5 days in Berlin is a frustratingly short time if you're planning to follow half-closely what is happening at Transmediale and want also to see some exhibitions around town. I'll bring back what i can. Such as this lovely exhibition titled East Side Stories. German Photography 1950s-1980s at the Kicken Gallery.
As its title suggests, the show features some 30 black and white pictures from photographers who portrayed life at the time of the GDR, mostly in a way that steered away from the official GDR iconography. Under the regime of East Germany, photographers had a degree of licence denied to other artists - largely because the state did not regard photography as an art form (via).
East Side Stories. German Photography 1950s-1980s runs at the Kicken Gallery in Berlin until April 17, 2010.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that this show has already finished. But, Scorpio's Garden at Berlin's Temporäre Kunsthalle was a very beautiful exhibition and this is s small attempt to highlight some of the 60 pieces on show, all by Berlin-related artists, curated by Danish artist Kirstine Roepstorff.
Being an explicitly subjective snapshot of a certain scene that is revolving around several locations, mostly in Kreuzberg such as Silberkuppe or Basso, the show seemed to draw a lot of strength from the reflection of an approach and aesthetic that is running through a lot of the work.
The whole façade of the Kunsthalle served as the biggest piece in terms of size as Bettina Pousttchi used it for her photo installation Echo which turned the the building into an ironic doppelgänger of the Palast der Republik, the GDR's parliament which used to stand right next to where the Kunsthalle is now located until its demolition was finished last winter.
What I particularly loved about this piece is not the (quite successful) sensation of déjà-vu it evoked but the fact that it was facing an equally virtual image of the dreadful Stadtschloss (the old palace which will be resurrected as the zombie of architecture if its proponents will be able to get hold of half a billion Euros) as if to say that things lost can as little be recreated without becoming a farce, just as history can not truly be eradicated like it has now been attempted with the modernist Palast der Republik (and the old Stadtschloss before).
Inside, Elmgreen & Dragset refer to "Foucault's proposition that the acceptance of certain behavioral patterns within certain structures is what leads to the limitation of people in their actions, and not the structure itself." In Liebe Grüße (2009), a bouquet like those presented at the opening of an exhibition is left as if it were forgotten on a pedestal. The flowers look faded already but like so often in their work, they are a well-made fabrication so that their only reveal their artificiality after a second glance (and asking the gallery staff).
The paintings of Alexandra Hopf emerge as reverse glass paintings in finely sprayed layers. The very first layer of paint remains visible even after subsequent layers are applied, thus turning on its head the classical structure of paintings in which the sketch phase is covered by the final version.
In the lovely video piece Haukka-Pala (A-Bit-to-Bite) (2009), Laura Horelli tells of her relationship to her deceased mother, who worked as a nutritional expert for a children's television series in Finland. Her mother died of cancer some two years after the show was produced. In the video, one sees her in conversation with a mouse, talking about food and cooking. It's at the same time funny and somewhat eerie, and Horelli is adding her own personal thoughts to the scene as a voice-over. I wished I would have had time to watch it in its entirety.
Untitled (mime 1 & 2) by recently deceased New York artist Dash Show casts the socially marginalized figure of a street performer as a godlike character in two beautifully strangely framed and out of focus photographs.
Monica Bonvicini's history of architecture is also a "history of sexual oppression. In her sculptures, installations, and videos, she presents objects and materials of everyday life as sites of ideological conflict". The light installation Blind Protection (2009), a bundle of fluorescent lights that is arranged around a transparent PVC tube, the bright light from which briefly blinds the beholder.
Henrik Olesen showed two very different pieces, yet both of which "deconstructs notions of authenticity and cultural production and recharges them with meaning in a remix procedure". The first of them is borrowing from the early sculpture of Bruce Nauman. His cast of the Kunsthalle's right corner in concrete, Rechte Ecke (2003/2009) lies across the floor as if fallen down, with marks of the casting process still visible on the wall.
The second piece consists of milk Tetra Paks on which the nutrition information has been deliberately replaced with collaged information on homosexuality in the animal kingdom. So instead of calcium contents, one learns about the kinky habits of gorillas and bonobo apes. Somewhat pranky, it does speak about demonstrating the existence of invisible limits and territories in today's social landscapes.
A beautiful object, Kirsten Pieroth's Inflated Dinghy (2009) uses the air that streams from a harmonica to pump up a rubber boat, and "creates with the transformation of air to music a metaphor".
