Total Recall

26 Jun

Jonathan Carroll

I read recently about an unfortunate condition called hyperthymesia, where the sufferer possesses an extremely detailed autobiographical memory. What at first sounds like a blessing – the superpower of total recall – turns out to be a nightmare in which every trivial detail of every single day is remembered. It made me feel much better about my own abysmal powers of recall (schadenfreude sufferer!).
Testing their powers of recall, IMMA, in collaboration with NIVAL, are undertaking a collaborative research project to revisit ROSC (the six exhibitions of international contemporary art presented in Ireland between 1967 and 1988) on its fiftieth anniversary. ‘ROSC 50 –1967/2017’ will show at IMMA from 5 May to 18 June and will examine the “ambition, reception, controversies and legacy of the ROSC exhibitions” through talks, screenings, events, displays and presentations of archival material.
In addition, a number of artists will be commissioned to produce new work inspired by ROSC. People like you and I, who are interested in art, will have met some of the ROSC veterans and heard about the wonders it brought to these shores. The adjectives ‘ground-breaking’, ‘inspiring’, ‘seminal’ and ‘innovative’ are often associated with ROSC. Inventive ways of exhibiting were necessary by default, as no suitable permanent exhibition spaces existed in Ireland at that time to accommodate such ambitious shows. The organisers of the first iteration, which occupied the warehouse-like main hall of the RDS, came up with an ingenious way of hanging work (without walls) by using white muslin to divide the spaces and form a sail-like ceiling above. Paintings were mounted on boards suspended from above, avoiding the need for cumbersome partitioning walls, and making it easier to view and compare paintings. Photographic documentation of these exhibitions (and RTE films of the 1967 and 1971 exhibitions) attests to the ingenuity of the installation. That these exhibitions still stand out as visually interesting is testament to the diverse skill-set of the initial committee, which comprised art historians and curators as well as Ireland’s leading modernist architect, Michael Scott, who founded ROSC. The idea was to bring recent works to an Irish audience, who were deprived of an enlightened museum of modern art.
Eimear O’Connor’s review for the Irish Times of Peter Shortt’s timely book The Poetry of Vision: The ROSC Art Exhibitions 1967 – 1988 was headlined “Ireland’s most magnificently controversial art exhibitions: ROSC events were extraordinarily ambitious but to reprise them would be a mistake”. It is true that the controversies surrounding ROSC (such as budget deficits, resignations and the initial omission of Irish artists) are recalled as often as its many successes. One such controversy included the decision to uproot five ancient monuments and transport them to Dublin (despite protests from the National Monuments Advisory Council) with the aim of presenting ancient art alongside contemporary art. This prompted members of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association in Donegal to stage a sit-in around the high cross in Carndonagh to prevent it being taken to Dublin. The presentation of art from other eras and traditions became a recurring theme, with Scandinavian artefacts displayed in 1971 and Russian Avant-Garde art in 1988.
But there were also many unique performances that took place during these exhibitions. For ROSC ‘80, 14 artists were invited to present live performances, which included the debut of Marina Abramović and Ulay’s Rest Energy, involving a sprung arrow being pointed at Abramović’s heart for four minutes. Clement Greenberg (the number one international art critic of the day) was rocked in a car in Trinity College as part of an art performance called 25 H.P., involving 25 horses, by the Argentinian artist Leopoldo Maler. At Earlsfort Terrace another Argentinian artist Marta Minujín constructed James Joyce’s Tower from 8000 loaves of bread provided by a Dublin bakery.
For ROSC ‘84, Richard Serra installed his metal sculpture Sean’s Spiral outside the Guinness Hop Store, while Lawrence Weiner was putting the finishing touches to his wall texts across the road – works that are still visible today on Rainsford Street. It was the presence of the artists and the freshness of their work that made ROSC so vital for Irish audiences. This vitality was further confirmed by the display of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings at ROSC ‘88 just a week after his tragic death. So it will be some task for the 2017 curators to capture the excitement of these exhibitions. I only have second-hand knowledge of ROSC, gleaned from my perusals of the rich archive housed by NIVAL (which includes Dorothy Walker’s personal archive), the books written on the shows, the well-illustrated catalogues and the stories of those who remember attending the exhibitions. It was originally intended that ROSC would finish once a new home for modern art was established in Ireland. This happened in 1991 with the formation of IMMA, so it is fitting that IMMA will stage this commemoration. I will be interviewing those organising the IMMA-NIVAL collaboration in an article for the upcoming July/August issue of the VAN.

