Sunday, 14 August 2016

Poetics of change, Museum der Moderne, Monchsberg, Salzburg (April – Oct 2016), Expo Review


Text by Mihaela Varzari

 
Thirty artists whose works belong to the collections of both Museum der Moderne and the Generali Foundation review the social changing in our recent times and its responses. Poetics of change starts from the premise that poetics respond to conceptual art’s lack of aesthetic qualities.
            A series of 22 photomontages titled Elke Krystufek reads Otto Weininger (1993), hang from the ceiling, allowing for the works to be viewed on both sides while only one work is mounted on the opposite wall. Sex with cartoon characters never seemed more fun than in this piece, where the Pink Panther touches the naked female body of a cut-out image from a porn magazine. Almost all works incorporate depictions of women from porn magazines and superimposed text extracts by not so popular with gender politics, the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger. Krystufek’s take on gender and sexuality within the Austrian context, introduces female characters, worthy of Russ Meyer’s oversexed power girls. If innocence is there to be lost and never regained, why not take control of our own female representations? 
            Austrian artist Arnulf Rainer’s Face Grimaces (1969–1970), a series of 12 black-and-white photographs of himself pulling faces, bear the stamp of the Situationists’ Aktions. Had they been made now, they could have added to different ways of avoiding face recognition on and offline within the current era ridden with surveillance. Like in Krystufek’s montages, the installation of Face Grimaces allows for one work to stand out, a photograph painted over with heavy black paint strokes. On both instances the choice of setting apart two works grant them status of singularity and insularity; or perhaps they become written announcements, posters like for the respective series.
             Portfolio of Doggedness (1968) stays within the realm of direct art and it documents VALIE EXPORT barely containing her laughter taking Peter Weibel for a walk on a leash through the streets of Vienna. Mobile office (1969) is an inflatable, transparent little tower to fit one person, a type writer, a phone and an agenda. It becomes an anticipation of our current lifestyle where administration tasks confuse leisure and work time. The Viennese architect/artist Hans Hollein’s intention was to offer a quite humorous alternative to architecture’s obsession with building houses for sale. Another temporary construction of similar size but in a see-through red tent decorated with tiny, hand knitted boots, which gives it an Oriental twist. It houses a small figurine featuring pre-historic motifs drawn on the base supporting two tiny tiger-like animals in motion. Brazilian Henna Night (2014) is only one of the four works the Turkish artist Nilbar Güreș features in the show. The Red Tent (1997) is also a novel by Anita Diamant, set in during the First Testament time. The red tent is a place occupied only by women while menstruating or giving birth, a place of comfort and mutual understanding, similarly to today’s Damascus, which is mainly inhabited by women since men enrolled in the army or became refugees. 

Inline image
Hans Hollein, Mobile office, 1969, courtesy of Museum der Moderne Salzburg
       As opposed to the American conceptual artists interested in the dematerialization of art as a critique of the market, it appears that humor allowed the Actionists to dismantle formalism in quite different ways. The more clinical and cold conceptual art the show claims to challenge is represented by the German-born, US-based artist Hans Haacke (1936) who re-enacts a much older work, which introduced statistics into the arts for perhaps the first time. The visitors are asked to fill in a questionnaire related to ethics within art and education institutions. The responses are pinned up on the wall, facing the sculpture Ice Table (1967). At first, this approx one square meter of white-ish masse sitting on a metal pedestal indicates a whole range of possible materials from marble to plastic or salt. Upon closer inspection it proves to be ice and the metal pedestal is a fridge, which keeps this oversized ice cube alive. Haacke’s sculpture is analogous to the power structure maintaining the existing institutions whereas the ice stays cool as long as the power structure is preserved.
       For better or worse, the change in Europe is in the air and circling around such redundant discussions like analysis versus beauty or thought versus desire seems increasingly alienating. In addition, humor surfaces as an unintended thread, which pushes the Austrian artists associated with Actionists into a different direction, freeing it from the so-called rational aesthetics, announced by the curatorial team.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Cădere, meșteșugul și conceptualismul, revista ARTA (Bucuresti), nr 20-21, iunie 2016



