Sunday, December 19, 2010

Melting ears (on Cory Arcangel's two works)

The one I liked was this:

while the one that goes further is this:

Both are fragments of works by Cory Arcangel.
The difference between them is significant. The first one is a joke - it is a repetition, a trick played on the idea of reproduction or universality.
The other one too. But the other one moves towards something else. It provides us with the doubt as to what it should be like. I don't know Schoenberg's op. 11, 3. I might have heard it, but I'm not sure how it sounds. Yet it certainly doesn't sound like these cats. Or does it? What is it about Schoenberg that makes him sound like Schoenberg? And why do we need him to sound like Schoenberg? (Why do we call artists people who interpret in the most faithful way? And no, this is not a rhetorical question. What is it about repetition that still makes it move us aesthetically? And no, any form of the answer "the difference within the repetition" will not satisfy me as long as I keep putting the same piece on my mp3 player and enjoy it beause it is the same, and still appreciate its freshness, not its "difference".) The thing, here, is not just about the cats, it isn't the old elephant-making-oil-paintings trick. It is rather about other possibilities of listening, of paying attention, of defining what you hear. Can we hear the Schoenberg in the original cat videos? Can we hear Bach in the original music versions? The Bach composition, in that sense, says too much - it states a clear correspondence between the original YouTube videos and Bach's work. The second says less: it says "it is out there, but it's hard to say where exactly, and why exactly we would stop there". (And does it while being damn funny). And that's when our ears melt and reconsolidate, they become other ears, and other, and other. We are forced to listen to what might be there, and not what we think is there.
So why do I like the first video more? Maybe because I still enjoy what is there a lot.
Or because I'm not a fan of Schoeberg.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What you like is to look

What you like is to look.
You like to suck it up in your gaze, you like to smear your innocent mind with the flesh of sight.
What you like is to become dependent. To let go of the constructions and make them make you.
This is the universe of the aesthetic. It is where you can always find a haven. Where you can let go of your constrained negotiations with what surrounds you, and be indulged, and be spoiled, and be challenged just safely enough to get back home.
What you like is when necessity becomes an ice-cream cone. Be it vanilla-flavored or razor-edged.
What you like is the place which is a place but requires no consequences. Of you.
Where the fish sing gentle songs and have human heads and human breasts, so you can see this is not real, and you can join the part of it that is real enough to be like you.
And you can be like you. Only less conspicuous. Or less conspicuously limited to what you believe you are.
What you like is to look, to admire, to appreciate, what you like is to jump in, when you were keeping yourself outside for some absurd reason. What you like is to overcome the feeling of absurdity through the feeling of empathy. You like to believe the thing there brings you closer to the thing here. And when you're back - well, when you are back, you leave.

(The video features work by Harrisson and Wood)

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Five sentences concerning ghosts

Both pictures by Ujin Lee, from the Dust series.

There is never enough time or effort or vision to make sure things are fixed.

We must suppose they are (or were) somewhere here, in the vicinity of the place we are (or were) standing, in the present continuous, within the limits of what we are ready to appreciate.

I can hardly imagine a memory that has no stills.

The trick is in admiring the thing the trick tricks you into believing, while knowing the trick.

Ghosts : the need for accompanied presence.


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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alevtina Kakhidze - Revolutionary Obedience

"Art must concern itself with the real, but it throws any notion of the real into question. It always turns the real into a facade, a representation, and a construction. But it also raises questions about the motives of that construction." - Mike Kelley

Here is how it went:
Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze has been working on value and power for a while. In one of her charming projects (The Most Commercial Project), for instance, she drew objects that she liked, most of them she couldn't afford, and gave the drawings the same value that the objects had. So, a drawing of a Louis Vuitton handbag had the same value as the object itself. And when she brought her goods into her marriage, the lawyers confirmed that her estate was worth much more than her entrepreneur husband's.
In one of her projects, back in 2008, Alevtina drew the earth seen from the sky. No, this needs more precision: the earth seen from an airplane which is not her own private airplane.
Once she made the drawing, Alevtina Kakhidze wrote to some of the richest people in Ukraine - Rinat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk (who has his own adventure in the art world now) - and asked them to make a drawing for her of how the earth looks from a private plane. It was a nice portfolio she sent them, very professional and smooth. She tried encouraging them, telling them it wasn't about drawing well. If anyone can draw, so can you!
This (and the obvious silence afterwards) made for a nice work. A clean statement about what we see and the position we see it from.

