It is because the institution is inside of us, and we can’t get outside ourselves.” This sentiment of identity entrapment is nowhere more evident than in her latest work, This meeting is being recorded (2021), in which the shape-shifting artist portrays seven white women in a closed-door meeting about internalized racism. The ninety-nine-minute video—which is based on real conversations and debuted at the Künstlerhaus Stuttgart before traveling to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles last year—forms the nucleus of Fraser’s first US commercial gallery show in 13 years. The five works on view, from the late 1980s onward, get a new, retroactive reading from her current perspective of grappling with the complex, emotive terrain of racial privilege. Fraser’s best-known performances offer pitch-perfect approximations of art speak and style, from staid guided tours to overblown acceptance speeches by egotistical artists, threaded with a feminist criticality toward gendered modes of presentation. Two major works from the 1990s, commissioned by the Wadsworth Atheneum and the São Paulo Bienal, ...
              Ali Eyal’s “In the Head’s Sunrise”
              Dina Ramadan
              “In the Head’s Sunrise”, a quiet yet compelling exhibition of Ali Eyal’s recent drawings and paintings, captures the intricacy and complexity of the young Iraqi artist’s practice; the emotional texture of the work, accomplished through rapid, forceful strokes, is immediately striking. Individually and collectively the works recreate moments from life in Eyal’s hometown—referred to only as small farm—where he came of age amidst the violent turmoil of the US-led invasion of Iraq. The titles of the pieces underscore Eyal’s propensity for narrative along with his acute awareness of its limitations; each enigmatic label ends with “and,” indicating its incompleteness, and suggesting that every encounter is a beginning, like tugging on a loose, seemingly extraneous thread that unexpectedly unravels the entire fabric. Three heads walking between towns, and (2022) is the immediate focal point of the exhibition and reflects the mythological nature of Eyal’s work. The large canvas hangs like a banner, hands snatching at its sides, attempting to tear through the composition. Three women’s heads attached to makeshift bodies, an assemblage of ill-fitting and dislocated ligaments, dominate the canvas. They are reminiscent of the three fates, their thick black hair unfurling behind them like billows of smoke, each home to ...
              “AMOUNT”
              Alice Godwin
              The subterranean rooms of artist-run space Simian, in Copenhagen’s Ørestad district, could easily be mistaken for an underground bunker after the industrial apocalypse. Ørestad itself is a curious reminder of failed human design: an eerily deserted hangover from a bold urban plan to transform this area of wetlands on the edge of a nature reserve into a metropolitan center with gleaming glass buildings and a floating metro line. In the bowels of an old bicycle lockup, it feels as if the only souvenirs of the old industrial world are artworks by Toke Flyvholm, Yuri Pattison, Naïmé Perrette, and Lucie Stahl. Perrette’s documentary-style video Both Ears To The Ground (2021) is the engine of an exhibition that addresses the climate crisis. Projected on a wall in an intimate space within the first room of the gallery, the video focuses on the town of Berezniki in the Ural mountains and establishes the themes of collective amnesia and aestheticization that run through the exhibition. Once a beacon of Soviet industry, the town is now blighted by sinkholes created by the potash mines beneath. For residents, the sinkholes—warmly referred to by nicknames such as “the grandfather”— are a part of daily life. We are ...
              “Aaron Douglas: Sermons”
              Ladi’Sasha Jones
              The works on view in this group show, in which several contemporary artists respond to the legacy of Harlem Renaissance-era painter Aaron Douglas, are united by a Black existential affinity with literature and the natural environment. The exhibition is constructed around four works by Douglas from the museum’s Walter and Linda Evans Collection of African American Art that center two of his key interlocutors: James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes. Three are illustrations to Johnson’s poetry collection God’s Trombones (1927), a striking articulation of religious oratory, while the fourth illustrates Hughes’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921), and accompanied its original publication in The Crisis. It’s a poem that Black folks have long held as a psalm, its closing lines reverberating across generations— I’ve known rivers: / Ancient, dusky rivers. / My soul has grown deep like the rivers. This meeting of Black thought, art, and letters—a history of cross-disciplinary connection—sets the stage for the contemporary works in the show, and guides the exhibition’s curatorial framework. The gallery is dimly lit, with a humming cacophony of sounds and dancing imagery bleeding between the gallery’s archways from four stand-out video works. A commissioned piece by Akeema-Zane and Rena Anakwe, Our ...
