Critical writing from the expanded field of contemporary art


Editor-in-chief
Ben Eastham


Editors
Patrick Langley, Francesca Wade


Assistant editor
Novuyo Moyo


Contact
criticism@e-flux.com

See Masthead
Close Masthead
Categories
    Subjects
      Authors
        Artists
          Venues
            Locations
              Calendar
              Filter
              Done
              “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 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, demonstrate her sociologist’s ability to seamlessly ...
              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 ...
              “Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer”
              Anne Finger
              In 2015, the disabled American writer Kenny Fries gave a reading as part of the program for “Homosexuality_ies,” an exhibition jointly sponsored by the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the Schwules Museum. During it, he posed a question: Where, he asked, was disability in this wide-ranging exhibit? Why had access for disabled people been ignored? The response to that challenge is “Queering the Crip, Cripping the Queer” at the Schwules Museum. Co-curated by Fries, Birgit Bosold, and Kate Brehme, it is one of the first international exhibitions to explore the artistic, political, and historical links between queerness and disability. It presents disability as sexy, provocative, tough, and a source of artistic strength—not a black hole of suffering and blankness. Access is at the heart of the show. Seated in my wheelchair, I could actually experience the art. Nearly always when I enter a museum (sometimes after having been assured that a show is “completely accessible”) I am able to see only a fraction of what is on display, and I am left wondering: “What does that wall text, too high for me to read, say?” I might be able see diaries, letters, magazines in a display case, but the height ...
              “The little bird must be caught”
              iLiana Fokianaki
              In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art elected to establish an annual festival addressed to a changing world and proposing “survival strategies.” Now in its thirteenth year, Survival Kit takes place under the shadow of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its implications for a country in which around one quarter of the population are Russian speakers. An exhibition curated by iLiana Fokianaki and taking inspiration from the “Singing Revolution” that preceded the Baltic States’ independence from the USSR has clear resonances with the present situation in Eastern Europe, but also reverberates more widely. Poetry, music, and song are figured by artists from Andrius Arutiunian to Wu Tsang as powerful expressions of resistance to imperialism, not only as the vehicles by which marginalized traditions are transported into the future but also as defiant expressions of feelings that cannot be suppressed. After seeing the exhibition in Riga last month, we talked to Fokianaki about a world in flux and the role of art within it. art-agenda: A year ago you proposed a show which would consider the impact of rising authoritarianism on issues of national identity and free speech through the lens of Latvia’s ...
              58th Carnegie International, “Is it morning for you yet?”
              Noah Simblist
              What does it mean to be “international” today? Against a post-pandemic backdrop of hardening borders and resurgent ethnonationalism—in which cross-border solidarity, cooperation, and exchange are increasingly difficult to achieve—the 58th Carnegie International offers a nuanced way forward. The exhibition’s title, “Is it morning for you yet?” is an ancient Mayan saying which also evokes the opening greetings of a video call in which participants introduce themselves across time zones. As the exhibition’s curator Sohrab Mohebbi noted at the press preview, during which he acknowledged that the Guatemalan artist Édgar Calel had introduced him to the phrase, the title also recognizes that we can never exist in different places and be absolutely contemporaneous. By posing a question and inviting us into dialogue, the title suggests how we can be both separate and connected. Filling the museum’s Hall of Sculpture are artists whose work is critical of US Empire since 1945. Hiromi Tsuchida’s “Hiroshima Collection” is a set of black-and-white photographs that depict the material traces of the death and suffering that Japanese citizens endured in the wake of the US detonation of Little Boy. Produced over two periods at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, in 1982 and 1995, these objects include ...
              Azza El Siddique’s “Dampen the flame; Extinguish the fire”
              Murtaza Vali
              At once material and spectral, intimate and diffuse, scent can linger, occupying space and impregnating matter while remaining invisible. And it is the warm, smoky, sweet aroma of bukhoor—a type of incense composed of various aromatic resins and essential oil-infused wood chips that is commonly used across the Muslim world—that hits you first, near the top of the stairs, even before you enter Toronto-based Azza El Siddique’s sophomore show at Helena Anrather. Physiologically linked to the brain’s limbic system—the neurological locus of memory and emotion—the sense of smell is a powerful trigger, eliciting both a visceral and affective response. For El Siddique, bukhoor both invokes and evokes. It references religious spaces and rituals, sacralizing the gallery and our encounters within it. It also conjures up memories of the Sudanese diasporic community in which she grew up, and the many matriarchs who helped sustain it. One of its components is sandaliya, an oil derived from sandalwood that is used during the ritual washing and shrouding of the body before a Muslim burial. Bukhoor signifies care, of both the living and the dead. El Siddique’s interest in rituals and accounts of death and the afterlife stems from a profound personal ...
              Broken images
              The Editors
              Speaking last month to art-agenda about the exhibition she organized in her ruined apartment, the Ukrainian curator Kateryna Iakovlenko explained its focus on everyday gestures of community and resistance as a strategy of studied “indifference” towards those responsible for the destruction of her home and the invasion of her country. Instead of expending her energy on thinking about the aggressor, she told us, she prefers to “think about the future, about ordinary people experiencing all this with me.” This refusal to acknowledge the presence of an external—in this case hostile—audience might have analogues with other intersections between collective action and creative expression. It was one of the most striking features of the recently concluded Documenta, if not the most commented upon, that so much of the work presented seemed pointedly unconcerned with explaining itself to its viewers. If this sounds like a criticism, then that is perhaps indicative of the degree to which audiences have become accustomed to the idea that even (or especially) creative practices which do not fit easily into established western ideas of what constitutes art should be clearly contextualized and bracketed for their benefit. Instead, the work’s obliviousness to its observers—what might be called its self-absorption—was ...
              M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s Everything For Everyone
              Andreas Petrossiants
              In her Manifesto for Maintenance art, 1969!, Mierle Laderman Ukeles asked: “after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” If sectarian communism and reformist socialism do not challenge the classical Marxist separation between productive and reproductive labor, then what else could revolution lead to but a perpetuation of the same hierarchies by different names? Lizzie Borden’s documentary-styled film Born in Flames (1983) provided one answer to Ukeles’s question: after the United States’ transition to state socialism, violence against women, unremunerated labor, and homophobia remain rife, even amongst “comrades.” M. E. O’Brien and Eman Abdelhadi’s speculative fiction offers another. It imagines a future in which rebellions have brought about post-capitalist worlds: commodities and the state have not only been abolished, but forgotten. The authors—performing versions of themselves five decades from now, and two decades after the insurrection reached New York—interview twelve different characters for the “New York Commune Oral History Project.” Beginning with an introduction from the future that doubles as a primer on communization theory, it’s an impeccable act of world-building. Intimate, at times confrontational, dialogues address the localized but globally oriented insurrections that brought down capitalist, white supremacist states throughout the world. The interviewees ...
              “Life after ruins”
              Kateryna Iakovlenko
              On March 18, a few days after the writer and curator Kateryna Iakovlenko left her hometown of Irpin in Kyiv Oblast, she learned that her apartment had been hit by a rocket. In August, having returned to the city, she organized an exhibition in what remained of her home. Titled “Everyone is afraid of the baker, but I am grateful,” the show featured work by Katya Buchatska, Mark Chegodaiev, Sasha Kurmaz, Roman Mykhailov, Anatol Stepanenko, Stas Turina, Tamara Turliun, and Anna Zvyagintseva. In this conversation over email, she tells us how the project explored the possibility of articulating trauma, the role of archives, and what it means to live after ruins. Not least, she draws attention to the many artists in Ukraine who have continued to work through the invasion of their country, and in resistance to it. art-agenda: How did you learn that your apartment had been ruined, and why choose to make an exhibition in the space when you returned to Ukraine? Kateryna Iakovlenko: Six days after I arrived in Vienna, I saw a report that the remnants of a rocket had hit our building. I learned from my neighbors’ posts on social media that it had ...
