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.
Posted: October 8th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | Tags: Breathing Books, Deconstruction, The John Rylands Library, Wang Yuyang | No Comments »
“I like the traditional Chinese philosophy,” says Wang Yuyang, “Because it talks about the relationship between 1 and 0, on and off, black and white, something and nothing…”
You have to imagine that the thirtysomething artist would also like the branch of post-structuralist theory known, confusingly, as deconstruction.
If deconstruction itself has been sparked into life by any one opposition, that might well have to be the porous distinction between speech and writing. The former present, the latter absent.
Wang Yuyang shakes up this distinction by animating the a selection of Chinese books from the neo-gothic university-linked library in Manchester, John Rylands.
The books have been flawlessly recreated in silicon rubber and thank to a regular pulse of air, they now appear to whisper or breath. They are more ‘here’ than ever.
But as anyone who has ever loved a book can testifty, your personal copy can take on a charge after you’ve worked your way through it page by static page. It lives for you.
As such, Wang Yuyang has revealed a truth about the written word. And in another move you might call deconstructive, he has privileged East over West in his choice of volumes.
Theoretical babble aside, only the most casual passerby will not be stopped in their tracks by this installation. See how ghostly those old books are. Even the chairs breathe.
They might remind you that the entire building is a memorial, built for Mr Rylands after his passing by wife Enriqueta. The historical context here is a 19th century death.
Not that we should dwell on that. Rather more pertinent are the loving couples’ respective fortunes. His came from the cotton mills, hers from the sugar plantations.
One could argue that books, certainly written ideas, hastened the end of those particular positions. Down the road in Chetham’s Library Karl Marx would meet with Friedrich Engels.
So it only appears to be a supernatural manifestation or the effect of a cool hallucinogen. Those books you’ve read and believed every word: they’ll still be breathing long after you stop.
Breathing Books can be seen at The John Rylands Library as part of Harmonious Society, the UK’s largest ever exhibition of contemporary Chinese art.
Show runs for the duration of Asia Triennial Manchester which is on until 23 November 2014.
Posted: October 7th, 2014 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, watercolour | Tags: A Needle Walks into a Haystack, Liverpool Biennial, Peter Wächter | No Comments »
The perversity on display here is not the a tergo position adopted by the blonde mistress or the rake so drunk he has fallen out of the large double bed.
No the perversity is that Wächtler uses a medium as gentle as watercolour to incriminate the bad behaviour of this fornicating sot and his willing accomplice.
Not that getting drunk and having sex is always reprehensible, it’s not. Not unless you do so in the presence of a subordinate, in this case a servant, with no choice but to watch.
These days, in the wake of the Starr Report, it’s hard not to watch. Only just the other week, we had to hear about one of our social betters in the political class, caught up in a sexting scandal.
And while his employer may be half naked and sprawled across the floor, the butler comes out of it little better. To say he’s overdressed for the occasion is putting it mildly.
But his poise, which says, Sir, You Called?, manifests an English class trope in which servile dignity might just give you the upper hand in such situations: an X-rated Jeeves and Wooster.
All the moral authority in this painting is on the butler’s side. The Lord has none of it, and neither does the German artist, who appears to laugh at all concerned.
In fact, he may be more concerned with that sinuous line which snakes down the picture from the raised behind of the mystery blonde through to her paramour’s flailing leg.
There is surely some overlap between the ‘one percent’ (those to blame for all the world’s ills) and those who have the wherewithal and the self-importance to employ a butler.
That could make Wächtler’s watercolours into a political statement in which the laughter cloaks despair. But just remember, that’s a room service trolley and not a barricade.
This painting, along with some equally compelling film and sculpture by the artist, can be seen in A Needle Walks into a Haystack The Old Blind School, Liverpool, until October 26 2014.
It is part of Liverpool Biennial 2014. There’s a good discussion of the event’s politics with regard to Peter Wächtler on the The Double Negative.