B’s SALTS gallery is bringing two simultaneous solo exhibitions by Peles Empire and Sol Caleroto its Birsfelden space where they will run from April 4 until May 25.
Peles Empire, the collaborative moniker of German artists Katharina Stoever and Romanian-born Barbara Wolff, opens with their new show, Mutant. The ‘Empire’ – inspired by the Frankensteinian stylistic evolutions of the Peles Castle, found at the foothills of the Carpathians – takes the castle as its subject, exploring the process of reinvention and reproduction, recreating its rooms from A3 digital prints of photographs.
Also showing at SALTS is a solo exhibition by Venezuelan-born and Berlin-based artist Sol Calero titled El Buen Vecino. Calero runs the project space Kinderhook & Caracas with her husband Christopher Kline, named after their two hometowns.
“Sounds like a trap. Is it a trap?” says the shifty blue iris of Sophia Al-Maria’s ‘Tsagaglalal (She Who Watches)’ (2014) video. The robotized voice carries through the speakers of a CRT TV set, on rack and rollers, powered by a battery and pulled along by two straight-faced attendants wearing sunglasses. They’re the props for a guided tour of Frieze London 2014, commissioned by the fair, inspired by John Carpenter and starting at the pavilion’s tours and catalogues desk. It’s raining outside, the tent roof is being buffeted by strong winds and everything feels futile. “Will they withstand a real rain?” Al-Maria’s words come less as a question than a warning as she interrogates the “temporary structures” of “weak shelters covered in a carpet chosen to match the drapes” that is the Frieze fair. It’s the premiere four-day event, bringing both the rich and the desperate from around the world to binge on “that great flower of our species’ effort” that some call art but Al-Maria’s omniscient eye calls commodity.
The TV and its two attendants lead their audience through a half-hour assault of the sections marked yellow, green and purple on the map in the Frieze Fair Guide. They’re the ones where each gallery’s share of the space appears to shrink according to their capital importance. Experimenter Kolkata andProject88 are there. The former features Indian art collective CAMP’s collaborative film ‘From Gulf to Gulf’ (2013), while my Nokia won’t wordpredict ‘Mumbai’ when I try to type in the origins of the latter. Around here are the Gs, Hs and Js of the ‘Focus’ of the fair, the smaller spaces with fewer viewers where the more interesting artists are. Morag Keil capitalises the letters spelling “REVENGE” painted in acrylic across cereal boxes on a shelf in the center of an otherwise sparsely furnished Real Fine Arts booth. There are stuffed toys on one side; a conch, a hot dog and a puffed oat on a mixed media mount on the other. A print of an interview with Harry Burke called ‘Can you live in art?’ is chained to a pair of chairs for children in a corner. It was originally conducted for Keil’s exhibition called L.I.B.E.R.T.Y..
“In a way, that’s what locations are today, different markets,” says Michael Connor, moderator of the three-day offsite discussion series centred around its thematic title, Do You Follow? Art in Circulation. The stage is set up in the industrial space of the Old Selfridges Hotel, an extension of the high-end shopping centre. The infrastructure inside is non-existent so there are port-a-potties downstairs and the salon where the complimentary beer and Smartwater flows freely is full of plants framed by the building’s concrete structure. The sense of a space catering to the bottom feeding art marked ‘post-internet’ couldn’t be better realised.
On Day One Martine Syms, Kari Altmann and token abstract expressionism expert Alex Bacon talk the #same-ness of networked art across aesthetics and algorithms. Takeshi Shiomitsu reads out his dense ‘Notes on Standardization’: and cites a subject position – across race, gender, class, sexuality – as shaping an experience of culture, while “our interactions are rendered within the confines of the user interface or platform”. Hence, the notion of dissidence-so-long-as-you-follow-the-rules, which is exemplified IRL when a puppy enters the building to the joy of the ICA staff but the chagrin of Selfridge’s security who force the dog and the human it’s attached to back outside.