              Ghislaine Leung’s “Balances”
              Katherine C. M. Adams
              What one sees of Ghislaine Leung’s “Balances” depends on precisely when one visits the exhibition. During Leung’s own “studio hours” (9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday and Friday), Gates (2019) lines the main gallery space with child safety gates. The work’s three editions—each a different neutral shade—have been installed on top of each other: sometimes they occupy the same elevation of the wall in dense proximity, and at other points are stacked vertically. Directly before the first group of Gates is one half of Monitors (2022)—a baby monitor transmitting live footage of the gallery’s back office. Other works on view in the central space include Fountains (2022), a small readymade, three-tiered fountain burbling loud enough to “cancel sound” in the vicinity, as the work’s score instructs. A partly filled rectangular grid the size of Leung’s studio wall, Hours (2022), covers the largest wall. Outside these hours, the gallery is apparently blank, all works removed or covered over. “Balances” exercises an unusually strict control over the terms of encounter with its work, calibrating the viewing situation to the artist’s allocated studio time for art production. In a correspondence with the gallery reproduced in the show’s press release, Leung explains the three-way ...
              “A Maze Zanine, Amaze Zaning, A-Mezzaning, Meza-9”
              Rachel Valinsky
              Pulling up to David Zwirner on the opening night of its tongue-twistingly-titled benefit show for Performance Space New York, the scene was chaotic: a several-hundred strong mix of fashion week, Armory week, and overdressed Chelsea partygoing crowds spilled out onto 19th Street, closed to car traffic and repurposed for a block party, complete with food stands and ice-cream truck. Inside, five long banners co-made by the exhibition’s all-star squad of artist-organizers—Ei Arakawa, Kerstin Brätsch, Nicole Eisenman, and Laura Owens—hung from a beam overhead. These screen-printed, acrylic- and vinyl-painted Curtains (all works 2022 unless otherwise stated)—a title that evokes the fabric separating audience from proscenium stage—read like précis of each artist’s signature style: one shows a cartoonish Eisenman figure raising paint roller to wall, while Brätsch’s and Owens’s colorful, abstract geometries and pop-cultural influences infiltrate others. Two open, wooden structures on wheels evoked both stage props and domestic spaces (they are called “houses” on the gallery map). Behind the curtains, Performance Space’s metal rigging structure was temporarily relocated as décor, where it dynamically remodeled the gallery’s interior. A ramp leading to a platform wrapping around either side of the space served as the titular “mezzanine,” offering elevated views of the many paintings ...
              A short and incomplete history of “bad” curating as collective resistance
              Gregory Sholette
              In the last of our dispatches from Documenta 15 over the course of its 100 days, Gregory Sholette defends the exhibitions daring, decentralized curation, placing it in the context of artistic and activist movements from the nineties to the present, and contrasting it to the presentation of the Berlin Biennale. Between the start of this year and the end of September, the artistic universe has delivered up an increasingly ominous sequence of events that, for me at least, resembles the tangled history of decentralized curating, the recrudesce of which feels downright spooky. Der Spiegel’s recent exhortation regarding Documenta 15 that “the German cultural sector has a big problem,” for instance, made me think of a threat made by Walter White in Breaking Bad: “There will be consequences.” Given that much of the criticism of Documenta 15 has focused on alleged curatorial inadequacies—and has included not only menacing editorials recalling sensational crime drama, but direct threats of violence against curatorial staff and artists—it feels pertinent to ask: a big problem for whom? And if the show’s decentralized curating has been attacked as “bad,” then according to what reputed standards? In 1998, as the recently hired Curator of Education at New York’s ...
              “Fire Complex”
              Uta Kögelsberger / Julian Stallabrass
              In 2020, the Castle Fire wildfire swept through 174,000 acres of Sequoia National Forest, destroying an estimated 14 percent of the world’s giant sequoia population. Uta Kögelsberger embarked on a series of works and actions to render the destruction and its wider implications palpable, and to start to restore the land. In her multi-screen video work Cull (2022)—which has been shown in different iterations in Los Angeles, London, and online—a dire spectacle unfolds before the viewer: a burnt forest with tall but stripped trees standing amid ash and snow. Giant sequoias, the largest and among the longest-living of trees, have historically survived these fires. Large firs, cedars, and other trees are being felled. The looping, 15-minute video is largely silent until the trees crash to the ground, shattering branches and throwing up huge clouds of ash. Some fall heavily, as we might expect, but others lightly, gently, as if with a sigh. To any lover of trees and forests, the work is deeply affecting. Once, darkly beautiful scenes such as these—some of the static shots look like an apocalyptic variant of Ansel Adams—would have been experienced as sublime. In the current climate emergency, they are more immediately threatening: a vision of the ...
              Warsaw Roundup
              Ewa Borysiewicz
              Poland, as the theorist Maria Janion has noted, lies East of the West and West of the East. The cognitive dissonance can sometimes manifest in a complex blend of inferiority complex and messianic pride, often expressed via tales of the nation’s suffering and past glory. The majority of post-1989 efforts to tell the nation’s history have focused on repressing “Eastern” attributes in favor of “Western,” but Russia’s war on Ukraine has seen the nation assert its solidarity with its beleaguered eastern neighbor. Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art is trapped between the Stalinist Palace of Culture and Science and proliferating skyscrapers, and the institution’s programming reflects the difficulty of reconciling these two influences. Its temporary home, close to the Vistula River, currently hosts “The Dark Arts: Aleksandra Waliszewska and Symbolism from the East and North,” curated by Alison M. Gingeras and Natalia Sielewicz. The reclusive painter has gained an enormous online following for her somber, cryptic gouaches depicting a cast of mysterious figures including woman-spider hybrids, sinister Slavic wraths, lonely hangmen, flayed youngsters, and bleeding mystics. The curators have applied a decorum-defying social media logic to the show’s methodology, juxtaposing works of varying provenances and gravities. Yet the physical center of ...
              “Histórias Brasileiras”
              Oliver Basciano
              “Histórias Brasileiras” [Brazilian Stories] is a profoundly depressing show, a curatorial snapshot of a country, it would seem, at the end of its tether. It coincides with the closing months of Jair Bolsonaro’s grueling first term as the country’s president, opening just before the world’s fourth biggest democracy goes to the polls. The complaints and traumas presented in the exhibition are legion. That does not, however, necessarily make it a great exhibition. Adherents of Bolsonarismo have long co-opted Brazil’s national flag. And so it is as a presumed rebuke that the curators present a series of reimagined versions of the blue, yellow, and green standard to open this sprawling exhibition (over 400 objects divided between eight thematic chapters, the first of which is titled “Flags”). Abdias Nascimento’s Okê Oxóssi (1970), in which the late artist and activist inserts symbols of Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion, into the composition and palette of the original national design, subverts the European Christianity that has long held power in the country. It hangs alongside Mulambö’s Remembering Thy Noble Presence (2021), a funereal silhouette of the globe and diamond motif made from black plastic rubbish bags; and Leandro Vieira’s Brazilian Flag (2019), a rendition of the ...
              Nour Mobarak’s “Dafne Phono”
              Jennifer Piejko
              When the nymph Daphne refused Apollo’s advances, the god’s patience ran out quickly. “This is the way a sheep runs from the wolf […] everything flies from its foes, but it is love that is driving me to follow you!” Daphne took the only means of escape available to her: she prayed for transformation into a laurel tree. Apollo nonetheless claimed her as “my tree,” and so the laurel wreath became an emblem of power worn by royalty, gods, and victors in competition. It is also a symbol closely associated with the Medici family, patrons of the very first opera, most of the music from which has been lost: Ottavio Rinuccini and Jacopo Peri’s La Dafne, performed at the Palazzo Corsi in 1598. Nour Mobarak’s sound installation Dafne Phono (2022) takes the myth to its acoustic limits, playing a new composition based on La Dafne through sixteen channels into a spare, industrial loft on a street in downtown Los Angeles that still bustles at sundown. Mobarak’s version is sung in six languages that collectively cover the widest possible phonetic ground: the original Italian, Abkhaz, San Juan Quiahije Eastern Chatino, Silbo Gomero, and Taa (West !Xoon dialect), as well as Ovid’s ...
