The MUDAM museum in Luxembourg has recently opened a remarkable exhibition where artists -who double as thinkers, engineers or architects- get to grips with questions of a scientific and metaphysical nature.
Mondes inventés, Mondes habités ("Invented Worlds, Inhabited Worlds") allows the public to observe from up close their machines, systems and explorations of technology and physical phenomena.
Leonardo da Vinci pretty much leaves everyone in the shadow when it comes to embodying the figure of the artist as inventor (or maybe vice versa.) But he has a few heirs among contemporary artists. First in the line is Panamarenko. Just like the Italian polymath, Panamarenko's flying machines and prosthesis trigger the question "But do they fly?" The answer might not matter, the contraptions owe as much to the artist's curiosity for natural phenomenon and technology as they do to the tragic mythological Athenian Icarus.
Knikkebeen, a bipedal prosthesis inspired by the camel's gait.
Many of his experimental flying machines were modeled on the motion of birds and insects:
In the 1970s, Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer drew extraordinary plans of coin-operated artificial vagina and penis, complete with a detailed user manual. The Masturbation Machines come with hydraulic pistons that generate an 'up-and-down movement', a set of cartridges of 'ejaculate' substance, a disinfection system for the vagina, ventilators to drive away flying insects in the Summer months, an audiotape emitting suitable gasps and sighs, etc.
Implemented by the State, these Masturbation Machines would ensure a satisfied workforce more able to focus on labor during working hours, a more harmonious family, less risks of sexually-transmitted diseases, a decrease in sexual crime, a democratization of sex and a complete state control over the sexuality of its citizens.
A few steps away from the drawings, Paul Granjon's gendered robots were mating and sniffing each other with gusto in their little 'Robotarium" enclosure.
A second group of artworks attempt to understand and reproduce physical phenomena or natural forces.
Nancy Rubins's Table and Airplane Parts is exactly what its title says: an accumulation of airplane parts on a sturdy wooden table. Some of them seem to have crashed into the piece of furniture, while other parts are resting on it. Bits of the reactor, of wings, doors, of the cockpit and fuselage are tangled up in an almost implausible challenge of balance.
Just like the planes that fly up our heads, the work defies gravity.
Chris Burden's Mexican Bridge celebrates engineering as well, albeit in a less tumultuous way. He discovered this bridge in the book Railroads in Mexico. It was and remained a drawing as the bridge was never built.
Visitor are invited to climb up the helicoidal stairs that surround Conrad Shawcross's The Nervous System (Inverted) and see its every detail from up close. The machine weaves spools of thread into a multi-colored rope that slowly drops to the ground. The towering artwork reveals the beauty of forces in action in large-scale technological installations of the industrial age.
Roman Signer's videos appear in half of the exhibitions i'm visiting these days but i never get tired of them. For his Action in Sedrun, he fired 100 protective helmets into the air in honour of the workers at the breakthrough of the Gotthard base tunnel, in the Swiss Alps.
Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison's sepia-toned photos deliberately look artificial. The landscape the main character inhabit is desolate and barren like in your worst post-apocalyptic nightmares. Yet the man at the center of the scene tirelessly gets to grip with what the damage done to the land by, we are guessing, its previous inhabitants. Armed with extravagant and impractical equipment, he's sowing, planting, manufacturing clouds, etc.
There's so much more to see in the MUDAM show: a documentary on Theo Jansen, many many more absurd videos by Roman Signer, Björn Dahlem questioning cosmology using alarm clocks, Paul Lafolley's belief in mystical science put on paper, etc. I can't recommend that exhibition enough. The selection of artworks, the space left for each of them to breathe, the seducing combination of humour and science make it one of the best shows i've seen this Autumn.
Today more and more people decide to escape reality in order to make up a new identity. Some are donning a "mask" that allows them to express themselves freely. Others live vicariously through the avatar they have created to navigate virtual worlds the way themselves would often dream of living their 'real' life. But multiple or split identities are not confined to intentional escapes, some people have theirs imposed upon them by a society that wouldn't allow otherness and dissidence.
Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je, the exhibition open throughout the Summer at the Casino de Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain, presents critical as well as humorous works on contemporary strategies of construction and deconstruction of identity.
The recent development of cyberculture in the "communication society" contributes largely to the multiplication of identity. Online social networks enable everybody to create multiple profiles; virtual realities are - veritably - lived through "avatars". This "poly-belonging" enables the individual to discover and express multiple facettes of himself/herself, to have the freedom to play with one's own identity - through masks or not - and to open the way to otherness.
The exhibition might deal with a theme that has been examined over and over again in exhibitions and essays dealing with the parallels existences made possible by modern technologies but the outcome nevertheless provides visitors with many opportunities for reflection. I thought i would see "just another of those shows about online/offline life" but was surprised to see how far the exhibition reached. Second Lives takes visitors from media hoaxes to the reenactment of iconic artworks, from an homage to Michael Jackson to hybridization between human and animal and from the cold analysis of our globalized individuality to the use of masks in and outside theater stages.
Kaori Kinoshita and Alain Della Negra are showing absorbing videos that investigate 'avatars' and more precisely, how people handle multiple or split identities, how they relate to sex, money or beliefs according to whether they are on Second Life or in what they repeatedly call "RL" (real life).
One of the videos, La Tannière (The Den) is a series of portrays of furries, people who are fans of anthropromorphic animals to the extent that some of them have adopted a 'furry lifestyle' and a minority even believe that they were born a furry. This marginal community, consisting of chimeras, half men and half animals, was created in the 80's, when Disney anthropomorphic heroes began their invasion. Its number of members - as avatars -- has increased with the internet.
Hermine Bourgadier investigates another sub-culture, the one of Cosplay. The Casino de Luxembourg is showing two series. The first one follows cosplayers showing off their costumes at conventions. The second one stems from a workshop held at high school in which the artist asked students to pick up a cartoon or video game character and adopt their most typical pose. The disguise this time is most rudimentary, the accent being on gestures and expression.
Deconstructing Osama takes us away from online worlds and brings us back to the front pages of newspapers. Back in November 2006 two photojournalists from Qatar-based news agency Al-Zur pulled off a brilliant coup of investigative journalism by following the trail of Dr. Fasqiyta-Ul Junat, a leader of Al Qaeda's military wing. Fasqiyta-Ul Junat, they discovered, "was in reality an actor and singer named Manbaa Mokfhi who had appeared in soap operas on Arab television networks and was the public face of a MeccaCola advertising campaign." The actor had merely been hired to play the role of a dangerous terrorist. After Mokfhi disappeared mysteriously, "intelligence services then invented the figure of Osama bin Laden and his associates in which to create the face of terror."
The revelation was spread on the cover of news magazines, detailed in tv news reports, and documented through exclusive photos that see him leading an incursion by Al Qaeda Taliban guerrillas, entertaining his comrades with acrobatic moves performed on the back of a mule, handing out sweets to children, working in his dromedary farm, stirring up a popular demonstration against Western imperialism, etc. The figure of Mokfhi/Fasqiyta-Ul Junat is obviously a complete fiction. He looks suspiciously like Joan Fontcuberta, an artist known for his investigations into photography's many flirtations with deception.
The very title o the exhibition, Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je, refers to technology but many of the works deal with a fantasy that doesn't need internet to flourish.
As disturbing as they are airbrushed, spray-tanned and covered in foundation, the little girls of High Glitz were portrayed by Susan Anderson just before show time as they were competing at some of America's child beauty pageants.
The photos find an echo in Hsia-Fei Chang's tiny shoes. Modeled on women's shoes, they were altered to fit the feet of very young girls. Their high heels, open-toe and ornamentation make them impractical for children. Like Anderson's High Glitz series they evoke a sense of inappropriate seduction.
Aneta Grzeszykowska's remake of Cindy Sherman's seventies classic Untitled Film Stills was so careful it took her one year to restage all 70 original photographs. Composition, makeup, clothes, props have been rigorously recreated. However, the scenes were shot in Warsaw, not New York.
Previously: Que le cheval vive en moi (May the horse live in me). See also Virtual Identities at CCCS Strozzina in Florence.
Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je was curated curated by Paul Di Felice, Kevin Muhlen and Pierre Stiwer . It remains open at the Casino de Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain through September 11, 2011.
The Casino de Luxembourg has, once again, put up an show worth a trip to the capital of the tiny Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je raises questions about the blurring of identity in contemporary society. I'll review the whole exhibition later on this week but in the meantime i'd like to single out a work i found particularly striking.
In February of this year, Art Orienté objet (Marion Laval-Jeantet & Benoît Mangin) were at galerie Kapelica in Ljubljana to perform Que le cheval vive en moi (May the horse live in me), a bold self-experiment that aimed to blur the boundaries between species.
The French artistic duo has been exploring trans-species relationships and the questioning of scientific methods and tools for 20 years now. This time their work involved injecting Marion Laval-Jeantet with horse blood plasma. Over the course of several months, the artist prepared her body by allowing to be injected with horse immunoglobulins, the glycoproteins that circulate in the blood serum, and which, for example, can function as antibodies in immune response. The artist called the process "mithridatization", after Mithridates VI of Pontus who cultivated an immunity to poisons by regularly ingesting sub-lethal doses of the same.
In February 2011, having progressively built up her tolerance to the foreign animal bodies, she was injected with horse blood plasma containing the entire spectrum of foreign immunoglobulins, without falling into anaphylactic shock, an acute multi-system allergic reaction.
Horse immunoglobulins by-passed the defensive mechanisms of her own human immune system, entered her blood stream to bond with the proteins of her own body and, as a result of this synthesis, have an effect on all major body functions, impacting even the nervous system, so that the artist, during and in the weeks after the performance, experienced not only alterations in her physiological rhythm but also of her consciousness. "I had the feeling of being extra-human," explained the artist. "I was not in my usual body. I was hyper-powerful, hyper-sensitive, hyper-nervous and very diffident. The emotionalism of an herbivore. I could not sleep. I probably felt a bit like a horse.'
After the transfusion, Laval-Jeantet, perched on stilts, performed a communication ritual with a horse before her hybrid blood was extracted and freeze-dried.
Video documenting the performance:
As a radical experiment whose long-term effects cannot be calculated, Que le cheval vive en moi questions the anthropocentric attitude inherent to our technological understanding. Instead of trying to attain "homeostasis," a state of physiological balance, with this performance, the artists sought to initiate a process of "synthetic transi-stasis," in which the only constant is continual transformation and adaptation. The performance represents a continuation of the centaur myth, that human-horse hybrid which, as "animal in human," symbolizes the antithesis of the rider, who as human dominates the animal.
Second Lives: Jeux masqués et autres Je remains open at the Casino de Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain through September 11, 2011.
The title of the exhibition, Ceci n'est pas un Casino (This is not a Casino), refers to a sentence that the people working at Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain have repeated over and over again. The Casino is an art center, not a gambling establishment. You're not there to play!
No matter loud and clear the warning was, it is rather confusing to enter the (non-)casino building and find yourself in front of video consoles, a trampoline, a pin-ball machine, games of dart, a billiard table, a playground, loads of balls, etc. Yet, the works are playing with you rather than the opposite. You instantly loose every single game of Mortal Kombat, the ceiling of the room where a huge trampoline has been installed is far too low for you to even stand on your feet, the hula hoop is monopolized by a big cactus, the mohair bascketball net is 130 m long, fences deny any access to the playground, etc.
The artworks selected for Ceci n'est pas un Casino amplify the vexation experienced by visitors when enter the space thinking that they will enjoy games of chance. The exhibition is tantalizing, baffling, frustrating but it's also light, fun and sometimes thought-provoking. Just what games should be!
But what is underscored here is the double twist and frustration associated with gaming. Art and game-playing--which have often been compared in recent art criticism--are in fact similar practices: both call for (indeed, embody) a free spirit on one hand, and a precise set of rules on the other hand. Both tend to set up binary oppositions that give rise to meanings, symbols and related emotions--like a goal that has either been scored or not scored, once and for all, a status that inherently generates intense, wide-ranging reactions from everyone involved (players, referees, spectators, commentators, TV viewers). This relationship between binary status and analogue reaction is specific to games yet is mirrored in the artistic techniques employed in these works.
