On Thursday i was in Turin and visited For President at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. The timely, informative and a tad star-struck exhibition examines the American election campaigns, its calculated emotional moments, theatrical strategies and incestuous relationship with media. Part of the show is also looking at the interest Italy (and with it, the rest of Europe) is having for the American event, from a very brief article on page 3 of a daily newspaper in 1868 to the current front pages.
Starting from John Fitzgeral Kennedy, the first president to have reached the rest of the world through television, For President retraces the history of the different election campaigns, all having relied on photojournalism, contemporary art and the widespread production of paraphernalia and advertising for the various candidates.
In the spaces of the Fondazione, the artists who were influenced by their own research on the elections mix their work with the iconic images of the agency Magnum.
The first presidential debate between candidates from opposing political parties as well as the first one to be televised took place in 1960 between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. The event is now more famous for the TV appeal of the candidates than for the content of the debate. It has often been written that people listening to the discussion on the radio were convinced that Nixon had emerged victorious from the debate. Television audiences, however, thought Kennedy had decidedly won the debate. Nixon was recovering from a knee injury and from a demanding tour of every single State of the US, he had refused to wear makeup and appeared unhealthy and stiff. Kennedy, on the other hand, was tanned and looked directly at the camera with confidence. JFK's suit was dark and contrasted well against the background. Nixon's grey suit almost blended in with the background.
Polls later revealed that more than half of all voters had been influenced by the Great Debates, while 6% claimed that the debates alone had decided their choice. Most importantly, the four Kennedy-Nixon debates also heralded a new era in which media exposure became a key part of a successful political campaign and in which television played an important role in the democratic process.
Fast forward to 1984 and artists are satirizing the circus of politics on tv. Produced to coincide with the "Ronald Reagan vs Walter Mondale" Presidential Campaign, Perfect Leader is a virulent parody of media politics. A computer program is creating candidate archetypes -- dictator, evangelist, moderate -- before it blends them together to create the ultimate mass-marketed leader.
The Democrazy video installation screens two political ads for a fictional presidential campaign. The two candidates are Patricia Hill (played by Sharon Stone) and Patrick Hill (played by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy). The ads were produced in collaboration with political experts, Sharon Stone's ad was supervised by one of George W. Bush's media advisors in 2004, and Levy's by a member of Bill Clinton's creative team in 1996.
The political ads feature every political cliché in the book. Every move and expression is studied. Both candidates talk about peace, international politics and future of the country. They kiss children, smile broadly, wear impeccable haircuts and it is almost impossible to make out any differences in their programs.
The short videos demonstrate that the rules of election campaigns are increasingly similar to the ones governing the world of entertainment and show business. The obvious examples being Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A situation which strikes a chord in Italy where media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi might even come back for another round as a Prime Minister.
The film also demonstrates that the political discourse is no longer anchored in argumentation, logic, nor even in content but in the image filtered through the media. And in particular on television, the main arena of political confrontation.
Most of the works in the entrance hall featured the president Europeans like so much: Barack Obama. There were large-scale portraits, images from the current campaign as well as a photo series -by Ramak Fazel- that showed another aspect of the few hours that preceded the inauguration of Obama on January 20, 2009. Surprised by a storm while waiting for the appearance of the President, people had to take refuge in the Smithsonian Freer Gallery where they quickly lost interest for the art works and used the museum to rest and shelter against the elements.
Most of the works shown at the Fondazione were image shot by photographers working for Magnum. The most moving series was Paul Fusco's Funeral Train.
In 1968, Fusco accompanied the funeral procession that transported the body of Robert Kennedy from New York City to its final resting place in Washington. Traveling by train, the coffin was elevated so that the public could see it through the large windows of the carriage. However, Fusco photographed the mourners who were waiting and standing silently by the track to pay their respects.
And in no particular order (well, except the first one because Carter has always been my favourite.)
For President was curated by Francesco Bonami and Mario Calabresi. The former is an international art critic, curator and the current artistic director of the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (where he does a fantastic job.) The latter is the director of the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa. A large room at the Fondazione was dedicated to the space that La Stampa has allocated to the presidential elections since it was founded (under the name La Gazzetta Piemontese) in 1866.
The first mention of the US elections was a short article on page 3 of the Italian newspaper to announce the election of Grant as president of the U.S.A. At the time, Italian newspapers were more interested in what what happened in France, Prussia, London or in the Ottoman Empire.
Throughout the 19th century, news from the other side of the Atlantic came by telegraph through the submarine cable that ran across the Ocean. The first time an election received a whole issue was in 1928, with the victory of Herbert Hoover. Under Fascism the gap between Italy and the Atlantic widened again, to the point that in 1936 the re-election of Roosevelt was confined to page 8.
The first front page for the US election came with the election of Eisenhower. Photo, maps and charts, however, only appeared in 1960 when John F. Kennedy conquered the White House. Since then Italians have been never ceased follow with passion the American elections.
