It's back! After a Summer/early Autumn break, #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present ResonanceFM is on air again. Starting today Tuesday 6th November at 4:00 pm. There will be a repeat on Thursday 8th November 10:30 pm. You can catch it online if you don't live in London.
My guest this week is Neal White. Neal is Associate Professor of Art and Media at Bournemouth University and the Director of Emerge - Experimental Media Research Group, a practice-based initiative which is developing critical, creative and technical experiments in media. But the reason why i invited him to the studio of Resonance FM is his activity at the Office of Experiments, a structure that explores, maps and records the advanced labs and facilities that are - on purpose or not - concealed from public view. You can find these records on a website evocatively called Dark Places.
I interviewed Neal White a few months ago already so our radio conversation focuses on what happened a couple of months ago when The Office of Experiments and The Arts Catalyst took members of the public on a 'critical excursion' to discover and study these Dark Places from up close. Called Experimental Ruins: West Edition, the event invited Londoners to discover little-known places of scientific secrecy and technology in the West London corridor.
We will be talking declassified materials, underground bunker housing alternative Cabinet War rooms, cold war archive footage, Atomic Weapons Establishment, sites used by the UK Nuclear peace protestors, etc. I'd tune in if i were you.
Previously: Dark Places and experimental geography - Interview with Neal White. Image on the homepage via Dark Places.
Time to close the reports about the Frieze Art Fair (see Frieze part 1: The fun of the fair, Frieze part 2: murders at the art fair and Frieze part 3: The Angry Farmers Milk Bar) with plenty of images and almost no text because sometimes that's all i feel like producing:
David Claerbout's The Homeless Cat deserves a few words of explanation. This interactive, real-time video is synchonized with actual day and night time. The cat on the screen sits, sleeps, gets up, makes a few steps, sits again. However, the atmospheric conditions and the lights in the backdrop are exactly the same as the ones you, the fair (or gallery) visitor, would experience outside at this very moment. If it rains in your city, the cat will stand in front of a city where it rains. If it's night wherever you are, it will be night on the screen as well. The whole effect is controlled by webcams and clever programming. The Homeless Cat is a video that has no end. That said, i found the video absorbing even before i knew about the whole system behind it.
I remembered seeing Alexey Kallima's large scale painting of Chechen Women's Team of Parachute Jumping in New York 4 years ago and it's the one work i'd have bought at Frieze if i'd have been rich enough. Kallima's going to have a solo show at Regina Gallery in London on 23 November - 22 December 2012. I call that a fair consolation prize!
Marcel Van Eeden's charcoal drawings mix film noir and b&w comic strips. I'm quite obsessed with his work.
And now for the uncommented:
This is what you can do with an accordion, rubber and hose.
Previously: Frieze part 1: The fun of the fair.
I review books about art, architecture, design and activism because that's part of my job. It doesn't hurt that i'm usually sent fantastic books. The only literature you will find on my kindle however is of the criminal kind: Stuart MacBride, Jo nesbø, Jussi Adler-Olsen, etc. The more gruesome the description, the more serial the killer, the happier i am.
The drawings are of women found in newspapers, magazines, books and the Internet. In this work the artist explores an outsider construction of femininity through violence, deviancy, criminality, and radical politics in stark opposition to traditional notions of patriarchy.
Among the protagonists were: Lynndie England convicted in connection with the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Lizzie Borden suspected of having killed her father and stepmother with an axe, Irma Grese who was employed at the concentration camps of Ravensbrück and Auschwitz where she picked out large breasted women and cut their breasts open with her whip, Fiona Mont aka "Britain's Most Wanted Woman", Griselda Blanco "La Madrina" (the Godmother) who was a drug lord for the Medellín Cartel, Sandra Ávila Beltrán the Mexican drug cartel leader nicknamed "La Reina del Pacífico", sisters Teresa and Maria Zappia, leaders of Calabrian crime syndicate, Chinese Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi , etc.
For as long as i looked at their face and read the crude description of these women's crimes, everything outside the booth ceased to exist for me. So much evil. Yet, because they were women or maybe because of the way they were drawn i never managed to see them as total monsters, Except that Irma Grese, the lady in high socks below:
One of the Frieze commissions was part art gallery with blood on its walls and floor, part forensic lab, part video fiction. Aslı Çavuşoğlu and a professional crime drama crew and actors spent 3 days in a fairly small space shooting a crime and its forensic reconstitution.