Quick walk through:
Antoinette J. Citizen filled a whole room with a Landscape from Super Mario Brothers. Every element is at the scale of the visitor. On the walls are question mark boxes that you can press to recreate the sounds from the game.
Patrick Bérubé moved the floor of another exhibition room upwards to install the most frustrating trampoline i've ever seen. The ceiling is so low you have to bend in half if you want to get near the trampoline. Forget about jumping on it:
Jacob Dahlgren's I, The World, Things, Life fills a whole wall with dartboards. Visitors are invited to help themselves with the red darts on offer in nearby cardboard boxes and play a game of darts. Except that the exercise is absurd. How do you check if you've scored? Which red dart is your dart? Seen from afar, the wall dissolves into a big abstract painting that keeps changing as more people come inside the gallery and throw darts.
I never thought i'd ever feel sad for a bumper car but here i was, almost shedding a tear for Pierre Ardouvin's Love Me Tender. Not only is there only one bumper car, but its track is far too small and the music played is the desolate Love Me Tender.
In a recent interview, Pierre Ardouvin explained that Love me tender was made for a solo show at FIAC (Paris' Contemporary Art Fair). By bringing side by side art fair and fairground, the work can be seen as a critique of the art world and its narrowness but it's also a work about solitude.
Stéphane Thidet's Park photo series picture entertainments parks at their least entertaining. Glum, dark, foggy and almost abandoned.
All my pictures from the exhibition.
On view at the Casino is also a wonderful sound installation by Hong-Kai Wang. Music While You Work is the result of a six week exploration of factories around the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg by the Taiwanese artist.
Ceci n'est pas un Casino was curated by Jo Kox and Kevin Muhlen. It is open at Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain until 5 September 2010.
Tomas Saraceno's Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web was the ultimate photo-magnet at this year's Venice Biennale. No doubt the work he's exhibiting at ReThink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change in Copenhagen is meeting with the same fascination from the audience. I've seen his artworks in numerous group exhibition. They are always striking of course but i never really took the time to sit down and watch his work with enough attention.
MUDAM gave me a great opportunity to do just that. The Luxembourg museum is currently dedicating one of its exhibitions to the Argentinian artist with videos, sketches, photo documentation of his experiments, prototypes of inflatable structures anchored to the floor of the galleries, etc.
The artist's suspended gardens and nomadic architecture follow the steps of the structures conceived by Peter Cook, Yona Friedman, Buckminster Fuller and the members of Ant Farm. Saraceno's vehicles are "lighter than air", they are powered by solar energy and made with materials such as aerogel, an extremely low-density solid derived from a gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas.
His Air-Port-City is an ongoing experiment that interconnects various living areas floating in the air through a system of modules. Saraceno's architecture is ethereal and delicate, it is poetical and utopian but because they are ruled by regulations similar to airport ones, his cities also challenge existing political, social, cultural and military boundaries. They are truly international. Inhabitants will survive eating the produces of the "Flying Gardens" made of plants that can survive the constant changes in spatial and temporal conditions. There will be 'airplants' for example. These plants, from the genus Tillandsia, feed on rain, dust, insect matter, dew and whatever nutrients the air brings to them.
Previously at MUDAM: Mudam, the Museum of Modern Art in Luxembourg (part 1) and Mudam (part 2): RRRIPP!! Paper Fashion.
You know how some charmless and dull cities on the continent pride themselves with the title of "Europe's best kept secret"? I bet Luxembourg wouldn't dare to pretend to the label. The place is as charmless as a man wearing Ugg boots. Don't even get me started on their food. Yet, i keep going again and again to Luxembourg because of its edgy and exciting art offer. My last visit was spurred by the second chapter of the exhibition sk-interfaces at Casino Luxembourg.
