The 2017 Venice Biennale is on at various locations around the city, opening May 13 and running to November 26.
The international art exhibition is now in its 57th year, and takes the title Viva Art Viva as “an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist,” according to this year’s curator Christine Macel. In a statement about the Biennale’s title, Macel notes “Today, in a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions. Art is the last bastion, a garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests. It stands as an unequivocal alternative to individualism and indifference.” Artists to look out for include Phillippe Parreno, Rachel Rose, Guan Xiao, Agnieszka Polska, Shimabuku, and Frances Stark.
Held across the Central Pavilion, Giardini and the Arsenale venues, the programme will present 120 artists from 51 countries, and it is worth noting that of the participating galleries, 103 are taking part for the first time.
There are also a number of ‘Collateral Events‘ featured throughout the programme, including Open Table, Artist Practices Project, Unpacking My Library and Projects and Performance. Here are a handful of event and exhibition recommendations:
The Beijing-based artist will present a series of new sculptures looking at the urban environment and the increased change on our habitat by economic and technological development. There will also be a new video ‘Dengue Dengue Dengue’ which was made for exhibition A Temporary Futures Instituteat Antwerp’s M HKA, which also opens on April 28.
The three-channel film looks at how “habits contaminate our behavior, spreading around the world like an infectious disease. The infection is a transformation happening inside of us; the work calls for a retreat from these dynamics in order to learn the possibilities of breaking habits.”
art berlin contemporary (abc), running during Berlin Art Week, from September 13 to 18, is presented as a hybrid between a curated salon-like exhibition and a commercial platform, gathering a carefully selected set of international galleries, including Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, PSM and Societé, among others. The event depicts itself as more than just an art fair, focusing on a smaller number of artists with single propositions.
The way art is usually consumed nowadays in biennials and fairs resembles a conceptual binge: a compulsive, unachievable mental record of one thing after another, with a viewer forced to accept the impossibility of achieving an overall view in detail. In the case of abc, however, its 62 participating galleries seem to constitute a feasible amount of displays to see, distributed in only one hall, Station Berlin near the German capital’s Gleisdreieck Train Station.
In this 2016 edition, a much smaller and humbler setup than previous years, is presented at the usual location: a 19th century brick station and former Dresdener Bahnhof devoted to imports and postage in the 20th century and now host to miscellaneous events. Although spacious, the building feels rather non-excessive, as only half of the building is taken up by the fair, in contrast to previous editions of abc.
The single focus on one artist and the reduced space afforded to each gallery makes for an unusually comfortable and placid experience, in relation to the more common anxiety of art fairs. The resulting — in the words of abc’s organisers — “rigorous selection” of galleries feels slightly insufficient, given the diminished amount of exhibitions on display and without a decrease in entry price.
The visual dimension of a social body mediated by infrastructures of control is suggested, for instance, by Alona Rodeh’s twenty-one paintings from her recent exhibition at Grimmuseum where the Israeli artist explores the aesthetic potential of security and surveillance, bringing together reflectant materials for colors and infrastructural material, like aluminium. In ‘Safe and Sound, (High Visibility)’(2016), the official turns trendy and the useful prop turns autonomous artwork out of Rodeh’s collection of hi-vis workwear.
At gallery Guido W. Baudach’s booth, shared with Vilma Gold, digital media pioneer Markus Selg presents ‘Subliminal Fire/Present Ancestors’ (2016): a staged giant rag doll lifting its worshiping arms. Sitting on a domestic blanket, positioned as looking to a vertical screen, it is reminiscent of Nam June Paik’s ‘TV-Buddha’ (1974), melting esotericism and a popular fascination with mass-media technologies.