A few shots from the show:
For President, an exhibition curated by Mario Calabresi and Francesco Bonami, remains open at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin until 6 January 2013.
While writing my review of Artissima, the contemporary art fair that closed earlier this month in Turin, i left one project aside. I was so interested by Milica Tomic's Container that i decided to take some time to document it more thoroughly.
The work, which was brought to Turin by Charim Galerie (Vienna), challenges the 'representation' (or lack of thereof) of past violent events.
Container recreates the Dasht-i-Leili massacre, a war crime committed in Northern Afghanistan in 2001. Thousands of Taliban prisoners were locked inside cargo containers without food nor water and carted off through the desert to prison on a journey that took several days. When they begged for air, the Northern Alliance troops shot at the containers, "to make holes for air to come in."
Some were killed by the bullets, others died of suffocation. Those who survived were subsequently shot and buried in mass graves. Information about the massacre appeared in the media only two years later. Not a single image illustrated the story. But there were eyewitness reports, and there is a documentary, Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death.
Milica Tomic decided to produce the non-existing war image. The images would not only be fake, they would also be made in other locations and contexts. And with every reconstruction, Tomić came across new information linking host countries to various war zones or local episodes of violence.
The scene of the crime was first repeated on an empty cargo container in Belgrade, in a sport club where you can hire a "shooting service". Three professional shooters shot at the container. They received monetary compensation and did not ask any question. The artist and her team later moved the container to downtown Belgrade, where they photographed it with about 100 people inside.
The artist quickly realized that during the crime reconstruction in Belgrade, more crimes started to emerge: those committed during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. In order to pierce the thick container metal,, the shooters hired by the artists had to use Kalashnikov and the bullets AK-47/7.62 x 39mm. The bullets were produced in 1988 in Bosnia, and then used during the war in Kosovo until 1999, when the Yugoslav Army brought them to Belgrade, following the retreat from Kosovo.
Repeating this reconstruction in different countries produced different scenarios.
In Australia, the (re)construction had to take place only on private property. The only professionals who accepted to shoot at the container were roo-shooters, the kangaroo hunters. This time, the bullet used were the same that were used by the Australian army fighting the US-led war in Iraq.
Another reconstruction of the crime took place in Gyumri, Armenia, where shooting at a container would have been far too disturbing for the population. Containers were indeed used after 1988 to house many Gyumri residents who had lost their homes to the earthquake. Some are still in use today.
Besides, a total weapon ban had just been imposed in the country because of demonstrations that had ended in bloodshed a couple of months before Tomic's arrival in Armenia. This time the (re)construction of the war crime didn't go further than the renting of the container.
In Great Britain, this artwork was only possible within the BBC studios production. Another option was to take the container out of the country, and return it perforated to Great Britain.
The networks of military, economic and political relations, which appeared active during the process of reconstruction and begun to tell us its own criminal story.
By simulating this crime the discussion on global violence, hypocrisy of American wars in the name of democracy and anti-terrorism opens by default.
Previously: As seen at Artissima this month.
Another edition of the Artissima art fair just ended in Turin, another Artissima report on wmmna. I've always found Artissima brainier, edgier and less art supermarket than other art fairs (let's say that the mercantile side of the operation is a bit more subtle here.) I thought my first visit to Frieze in London last month would dethrone the Turin fair from its pedestal but that didn't happen. Frieze is not as avant-garde as its reputation wants it. At least not anymore. I hope to find time to blog about it soon-ish.
Along with the 102 galleries that form its Main Section, Artissima also introduced young galleries, which have been up and running for less than five years. Another section, Emerging Talents, is dedicated to emerging artists while Back to the Future brings the spotlight on artists who were active in the '60s and '70s and whose work has much affinity with current art practice. I'm going to mix and match everything i've seen in a single, almost devoid of any comment, post:
I love love love David Shrigley:
Views from the exhibition space at the Oval (images from the press kit):
Gabriele Arruzzo's proposal of a coat of arms for Italy celebrates the past glories of the country as much as some of the embarrassing clichés that characterize its current identity (or at least the way it is perceived.)
In 2008 the Croatian artist Igor Grubić began a series of micro-political actions dedicated to the revolutionary movements of 1968 that ranged from personal dedications to provocative interventions in public spaces.
The retro section, Back to the Future, ended up being my favourite of all.
When in 1972 Franco Mazzucchelli abandoned some PVC inflatables (A. TO A.) in front of Alfa Romeo he involuntarily triggered a road block as factory workers played with the plastic shapes and created a barrier to block the cars.
My images on flickr.