Suzanne Treister transcribes in her series 11 Alchemy Works (2007) "the title pages of international newspapers and translates them to alchemistic drawings. "The news no longer reaches the reader in clearly structured and soberly placed patterns, but in neurotic outbreaks that represent the world as a site that is driven by ominous forces, powers, and beliefs. Using the symbols of a secret language, her works explain the world system in the form of organic diagrams that are linked to notions of omnipotence."
Lastly, I believe that my favorite and also the discovery of the show was American artist Jason Dodge who "works with frugal means and suggestive allusions, staging traces of past events at the center of which are protagonists whose existence and impact remains at the threshold between fiction and reality". He was showing several pieces, all of which were as subtle as they were poetic.
Column bells (2009) "towers as a rectangular, narrow paper column, like a chimney. The bells at the bottom were made by the Huck family in Nuremberg, bell-makers for five generations, and respond to the movement of air in the space."
Rubies Inside of an Owl (2006) is a taxidermied owl whose stomach is filled with rubies. It was hidden in a niche below the curved platform that dominated the space of Scorpio's Garden, almost as if sleeping.
In Order of Altitude (2008) consists of the stacked trouser pockets of five people from different professions, increasing in 'altitude' from a window cleaner to a pilot, but this metaphorical classification "could be subject to other criteria as well, say body size or social status", so the meaning of the allusion remains in the attribution of the viewer.
Next up at the Temporäre Kunsthalle is a show called "Zeigen. An Audio Tour through Berlin", opens December 4th at 9 pm.
Part of Thomas Demand's wonderful show Nationalgalerie, "Haltestelle" (2009) is a very recent work, as usual a large-scale photograph of a life-size paper model resembling a space of cultural significance. In this case it is a nondescript rural German bus shelter, which happens to be the place just outside of Magdeburg where the teen pop band Tokio Hotel were waiting for their school bus every morning.
Now this is what I've been told about what happened: due to the band's huge popularity with teenagers, the shelter soon became somewhat of a favourite destination to worship the band, much to the annoyance of the local residents who had to cope with a torrent of emo kids rolling in from all directions on a daily basis. They came up with the idea of removing the shelter and putting it up on eBay, somewhat unsuccessfully. Soon after they realized that, due to their limited pocket money, Tokio Hotel's fans would not be able to purchase an item like this in one piece. In a slight iteration of the plan they sawed it apart and offered the pieces on eBay, this time to much greater success.
What is interesting about this piece is that to some extent it mirrors Demand's own way of working in the way that the residents took advantage of the connotation of an object in the collective memory and used that to produce a new object (or pieces in their case) in its own right.
A text accompanying the exhibition says "Thomas Demand's works test our reception of visual media and explore their influence on the structures of our memory, [he] conducts experiments in visual culture which centre around the questions of whether and to what extent a society's appearance is condensed and concentrated in individual key images as well as being retained in people's minds and remembered through such key images."
The show, situated in Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Neue Nationalgalerie close to Berlin's Potsdamer Platz features about 35 works, each reflected in a text by Botho Strauss. Runs through January 17th 2010.
Today we're much more accustomed to this kind of storytelling device, most recently in J.J. Adams' Star Trek in which the two Spocks even make fun of the notion of the temporal paradox which is one of the motifs of the original Back to the Future.
However, outside of science fiction narratives, audiences still appear to be having a hard time with speculation about different pasts and futures. Or maybe it is not like that at all. Theoretical physics is obviously very invested in the notion of multiple universes and remarkably the financial industry as well, as speculation and insurance are trades which are purely about the future. And there is speculative design, most visibly represented by Dunne & Raby and Design Interactions at the RCA in London, which in turn is linked to scenario techniques that stem from the Cold War and places like RAND Corporation.
Chan goes a step further and in the text that accompanies the exhibition suggests that the whole Western world has seemingly been infected by this notion of a non-linear destiny which can, or must be shaped. Famously, in his metaphysical reasoning for war, Donald Rumsfeld has been the most recent one to "expose a world in which science fiction and reality collide to bewildering effect" when he was going on about known unknowns: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know"
The show Back to the Future explores the role of art in this conundrum. It is a selection of artistic time machines which, each in very different ways, are attempting to "allow time, history and causality to be continually renewed". A few favorites:
The first thing to see is a huge, colorful painting by Michel Kunze titled Morgen which, by referring to the tradition of the Mandala hints at the representation of time as an almost endless circle of reincarnations. A much more worldly take on the subject is Ignacio Uriarte's 60 seconds, a circle of sixty classic Casio watches which are all linked by their wristbands.