But two years later, unexpectedly, an answer arrives. Akhmetov decided to make his huge foundation to support artists' projects. And Alevtina's project was thought perfect for a beginning. Unfortunately, Mr. Achmetov is too busy/shy/untalented to make a drawing, but he will be happy to rent a private plane for Ms. Kakhidze, so she can make her project herself.
And make it she did.
The project, called "I'm Late For A Plane That Cannot Be Missed", started with Alevtina going by collective transport from her house in the suburbs to the airport. She hitch-hiked a little, took a suburban mini-bus, a suburban train, and (as expected) arrived late at the small private airport near Kiev. There was already a TV crew traveling with her by then, asking everyone on the way who they were and if they knew Alevtina. At the airport, there were several more crews, and over a dozen news photographers. After all, this was an important day for art and culture in Ukraine: the richest man around decided to support real artists, and started by allowing this innocent-looking girl to realize her dream.

And off she went. Onboard, she took only a few reporters. (There was even a struggle for the seat.)

The anxious journalists were mad when, upon returning, Alevtina declared only one thing: she will tell the whole story and answer all the questions tomorrow during her lecture performance. That made no news story at all! Disappointed and frustrated, they could do nothing but wait.

However, the next day arrived quite quickly. And here they were, the journalists, and tens of artists gathered at the conference in one of the most prestigious places in Ukraine (a part of the Saint Sophia Cathedral complex). Waiting mainly to learn how to get money for their projects. And, also, to hear what Alevtina has to say. And to see the drawings.
Alevtina starts describing how she prepared for the trip, how she got clothes specially designed for the occasion, she talks about the cost of the plane rental (10 000 euros). And then she declares:
I felt so calm on the way to the airport and in the sky but now I have to account for this tranquility. What have we done on the plane? We were there. There is no result. I have nothing to show for what actually happened there.
The journalists were confused. This is surely a scandal? No drawing!
But also - no demolition! No shocking performance! No reaction! Nothing! Alevtina did strictly nothing - she did not change the game, she did not make the plane fly somewhere else, she did not paint it red, she made no drawing. She took the flight.
Did I say she didn't change the game?
Of course she did.
Her non-action was performative. It created a new reality. It brought about a challenge to the system, keeping up the power struggle between the art and the money. Who is the boss here? And why?
Certainly, they want us to do what we want. But if we do what we want our way, we are the ones defining what they want. And for a fraction, it becomes our game. And this fraction, for me, is the work.

In one of her works, Alevtina writes (or quotes, the origin is unsure): “And do you remember, I found 10 roubles, and ran home to show mom. Not the 10 roubles, but how lucky I am.”
It is not the thing we find. It is about how lucky we are.
And how we subvert this luck.

PS. The struggle continues: in the description of the event on the Foundation's site, the actual request for Akhmetov to draw the earth is not mentioned, making it all seem slightly more like making "Dreams come true in art". What dreams, exactly?

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Take a break

Remember Zimoun?

Zimoun : 186 prepared dc-motors, cardboard boxes 60x60x60cm, 2010. from ZIMOUN VIDEO ARCHIVE on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010


At the BWA City Gallery in Bydgoszcz (which has the most poignant introduction of any art gallery I've seen so far: "WHAT"), the Polygonum exhibition which opens on October 14th to showcase the Polish region's visual talents has some tasty discoveries.

"Movemental" by Tomasz Dobiszewski does look a little like a furniture catalogue. And yet there is something wrong with this catalogue. It does not clarify, it does not simplify, but multiplies, undoes the tight order of things. It lets the picture breathe, opens it up, as if it was obvious: the reverse is necessary, the negative, the outline - everything our gaze seems to take for granted. Dobiszewski adds nothing, he just cuts out and moves,allowing the rhythms to become juicier through the absurd joy of things fitting like in a reverse puzzle. Do things become undone, this way, or are they put more clearly into their necessity? After all, this is the space for the space this is.

Another tasty moment requires distance.
Evidently, it's not about the painting. But the painting seems an important introduction (and the floor, and the floor). This creature, to the right (unfortunately I didn't write down the name or author), stands as its own double. It should not be approached (really, definitely, in cases like this I understand why beauty needs distance). As any mirage, it is only what it seems, a reflection, a game of angles, a line and a line and a line. It rings a bell, and another, and I wonder, is there a way of keeping it there, of not getting closer, of remaining within the illusion that there is something beyond, just a little more plenty.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blocked Keys

The etude by Gyorgy Ligeti I would like you to pay attention to is the second one. It starts at 2'15".
Here is what a competent source has to say about the work:

The third etude, "Touches bloquees" ("Blocked Keys"), uses the same technique that first appeared in "Selbstportrait," the second of the Three Pieces for Two Pianos. Certain keys are held down silently with one hand while the other hand plays a very fast chromatic line on and around the blocked keys, which of course do not sound. The result is a complicated rhythmic pattern that gives the music a somewhat mechanical quality. At first the silent gaps are all the duration of a single eighth, but eventually the gaps are two eighths, then three, and continue to increase in length until the texture becomes increasingly sparse. Again, this etude is about the creation of illusion; we see a continuous pattern of eighth notes on the page, but what results in performance are quirky rhythmic patterns that are not discernible to the eye and would be all but impossible to notate in a more traditional fashion to achieve the desired effect.
Actually, it wasn't so much about the listening for me. What put me in a state of awe was the seeing. It is the clear struggle between the hands, the tension between the immobile one and the one that runs crazily above it or under it. Also, the tension of the one that is supposed to stay immobile, simply blocking some keys, but cannot resist the opportunity and spurts out sounds now and again, as if to underline it has total power. And then they switch. And we hear it, we hear this body negiation, we hear it once we see it, once we understand the game, it becomes obvious.
The music becomes obvious. Because it's about music, right?
And the soldier-fingers, constantly attempting to design the space through movement. A movement whose purpose is not something else - like a sound - is a dance. If you ever needed proof, here is one.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cattelan's Finger

Yet again, Maurizio Cattelan achieved his admitted goal: he is on the covers of magazines.
The finger, called L.O.V.E.*, has been erected in front of the Milan stock exchange for the duration of the Fashion Week happening in the city.
Everyone is happy: Cattelan gets his attention, the public is proud of such a daring representative, the city gets its Fashion Week (kind of) publicized, and the brokers... well, the brokers have a good laugh and continue their business as usual.
That is not to say the work is not good. It is poignant. The finger that is sticking is the only one remaining on the hand. The others seem to have been severed. So is this hand telling the bankers to go fuck themselves, or is that the only thing it can say? Or maybe it's that when you have next to nothing, the middle finger is the one to resist longest.
Oh, but of course, it's made of marble and put on a pedestal.

But that, really, is not the work at work here. The work is to have been able to put it in front of the Stock Exchange. To have shown them the finger and have them accept it. This is what makes a real contemporary trickster - not the sculpture, but the context.
"We want to be confirmed as the capital of contemporary art", the city's administrators officially stated, "and we have to not only mediate but also accept what we do not like".
Which is a hilarious comment, and only confirms Cattelan's intelligence. One wonders how he did it. Maybe what he said was, let's cut the crap, it is a criticism, but it will attract more tourists than you can ever imagine, and will not hurt you in any way whatsoever, because no one is going to take their money out of the stocks after seeing my work. On the contrary, the tourists will leave their money in Milan.
But the controversy remains. “It is unacceptable that the City sticks its finger up to the Stock Exchange" – said the councillor for Town Planning Carlo Masseroli in a fervent discussion.
Masseroli says: "the administration cannot be culturally subordinate to a self-styled artist like Cattelan who wants to use Milan to earn money”.
Oh, that's right, Cattelan made money off this! I wonder who payed him.
So the question is, who is Cattelan showing the finger to?
I'm not sure, but the pictures suggest that the finger is in front of the stock exchange. And is not pointing towards it, but from it.

Which could end this text. But will not. Because even if Cattelan laughs in our face, even if he plays a trick on all of us, he still plays out the crucial role of catalyzer - he materializes the tensions that are already there. He makes us go "Hey! Wait a minute!" He sticks the finger where it hurts.

*The title was originally supposed to be "Omnia munda mundis" ("To the pure ones everything is pure").

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old-Time Avantgarde

Oh, and on a different note, here's a little bit of pre-mash-up mashing up, for your listening amusement, the one and only John Oswald:

It is a fascinating feeling, to realize that today's contemporary is tomorrow's retro, that no matter what, everything we wear, listen to, appreciate or create today will be looked at in just a few years with a paternizing, if not condescendent, smile. Timeless art? Pl-lease. The very feeling of them not being timeless, of being dated, is part of the pleasure of appreciating them. Age can work for the work, but it is still at work.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How I Got Tino Sehgal


The exhibition "Sexuality and Transcendence" at the Pinchuk Art Center in Kiev, Ukraine (open until 19.09) fulfills its task better than it could hope for. If you expect an overwhelming, total experience, you got it all wrong. The space was not designed for anything overwhelming – the narrow staircase leads to narrow rooms, everything is fit-to-measure, and in consequence too small for the abstract pseudo-objectivity we are used to in most contemporary museum spaces. It could be a great space to move towards the intimate, and the topic seems to welcome such an interpretation.

