The (X) A Fantasy group exhibition is on at London’s DRAF, opening September 7 and running to October 7.
The show brings together over 30 artists examining the question, “when does the individual experience become a political statement?” Keren Cytter, Paul Maheke, Tala Madani, Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings, and more are among the respondents exploring the boundary between the public and private, like “living, eating, dancing, seducing, reading, watching films, going online.”
Curated by Keith J. Varadi, the one day event featured beach towels by Gene Beery, scripts by Keren Cytter and cast aluminum sculptures by Amy Yao. The works lay dotted around the beach; the sculptures and towels camouflage into the landscape, and the written words on paper lay quietly under a few stones to stop them from blowing away.
The SPF15 exhibition series is a 15 ‘episode’ program, all taking place in San Diego under a pop-up canopy on the beach and was set up as a “meeting ground between San Diego’s dominant culture and the culture surrounding visual art, of land and sea, of labor and leisure, and of art and experience.”**
I’m finally about to speak to Keren Cytter. Based between New York, Tel Aviv and Berlin, she’s an artist whose video work (most famously) seems to have long lead a critical example for the way that said media can incorporate content, imagery, style, feeling, experience and the viewer in such a broad and varied manner that often and with reliance Cytter’s extensive Vimeo account is looked at for brave video-making. The artist takes everything and makes it interesting and filmic, like a door opening, or a flatmate moving out, or the way a person is holding an open packet of butter, or a goldfish that swims across the camera, or a romantic milli-thought that someone might otherwise offer up to the atmosphere and put down to sentimentality. This in itself is a thought-process or a thing that occurs in some of Cytter’s directed scenarios too.
The artist and I had put the interview off and off again, maybe because we are both perfectionists in relation to finding the right moment to be in. There were emails which began while her recent solo exhibition of new wall-based drawings and paintings called Ocean was running was on at London’s Pilar Corriasearlier this year. Cytter gives laconic answers on when is the best time to speak, suggesting at first that 9pm my time is too late because she’s staying with her parents in Jerusalem and the Skype conversation might wake them. But then it becomes ideal as they would indeed be asleep and Cytter could talk late into the night when all around her has settled. When we finally connect she sits out on her porch, glowing from her laptop screen and we talk at length about how the artist moves from one piece of footage to the next, the depression of Europe, under-explaining decisions, friends in artworks, and somehow, present within it all, location and place, or placement.
One of the most seductive things about interviewing Cytter, who works with language so objectively inside each video, is the feeling of distance when venturing (or not) into a spoken conversation about words and their worth, their meaning and utterance. As I understand it, from seeing more and more of Cytter’s work before we speak, she uses language (i.e: French, Italian, Russian, Hebrew) as a way of producing mood and setting, or just as a way of indicating and matching together tone and effect. French, Cytter is often quoted as saying, is the language of love, and so she has her characters, or a voiceover speak it in pieces that seem right for this, like in the movies. It appears to me deeply attractive a trait in an artist, to reduce language so dedicatedly and with such elegance and impact.
In some ways it’s not about reducing language at all but suspending it, observing it, making it useful —or useable —structurally. Throughout our interview, I’m struck by the way Cytter talks and in doing so says what she means exactly. She speaks quickly, excitedly and vaguely about her videos, never pausing to qualify or tell me precisely which one she is referring to. It is so nice to hear that I don’t want to stop her mid-sentence, and the suspension and feeling that this small amount of information given is enough to let me interpret Cytter’s practice, or more specifically “the Russian movie”, she refers to repeatedly, which will be screened at her upcoming Selection exhibition at Graz’s KM-Künstlerhaus. It resonates with her work so much, although I still don’t know its title.
This reminds me of what Cytter tells me during the smaller beginnings of our dusk Skype call: “I don’t search, I surf”, she says when I clumsily ask her how and what she finds online. “I just see what comes up on my social media, like public gossip about other artists. I engage in arguments to prove my points. I click on images of Scottish people to find out why they wear skirts because I told my father [men wearing skirts] is a chauvinist act and he said: ‘so then why do Scottish people wear them’…. and then I realised, it’s fashion…”
How does being in New York, Israel or Berlin change and affect the way you work? I’m asking this for a friend who is from Tel Aviv and she’s curious.
Keren Cytter: Ah, quite a lot I think. In Israel it was really fun, I didn’t think about art at all. And then when I moved to Europe, the depression came and my work became more about line and form I think, it stopped being about fun and friends. In New York, because I’d built a lot of stuff with language, English suddenly became important so I had to focus on content and develop that a bit, which changed things. Now I’m doing something in Russian –so I’m back to European.
