There is little information provided about the ins and outs of the show itself. The title roughly translated from Italian means ‘carrion’, or the decaying flesh of a dead animal. Sent along by Lofty with the logistical information of the show is an image of a piece of toast bitten into to make a moon shape with slightly charred areas, and a short Arabic text of lyrics from Syrian performer and noted Assad supporter George Wassouf’s ‘Tabib Garah‘ that opens, “I’m a surgeon, I cures people’s hearts”.
Ilya Smirnov‘s Mechanics Alley, running December 18, 2015, to January 31, 2016, is a single in-depth study of a place. Produced, exhibited and available for download from Bari art space 63rd-77th STEPS’ website, the online installation details, scours, smells, draws, photographs, films, collects, understands and captions an alley in New York that has not been included on any map since 1905. It was partly blocked by the Manhattan Bridge, which now arches over it, leaving it partly forgotten.
There are a couple of elements to the work. Principally an online book, which is a 606 page pdf and consists of chapters like “drawings that belong to roof 1″, “roof 1” and “documents (unearthed at the site)”. Captions work with images in a way that is remarkably clear, deadpan and magical all at the same time. Pen drawings fill in the gaps that holes in mouldy newspapers have made. It feels like a work thats not trying too hard. It is full of imagination but is just presenting what is already there in the alley. On the right hand side of one spread is a scanned-in image of a still shiny silver knife (despite its slight rust) and on the left is a page made out of kitchen roll. Perhaps the kitchen roll was used by Smirnov to carry the objects in the”Tools” chapter away from Mechanics Alley.
Smirnov adds a special thanks to Jon Lucas, Emma McMillan and Anna Teterkina on the 63rd-77thSTEPS website, as well as a video to accompany the Mechanics Alley project. The camera starts by delving into a dark gap in the ground before moving up to film, with a shaky hand, the Manhattan Bridge above whose streetlights almost glare. The camera is almost completely out of focus. Somewhere in the 606 pages of the online book it notes that one of the roofs –the second one –is “elevated in relation to roof 1 and 3″. Perhaps Smirnov is filming from ‘the second roof’, wherever that is. We are told things in terms of individual details rather than with the aid of whole pictures.
A song starts to play over the scenes of the detritus in the video. It is, according to Shazam, ‘Three Sisters Who are not Sisters’, the first scene of an opera made in three parts. You can’t find this music anywhere else on the internet, which makes perfect sense when you are watching this person go through the nondescript ‘stuff’ thats half lying in the cold uninterrupted powdered snow. They find a key before there is a shot of some hair moving around against the inside of a car window. All of this–the place and the work –feels made to write about, especially with it being in the snow and during the night.
Smirnov has made documentation that suits being documented. The artist has edited the larger online pdf work into a 16-page version titled ‘Hammer Edition‘, especially for aqnb. The images take up more space on the screen and are in a different order. In the original pdf a black and white image of a woman sitting with her arms folded, looking to the viewer shares a spread with a mirror-image of herself. In the condensed ‘Hammer Edition’ she shares the screen space with a blurry scan of what looks like a painting of a burning building underneath a full moon. **
AFA 2, running from July 29 to August 12, is a lightweight exhibition. It could fly away with the first summer breeze. It leans on the public beach of Bari in Italy waiting for the sun to set, folded and unfolded in a ritual which determines its existence. Thirteen international artists invited by 63rd-77th STEPS design a series of black and white print towels for the historical coastline of Pane e Pomodoro, its intense life discreetly interrupted by this spectral summer collection lying on the sand. The towels are unfolded from afternoon till evening among the haphazard lines of bathers, arranged in random order daily, in an event that lies somewhere between guerilla marketing and the human right to tan.
Pane e Pomodoro is a popular beach: just like the dish from which it took its name. Bread, oil, salt, water, tomato. In the heart of a landscape of contaminated beauty, where the sand isn’t natural: the shore being artificially designed following an asbestos removal project nearby. It assimilates and defines their waves. And it stays there, soft and still until the flow of people slows at sunset.
Thirteen black and white print towels, faded as if by the sun, impress on the sand. They’re uninhabited islands on densely populated portions of coast, between the midi-sounds of the piano bar, the haze of some merry embers, the kids playing football and the shouts of their parents. The unsaturated images realized by the artists and printed on terry cloth are situated in the very multicoloured peak of people, marking some short pauses. They are sudden grey zones from which everything seems to be more distant: the hunger, the heat, the excitement, the anger, the Mediterranean sea. They soften like from a higher sense of suspension, innocence, restlessness, desolation.
This is the feeling of the three bathers portrayed in Fabio Santacroce‘s ‘Mare Nostrum’, that can be found in a lot of the creatures evoked on the towels: from the monkeys sketched in the white by Ditte Gantriis, to the hypersexualized female ants by Lucia Leuci. There are the tentacular eruptions of the ‘Phallus-vagina Dentata’ by Uffe Isolotto and the pale masks by Liz Craft, the threatening black claw between the small birds cages by Rosa Ciano, and then the four-handed zombies of the ‘Gmorkrunoff’ by Rolf Nowotny.
All these aberrations of the body are probably generated by the contradictions of ‘meridian thought’, as sociologist Franco Cassano calls it, faced with global economy. The same suggestion comes in the sign of Spencer Longo’s ‘Work Ethic’, Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’ stuck on a doner kebab spit by Pentti Monkkonen and the cluster of ‘submit’ icons carpeting Maja Cule’s ‘Submit to AFA’, which spills out from the Internet to the beach in Bari. For an instant they may seem like a collection of bottle caps and cigarette butts: that’s just the effect of visual pollution. It’s a bit like the darkened emoticons sadly reclining on the pain rating scale of Bradford Kessler’s ‘Even Diablos Get The Blues’, or the plots and symbols of the Transpacific Partnership of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization intertwining in the ‘Factory Trawler’ by Michael Assiff.
Guiding us through this variable and irregular itinerary, we bump into Ilya Smirnov‘s lost children with a torch, which rather seems like the lantern of Diogenes the Cynic: ‘contra omnia adversa’ (against all). But there is no light and no words showing us the way. And maybe we can’t do anything else but get lost in this reality. **