Twin Peaks

26 Jun

Twin Peaks
JONATHAN CARROLL REPORTS ON DOCUMENTA 14 AND SKULPTUR PROJEKTE MÜNSTER 2017.
There are two things that I do every five years: I attend a friend’s birthday (only celebrated in increments of five) and I attend the documenta quinquennial in Kassel, Germany. However, 2017 is a special year when some of the most celebrated European art exhibitions coincide: The 57th Venice Biennale, documenta 14, Art Basel’s annual fair and the fifth edition of the decennial Skulptur Projekte Münster. This really is a year not to miss. For many, myself included, it makes sense to visit events in Kassel and Münster in one trip. With a budget of €36 million, and showcasing 160 artists across two locations for the first time (Athens and Kassel), documenta 14 dwarfs all other exhibitions in its ambition and influence . Not to be outdone, Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017 (with an inferior €7.7 million budget) is also bi-located for the first time, with a modest proposal based in the nearby town of Marl. Where documenta is all about the curators (a whole team of renowned names), Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017 is more “it’s the artists, stupid!”, to paraphrase a great political slogan.
Since its foundation in 1977 by Klaus Bußmann, Skulptur Projekte Münster has always focused on the creation of new work by individual artists. This, its fifth edition, showcases the work of 35 artists, including two Irish contributors: Gerard Byrne presents a new video installation, In Our Time, in the municipal library, while Benjamin de Burca and Bárbara Wagner show Bye Bye Deutschland!, one of the most talked-about pieces in Münster. The original idea behind the event was to add newly-commissioned sculptural work to Münster’s public collection. Notable this time are the number of video and performance pieces that depart from the more solid object-based contributions of previous editions. Documenta 14 also differs from its predecessor in its distinct lack of new commissions. The feeling on the streets of Kassel was that documenta 14 had spent too much energy delivering two events in one year. Athens, it seems, was a step too far.
However, one can forgive any curator who attempts to shake up a somewhat stale format. For example, Arthur Zmijewski’s 7th Berlin Biennale eschewed ‘art as object’, but baulked at the last minute to include some signs of immaterial or non-object-based art projects for the visitor to contemplate. Adam Szymczyk, artistic director of documenta 14, blindly bombards us with arguably tokenistic declarations of solidarity and exchange between the contrasting cultures of Germany (the economic oppressor) and Greece (the economically oppressed). In Kassel, the main exhibition venue, the Fridericianum, is given over to a display selected from the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens – a collection no doubt formed during very different economic times. Some of the better-known works take on a new significance in the current refugee crisis. Bill Viola’s The Raft (2004) acts as a reminder of the haunting images of protestors being water-cannoned and of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Greece. Mona Hatoum’s Fix It (2004) brings to mind Syrian torture chambers, while Acropolis Redux (The Director’s Cut) (2004), by Kendell Geers, has obvious connotations of border security and refugee exclusion. The acropolis-inspired structure consists of metal shelving packed with every variety of razor-sharp barbed wire. With very few exceptions, the rest of the collection left this correspondent rather despondent.
Happily, my despondency turned to delight on exiting the Fridericianum. Just across the road, The Parthenon of Books – a full-sized replica of the most famous building of the Acropolis by the Argentinian artist Marta Minujín – was being formed. Visitors are invited to contribute formerly or currently forbidden books from around the world to be added to the columns of the temple. This work-in-progress was more in keeping, in terms of size and ambition, with what one expects from documenta. This is not a new work, having been previously realised in 1983 in Buenos Aires. Irish audiences might remember Minujín’s piece James Joyce’s Tower of Bread (1980), which was shown in Dublin as part of ROSC ’80.
At the Neue Galerie, we get a smorgasbord of what seems like disasters of war and famine from various moments in time where, as explained in the guidebook, “questions of nationhood and belonging, but also of dispersal and loss, weave a loose meshwork”. We encounter Zainul Abedin’s Famine Sketches (1943), Sunil Janah’s horrific photographs of corpses in Odisha (formerly Orissa), and Chittaprosad Bhattacharya’s ink-on-paper drawings of the malnourished and destitute. These are just from the Bengal famine; what follows are references to various other well-known periods of human tragedy, such as the end of WWII, and lesser-known but similarly devastating events in Albania and Poland. Less is not more for this artistic director! This is dragnet curating at its worst.
At the Neue Hauptpost (renamed the Neue Neue Galerie by documenta), housed in a former mail distribution centre, the site and the curatorial concept gel together more poetically. According to the press material, “the building appears as a site of post-Fordist labour, one that directly marks the impact of virtualization on the service sector of economic production, its empty spaces serving as a testament to the final stages of a bygone economy. The art on view explores the labour of dissemination by mail, on horseback, through bodies or rituals”. There are displays of concrete poetry and mail art by Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and her husband Robert Rehfeldt. For years, the artists sent out their work by mail from behind the Iron Curtain. This is what you come to documenta for: proper content with deep historical significance as well as inspiring locations. Upstairs, beside the former staff canteen, we find ‘Yugoexport’, a shoe production and distribution project by Serbian artist Irena Haiduk. In replicating an escort service advert, the film Nine Hour Delay (2012–2058) introduces the Borosana shoe – mandatory footwear for all Yugoslav women working in the public sector from 1960 – 1969. This shoe, in turn, becomes part of the workwear for exhibition staff wherever the work is shown (yugoexport.com).
Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017 takes a similarly dichotomous look at the present human condition. While the artistic director Kasper König (who promised us in 2007 that he himself would not be alive to see the 2017 edition) spoke of a new generation of artists and curators introducing new technologies and ideas of what sculpture could be, we in fact actually get a sort of new primitivism. There is a lot of work depicting humans interacting with fire. Aram Bartholl shows a kind of survival kit for post-apocalyptic conditions. He has installed three thermoelectric devices that transform fire (mankind’s earliest means of communication) directly into electrical energy. Bartholl also examines the phenomenon of digitisation, exploring ideas around hacking, open source technology and anonymity. At one location, we see an attendant using a log fire (over which he holds a stick with what looks like a wok attached) to produce electricity with which visitors can charge their mobile phones.
Bartholl’s second work is located below a huge telecommunications tower where he has placed a barbeque with a device that is attached by a wire half way up the tower. This is all in aid of providing electricity to a router on the tower without using the internet. Visitors can log in to an offline data base via wifi to download instructions for living offline. This is a brilliantly-placed work, a Kubrickian coming together of the past (hubristic and overwhelming) and the future (future primitive). By the port, Oscar Tuazon’s concrete sculpture Burn the Formwork also functions as an outdoor chimney to be used for heat, as a barbeque or simply as a gathering place. Tuazon is interested in the dropout cultures and DIY architecture that form part of a simple, Henry David Thoreau-inspired existence. Romanian artist Alexandra Pirici’s Leaking Territories provides its own human-powered search engine. The audience are asked by the performers of the piece to suggest a word, for which they then provide data, according to profile, age and gender. We get multiple responses to the words ‘history’ and ‘Brazil’. Collective memory or just old school memory seems kind of cute, no? (Look no iPhone!).
Pierre Huyghe’s work for Münster is not dissimilar to the post-apocalyptic ennui he displayed at documenta 13. Huyghe’s After ALife Ahead (2017) inhabits an abandoned ice-rink. It is a building site, with broken earth and shattered interior occupied by a lonely chimera peacock and a fish tank with what looks like a 3D version of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting The Wreck of the Hope (1824). We are told that another contraption contains cancer cells which are being influenced by the changing environment of the site. One can also open a special app to see ghastly creatures, ala Pokémon Go. The visitor is encouraged to descend into the trenches formed by the dug-up ice-rink floor and to view new ecological environments, from beehives and weed gardens to water pools and cesspits. Is this the apocalypse that Aram Bartholl is preparing us for?
Documenta 14 continues in Kassel until 19 September, while Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017 continues until 1 October 2017.

Jonathan Carroll is an independent curator based in Dublin.

Documenta 14 is fully bi-located for the first time, however the 2012 edition did have offshoot projects and events in Afganistan, Egypt and Canada. According to documenta 13 curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, these additional locations were important to her programme because they revealed “other states of being” and “oscillating relationships: onstage (Kassel), under siege (Kabul), hope and revolt (Cairo and Alexandria) and retreat (Banff).”

Who’s afraid of performance art?