              The Cartoon Body of Boris Johnson
              Julian Stallabrass
              Boris Johnson, with his shambolic, lumbering presence, toddler’s hair, and talent for PR stunts and gaffes, was a lavish gift to cartoonists. So it made sense that, to mark his ousting as Britain’s Prime Minister in summer 2022, the Cartoon Museum in London should stage an exhibition laying out his extraordinary trajectory from the city’s mayor to champion of Brexit and divisive national leader. Johnson is a symptomatic as well as an eccentric figure, and this record of his presence in cartoons sheds light on wider issues with ramifications beyond the United Kingdom: the symbiosis between branded politicians and cartoonists, the bodies of populist leaders, and the role of revulsion in contemporary politics. Cartoonists tend to fix upon those parts of Johnson’s body that generally go unmentioned in technocratic political discourse—particularly his arse. The first images the viewer encounters are fairground figures by Zoom Rockman of the kind you put your head through to be photographed (a reminder of the medieval stocks). In one of these, the user’s head appears through the arse of a flag-waving PM. And ever since his time as the Mayor of London, veteran political cartoonist Steve Bell has replaced Johnson’s face with an arse (a matter ...
              keyon gaskin with Zinzi Minott and Moya Michael
              Rachel Valinsky
              keyon gaskin, Zinzi Minott, and Moya Michael weren’t just stalling. Barely visible beneath their semi-opaque hooded cloaks, and positioned at various points around the entrance to Artists Space, they outlined the terms of their performance clearly: “Once we get moving feel free to roam around the space. We will be all over the place … We might get close to you … Keep your hands to yourself … Be mindful, be careful … We’re at work.” We “waited” for things to start—though, of course, they already had. gaskin—an artist living in Portland, Oregon who performs both solo and in movement-based groups—has frequently made active audience engagement a feature of their pieces, eschewing passive consumption of black and queer performance by primarily white audiences. At the first performance commission held across Artists Space’s 8,000 square feet, audience-performer interactions were diffuse in part because of the building’s size—the performance took place over several rooms, and not all of it could be witnessed simultaneously. Visibility, its trappings and attendant politics, were not so much withheld as decentered. “We can’t see everything,” gaskin and their collaborators cautioned at the start, implying that neither should we. “Remember, this is a performance, but not your performance. ...
              Persistence or Renewal? On Gregory Halpern’s “19 Winters / 7 Springs”
              Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa
              Over the past decade, Gregory Halpern has become an influential figure in American art photography, principally through the release of several wildly successful photobooks. Virtually all that work has centered on the postindustrial Midwest, so that it seems especially apt that the Transformer Station, in Ohio City, Cleveland should host his first major US solo exhibition. “19 Winters / 7 Springs” comprises forty-one photographs and three floor-standing sculptures, all made in or depicting Halpern’s hometown of Buffalo, NY. In a faint echo of the geography of the region, in which Buffalo and Cleveland share a shoreline with the vast Lake Erie, this former substation has been refashioned into two reading rooms and twin gallery spaces linked by a single corridor. Upon entry, one finds at right a gallery framed by a large, Edenic portrait of a young white man perched on crutches beneath an immense tree, the bushes behind him a buoyancy of yellow flame (Untitled, 2004–2022). At left, in the Crane Gallery, Halpern shows a diminutive portrait of a muddy young African American student listing faintly after football practice, the looming gray trashcan beside him seemingly ready to swallow his weary frame whole (Untitled, 2004–2022). The two portraits map ...
              Aarati Akkapeddi’s “A·kin”
              Michael Kurtz
              Aarati Akkapeddi’s work exploits the uneasy interaction of analog and digital—paper and pixels—to convey the strangeness of both our warped view of the past through dog-eared images and the mediation of the present by algorithmic technologies. “A·kin,” at London’s Photographers’ Gallery, continues the Telugu-American artist and programmer’s practice of using machine-learning algorithms to analyze and manipulate historical images. The installation combines Akkapeddi’s family photographs from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu with those from an archive created by the STARS research collective of Tamil studio photography from the 1880s to the 1980s. Akkapeddi used an image classification model called VGG-16 to sort the photographs into a grid based on formal similarity, and then divided them into twelve generic groups: portraits of children propped up by an object, for instance, and close-ups of couples in which the man stands on the left. These “clusters” are arranged across a gallery wall within the interlocking forms of a kolam—a pattern drawn with rice flour at the entrance of Tamil homes to bring good fortune and exclude evil spirits. A larger composite image at the center of each group collates the surrounding photographs as if to identify what they share, while interviews ...
              A new chapter
              The Editors
              The new year is the herald of fresh starts, and all but the most bleary-eyed of you will have noticed that this editorial is published under the new banner of “e-flux Criticism.” For those who haven’t seen the announcement: e-flux Criticism comprises the same team of editors and writers operating under the same principles that shaped art-agenda. The main differences are that we’ll be increasing the volume of our editorial output—with more space for literary, film, and other criticism to complement our established program of art reviews, features, and interviews—and that all this will be hosted on e-flux.com. Our writers' work will still be delivered directly to your inbox, for free. Tell your friends. The change responds positively to a number of issues that have preoccupied the editors for some time, and which have recently become more acute. The most urgent is the sense that the space for independent criticism is shrinking. It should be acknowledged that writers have been broadcasting this jeremiad ever since art-agenda started publishing reviews in 2010, and that new platforms for sharing ideas have sprung up in the interim. But we remain convinced that the service we provide—namely considered appraisals by informed writers of the ...
              What’s next?