Text de Mihaela Varzari



Orice discuție despre arta conceptuală din România se izbește de “înainte” și “după” ‘89 sau de ce nu, de continuarea stării de criză începută cu mult înainte  și devenită permanentă. Schimbarea de la economia de stat la piața liberă marchează și trecerea de la artă conceptuală făcută în apartament, la cea expusă în galerii, ce semnalează în același timp și timida proliferare a unei piețe artistice. A mai însemnat și accentuarea unui proces, numit de Dan Perjovschi, auto-amnezie sau auto-colonizare, ce a culminat pe plan istoric cu aderarea României la Comunitatea Europeană ca stat membru cu drepturi depline, într-o manieră în care negocierile au fost inexistente iar compromisul nu a fost asumat de către noul stat membru.
   Andrei Cădere s-a aflat într-o situație asemănătoare, cea de rudă îndepărtată și sîcîitoare dar cu aspirații uriașe de a aparține lumii artistice contemporane de atunci, cînd a părăsit România în ‘72 și s-a stabilit la Paris. Seria bare rotunde de lemn, realizate de Cădere între sosirea lui și ’78, anul morții sale, sînt bazate pe un algoritm matematic ce include o eroare și care determină ordonarea segmentelor colorate. Această eroare nu a fost niciodată mistificată de Cădere, care a susținut tot timpul că indică poziția lui anarhică, de rebel ce luptă din interiorul sistemului. Interesat, la fel ca și Daniel Buren, în deconstruirea picturii, barele rotunde de lemn au fost descrise chiar de Cădere ca “pictură fără început și fără sfîrșit.” Plimbările sau promenadele lui prin Paris cu bara rotundă de lemn pe umăr, erau considerate înca de atunci acte performative. La fel sînt și aparițiile lui ostentative sau mai bine spus intervențiile neoficiale la vernisajele galeriilor de arta din Europa vestică, unde nu era întotdeauna bine venit din moment ce obiectul lui interacționa cu lucrările deja expuse. Bara de lemn rotundă era manifestul lui cu care forma one man museum, cu care a operat timp de 6 ani la Paris dar și singura lucrare produsă pe care și-a asumat-o, și pentru care a emis certificat de autenticitate.
   Cădere a înțeles lumea artei de atunci suficient de bine pentru a decide să se “furișeze” prin ușa din față, și să exerseze gimnastica mintală specifică unui agent dublu. Cădere era marginalul generației asociată cu Hans Haacke, Michael Asher sau Marcel Broodthaers, care a înțeles că a lăsa lucrurile să vorbeasca de la sine înseamna, întotdeauna, a lăsa formațiunea hegemonială să-și spună cuvîntul. Acestă generație, se știe, a devenit extrem de importantă și a fost asociată cu prima etapă a criticii instituționale din care, istoria artei a ales să nu-l includă pe Cădere. Atitudinea lui critică s-a reflectat în munca lui nu doar în raportul cu lumea artei dar chiar cu generația din care făcea parte la acel moment, reflectată printr-o respingere imediată a esteticii practicii artei conceptuale din SUA.
   Profund conștient de diferența lui constitutivă, Cădere a decis să-și joace ultima carte și să introducă, în mod inopinat în sistemul galeriilor relevante ale vremii, arta meșteșugului, considerată de conceptualiști ca fiind pur decorativă și artizanală. Se poate spune chiar că acest gest este similar cu cel al artei practicate de artistele feministe ale vremii, care foloseau materiale sau spații domestice pentru a critica societatea patriarhală dominantă și sistemul artei opresiv care expunea puține femei. Acest detaliu de a include meșteșugul, absolut necesar fabricării barelor, devine important in discuția despre îmbrățișarea în mod necritic a valorilor occidentale de către România. 

