Posted: October 31st, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: conflict, photography | Tags: Aldo Moro, Amore e Piombo, BPB14, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, the Red Brigade, Vittorio Occorsio | No Comments »
The years of lead (or anni di piombo for you Italian speakers) lasted from the late 60s to the early 80s. Thanks to festivals in Venice and the anni di amore are still in full effect.
As a result this is one of the only exhibitions where you can reasonably expect to find photos of the Hollywood A-list alongside those of victims of social unrest. Dead victims, that is.
1976 may be some time ago. But the fate of Vittorio Occorsio still provokes dismay. You can see his last photo, a body falling from a car, blood making rivulets on the asphalt.
The deceased was a magistrate, and since his day job entailed chasing up links between a black Masonic Lodge and Italian neofascists, it’s not hard to guess where to lay the blame.
Suffice to say, whatever your leanings, the press photos of the aftermath will appall you. The blood is still wet and the covert struggle between political extremes is still fresh.
Nearby are press photos of the unfortunate Aldo Moro. The Red Brigade killed five bodyguards in order to kidnap this former prime minister, head of the Italian Christian Democrats.
After 55 days imprisonment, he too was killed. But the evidence is not as graphic. The facts of his death are not as alarming as those of the brave magistrate. And this is an interesting problem.
Since the Terrorism Act of 2006, even the attempt to justify the way of the gun is a criminal act. So far be it from me to explore the strange nostalgia which Moro’s kidnapping provokes.
But Italy in the 1970s really was a land of extremes. Of the many photographed demonstrations in this show, there are various mobs agitating for divorce, the monarchy and a ban on French wine.
The situation appears volatile. There may be as many demonstrations in our day and age, but the many millions who in February 2003 marched against war in Iraq barely caused a ripple.
If we can draw a conclusion from that, we might say there is no hope and no alternative. And yet in the years of lead, you had more factions running about left and right than in a Pynchon novel.
But the presentation of terrorists alongside filmstars here in a museum library is tantalising. The path of armed resistance is not so far from the stuff of movies. Can we even get away with seeing that?
Amore e Piombo: The Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy is at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until 2 November 2014.
Posted: October 29th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: music, performance art, video installation | Tags: Abba, divorce, Johanna Billing, Ragnar Kjartansson, Rokeby Farm, The Visitors | No Comments »
Hard not to like an artist who is unafraid to quote his dad in an interview (as you can see Kjartansson does in the footage above): “It’s sad and beautiful to be a human being”.
There’s also an honesty about his subject matter in The Visitors. It’s not about poverty, war or global pandemic. He’s Icelandic, after all. They are not supposed to have such things.
And lastly, he took the title for this nine-channel, 64-minute video installation from an album by Swedish popsters Abba. True, everyone likes Abba. But not everyone will admit it.
To put The Visitors in a nutshell, it’s an hour long promo video in which many musicians, in many rooms of a bohemian mansion, play a single piece of overwhelming music.
The song is minimal and repetitive and the most repeated line, “Once again I fall into my feminine ways”, is from a poem by the artist’s ex-wife Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir.
In Iceland they do at least have divorce and Kjartansson made this piece to reflect, as he says, a period of his life coming to an end. It is indeed a ‘sad and beautiful’ artwork.
A choir is gathered on the veranda and as the piece crescendoes one resident sets off an ornamental cannon. It’s the 1812 Overture rewritten for some protracted marital strife.
The cast of The Visitors are friends of the artist, whose background is in the Reykjavík music scene. So it’s a heartwarming collaboration at odds with the desolate subject matter.
Music can hotwire the emotions, so you have to be wary with a piece like this. But tingling hairs on the back of the neck aside, this emotionally awkward installation gives you something portable.
In the exemplary way these musicians pull together The Visitors offers a slice of fragile utopia. It explores similar territory to a film by Johanna Billing, another Scandinavian music fan.