7 Mar

JONATHAN CARROLL
WHO’S AFRAID OF PERFORMANCE ART?
It’s perhaps too easy to take ill-informed pot shots at performance art. But I must confess, for me, sometimes group performance art events resemble William Hogarth’s The Rake in Bedlam (The Rake’s Progress 1734) and have me scampering for the exit. On at least one occasion recently I’ve nearly brought the set down in my urgency to escape a performance art piece shown in a confined space to a seated ticketed audience.
It seems that there have never been more performance art events. They seem not only to be an intrinsic component of art exhibitions, but also more and more popular as stand-alone events. This may have something to do with the wider availability of performance art-based modules at universities. The University of California San Diego recently received some unwanted publicity (UCSD) with the headline “Fury as students told they should get naked to pass exam” (The Independent, Doug Bolton, 13 May, 2015).
We also of course have Marina Abramović to thank (or not) for popularising performance art to an extent not seen since Yoko Ono decided to invite the world’s press into her marital bed (Bed-ins for Peace, 1969). Abramović although garnering notice, has lost a lot of respect of late from within the artworld as a result of her flirtations with celebrities “Jay Z v Marina Abramović: what’s the beef?” (g2, 21 / 05 / 15). Whatever the reasons, there have been huge variety of performance art events happening in Dublin recently. We had Live Collision International Festival (29 April – 3 May), Influence (@Livestock) at 12 Henrietta Street curated by John Conway (8th May), Overstock# 1 +2+3 a series of performative Lectures curated by Jennie Taylor in Mart (29 April – 24 June), The Performance Collective at NCAD Gallery (9 – 16 April 2015), and the 4 Foaming At The Mouth spoken word events to name just a few (see VAN Issue 3 May – June 2015).
What interests me most is the formats and contexts of these performances. Some occupied the territory traditionally used by comedians (the spare room of a bar used by FATM) while others brought you to an atmospheric historical building to perform to a ghostly past, Influence (@Livestock) and Dublin Live Art Festival’s performances at The Casino at Marino (26 July 2015).
Two key dynamics in terms of the presentation of live art were well illustrated by Seamus McCormack’s Roadkill, a night of performance and live events that responded to Primal Architecture at IMMA (12 February) and ‘Excuse me, I’m not finished!’ a series of live performances and exhibition by the Performance Collective at the NCAD Gallery. While Roadkill engaged exclusively with a well versed art audience (in the confines of IMMA), The Performance Collective had the advantage of both engaging with an art audience (those who went into the gallery space) and the unsuspecting passing audience (with several artists focusing their work looking out onto the street through the expansive window frontage).
My preferred viewing point and preferred place for performance art, is with those unsuspecting passers-by. My second preference would be the more traditional interaction of performance with existing work (as with Roadkill) where a more classical idea of the ability of performance art to expand on the viewer’s relationship with an artwork lie.
As part of Roadkill ‘Smilin’ Kanker’ (aka artist Ciarán O’Keeffe), took us on a tour of Primal Architecture. This bearded hairy legged man dressed in a summer dress, face painted like a clown and sporting a fine blue feather boa headdress, brought to life an exhibition that I previously considered dull. Kanker was a perfect embodiment of the mixed up, confused, hilarious and alternatively creepy clown-like work that Mike Kelley (whose work featured in the exhibition) produced. Kanker’s story telling often returned to his childhood (a shared Kelley trait) and his mixture of humour with moments of sad and dark reflection (for example O’Keeffe singing Mary Poppins Feed the Birds to his dying mother in hospital in the 60s and again here at IMMA) were pitch perfect for the troubled Kelley who killed himself in 2012.
Kelley’s work was often risky in content and risky in actuality. For example his live Petting Zoo for Sculpture projects Muenster 07 featured horned animals roaming amongst the audience and referenced the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. I have a hunch that allusions to petting zoos is something generally to be avoided by anyone working with performance artists.
So how then do I account for my recent programming at ArtLot, with its fenced in performers and in one instance a caged in performer (see DLAF 2014 at artlotdublin.wordpress.com). In my opinion, presenting performance art as we do at ArtLot, brings back the element of the unexpected and surprise (where the audience is not invited nor known) that has its origins in the earliest performances organised by artists. This passing audience are also less reverent than what one witnesses in the protection of the gallery space and again arguably closer to the more robust responses recorded from some seminal performances.

Under Pressure

7 Mar

Jonathan Carroll
Under Pressure
“No pressure, no diamonds” (Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881)
“The lifestyle that an artist can have, the freedom to wander in the landscape with no real pressure or deadlines was a very attractive one” (John Dyer)

Did Pádraig Pearse drink coffee? I doubt it. What coffee drinker would plan anything for a Monday morning? ‘Nah… I am not feeling it today, give us a shout Tuesday and we see how we are fixed’.
I thought about this while tucking into my 1916 Easter Rising commemorative chocolate bar. This bar was my first glimpse of the year of commemorations. My second was an Easter Rising calendar sold by a charity (it includes horoscopes for 2016, and tells me “You’re particularly drawn to those who have an impressive background in art, culture or religion”).
I also recently rediscovered my Millennium Candle – remember them? It was in a bag of used light bulbs heading for the recycling bin. I look across at my Goethe and Schiller salt and pepper shakers (made in China), a present from a tenant, and think: ah the fate of all great men to be made into condiment dispensers – hooray!
So, the pressure is on for artists to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising – look out for fifty ways to commemorate such as: The Rising Yoga Mat, breast feed like a revolutionary, the top breastfed revolutionaries (funny they all end up with beards, any link?).
It begs the question does forced creativity or prescribed creativity bring out the worst in the artist? Are deadlines the key to forcing otherwise laid-back creatives to get stuff out of the studio? As the best named theatre company Forced Entertainment believe, force it and it will come (also a useful motto for top brand laxatives). What of all those difficult second albums and unfinished symphonies…
The plain fact is, deadlines come and go and other work gets in the way. Is it even necessary to finish something? Brian Wilson eventually presented Smile 1966-2004; Schubert’s ‘unfinished’ Symphony No. 8 gets constant play. Gaudi’s La Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona (building commenced in 1882) is due to be completed by 2026, on the centenary of the architect’s death. And here we are complaining that the refurbishment of our National Gallery is delayed for a year!

Opportunity Knocks
“No matter how gifted a person is, he or she has no chance to achieve anything creative unless the right conditions are provided by the field.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
From his book Creativity, Mihalyi goes on to list and explain the seven major elements in the social milieu that help make creative contributions possible: training, expectations, resources, recognition, hope, opportunity, and reward. So for 2016 we have resources allocated which leads to opportunity (commissions) and reward (payment, budgets, reviews), and in-turn give artists hope that in time this will all lead to recognition and ever more opportunities.
Deadlines and the roles of the curator, commissioner and the critic, as well as a waiting public are all connected by expectations. No use putting a ball up in the air if there is nobody outfield to collect it. Here is Lindsay Duncan playing a harsh theatre critic (Ms Dickinson) in Birdman,
Michael Keaton: “Did I do something to offend you?”
Lindsay Duncan: “As a matter of fact you did, you took up space in a theatre which otherwise might have been used on something worthwhile”
Ouch! Yet this illustrates perfectly the importance of expectation and the role of the critic in demanding something better, something of quality. But as Fernando Pessoa puts it in The Book of Disquietude: “Every effort is a crime, because every gesture is an inert dream” , then quality may not be a requisite judgement and maybe we should lower our expectations.
There are obvious ways of imagining more worthwhile content in the galleries and theatres we visit this year. You can remember better exhibitions in the same space and compare previous theatrical performances. You can also compare what is being shown in spaces abroad and ask why the same could not be shown here; or, ask yourself why certain necessary conditions are in place elsewhere that are not in place here. Back to Birdman who has a particular disdain for comparisons – “it’s just a bunch of crappy opinions backed up by even crappier comparisons, it’s just a couple of paragraphs, none of this costs you anything!”
Seth Siegelaub, when speaking of the role of the curator and collector in his projects (in A Brief History of Curating, Hans Ulrich Obrist) sought to make visible the hidden private decisions behind the public art exhibition and selection process. Of course the curator-director can pay the ultimate price for their championing of certain art and artists over others. They too can suffer from criticism and flounder when expectations are not met. Here is a headline from The Telegraph (31st March, 2015): “Penelope Curtis leaves Tate Britain after pressure from artworld”. This relates to the director of Tate Britain who received very bad press which included something as direct as “Curtis has to go. She really does” from the Sunday Times art critic, Waldemar Januszczak.
What I most of all wanted to say was…

(i) Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity, Harper Perennial, 1996.
(ii) Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquietude, Carcanet Press Limited, 1991.