              The Editors
              The past year has been marked by the restoration of normality to some parts of life and the transformation of others. So it was no surprise that, when we asked contributors to pick their highlights from 2022, so many nominated shows engaged with the question of what should be restored and what abandoned, what preserved and what confined to history. These creative responses to the moment took forms as varied as archival approaches to activist art, interventionist challenges to censorship, the rewriting of history, dispersed curatorial practices, and collective exhibition-making. With the new year we too will be changing, expanding our coverage to reflect the dissolution of old forms and the emergence of new ones. Look out for forthcoming announcements, and we’ll be back on January 6. In the meantime, happy holidays. The Editors Hallie Ayres I’ll take any opportunity to see work by the architecture collective Ant Farm. Most recently, their Dolphin Embassy project appeared in “Who Speaks for the Oceans?” at Baruch College’s Mishkin Gallery. Compiling work that ranged from whimsical to urgent, the quietly transcendent show offered a necessarily polyvocal approach to decentering the Anthropocene. Other stand-outs within the show included Myrlande Constant, Will E. Jackson, and Pia ...
              Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s “The Navel of the Dream”
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              Watching Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s silent 16mm film Otros usos [Other uses] (2014) is like looking into a kaleidoscope made with old snapshots too nondescript to make it into an album but nonetheless strangely fascinating. A composite image of four shots of a tranquil sea, each aligned to the edges of the frame, spins in a circle. As they oscillate, the distant shoreline in each shot tilts and merges with the next. The anachronistic sound of the projector, installed on a pedestal in the gallery, combines with the faint heat produced by the machine to heighten the body’s senses, like the effect of ASMR. I feel that Muñoz wants me, the viewer, to feel disoriented, employing a combination of the images’ banality and their movement to lull me into a dream state. They want to suspend my desire for narrative resolution and a fixed horizon. Both Otros usos and another silent 16mm film projected beside it, Black Beach/Horse/Camp/The Dead/Forces (2016) do have a precise physical referent: the island of Vieques in the Caribbean near Puerto Rico that the US Navy used as a bombing range and a training ground for over sixty years. In Otros usos, Muñoz’s carefully folded image is ...
              Sissel Tolaas’s “RE____
              Murtaza Vali
              A visit to Sissel Tolaas’s “RE_________” is unnerving, exciting, and, ultimately, strangely liberating. Countering the deodorization of social and cultural life, in the West especially, Berlin-based Tolaas has for three decades worked to remind us of the importance of smell in how we experience and understand ourselves, in our relationships to others and to our environments. She first records and deconstructs real-world smells into their molecular components, then synthesizes and represents them as olfactory artworks, demonstrating how smell remains a vital carrier of information and mode of communication. Airborne and inseparable from breath, our awareness of smell has been, inadvertently, heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. To properly experience Tolaas’s exhibition means ignoring the invisible, omnipresent, aerosolized threat of contagion that has haunted public life of late and shedding our masks to inhale fully, freely, openly, again and again, as we touch, scratch, sniff, and lather up with objects and surfaces previously handled by strangers. Dubbing herself an “inbetweener,” Tolaas, who has a background in art, linguistics, and organic chemistry, shrewdly plays the affective and visceral punch of smell and the objectivity and empiricism of scientific method against each other. Her artificial reconstructions remain mimetic, ultimately unable to traverse a sort ...
              Mungo Thomson’s “Sideways Thought”
              Francesco Tenaglia
              Mungo Thomson is a California-born conceptual artist in the lineage of John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha. His works often appear in serial forms that change over the years, adapting to different display contexts and making a virtue of repetition itself—framing, editing, and magnifying found objects and images from popular visual culture. At the center of his solo presentation at frank elbaz gallery in Paris is a strong example of this tendency. Projected in the gallery’s darkened first room is Volume 5. Sideways Thought (2020–22). Part of the artist’s “Time Life” series of stop-motion animations that draw on encyclopedias and other sources of found imagery, the video consists of a montage of every photograph of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures available in books about the artist’s work. The idea is to mimic, or allude to, the operations of a high-speed scanner while transforming paper archives into digital databases for universities or research centers. Yet the breakneck speed of the editing also illustrates an artistic possibility: that an artwork can be generated from the processes of digital sublimation. Thomson’s use of ancillary documentary materials, and indexical and archival practices (those building blocks of art history), extend into Rodin’s desire to capture the naturally continuous ...
              Okayama Art Summit 2022, “Do we dream under the same sky”
              Jason Waite
              The main venue for this year’s Okayama Art Summit, directed by Rirkrit Tiravanija, is a 1930s elementary school that has been vacant for the past twenty years. It is therefore surprising to encounter swarms of uniformed middle-school students circulating around the grounds as part of a school trip; then again, an uncanny sense of historical repetition is a hallmark of this edition of the triennial. Take Cambodian artist Vandy Rattana’s “MONOLOGUE Trilogy” (2015–19). This three-screen installation opens an oneiric portal to the lush forests of Kâmpŭchéa, still haunted by the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities. Rattana’s poetic grappling with the loss under that regime of his own sister, whom he never met, unfurls with images of the artist wading through the overgrown landscape, punctuated by slow shots of fantastical rituals invented to establish a connection to the land and its textures. The durational melancholy that results contrasts with the abundance of nonhuman life that fills the frame. An intricately woven cinematic tapestry, “MONOLOGUE Trilogy” decelerates time. Its slow, haunted temporality permeates the rest of the summit. Upstairs, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation The Word Silence Is Not Silence (2022) invites viewers into a small room that features two chairs in front of a ...