Her piece, You don’t love me yet (2003), borrows the look and feel of a charity record to present the performance of an overlooked Roky Erickson song by a Stockholm-based supergroup.
It’s worth a look. Both works demonstrate that optimism and pessimism are often hard to tease apart, and that this state of ambivalence might be something eternal in the human condition.
The Visitors can be seen at Ffotogallery in Penarth, Cardiff, until 22 February 2015, as part of artes mundi 6. It is also in Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao until 2 November 2014.
Those interested in this piece might also enjoy this review from Art in America, written in April last year.
Posted: October 28th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, installation | Tags: anti-semitism, donkeys, revolution, Sanja Iveković, stuffed toys, The Disobedient, WWII | No Comments »
The fifty donkeys were cute and the labels were amusing. But it was the third element in this piece which packed a real punch. A photo of a real donkey behind barbed wire in a town square.
It was a scene was staged by Nazi authorities in 1933 as a warning not to be stubborn and buy from Jewish shopkeepers. Or you too might end up in a concentration camp.
This shot was printed in a German newspaper in 1933, but for the purposes of this show it’s been blown up and displayed as forensic evidence on a lightbox.
Suddenly the donkey becomes the most noble of beasts. And the talent of these stuffed revolutionaries, the best examples of humanity, from Benjamin to Biko, becomes intransigence.
In the catalogue to artes mundi 6, essayist Natasa Ilic reveals that Bertold Brecht worked with a small wooden donkey on his desk to remind him of a critical section of his audience.
Hardworking donkeys are the salt of the earth. Which may be why, in the US political system, donkeys are democratic. It takes a tough hide, rather than a sharp mind, to make revolution.
The burden of so many of these cuddly toys, or the figures whose name they share, is to have had endured persecution, torture and in many cases execution.
As Manca Bajec points out on culture magazine B-turn, to see this piece is to realise that donkeys are unlikely heroes. Move aside Winnie, Eeyore’s in town.
Once again Ilic highlights something interesting. At least one philosopher has linked the spirit of revolution in the early 21st century to depression, withdrawal and exhaustion.
In the absence of any horizon of positive change, we must all learn from the donkey how to endure. Our only comfort, in the austerity age, might be a soft toy and a memory.
Just by way of an interesting aside: the German authorities may have overlooked the story of Balaam and the ass when they staged their 1930s photo op.
Balaam was of course a prophet on his way to curse the Israelites when the Angel of the Lord came down to turn him back and indeed destroy him.
His equine steed, a donkey as you will know, was granted sight of the Angel. And cut a long story short, Balaam ended up blessing the Jewish homeland. Spooky or what?
Iveković is one of nine shortlisted artists in artes mundi 6. The exhibition runs in various venues in Cardiff until 22 February 2015.
Posted: October 27th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: installation art | Tags: Ciudad Muralla, dystopian visions, Jorge Luis Borges, Miquel Navarro, Wall City | No Comments »
It is a quirk of perception that we read this as a city. On the face of it, most of Navarro’s work is comprised of regimented obelisks.
So it’s not like any city you or I might live in. There’s no chaos, no movement and no colour. The columns are as grave as tombstones in a city of the dead.
Yet in its rational structure and the zones we can read as neighbourhoods, we recognise this as a place which the human race might yet spirit into existence.
If architects have, from the renaissance onwards, conceived of buildings in relation to the human form, Navarro throws all that out of a 100th floor window.
There is nothing humanist about this anthill. It is as heavily planned as a city conceived by some ancient people (or perhaps a child). And yet the high rise technology is 21st century.
Something ominous haunts the viewer. In this respect it is like one of de Chirico’s urban dreams. (Navarro has paid tribute to the surreal classicist.)
But no matter how sinister, this vast settlement has pull. The lighting is promising and the canyons of aluminium and zinc impress with their mystery.
There is even a bullring. And with so little else of discernible function, tauromachia assumes a huge importance in the life of this civilization to come.