History is Always Unfinished Business

7 Mar

Art in Public
HISTORY IS ALWAYS UNFINISHED BUSINESS
JONATHAN CARROLL REPORTS ON AN INTENSE WEEKEND (13 – 15 NOVEMBER) FOCUSING ON SOCIALLY ENGAGED / PUBLIC ART PRACTICES, WHICH INCLUDED A LIVE STREAMING OF THE ‘CREATIVE TIME SUMMIT’ 2014 FROM STOCKHOLM AT THE HUGH LANE GALLERY AND FIRE STATION ARTISTS’ STUDIOS, AND THE TWO-DAY SYMPOSIUM ‘JOCHEN GERZ: PARTICIPATION, COMMEMORATION AND PUBLIC SPACE’ AT IMMA.
Never mind creative time, what about getting the actual time to see a cluster of public art events all taking place in Dublin over a matter of days? It was as if all the institutions were beefing up their yearly outputs with end-of-year cramming. I put my bicycle in the boot of my car to allow me to zip between venues for the overlapping talks at the Hugh Lane and Fire Station, which related to a live streaming of the Creative Time Summit from Stockholm on (14 – 15 November). I also followed some of the Creative Time Summit on my laptop at home. This year, themes included “the challenges of migration, the growth of extreme nationalism and xenophobia, the uses of the public sphere, the fluid line between surveillance and our interpersonal selves, and, finally, how these challenges are met by artists who are re-imagining the public realm” (creativetime.org).
Glen Loughran (Lecturer, NCAD, MA Socially Engaged Art) moderated the Hugh Lane and Fire Station sessions, summing up events on screen and encouraging a local Q&A. Over the two days there was much congruous material – often artists (e.g. Dominic Thorpe and Jesse Jones) who were ‘live’ at one event were discussed at another. The chair of the event, Karen E. Till (Senior Lecturer of Cultural Geography and Director, MA in Geography, Maynooth University), in a pleasant coincidence, was also a contributor to an artwork by Ailbhe Murphy and Ciaran Smyth (Vagabond Reviews) on show at the Hugh Lane in the current exhibition -‘Phoenix Rising: Art and Civic Imagination’.
For the Dublin audience, many of the issues raised at the Creative Time Summit were set against the continuing debate about how best to commemorate the 1916 Rising in 2016. Thankfully, due to the international flavour of the speakers at the summit and here in Dublin, the parameters of the debate were hugely expanded. At Fire Station, Ana Dević of What, How and for Whom (WHW), a Croatian curatorial collective, spoke about one of her first curated shows, which took place on the 153rd Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. At the summit, Jonas Dahlberg spoke of making the memorial for the 22 July terror attack on Otøya Island in Norway. And over at IMMA, where ‘Jochen Gerz: Participation, Commemoration and Public Space,’ took place, Gerz mentioned a work of his situated in Bochum, Germany – which conflates the memorial to those killed locally in the WWI with a present day citizens’ promise to Europe – in the same breath that he discussed ‘amaptocare’ , his 2013 project for Ballymun’s Breaking Ground initiative.
Fire Station’s seminar, The Intersection of Art and Politics, coincided with the launch of their new publication, Art & Activism. This was a timely reminder that, rather than debating the merits of a permanent memorial or one-off event for 2016, we should be looking towards the merits of more participatory and activist art practices. This would perhaps be more in keeping with the revolutionary intents of 1916. The participants of the seminar (Ana Dević, Jesse Jones and Director of the Model, Sligo, Megan Johnston) were invited to reflect on how they navigate the growing intersection between art and the social and political sphere, and to consider what is at stake. Dević spoke about her work with the WHW curatorial collective. She showed us a work by David Maljković, Scene for New Heritage, which features an anti-Fascist monument, dating from Communist-era Yugoslavia at Petrova Gora – a memorial to the victims of WWII, built in Croatia between 1970 and 1981. The curator then showed us the monument’s present state, stripped of all its precious metals stolen for scrap: a sad warning about the fate of much memorial artwork and the ultimate result of historical amnesia.
Surely our own worries about commemorating 1916 pale in comparison to the massive changes in political regimes experienced throughout Eastern Europe and the minefield that is Germany’s recent history? Megan Johnston – who has worked in recent years as a curator and academic in Minneapolis, Minnesota and prior to this as Arts Director at Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown (2003 – 2010) – gave us contrasting insights into the business of curating in the divergent economic and political environments of the USA and Northern Ireland. Johnston offered insights into managing competing demands to deliver blockbuster shows and addressing the necessities of ‘political correctness’ in the Deep South. She also gave us a snapshot of some of the issues she dealt with while working in Portadown. While commissioning work by Paul Seawright, she came across the interesting situation where previously contested territory in Northern Ireland had, following the peace process, become prime real estate. We also heard about Megan’s emergency response meetings set up to tackle any problems expected after showing Shane Cullen’s The Agreement (2002 – 2003), where issues such as bomb and death threats had to be considered. In the end the show went on without a hitch. It seems ironic that only when another work by Cullen was shown in the Republic – at the Luan Gallery, Athlone in January 2013 – did we see a minor stir. The headline “Councillor wants republican artwork pulled from local exhibition” ran in the Journal.ie.
The word ‘fear’ was often repeated during the Gerz symposium at IMMA: fear of failure to produce something worthy of the great events to be celebrated in 2016; fear of getting it wrong politically and of alienating the hydra-headed nightmare of contending stakeholders; fear of the political positioning involved. Most of the symposium at IMMA felt like an episode of This is Your Life for Jochen Gerz, but, ultimately, the decades of experience he has accumulated working on politically charged and contested ground made for sound advice on these matters. His suggestion was to commemorate the 104th anniversary of 1916. “I like the idea of celebrating in 2020,” he said. Why not? Hey presto: the pressure is off and the time-bomb diffused. You could hear a collective sigh of relief from the IMMA audience – like pupils after being told their exam has been called off.
Gerz’s bold suggestion was made in the wake of the apparent confusion and frustration expressed by much of the audience following one of the final presentations, Remembrance and Commemoration in Ireland: the role of contemporary arts practice, featuring Pat Cooke (Director, MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management UCD), Jenny Haughton (independent arts adviser, lecturer in strategic arts management), Lisa Moran (Curator: Education and Community Programmes, IMMA), Ray Yeates (Dublin City Arts Officer) and chaired by Declan McGonagle (Director, NCAD). The discussion actually felt very parochial and rather jaded in comparison to previous discussions at IMMA and the wide scope of issues addressed via the Creative Time Summit and its various articulations at the Hugh Lane and Fire Station.
Gerz’s solo presentation, given the night before, Who Cares. Thoughts about people, places and times, stressed that art needs the freedom to fail. Gerz admitted a knowledge of both failure and success. As he explained, not all of his proposals are successful; and many others are compromised or left unfinished. Gerz spoke of his failure to win a bid for the ultimate contentious commission, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Gerz had proposed a work that would have taken more than 80 years to be completed. Thus, his work would avoid being static, it would give “legs to memory,” as he put it, with memory as the last stop to forgetting. History, he said, is always unfinished business, and he noted that a sense of negotiation was in the air in Ireland in relation to the 2016 commemorations. For Gerz, “negotiation is beautiful”.
Various solutions to the problems posed by commemoration were provided in unexpected places at the Creative Time Summit and at the various talks. Lisa Moran’s IMMA presentation The Impossibility of Commemoration featured examples of a range of commemorative works made for Documenta in Kassel, Germany, all linked by the implementation of good financing, best international curatorial practice, sound historical precedent and a knowledgeable critical audience.
Speaking at Fire Station, Jesse Jones spoke of In the Shadow of the State, the forthcoming commissioned work that she and Sarah Browne are preparing in collaboration with Art Angel, UK and Create, Ireland. This will be realised in public form in both the UK and Ireland in 2016, with additional funding by DCC. So, Jones and Browne will produce a work that is well financed and independently supported and will just happen to arrive in time for 2016. What a relief it must be to all not to have to leap through committee upon committee while ticking all politically correct boxes. Let us hope that Art Angel invite the Queen along to the opening! Jonas Dahlberg spoke of his Otøya memorial as like walking in an open wound like it happened yesterday. Not a bad ambition to have for a memorial to a past event.
Jonathan Carroll is an independent curator based in Dublin. He is one of the curators for the Return at the Goethe-Institut Irland. He is a graduate of Curating Contemporary Art (RCA, London), Cultural Management (Instituto Universitario Ortega Y Gasset, Madrid) and Art History (UCD). He has worked for Project Arts Centre and the St Patrick’s Festival. Jonathan is a regular columnist for the Visual Artists’ News Sheet.