It’s this fruitless performance of disruption that is probably best realised on Day Two during Constant Dullaart’s ‘Rave Lecture’, his ‘BRIC mix’ booming across from a concrete corner as an art audience stands around largely unmoving behind obstructive grey pillars. They’re reading the geopolitical messages that dance in lurid neon streams of colour, the laser beams “projecting chemically enhanced pleasure into your children’s future”. The sonic intensity of thumping electronica featuring languages I don’t understand generates that familiar feeling of fear and fascination that’s also at the core of Al-Maria’s “cosmic horror of reality” back at the Frieze pavilion. Tsagaglalal’s shaming gaze glitches, cuts and scrambles across fleeting interjections of images and bold white text: “EARTH LOST 50% OF WILDLIFE IN 40 YRS”. Her human flunkeys run their UV torchlights along the pavilion walls to reveal the residue of human handprints glowing alien-blue.
How diverse. How pointless. These are thoughts that linger as the tour passes through this battlefield of economic warfare – assaulted by art and artists fighting for attention. There’s the queer crosshatch of space, time and cultural signifiers in a lurid installation of Sol Calero’s “ciber café” at Laura Bartlett. PC computers propped on desks, among Hispanic food brands and gaudy gestural prints, are running on Windows XP and screening films of street parties. Men in dark blue overalls are chanting “at the rodeo I was like, this is the one” for Adam Linder’s performance art-for-hire at Silberkuppe. A line of people connected at the head by pink fabric walk past as part of James Lee Byars’ ‘Ten in a Hat’ (1968) at the exact moment that Tsagaglalal asks, “What are these weird wandering ghosts?” No joke.
“…then we went to the ICA for a little bit, then we went to see Big Ben and the London Eye…” yawns a visiting invigilator at one booth describing a week of costly cultural enrichment before I’m confronted by Nina Beier’s ‘Hot Muscle Mortality Power Pattern’ (2014) at Croy Nielsen. Keychains and dog treats, power sockets and perfume bottles are embedded in packing foam and framed behind UV security glass above a carpet scattered with organic vegetables, ordered online for Beier’s ‘Scheme’ (2014). Villa Design Group’s live auditions for a film adaptation of Jean Royère’s 1974 memoirs, ‘Arab Living and Loving as Seen by a French Interior Decorator’ at Mathew Gallery is filmed and re-mediated above the scene via a line of screens on the scaffolding. Carlos/Ishikawa offers free manicures care of Ed Fornieles over an Oscar Murrilo table flanked by Korakrit Arunanondchai’s body-paintings. ‘Affordable’ limited edition reproductions by Parker Ito, Neïl Beloufa, Ed Atkins are available for purchase at Allied Editions, while Richard Sides’ mixed-media contribution warns ‘Gamble Responsibly’.
“There’s even a food court” is another observation of art fair infrastructure by Al-Maria’s Tsagaglalal that runs through my mind while watching a photographer take a picture of the “A to B Coffee” café. The people there are consuming across from the Corvi Mora booth, where Anne Collier’s framed C-print memo ‘Questions (Relevance)’ (2011) queries “What does all this mean?”. An answer comes in the infantilised whisper of Laure Prouvost’s narrator in ‘Paradise On Line’ (2014), played in a pink-carpeted projection room at MOT International and suggesting ‘grandpa’ is “just interested in painting bottoms and not conceptual art”.
“Did I see Beyoncé? Yeah, yeah, yeah…” an attendant groans through her phone, walking past Mike Kelley’s ‘Rewrite’ (1995) enamel on wood panel that reads “our method of exploration: polymorphous perversity” at Andrew Kreps. The thin metallic ‘clack’ of Hito Steyerl cracking a screen in her ‘STRIKE’ (2010) video is playing on loop at its entrance as it occurs to me that Beyoncé’s presence was only felt at Frieze last year through the popular icon as self-image in Jonathan Horowitz’s eponymous mirror. It’s as if now the art and the image is not only reflecting a certain reality but somehow materialising it, in the same way that Amalia Ulman problematises the distinction between the performance and the person in her social media experiment in networked self-objectification, ‘Excellences & Perfections’ (2014). Presented in a slideshow on Day Three of the Art in Circulation series, she reveals that the photos of her fake boobs were fake. The minor plastic surgery and talk with the ‘King of Collagen’ was real but the public breakdown wasn’t. Or was it?
“Bodies are suitcases for a consciousness”, announces Ulman, paraphrasing infamous body-modification pioneer Genesis P-Orridge, “but who is this suitcase by?” In the case of the artist it’s one by the networked patriarchal gaze. Fellow panellist Derica Shields suggests an alternative model of authorship of the body for black women, reanimating themselves as cyborgs in 1990s music videos to create a “sense of control but also invulnerability”. Perhaps, it’s a way of achieving what Hannah Black’s polymorphous narrator can only aspire to while plummeting towards the earth’s core to the warped and slowed tune of Whitney Houston in ‘Fall’ (2014) screened before the panel begins: “At 13,000 feet, I finally discover my own language”.