Yes, i had already seen sk-interfaces. Exploding Borders in Art, Technology and Society at FACT in Liverpool but the Luxembourg version, i was told by friends, is bigger, bolder and even better than the first one. They were right. Several pieces have been added to the show. The performances are extremely well documented and there is a corner to watch videos. The space itself is kinder to the artworks. There's even extra drama as the poor Victimless Leather (A prototype of Stitch-less Jacket grown in a Technoscientific 'Body') garments had caught some disease on their way to the Casino and were slowly eaten by decay.
It's as if the first exhibition in Liverpool had been a superb rehearsal of this one.
Curated by Jens Hauser, the exhibition sk-interfaces presents some 20 artists who question the ways in which today's techno-sciences alter our relation to the world: digital technologies, architecture, tissue cultures, transgenesis, self-experiments or telepresence - the artists appropriate these methods and explore the permeability between disciplines and between art and science. Their interfaces connect us with different species, destabilise our definition of being human today and reflect on the question of satellite bodies. Oscillating between the physical and the metaphorical, the political and the meditative, the utopias and the dystopias, the exhibition invite us to reflect on how we are perceiving the shifts brought about by technologies, some of which we might not be as familiar with as we ought to.
One of the best surprises for me was to discover that the Critical Art Ensemble was not only showing Immolation but also a video i was very curious about: Marching Plague (little did i know, until the press person at Casino told me so, that the video is also available for online viewing.)
Critical Art Ensemble's film puts into a highly skeptical perspective UK-US bioweapons research and the paranoia surrounding bioterrorism. In the video, the CAE and some volunteers follows the steps of Operation Cauldron, a series of biological warfare trials conducted by the UK governmentoff the Isle of Lewis in Scotland in 1952. These secret trials investigated whether germs could be used as a weapon for ship-to-ship combat. Their tests found that germs were as unreliable and unmanageable on the sea as they were on the land.
The film humorously demonstrates that the public's fear of "bioterrorism" is not only based on incomplete awareness of the facts but has also been exploited by governments to justify the creeping costs of biological warfare programmes. Money which could otherwise be dedicated to the fight against existing or emerging infectioius diseases.
inthewrongplaceness is an intimate performance that Kira O'Reilly developed on her return from a residency at SymbioticA in 2004. The impact of working with pig's tissue in a lab setting instigated her thoughts on the similarities between the pig's skin and her own. By inviting members of the audience to approach one by one and touch both her own and the skin of a dead, nonhuman animal, O'Reilly encourages visitors to engage with the complexities of the relationships between skin, touch and species. The artist also explained in an interview: It was also very much influenced by a book called Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq, about a woman who turns into a pig. She spends quite some time in the middle of the text oscillating through in between stages, neither entirely one nor the other.
I didn't see the performance but it seems that it took place in a room that is part of the exhibition. On the walls and on the floor are props such as flowers, taxidermied birds and corpses of small animals in formalin.
Plage d'hiver ("winter beach") grabs all our senses with a physiological reconstruction of a beach. A skyline of ultraviolet light along with the dark glasses visitors are recommended to wear upon entering the 'beach room' and a cloud of iodine project our body to another latitude, another a season. We breathe the effluvium of the marine aerosol and our skin reacts to the UV-a rays. Rahm has reproduced the angle of sight corresponding to the reflection of sunlight on water which reaches the retina from below as if in duplicate.
Plage d'hiver translates the ubiquity typical of modernity, where seasons are adrift all year long, to the point of overlap in a sort of perpetual spring; a modernity where night and day merge in a white luminous light, diurnal and nocturnal alike, and where distances are reduced until they, too, overlap with the immediacy of globalization.
Antal Lakner's Passive Dress - Double Gravity Suit is a suit ergonomically fitted with weights that make its wearer perceive 1.5-2 times the normal earthly gravitation weight. The mere attempt to keep a normal posture, to stabilize the body or make small gestures becomes a slow-motion meaningless fatigue. The suit challenges men to maintain one of its unique characteristics: we are indeed the only ones among the vertebrates in having a completely erect posture.
I'll end with a couple of images with my favourite artwork in the show: the Roadkill Coat that the members of Art Orienté Objet stitched using the fur of small animals they found dead by highways.
sk-interfaces. Exploding Borders in Art, Technology and Society is on view at Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain until 10 January 2010. Photo on the homepage: Axel Heise.