              Rachel Cusk & Chris Kontos’s Marble in Metamorphosis
              Aliki Panagiotopoulou
              In 1894, just a year after Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupis had declared Greece bankrupt, Athens was chosen to host the first modern Olympics. The occasion demanded the total refurbishment of the Panathenaic Stadium, a venue used for athletic competitions since ancient times. As the city embarked on this expensive endeavor, someone (the Olympic committee, mayor, or king, according to different versions of the story) posed the question “Ποιος θα πληρώσει το μάρμαρο;” [Who is going to pay for the marble?] In the decades since, the ancient Greek word has come to acquire a new significance in the modern vernacular: that of damage. Marble in Metamorphosis, a book which “contemplates the physical and cultural life of marble,” is published by an Australian property development company active in Athens. Much like a mockup apartment, everything about this object is designed to showcase the company’s taste: an essay by Rachel Cusk, Chris Kontos’s sleek photographs of Athens and the island of Tinos, excerpts from poems by major Greek poets Giorgos Seferis and Yannis Ritsos, and a poetic afterword by Nadine Monem, all make for a chokehold of beauty. Yet, in recent years, public policies that prioritise property over home, investment over sanctuary, and ...
              “That's not it”
              Daisy Hildyard
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. Following on from her essay on Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster for Textwork, the novelist Daisy Hildyard considers the importance of unknowing and vulnerability in any critical response to a work of art. There is a poem by Elizabeth Bishop about a sandpiper, a small seabird who is seen running along the shoreline, stabbing his head in the sand for grubs. On a frantic mission for food, “His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,/ looking for something, something, something. Poor bird, he is obsessed!” This attention is sadly misplaced: Bishop’s sandpiper, in his “state of controlled panic,” is oblivious to the ocean that roars right next to him. The sandpiper is overlaid in my mind with a passage from Virginia Woolf’s diaries in which she describes her experience as an obsessive search for something—but she doesn’t know what. “I have some restless searcher in me. Why is there not a discovery in life? Something one can lay hands on and say ‘This is it’? [...] I’m looking: but that’s not it—that’s not it. What is it?” I see ...
              Clearing the air
              The Editors
              In a conversation to be published this month, the architect Andrés Jaque identifies “ultra-clearness” as the presiding aesthetic of twenty-first-century power. Speaking in the context of our series on the “ecological turns” in contemporary culture, he warns that the drive to detoxify wealthy western cities—realized through clean air schemes and in the extractive processes underlying the immaculate design of Apple stores and luxury property developments—does not reflect an improvement in environmental standards so much as the displacement of ecological disaster onto populations outside the city centers, whether in the US Midwest or the Global South. Cleaning up the spaces occupied by the rich comes, more often than not, at the expense of poisoning the poor. The impulse to purge well-resourced public spaces of anything that dirties the atmosphere might have an analogy in the cultural field. The process of removing uncomfortable—even harmful—elements from the rarefied air of metropolitan museums and university curricula raises some of the same questions. Whose wellbeing is being protected? Is there a danger that excluding these elements only serves to shift their consequences onto populations less insulated by money and influence against their effects? Elizabeth Povinelli has pointed out, in her writing on toxic late liberalism, ...
              “The double bind”: on Documenta 15
              Skye Arundhati Thomas
              In the third of our dispatches from Documenta 15 over the course of its 100 days, Skye Arundhati Thomas reflects on the exhibition’s foregrounding of collectives from the Global South, how this has been received, and what it might mean for the future of exhibition-making. Collectives are often born out of necessity. In India, where I live, I see how essential communal endeavors can become: raising money for bail bonds, distributing funds for the living costs of members, building infrastructure. Collectives of this kind—often occupying a blurred borderland between activism, art, and social work—respond to a political and social alienation bred from the breakup of communities under the mechanisms of authoritarianism. In situations of near continuous emergency, and in the absence of welfare states, public funding, and institutions, the task of providing support and crisis work often falls onto individuals and their capacity to build community. “Lumbung,” the Indonesian rice barn which serves as the curatorial proposition of ruangrupa’s Documenta 15, is a means by which to collect, store, and share resources. In keeping with that principle, theirs is a show engineered towards a relational rather than an aesthetic experience. Fourteen primary participating collectives were given €25,000 as “seed money,” ...
              Manifesta 14, “It matters what worlds world worlds: how to tell stories otherwise”
              Cathryn Drake
              For its 14th edition, the nomadic European biennial Manifesta has taken up temporary residence in various cultural institutions and derelict spaces in and around Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, where creative mediator Catherine Nichols invited artists and practitioners to explore modes of storytelling across cultures. As a contested nation state, Kosovo embodies many of the most pressing and complex issues facing society today. When is a country a country? How many people have to say it is for it to be? Who has the authority to declare a territory as a nation? Does the population need to be homogenous? Who is nationalism good for? How can we all live together and be free? Roaming the city in search of the exhibitions and “artistic interventions”—by 102 artists in 25 locations, from an Ottoman-era hammam to a former brick factory—I attempted to plot pieces of the puzzle into a coherent picture. Interacting with locals in Pristina was inevitable, both to find the far-flung (and often vaguely signposted) locations and to glean how the tumultuous, not-so-distant past led to the complex present. The main exhibition, titled “The Grand Scheme of Things,” is hosted on seven floors of the Grand Hotel Pristina, a decadent ...
              2nd Front International, “Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows”
              Ladi’Sasha Jones
              The poetic invocations of Langston Hughes ground the 2022 Front Triennial, an exhibition spanning over thirty sites across three cities in Northeast Ohio—Cleveland, Oberlin and Akron. At Transformer Station, a private museum owned by the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation in the rapidly changing Ohio City neighborhood, visitors are greeted by a series of archival reproductions of drafts of the poem from which the exhibition takes its title, Hughes’s “Two Somewhat Different Epigrams” (1957), showing the delicate changes the poet made to his now-famous lines. Within an exhibition focusing on healing and the civic potential of artistic processes, these records make visible the art and practice of revision, and stand here as a critical exchange on what it means to bear witness to the ephemeral. It's a fitting opening for an exhibition featuring several community collaborations as well as activations of public commons, historic sites, and cultural institutions, and with several outstanding performance elements. A multi-day boat trip from Buffalo, New York to Cleveland’s harbor marked the beginning for Asad Raza’s performance work Delegation (2022). A brass band ushered participants into the Old Stone Church with a rendition of Civil Rights anthem “This Little Light of Mine.” Inside, the ...
              Tony Cokes’s “Fragments, or just Moments”
              Harry Burke
              Walking into “Fragments, or just Moments” at Haus der Kunst is like walking into a club. Blue lighting animates the subterranean LSK Gallery, while atmospheric techno—the audio of Tony Cokes’s Some Munich Moments 1937–1972 (2022)—thuds in the corridor. The effect is uncanny, not least as the bunker was formerly an air raid shelter created by the National Socialist party—as three shower cubicles by the entrance, among other eerie details, testify. In this retrospective, which spans this venue, the Kunstverein München, and two public sites, Cokes stages a haunting conversation with Munich’s past. 1937 is the year that the Haus der Kunst, designed by Hitler’s “master builder” Paul Troost, opened its doors. In 1972, the city’s Olympic Games, which West Germany hoped would repair its international standing, were overshadowed by the murder of eleven Israeli athletes by affiliates of the Black September Organization, a Palestinian militant group. In the postwar years, Germany undertook a determined program of de-Nazification, and today is reckoning with its colonialism. In a change of tune from Cokes’s celebrated text animations of the last two decades, which mostly shun representational imagery, Some Munich Moments (different edits of which appear at each venue) features scenes of a comprehensively ...