              Carol Bove’s “Vase/Face”
              Orit Gat
              A friend once called me out for overusing “the viewer” in my writing. “What does this viewer stand for?” he asked, suggesting that to use an abstract generality as a stand-in for the self absolves the writer of having to account for their own presence. Initially I saw this as a comment about the politics of being a body in space; that viewers are not interchangeable, experiences matter, and they are distinct. This conversation convinced me that the personal can be a powerful position from which to reflect. So, here goes: I stood in front of Carol Bove’s new sculptures at David Zwirner and related to them in a way that is intuitive and emotional, a way that made a specific viewer of me, one whose life seeps into the looking. Though they’re made of metal, I saw their softness. I kept staring at the meeting points of two bits of steel, and found in them a connection. Bove’s exhibition, “Vase/Face,” includes two sets of works presented across two rooms, two presentations that differ in scale, color, and treatment. In the main space are four large-scale sculptures made of stainless steel and laminated glass with heat-fused ink. The sandblasted stainless ...
              Bangkok Art Biennale 2022, “CHAOS : CALM”
              Max Crosbie-Jones
              The titles for the first two editions of the Bangkok Art Biennale (BAB), “Beyond Bliss” and “Escape Routes,” were catchy rhetorical constructions that signposted a sanguine worldview: art can help us survey, process, and perhaps even surmount the multipolar reckonings of the Anthropocene. Setting a similarly salutary tone for the third edition—the last in a trilogy, according to artistic director Apinan Poshyananda—is “CHAOS : CALM.” During the opening symposium, Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani (part of a four-strong curatorial team alongside Nigel Hurst, Jirat Ratthawongjirakul, and Chomwan Weeraworawit) remarked that the title’s colon allows for all states in between, rather than enforcing a binary. Her assertion left the tonal spectrum wide open, yet the thematic scope is wider still: BAB 2022 is a heaped potpourri of over 200 au courant artworks ostensibly united around capacious notions of disarray and harmony. Works that evoke dialectics between societal structures or belief systems are piled in alongside those that summon disorderly nature, and others of a more lived and personal bent. Circling the upper floors of the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC)—the largest venue—is a heady, often unnerving experience. “Your voice is powerful and it will be heard,” says a pensive AI avatar of Kawita Vatanajyankur, a ...
              Nikita Kadan’s “Victory over the Sun”
              Xenia Benivolski
              The 1913 opera Victory over the Sun describes an attempt to capture the sun in order to overthrow linear time and reason. The work ushered in artistic traditions that came to shape Soviet Futurism: it’s where Malevich’s black square, for instance, made its first appearance (on a set curtain). Nikita Kadan’s exhibition, which takes its title from the opera, is anchored by a wall-hanging neon sculpture entitled Private Sun (2022) which refers to a classic of Soviet-era design: a window grate, ubiquitous in large apartment buildings, with bars like the rising sun. Where the avant-garde original advocated for the destruction of the present to clear a path for the new, the Ukrainian artist’s use of the architectural feature suggests a darker notion: of being held captive in someone else’s idea of the future. Hanging in the main space of the gallery is a series of charcoal drawings. In one, titled A Sun-headed character in a garbage bag (2022), Kadan renders a black trash bag akin to those rumored to have been used to transport the bodies of soldiers killed during Russia’s invasion. Over the trash bag presides an unsmiling black sun. In another, similar drawing (The Sun I, 2022), a black ...
              This Machine is Broken: the Making of Populist Contemporary Art in Warsaw
              Jakub Gawkowski
              What if a contemporary art center, a space usually conceived as a laboratory for progressive ideas, became the opposite: a tool for promoting xenophobia, exclusion, and far-right propaganda? Under director Piotr Bernatowicz, the once-renowned Ujazdowski Castle CCA in Warsaw has pivoted to align with the values of the governing, populist Law and Justice Party that appointed him. Its latest show, “The Influencing Machine,” curated by Aaron Moulton and featuring regional and international artists from Chris Burden to Constant Dullaart, claims to tell the story of how the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art (SCCA) that sprang up across Eastern Europe in the 1990s were instruments of propaganda. More than anything, however, it shines a light on Polish nationalist populism and its conflicted, contradictory cultural-political mindset. Since becoming director of Ujazdowski in 2020, Bernatowicz’s controversial program has sought to prove that contemporary art can be a place for conservative and nationalist values, and that an avant-garde might look back to the past, instead of forward to the future. The role of an experienced curatorial team in developing the program has been taken by loyal collaborators who not only lacked their expertise but even took to warning the public of the deleterious ...