This is not the case either. This version of transcendence seems to have little to do with what grows out of the self, or moves beyond it. It sometimes appears like it's all about impressing the hell out of us, poor mortals, and this state of awe at first reading seems to be the contemporary proposition of transcendence.

But there is more.

Yes, it is but a collection of the creme de la creme of contemporary art. Yes, it focuses more on showing off the stars and thus confirming the power of the producer. Its sexuality, beyond a few exceptions, lies more in the power fetish of the curator than in the actual exploration of the field. Sexuality is not sexual - here it is first and foremost an artistic product.
Transcendence, here, is a plastic material that shines and can be molded into big lumps of money. It is mainly about transcending sex – by overtaking it with colorful, shapely, huge art gadgets. So we get our yearly fix of Takashi Murakami, Jeff Koons, Richard Price, a touch of Cattelan and Sarah Lucas. All this is a clear power-play. Apparently, sexuality is in most cases a clear excuse for power plays.

Is this the new transcendence? Having spent the day walking around Kiev, I get a slightly different impression. What if this was not an exhibition trying to interpret concepts in a universalist way? What if it was about how the people here see transcendence? The people who function in the art world? The rich? The ones with access to culture? Then it all makes sense: sexuality moves into fetish, and the fetish is the icon, the huge, shiny penis of power that transcends everything else. Looking at the over-sized cars and houses and planes of the Ukrainian nouveaux-riches, it seems like an obvious reading. If we can trust no-one and nothing, if all the gods betrayed us, we are left alone. And soon, our intimacy, our body, begins growing new forms of transcending itself/us, it moves from the swirls of sperm into the swirls of objecthood and plastic imagery, it objectifies itself so that it can be more than it is, so we actually move towards the metaphysics, the moving beyond, be it at the cost of losing all the rest – but isn’t this the price of any transcedence? When moving up, aren’t we left without the feet, without the stomach, without the tongue, with a spirit that needs us no more, no more subject, no more, a bare experience of the other, the perfect object, the one we become?

If this is so, it is a confirmation of how sad the exhibition appeared to me. Photos were not allowed, and that is just as well, it all seemed haunted rather than transcendent, and the guards checking you at every corner made sure you understood that clearly. (Those were not your average staff, but looked like actual bodyguards. Try and fly with such company at your side).


The summum of the visit, the moment I was waiting for, was at first the most painful disappointment. Here comes Tino Sehgal! Here he is! Right here! His very own work, live, behind this wall, right here, yes. At your feet, the couple moving in an embrace, harmoniously, those are some well-behaved bodies, they know how to move, and where to be, they glance at me for a second, and then move into the embrace, I am here, the spectator is here, so it is time to work, and so they work, kissing and moving slowly and passionately, and I wonder why I’m witnessing this, not that they’re doing it wrong, but he is doing it wrong, Tino, and the curator, and owner, and whoever thought of putting this here is doing it wrong, very wrong, remember when Tino Sehgal’s work was transparent? When you would have to guess where it starts? When it was gentle and witty? Well, this is the exact contrary, you know exactly where it starts, it is there in a clearly defined space, you pay attention, you wait, they deliver, the two lovers embrace, and you get it, I get it, only they are now but a rich man’s entertainment, they dance as they are told to, this is a simple dance, not unlike some dances you might have seen around, the one and only difference remaining that they are in a museum, so it’s hard not to look at them as at an object, it is humiliating, deeply humiliating to see these people kiss just because some millionaire felt like having the work where two people kiss, I wonder if Sehgal realizes how close this is getting to the (in)famous pieces by Santiago Sierra where he made poor people do humiliating things for little money, only this was supposed to be something else, wasn’t it? It was fighting to be a celebration of the eventness, of the fleeting nature of all this, of the focus we try to have and never get, the performativity, the overpowering of being, action, contact, yes, the transcendence, somewhere along these lines, and the humanity, the humanity, where is the humanity? They keep embracing, and this is really a shy substitute of erotic shows, I observe the people coming in, they are all embarrassed, they don’t really watch, no longer than a minute or two, there is something unbearable about this, it is not the eroticism, certainly not the transcendence, rather the invasion, and as much as the performers try, they are still being invaded, they are not the hosts, we try to make it as easy for them as possible, but the invasion came much earlier, when they were hired to kiss, hired to kiss, hired to kiss, what a pity, and the sculpture of Louise Bourgeois stuck in the corner looks like an ironic comment, like some empty shell reminding us that this is an object and that is an object, that we are to treat them the same, that they are the famous artist’s participation in a show about power, damn it, damn it, I want out.