And you feel like the chosen and spoken language directs the tone of the work?
KC: Definitely. In Russian it will be very political —just because they [the characters] will speak Russian. And in Russian you can address hardcore stuff because of the directness in the language, like porn or violence. I have rented a proper camera for it too. I always decide on that before-hand, depending on the feeling of the work. I think where the image will be sharp, it will jar with the content of the movie so it will be harder to define it and this movie shouldn’t be easy to define. There are some that are easier to define but not this one.
Once, in Israel, for example, we filmed some stuff and set the language to be Dutch and screened it in the Netherlands and people afterwards said it was a very Dutch movie. Language makes you blind, a bit.
It does the work for you? I wonder if this is quite a beautiful thing.
In your films, is there a love for making things you can’t see or get to?
KC: Sometimes there’s too much information but in a very delicate way, I really like it when that happens. I saw it once in Tarantino’s Kill Bill 1. There are little shots but you see how much attention there is in each one. There is a moment in my film ‘Four Seasons’  where a girl climbs the stairs while I was filming, holding sparklers and also a little disco ball right under the camera and my friend, she’s a sculptor, she helped me hold a snow machine in place. In the reflection of one of the Christmas tree balls that was in the room, you could see the snow machine that we were holding, but because I had bought the cheapest disco lights, I couldn’t turn them off so you can see them also flashing in the Christmas tree with the snow foam, which I love. I try to erase myself in the works to make them feel as though they are not mine, until it will look like someone else’s.
You have a few flat works called ‘Pattern of Violence’, which as a title, like a pattern, repeats. Does the title have anything to do with language, in that it makes things, and structures things in such a defining way?
KC: No, it was just related to the drawings. I wonder if I copied it as a phrase from somewhere or someone. Probably. But I did the drawings and it was just an attitude I had towards them. Two guys are shooting each other and it forms a pattern, it was quite simple. Now I don’t think I could do it —this pattern of violence: I don’t think I have the brain for the violence… Mmm, now you’ve made me want to do it again sometime soon…
Make a new one?
KC: Yes! Once you have a pattern, you just need to fill the inside, you know? I’m now trying to find an easy way to make drawings quickly. I saw a thing where you can order online tattoos and I thought, ‘Yes, I can just transfer drawings onto paper’.
It’s nice because once you use one, it’s gone. So it’s different to a print or some other method that allows you to do a repeat pattern. It’s more like a bee’s sting as opposed to a wasp’s. Each one is its own one.
KC: [laughs] Yeah, I had these kinds of fake tattoos and I put it on myself first. It was supposed to be for the Russian movie I’m making for Graz but it was too stressful…
KC: I don’t know. But then I found a box and put them on there and I thought, ‘These are drawings’. We’ll see —you heard it here first.
I am guilty of imagining that you are the sort of artist who hangs out with groups of friends and that work comes out. I think I have applied this fantasy to some of your films, at least. You keep mentioning ‘we’ and I presume you mean you and your friends when you make the films together, about each other, but directed by you.
KC: I mean, yes. Mostly the same scenarios are in my life and in my films. My friend in ‘Atmosphere’  really was moving out of the flat and really did just come for four days to stay, but ended up living with us for four months. She was living in the living room, which is where the film is based. It’s mostly fiction though, I just take what surrounds me. It’s not necessarily that the relationships and dynamics come into play personally, I don’t need that inspiration. It’s just that the scenario matches the idea. And, anyway, now I live by myself so it’s different.
Can you talk about rhythm?
KC: Yes, it’s very important.
It seems that if you have three or four bits of footage, they will be arranged in a rhythm that’s based on something like weight or essence, for example, the innocence of some thing. The rhythm is based on something indescribable —not necessarily the obvious things, like aesthetics or actual sounded beats.
KC: Yeah, I saw some videos by some artists and I thought to myself to criticize them. They are really false because the rhythm is just based on the beats in the music. It’s too easy and rational. It should lean on whatever content is in the work, whatever content means. It doesn’t have to mean a story.
Do you think art now has become very much about the medium only?
KC: I think there is some kind of depression or something —where nothing develops, except for technology. There is too much corruption in institutions and that leads to lots of bad scenarios where everything becomes a material and that there is no content. People produce ugly things and they don’t look any more. It’s becoming like the way I put stuff on Instagram —I don’t really care. I put cats to ease the audience. And I think it’s the same thing with art. I think it’s collapsing.
I feel maybe fiction and warmth is coming back in.
The First Summer Fest of Western Liberation is on at Zurich’s Réunion, running June 3 to 5.