              Lungiswa Gqunta’s “Sleep in Witness”
              Novuyo Moyo
              Though not officially a part of the exhibition, the enormous black-and-white photograph on the exterior of the Henry Moore Institute—the image also appears on promotional material—anticipates the works shown inside. It depicts four Black women posing and gesturing playfully by some rocks on a beach. The women are a part of Lungiswa Gqunta’s family, and the photo was taken in mid-1970s South Africa at the height of Apartheid, when the best parts of the country’s vast coastline were delegated for the use of white people only. With this additional information, the photograph captures a moment of resistance, pointing to one of the many ways in which Black people reclaimed their rights to access, freedom, and movement. Gqunta was born in 1990, four years before South Africa held its first democratic elections with universal suffrage. This period may have brought an end to the legislative system of Apartheid, but its effects endure—a point to which she constantly returns in her practice. This economical show opens with Zinodaka (2022), an installation that takes up the entire floor of the first room, meaning the visitor has to walk over it to get to the other galleries. In the work, a thin, patchy layer of ...
              Daniel Otero Torres’s “Las huellas del viento”
              Jayne Wilkinson
              It’s a rare artist who combines deep research into histories of colonization with the technical draughtsmanship necessary for near-photographic expressive figuration. This is the kind of work for which Daniel Otero Torres—a Colombian artist based in Paris—has become known. His detailed, hyper-realistic drawings on large, flat sheets of steel or aluminum reproduce archival photographs by adjusting scale and composition to create the larger-than-life creaturely figures that populate his installations. Taking cues from archaeology, magical realism, and mythology, the works include many visual references that address pre-Columbian histories across Latin America. In his newest work for “Las huellas del viento” (the exhibition’s poetic title translates to “the traces of the wind”) Torres extends these concerns to the industrialization and financialization of nature, a complex topic handled here with nuance. The show comprises steel sculptures, a five-panel wall work, a hanging installation, and a series of ceramic vessels, with each group exploring a different natural commodity—bananas, corn, and poppies—that has been intensively mono-cropped and tightly controlled in order to produce corporate wealth rather than communal resources. Bananas are one of the world’s most popular fruits, and not by accident. The United Fruit Company, a twentieth-century multinational corporation, is largely credited with developing ...
              Reclamation in Whose Name?
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              “Ecological turns” is a series in which writers consider how the ecological discourse is shaping the production, exhibition, and reception of contemporary art. In this instalment, Natasha Marie Llorens reflects on a group exhibition at Palais de Tokyo which takes a “rallying cry” for a title: “Reclaim the Earth.” Solange Pessoa’s long swaths of felted horsehair, culled and woven together over many years, are suspended from the Palais de Tokyo’s high ceilings, their rough surfaces and variegated brown tones visible from a distance as I enter the gallery. Cathedral (1990–2003) is part of a group show entitled “Reclaim the Earth,” encompassing the work of fourteen artists, conceived as a multi-generational and multi-cultural “rallying cry” in response to climate collapse. Pessoa’s references to horses imported to Brazil by the Spanish are described by the wall label as evocative of “distant memories of Brazil’s colonization by the Europeans,” and the artist’s contribution to the exhibition is summarized as animating “both living and non-living elements, mixing present time with the ancestral past.” I am attracted to the abject quality of Pessoa’s lines traced over the ghost image of Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia Cathedral, but I balk at the softness of the generalization “European colonization,” ...
              Jeannette Ehlers’s “Archives in the Tongue: A Litany of Freedoms”
              Tobias Dias
              Jeannette Ehlers has for many years confronted viewers with the repressed history of colonial exploitation on which large parts of Denmark’s wealth is built. In the old and new works that comprise her solo show at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, “Archives in the Tongue: A Litany of Freedoms,” the Danish-Trinidadian artist looks at this history—in particular how it relates to the Black diaspora—across various media. As a whole, the show forms an open, lively archive with no definitive beginning or end: softly tangled braids of brown and black hair appear in several rooms and extend beyond the Kunsthal’s walls, with dance rhythms and singing voices carrying in one of the performance works taking place outside the museum. In the first room of the exhibition, the large-scale, portrait-format video Moko is Future (2022) features Moko Jumbie, a mythical figure from Afro-Caribbean folklore. Dressed in carnivalesque clothes, masks, and stilts, Moko is shown ascending from the Atlantic Ocean and dancing through Copenhagen’s streets, with its monuments to dead white men, to bring spiritual healing. “Until the lion has their historian, the hunter will always be a hero” is spelled out in pink neon on one of the walls at Charlottenborg—a found text Ehlers saw ...
              “Shared memories”
              Akin Oladimeji / Jelili Atiku
              Last month the Lagos-based artist Jelili Atiku trod tenderly through a public square in London, weighed down by maquettes strapped to his feet. Small sculptures, mounted on a large cardboard box daubed with “Pfizer,” “Kano,” and “1996,” obscured his vision. The performance—titled Wórowòro, Kóbokòbo and shown as part the group exhibition “In a Pot of Hot Soup: Art and the Articulation of Politics in Nigeria” at the Brunei Gallery in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London—was Atiku’s response to the Pfizer drug trial scandal of 1996 and its impact on our pandemic-scarred present. During that controversy, the pharmaceutical giant pledged to combat a meningitis epidemic in Kano, northern Nigeria, by trialling a new drug on 200 infected children, leaving eleven dead and dozens more injured. Atiku’s work across drawing, multimedia installation, and performance combines Yoruba performance traditions with political activism to address subjects including human rights abuses and postcolonial trauma, at times with the intention of directly provoking political change. In 2016, he was arrested in Ejigbo, Lagos, on charges of “public disturbance and inciting the public” over his performance work Aragamago Will Rid this Land of Terrorism. The piece, which invoked Yoruba ...
              “Towards Life”
              Chus Martínez
              Meta is a collaboration between art-agenda and TextWork, editorial platform of the Fondation Pernod Ricard, which reflects on the relationship between artists and writers. In her essay on the work of Martine Aballéa for Textwork, Chus Martínez considered how its new “ways of sensing” the world might suggest new ways of acting within it. This curiosity about how other consciousnesses—human and nonhuman—construct their surroundings also characterizes Martínez’s work as artistic director of TBA21–Academy’s Ocean Space in Venice, which is dedicated to improving our understanding of the oceans through art, and as director of the Art Institute at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel. This conversation picks up threads from that text, ranging from what it means to think of art as a living being to why she retains “the highest respect for joy.” art-agenda: You write beautifully of how reality is constructed by our sensory faculties: so the world as inhabited by a human does not only look different but is different to the world inhabited by, to take your example, a turtle. How can art help us to reconstruct the world? Chus Martínez: I am always fascinated by how we fantasize: how fantasy allows the human ...
              A carrier bag theory of criticism
              The Editors
              Chris Kraus suggested a couple of years ago that art criticism might soon be replaced by conversations around art. The sentiment reflects one tendency in the culture: broadly speaking, the shift away from individual pronouncements on objects produced by solitary geniuses and towards communal discussions around the products of communities and co-operatives (even if expressed in the work of a single artist). This more pluralistic future—in which both the production and reception of art are understood to be collective endeavors—is to be hoped for and worked towards. In many senses, of course, it has already arrived. Today’s dramatically altered media landscape means that no-one must any longer rely on a single authority for information on what is being presented in galleries, museums, and elsewhere. Access to exhibitions in other cities is not limited to a short review and a black-and-white installation shot in one of a handful of print publications. Now, our feeds are filled with snapshots from the previews captioned with expressions of support or dissent. This brings significant benefits: we learn about shows that we might never have heard about elsewhere, filtered through a variety of perspectives, and the conversation accommodates voices that might not ...
