Disobedience Archive is a video collection which explores four decades of social disobedience: from the uprising in Italy in 1977 to the anti-globalization protests and to the insurrections in the Middle East.
The Castello di Rivoli is a stunning contemporary art museum a few kilometers away from Turin. The exhibition had a theme i'm particularly interested in. The works brought together were worth the trip to Rivoli. So far so good. Except that Disobedience Archive (The Republic) was an extremely frustrating exhibition. Videos that were made to inspire people to question, contest and discuss suffer from being hosted into a grand castle located in a provincial town. Rivoli might be one of the most prestigious contemporary art centers in Europe but the well-earned title is not enough to attract the crowds. When i visited the show, on a Saturday afternoon, the rooms were almost empty.
Still, splendid castle to spend an afternoon:
This one is part of the collection of the museum. It has nothing to do with Disobedience Archive but how could i resist adding it:
But let's get back to my grievances about the exhibition. The whole setting was as unappealing as possible: aside from a stern broadsheet at the entrance of the show, there is no information to give context and meaning to the works. The chairs to view the videos -some of which are over an hour long- are remarkably uncomfortable. There are too many videos to see in one visit and i'm not sure many people are ready to shell out 6.50 euros each time they want to come back and watch the films they had missed on their first visit.
There is a website for the video archive. It contains no video at all.
A frustrating exhibition thus. I would have liked everybody to spend hours watching the videos but i can't blame anyone for not doing so. This was a show that only the 'intellectual elite' would have seen. It shouldn't have been. Still, i'm glad i fancied myself as being part of that 'cultural elite' because the content was exceptional.
The archive is divided into nine sections: 1977 The Italian Exit looks at the revolutionary movements in Italy in the 1970s, with a focus on 1977, year of large-scale violent confrontations with a reactionary state. Protesting Capitalist Globalization documents or comments on the new social wave against globalization. Reclaim the Streets presents proposals to create autonomous social spaces through experimental forms of education, community, urbanism and architecture. Bioresistence and Society of Control refers to Foucault's analysis of the ways the operations of power extend beyond the institutions of state. Argentina Fabrica Social explores the political and economic crisis that stretched from the 2001 uprising to the election of Néstor Kirchner. Disobedience East brings together videos of political and activist art from post-communist Europe. Disobedience University shows alternative practices and strategies in which consumption is seen as a form of co-realization and collaboration. The Arab Dissent tries to raise questions about changes and antagonism in the Middle East. Gender Politics suggest the destruction of gender identity.
The show counts 57 videos. I wish i could link to all of them but only a handful can be viewed online. Here's my very subjective selection.
Unsurprisingly i made a beeline for the section entitled Bioresistence and Society of Control as it focused on issues encountered within prisons and asylum centers, on bacteriological experiments in warfare programmes and on other strategies deployed in the modern state to regulate and control life.
The Critical Art Ensemble had 3 films in the show. One of them was GenTerra, a collaboration with Beatriz da Costa. The video documents a participatory "theater" performance that gave the public an opportunity to get a more critical and hands-on understanding of transgenic organisms in relation to environmental and health exposure.
No video for Ashley Hunt's work, alas! In Corrections, the artist investigated the privatization of the prison system in the United States, exposing the role of the penal institution in preserving racial and economic divisions within society.
Angela Melitopoulos filmed three interviews with sociologist and philosopher Antonio Negri. The first in 1997 while he was in exile in Paris, the second in 1998 in the cell of Rebibbia prison in Rome, and the final one in 2003 in Rome, after his release.
Negri's report on his life as a prisoner describes new forms of control in the penal system, the psyche and mentality of prisoners, and forms of resistance with which he was able to retain "the freedom of his spirit".
Videograms of a Revolution uses -professional and amateur- video archives to examine the role of television in the infolding and understanding of the 1989 Romanian revolution. 'Demonstrators occupied the tv station in Bucharest and broadcast continuously for 120 hours, thereby establishing the tv studio as a new historical site.'
Half of the videos in the section The Arab Dissent were dedicated to the occupation of Palestine.
Khaled Jarrar, Infiltrators (Trailer), 2012
Khaled Jarrar's Infiltrators follows individuals and groups as they are looking for gaps in the seven meter high wall that separates the Palestinian territories from Israel.
I only saw one film in the Disobedience University selection and i think i struck gold with that one:
According to professor Yeshyahu Leibowitz, "the honest man should know that he should never respect the law too closely". Israeli filmmaker and critic Eyal Sivan sat down with the philosopher and listened to him talk about ethics, science, values, but also about State, religion, law and human responsibility.
Even though Leibowitz took part of in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he openly criticized the politics of the State of Israel, in the name of a Jewish tradition of responsibility and divine law. During the conversation, the philosopher expresses his support and solidarity with the Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.
The 57 videos were accompanied by two thematic rooms. The opening one contained artworks and archive documents related to the student and workers protests in the Italy of the 1970s. Again, a bit of context and explanations would have been welcome.