Barre de rond bois, Andre Cadere, 1973, courtesy Modern Art Oxford

   Prin practica sa, Cădere “a forțat” lumea artei de atunci sa-i accepte alteritatea, dezvăluind astfel contradicțiile și elementele absurde chiar ale sistemului artistic
alternativ. Discuția incepută de Cădere este încă vie. Numele barei, Barres de rond bois, bare rotunde de lem nu reprezinta altceva decit calitatile fizice ale obiectului în sine, fără nici un fel de trimitere poetică, de parcă obiectivul artistului ar fi fost să reducă actul creator la cît mai puțin posibil. Acest puțin însă înseamnă transparență, re-orientarea atenției de la obiect către context, unde potențialitatea lucrării de artă este în relație directă cu poziția discursivă pe care o impune. Auto-amnezia României actuale, devine la Cădere o auto-exotizare, exploatată însă în mod asumat prin performativitatea actului ei. Folosirea meșteșugului devine un act subversiv și indică o raportare critică și personală la canonul vestic al sistemului de artă.
   În România arta conceptuală co-există cu practici artistice bazate pe cercetare artistică sau discursivitate, cE favorizează procesul și nu ideea dar care ramîn tributare dematerializării, ce a permis dezvoltarea lor. Spre deosebire de alte influențe vestice ca minimalismul sau expresionismul abstract ale caror urme s-au făcut atît de vizibile, arta conceptuală prin atenția acordată contextului social și prin critica instituțională pe care a și inițiat-o, a putut fi adoptată de zone geografice diferite în moduri ideosincratice. Referindu-se la spațiul SUA, Lucy Lippard vorbește despre un eşec al artei conceptuale, care în ciuda caracterul ei politic, de refuz al comodificării artei a fost incorporată în circuitul de piața al artei, imediat după ce a fost considerată un succes. În România de după ’89, arta conceptuală a fost primită ca singura forma artistică eliberatoare, asociată cu noul, într-o perioadă în care ideologia de stînga era prost înțeleasă în țările ex-comuniste, adică nu exista încă.
   Per total, armonizată sau nu la mișcările sociale sau feminism, arta conceptuală a supraviețuit și cred că în viitor poate exista la fel de mult ca și pictura, atîta timp cît va trece printr-un constant proces de re-evaluare. Fără a folosi cuvinte goale și bombastice ca neo-avangarda românescă, discuția despre arta conceptuală românească cred că are de-a face cu acel tertip, meșteșugul folosit de Cădere în raportarea lui la canonul vestic.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Review for expo SAFE SOUNDS II by Ziad Antar, (June 20-September 20, 2016), BAR, Beirut, Lebanon




The Colour of a Trill
Text by Mihaela Varzari
published with http://www.beirutartresidency.com
 
Can such an uplifting, timeless experience as listening to a bird trill fall outside our immediate desire to understand and quantify it? When is a bird trill just a bird trill? Never! Unless our existence is taken by surprise and it is being held under a temporary abeyance. Apart from that, the colours of our dreams are mere instances of the social forces which commingle in ways meant to haunt us forever.

 SAFE SOUNDS II by Ziad Antar progressive sound installation, 2016, copy-right Beirut Art Residency

Ziad Antar has developed his practice out of working from a given situation that he might find himself in, revealing, say, the materiality of that experience. Time is used by Antar almost like in a folk tale, which is told and retold carrying and acquiring, through the passing of time, new shapes and meanings, always on the move, never fixed. A photographic residency in Saudi Arabia becomes years later a public sculpture park in London. The original issues having morphed into something else.
Never frontal, Antar’s approach skews the difficult dichotomy between fiction and reality, driven by the desire not to simply mean. In taking further this problematic, Antar does not make recourse to conventional antagonisms, to merely anti-, but instead questions the basis of categorization itself.
The current project titled Safe Sound II involves transferring into colour the trill of the bulbul a familiar, little bird found in the Middle East, known for its sharp and punctuating trill. To fulfil this project Antar worked with the scientist Yasmina Jraisati and by using a tuner, they translated the birdsong into colours. The result was always the same: black, white and a dark combination between primary colours. Our Western world is still very precious about colours and has even specific emotions attached to them, which inadvertently consolidates categories of positive and optimistic colours versus depressing ones like black, e.g. Is black the colour of death? Only if death is placed in opposition to life, or absence contrasting with presence is seen through the lens of negative and positive.
One solution was found, a spanner in the wheel: let’s disorientate this translation of sounds into colours by applying a mathematical formula taken from the Romanian artist André Cadere, who became known in Paris in mid-1970s for his barres de bois rond. He would carry his barre de bois rond, (a colourful walking stick) with him while attending exhibition openings across the artistic capitals, west of the Iron Curtain. The barre de bois rond, which he was always eager to explain that a mathematical formula was required to generate the blocks of colours that composed it must include an error. The same formula including the inevitable mistake, has been appropriated by Antar for painting the 52 little sticks forming the birdcages for the bulbuls. By doing so it seems that he frees the colours from the burden of specific emotions and vice versa. The same question comes back again: when is colour just colour? Never.
They say don’t buy a house plant as a gift to someone since it comes with a burden, as to say, you are imposing a responsibility on the receiver. Antar’s project involves receiving such a gift as a visitor, namely a bird in a cage to take home, which can easily be domesticated in the back garden or a nearby tree. The bird will live there for as long it feels like it, in the moment that you thought you had tamed it, it might never come back. The bulbul comes with no insurance. It may play with your sense of possession and entice your expectations at regular hours of the day. 


Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Public presentation by artist Ziad Antar (b.1978, Beirut, Paris), 17 May, 2 – 5 PM, 2016


Public presentation by artist Ziad Antar (b.1978, Beirut, Paris), funded by University of Kent
followed by conversation with Mihaela Varzari (History and Philosophy of Art PhD researcher, University of Kent) and screening of feature film Johnny Got his Gun (1971), written and directed by Dalton Trumbo.

17 May, 2 – 5 PM, 2016
Studio 3 Gallery, School of Arts
Jarman Building, University of Kent
Canterbury CT2 7UG




After Imagines, 2016 by Ziad Antar, courtesy of the artist

  
Ziad Antar (b. 1978) has spent the last 10 years of his professional life as a contemporary artist between Lebanon and France. His recent solo shows include After Images. Stories from the mountains of Asir, Beirut Exhibition Center, Lebanon, 2016 and Derivable Sculptures supported by Selma Feriani Gallery and Amine Rech Gallery in collaboration with Shubbak & Westminster Council, London, UK, 2015.


Mihaela Varzari’s interest in Ziad Antar’s work relates his use of ‘secrecy’ or ‘concealment’ as a theme and as a formal device that he employs in much of his work.  Varzari's research into ‘Narcissism’ (a constituent theme of her PhD)  led her to understand Antar's work as something that paradoxically reveals itself through gestures of concealment, chiming with the ‘inside that is also an outside’ of the mobius strip, a figure that is often evoked to describe the structure of Narcissism in psychoanalysis. The discussion with Ziad will centre on questions relating to ‘secrecy’ and ‘concealment’ as a theme or strategy in his work, from his early short films, such as Tokyo Tonight, 2003, to his photographic or more recent public sculptural works.

The presentation will conclude with a narcissistic gesture on Varzari's part; the screening of the film Johnny Got His Gun, an anti war film about a Vietnam veteran suffering from shell-shock, that Varzari watched together with Ziad in Paris in 2008.

The event will continue with drinks at a TBA nearby venue.


Monday, 4 April 2016

No Title, short story by Heath Bunting


No Title 

Short story by Heath Bunting, 2009


a human being able to provide money[04429] - a human being customer of argos[09116] - a human being in possession of a computer[01119] - a human being in possession of a keyboard[12128] - a human being able to write a language[00028] - a human being in possession of a natural person able to write a language[01389] - a human being in possession of a natural person able to provide email address[01087] - a human being in possession of a natural person user of a post office credit card[03541] - a human being in possession of a natural person customer of the post office[06523] - a human being in possession of a natural person user of a card one banking debit card[00693] - a human being in possession of a natural person user of a debit card account[03305] - a human being in possession of demand deposit money[13143] - a human being in possession of money[09647] - a human being able to provide money[04429] 



***


Heath Bunting is in point A because he isn’t in point A. 
 



Text by Mihaela Varzari 


As part of his on-going research into the administrative and legal systems governing our existence, Heath Bunting writes computer generated short stories. The form is dry, schematic and the narrative employs the device of detouring, which here means that the beginning and the end overlap, whereby one starts from A to still arrive to A. As in the short story, One Million Pound Bank Note, written in 1893 by Mark Twain, where the main protagonist manages to live off a one million pound bank note for a month without having to spend any of it, Heath Bunting similarly stripes the symbolism of the legal structure bare. 100 odd years after Twain died, the same traditional system of governance still exists uninterrupted. The grey areas within the legal systems, based on self proclaiming affirmations, which at the same time allow for the system to exist, initiate here the key mythology in subject formation.




What has he got that it makes him all hot? Text by Mihaela Varzari


What has he got that it makes him all hot?



