Julie Bena

An overview of Frieze 2016 on the fringe

31 October 2016

There’s obviously more to Frieze London than the main event. Taking advantage of a crucial yet competitive time for attracting an international audience in parallel to the Regent’s Park event, running October 6 to 9, a slew of other fairs, parties and independent exhibitions also explore the future, futurisms, forecasting systems and hyperstitions defining 2016 through art.

Annual regular Sunday Art Fair presents a select few of emerging galleries and artists at the industrial building of Ambika P3. The space is divided in two areas that the galleries split virtually and without partition. One wall is shared by several galleries, forming a sort of continuum. On the ground Femke Herregraven’s ‘Malleable Regress – Arctic*’ (2016) — made of polyurethane, acrylic tubes and fiber — discretely reveals hidden facts about telecommunications development at Future Gallery, next to Melodie Mousset’s green, long-nailed fingers, interlaced forming a small but noticeable hybrid body sculpture at Barbara Seiler.

Femke Herregraven, 'Malleable Regress – Arctic*' (2016) @ Sunday Art Fair, London. Installation view. Courtesy Future Gallery, Berlin.
Femke Herregraven, ‘Malleable Regress – Arctic*’ (2016) @ Sunday Art Fair, London. Installation view. Courtesy Future Gallery, Berlin.

Artist collective KLOZIN, including Wilhelm Klotzek & David Polzin, shows ‘Transgender in Hoyerswerda’ (2015) at the Leipzig gallery Tobias Naering. A set of political scenarios based on German history, such as ‘Roundtable, (Business Take Over), Berlin 1990’ or ‘Rohwedder on the phone, (important call!), Berlin 1991’ are played by cigarette butts in small mockups made with their cartons and plastic cables. The scenes rest on several pedestals and are static, transmitting complexity despite their caricaturesque nature.

Julie Béna’s ceramic pieces seem to vividly coexist in a domestic, naïve cosmos composed of art nouveau-like handrails, small paintings of opium poppies and ceramic casts of seashells at Galerie Joseph Tang. In a different kind of habitation resembling a gamer’s living room space at Cologne-based gallery DREI, Maximilian Schmoetzer‘s ‘Preliminary Material for 2022’ (2015) plays with images of different fauna, like a squid or a Tyrannosaurus rex. The former is a character and the latter serves as a motif that extends to the carpet on which a viewer is supposed to sit. Suggesting a conversation between organic evolution and computational capacities, the video deal with motion-detection and ideas of virtual existence and extinction.

Meanwhile, at Somerset House, 1:54 Contemporary African Fair presents mainly paintings and sculptural work of all kinds and dates, placed in the grand space of the former 16th century ducal palace. A rather familiar atmosphere prevades here, housing a search for beauty and identity in the works; a sincere approach formulated through conventional media. From historical photographs depicting a segregated United States in the 50s by Gordon Parks to Ato Malinda’s minimal collages of human-animal hybrid entities at Kenyan gallery Circle Art Agency, the fair brings a more varied approach to the usual Western-centric discourse of the contemporary art world. Offering a broader scope and including many countries and cultures within Africa and the African diaspora, 1:54 presents diversity in the making and delivering of art.

Maximilian Schmoetzer, 'Preliminary Material for 2022' (2016) @ sunday Art Fair. Installation view. Courtesy DREI, Leipzig.
Maximilian Schmoetzer, ‘Preliminary Material for 2022’ (2016) @ sunday Art Fair. Installation view. Courtesy DREI, Leipzig.

Integrating this cultural variation in their programme as well is this year’s Serpentine Galleries’ Miracle Marathon, running throughout the weekend where artists, philosophers and scientists follow the theme of wonder and marvels in their 15-minute moments of poetic, performative or discursive speech. Artist and writer James Bridle connects planetary-scale metaphors of the cloud reflecting on systems for prediction and computational correlations between meteorological and political events through his project ‘Cloud Index’. It’s a Serpentine commission for which actual satellite images of weather patterns are given an aesthetic outcome through machine learning technologies.