At Carlier/Gebauer’s booth, Laure Prouvost’s installation consists of two narrow corridors hidden behind a wall-scale piece of painted fabric that leads to two humourous video works. Shown on two old TV monitors on plinths, there is one in each corridor. The first depicts a close up of the artist’s torso and hands, while her voice narrates the unacknowledged discovery of a sign of God materialised in a set of vegetables the artist envisions when waking up. Throughout the film she explains why those vegetables are a sign of God and how no one takes this fact seriously, not even the artist’s grandfather. The other monitor depicts two hands smearing hand-soap through the pages and the cover of a book about conceptual artist and developer of time-related theories, John Latham. Perhaps it satirises the traditional figure of the male genius, sliding female fingers softly, distributing this substance, which on the screen appears critically similar to sperm. The two video installations are surrounded by each film’s protagonist: the actual props, like the vegetables and the soap container, serving as three-dimensional still lifes as well as a symbol of the absurdity of the acts.
On another corner, next to the fair’s café-restaurant, a colorful and flashy van turns out to be Kenny Scharf’s ‘Closet #16’. It’s the sixteenth version of an eponymous project, which began in the ‘80s when the painter, sculptor and performer was sharing a studio with graffiti artist Keith Haring. Collecting trash and decorating compact spaces with it as an escapist and therapeutic process, Scharf’s hobby became a ritual and the ritual became the project called Closet. This most recent iteration is a permanent and portable container of diverse found objects, such as toys, electronics and detergent boxes, painted with neon colors and acting as a surface to reflect the low lights, randomly directed by a disco ball. All of this is accompanied by lo-fi mambo music played by an old cassette player painted in the samefashion as the rest of the fluoro piece in the space.
Author of the NET manifesto and iconic figure within conceptual movements, Polish artist Jarosław Kozłowski’s framed newspaper pages, painted with one monochromatic layer, are hung on Profile Foundationbooth’s walls, accompanied by some paper bags containing monochrome painted paper on the ground. A low table lies a book about Kozłowski’s NET proposition, which represents a non-institutional exchange of ideas –in his words. Those concepts, such as non-commerciality, unauthored nature and the capacity of being copied and reproduced, heavily contrast with the traditional spirit of an art fair.
Yet, it’s this paradoxical contextualisation of a work that reflects the contradictory nature of abc itself. While still trying to find the most effective way to present this hybrid model, abc represents a skeletal framework hopefully acting as raw material to be exploited and developed; a new way of marrying commerciality with conceptual and curatorial practices.**
The fourth Berlin Art Week is taking over the German city this week, running from September 15 to September 20 at various locations throughout Berlin.
Like every year, the city explodes with art, with the abc art berlin contemporary and Positions Berlin art fairs both opening on Thursday, as well as over 20 institutional exhibitions, project spaces and private collections, and a stacked lineup of ceremonies, gallery nights, performances, talks and screenings.
Art Basel is returning for another round in the Swiss town, taking over from June 18 to 23.
The fair brings over 300 galleries exhibiting more than 4,000 artists, with eight different sectors representing the various artistic mediums, and a multitude of events throughout its week-long run, including an artist talk with Harm van den Dorpel, Anicka Yi, and Robin Meier on June 18, one in memory of the great Louise Bourgeois on June 20, and one on romance and collaboration in contemporary art with Paul Kneale and Elise Lammer on June 21.
Even without initial comprehension of the words rendered on a wall, the internet aesthetic Daniel Kelleremploys in Kai ♥Dalston Bushwick is instantly clear. In the solo exhibition, running from May 1 to July 4, the warped curves of a hung sculptural piece called ‘Composite Career Captcha (Betterneties)’ (2015) are sampled from a captcha compound of ‘better’ and ‘eternities’. Captchas are online security devices meant to distinguish between human and machine users. In this sense, they isolate a specifically human capacity for visual perception while divorcing it from meaning. This vague sensation of recognition separate from understanding seems continuously generated throughout the show.