Departures and Arrivals

25 Jan

 

 

This is the first column I’ve written in five years without Jason Oakley’s editorial hand. Have your red pens at the ready. Editing is a very intimate thing: you nurse the writer, encourage them, carefully improve them, cut bits out and add better things in. I wanted to set a task for people to ‘spot the Jasons’ in my columns. Anyone spot ‘derring-do’ for example? (March – April 2014).

When you spend time with someone, you inherit snippets of their character, as well as the more tangible objects that they leave behind. I am writing this wearing my uncle’s jumper. Coincidentally, he had his final farewell in the same crematorium as Jason. Seeing Jason’s brother wearing his inherited bespoke shoes reminded me of all the pairs of shoes my uncle wore but couldn’t wear out.

Friends are also something we leave to others when we pass. In London I stay with a friend I inherited. She is someone I can call up and I know I’ll be accommodated and also accompanied to art events (usefully, she is a member of all the important art institutions and can bring along a guest for free!) We never forget how our friendship was forged. When inherited friends unite, it feels like the departed are joining you.

Anyway (such a useful segue that word, innit!), London once again. Ai Weiwei once again. Frieze Art Fair and a new Turbine Hall commission yet again. This time I was primarily travelling to hear PJ Harvey, who was performing at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the London Literature Festival. Harvey recently produced a book with Irish photographer Seamus Murphy and the night comprised a conversation between Seamus and a compère, followed by a performance of poetry and song by Harvey.

Murphy has won seven World Press Photo Awards for his work in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Gaza, Lebanon, Peru, Ireland and England, and has worked with Harvey before. I must admit I had never heard of him. He invited Harvey to accompany him on a series of journeys to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington DC. Harvey wrote lyrics and poetry, while Murphy took stills and made short films about the trips. This was one of those high quality events that you only find in big cities. The process behind Harvey’s work and the fragmented, experimental nature of the evening was lost, however, on some members of the rather restless London crowd. A cringe-worthy heckler shouted: “Why we listening to that man? Where is P.J. Harvey?” I don’t know why, but I felt pretty relaxed about paying €50 and giving two hours of my time for such an exploratory evening. Them Londoners are spoiled.

Ai Weiwei makes art from stolen time. He was detained in 2011 for 81 days. In his retrospective, which ran from 19 September – 13 December 2015 at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, Weiwei constructed scaled mock-ups of the interior of his detention cell. The work, ‘Sacred’, consists of six large iron containers into which you are invited to peek, cleverly reflecting the voyeuristic and perverse nature of his detention. He sees this work, where we look down at a naked Weiwei taking his daily shower accompanied by his two jailors, as a form of exorcism or therapy. When asked about the political element of his art he says: “It is not about choice; it is my life. Art and politics are inseparable.” (1)

Much of Weiwei’s work directly evokes China. He does not suggest something in an abstract way, he demonstrates it in a very baroque fashion. If he wants to make us visualise the extent of the Sichuan earthquake disaster (2008), he lists all the children who perished: names and dates of birth and death. He collects all the iron rods that failed to support the school building and straightens them to form a monumental installation. He states: “To remember the departed, to show concern for life, to take responsibility, and for the potential happiness of the survivors, we are initiating a ‘Citizens’ Investigation’. We will seek out the names of each departed child, and we will remember them.”

Weiwei previously exhibited all the children’s school bags in a work titled Remembering (2009), displaying them on the outside of the Haus der Kunst in Munich. His Sunflower Seeds installation for Tate’s Turbine Hall in 2010 was an immense work that highlighted the individual among the masses. Here he displayed 100 million handpainted ceramic seeds in one giant mass spread over the floor of the Turbine Hall.

All of this would be poignant and moving if it were not for two things. Weiwei’s work now attracts so many people that you are jostled and pushed. It feels like you are fighting your way through the Beijing rush hour. Some of the work is also so expensive to ship and exhibit that galleries have had to crowdfund the exhibitions. At the Royal Academy, the funders were rewarded with their names displayed in huge letters on the entrance stairs. This slightly diminished the impact of the list of earthquake victims.

Meanwhile, the latest Turbine Hall installation by Abraham Cruzvillegas relies on real seeds, collected from across London, sprouting in common dirt. Nothing had sprouted at the time your correspondent visited. Do I get a refund guv’nor?

1. From an interview with Tim Marlow for the Royal Academy, London

Smells Like Postmodernism

9 Apr

Smells Like Postmodernism

Ever wondered what one of the ‘isms’ would smell like if it were a perfume? Postmodernism’s scent would be the overpowering aroma of cheap rubber, if the V&A’s ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990’ had anything to do with it. For me, the early promise and exciting prospect of this exhibition soon vanished, much like Postmodernism itself.

The V&A’s unrivaled, eclectic collection allows for a heady mix of art, architecture, design, photography, music, furniture, craft, literature, film, and fashion, to be brought together in this exhibition. The exhibition shows us some images of the moment the era began, apparently at 3.32pm on 15 March 1972, when the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St Louis, Missouri, was dynamited. Also featured is a prescient drawing by the Italian architect Gaetano Pesce of his Church of solitude (1974): a cross section of a proposed underground location in New York, intended as a place of contemplation. The above-ground space is littered with the ruins of architecture from eras past that looks uncannily like the 9/11 memorial. Add in the complete reconstruction of Hans Hollein’s façade from the 1980 Biennale of Architecture, ‘Strada Novissima’ (a garish mess of stage props best seen at a distance), the original outfit worn by Blade Runner’s Zhora, the odd Warhol screenprint or Laurie Anderson performance piece, and you get some sense of the ideas and images clashing together in this exhibition.

Spoilt for choice, the V&A curators over-indulge, ruining any chance of a coherent conclusion. Or maybe they’ve hit the nail on the head by contrasting the clarity and simplicity of Modernism with the complexity and contradiction of Postmodernism. They sum up this contrast quite neatly in the text panel:

“The modernists wanted to open a window onto a new world. Postmodernism, by contrast, was more like a broken mirror, a reflecting surface made of many fragments.”