              Natasha Soobramanien & Luke Williams’s Diego Garcia
              Orit Gat
              The narrator of Diego Garcia, a novel written collaboratively by Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams, is sometimes a he, sometimes a she, always a we. When its two speakers, Oliver and Damaris, are not together, the narrative can fracture into separate columns. They live in Edinburgh. It’s 2014. “We” walk to the library; “he” makes coffee in the morning; “she” loves the cardamom buns at the Swedish café. The city is a backdrop to their conversations about Theodor Adorno and James Baldwin, the Velvet Underground, writing, and money; they discuss their debts in numbers, their credit scores in terms of unavailable futures. On the streets are posters for the Scottish Independence referendum. Their life feels detached until one day they meet Diego. Diego is Chagossian, from the community exiled to Mauritius and the Seychelles by the British government between 1967 and 1973 so that the island of Diego Garcia could be turned into a US military base. Diego—the name he adopted in acknowledgement of his lost homeland—meets them one night for a drink. They never see Diego again, but before he leaves he tells Damaris his life story: how he grew up in Mauritius and ended up undocumented in the ...
              “Contested Histories”: on Documenta 15
              Jörg Heiser
              In the second of our dispatches from Documenta 15 over the course of its 100 days, Jörg Heiser considers the row over anti-Semitic content that erupted shortly after the exhibition’s opening. This January, a Kassel-based group called Bündnis gegen Antisemitismus [Alliance Against Anti-Semitism], which prides itself on anti-Muslim racism (“we make no secret of the fact that we take a critical view of Islam”), published a post on its blog. The post denounced members of ruangrupa, the Indonesian collective curating this year’s Documenta, as well as members of the exhibition’s Finding Committee and Artistic Team, as anti-Semites, pointing to their support—amongst 16,000 other co-signers—for the May 2021 “Letter against Apartheid.” (I haven’t signed the letter because I disagree with its terminology and some of its demands, but the assumption that everyone who did is automatically an anti-Semite is absurd.) In a newspaper interview in January, German Historian Ulrich Schneider—federal spokesman of the anti-fascist Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes [Association of the Persecuted of the Nazi Regime]—described the “alliance” as “concerned with denouncing people who are critical of Israel’s occupation policy. They deliberately use the blanket accusation of anti-Semitism as a killer argument.” Nevertheless, a string of newspaper articles across ...
              Hernan Bas & Zadie Xa’s “House Spirits”
              Danica Sachs
              There’s a spot in the two-person exhibition “House Spirits” from which Hernan Bas’s large-scale painting Disco Demolition Night (all works 2022) appears framed by Zadie Xa’s shamanic robe Kimchi rites, kitchen rituals, hanging near the front of the gallery, and her kaleidoscopic constellation in stitched linen-and-denim, Seven full moons, on the back wall. In this sightline, the artists seem an unlikely pairing: the content and references of Xa’s fabric works draw on her Korean heritage while Bas’s acrylic paintings are rooted in white American pop culture. In bringing these two artists into dialogue, however, this exhibition foregrounds the way each traffics in a kind of visual folklore. The tension between the former’s new, hybrid identities and the latter’s melancholy depictions of the demise of a monolithic culture reflects changing social dynamics. Two of Xa’s brightly colored robes hang opposite each other, suspended from the ceiling. The open folds on the front of Princess Bari fall in concentric half circles, made of linen hand-dyed in shades of coral, chartreuse, and sky blue, the hues seeping together to create a riotous sunset. The back is festooned with stitched knives and a cascade of rainbow ribbons running down the back, each ending with ...
              “A new kind of archive”
              Dina Ramadan / Mahmoud Khaled
              Mahmoud Khaled has in recent years taken the house museum—a space dedicated to the legacy of the person (real or invented) who lived there—as his medium. Beginning with “Proposal for a House Museum of an Unknown Crying Man” at the 15th Istanbul Biennial in 2017, Khaled has used these imagined sets to explore the violence and power of memorialization. In his first UK solo exhibition at The Mosaic Rooms, “Fantasies on a Found Phone, Dedicated to the Man Who Lost it,” the Berlin-based, Egyptian artist transforms the gallery space into a domestic setting. This immersive environment—featuring murals, sculpture, photography, a sound piece, and an artist’s book—imagines the life of the anonymous owner of a misplaced phone in order to commemorate it. This project builds on Khaled’s continued interest in museums and archives as apparatuses of history-telling that can be reappropriated to document and celebrate marginalized queer lives. His work examines the tension between the public and the private, as well as the relationships between identity, anonymity, and intimacy. Dina Ramadan: Your first use of the form of the house museum memorialized a character you call the “unknown crying man.” Who was this figure? Mahmoud Khaled: The image that started ...
              American Artist’s “Shaper of God”
              Jonathan Griffin
              About 15 minutes’ drive from the mirrored towers of downtown Los Angeles, a shady canyon throngs with oaks, willows, sycamores, and cottonwoods. Treefrog tadpoles wriggle in the creek. Snakes hunt among the rocks. Visitors to Hahamongna Watershed Park, named after the Tongvan village that once existed there, also cannot miss the adjacent white buildings of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a giant research facility owned by NASA. This discordant landscape, according to a text accompanying American Artist’s exhibition “Shaper of God,” was an inspiration to the science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, who set several of her novels in nearby Altadena and Pasadena, where she lived for much of her life. (Butler died in 2006, at 58.) The exhibition, dominated by recreations of urban street furniture, is really a single installation made from several semi-autonomous artworks. Its enigmatic title derives from a verse in the fictional religious text The Books of the Living, quoted in Butler’s nightmarish futurist novel Parable of the Sower (1993): “We do not worship God. / We perceive and attend God. / We learn from God. / With forethought and work, / We shape God.” Among other themes, Parable of the Sower is about self-determination in the ...
              Documenta 15, “lumbung”
              Kevin Brazil
              In the first of our dispatches from Documenta 15 over the next 100 days, Kevin Brazil considers the exhibition as an experiment in the art of administration.” At the opening press conference of Documenta 15, held in a Kassel sports stadium, the Indonesian collective ruangrupa invited the audience to sing along, “karaoke style,” to a music video created by Tropical Tap Water. In the lexicon of terms developed by ruangrupa to explain their curatorial ethos, this video was a “harvest”—a gathering of the fruits of a process—undertaken by one of the 1,500 artists working and sharing resources within the Documenta ekosistem (a more limited number are invited to exhibit). It showed people painting and playing music in studios, with diagrams and flowcharts mapping the stages by which the song was created. Lyrics flashed on screen, riffing on the idea of a “baskom,” or washbowl: “To decentralize Europe / We use the baskom.” Some of the participating artists half-heartedly clapped along, but the audience was otherwise largely silent. Collaboration, participation, and process over product: these are the practices ruangrupa aim to foster in the activities—from childcare to composting—taking place across Documenta’s 100 days. And, indeed, in the meetings, financing, and ...
              Diamela Eltit’s “Custody of the Eyes”
              Olivia Casa
              The Rearview series addresses blind spots in recent art history by returning to an influential exhibition, artwork, or text from the past and reflecting on its relevance to the present. In this edition, Olivia Casa takes a new translation of Diamela Eltit’s Los vigilantes (1994) as an opportunity to highlight her pioneering artistic activism. Diamela Eltit was a key member of the Escena de Avanzada, a group of Chilean artists and writers who denounced Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in the aftermath of the 1973 US-backed coup that overthrew Salvador Allende. Varying in their approaches, they were united in their search for experimental strategies that would confront the regime’s policies and discourse—an aim epitomized by Colectivo Acciones de Arte (CADA), of which Eltit was a founding member. The reissue of Eltit’s 1994 novel Los vigilantes, published in English as Custody of the Eyes, offers an opportunity to consider the relevance of the Escena de Avanzada to contemporary debates about art’s discursive strategies under repression. An epistolary novel narrated through a series of desperate letters dispatched by “Mama,” or Margarita, from a dystopian, authoritarian city, it leads us through a series of increasingly sinister events in which citizens are turned against one ...
              12th Berlin Biennale, “Still Present!”