In the first room, grey hoses lead out of a tank of water, green bubbles consistently bursting on its murky surface. One hose trails into the adjoining room and another disappears through a hole drilled into the wall. The tanks of ‘Onanet Spirulina 1’ (2015) are three in total and each contain the rapidly reproducing Spirulina algae. Currently considered a superfood, the organism is harvested and distributed on the health food market in powdered and pill form. Although these hoses circulate the water from tank to tank, this process is meanwhile superfluous for the production of the algae. Rather, the web formed here appears to delve deeper into the idea of connection in general. With the ever growing increase of (particularly technical) global interconnection, a question arises: is it really necessary?
In plastic sleeves on the sill of the gallery window is an excerpt from the play iDRIVE, co-written by Keller and Ella Plevin. Acting in a sense as the basis for the rest of the show, the play follows a romance between the fictional daughter of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the offspring siblings of Ashton Kutcher: Kai, Dalston, and Bushwick, respectively. In the sections provided, the former two drive along an exaggerated future-scape of hyper-technologized North America. Inspired by Albert O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, the conversations of iDRIVE span the potentials of leaving or staying within the techno-political economy via the vessels of Kai and Dalston.
Having walked through the two rooms once, I return to do another round, feeling the pieces fall together in the context of the play. For example, the three ‘Stack Relief’ (2015) structures resembling rock sculptures hanging on the walls are now extended in their meaning. On the one hand they allude to a past of basic environmental alteration and interactive creation. On the other, they are composed of complex assortments of materials (plywood, MDF, patinated brass, acrylic, aluminum, and sandstone, to name a few) and are incredibly artificial. From a distance, you note the diverse elements making up the patterned shapes of the object. Close up, they seem bound again, as though the entirety is made of plastic and stickered with design. The list detailing the pieces reconfirms the initial impression of diversity. Simple, complex, unified, divided – the past, the present, the past taken up by a present drawn into rapid future developments – it’s dizzying.
Like the ultimately unnecessary placement of the tubes connecting the tanks through the space, the assortment of works subsist within an internal, possibly also needless, logic. Although this logic is not immediately or inevitably understandable, it is simultaneously familiar in a rudimentary sense – perhaps acting in function similar to captchas, or the stone sculpture designs. You enter and you recognize, even if you cannot pin the meaning or extended complexity down to something that provides a deeper satisfaction. And at this stage, maybe there is a choice: you can go with it unwittingly, or comment, or leave. **
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is considered a complex mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association that is difficult to diagnose and often caused by trauma. This is not the case in Andrea Crespo’s sis: somatic system exhibition running at Berlin’s Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler. Here the artist presents as a so-called ‘plurality‘ under the names Celinde and Cynthia embodied in hyperreal hentai characters. They could resemble the CGI avatars of Kate Cooper’s RIGGED show opened at KW last year, except that Crespo’s characters represent a certain System community, a healthy multiplicity, rather than an image of a modified world.
Cynthia and Celinde have their own personalities and preferences but exist in the same body and head space. Hand drawn with ink, grading from white to dark purple, they kiss, fight or just exist among psychiatric mood charts and text. Spreading from paper to framed glass on eight digital prints in Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler’s first room and office, the charts show moods scanning “DEPRESSED” and “ELEVATED” to reaching the neutral green-coloured “NORMAL” state between. Transferred into data, the drawings and chart were scanned by mobile scanners, leaving suggested traces in the form of glowing lines.
Thick black curtains divide the gallery’s space. Before entering the other side, the viewer is met with a warning that what they are about to experience might provoke psychogenic nonepileptic seizures and are reminded that sis is“not liable for undesired changes”.