Organised by artist Keren Cyttertogether withNatalie Keppler and Andreas Wagner, the weekend event looks to open up the idea of “art-space, art-event and time” in a summer festival that includes music by group, Ravioli Me Away, a brunch-time performance by Dafna Maimon & Hanne Lippard and a curated library by Motto Books.
Also taking part in the event is London- and Basel-based artist-poet Sophie Jung, and Andrew Kerton, who has previously worked with Cytter in a performance called ‘Poker Face’, as well as at the 2009 Serpentine Gallery’s Park Nights where he performed his own, ‘Artism or Autism’.
Maggie Lee will screen a film, as will Kerstin Cmelka, whose video works, like Cytter’s and perhaps many of the participants in The First Summer… make the artist the protagonist within a extensively imagined and assembled narrative.
New York-based artist Keren Cytter is having a solo show, Ocean, at London’s Pilar Corriasopening March 18 and running May 7.
Cytter mainly works in video and films a lot in her home, editing together lofi footage, music and narrative to make stories happen and appear out of (seemingly) just pressing ‘record’ on a video camera.
Much like the artist’s website, which you click through to experience some-thing that keeps changing each time you click, the video work is intimate and gripping.
Recently the artist showed at ABContemporary in a solo exhibit called SIREN where a film called ‘Game’ was installed with ‘Ocean’ and ‘Siren’ around it. For the show at Pilar Corrias there is little information given other than the one-word title, so it will be interesting to see how ‘Ocean’ this time sits with Cytter’s other works -if it is ‘Ocean’, the video, being shown, or something else born from its existence as a work.
Her second appearance at the gallery, the Israel-born and New York-based Cytter is recognised primarily for her experimental video works, which shed light on the private and the interpersonal realms through the appropriation of templates drawn from cinema, literature and the media. New film, ‘Game’, will form the centrepiece of this new show, with older films ‘Siren’ and ‘Ocean’ also being featured.
The artist’s most recent solo show was presented at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, while ‘Metamorphosis’, her latest film was shown at this year’s Transformation Marathon.
The Transformation Marathon, hosted by Serpentine Sackler Gallery and curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, is a combination group show/art conference that, according to the press announcement “addresse[s] cultural, political and physical shifts, asking how significant change can be achieved today”. Watching and listening in Eastern Standard Time (EST), five hours behind London’s GMT, by way of the stream over the course of a 24-hour live event/radio show. That I could be present at the Marathon denotes a sort of institutional transformation in itself, the incorporation of digitality and broadening of artistic platforms –drawing on, to paraphrase, Marisa Olson’s idea that URL is IRL. But does technical change actually necessitate cultural and political shifts? In considering the works and presentations on show, one wonders just how transformative, how changed, this institution, these ideologies and these identities really are.
The 7 to 10 pm block (which I viewed at 2 to 5 pm EST) of the marathon began with art duo Gilbert & George’s take on the theme. They used their segment to spotlight –rather, appropriate –a third person, a Filipina transgender woman named Victoria. The transformation was twofold as it marked their becoming a trio, and Victoria was upheld as an example of, to paraphrase G&G’s interview, “the real transformation”. This notion of transformation is therefore predicated on two white men making a “living sculpture” of –that is to say, objectifying –a trans woman of color, by way of showcasing the popular and preconceived transition narrative. This, coupled with their discussion of their Banksy-level confrontational broadsides (reading, e.g. “Fuck the Planet” re: “people that want to save the planet,” to quote George), and the universalizing slogan that overarches their career (“Art for All”), set a tone that would follow the remainder of the live stream: mostly white participants presenting archaic, or humanistic, ideas or fallacies of transformation, while more marginalized artists exhibited radicalized ones, and effectively transformed the space.
This was the dissonance in Bruno Latour’s participation, both in his lecture and in conversation with Obrist and Tino Sehgal. In his disorganized lecture, he argued that there was “no transformation without institution,” riffing on Whitehead’s interpretation of substance theory to say that institution is “subsistence” –i.e., is a transformative body –rather than “substance,” static. He concluded his segment with the idea that the art institution is “finally very weakened” because of those who are resistant to “critique,” reminding us that transformation is not limited to “the margins,” and that “science is one institution to cherish.” It is unclear, though, if in “cherish[ing]” the institution, we are to accept it as apolitical and ideologically neutral.