              Course correction
              The Editors
              The recent death of Bruno Latour prompted us to revisit an idea that has been influential on this publication’s editorial position. In the era after the avant-garde, asks Latour, when modernist presumptions of a headlong march into the future have been discredited, what does it mean to believe in progress? How to hold out the possibility of moving forward without falling into the same old traps? Latour draws a subtle distinction between what he calls the “idea of inevitable progress” and a “tentative and precautionary progression” that pays more attention to the direction of travel than its speed. We must be attentive to the route we are taking, and should always be correcting its course. The name he gives to this approach is “composition,” making an explicit connection to the creative process generally and the arts specifically. The futures we imagine into being, Latour proposes, must always be adapted to the conditions of the present. By focusing on that dynamic relation, he replaces the question of how to achieve utopia with the critical task of identifying “what is well or badly constructed, well or badly composed” and adjusting what one thinks according to the findings. Which sounds a lot like ...
              Mame-Diarra Niang’s The Citadel: a trilogy
              Sean O’Toole
              Paris-based artist Mame-Diarra Niang’s debut book, The Citadel: a trilogy, is a plush and enigmatic showcase of her interest in “the plasticity of territory”; more pointedly, of her use of the landscape genre as self-reflexive tool of knowing, basically as mirror. The multi-part book compiles discrete photo essays produced—and previously exhibited—in two African cities, Dakar and Johannesburg, between 2013 and 2016. The publication makes concrete the formal arrangement of each essay, as well as unifying them under a common rubric. The Citadel follows a number of ambitious books describing Africa’s complex urbanism, among them Guy Tillim’s Jo’burg (2005) and Joburg: Points of View (2014) and Filip De Boeck and Sammy Baloji’s hardcover tome Suturing the City: Living Together in Congo’s Urban Worlds (2016). Its distinction emerges out of Niang’s willingness to subordinate documentary exegesis to mythic questing. The tension between self and place is central to the slow crescendo proposed by the three individually titled and numbered books—Sahel Gris, At the Wall, and Metropolis—that constitute The Citadel. “It is important to me to address the representation of the self as a body that does not reduce itself to flesh, but possesses many places ‘without place’,” Niang stated in a 2015 ...
              1st Korkut Biennale of Sound Art and New Music
              Nikolay Smirnov
              The first biennale of its kind in Kazakhstan set out to combine sound art with a decolonial paradigm or, as curator Anvar Musrepov put it, “to find a correlation between experimental sound and the local culture, which is more audial than visual.” It fulfilled this mission through a convergence of the new posthuman ontologies being manifested in sound art with neo-traditional trends in decolonial thinking, in particular shamanism and animism. The symbol of this convergence is the mythological Turkic musician and shaman Korkut. According to legend, he created the kobyz, a bowed string instrument which in his hands was capable of imitating all possible sounds, and was later used by the baksy, or Turkic shamans. While Korkut played it, he was immortal. Although he eventually got tired, fell asleep, and died, he gained eternal life in the world of spirits and memory as the one who healed people through the power of art and music. As a core component of the national identity, a demiurgical healer, and the personification of radical avant-garde aspirations like the search for immortality, Korkut is a fitting figurehead for artistic speculations on shamanism, magic, and healing in the Kazakh context. Two concerts became the central ...
              Dozie Kanu
              Aoife Rosenmeyer
              Dozie Kanu blocks the entrance to Francesca Pia’s gallery with a low, square platform studded with cents. I take the H marked out in shinier coins to connote “Helipad” and edge past it into a series of bright rooms arrayed with sculptures composed largely from found metal objects. Among them is hang something metric (all works 2022), which makes a crucifix-like coat rack from a 150 cm rule atop a coiling metal pump component. Though from Texas, Kanu now makes his ambiguous objects in a studio in rural Portugal. The influence can be seen in the selection of decorative Portuguese keyhole plates painted onto the wooden tabletop of aro pillars chukwu dinners, which is supported by thick metal pipes. Deep blue panelling collars the ceiling, rather than the base, of the central gallery: General State of Judgement and Concern. Its velvety hue is a pleasing touch, making the space a little cosier, and easier to imagine these objects in a living room. The patina on the tortured metal sheet in the light fitting Explosion Proof is so appealing—was there an explosion or is it to signify antiquity, accelerated for your convenience? It’s not all to my taste though. Chair [ ...
              18th Camden International Film Festival
              Lukas Brasiskis
              Some documentary festivals prioritize the needs of the regional or international film industry, while others strive to present politically urgent and aesthetically groundbreaking nonfiction films to their audiences. Camden International Film Festival (CIFF) has been successfully combining these two strategies for almost two decades. This year's program consisted of thirty-four feature-length and forty short films from forty-one countries spread around screening locations in Camden and Rockland. The premieres of big-budget documentary productions expected to entertain American movie goers as well as Netflix and HBO streamers—such as Sr (all works 2022 unless otherwise stated) by Chris Smith, Tamana Ayazi and Marcel Mettelsiefen’s In Her Hands, and Compassionate Spy by Steve James—were held at the Opera House in Camden, while the majority of artists’ films were featured at Rockland’s Strand Cinema and at a massive industrial dock turned into a movie theater. Following executive and artistic director Ben Fowlie’s injunction that “festivals must take risks” and senior programmer Milton Guillén’s invitation to accept the challenges cinema poses, the best films in this year’s iteration prompted audiences to reconsider what documentary cinema is and what it can do. Katya Selenkina’s Detours (2021), the winner of this year's Cinematic Vision Award, is an experimental ...