A strong video work and an impressive continuation of Crespo’s multi-layered sis project , ‘Parabiosis’(2015) –as in, the temporary loss of conductivity or excitability of a nerve cell –is central to sis: somatic system. Projected on a whole wall, the dark-toned video begins with two glowing lines scanning across the screen horizontally, followed by an almost unbearably high-pitched signal. These are effects designed to trigger a personality switch in a person with DID. Simulating a scan, the image of Cynthia and Celinde appears as the line moves and, as with the prints, the act of scanning becomes a method for diagnosing apparent abnormalities such as autism or what the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) defines as Gender Dysphoria.
sis is somewhat evocative of Pierre Huyghe and Phillippe Parreno’s ‘Annlee’, where an empty avatar is bought and later imbued with multiple identities and personalities by the artists in ‘No Ghost Just a Shell‘ (2002). Exploring the possibilities of buying \an avatar normally used for advertising, Huyghe and Parreno purchase a woman’s body and use her as an object before setting her free. Crespo’s sis figure, however, is less host and more an extension of the artist themself, perhaps as a play on the ‘cis’ of cisgender, ‘System’, or ‘sister’ –all of which have implications that are socially, even diagnostically ascribed states of being.
Through text sis speaks to their audience: “You are drifting”, “never alone”, say some of the messages appearing among hashtags, mood charts and a diagram depicting the “Phantom Limbs, Phantom Body, Phantom Self…” of autoscopic phenomena. “#queer”, “#polygender”, “#autistics” run along a ribbon of labels including “#schizoaffective”, “#borderline”, “#bipolar. They’re words that were once defined, or are still defined as disorders by the APA. As a glowing line opens the video –scanning over the assertion, “you are a signal” –it also closes it. Two lines cross each other and arrive at either end. The noise fades.
Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler is located on the fourth floor of the Pressehaus, an office building which houses several German media conglomerates and a journalism school. Amid the commercial sprawl of Alexanderplatz, it’s a bizarre place for a gallery: especially one with the kind of audience KTZ attracts.
John Seal’s latest show in the space, look to the void with expectation, oh precious and pregnant hope, has the aesthetic of a seaside art gallery your parents might check out on holiday: oil paintings of pastel waves crashing against the beach; an oversized velvet bow tie; thick clownish, colourful brushstrokes on canvas; a cabinet with repeated cup and saucer combinations; still-lifes with floral patterns and wax-dripping candles mounted on an oak dresser. This kind of ‘domestic’ style is being mocked, each of the works having an outrageous element that pushes them into the realm of the absurd.
As the title might already suggest, the exhibition is couched in an erudite, philosophical or literary façade. A text accompanies the show –the story of a conversation between two friends, which touches on questions of perception and the nature of reality through a colloquial and truncated kitchen chat. The text is introduced with a quote from Maurice Blanchot: “At the moment when everything was being destroyed she had created that which was most difficult: she had not drawn something out of nothing (a meaningless act), but given nothing in its form of nothing, the form of something.”
Admittedly, this quotation attracted me to the show in the first place. My Master’s was dedicated to the conception of work (and unworking) in Blanchot’s writing on aesthetics, so I’m not immune to the lure of theory. But, as is too often the case when art and theory are imposed on one another, one or the other is bound to suffer. In the story, we find a commentary on the impossible radicalism of art and the inevitable subsumption of the ‘new’ back into the market, in the form of a commercialised radicalism. The author muses on the repetitive nature of art, whether in concept or aesthetic.
Taken as a literal exposition of this argument, Seal’s works display both actual repetition, and a reuse of old artistic tropes. His medium is mostly oil paint on canvas, an artistic method that is lately often dismissed, unless it’s done with an ironic twist. In the first room of the gallery, his ‘A Very Cellular Song’ (2014), looks digitally-inspired. The traditional still life is contaminated with elements that resemble CGI 3D modeling techniques. The plant and candlestick are painted over with a houndstooth wallpaper pattern that has a transparent quality, making it less like actual wallpaper and more like the desktop background kind. These infusions of the digital onto Seal’s paintings seem less calculated than simply a product of his generation and surroundings.