Interesting idea, but did all this fragmentation take place in an underground bondage club? And is this ‘mirror’ now in Lady Gaga’s dressing room (she being the perfect cyborg of artists past, a fridge magnet of postmodern ideas)? The various zones of the exhibition, including ‘Apocalypse Then’, ‘New Wave’ and ‘Money’ are accessed via PVC door curtains of various groovy colours. If that isn’t enough rubber for you the organizers of the exhibition inevitably had to carpet the various levels of their ‘Club Space’ section with health and safety rubber mats. It all made for a rather overpowering pong, pervading the space and seriously affecting one’s overall experience of the Postmodern exhibition.

This ‘Club Space’ was dedicated to some musical icons of the period: Grace Jones, David Byrne (represented by his famous Stop making Sense oversized suit) and Klaus Nomi. I once shared a lift with Grace Jones (my job was pushing the buttons) and my abiding memory of how she smelt does not involve rubber but more the ‘inspirational weed’ she was exhaling. In fact, the white elephant in the room has to be all those illegal substances these guys enjoyed on their trip from Modernism to Postmodernism.

One of the best things about this Postmodernfest was the incredible detail the exhibition team provide on the website (www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/postmodernism/postmodernism-creating-the-exhibition/#part1) The discussion and thinking that went into the design of the space is all recorded. However, I’d recommend for future shows that they get off their computers more and spend some time in the actual space rather than the olfactory-free zone on-screen.
Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against rubber, in fact my next stop, a stones throw from the V&A in London, was to the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde park, where my experience of the rubber matted flooring was so impressive that I came away with a sample, kindly provided by Claire Feeley, assistant curator of the gallery. The brilliant solo exhibition by Anri Sala (born Tirana 1974) was in complete contrast to the variety show at the V&A. Here we received one complete sensory experience, through music, performance, video and installation, and a rare intimacy, denied to the visitor of more populated museums and galleries.
The matting here was not for health and safety but for sound, continuity and visual effect. With perfect timing, punk anthem Should I Stay or Should I Go, by The Clash, (featured in many of the works in the exhibition) is picked up by saxophonist Andre Vida, as he leads you through back through the exhibition you thought was finished, like a pied piper insisting you give it all another go. Should I Stay or Should I Go ought to be the anthem to all contemporary art, and especially performance art. One is often unsure if one ‘gets it’ or has stayed long enough in a space to do the artwork justice. Will the length of a durational performance outlast your tolerance? Certainly in the Serpentine I felt sorry for those who left just before the saxophonist serenaded the lingerers back through the exhibition. The videos played in sequence like blinking eyes, while Vida riffed with the on-screen musicians.
‘Anri Sala’ makes for a great exhibition experience while ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion’ would do better as a catalogue with attached DVDs. Now, I wonder what Modernism smelt like…

Autonomous Practices

27 Jan

Visual Artists News Sheet November- December 2012

 

 

Jonathan Carroll reports on ‘Autonomous Practices, Autonomous Objects, Autonomous Institutions’ a debate hosted on 6 November 2012 by THE MA Art in the Contemporary World in the conText of SARAH PIERCES SHOW ‘Towards a newer Laocoön’, at THE NCAD Gallery, Dublin (4 Oct – 7 Nov 2012).

 

Cultural confinement takes place when a curator imposes his own limits on an art exhibition, rather than asking an artist to set his limits. Artists are expected to fit into fraudulent categories. Some artists imagine they’ve got a hold on this apparatus, which in fact has got a hold of them. As a result, they end up supporting a cultural prison that is out of their control. Artists themselves are not confined, but their output is. Museums, like asylums and jails, have wards and cells – in other words, neutral rooms called ‘galleries’

 

Robert Smithson Cultural Confinement Documenta 5 catalogue (1972) and Artforum, October 1972.

 

Art is autonomous; its there for its own human sake, sufficient to its own human self, but this doesn’t seal it off from society or history. What its autonomy does mean is that it serves humanity on its own terms, ie by providing aesthetic value or quality.

 

Clement Greenberg, Homemade Aesthetics 1971

 

We think that if politics is the art of the possible, as the saying goes, then we need political art to open this up, this ‘possible’ or to multiply this possibility. So the appearance of an avant-garde, autonomous artist expressing a deep insight without inquiries, without knowledge of the world, with no connection with science, that is certainly out (1).

 

An aesthetics of proof: a conversation between Bruno Latour and Francis Halsall on art and inquiry EPD: Society and Space 2012.

Rather than attempt an exhaustive definition of what autonomy might mean in various artworld contexts; I’ve chosen to foreground this article with the three quotations posted on the MA Art in the Contemporary World website (www.acw.ie) that were offered for consideration in advance of the discussion  ‘Autonomous Practices, Autonomous Objects, Autonomous Institutions’. From what are each rather subtle and nuanced takes on the ideas of artistic freedom and independence; we can distil a basic understanding of autonomy as simply being the opposite of interference from outside forces – specifically art institutions and curators – as especially expounded by Robert Smithson. Moreover as Greenburg and Smithson suggest, total autonomy is something of an impossibility – art making and showing is bound up with economic, social and power relations like all other human activities. While Latour invites to us question whether the prospect of autonomous art is entirely desirable, if it suggests the rather outré idea of an isolationist avant-garde.

 

‘Autonomous Practices, Autonomous Objects, Autonomous Institutions’ was certainly an ambitious event, and one that foregrounded complexity. As the title signalled, the discussion would span art practices and institutional frameworks; fused with a focus on art objects – and in terms of speakers we would hear from a variety of individual and a collective viewpoints. And in terms of the discussions identity and function, boundaries were interestingly blurred. The talk could be regarded as a performative component of Sarah Pierce’s exhibition ‘Towards a Newer Laocoön’; as well as serving as a more conventional stand-alone seminar hosted in the context of an educational institution for the benefit of both students and an interested public.

 

Pierce’s show, within which this event was nested, itself was multi-layered. It featured archival material from the Irish Film Institute’s archives dating from 1959– 1979 (2); an installation of the actual friezes and sculptures damaged during student protests at the college in 1969 – including the iconic Laocoön; along with related documents from the NIVAL collection at NCAD; and a new work from Pierce, which is part of her ongoing project, The Question Would be the Answer to the Question, Are you happy?

 

Pierce’s choreographing of this discussion event within the context of her exhibition was consistent with her ongoing concern with presenting work that combines the results of archival research into examples of activism, protest and political organisation with various forms of collective activity initiated by the artist. These actions can take the form of a workshop or discussion, which are sparked by the viewing of some archival materials, including films, from what Pierce calls her ‘personal canon’, that she returns to again and again (3).

 

The relevance of Pierce’s focus on debate and protest is of course very topical with ongoing handwringing in Ireland about our apparent apathy around issues of recession, austerity and the financial crisis – in comparison to the visible anger shown by the Greeks; as well as the cuts to funding for the arts and re-introduction of student fees. Pierce’s practice manages to maintain a certain critical distance from direct action while provoking – for want of a better way to put it – a sense of guilt or obligation for one to get out and actually protest in the ‘real’ world. This is typified in her performance of Any Questions? (4) – a work, which comprises of the artist facing an audience and subverting convention by commencing proceedings with the challenge “any questions ?”. Overall, there is often a more than subtle suggestion in Pierce’s work that she wants us to reflect on how complacent we can be about the rights we now have, that were once fought for so dearly.