One imagines it at the heart of an arcane religion. Or as a social device like the lottery in The Lottery in Babylon by Jorge Luis Borges who for some reason comes to mind.
All we know for sure is that this dystopia, which took five years to build, is a piece of timeless bad news. Navarro tells us, in great detail, the worst is still out there, somewhere.
Wall City can be seen in Art of Our Time: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collections, now showing at the Guggenheim Bilbao until 3 May 2015.
Posted: October 26th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: conceptual art, contemporary installation | Tags: Danh Vo, Das Beste oder Nichts, Guggenheim, Janis Joplin, Mercedes | 1 Comment »
Where you might expect to find a detail such as ‘oil on canvas’, or ‘cast bronze’, or even ‘car engine’, Vo gives us the full scoop on his indecorous found object. A wall plaque opens the bonnet.
Indeed. This contemporary sculpture is comprised of “The engine of the artist’s father Phung Vo’s Mercedes Benz.” Provenance is all: from family car to museum collection.
And in the year this piece was made, Mercedes began using the German title as their advertising slogan. So there are two found objects working together like piston and cylinder in this work.
This is a family who fled their home and, after a dramatic rescue at sea, they settled in Denmark. A keen business sense spurred the artist’s father on to buy ‘the best or nothing at all’.
In a pristine gallery, this piece is monstrous. And there is something oedipal about its evisceration of his father’s achievements. Does Vo junior refer to das Beste with pride or with irony?
Dad made it as a businessman; this is his portrait. He must have once have dreamed about owning this car; he might not have dreamed about the extra mileage it would give his son.
In a white cube such as this, Phung Vo’s car becomes a bride stripped bare, a commodity divested of fetishism, a map of desire, and a deconstruction of a luxury brand. All thanks to the label.
This piece can be seen until 3 May 2015 in The Art of Our Time: Masterpieces of the Guggenheim Collection at the Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao.
Posted: October 24th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: 20th century, sculpture | Tags: abstract sculpture, Eduardo Chillida, Expressionism, form, Franz Marc, Guggenheim Bilbao, the Sword of Damocles, the Third Reich | No Comments »
It hangs like a chandelier designed to throw shade. You cannot walk beneath it without speculating on your own death. And it’s made of iron, technology of another age.
The view’s not so great from this angle, but the form echoes a swastika. And that would be a treacherous swastika with a half yard long stake attached. It threatens like the Sword of Damocles.
This too hung by a thread. In legend, it was a single hair from a horse’s tail. But Chillida has used a near invisible length of what looks like fishing line. It sure hooks you.
And since the Iron Cross was a teutonic symbol and a military decoration during the Third Reich, Chillida might be reflecting on the inherent danger of usurping power.
At the time of making the Basque sculptor was living in his native region and Spain was a dictatorship. There would have been many who would have liked to cut that slender wire.
Or course, this might as usual be reading too much into a formal exercise. From Within is a piece that can also be enjoyed as a spatial conundrum and a source of abstract tension.
But formalism is political too and the title of this piece makes me think of a German painter like Franz Marc, on show nearby. He too is said to have found inspriation ‘within’.
Marc wrote: “The great shapers do not search for their form in the fogs of the past. They plumb for the innermost true centre of gravity of their own times.”
And Chillida has surely created a complex form which not only defies gravity but, in its emptiness and angularity, draws the eye away from the earth. It does so even as we flinch from its latent threat.
From Within can be found in a gallery devoted to Chillida as part of the current show: The Art of Our Time: Masterpieces of the Guggenheim Collection at the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.
The third floor of the exhibition, featuring both Chillida and Marc, runs until 23 January 2015. The quote comes from one of the expressionist painter’s 1914-15 Aphorisms (#32).