              Jesi Khadivi
              As curator of the twelfth edition of the Berlin Biennale, Kader Attia continues his ongoing engagement with notions of injury and repair. There is precedent for this in his own artistic practice: the sprawling installation The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures (2012) staged reconstructed artifacts from ethnological collections that clearly reveal their stitching and staples, drawing a contrast with Western approaches to restoration that conceal an object’s damage and thereby silence the many stories it might tell. In the series “Repaired Broken Mirror” (2013–21), Attia sutured nondescript fractured mirrors with crude materials like staples or copper wire, a gesture of repair which appeared no less brutal than the act of breaking. The visible scars and reflective surface feel emblematic of this exhibition’s aspirations to hold a mirror to the legacies of colonialism and imperialism, sweeping environmental destruction, racism, sexism, and forced displacement due to war and climate change—and to propose ways forward. Through works by 82 artists and collectives displayed across six venues, Attia endeavors to foster spaces of “collective speech and reflection” that respond to the accumulated, unhealed wounds that have been rendered invisible by discourses of expansionism, algorithmic governance, and 24/7 capitalism. Working against the universalist claims of ...
              ORTA’s “LAI-PI-CHU-PLEE-LAPA Centre for the New Genius”
              Inga Lāce
              Organized by the transdisciplinary ORTA collective and based on the writings of Kazakhstani artist, writer, and inventor Sergey Kalmykov (1891–1967), the Kazakhstan Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale comprises immersive scenography made from the simplest materials. When I visited during the opening days, grayish wrapping paper enveloped the space from floor to ceiling, providing a background to printouts and props covered in aluminum foil and activated by participatory performances that the collective call “spectacular experiments.” This is the first year that Kazakhstan has participated in the Venice Biennale on its own, and the same goes for Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic: since 2005, these countries have shown as part of the Central Asian Pavilion. Ten days before the opening of the biennale, ORTA realized that the long-planned delivery of artworks and materials from Kazakhstan would not arrive in time. The war in Ukraine meant that trucks that would usually cross Russia and Belarus—including those from Kazakhstan—were being rerouted through Georgia and Azerbaijan. This not only rendered visible the often-hidden logistical and financial efforts that organizers have to go through, pointing to the extreme inequality at the very foundation of the national pavilion format, but also made the pavilion a makeshift ...
              Anne Imhof’s “AVATAR”
              R. H. Lossin
              “AVATAR” is an installation featuring rows of industrial lockers, cored concrete blocks, a large, three-panel painting of clouds, figurative drawings, and new additions to Anne Imhof’s series of “Scratch Paintings”—large aluminum panels coated in custom automobile paint with patterns scratched into them by the artist. While no performance will be held here, it is impossible not to think of it as a set absent the actors—which, given the function of lockers and the potential density of bodies in a locker room, isn’t far-fetched, even if we bracket the German artist’s fame as a dramaturge. The lockers containing concrete blocks as a way of staging giant, slightly abstracted car doors is almost too literal if you have even a glancing, film-based familiarity with industrial production. The untitled cloud painting is compelling—beautiful in a Monet’s waterlilies sort of way. The drawings—mostly hung in a back space that functions as an office—are likely there so people have something to buy. The show is fine. Imhof is a talented painter and draughtswoman. One could leave it at that if it weren’t for the ghosts of bodies that might use the lockers on the way into a General Motors plant. Imhof continues to describe herself ...
              Pipilotti Rist’s “Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor”
              Terry R. Myers
              “Stay home.” Where or when does comfort become confinement? Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition in MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary warehouse invites us to take an entertaining, even rejuvenating stroll through Rist’s “neighborhood,” a place provocatively split in two, where the bodies on screens present little to no risk and plenty of reward. As a survey of Rist’s substantial production from 1986 to the present, “Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor” sets out to achieve the kind of wish-fulfilment its title proposes. Moving from the entrance past a theatrical curtain into the exhibition, the neighborhood is suddenly there below—we enter from slightly above—all at once a stage set and an apparition, aglow with colorful imagery moving across the walls of its buildings and the communal grounds surrounding them, caught in the middle of a kind of pre-performance begun before we even arrived. (Or, more likely, a sequence that neither starts nor stops, just exists.) There are also sounds, voices even. At first they seem to be over … there, beckoning from the housing or near the picnic tables in a park, but then, there she is, that small mirage and small voice crying out at your feet. What to do here with one of Rist’s ...
              New criteria
              The Editors
              In her recently published book, reviewed last month in these pages, Karen Archey made the case for critique—of art institutions, but more widely of the frameworks of governance by which our societies are organized—as an act of care. To hold something to account, she argues, is not to denigrate it but quite the opposite: we criticize the institutions we care about in order to improve them. Critique is not a weapon to be brandished against our enemies, a merely rhetorical means of demonstrating the “rightness” of one pre-established position over another. Instead it is a process by which to measure the degree to which the institutions we have a stake in are meeting their responsibilities. This process facilitates the reform that must be never-ending—the permanent revolution—if those institutions are to continue to serve the evolving needs of the people for whom they were established. That criticism is not hostile to its object feels like a principle worth restating, when so much of the discourse—not only around contemporary art, but the societies it represents—feels like so many different ways of justifying a fixed political position. Criticism, in the above formulation, works against that tendency. Because it is predicated on judging ...
              Karen Archey’s After Institutions
              Ben Eastham
              The question of whether and how contemporary art can contribute to the reform of society is, let’s say, increasingly pressing. Emerging from a cancelled exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, where Karen Archey is curator of contemporary art, this book-length essay posits a “reinvigorated” Institutional Critique as the best available means to this end. Featuring artists from Hans Haacke to A.K. Burns, the show aimed to reflect the influence on cultural production of the post-2008 economic recession and social movements including Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, and Black Lives Matter. In articulating the ideas behind it, After Institutions makes the case for works of art that, by situating their critique in institutions ranging from healthcare to education, might meaningfully change them. To demonstrate that this is the natural next step in the evolution of what Archey, following Andrea Fraser, calls a “methodology” rather than a movement, she divides a potted history of Institutional Critique into three “waves.” Emerging out of the overwhelmingly white and Eurocentric context of western Conceptual Art in the late 1960s, the first focused its critique on the social and economic structures supporting the art institution. In order to resist its recuperation by the market and foreground idea over ...
              Bani Abidi’s “The Man Who Talked Until He Disappeared”
              Sadia Shirazi
              In Chicago, during the anti-racism protests against police violence in the summer of 2020, river bridges were raised and steel barricades erected by police to corral demonstrators. These very same barriers, now painted bright red, greet visitors as they enter Bani Abidi’s survey at the MCA, in its third iteration after stints in Berlin and Sharjah. The exhibition includes video, performance, sound installation, and print-based work spanning over two decades, and draws together her long-standing interest in power, securitization, and everyday life, marked by moments of humor and absurdity. Collectively, Abidi’s practice might be seen to illustrate Henri Lefebvre’s suggestion that “the critique of everyday life involves a critique of political life, in that everyday life already contains and constitutes such a critique: in that it is that critique.” A trio of split-screen videos that Abidi made as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago form the core of the exhibition, clustered together and displayed on box monitors. In each video—The News (2001), Anthems (2000), and Mangoes (1999)—the artist plays two characters—an Indian and a Pakistani—whose identities emerge from sartorial, discursive, and linguistic differences, revealing the codes that constitute their differentiated national identities. The viewer is forced ...
              Tarek Atoui’s “The Whisperers”
              Rachel Valinsky
              Near the entrance of the Contemporary’s street-level gallery, a long chain hanging from the ceiling rigging traces a circular motion around an oxidized cymbal. In the sculptural assemblage The Whisperers: Infinite Ballet Solo (2020–21) these pieces are connected via a long brass rod to a wooden box perched atop a concrete pedestal, and to other nearby elements. The mesmeric, metallic rub and scrape generated by the chain’s slow trajectory is miked, and can be isolated if listened to in headphones nearby, but it’s just as audible at the other end of the gallery, where it coalesces into the overarching din of the soundscape. Tarek Atoui’s exhibition “The Whisperers” is a meticulously orchestrated playground in which each “tool for listening,” as he calls them, triggers a mechanism that generates a series of chain reactions and feedback effects. These new sculptures, first exhibited at Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris last year, emerged out of a collaboration with a class of kindergarten students on an ongoing sound workshop. They conserve their experimental, ludic quality with playful titles given for the form each assemblage evokes, or the associations it whimsically stirs up. Underwater Birds (2020–21), for instance, fosters a set of aquatic plants, while ...
              Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group’s “Happy Spring”
              Jason Waite
              A number of art exhibitions have, in recent years, disrupted cultural institutions in Japan. Take the allegations of censorship at the 2016 MOT Annual, which resulted in two curators being let go, or the temporary closure of the 2019 Aichi Triennale after violent threats were made against its organizers. To this list can be added “Happy Spring” at the Mori Art Museum, the work of the six-person, Tokyo-based collective founded in 2005 and known at the time of the show’s opening as Chim↑Pom. In late April, the group changed its name to Chim↑Pom from Smappa!Group in response to the institution’s refusal of sponsorship from its long-time collaborator Smappa!Group, an organization which runs a number of “host clubs” in Tokyo. The museum claimed this was a “branding” issue; the artists argued that it could be regarded as “discrimination against nightlife workers”—an already stigmatized section of Japanese society. All that can be said with certainty is that this group’s first retrospective, curated by Kenichi Kondo, was long overdue and worth undertaking, although its longer-term effects remain uncertain. The pulsing, unruly show at Mori Art Museum centers around a replica street shaped like an ouroboros that runs throughout the institution. That this ...
              London Roundup
              Orit Gat
              In the local elections held the week before London Gallery Weekend, the residents of Westminster City Council, which covers much of central London, voted Labour into a majority for the first time since the council’s creation in 1964. The vote was partly informed by the Conservative council’s misguided decision, widely publicized in 2021, to spend six million pounds on the “Marble Arch Mound,” a twenty-five-meter-tall astroturf hill and viewing point designed to lure viewers back to the city’s busiest shopping district. It failed: many stores are still covered with for-rent signs, one of which peddled a “blank canvas for new ideas.” These are the visual and linguistic relics of the before-time: they represent old ideas of urban environments and their inhabitants’ habits, and beg the question, “What if we don’t want to return to how things were?” At Emalin, Augustas Serapinas is displaying eight large black reliefs made of roof shingles taken from a wooden house from his home country, Lithuania. Many of these traditional architectures are now abandoned or destroyed and used for firewood. Serapinas bought one, broke it apart, charred its roof shingles, and repurposed them into monochromes that are part-painting, part-sculpture. They are heavy, loaded with their ...
              “Dance Reflections”
              Isobel Harbison
              “WORKING WITH BOTH TRISHA BROWN AND LAURIE ANDERSON WILL BE ONE OF THE MOST UNIQUE THEATRICAL CHALLENGE [sic] IN MY CARREER [sic],” wrote Robert Rauschenberg prior to the production of Set and Reset (1983), in his signature uppercase. “THE EXPERTISE RELIES ON WHAT KIND OF ROOM WE MAKE FOR EACH OTHER. NO ONE COULD BE MORE CURIOUS ABOUT THIS THAN I AM.” Set and Reset premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in the institution’s inaugural “Next Wave” festival. The collaboration between Anderson, Brown, and Rauschenberg was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts—part of a new grants program supporting the interdisciplinary artistic collaboration increasingly evident in the city—and it became a commercial and critical success. Forty years on, the work headlines “Dance Reflections,” a new international festival of contemporary dance set across London’s Tate Modern, Sadler’s Wells, and the Royal Opera House. While the first festival iteration of Set and Reset elevated avant-garde performance from the ad hoc spaces used by Brown during the 1960s and ’70s onto the grand theatrical stage, this recent one re-grounded it onto a different space altogether: the museum floor. This marks another phase in the life cycle of avant-garde dance: ...
              Josephine Pryde’s “Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’ & the Gastric Flu”
              Travis Diehl
              Josephine Pryde’s campily titled show at Reena Spaulings frames the genius of Taylor Swift—her capacity for reinvention and the influence of her confessional songwriting—as a model of the creative process. The story goes that sometime in 2019, Pryde, an English artist known for detourning the conventions of commercial photography, came down with a stomach bug: she spent her convalescence listening repeatedly to Swift’s album Lover, released that same year. In the months since, she produced a series of twelve bronzes by chewing on a piece of gum while remembering a different track, matching her chews to the rhythm of each song in a kind of masticatory lip-sync. She stuck each resulting wad to one of the pieces of driftwood or small rocks scattered around her flat, cast the assemblages in bronze, and patinated the gum part a scaly green. Hannah Wilke, eat your heart out. Pryde’s goal seems not to relive or remember her illness so much as transpose it into the key of Taylor’s heartbreak. Each piece is titled after the song in Pryde’s head while she made it: “The Archer”; “Paper Rings”; “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince.” The suggestion is that the tenor of each song affected ...
              Em Rooney’s “Entrance of Butterfly”
              R. H. Lossin
              “Entrance of Butterfly,” Em Rooney’s third solo show with Derosia (formerly Bodega), consists of six large sculptures and the looping, 11-minute slide show that gives the exhibition its title. The artist has previously integrated photographs into her sculptures, but here the 80 color stills are disaggregated and projected at a notably small scale in a separate gallery: their relation to the sculptural forms is symbolic or narrative rather than material. If these representational images suggest context or content for their more abstract, three-dimensional counterparts, it is only in the most provisional way. The wall-mounted sculptures, titled with reference to films and natural processes, have a descriptive power of their own. trouble every day (all works 2022) is the approximate size and shape of a headless dress mannequin. Impaled on the steel strip that secures it to the wall, the candy-wrapper quality bestowed by Mylar and coated rice paper is at odds with the violence of a disarticulated female torso. This shape, at once a replica and an encasement of the female body—shiny, blue, aggressively corseted by sharp, rhinestone-studded petals (synthetic whale boning and all)—invites us to dwell on the often incompatible demands made on women’s bodies (literally, materially on them). ...
              Paulo Nazareth’s “Vuadora”
              Oliver Basciano
              I often stare open-mouthed at Brazilian supermarket shelves, horrified by the overt racism of some of the branding. One line of cleaning products features a caricature that’s too grim to go into, and would likely have been considered offensive by many as far back as the 1920s. There is a history to all this of course. While they number under half the population, white Brazilians still hold a disproportionate amount of the country’s wealth and power: a legacy of colonialism, slavery, extractionism, but also of the myth of Brazil’s post-racial utopia to which many in the country still cling (a multiculturalism partly due to the post-abolitionist government’s desire to “whiten” the population by inviting immigration from Europe and Asia in the late nineteenth century). That is a lot to unpack from the weekly shop. Some of these dubiously branded products caught the eye of Brazilian artist Paulo Nazareth too, who uses them as the basis for his critique of the art world’s tendency to transform cultural identity into commercial capital. In his series “Ovo de Colombo” (Egg of Columbus, 2020), one of the first bodies of works encountered in this expansive retrospective of art made over 17 years, they ...
              Elmgreen & Dragset’s “Useless Bodies?”
              Cathryn Drake
              The sleek, sardonic work of Scandinavian duo Elmgreen & Dragset has found a consummate context in the Fondazione Prada, a private museum founded by luxury fashion entrepreneurs. The question mark in the exhibition title—“Useless Bodies?”—signals an interrogation of the human body as a viable organ in contemporary society, played out within the context of a western-centric ideal of beauty and vitality. The main space, called the Podium and employed in all the term’s senses of stage, soapbox, and platform, is arrayed with human figures engaged in related but disassociated activities. Classical marble nudes—tautly muscled athletes, a young shepherd with a dog, and a reclining gladiator among them—mingle with bronze sculptures of pubescent boys to suggest a diorama in an archaeological museum. The only woman represented is Pregnant White Maid (2017), regarding a petulant, pouting schoolboy (Invisible, 2017) with her eyes decidedly shut. All of the contemporary bronze figures are lacquered in opaque white or buffed to a brilliant glow, with the exception of a striking black Runner, from the first century BC, idealized with Caucasian features and a startlingly realistic gaze. Like a terrarium, the main space is transparent yet hermetic, enhancing a sense of highly visible isolation, not ...