 

This event opened conventionally enough, with presentations from invited speakers – thirteen in all who were restricted to five minutes to outline their take on either autonomous practices, objects or institutions – before questions could be taken. The participants included: Vaari Claffey, Basic Space, Adrian Duncan, Rebecca O’Dwyer, Paul Ennis, Declan Long, Francis Halsall, Seamus Nolan, Ruth E. Lyons, Isabel Nolan, Garrett Phelan, and Oonagh Young.

 

Disappointingly, but not really surprisingly these presentations, by their necessarily brief time-span left the audience to do the lion’s share of the work to match the accounts of individual art practices, projects and ideas to the specifics of a discussion about autonomy. And at ‘question time’ what followed was the inevitable deathly silence from the audience – all to common in public seminars and discussions – while all present waited for anyone from to think up a question or observation that could relate to the proceeding contributions.

 

While the participants offered alternating arguments for and against “autonomy in aesthetic, artistic and cultural practices” a notable absence from some of the speakers presentations was an elaboration of whether they favoured or dis-favoured autonomy out of choice or necessity. The decision to set up a gallery, in the case of Oonagh Young was a conscious decision to provide something that she noticed was absent in what was on offer elsewhere in the artworld. Likewise Adrian Duncan of Paper visual art journal and his collaborators saw a need for a particular kind of writing on art and providing it (initially) in printed form. But what of the curators (as represented here by Vaari Claffey), would they rather work within an institution and how would this really affect what they can or cannot do?

 

Amongst the artists who spoke, Ruth E. Lyons presented an interesting insight into an experiment in autonomy or ‘Islandism’ whereby she had initiated an artist’s residency, entitled Aerial Blue on an uninhabited island off the coast of Mayo. The participants of this residency were asked to construct “an island state of mind”(5).

 

Isabel Nolan addressed the art making process and the issue of the art objects autonomy. Nolan spoke eloquently her art practice and pointedly about the power of the art object to limit out capacity to know. The art object can be beyond understanding and specifically her own work used objects “not exhausted by metaphor”, nor found objects, but rather construction infused with her own idiosyncratic meanings. Nolan also admitted a frustration that it seemed all of the panellists and audience members seemed to have a different understanding of the basic concept of autonomy.

 

Writer and researcher Rebecca O’Dywer started her contribution by saying that the premise of the autonomy of artists and institutions, was not even a valid question and that it is was naive to even debate it. However, one could and must assert the fundamental autonomous character of the art object. O’Dywer reflected that “good art is always autonomous: it sets its own standards and resists consumption – otherwise it is simply entertainment, or some breed of ineffective benevolence. By autonomous I mean adhering to some form of self-governing principle, by and on its own terms.”(6)

 

Nolan and O’Dwyer’s line of thinking made me reflect on how many artists were historically not autonomous. A basic example would be the work produced by Michelangelo, the famously reluctant painter of the Sistine Chapel. Arguably his best work was produced despite his preferred interest in sculpture. But I was also thinking about How German is it?, a 2009 Artforum review by Benjamin Buchloh of the exhibition ‘Art of Two Germanys / Cold War Cultures’ in Artforum International (7). Buchloch noted “the exhibition confronted its spectators… not only with the famous dialectic that all documents of culture serve at the same times as documents of barbarity, but also with a fundamental contradiction that has bedevilled art historians and their methodologies at least since the rise of social and contextualist art history: Is the work of art primarily an object of history (ie a document) or primarily an object of the relative autonomy of artistic production and reception – and what laws, if any, does it follow first and last?”(8) More pointedly, this show included works by those who risked and lost everything to pursue their work in the unapologetic company of “opportunists who gained everything by flattering a repressive state apparatus”(9).

 

Returning my thoughts to the talk, Pierce had cleverly organised the speakers and audience in a circle of chairs within the exhibition space itself. The thinking behind this orchestration of the space and personnel, was in line with her ongoing interest in the notion of ‘being student’ – a state of immediacy, urgency, excitement and engagement. This in itself could be taken as a comment on autonomy; specifically as a strategy to defer or interrupt a notion of autonomy as a kind of fixed outsider position, but rather as an actively and energetically engaged one.

 

With this particular notion of ‘being student’ in mind, to my mind the most critically engaging part of the discussion came from the Basic Space representatives – a grouping of students who manage an open creative space for NCAD students (basicspacedublin.wordpress.com). When provoked by my rather cruel suggestion that they were not the best example of autonomy – existing in a cold warehouse and worried about insurance while not having the responsibilities associated with running a gallery or ones finances for that matter – managed to defend their position and update us on their present status were they function as an entity independent of a specific venue. The two students (just graduated the previous evening they tell us) return us to the fundamentals of how the ‘struggle’ is manifested now, not just a nostalgic reflection on revolutions past.

 

I left this event with the hope that the Basic Space group have more ambitions regarding autonomy than just getting raw ‘space’ as their name implies, but maybe taking over a properly resourced facility like the NCAD gallery. I don’t mean this in a simplistic ‘revolutionary’ way, but as a prospect that has been achieved by other art schools, one such example being the Städelschule Frankfurt, which not only runs an internationally renowned exhibition / project space called Portikus but provides a space and covers the costs for present students of the school to exhibit in (10).

 

Jonathan Carroll.

Notes

. http://www.acw.ie/2012/10/autonomous-practices-autonomous-objects-autonomous-institutions

2. The Irish Film Institute (funded by the Per Cent for Art Scheme) commissioned Pierce to make a project working with their archives.

3. http://www.themetropolitancomplex.com

4. Performance by Kevin Atherton, 1979, performed by Sarah Pierce as part of ‘If I Can’t Dance’, Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 2009.

5. www.ruth.ie

6. Rebeccaodwyer.wordpress.com

7. Artforum International Summer 2009 XLVII, no,10

8 ibid Pg. 296

9 ibid Pg. 296

10. The space is at present called Solalanotte see http://www.solalanotte.org but has had numerous names according to who is curating the space. It is located on Oppenheimerstr. 34a Frankfurt.See also www.portikus.de

 

 