Posted: October 19th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: public art | Tags: Carlos Cruz-Diez, Dazzle Ship, Kinetic art, Liverpool Biennial, Op art | No Comments »
In the event of a submarine attack, the safest place to be in Liverpool right now is on board the Dazzle Ship by Carlos Cruz-Diez. It presents a ‘moving’ target even when moored up.
Clashing colours and disruptive patterns were hit upon during World War One as a way of confusing German U-Boats who, after all, were visually handicapped by periscopes.
Dazzle paint was the invention of Norman Wilkinson who could therefore add the job title camoufleur to his CV along with marine painter, poster artist and illustrator.
The Navy bought into his theories in a big way and this dock in Liverpool, called Canning Graving, was during 1917-18 busy with Dazzle designs and painting crews.
Another artist employed with this war effort was Edward Wadsworth, a Vorticist, who was to make a number of Dazzle woodcuts and stick with maritime themes.
Venezuelan artist Cruz-Diez has found a new use for Dazzle camo: the appointment of a literal flagship for the Liverpool Biennial. It will delight as much as it will confuse.
But the full name of the piece is another obsfucation: Dazzle Ship: Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship.
Incidentally, the Edmund Gardner is a pilot ship built in 1953. Its peacetime role has been to provide a base for those who safely guide ships in and out of Liverpool.
But did I say ‘peacetime’? That’s an easy mistake to make. After all, dazzle is everywhere these days. It is the human cost of ongoing conflict we now strive to camouflage.
Cruz-Diez may be making a formal statement with his Induction Chromatique. But Dazzle Ship harks back to the moment abstraction and pure form got pressed into service by the real world.
Dazzle Ship can be seen at the Liverpool Biennial, until 26 October, and beyond until the end of 2015.
Posted: October 15th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: 21st century, social practice, video | Tags: anarchy, Athens, Just Let Go, participatory art, Simon Senn | No Comments »
Athens: cradle of Western civilisation, and in more recent times the canary in Europe’s coal mine. On the face of it, the perfect setting for Simon Senn’s dionysian artwork.
Just Let Go is (so far) a single video loop in which three angry locals rampage the length and breadth of a concrete wall, starting fires and throwing black paint.
They are rendered anonymous by balaclavas and a motorcycle helmet, and go about their anarchic business with what appears to be quite some joie de vivre.
Well, the good news is that you can join them. What might have remained a diverting 53 second film is in fact an ongoing project allowing for frustrated folk worldwide to let off steam.
The low budget film comes with a low budget A5 flier: “Do you need to let it go?” it asks. “How do you personally deal with this climate of instability and austerity?”
It looks like the kind of thing you might stumble across in a local daycare centre. State-funded, you would think, if you came across it anywhere outside a gallery.
Indeed, Just Let Go, is registered as a non profit organisation. But in Switzerland, rather than here. This only adds to the play of shadows in a truly subversive work.
Each of the resulting films, and one hopes there will be some more, is more than an act of therapy. It is a warning shot to governments everywhere, all the more potent for its obscurity.
If Warhol said art is what you can get away with. This is art which lets non-art people get away with the unthinkable: riot, destruction, nihilistic frenzy and revolution.
It is at once the most artful and the least artistic thing in Bloomberg New Contemporaries, this year. Don’t wonder how it will all end. One doubts even Senn knows that.
So, as the flier says, to arrange a session please email: email@example.com
Bloomberg New Contemporaries can be seen in the World Museum, Liverpool until 26 October 2014. It will be seen again, in a varied form, at the ICA, London, between 26 November to 25 January 2015.
Posted: October 13th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: 20th century, television | Tags: art on TV, Jef Cornelis, Liverpool Biennial, VRT | No Comments »
Martial Raysse talks to camera
Don’t get me wrong. BBC4 presenters do their jobs well. As they pace their way through churches and galleries. As they strike up instant rapports with curators. You’ve got to love ‘em.
But there’s little doubt that things ain’t what they used to be. If you look at an Alastair Sooke, next to a Kenneth Clark or a Robert Hughes, there’s an unmistakeable sense of devolution.