And so I’m out, I walk through the rest of the exhibition, uncomfortable, everything seems so dry now, I notice that Murakami’s famous sperm squirt (My Lonesome Cowboy, seen on pic) is actually made of two pieces, the sperm spiral is like a lego set, it is not one smooth surface, and that is so disappointing, this one line separating the two parts confirms how irrelevant all this is, how unexciting, how unengaging. Or maybe I can’t engage, maybe this is all about me, sure, good excuse, whatever.

(There are moments where I can’t even recall how it was possible to write reviews that pretended to be objective)

And I go back. I go back to the damn Sehgal, because I’m stubborn and because art often requires stubbornness, and I want to see the bodies, I want to compare them to dance, to think of performance art and theater, to watch the watchers, but mainly, to see the bodies, to resist resisting, to let go, to see where they take me.

And so I watch, mostly alone, for some 5-6 minutes. Maybe 10. And they move through the space. Almost absently. The choreography gets more and more constructed, I feel the dense layer of dance history, of dancers’ solutions to problems with moving from beneath, or above, or grabbing someone’s leg without hurting, it is technical, it is, it seems, a commodity, a good product, gentle and sweet, not as sweet as ice-cream and not as gentle as my cat, so the disappointment remains. And then another couple arrives and they take over, they do the same thing, for some two minutes they do it all together, the four of them, and I see how the new ones are new, how they actually make it theirs, you know, the interpreter’s thing. Now the new couple is alone and I enjoy the sulpturedance more. But that’s not the point.

The point is, at one moment, the sculpture looks at me.

The girl looks at the people who are there, into their eyes. And no one can resist such a look. No one is prepared, and the gaze of a living sculpture can be a scary thing. It is the medusa, it does not take hostages, it reminds each spectator of the double-edged gaze, and they give up quickly, they surrender, they turn away, they are perplexed, as this is no theater, this is hardly a performance, it is an objectified couple that knows you are here. That knows!.

But I have been here for a while and gazing back is a thing I often do. So I do.

And we lock. The eyes do not move away. She looks at me, I stare into her eyes, more into the left one, to focus well, and after a short time I don’t remember how the girl looks like, I have no idea, not even the face, I focus so much on the looking, and she looks back, she is moving, they are moving, the lovers are moving and one of them looks at me and acknowledges my presence, that’s all, forever, she is unbearably present and everything about her is the person that is there, and yet she is completely corresponding to what she is doing, to her submission into objecthood, to her awkwardly present dance, people start to look at me, they are not sure, you know, and now I get it. I get it, not like you get a joke or a conceptual piece. But like you get a virus, I get it, I got you, Tino Sehgal, you have no face and no shape, you have some blurred though precise movements, and I got you now, and yes, I believe this is transcendence.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Within the Lines

What if there was nothing to discover? No story, no thousand words, no answer to a non-riddle? What if it was really, really, just a game of forms and colors?
Would it be a sin?
Does this lady need a past?
Is it really so bad for something to be "just" a pretty picture?
We know of the danger of beauty, we know the seductive spectacle means flirting with submission, yet is it really so immoral?

We possibly wouldn't say it about Rafał Wilk's works. They are often witty, playful, insightful. They play with the idea of light, of bi-dimensionality, of what a work is.
But, to continue on my doubt - does having a story constitute a challenge? Or is it just because we like the indolence of layered thinking, the safety net of there being "something else", so as to let our imagination ride a little further...? But haven't we turned it into a rule for (a lot of) contemporary art? This story-telling capacity? (Can someone say a good story about this? If so, the author of the story and the author of the work get a bonus.)
What if it's a pretty picture? What if it's pretty, pretty, pretty, a thousand times pretty? What if it's so damned pretty you don't want it to be a story, to go beyond it being pretty?
Of course, I have the right to omit the depth. And then also, every good story is many stories deep. But some of the best works I know present a fascinating resistance to storytelling. They are like a stone, at once attractive and opaque. They make me want to read within the lines.

And here, somewhat related, is a summer holiday bonus:

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Rain, not words

N. Raghavan, Rain V (2009)

One reason I like zapping through artist's pages instead of always looking carefuly at their artist's statements and curator's notes is that I don't need to undo the damage of their own thoughts about their work.
The latter often makes the experience of the work dull, as if our aesthetic wings were cut by the discursive blade. It is not that it isn't informative, which it often is. It's that it is rarely inspiring.
(Then again, this very blog may also be seen at such an angle).

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