              2nd Hacer Noche, “Promised Land”
              Kim Córdova
              Hacer Noche—an independent biennial directed by a former employee of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Francisco Berzunza—aims to establish connections between Oaxaca and international contemporary art discourse. The first edition, in 2018, set a high bar. The second, titled “Promised Land” and curated across ten venues by Elvira Dyangani Ose, strives to set the history of global leftist activism in dialog with Mexican art history. Yet sparse curatorial framing, alongside a casual commitment to presenting works with basic information for the visitor, leave the overall throughline too vague to be persuasive. The main exhibition, at Museo de Las Culturas de Oaxaca in the Santo Domingo convent, features two salons of works by eighteen artists on plywood displays. Among these are several coups in the form of institutional loans, including paintings by Mexican artists Rufino Tamayo and David Alfaro Siqueiros classified as “artistic national monuments” whose loans require federal approval by the museum's sister institution, the National Institute of Fine Art (INBA), and from UAE-based Barjeel Art Foundation, including a painting by Dia Al-Azzawi, a pioneer of modern Arab art. Significant care has gone into establishing a dialogue between celebrated and underknown artists. Curiously, however, little contextual information is provided ...
              4th Bergen Assembly, “Yasmine and the Seven Faces of the Heptahedron”
              Adam Kleinman
              As the dust begins to settle on this summer’s tumultuous large-format exhibition season, Bergen Assembly—“convened” by French artist Saâdane Afif—presents another opportunity to assess what happens when perennial shows are led by an artist, not a curator. This year’s Assembly, a Triennial now in its 4th edition, takes an unusually literary turn, in contrast to Kader Attia’s thesis-driven Berlin Biennale or ruangrupa’s Documenta, with its move toward decentralized leadership. Entitled “Yasmine and the Seven Faces of the Heptahedron,” the Assembly is organized around a loose frame story. This whimsical attempt to band together the show—featuring work by roughly eighteen participating artists and collaboratives—asks visitors to walk in the shoes of a fictional character, Yasmine d’O, in order to set the exhibition’s plodding scenario in motion. Afif developed the character of Yasmine for the 2014 Marrakech Biennale; later, he expanded the project into a play, made in collaboration with Thomas Clerc. In Bergen, Yasmine is on a quest to gather and assemble the titular Heptahedron, a seven-sided object of desire. If the mythical polyhedron serves as a Hitchcockian MacGuffin to push the story forward, other contrivances follow in its wake: each of the Assembly’s seven venues is connected to even more fictive ...
              Jumana Manna’s “Break, Take, Erase, Tally”
              Dina Ramadan
              Jumana Manna’s first US museum exhibition traces the violence inflicted through infrastructures designed to control, transform, protect, or even destroy the natural environment, while recognizing the ways in which the land, in its mutations and transformations, resists in order to survive. Knowledge produced from and about the land emerges as a site of struggle, both an apparatus of hegemony and oppression and a potential tool for defiance and liberation. The exhibition includes recent and newly commissioned sculptural works; pieces from the multidisciplinary Palestinian artist’s ongoing “Cache Series” populate the main gallery space. These large, smooth, earth-toned ceramic sculptures seem capable of shape-shifting despite their sturdiness. Inspired by the khabyas—the storage vessels attached to homes throughout the Levant that have been rendered superfluous with the proliferation of modern means of refrigeration—they capture these structures in various states of disintegration and ruination. Some share recognizable features of the original khabya while others have morphed into unfamiliar forms, alien-like creatures whose disfigurations speak to their incongruity in the contemporary landscape, glossy monuments to their own demise in the face of industrialized means of producing and conserving food. Throughout the exhibition, Manna borrows from the visual and organizational language of archival institutions; the steel ...
              Santiago Mostyn’s “Dream One”
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              Santiago Mostyn has placed low banks of sand at rhythmic intervals throughout the large, open exhibition space of Södertälje Konsthall. Brazil nut casings lie scattered on top of the sand; they are also suspended from the ceiling, each shell holding a speaker. A soft clicking animates the room, as the eighteen-channel sound work emanating from the shells thickens the space at the periphery of my senses, like a subliminal awareness of thriving insect life. Looking down, I notice that viscous liquid fills one of the empty shells to resemble brackish rainwater trapped at the bottom. One shouldn’t leave water standing in the tropics, it invites mosquitoes to breed, I think, and realize that my mind has left the outskirts of Stockholm. The floor beneath Mostyn’s piles of sand is a permanent artwork by the design duo Laercio Redondo and Birger Lipinski, entitled Opacity (for Édouard Glissant) (2021). Inspired by indigenous weaving techniques in the Americas, it is an abstract geometrical pattern made with rectangular flooring panels in beige, navy, and powder blue. The design reminds me of a disarticulated Catholic labyrinth, a geometric pattern inlaid in stone on the floor of cathedrals during the Middle Ages, that provided a score ...