One of the strongest exhibitions in the Liverpool Biennial also harks back to the golden age of art on TV. But it takes us to Europe, where Belgian Jef Cornelis was filming in black and white with VRT.
Cornelis might well be shocked by the degeneracy of British presenters, past and present, as they find themselves in shot after shot, as they drag us along in their adventurous wake.
By contrast his films are modest, self-aware, and gifted with a feel for his subject. His film on Richard Hamilton, say, could give you back the works themselves with fresh eyes.
Cornelis achieves this with the startled zoom, the telling crop, the dramatic pan. If you thought you knew ‘just what made today’s homes so different’ [paraphrase] in 1956, maybe think again.
There is no formula. Cornelis is no slave to the broadcasting guidelines which appear to homogenize presenters on serious BBC shows, as they shout and whisper on cue.
Cornelis did his own direction, his own production, and his own scripts. His films commune with each subject and run for as long or as short as they need to. Many here run for just five minutes.
But that’s enough to give us the livewire charm of Martial Raysse, the mystery and mischief of Marcel Broodthaers, and the spaced out intellect of Andy Warhol.
Those were among the few films time permitted this blogger to sit through. But one could gladly watch Cornelis all day long. This is art TV to send you back to the gallery rather than the sofa.
A library of Jef Cornelis films (many newly translated into English) can be found at St Andrew’s Gardens, Liverpool, until 26 October 2014. See LIverpool Biennial for more details.
Alternatively you can find a filmography and press archive for the presenter at jefcornelis.be, or watch a recent interview with him on Vimeo.
Posted: October 11th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, film art, war art | Tags: Dinh Q Lê, JG Ballard, The Farmers and the Helicopters, Vietnam | No Comments »
War is a game for boys of all ages. So if that’s your violent gender you might especially enjoy this montage of vintage film in which helicopter gunships rain deafening misery on the Vietnamese.
Dinh Q Lê’s film begins gently with innocuous footage of dragonflies and some peasant wisdom about determining the weather from their flight patterns. So far, so bucolic.
But then come the invasion force, in footage we have seen all too often, along with the reports from the ground, from the Vietnamese from whom we have heard all too rarely.
As said by one of the farmers in the film, young at the time, you could watch these helicopters for hours. To some degree he found their ominous presence a pleasant spectacle. Strange indeed.
Or is it? JG Ballard can be relied upon to explain a paradox like this. His landmark book The Atrocity Exhibition, which first appeared toward the end of the Vietnam war, is full of helicopters
“The Vietnam war,” he writes, “has offered a focus for a wide range of polymorphic sexual impulses”. In other words, the first televised war arrived in our living rooms bearing an erotic charge.
It was, he adds, “also a means by which the United States has re-established a positive psychosexual relationship with the rest of the world.” That has a ring of mad truth, doesn’t it?
Certainly anything that defies gravity carries, if a male partner is involved, some sexual promise. And asymmetric warfare can in this way be seen as a sado-masochistic hook up between whole nations.
Sadly, at its climax, this film offers a terrible thrill as, midway through, we undergo a fusillade of bombs, rockets and bullets on all three channels. It’s a troubling, visceral pleasure.
You would think that Vietnam had seen enough of these mechanical dragonflies to last a lifetime. But in a coda to this film, we discover that the rural helicopter fan is now an amateur engineer.
His grown up passion is for building the very vehicles which waged war on his people is something an analyst could probably explain. They pale, of course, compared with industrial US models.
And we never see them fly. They may as well be sculpture. The may as well be pieces of kinetic art about making or keeping peace, no matter how anti-climatic that grown-up impulse might be.
This film can be found in The Sensory War 1914-2014 at Manchester Art Galery until 22 Februrary 2015. The Ballard quote can be found in Chapter 11: Love and Napalm: Export USA.