Two of the main sources of inspiration for Murder in Three Acts were forensics and the representation of art in tv crime series. In some tv episodes indeed artworks aren't just part of the background, they are a key element in scripts that use exhibitions as crime scenes and art works as murder weapons. The artist sees also forensic science as a way of reenacting past events. A role that art can play as well.
The project drew links between the role of evidence in a televised crime scene and real artworks justifying themselves in the sphere of speculation and invited special 'advisors' and visitors to participate in discussions with the professional cast and crew.
The Peter Kilchmann gallery was showing works by an artist who always gets my attention: Teresa Margolles.
For a whole year, during 2010, Margolles collected and digitalized the covers of PM, the local newspaper from Ciudad Juárez, a city sadly renowned for the violence perpetrated by the drug cartels. Because almost everyday, somebody died a victim of the Mexican drug wars, the cover almost inevitably showed a scene of crime with a corpse right next to a pin-ups. The covers were presented as pages of a big book. Flipping through them i never realized they were real covers of tabloids. The contrast between the images was too stark, the content too relentlessly lurid. Until i read that it was a piece by Teresa Margolles, an artist who can horrify with the most mundane elements: an air conditioning system, a flag, a bracelet, etc.
This volume witnesses the collapse of the social fabric and at the same time the resilience of the community of the border city.
Her gallery was also showing photographs of trees. I didn't find any information about the photos but i suspect the worst. Because the series is called El testigo (The Witness), i can only assume that murders took place under the cover of those trees.
Between the Frieze art fair, the Brighton Photo Biennial, and various commitments i had in town, mid-October was a marathon to see as many shows as possible. The one that left its marks on my brain is The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966-79 at Raven Row. The retrospective of the pioneering artists' organisation is thought-provoking, informative, surprising and it confirmed what i was starting to suspect: the art scene of the 1970s was intimidatingly radical and exciting.
Artist Placement Group, or APG, was established by Barbara Steveni and John Latham in 1966. They were joined Barry Flanagan, David Hall, Anna Ridley and Jeffrey Shaw, among others. Its aim was to widen the social context of artists' work by finding them 'residencies' in the private and public sectors.
Between 1966 and the turn of the 1980s, APG negotiated approximately fifteen placements for artists lasting from a few weeks to several years; first within industries (often large corporations such as British Steel and ICI) and later within UK government departments such as the Department of Health and the Scottish Office.
APG arranged that artists would work to an 'open brief', whereby their placements were not required to produce tangible results, but that the engagement itself could potentially benefit both host organisations as well as the artists in the long-term.
Instead of commissioning art works, the host organizations were asked to pay the artist wages and in exchange, they would benefit from the artist's reports, ideas and insights.
Unsurprisingly, few organizations were enthusiastic about APG's ideas. Many flatly refused to welcome the experiment, others only opened their doors after several meetings and exchanges of letters.
Some placements were more successful than others (whether we look at them as artworks per se or as the result of a mutually fruitful exchange between radical art and industry.) I found David Hall's work for Scottish Television absolutely brilliant. In 1971 Hall made ten "Interruptions" broadcast intentionally unannounced and uncredited on Scottish Television. Seven of these works were later distributed on video as TV Interruptions (7 TV Pieces), and are regarded as a landmark of British video art.
Garth Evans took a fellowship at the British Steel Corporation. The photos he took as part of his observational notes were published in a book produced by BSC. He also made steel sculptures similar to the constructions made by apprentice welders.
After a traffic accident, John Latham found himself in the Intensive Care of Clare Hall Hospital with broken ribs, torn muscles and puncturated lungs. He soon found out that by rotating his body in bed he could clear his throat of lung tissues without having to endure the pain of coughing. The X-rays documenting his rapid convalescence lend credence to the artist's claim that his technique was an improvement over usual procedures.
APG pioneered the shift in art practice from studio and conventional art system to more active and processed-based forms of social engagement. It bears similarities with Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), an organization established to develop collaborations between artists and engineers but APG's agenda was more deeply anchored in political and social concerns.
The residencies are also different from the ones that predominate nowadays (where the artist might sometimes seem to be at the service of the commissioning corporation or governmental body), the ones initiated by APG fostered a two-way communication between artists and industrialists or politicians.
While researching the APG, i found this trailer for a short documentary by Laurie Yule & Calum Mackenzie:
The Raven Row show is mostly based on archives: films, photographs, reports written by artists during their placement and exchanges of letters between artists and host companies and sometimes in art objects.