The idea of bringing ‘nothing’ to the level of ‘something,’ while maintaining its essential nothingness, is presented through the reproduction of the everyday banal, in the form of recognizable artistic tropes and media. But as Seal’s text anticipates, this offers nothing new. The show is irritating and powerful in that respect, as it leads to one conclusion: art is dead and theory cannot revive it. **
Header image: John Seal, look to the void with expectation, oh precious and pregnant hope @ Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler (2014) exhibition view. Left to right: ‘Why do we see?’ (2014), ‘Untitled’ (2014), ‘Welcome to me; (2010). Photo by Roman März. Courtesy the gallery
Mid-last year in London, Auer’s Babies Are Born At Night constructed the future-dystopian office space of an ‘American psycho’, according to Lindsey Starkweather. This year in Berlin he’s reconstructing hyperreality in the real world across “a plane of colliding dimensions” through angles, shadows, interfaces, liquid camouflage, and perspectives. If this means physically placing an audience into an imagined reality, let’s go there.
The most pointed and, in my opinion, apt commentary on last weekend’s ACCELERATIONISM: A symposium on tendencies in capitalism came in the form of a tiny, inconspicuous size-10-font critique written on the display tag for Hito Steyerl’s video work ‘In Free Fall’ (2010): “The author wishes to personally insult anyone attracted by accelerationism by calling it a bout of dead white Ferrari envy, dripping from head to toe with stale testosterone.”
Steyerl’s video was part of the group exhibition 14.12.13, which confronted the recent trend of speculative realist philosophy and object-oriented ontology (OOO) in contemporary art theory and practice.* 14.12.13 (the date of the one-day show) represents a chronological disorder and an opening toward the multidimensionality of time.
The exhibition’s description by one of the curators, Armen Avanessian, is rife with vitalist, hyper-masculine language. He makes calls to “seize” reality and perform creative “abductions”, to revel in the unpredictability of the present and the future via the radical contingency of the material world. In this way, he argues, art and philosophy “can speculate on a new time, a new reality…But no time this time for catastrophism. The speculative is instead the time of anastrophism.” This anti-reflexive, accelerationist perspective relies on the idea that the past is unforeseeable and the future is now. It’s time to embrace objectification and cold materiality, and to accelerate the “energetic viscera” of capitalism to its finality rather than choose the path of withdrawal.
The day-long conference running alongside the exhibition offered a forum for invited speakers to debate the merits of accelerationism as a political philosophy. UK Marxist and academic Benjamin Noys (who coined the term ‘accelerationism’ as it is used in the contemporary field of political theory) challenged the concept on the grounds that proponents have failed to adequately develop, in relation to the existing and present conditions of capital, exactly what is being accelerated and by whom. He argues that no matter how much we focus on accelerating the inhumanity or anti-humanism of the object –pushing the system on its course for ‘audio-necromancy’ – the logic of capitalism will never allow human labour or social relations to become entirely superfluous.
Co-curated by Galerie Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler and also featuring the work ofJulieta Aranda, Diann Bauer, Daniel Keller and Andreas Töpfer, the 14.12.13 exhibition explored these themes in relation to accelerationist aesthetics, whether as critique or sympathetic response.Central to this is New York-based artist Ian Cheng’s disjointed, algorithmically generated “infinite duration” live simulations that look like surrealist paintings, fragmentary elements exploding haphazardly across the screen. The program is ‘endlessly evolving’ or accelerating and images break up in front of our eyes: entropy reigns! Cheng’s work and its theoretical impetus are propelled by the intoxications of digital potentiality.
In Katja Novitskova’s more subdued cardboard cut-outs, we see corporate advertising aesthetics used to depict pristine natural settings. Her work is inspired by Deleuzian philosopher Manuel de Landa, whose theories of natural self-organization provide a basis for collapsing human and non-human relations. Novitskova brings out the trends of natural selection and competition that prevail in both evolutionary biology and commerce. Her work explores the possibility of new mutations and new forms of living in both nature and culture. Both Cheng and Novitskova present future-oriented projects that relish the prospects of the digital age, in a manner structurally similar to Modernist-Futurist programs but with a pseudo-Marxist twist.