Neither Latour nor Sehgal (nor Obrist, who moderated) acknowledge this in their conversation, and instead reinscribe it through their values. Latour stated, to paraphrase, that hierarchy “has to be worked out gradually,” and defined his latest project, Reset, as “getting the politics out so that it is the human alone.” For someone like Latour to attempt to curate and/or facilitate a psychosocial “reset” universalizes the white man’s experience as the “human experience,” which is, in no way, transformative. Sehgal disapproved of the counterculture idea, similar to Latour alleging “transformation without innovation,” stating that no one can be “outside the market,” yet so much of what makes one “marketable” stems from how one is privileged by, to use bell hooks’ terming, the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Marketability, also, does not necessarily mean empowerment or freedom: case in point, G&G’s inclusion of Victoria as an object, while maintaining their own subjectivity as European men, references the topical media phenomenon of the ‘Transgender Tipping Point‘ -the saturation of the public consciousness with consumable trans narratives -more than it recognizes her autonomy. It is perhaps more useful to think of “outside the market” in terms of lacking access, being more analogous to “outside the canon.” Jeff Koons was brought up as having said that he has “2.7 seconds to create a sense of acceptance in the viewer,” and while the conversation fixated on time/attention, the depth of the experience, I think the more crucial question is whether art should seek acceptance at all, whether acceptance is but reinscription.
The same problems plagued the discussion of ecology and the so-called ‘anthropocene’. It is unsurprising that Latour’s humanistic sensibilities about art permeate his consideration of the earth: both he and Sehgal defaulted to the Foucauldian “technologies of the self”, paraphrasing Felix Guattari in agreeing there would be “no solution to climate change without a change in subjectivity”, without a change to the aforesaid technologies. Both also often used the collective ‘we’ in reference to responsibility, which must be interrogated: we, as Saskia Sassen pointed out earlier in the program, are not all equally accountable for the ecological catastrophe that comes with globalization. There are so many ideological loose ends to how this subject was treated. It is germane to compare Latour’s statement of “we are rocks now”, in the spirit of his and James Lovelock’s universalizing ‘Gaia’ idea, to Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr’s depiction of the refugee crisis in pebble art: these are not the same rocks, these are not the same ‘we’. The treatment of the earth in art, accordingly, is dependent on the artist: Keren Cytter incorporated images of earthly destruction in her film, Metamorphosis, to create danger within a nonlinear narrative, while Eyal Weizman used “physical clocks” for the purpose of reconstructing a day in the 2014 Gaza war. In contrast to ‘Gaia’, Lynn Hershman Leeson, in excerpts from The Infinity Engine, understands that “nature” is more constructed than transcendent, and “what was formerly known as nature” is no longer that.
It was ironic, especially in light of Dorothea von Hantelmann’s lecture and the insistence that ecology is communal, to see this conversation meant to question the contemporary notion of ‘gathering’, via a platform that, as Sehgal pointed out, maintained the traditional subject-object distance between speaker and audience, juxtaposed with the fact that artists of color did actually transform the space. Jamaican-British menswear designer Grace Wales Bonner staged the musical composition ‘Everythings for Real’, named for her series of collages/zines, and performed by Moussa Dembele and Moussa Dembele. Nkisi closed the livestream with a DJ set. In both cases, to draw on the emphasis von Hantelmann placed on experientiality, there is a palpable liveness to these musical works: the range and collaboration between players in Bonner’s piece, the interaction of their personalities with the music (one performer ended on “shave and a haircut”); the curation of an interactive atmosphere through Nkisi’s ‘Occult Instability’. Both artists importantly forgo the institutional formalism by dissolving the subject-object separation. Accordingly, the audience did not seem to know how to interpret either performance, to some extent, with people clapping prematurely during Bonner’s piece, and some not being able to keep up with the crossfades in Nkisi’s sometimes abrasive, or unexpected, or “unstable” performance. This sense of temporal, atmospheric change through music was echoed in Jumana Manna’s broadcast from ‘A Magical Substance Flows into Me’, in which she referenced the idea of Palestinian music as “closely connected with the elemental forces of the universe [and] shap[ing the] harmony of the universe” –or, something that is at once “real” and “occult.”
Andrea Crespo’s short film, “Polymorphoses (epilogue),” also accomplished the subversion, though by way of the subject-object dialectic. The film begins and ends with the sweeping of a clinical white line across the screen –a possible symbol, re: Latour’s “cherish[ed]” science, for the whitewashed normativity proposed by medical science, how it punishes neurodivergence; to quote the text of the film, “we become ‘sentient’ and/or sapient/so to speak”. The incorporation of public digital sources like DeviantArt and Wikipedia both creates and refers to community/gathering as much as it creates and refers to, as Anton Haugen wrote for Rhizome, “the malleability of the self”. The ontological multiplicity is a Foucauldian “technology” of its own, necessitated by institutional pressure and the advent of technology a la Leeson. It returns us to the pervasive question, also posed by Katherine Angel and Helen Hester in ‘Technosexuals’, of what is or is not a legitimate body or legitimate personhood. **
See here for ‘Looking back at Transformation Marathon, p.1 (GMT)’.