Photos on flickr.
The Individual and the Organisation: Artist Placement Group 1966-79 was curated by Antony Hudek and Alex Sainsbury, in consultation with Barbara Steveni. It remains on view until 16 December 2012 at Raven Row in London.
The Frieze art fair dismantled its tents a few days ago at Regent's Park in London. Last year's edition disappointed me. This year, however, i liked it so much i went twice. I even walked to the other end of the park to visit Frieze Masters (that one was selling anything in between and including the medieval gargoyles and the photos by Richard Avedon.) Over the next few days, i will submit the blog to an avalanche of images and works from the fair. Let's start light and very fast with a few art pieces that demonstrate that even artists shown at art fairs have a sense of humour:
Four years ago, Daniel Knorr put balaclavas on the head of public sculptures in Copenhagen. The Galleria Fonti from Naples had a wall covered in photos that documented the intervention.
I should mention the entrance to the fair. A floor to wall carpeting of shoes in green, yellow, black and red.
The La Vache qui rit cow laughing at your feet and bum inside the fair was by the same artist Thomas Bayrle. Both were commissioned Frieze Projects.
That magnificent wallpaper on the external walls of the booth of Gavin Brown's Enterprise? Thomas Bayrle again!
The pink carpet at Pilar Corrias' booth however was by Koo Jeong A:
Speaking of pink (it was pink but my ever colour-blind camera wouldn't admit it)... Nothing like a walrus by Carsten Höller to brighten your day:
From a series of ultra absurd Talking Objects by Laurie Simmons:
This one wasn't supposed to be funny:
Some artists comment on real estate, some real estate developers are interested in art but i doubt that many people can be both artists and real estate developers. Actually i only know of one: Theaster Gates. He is an urban planner, a visual artist, a musician, a curator and an activist.
Gates is as interested in urban regeneration as much as he is passionate about creating communities in deprived areas of Chicago. He renovated a two-storey house and turned it into an archive and library, used a former candy store as an event and performance space, has recently persuaded the city of Chicago not to demolish an abandoned bank and is now planning to convert the building into a cultural hub and library. If you're intrigued by his work, and find yourself in London right now, you're in luck because Gates has a spectacular solo show at White Cube Bermondsey right now.
And by spectacular i mean fire trucks hanging on the ceiling and an entire library of books about black American culture.
The books are part of the collection of John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet, two magazines for the African-American market. You can pick up books ("Black Mathematicians and their Works", "Negroes and Jobs", "14 Africans vs. one American", etc.), browse, read, flip through them but you can not take any picture. Not even of the book shelves. No one could tell me why. Anyway, i spent more time than i intended inside the temporary library. I missed the first weeks of the show when gallery visitors were also offered make-up sessions.
Now back to the fire trucks. The first one is outside, in front of the gallery. It is beautiful and incongruous like a giant American toy and is soiled by big spots of tar on its otherwise bright yellow bodywork.
A video inside the space documents the almost ritualistic performance when the artist, accompanied by the music of his band 'The Black Monks of Mississippi', used a mop to dab hot tar and mark the fire truck. Apparently, the gesture was inspired by Gates' father who tarred roofs for a living as an alternative form of protest during the 1968 Chicago riots.
Another truck is part of the show: Raising Goliath. The red 1967 Ford 850 is suspended with theatrical pulleys from the ceiling of the gallery. Gates counterbalanced the vehicle with a stack of fire department hoses and leather bound issues of African American magazines, all neatly housed inside a metal frame. Gates describes the work as a way to 'hoist the history of the Civil Rights out of view, making it both weightless and invisible...' and to highlight 'the way things change and remain the same'.
There are many symbols and metaphors in the exhibitions. Some are a bit superficial (the paintings covered in tar and matted roofing paper to represent black skin and afro hair are not very subtle), others run deep into the Civil Rights Movement and black culture. The decommissioned fire hoses, for example, allude to the use of fire hoses to disperse people campaigning for African-American Civil Rights in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.
The gallery is also screening the 15 minute commercial The Secret of Selling the Negro Market. Made in 1954 by Johnson Publishing Company, the film attempted to encourage advertisers to promote their products and services in the African American media.
Well, that's a show i'd recommend you to see if you're in town for a few after Frieze day. Tomorrow i'm going to try the Multiplied art fair. I'm hoping that one will be almost affordable.
Theaster Gates, My Labor Is My Protest is open through 11 November 2012 at White Cube Bermondsey in London.