The final room amassed books, props and other objects associated with political and social dissent in first decade of the 21st century. Works by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, Superflex, Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, Oliver Ressler, Arseniy Zhilyaev, Critical Art Ensemble, etc. It should have been a fascinating, informative and inspiring display. Alas, and I'm going to repeat myself, short texts about their meaning and significance would not have been superfluous (the ones in the broadsheet/guide of the exhibition were a bit too general.)
I suspect that my opinion of Damien Hirst is fairly common: i like his work/i don't like his work. I find the guy likeable and then i don't. I did however, enjoy visiting the two exhibitions that presented a small selection of his private collection Murderme. I saw a part of it 6 years ago at the Serpentine Gallery in London. The show was called In the Darkest Hour There May Be Light. A skeleton dressed like an Inuit was lying on an ice cube and Sarah Lucas had her Chicken Knickers on. The collection is having another outing right now but in Turin, at the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli. The title of the show this time is Freedom Not Genius. The artists shown are roughly the same (the artworks aren't): Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol; Richard Prince and his nurses; many of Hirst's YBA friends; a couple of Banksy. But also artefacts i don't remember having seen in London: taxidermied exotic animals, 17th-century vanitas paintings, vintage photographs and old skulls.
There were a few works i didn't care about (mostly the ones by Jeff Koons), a couple that surprised me (and that includes one by Jeff Koons) and many more i found rather uplifting. The Murderme collection is pure entertainment. Death is made dramatic and sometimes even cheerful. The artists have names most people have heard about. I found the exhibition curious and fascinating, it's that contemporary art world I find seductive but also utterly alien to me.
One of the rooms was dedicated to various memento mori with skulls from past centuries, a Picasso's Nature morte au crane et au pot, skulls adorned with a variety of materials, a Murakami (obviously my favourite), the skeletons of Tweety And Sylvester, etc.
Collishaw's The Garden of Unearthly Delights was probably the most photographed (or rather videoed) work in the show. The zoetrope was illuminated by stroboscopic lighting, giving the illusion that the figures were animated and that little children were gleefully throwing rocks at butterflies, crushing snails and bashing fish.
Freedom Not Genius remains open at the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli in Turin until 10 March 2013.
Maurizio Anzeri makes his portraits by sewing directly into found vintage photographs.
I'm quite convinced that in contemporary art, "The Poles Do It Better." Demonstration:
Pop is a waxwork of Turk as Sid Vicious in white jacket and black trousers, pointing a gun with the same gesture as Elvis Presley in the famous Andy Warhol's painting.
Rachel Foullon's barn objects from the Clusters installation look like props from a Western movie. They look worn and faded but they are also impeccably clean and their fold, creases and position seem to be the result of a careful study.
Teresa Margolles asked people she met in the streets of Juarez what they thought about the city. The answers were incised on keys hand-made by a local artisan who works on the streets.
Random views (i visited the fair on press day, hence the empty space):
An art fair is not the best place to discover works related to science, technology or politics. And when there are indeed such works on offer, they are not easy to spot. Galleries exhibiting at art fairs don't usually accompany the artwork with a text explaining what the piece is about. In fact, several galleries don't even write down the name of the artists they exhibit. You have to go and ask them. Which i do when i'm desperate but most of the time, i just want to keep on walking from gallery to gallery (there were 172 of them this year at Artissima) and see the rest of the show before my head explodes.
I did however, spot a few gems at the latest edition of Artissima.
The paintings of Taisia Korotkova immediately got my attention. There is something odd and slightly off-putting in the way she portrays childbirth. In the Reproduction series, Korotkova combines her impressions of her recent stay in the hospital with imagery of recent technology for artificial insemination. the intimate subject of child perception is tripped bared from any privacy by depicting the process as purely scientific, hightech and machine based. The anti-utopist Korotkova stresses that she recreates the already observed with sharper edges, while her style is reminiscent of optimistic illustrations of the 1960s with the cold pastel tones.
Korotkova paints her modern icons in the technique of traditional icon painting in tempera with a dip of humanized social realist painting.
The Castello di Rivoli was showing a black and white photo by Simon Starling. As its ultra long title suggests, the work is inspired by Christopher Williams's seven photographs of the Grande Dixence, the Swiss dam where Godard shot Opération Béton (Operation Cement). I'm mostly copy-pasting the description provided at the fair (the Castello di Rivoli is a museum, hence the magnanimous addition of information): Starling re-photographed Williams's shots and exhibited them with a title that describes how Switzerland profits from the resale of energy. Actually, the work is based on a stratagem that Switzerland carries out, buying electrical energy at night from nearby countries, at a low cost, then using that energy to pump water into the dam's holding reservoirs, generating hydroelectric energy, which is then resold by day at a higher price to those same neighbouring nations. Taking his cue from this small escamotage, or evasion, the artist carried out an analogous action that, through his appropriation of Williams's photos, causes his work to take on an already substantial value, which he then increases by printing these same images using a platinum rather than silver salt process - the former being a much more costly process than the one originally used. In this way Starling adds the material value of the means employed to the 'artistic' valie of the acquired photographs, infusing Williams's work with new meanings and adding another stage in the object's evocative path.