              Olivia Plender’s “Our Bodies are Not the Problem”
              Tom Jeffreys
              Olivia Plender’s research-driven practice is rooted in a fascination with the way communities self-organize—from activist groups, youth movements, and spiritualist associations to alternative education programmes and the offices of tech behemoths—and the strategies, labor, geographies, and architectures that enable (or obstruct) them. Her second solo exhibition at Maureen Paley recontextualizes texts, images, and actions relating to self-education and resistance, with the delicacy of several series of small drawings in black ink or charcoal pencil contrasting with all-caps wall posters proclaiming statements like “THEY WILL NOT DIVIDE US.” But in bringing together these slices from various projects, each of which has grown out of sustained historical research or community engagement, this exhibition is not always successful in communicating their richness or significance. Plender takes great care in considering the spaces in which community organization takes place: she pays attention, for example, to the labor that goes into setting up for a meeting or tidying away afterwards. In 2021, she revamped the community room at Glasgow Women’s Library, transforming the upstairs area into one of welcoming softness. Plender’s life-size drawings are now emblazoned across a partitioning curtain. Floor rugs and jewel-toned bean-bags offer comfort for those wishing to sit or lie, while ...
              “But for whom?”
              The Editors
              A series of protests in museums have raised the question of whether it is justifiable to destroy a work of art in order to advance a cause. The less palatable issue is whether it is effective. In Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907), the anarchist Verloc is tasked with perpetrating an outrage that will shock the middle classes out of their apathy. His commissioners call him in to discuss targets: “Of course, there is art. A bomb in the National Gallery would make some noise.” But the idea is quickly dismissed. “There would be some screaming, of course, but from whom? Artists—art critics and such like—people of no account. Nobody minds what they say.” Ouch. The saboteurs decide instead to launch an attack on science, because “any imbecile that has got an income believes in that.” When climate activists threw soup at a van Gogh in the National Gallery, they knew that the painting was protected by glass. Does the symbolic nature of the protest strengthen or diminish it? After all, the suffragette Mary Richardson felt no such qualms about taking a meat cleaver to Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus (1647). The issue becomes daily more acute: last week I witnessed anarchists ...
              Kaelen Wilson-Goldie’s Beautiful, Gruesome, and True
              Orit Gat
              “What can you say about violence except that it should not happen?” asks Amar Kanwar. Writing from a conviction that art matters in the face of the “forever wars of our time,” art critic and journalist Kaelen Wilson-Goldie explores the works of three artists: New Delhi–based Kanwar, Mexican artist and activist Teresa Margolles, and Abounaddara, a collective of filmmakers who released weekly videos online from the beginning of the Syrian Civil War showing the realities of life under the regime. In making art, Wilson-Goldie argues, each found a space in which to reflect on the politics of the places they are from in ways that go beyond the documentation of violence, to transformative effect. In her chapter on Abounaddara, Wilson-Goldie follows the collective in showing how life in wartime is shaped by conflict but, crucially, not wholly defined by it. The work of Kanwar, meanwhile, offers an example of how art can engage with popular struggles over labor rights, land, and resources. He’s been returning to the Indian state of Chhattisgarh ever since labor activist Shankar Guha Niyogi was murdered in 1991, on the day before Kanwar had arranged to film him. Writing about Margolles, Wilson-Goldie starts with her work ...
              “Ultra-clearness”
              Andrés Jaque / The Editors
              Andrés Jaque is an architect, writer, and curator whose work considers how architecture shapes our societies. In 2003 he founded the Office for Political Innovation, an architectural firm operating at the crossroads of research, design, and ecological studies to foster debate around the wider ramifications of human intervention into the landscape. These projects frequently address the literal and figurative “transparency” of buildings. When commissioned in 2002 to design a hoarding that would hide the construction of the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia from view, for instance, Jaque proposed “twelve actions to make Peter Eisenman transparent.” Arguing that the site was “already concealed because it could hardly be understood by anyone not directly involved in its management,” he instead invited the public in to discuss its economic, environmental, and political impacts. Jaque's 2012 intervention into Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich’s Barcelona Pavilion foregrounded the contributions of water lilies and cats to a modernist masterpiece; commissioned by the 2021 Performa Biennale, Being Silica reproduced a fracking site in a Manhattan skyscraper. Now director of the Advanced Architectural Design Program at Columbia University, Jaque was co-curator of Manifesta 12 and chief curator of the 13th Shanghai Biennale. This interview is part of the ...
              Monira Al Qadiri’s “Refined Vision”
              Valentin Diaconov
              Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri is a prophet of doom with an ear for a joke. Sarcasm and puns are hallmarks of her solo exhibition at Houston’s Blaffer Art Museum—starting with its title, which replaces “divine” with a near-homonym that nods to the petroleum industry. Combining pieces made in the last decade with new commissions, “Refined Vision” presents hyper-realistic sculptures alongside installation and video. The tone is uniformly satirical, except for one new piece (Onus, 2022) based on press photographs of dead birds drenched in petroleum. It is the only work to state directly the real-world consequences of the oil industry and, as such, looks a little out of place in an exhibition that revolves around that industry’s enticing iconography. Spectrum (2016) is a series of 3D-printed sculptures, painted in iridescent car paint, whose shapes are based on the heads of oil drills. Pointing out that oil and pearls share the same color scheme on the opposite side of the dichroic color spectrum, Al Qadiri presents these precious objects as jewels in the crowns of the sovereigns who control oil. Deep time is crucial to Al Qadiri’s analysis of petroleum, and many of her works derive from her absurdist conflation ...