              “One long crime”
              Lawrence Abu Hamdan / Skye Arundhati Thomas
              On August 4, 2020, a 2,750-ton cache of ammonium nitrate exploded at a warehouse of the main port in Beirut, Lebanon, in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. An enormous toxic red cloud hung for days over the city; according to Human Rights Watch, 300,000 people were displaced by the damage, 7,000 injured, 218 killed. An official investigation is ongoing, and no clear resolutions have yet been found. The city—and country—has since been subject to long power blackouts, a collapse of healthcare infrastructure, and skyrocketed inflation. “My government did this,” reads a graffiti scrawled in black ink by the side of the port. The artist and self-styled “private ear” Lawrence Abu Hamdan, who has previously conducted sonic investigations into asylum tribunals in the UK and ballistic reports of instances of military brutality in Palestine, turned his attention to these events; judging the explosion the result of state negligence, he began to map out a longer history of governmental corruption and military occupation in the region. On 8 March, 2022, a crowd gathered in Sharjah’s “Flying Saucer,” a Brutalist theatre shaped like a star, where Abu Hamdan presented an audiovisual essay. He circled the perimeter slowly as we ...
              How Soon is Now?
              The Editors
              On the evening of the first preview day of the Venice Biennale, I had dinner at the house of a friend who lives in the city. The writers around the table were, as always, worrying about how they were going to find the time to see everything in the exhibition, formulate an intelligent response to it, and file their reviews before their deadlines in the coming days. Which prompted the host, having sympathized with their predicament, to direct her next question to me, the only editor present: “What's the rush?” The implications of the question were clear (at least to someone who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about these things). When everything is on social media within minutes of the exhibition’s doors opening anyway, and the preview is spent dodging people taking selfies to post alongside snap judgements, why not give critics more time to consider their opinions? However useful they are for people running around Venice, the proliferation of listicles with titles like “Best Five Pavilions at the Biennale” and “Standout Works from the International Exhibition” contribute to a discourse which is more about identifying winners and losers in the snakes-and-ladders of professional art than reflecting on ...
              Erin L. Thompson’s Smashing Statues
              R. H. Lossin
              Amid the waves of protests against the murder of unarmed black people by the police, many more US citizens began to question the validity of statues honoring men who massacred the continent’s indigenous inhabitants, owned slaves, and otherwise profited from the suffering, exploitation, and death of mostly non-European people. Some statues were successfully pulled down by crowds, others damaged, removed under the cover of night, and placed in storage. But most of these sculptures, as Erin L. Thompson documents in her much-needed history of public monuments and social change, have been legally protected in perpetuity by state legislatures. Take for example the Confederate Memorial Carving on Stone Mountain, which is the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world and depicts the heroes of the slave South Jefferson Davis, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Robert E. Lee as they ride toward something—possibly a future in which they exercise an inordinate influence. Thompson, a specialist in art crime, has written a thoroughly researched, convincing, and readable argument for the removal of the United States’ monuments to its colonial and slave history: in doing so, her book eradicates any lingering doubts as to the wisdom of suppressing these symbolic markers of the past. Advocates of ...
              Elbert Joseph Perez’s “Just Living the Dream”
              Hallie Ayres
              A pristine, nondescript hammer dangles upside down from the skylight in Rachel Uffner’s upstairs gallery. Situated on a pedestal directly underneath are three porcelain figurines: a swan, a lamb, and a pony. Arranged in a congregation that is as tender as it is eerie, the figurines exude a fragility that is exacerbated tenfold by the hammer’s precarious installation. The notion that moments of suspension—of disbelief or otherwise—can so quickly turn catastrophic runs through the rest of the works on display in “Just Living the Dream,” Elbert Joseph Perez’s first solo gallery show in New York City. The motif of ceramic figurines of baby animals on the brink of violent extermination recurs throughout Perez’s suite of paintings. The eleven compositions, all oil on canvas, oscillate stylistically between aesthetics of naturalist still life and symbolist metaphysics. Their conventional orientation on the gallery wall belies the foreboding subject matter. Duhkha Aisle (all works 2022) features a ceramic duck in a cowboy hat, an immobile target for the rearing snake in the hellscape behind it, while 16 oz. Migraine positions the glazed upper body of a horse inches away from a glimmering sledgehammer affixed to something beyond the bounds of the canvas by a ...
              59th Venice Biennale, “The Milk of Dreams”
              Quinn Latimer
              How to make an exhibition about technologies of gender in the year 2022? About bodies that are symbiotic and prosthetic and in solidarity—an extension of ourselves into other receiving forms, whether animal, vegetal, machinic, spirit, land, human, or otherwise—and about an ecosystem in which the body is seen as a vessel of ancestral and speculative relations and active possibilities? That is, at once mutable, vulnerable, hybrid, Indigenous or diasporic, human or non, but ever transforming and telegrammic? Real queries, I know, but stay with me. We were all once stardust, remember. Take These Eyes Djamila Ribeiro has written about understanding “the gender category” from non-Eurocentric sources, taking, for example, the female orixás deities in African-origin religions including Candomblé and Umbanda. This is feminist discourse by other “geographies of reason,” with women of care, women of cult, mythical female ancestors, and African diaspora witches who are, she writes, “the antithesis of any denial of behavioral, political, ethical transcendence that women may represent.” Ribeiro notes, precisely: “From them it is possible to think of a practice that transforms the colonial relations present today.” Her words surfaced in my mind as soon as I entered the opening rotunda of Cecilia Alemani’s exhibition in ...
              59th Venice Biennale, The National Pavilions
              Ben Eastham
              Among the many dizzying contradictions that characterize the Venice Biennale is the persistence, amidst the rhetoric of decentering and decolonization, of a national pavilion format that gives prominence to those western powers considered a century ago to constitute the world order. The issues this raises are complicated, in this year’s edition, by apparently conflicting attitudes to the construction of identity (to be affirmed or broken down) and the violability of borders (to be defended or dissolved, sometimes within the same press release). For all of the anachronism and cognitive dissonance, one purpose of the Biennale’s pavilions might be to drag these contradictions—all of which have “real world” analogues or implications—into the light in order to discuss them. With its façade transformed by hanging thatch into an homage to vernacular African architecture, Simone Leigh’s attention-grabbing US Pavilion is pointedly titled “Sovereignty.” As a counterpoint to Cecilia Alemani’s surrealist-infused international exhibition, which foregrounds fluidity and category slipping, this assertion of the right to self-determination is striking. The sheer physical presence and self-possession of sculptures indebted to African traditions—precisely and sparsely arranged through the pavilion—communicate an identity that is confident, coherent, and secure in its boundaries. Yet the title also draws attention to ...
              Rabih Mroué’s “Under the Carpet”
              Jayne Wilkinson
              “One of the main weapons is the image itself.” So proclaims Rabih Mroué in his 2018 lecture-performance Sand in the Eyes. With trademark brevity, his statement articulates the complex recurring strategies—analyzing images as weapons, conflating theatricality with war, reading revolutions through pixels—that underlie Mroué’s multidisciplinary projects as a visual artist, actor, playwright, and director. This mid-career survey, surprisingly also his first solo exhibition in Berlin, brings together two decades of work and, incredibly, eight new commissions produced largely during the pandemic. In design and execution, its ambitions are staggering. A non-linear constellation of video projections, installations, collages, and archival material are structured around a two-story vertical video that can be seen from all corners of the exhibition’s two floors. With so many video and audio works, the sound bleeds (a plinky xylophone suggestive of a film score’s anxious denouement, punctuations of gunfire and explosions that arrive unexpectedly, the noisy insistence of a film projector) effectively recall the sonic chaos of war while still creating an integrated audio environment. The imposing central work, Images Mon Amour (2021), loops through imagery culled from Lebanese newspapers, with the benday dots of analog print enlarged and visible. Weaponry, ...
              Load more
              Subscribe
              I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

              Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.