Nouvelles Vagues: What a Drag

27 Jan

Visual Artists’ News Sheet September-October 2013

Imagine the emptiness one would feel if, say, the Olympic 100-meter sprint ended in a dead heat. No winners and no spectacular losers; no Usain Bolt, Zola Budd or Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards. No spectacular winners or losers, nothing of note. Leaving the ‘Nouvelles Vagues’ (New Wave) exhibition in the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (21 June – 9 September 2013), I was left feeling a similar sense of emptiness.
21 exhibitions were spread over the four levels of the Palais de Tokyo, forming part of an ‘artfest’ of 53 shows throughout Paris. In effect, you are expected to pay (€10 general entry) for the privilege of enduring 21 curated exhibitions (with 34 different curators involved) in one sitting. Quelle Horreur! It was like undergoing the Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange: more and more curating until you can take no more. How could such a gathering of curators manage to come up with such a drab series of exhibitions? A jury selected exhibition ideas from 500 submissions, yet none of the work possessed any sense of urgency or agency. The emphasis was on art as poseur, the art of display and the mishmash of the wonderkammer, with an unbelievable level of conformity.
Any positives, Mr Carroll, before you indulge yourself with more invective on how awful these exhibitions made you feel? Why yes, Ed: the place was crowded, teeming with Parisians – young, old and in-between – queuing at the door, running around the place until well after midnight (opening hours are midday to midnight every day except Tuesdays). Parents with children played shadow-puppets with the sophisticated projections, enjoying themselves without my cynicism.
The inclusion of our own Isabel Nolan in one of the more interesting exhibitions was like seeing an old friend in a panicking crowd. At last, something familiar – work I had previously had time to digest in the calm repose of the Goethe-Institut, Dublin (‘Unmade’, 2012).
Poetic interlude:
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
(Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, 1751)
Nolan’s quietly dignified work, including A Single drop of Benevolence (2009), formed part of the ‘les plus sexy’ exhibition, ‘The Black Moon’, curated by Sinziana Ravini (Sweden, 1976). It was described in the exhibition guide as “an exhibition-novel presenting an encounter between a man and a woman visiting an exhibition… A narrative suggested by the juxtaposition of works”. (The guide mistakenly describes it as a novel-exhibition instead of an exhibition as novel, une exposition-roman.) The curator described it as follows:
“A man and a woman who haven’t seen each for a long time run into each other in an exhibition. They begin to talk about the artworks around them, all the while reminiscing about their encounters in Moscow, Paris and Venice. Thus the story of this relationship unfolds around the works, playing with love, art and life. While one searches only for a fleeting tryst, the other aspires to finding true love. Fleeting tryst or true love: which will triumph?”
There were 19 artists in ‘The Black Moon’ alone. Does the couple she refers to ignore the pressures of seeing all the other exhibitions around them? Or do they only have eyes for each other?
Most visitors were attracted like bees to honey to Joanna Lombard’s Orbital Re-Enactments//emotional mobilization, a piece that depicted some ritual gathering of nudists (okay, there was more to it than that; it involved the complicated relationship between children and adults, apparently when nude and bathing or chasing after each other in a childish frenzy). These shows were so heavily curated, however, that the works tended to blend into each other. Often the scenographer is listed immediately after the curator’s name and before the artist’s name. With the crowds attending the opening and the atmospheric lighting, the Palais de Tokyo resembled a souk. This analogy is strengthened by the now ubiquitous inclusion of some live element to a curated show, which in the context of this opening felt more like Indian street performers or Grafton Street chuggers competing for your diminishing attention.
This constant struggle for the audience’s attention was not confined to the exhibition spaces. Apparently, it was not enough to have artists show their work; they had to tackle every facet of the building itself. Here is how Palais de Tokyo describes this exciting development:
“Windows, stairways, walls, agorae, cupolas, hallways, signage… they’re everywhere – nothing gets away from them! Artists give us their interpretations of the building.”
The line-up includes a skateboard installation by Ulla Von Brandenburg where you ‘carve a bowl’ to your heart’s delight. You can also hang out in the many ‘Lifestyle’ areas within the Palais, where once again you are bombarded by imagery, design and lighting. It made me yearn for the old white cube gallery devoid of visual obstructions.
But perhaps all of this is aimed at a far trendier demographic, youths who are adept at filtering out all the visual extras and able to see through the fog of images.

Steadier on its Feet

27 Jan

 The Visual Artists’ News Sheet January – February 2014

One room in the newly re-opened IMMA site at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham movingly demonstrates just how valuable a national collection of contemporary art is. In the middle of the exhibition ‘One Foot in the Real World’, works by two recently departed artists are shown together – Paddy Jolley and Juan Muñoz – both of whom left us too soon. Everything about this juxtaposition seems to work: the shared monocrome palette; the depictions of water invading an interior space; and a shared sensibility of the humourous and the experimental. I imagine the two of them might have got along very well.

 

Paddy Jolley was a resident artist at IMMA in 2007 and Muñoz is indelibly linked to the museum through his Conversation Piece (Dublin) (1994), which was made specifically for the Museum courtyard as part of his show ‘Silence Please’.

 

Muñoz’s Dublin Rain Room and Raincoat Drawing (1993 – 94), which are currently on show, made me laugh. Dublin Rain Room reminded me of how shocked visitors from abroad – especially Spain – are by the constant Irish rain. In a scale model of the gallery space, Muñoz magically makes it rain indoors. Anyone who has spent time in IMMA, especially those who’ve worked as mediators, will recall many days staring out the windows at persistent rainfall.

 

It is memories like these, about the artists who worked and spent time at the museum, that really enlivens this exhibition. Gormley, Bourgeois, Sol LeWitt, Jolley, Muñoz, Lawrence Weiner, Horn, and Höfer are all on show here. The presence of artists and their work has given the institition ‘soul’.

 

IMMA is at its strongest telling its own history and the excellent final room in this show is a perfect example. This display includes Lawrence Weiner’s outline for his 1991 exhibition,‘Projects’, along with some exquisite watercolours of Sol Le Witt’s New Wall Drawings, installed in 2001. It’s great to be able to see previously hidden work from the archive. Such works should be shown more often and the archive made more accessible to the public.

 

Just before my visit to IMMA, I’d visited an elderly relative who had just moved into a nursing home. I couldn’t help noticing some similarities between my visits. IMMA’s return to the RHK felt less like visiting a newborn and more like calling on a hip-replacement patient. IMMA will be steadier on its feet, but we can assume that it won’t be running any marathons soon – not in the current economic climate. 

 

The time and money spent refurbishing the Royal Hospital have been for ‘health and safety’ purposes. We’ve now got a little less space than before, but our visit is safer and more is accessbile – there’s new firedoors and no fear of any ceilings or floors collapsing anytime soon. The building has been insulated, the air regulated, humidified and dehumidified to better conserve artworks. It is the art that now dominates, not the building itself. Most of the windows (one of the building’s best attributes) are now covered over to better protect the work, and arguably improve the visitor’s viewing experience. But I do miss making the connection between the visual distraction of the Royal Hospital’s beautiful surroundings and the Dublin vistas.

 

Leaving aside these physical changes to IMMA, ‘In the Line of Beauty’ (which runs until February 2014) is an exhibition showcasing a new generation of artists at the centre of its opening programming and is very heartening. It’s a shame that the show is crowded into the relatively modest ground floor gallery rooms. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of the confidence IMMA has in these artists. I wonder if some of them get the metaphorical and literal nod to come upstairs anytime soon. It’s not a bad space per say, just better suited to a single artist’s work – Olafur Eliasson’s The Curious Garden and the paintings of Callum Innes were shown here very successfully.

 

Rhona Byrne’s installation works best in the space and even echoes Eliasson’s use of colour: he deployed screens on the window to filter yellow monofrequency light and a blue tarpaulin to form a tunnel for a sensory visitor experience. Aleana Egan is an artist who has proven her ability to work successfully on a large scale – with her exhibition ‘day wears’ at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 2012, for example. But there isn’t space to show her work to best effect in these rooms.

 

There’s a contrast here with the 2002 emerging artists show ‘How Things Turn Out’, which featured nine artists. Its stated aim was to “allow each of the participating artists a substantial space in which to show a body of work or new project”. What happened to allowing space for new talent? Gerard Byrne’s participation in How things turn out was a key step in his career development; in 2011 IMMA hosted his solo show ‘Through the Eyes’, during the same year that he represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale.

 

The good news for artists and art audiences is that many other art venues have opened or have improved their exhibition spaces since IMMA was founded. The RHA, for example, has a rival exhibition, Futures, now in its fifth edition, which features seven artists exhibiting in the best spaces available.