              Mexico City Roundup
              Gaby Cepeda
              Mexico City’s fall openings are marked by a theatrical turn. The most overt expression is “Destino” [Destiny], organized by Mario García Torres at Museo Experimental El Eco. Displayed on a screen in the museum’s narrow entranceway is Disculpa [Apology] (2022), a video by García Torres and Eduardo Donjuan that sets the scene. The buffoonish face of Alejandro Suárez—a comedian well-known to Mexicans born before the turn of the millennium—performs a monologue in a painstaking, over-acted way. He goes on about his agent bringing him the offer to participate in this show, talks of “an air of the avant-garde” as a reason for accepting the invitation, and digresses on the similarities between art and spectacle. There are passing references to the Museo Experimental El Eco’s history: first established as an art institution in the 1950s, it later became a gay bar, a punk bar, a restaurant, a boxing gym, and a small theater, before reverting to its original function. At one point, Suárez recites a poem and then dances enthusiastically—it’s equal parts kitsch and unsettling to watch. He touches on some of Mario García Torres’s enduring fixations, evident in his earlier monologues and performances including I Am Not a Flopper (2007) ...
              “SIREN (some poetics)”
              Wendy Vogel
              Curator Quinn Latimer takes the mythological sirens of the ancient world—“figured as women (part bird or part fish, but all witch)”—as the symbol uniting this group show of seventeen artists at Amant. Such a premise might evoke notions of the demonized, feminized voice: incantations, laughing, shrieks, or related sonic eruptions. Precedents in feminist theory include Silvia Federici’s writing on the etymology of gossip (once defined as a group of women friends); Gloria Anzaldúa’s exhortation that “wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out”; and Anne Carson’s assertion that patriarchal culture, from antiquity onward, has enforced “an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death.” However, Latimer (a poet herself) positions the siren’s call as a type of technology that destabilizes binaries—gender and otherwise. The sound of the siren is one of knowledge, seduction, and death that crosses species, bumping against the limits of linguistic order. The predominant sounds in “SIREN,” therefore, are nonsense and drones—an undoing of language into various states of nonhuman noise. Rather than creating a cacophony, these works are arranged airily throughout Amant’s three discrete spaces (two linked by a café and courtyard, and another across the street), their sound elements sometimes ...
              Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser’s “Piña, Why is the Sky Blue?”
              Jayne Wilkinson
              In the world of Piña, the title character of this expansive, speculative work of documentary-fiction, there are few boundaries. Piña stretches across temporalities, geographies, and technologies; it’s a world where futures and pasts align, where spiritual knowledge is transformed and disseminated for generational survival. Each element in Stephanie Comilang and Simon Speiser’s collaborative exhibition—a VR work, a wall-sized video projection, and a series of framed textile works, whose patterns repeat on custom-designed floor cushions—contributes to an experience where body, mind, memory, and technology converge. The project is structured around an elegant spirit, Piña, named after the Spanish and Tagalog word for pineapple, a fruit first introduced to the Philippines in the seventeenth century by Spanish colonizers who considered it a symbol of luxury. In the distant future, Piña is an omniscient AI-guide that holds and transmits matrilineal knowledge by first receiving information, or “data,” uploaded from knowledge-keepers who preserve spiritual and ecological practices, despite the violence of colonization. In the video, Piña’s presence is felt but unseen, as we meet real-world healers and activists. Among them are Kankwana Canelos and Rupay Gualinga of Ciber Amazonas, a group of Indigenous activists in Puyo, Ecuador, who discuss their work forming feminist alliances ...
              London Roundup
              Chris Fite-Wassilak
              There’s a moment towards the end of Jumana Manna’s film Foragers (2022), in her show of the same name at Hollybush Gardens, that stuck with me through Frieze week. After an hour spent following Palestinian foragers searching for a plant the Israeli authorities have deemed illegal to pick, the viewer is plunged into darkness shot through with brief glimpses of rusted orange-red semicircles. Slowly, the image resolves into low foliage illuminated fleetingly by a patrol car’s rotating beacon lights. This momentary break from reality—from documentary-style footage towards something resembling abstract animation—resonated with a wider disorientation I felt across some three-dozen exhibitions and an art fair. I don’t know if you can call it a theme, a trend, or a vibe, but it is perhaps best described as a sense of unease. Such unease seems to prompt the creation of shelters or safe-spaces in works as disparate as the dark cork-lined walls of William Kentridge’s retrospective at the Royal Academy and Olukemi Lijadu’s cloth-lined viewing room for her film Guardian Angel (2022) at V.O Curations. When time is jumbled or out of joint, art can be a means to step ever so slightly back, to gain perspective, and to reimagine a ...
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