A show you don't want to miss if you're in Berlin before the end of April. Just make sure you avoid weekend afternoons or it's Long Queue party for you!
At first glance Walton Ford's animal watercolour paintings look like harmless illustrations made by French and British colonial-era illustrators. Until you look closer and realize how cruel the world depicted is.
A beautiful panther has escaped from the zoo and villagers are trying to kill it, an Orangutan is serenely strangling a parrot, a gorilla commits suicide using the gun of a hunter it has just killed, a (now extinct) elephant bird of Madagascar stands distressingly on one leg as the other is impeded by the rope that a hunter has tied around its body and beak. It's animal kingdom at its fiercest. You almost wish you didn't have to witness any of those scenes but then the images are so beautiful, you proceed to the next one.
The lions, birds, wolves, primates and other 'wildlife' animals never come on their own. They are accompanied by symbols, allusions and clues alluding to texts from colonial literature, folktales, travel guides or even classics from American literature. In Ford's watercolours, natural history meets political commentary in an erudite and visually spectacular way. The images satirize colonialism, politics, slavery, natural science, and man's impact on nature.
"There is so much science and popular interest regarding animals - like the Animal Planet shows and field research," Ford told The Local. "But that's of no interest to me. I don't care how gorillas behave in nature, but how people could come up with something like King Kong - how they could develop that kind of fear and terror, and we could come to accept him as an icon of nature."
Ford's images are accompanied by a brief text which sometimes reveal the meaning or story behind the painting and sometimes only deepens its mystery. Example:
Thurneysser presented also to Basel, his native city, a large elk, which had been given to him by Prince Radziwil; but the good Baselers looed upon the strange animal as a most dangerous demon, and a pious old woman finally rid the town of the dreaded beast by feeding it with an apple stuck full of broken needles. The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P. Evans, 1906.
Ford is fairly popular and well-known in the United States but less so in Europe. Walton Ford - Bestiarium which opened recently at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin is his first solo exhibition in Europe.
All my pictures.
Walton Ford - Bestiarium runs until April 24, 2010 at the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin.
Who would have thought i'd end up blogging about a splatter movie on wmmna? I'm not talking about any horror flick, i'm talking "gay-porn zombie film", a genre which i assume is under-represented in contemporary art. Written and directed by Bruce LaBruce and starring porn actor François Sagat, LA Zombie is on view at the Peres Projects gallery in Berlin, along with a dozen new works on canvas.
It was a bit of a hard core spectacle for someone like me who has no interest nor experience in the genre(s). I'm still wondering how i'll manage to convey the happiness and sense of beauty that the film gave me. There's something respectable about a porn movie that you watch inside a renowned art gallery. You might be shocked but you're never ashamed. Bruce Labruce's other queer cinema horror film Otto; or Up With Dead People debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, the artist has contributed to magazines such as Vice, Index, and BlackBook,
I doubt LaBruce bothers much about making you and me and other art lovers comfortable. Just like Murakami delights in selling his art in both prestigious art galleries and shops merchandising fugly brown monogram bags, LaBruce doesn't seem too eager to drawing a line between art and porn. He told Salon: "All of my work has been about that line. You can situate yourself on either side of the line without really altering the work itself. I could take a picture for Honcho magazine, but can take the same image and put it in a frame in an art gallery, and it becomes art. For me that speaks to the arbitrary nature of those labels." A soft-core version of L.A. Zombie will tour film festivals this year. You can expect to find the hard-core DVD gracing the shelves of your favourite sex shop in the spring.
LA Zombie was shot in Los Angeles. Guerrilla-style. With almost no budget. The main protagonist rises from the sea, with as much clout and allure as Ursula Andress herself in that famous Bond scene. He's a zombie or maybe he's just a bit deranged and fancies himself as an undead creature. He sports canine teeth and is dressed like a homeless. Good looking young guys get killed or die in accidents. He finds them, gives them the fuck of life right into their wound, they open their eyes. They have become zombie too and lead the life of tramps around LA. People don't seem to even notice their presence.
Bruce Labruce LA Zombie: The Movie That Would Not Die runs at Peres Projects in Berlin until April 24, 2010.
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.