I'm just back from the Galleria Franco Soffiantino in Turin where i saw a pretty amazing creepy thought-provoking drama by Melanie Gilligan, an artist whose previous 4 part video Crisis in the Credit System received much attention back in 2008. I've just discovered that the 5 episodes of Popular Unrest are available online too. I wish i'd known before because the screening at the Turin gallery was as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
Popular Unrest is set in a fictional future that looks very much like today's London. The drama explores a world in which the self is reduced to physical biology, directly subject to the needs of capital. All exchange transactions and social interactions are overseen by a system called 'the Spirit'. Hotels offer bed-warming servants with every room, people are fined for not preventing foreseeable illness, weight watching foods eat the digester from the inside and the unemployed repay their debt to society in physical energy.
The film starts at the moment when things start to go wrong in the world that was so far impeccably controlled by 'The Spirit.' Unexplained killings are taking place across the globe. Sometimes the assailant strikes in public but no one has ever seen it/him. Just as mysteriously, groups of unrelated people are suddenly coming together everywhere, forming groups that are becoming bigger by the day. They feel a deep and inexplicable sense of connection to one another.
Shot in London with a cast of twelve main actors, the film is inspired by the current state of politics, technology as well as public debates about privacy, capitalism and societal organization. Popular Unrest owes also a lot to David Cronenberg's 'body horror' and American television dramas CSI, Dexter and Bones, where reality is perceived through a pornographic forensics of empirical and visceral phenomena.
On Tuesday, it was almost sunny, i was bored, i thought that a few moments at Franco Soffiantino would sort me out. The Turin art gallery's ongoing show has indeed a very promising title: Thai Body Massage and other works.
Jens Haaning bought every single object that happened to find itself in a thai massage centre. Body oil, painting reproductions of Thai landscape, portrait of the King of Thailand, carpet, chairs, etc. Even the handbag of the owner of the massage center. Every object has now found a new home in the gallery. Haaning had previously moved that same massage studio to Kunsthal Nord in Aalborg, Denmark where it was fully operational. Visitors of the art center could thus book an appointment and get a massage.
Anyway, the work that i found most interesting in this exhibition deals also with relocation, immigration and integration. In 2009, the artist went to Albania, caught dozens of pigeons, put them in cardboard boxes, loaded the boxes in the truck of his car and drove to Greece. He released the birds in a square of Thessaloniki where pigeons usually gather. Simple. Yet he had performed an illegal act: bringing live animals inside the European Union borders is forbidden to avoid "the transmission of diseases to either the public or other animals" unless you carry the relevant health certificates. Yet, pigeons, migratory birds, even seeds cross borders every day.
This post is dedicated to the stern customs officers who stop me after immigration in the US because i forgot that i have an apple in my handbag.
Images from the show.
While i ponder on my inability to be the queen of sexy titles, i'm going to give you a last breath of Artissima:
The first time i saw Jan Håfström's work was at the Venice Biennial. I remembered thinking that i wouldn't mind seeing it over and over again. The Brändström gallery in Stockholm has no idea how happy when they decided to fill their booth with Paradise Lost, Walker, Incidents of Grandma's Travel and The Eternal Return to Artissima. The cut-out wood panels create an instant dark cult atmosphere evoking Gustave Moreau, Edgar Allan Poe, secret burial ceremonies and Boris Karloff's hypnotic eyes in The Mummy.
Now the question i like to ask myself when i'm in an artfair is "if money was no object which work would i want to bag for my penthouse?" At Artissima, i'd have bought a Damien Deroubaix.
In 2007, Daniel Knorr decorated four trams in Bucharest with the symbols of key institutions: The Army, The Orthodox Church, The Red Cross and the Police. This intervention materializes the Kafkian relationship between institutions and citizens who live physically such relationship in regard to the tram (either if they are inside or outside it, either if it is empty or crowded), always repeating the same run (via.)
Gianni Pettena was one of the leading figures of "radical architecture" in Italy. The little i've seen of his work makes me think that he was a brilliant man, to say the least. Carabinieri were giant word-objects built out of corrugated cardboard erected in a courtyard and abandoned to the wear and tear of time and weather. 'Carabinieri' (the national gendarmerie of Italy) is an old word and it evokes authority. Rain and humidity have quickly and quietly reduced it to pieces.
Zebiba, by Hrair Sarkissian, is a series of portraits of pious men in Egypt who all have the 'Zebiba' or prayer scar on their foreheads, caused by kneeling on a prayer rug or a Mussallah (Stone of God) and touching the ground with one's forehead. On one level, the worshipper aspires to disinvest himself from earthly culture. Paradoxically, the desire to become invisible when facing God, renders him more visible within his social environment.
In 1993, while his country was facing a national identity debate, and a negative image abroad, Perjovschi participated to a Performance Festival in Timişoara with an "anti-performance" for which he had the name of his country tattooed on his shoulder.
Ten years later, he removed the tattoo in a surgical procedure that involved a laser bombardment of the tattoo, each black dot splitting into millions of pieces and each of the pieces carried away through his skin by molecules. The tattoo was not erased but instead spread throughout the whole body of the artist.
And that's it for the 17th edition of Artissima!