In the 1780s mineralogist August Nordenskiöld was employed by the Swedish king Gustav III to discover the legendary alchemical substance Philosopher's Stone and turn base metal into gold. The gold was intended to finance Sweden's military and economic expansion, but Nordenskiöld had a different agenda, he aimed to produce so much gold that its value would be lost and the "tyranny of money" abolished. One of the few remaining artifacts from Nordenskiöld's laboratory is a coal burning alchemy furnace.
In the project The Nordenskiöld Model, Goldin+Senneby (a duo of artists as elusive as an offshore company and who have been exploring the abstract nature of money for several years) explore the relation between contemporary finance and Nordenskiöld's utopian ideals and alchemical experiments.
Kamen Stoyanov's Tomato Product takes forms and ideas from the physical to the virtual and back. The work started with a very literal take on the Facebook game, Farmville, in which players receive a small piece of land to grow virtual crops and raises livestock. The artist used the garden of a historically significant building in West Hollywood (a city associated with an 'unreal' lifestyle) to grow tomatoes. Each plant pot measures 12x12 inch, the size of land ones get starting to play Farmville. Stoyanov also prepared tomato soup, canned it, added a label and put it on display, as a reference to Andy Warhol.
And a happy new year to you, dear readers!
Almost two months ago, i wrote a couple of measly posts (Arnold Odermatt, policeman photographer and Artissima - Valerio Carrubba) about the 19th edition of Artissima, the contemporary art fair that takes place in Turin each year in November. I've finally decided to catch up with my reports from the fair.
While reading articles in the local press, i learnt that Artisima broke all its records of affluence this year. That doesn't surprise me. A few years ago, Turin decided to squeeze all its major cultural events into the same November week. So the art fair was accompanied by various openings in the city and by an 'off' fair, nothing unusual here. But that same week also saw the commissions It's Not The End Of The World displayed in various museums for a few days, a digital art festival, a festival of electronic music, a photo fair, an exhibition dedicated to 'emerging art'', etc. A fantastic strategy to attract tourists. A lame idea for art-loving people who live in this city.
As a brief intro (which will actually be the third 'brief intro'), here's a quick copy/paste of the photographic works that i found most interesting at Artissima. Some of them are purely photographic works. But because i didn't see as many stunning photos as usual this year, i'm adding images that document performances and interventions. Starting with...
The 11 metre long, pink neon sign was first erected on the roof of an abandoned barn in a region of Norway made famous by Edvard Munch. Kjartansson lived there for a week, looking dejected and playing the guitar for days, many of which not a single human visitor came.
Naufus Ramírez Figueroa was one of the 3 winners of the Premio Illy for young artists.
Karen Knorr's series of large-scale photos star wildlife animals inhabiting the elegant salons of famous cultural institutions and castles.
Edgar Leciejewski: a name to add to the already long list of artists working with blow-ups of "Google Street View".
Per-Oskar Leu's "The English: Are they human?" site-specific installation showed two Italian Mille Miglia parka. Their integrated goggles and 'built for speed' appearance has made these jackets a sought-after garment among football fans with inclinations towards fighting and luxury apparel. Since the early 1980's groups of British 'risk supporters' have embraced a dress code of upmarket, mainly French and Italian sportswear brands, a look which has in turn been adapted by fans in Europe following an increase in 'The English Disease' of football hooliganism. Simultaneously, Leu conjures up imagery from other cross-cultural phenomena equally fixated upon the cult of youthful aggression; namely the Italian Futurist movement and its English offshoot the Vorticist group, founded in 1909 and 1913 respectively.
In 1999, Nedko Solakov wrote fourteen short messages and narratives on the wings of six of Luxair's Boeing 737's. Each of them was visible only from the window seats.
In case you were wondering what the fair looked like:
One last reason why i love Artissima:
Probably my favourite photo at Artissima art fair in Turin last week:
I wrote briefly about Arnold Odermatt in the past but i'm glad that the Springer Berlin gallery chose to highlight his work for Back to the Future, the fair's (utterly brilliant) section dedicated to artists active in the '60s and '70s.
Odermatt never studied photography. He was a traffic policeman in Switzerland and part of his job consisted in taking photographs of road accidents and of other members of the police at work. From 1948 till 1990, when he retired, he would make one set for the insurance or police reports and a second one for himself.
His photos of accidents are sometimes compared to the ones taken by Weegee, Mell Kilpatrick or Enrique Metenides who chronicled accidents, scenes of violence, suicides for newspapers or pulp magazines.
Odermatt obviously had a very different job but the settings for the car crashes and other accidents he documented makes his work even more distinctive. More scenic, with a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere. In the policeman's photos, the horror seems to be under the spell of the elegant landscape.