San Serriffe will be hosting the launch of fourth edition of the ‘Noon on the Moon’ poetic series on February 14.
The Amsterdam-based art book shop brings the launch on the ugliest day of the year – Valentine’s Day – perhaps as a means of channeling the forced sentimentality of the holiday into something actually meaningful.
The evening kicks off at 17:00 and the poetic series combines (like most things do these days) poetry, literature and visual art, challenging the traditional forms of narrative.
Looking at the documentation of Airbnb Pavilion‘s Community Development Meeting, there’s little that differentiates the art performance and online exhibition from the corporate residential hosting enterprise that essentially began in disaster relief. The project, headed by London-based collective of architects and “interior decorators” called fàlo (see: phallus) – including Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela, and Octave Perrault – carries on a series of globe-trotting events began at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale and resurfaced in Paris, New York and a couple online locations, eventually emerging in a defunct Novocento-style Post Office in Bari, Italy.
Realised alongside 63rd-77th STEPS founder and curatorFabio Santacroce, there are some glaring parallels to be drawn between that physical symbol of global communication in a postal service administered by a fascist government and the development strategy of Airbnb Global Head of Community Douglas Atkin. The event opened with the Community Development Meeting on November 27, the ‘performance’ presenting a first ever physical communion of local Airbnb hosts in Bari – reached via fly-posting, as well as messaging through the official website that required simulating roughly a hundred reservations. Interesting, that the breakfast that featured some of the corporate language and methods for “community building” in a Silicon Valley-style presentation would also be a first for the nearly 600 people and properties available for rent through the Airbnb portal.
The documentation to follow features grayscale image boxes of people suspended in conversation and affirmative slogans like “SHARING IS CARING” and “COMMUNITY OF HOSTS”, accompanied by smiling emojiis or a Euro sign cradling the Dollar, while the site shamelessly announces its success as built on “YOUR STORIES”. Hence, the Do More of What They Love online exhibition to accompany it, which appears less about what Atkin calls “social glue” in his The Glue Project strategy website and more about the business that can be made from it in a “venture that’s dedicated to helping people make successful communities and the loyalty that results”.
Building on the ‘Do What You Love’ culture of modern labour economics, the home for Airbnb Pavilion is not so much about the traditional notion of a community that’s tied to a physical space but the ‘home’ icon of an online portal that’s mediated in the interests of its administrator where Do More of What They Love lives. It features the video work of four artists, including Maja Cule, Juliette Bonneviot, Rosa Aiello and Keren Cytter, comparing the capital exploitation of the exchange economy that the Airbnb corporate giant represents to an indignant Aiello’s navigation of a half-blind first-person protagonist searching for her glasses in ‘First Person Leaky’ (2014). She mutters “one of the guests got particularly drunk and made it clear that my home had been broken into and a bug placed inside one of my rooms” about her “close, personal relationship” with a branch of the Communist party. Meanwhile Cule’s ‘Facing the Same Direction‘ (2014) – premiered at London’s Arcadia Missa for the artist’s eponymous solo exhibition – follows writer and illustrator Anna Kachiyan as she seeks to raise $80,000 via an indiegogo campaign to “pursue independent interests in projects”.
A simulation of space populated by avatars in Bonneviot’s ‘Minimal jeune fille web’ (2014) features animations of young women’s bodies contemplating consumer items in silence via subtitles: “the polypropylene cap has a strong smell of petroleum, which transmits to the water and kills the concept of a healthy water bottle”. Meanwhile, Bonneviot’s CGI bodies meet Cytter’s flesh ones as a woman past her ‘prime’ considers the long-term consequences of her own objectification and eventual disappearance in ‘Der Spiegel‘ (2007): “I need to prepare, stretch my skin like a lampshade”. These are the ruminations on the capitalisation and commodification of private and intimate space set to a browser window backdrop of collages. There’s a woman posing with an exercise sheet stating, “I home share because… I don’t have to have a day job and can pursue acting & writing!”, a list of ten easy steps to “Successful Culting” and an exponentially growing graph of “Community Life Stages” taken straight from Atkin’s The Glue Project website.
It’s perhaps a little known fact that Airbnb Proper is a corporate giant that capitalised on the idealistic notion of the sharing economy in 2008. It was a brainwave that pounced on a post-GEC population with nothing but its homes to offer in exchange for a livelihood. It was the moment to turn couch-surfing into a business enterprise. All this, at the same time as the rise of social media, where the utopian ideal of a networked online culture existing outside of a capital market would eventually be drawn right back in. **