At the day of the opening, the watches were set to exactly the same time, albeit being each one second faster than the watch before and slower than the next one respectively. One can step inside the installation and be inside one minute, so to speak, and it is also reminiscent of time-zones and their artificial nature. Since the Casios have their characteristic hourly beep-beep switched on, the piece becomes a sound-sculpture each hour, with the minute literally moving around the person who is in the center. However, over the time-span of the exhibition the deliberate asynchronicity between the watches had already deteriorated to the point where I initially perceived it as randomness, exposing the fact that an artifact we regard as fairly precise actually is not.
Jeremy Shaw showed a video piece which focuses exactly on the initially mentioned visual culture of science fiction. His This Transition Will Never End #2 is an edit of a great number of time and space travel sequences from movies over the decades. It's an endless jump which effortlessly reveals the visual language around something that does not exist yet has arrived at its place in popular imagination.
Oliver Laric's piece Versions, of which you can watch different versions, stands conceptually at the center of the topic of the show as Carson was explaining. It looks at recent examples of popular memes and how the idea of authorship and the notion of the original is being obliterated before our eyes. What used to be news, evidence or entertainment is all becoming parts of a complex network of interconnections between senders and recipients of information.
On the example of an image, like Iran's infamous photoshopped missiles, Versions talks about in the beginning, gets created and manipulated, then distributed. However, this only triggers another burst of anonymously authored image manipulation in which many additional versions are being created and also distributed. But, and this is the interesting part, what comes closest to the old notion of the real image will often be determined by the fact which one shows up on top on Google, mainly linked to its popularity. And this, to make it even more complex will also change over time. Welcome to the visual world of Rumsfeldian logic where known knowns are in fact long gone.
Cyprien Gaillard's Belief in the Age of Disbelief is a series of 17th Century Dutch landscape etchings in which modernist buildings have been inserted to form an uncannily, almost romantic whole. The architecture, which was once the subject of idealistic visions of the future by the likes of Le Corbusier, has obviously undergone great changes in the way it has been perceived in the past, with a recent wave of appreciation for buildings such as Trellick Tower in London. Nature one could argue, is undergoing the same shifts in perception, although on a much longer time frame, rendering the combination of both quite peculiar as they could be pictures from a utopian future as well as reclaimed ruins from an age gone by.
A favorite was Warren Neidlich's The Battle of Chicamauga, which belongs to his five-part alternate history series (1986-2001) American History Reinvented. The exhibited piece consists of a number of faded historical aerial photographs of the battle of the same name that took place 1863 in the state of Georgia during the American civil war. The little thing that does not make sense, however, is the fact that at the time there were no airplanes, because the first manned flight had only taken place on December 17th 1903.
In truth, the photographs were taken from a rented plane during a present-day reenactment of the battle, something that according to Neidlich is a favorite past-time for many Americans. He had the photo developed and then went back to the reenactment in order to have the modern prints reproduced as tintypes, the state-of-the-art technology at the time which has become very rare today. The "webs of contradictions" in this and other pieces from the series ask the question of what the past would have been like "if the news media of today, with all their intrusive glitz and certitude, had been around when some of the most important events in American history took place" hinting at that all history has always been technological mediated.
I can always trust C/O Berlin to enliven a dull Sunday. I didn't look at the programme, i simply paid the entrance fee and entered a retrospective of wowe 's portraits. After a mere 5 minutes, i caught myself reading the captions instead of watching the photographies. All was not lost though. The more modest 'studio' section of C/O Berlin hosts a fascinating Jerry Berndt . Insight . Night Photographs.
Dimly lit barrooms, shop windows long after the last client has gone, prostitutes teasing passersby and back alleys. These are moments and places that might sound darker than the night itself but the photographer managed to imbue sins and despair with some tenderness.
Among the works on show in the exhibitions are photos from the Combat Zone series (1967-1970) that portray Boston's red light district. Berndt worked there on assignment for Harvard Medical School's "Laboratory of Community Psychiartry" to document hookers, their pimps and more generally the conflict between African Americans and whites.
Another series, Barroom, brought Berndt back to his childhood. "I grew up in my father's bar room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I learned to read by putting empty beer bottles into the right boxes..." The b&w series shows bar rooms and strip clubs in the USA of the 60s and 70s.
Finally Nite Works is almost devoid of human beings. The protagonists are shopping strips, back streets, movie theaters, sidewalks when all activity has disappeared and only artificial light and shop window mannequins set the nocturnal mood.