Written by Mihaela Varzari





It was the autumn of 1989, I was 11 and found myself stuck in a bedroom with some older high school kids who were watching the film 9 ½ Weeks. Just to set the record straight, before December 1989 in Romania you’d have to kill someone to watch a film outside the TV schedule, as hardly anyone had video players and films were not allowed to circulate. Years of confusing cultural signals followed - a combination of overly Romanian national pride provided through folk and the handful of Romanian intellectuals, who had active roles in the West - highlighted by shops selling made in Turkey products, where occasionally sexy films would run on a VCR player in a corner. Everything was permitted, we were free to feel sexy and encouraged to only think of the future or the past, with the period between the two world wars promoted as the pinnacle of cultural development. Full on, ongoing processes of self-colonialisation and self-imposed amnesia have started. By killing the Father we happily took on board another model which at the time was dominant in the West, namely the enigmatic male figure, the bursary speculator, the rich and busy, attractive and ruthless penetrator.



   I saw the Wild Orchid later in the 90’s and 9½ weeks again and again. The magnetism emanated by the character played by Mickey Rourke combined with his personal vulnerability, smartly cultivated in both leading roles, ensured him a status of cultural symbol for the ’89 generation, at least in Romania, even though I cannot support my hypothesis empirically, as this is my very personal observation. This is not to say that he is not part of a wider gallery of cinema icons but on this occasion I allow myself to single Mickey Rourke out as an exception and treat him accordingly. He is as fascinating on, as well as off camera. The film released later in 1989, titled Johnny Handsome, echoes aspects of Rourke’s personal autobiography. Mickey Rourke plays the role of the main protagonist, called Johnny Handsome, a disfigured burglar, who through out the film, due to plastic surgery has his appearance transformed into the well known, handsome Mickey Rourke. There is a strange analogy here, as in the mid 90’s, when he was young and very attractive, a sex symbol in his own right, he disappeared from the film industry for 15 years only to appear again as a deformed version of himself, this time because of the extensive reconstruction surgery on his face as a result of his boxing career. As in the only Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, published in 1890 where the painted portrait is getting old while Dorian Gray stays young, the same is happening to the actual Mickey Rourke, who manages to stay young in my memory because his current presence seems so alien to me. It may well be that the motif of Dorian Gray is consciously used in the film scrip for 9 1/2 Weeks, by employing the same surname, John Gray being the film protagonist. Both characters embody qualities of magnified beauty and vanity and intensified power given by the glorification of money.



   With the counter revolution of the 80’s and the rise of neoliberalism, the marketing of the personal computer, and the dismantling of systems of social protections, the assault on personal style assumed a new ferocity. Time itself became monetized, and the individual redefined as a full time economic agent. Freed from the communist dictatorship, we found ourselves enslaved once again by the economic one, more resilient and difficult to fight. It came under the attractive figure of the adrenaline driven money maker, possessor of ‘the capitalist’s smirk’, as it was famously described by Marx, who appeared relaxed, calm, ambivalent to any other order but that imposed by money. I am referring to the en-masse seduction through the rise of the loner, the soulless investor, driven by speculative instincts. It reminds me of the way Freud described narcissism, by way of comparing it to the unique cellular organism amoeba whose self-sufficient status is combined with a constant try to interact with the exterior, exemplified through extending its protrusions. The characters played by Mickey Rourke in both films act as a symptom for repression, which being previously structured patriarchically, along the lines of Oedipal Complex, it is organized today around the complex of narcissism. This shift in repression is analogous to marking of the transition from a collective based society to one shaped around individual goals of competitiveness, personal security and comfort at the expense of others.



   The inclusion of the screening of these two films is aimed at complicating the art project 1:1, which may be suffering from the illness of the concept or the thematic approach. It analyzes different ways of artistic representation during after EU integration, which determined a restructuring of global relations. Strange isn’t that the Hollywood films we, in Romania saw before and after 89, dubbed by Irina Nistor[1], represented a way of resistance. Now we loot at them under different auspices, and we came to realize the way they impacted a generation modeled according to the figure of the financial speculator, adding thus a new layer to the collective consciousness.



2008, the year of the financial crisis, should mark even more the unrevealing of such myths. We hear so much talk about the incredible profits made by banks while the existing relations of power and control remain effectively the same, structured according to a different dictatorship, this time an economical one.  






[1] Irina Nistor is a voice-over artist, who dubbed American films illegally distributed in VCR in Romania before and after 89. It could be said that her voice was the second most known after Ceausescu’s.