The search for language appears part of a perpetual capital exchange as pamphlets from Deutsche Bank encourage “#artmagyourself”; urging art viewers to “post a selfie with the artwork you love and win a terrific prize!” whether it’s next to one of Cerith Wyn Evans’ chandeliers or Heman Chong’s red vinyl text of ‘The Forer Effect’ (2008) that cold reads, “Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic”. They’re as unrealistically aspirational as Shanzhai Biennial’s ‘Live’ installation at the art fair entrance. There they re-imagine their work as real estate in the Frieze brand-emulating sale of a £32,000,000 “Ultra Prime Residential” property in a room coloured rich-people-red with a contact email on the wall for “qualified buyers” only. Merlin Carpenter’s consciously crude painting of a middle-aged couple grinning in the golden glow of a stock sunset suggests ‘Price on Request’ at dépendance. Cory Arcangel’s Lakes series of flatscreen animations advances from ‘Diddy/Lakes’ (2013) at the team gallery inc. booth in 2013 to the bigger Lisson Gallery. The ripples under ‘Miley Cyrus’ and ‘Dinner’ is powered by modems and hanging above the milieu of rainbow-coloured carpeting and Joyce Pensato’s huge black and familiar Disney head in ‘Mickey for Micky’ (2014).
The fabric of fantasy tears at one point when a cleaner walks past me in the Frieze pavilion’s ‘Main’ section. She’s sweeping the space in front of Fiona Banner’s huge dark image of graphite on paper shouting “THE HORROR! THE HORROR!” in ‘The Greatest Film Never Made (Mistah Kurtz – He Not Dead)’ (2012). It’s an IRL occurrence that has a similar effect as Monira Al-Qadiri’s mediation in her ‘Soap’ (2014) video. Screened at Art in Circulation and featuring popular Gulf soap operas based in worlds of affluence, Al Qadiri reimagines these shows that forever forget the labour behind the wealth by transposing the ‘help’ into existing episodes. A vase is smashed in a fit of passion. The maid bends down and cleans it.
‘But what’s the plan?’ one wonders as Christoper KulendranThomas explains his accelerated drive to bringing Sri Lankan artists into a post-fordist economy, whether they like it or not. The artist argues for an integration into the spread of malignant markets on the back of branded sportswear: “I was thinking that what failure for me would look like in this work, is probably what success would look like for a lot of artists”. Though I’m not so convinced there’s that much of a distinction as I try to list every artist and booth who made it into Frieze worth mentioning: Simon Thompson at Cabinet London, Jack Lavender and Amanda Ross-Ho at The Approach, Lisa Holzer and Philip Timischl at Emanuel Layr,Hannah Weinberger’s ‘Frieze Sounds’ work, Société, Loretta Fahrenholz… There’s more but this whole piece has turned into an exercise in Search Engine Optimisation for ‘good art in a bad world’ while really just drowning in its own impotence as part of the fabric of collective failure.
“Is this an art fair or a mall?” barks Al-Maria’s electronic mouthpiece in my mind as I wander by Carsten Höller’s ‘Gartenkinder’ playground at Gagosian and Salon 94’s acid-yellow curation of Snoopy animation and largescale emoticons causing retinal burn at ‘The Smile Museum’. This is definitely Al-Maria’s “maze of particleboard walls built to bare a heavy product”. More succinctly, it’s Hannah Black’s “shiny surface of a world of shit”, as read from a poem performed during the Art in Circulation #3 talk, before speculating that “hopefully we are the last, or among the last generations of a collapsing empire”. Because when Monira Al-Qadiri says the purpose of the “over-the-top, luxurious, crazy, dystopian image” of the GCC art collective is to mirror the reality that “our governments have somehow become corporations”, it’s easy to assume that it also goes the other way. Along with the sense of being trapped in a violent cycle, circulated by the structures that exacerbate pre-existing socio-economic prejudice while hurtling us towards environmental collapse, one can’t help but agree when Tsagaglalal concludes, “this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye”. **