Until 15.02.09 at C/O Berlin
Notes from the Re-Imagining Asia exhibition at The House of World Cultures in Berlin. The exhibition and other events, curated by Wu Hung and Shaheen Merali, examine how contemporary artists around the world re-invent the image we might have of Asia and the way in which the post-colonial production of knowledge is challenging Euro-centric concepts of art.
Asian art has reached a point where it is almost too hot to handle. New museums and art biennials are popping up all over the continent, the price paid to get a piece of Chinese art are going through the roof and Indian paintings and installations are exhibited all over Europe. Asian art is now so hype that one might think that another exhibition will just kill the enthusiasm. Well, this one won't. The works on show have not been selected for the artists' origins but for their focus on Asia as a space for the imagination. There are Chinese, Indian, Thai and Japanese artists but they are joined by Mexican, Germans and American artists.
As you enter the foyer of the House of World Cultures, you meet with Song Dong's installation Waste Not. It is nothing else but his parents' wooden house, which fell victim to urban planning in China. He reconstructed the house together with its entire inventory, a collection of utensils of all kinds accumulated by the artist's mother over a period of 50 years and offering a picture of 50 years of material culture in China. It is hard to imagine how several tv sets, so many kitchen utensils, books, old shoes, toys, buckets, plastic bags, ballpoint pens, cupboards, etc could fit into the tiny dwelling.
Song Dong grew up in Beijing. His mother taught him how to make the most of few resources, recycling, re-allocating and saving utensils for future use. The socialist motto was: 'Waste not'. The shabby borough he lived in has been cleared away for the Olympics a few years ago, but the government neglected to replace the old houses, so there is now an empty area.
On it Song Dong would like to build another wooden house in the traditional style as a call for the preservation of old Beijing.
Besides offering visitors a picture of Beijing life, the installation has relieved his mother of the dead weight of half a century and has done so without making her feel that her hoarding was futile. In fact she fulfilled the role of an artist herself by preparing the show. And each of her mundane and utilitarian objects has been elevated to the status of artwork.
The work presents an "archive of the Chinese Revolution" in 3 parts: Mao and the Revolution, Heroes and the Masses, People's Pictorial Archive. By presenting side by side unaltered photographies from original negatives and the images as they appeared in the media at the time, the installation shows how deliberate distortion of images became an essential mechanism of photo production, a way to satisfy a yearning for an idealized image and a propaganda tool. Long before the arrival of computer and photoshop. The methods used in the editing of these images involve mainly painting: a wrinkle between Mao's eyebrows vanishes, superfluous figures in the background are erased. (more images of Zhang Dali.)
And in no particular order:
The Bohdi Obfuscatus (Space Baby) by Michael Joo embodies perfectly the tensions and harmonies between novelty and tradition. In an homage to Nam June Paik, Joo borrowed a Korean Buddha from a local shrine and encased it in a halo of surveillance cameras, Fiber-optic lights cast projections onto flat TV screens while mirrors, mounted on poles that surround the sculpture, reflect images from the video displays, the Buddha sculpture and visitors as they walk around the installation.
Ujino Muneteru was in the house two. I only got to see the Ozone - So installation, a wooden temple turned into a tank and adorned with waste material, such as electric appliances, plush toys, bits of carpet, building materials and books collected around Tokyo by volunteers.
There was also the video of a musical performance Muneteru gave in Berlin. He played with blenders, hair dryers, parts of bicycles, used vinyl discs, turntables, not only was it fascinating to see him handle all this junk but it also sounded surprisingly good.
Shi Jinsong's razor-sharp line of baby products include a militarized Carriage, a sadistic Cradle and a predatory Walker. Na Zha Baby Boutique (Na Zha is a child warrior deity in Chinese mythology) tries to lure "shoppers" using stainless steel "products" which evoke both luxury and danger.
Bharti Kher's bindi-on-fiberglass elephant. The bindi in India is traditionally a mark of pigment applied to the forehead of men and women and is associated with the Hindu symbol of the 'third eye'. When worn by women in red, the bindi symbolises marriage. In recent times it has become a decorative item, worn by unmarried girls and women of other religions.
Bharti Kher covered her sculpture of a dying elephant in white bindi. The elephant is often regarded in Asia as a symbol of dignity, intelligence and strength. Kher marries the elephant and the bindi to contemplate the effects of popular culture, mass media and consumerism on the culture of India.