Artist duo Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff compile their thoughts in a retrospective on New Theatre — a temporary space for regular amateur performances once grounded in Berlin — the potential of the database, and what to do with what is left of a project when it’s gone. Set designer Es Devlin presents a prototype of a light box, emulating what she normally does for stadium-sized performances, this time live and on a much smaller scale. The London-based multidisciplinary practitioner usually works for pop musicians like Beyoncé and Kayne West, claiming that her work consists, on the one hand, of working with light and illusion and, on the other, –in her words– of “trying to not fuck it up”. Around 10 p.m., poet Ben Okri finishes the first day’s session of Miracle Marathon by inviting the few remaining attendants to participate in a ritual, repeating mantras and reading motivational, almost religious statements, together with Serpentine Galleries artistic director Hans-Ulrich Obrist.

Day two of the 24-hour double-event  is broadcast from a radio station built especially for the occasion at the versatile, retro-looking co-working space Second Home, in east London. For those who aren’t able to attend the actual event, it’s fully broadcasted online, transcending its physical space. Those who are on location are witness to live conversations with artist, performer and transgressive icon Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, or recorded speeches by Hito Steyerl and Boris Groys. A grungy, yet flawless performance by Norwich teen band Let’s Eat Grandma happens twice: once alone, and then again accompanying actress Maya Lubinsky and an anonymous model hiding her face behind a cut piece of wood in artist Tai Shani’s ‘Mystical Best Friend, A Miracle Play’. It’s an adaptation of her ongoing performative project Dark Continent, where she explores medieval proto-feminist author Christine de Pizan’s City of Ladies, triggering ideas around the principle of maximum entropy.  

Metahaven, 'The Sprawl (Propaganda about Propaganda)' (2016). Installation detail. Courtesy Corey Bartle-Sanderson / Theo Cook + Auto Italia, London.
Metahaven, ‘The Sprawl (Propaganda about Propaganda)’ (2015). Installation detail. Courtesy Corey Bartle-Sanderson / Theo Cook + Auto Italia, London.

Back around the Bethnal Green area, Auto Italia transforms its new East London space into an immersive installation created by Dutch-based design agency Metahaven. One of two sections is composed of five flat-screens attached rounded columns, which alternate similar content at different times. It’s all a part of ‘The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda)’ (2015), a video work circling indoctrination and the (sometimes) unclear division between reality and fiction through its mediation, and including commentary by the likes of Benjamin H. Bratton, Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, and Peter Pomerantsev. A newer film-work titled ‘Information Skies’ (2016) is shown in the back room, projected on one of the walls and combining animation and actual footage.

At Vilma Gold, a survey of Lynn Hershmann Leeson’s body of work, dating from 1985 to the present, comes in the exhibition titled Trans Genesis: Evaporations and Mutations. Retouched images of the artist and animated latex sculptures of faces breathing artificially, crystalize her career-long exploration of female identity and its merging with science and technology. Hershmann’s use of fictional characters and identities, in order to deconstruct her own, also manifest in two videos hung from a wall covered with printed biological data.

Josh Bitelli’s STOPTOBER exhibition  at Union Gallery explores the influence of advertising and media in the instrumentalisation of social well-being through 600 images taken from the archive of the Department of Health, depicting diverse staged scenarios, slogans and campaigns for vaccination and other medical issues. The dissemination of information, how the language of advertising is totally implemented in the reality of the UK’s National Health Care Services (NHS) and how this conditions social habits is hinted by Bitelli’s images. They’re all photos of the originals scattered across the floor and forcing its viewer to walk on them.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, Trans Genesis: Evaporations and Mutations (2016). Courtesy Vilma Gold, London.
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Trans Genesis: Evaporations and Mutations (2016). Courtesy Vilma Gold, London.

Frieze London turns the British capital into a never-ending platform for varied forms of contemporary art and practices to gather and exhibit in all sorts of ways. From the fair format to the project space, the goal of discovering all you can within a week turns the experience into its own marathon of quick and easy absorption. It presents a challenge to the realistic possibilities of physical time and space for getting an insight into global production as it stands in the right here, right now. **

Frieze Art Fair runs in London’s Regent’s Park annually in October. The fringe events happen elsewhere.

Header image: Josh Bitelli, STOPTOBER (2016). Installation view. Courtesy Union Gallery, London.

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