Olala! I'm ridiculously late with the remains of my reports from the Artissima art fair which took place in Turin last November. I posted a couple of quick stories a while back then got on a plane and left catalogues, scraps of papers, hasty notes and memories home. I know new year's resolutions are made never to be respected, but i do hope 2011 will see some form of organization in the way i schedule my reports.
The last edition of Artissima was good. But then i'd usually say such thing because i love art fairs. The booth ladies always wear fancy, sexy attires, none of them has ever heard about the existence of art blogs, i see free booze in my fancy press bag, the concept of a fair makes it possible to ask questions you'd never dare to ask in a gallery or museum, and there are more artworks than even i can absorb. The event this year took place at at the comfortable and luminous Oval - a pavilion built for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin.
Artissima offered dance shows, performances, mega structures made of trash (see Artissima - the House of Contamination) and a few young galleries and artists i was happy to discover. This post will focus on the installations i found particularly striking:
One of the most amazing, yet simple, works at the art fair was a light projection by Ulrich Vogl. Neatly aligned projectors from all brands and sizes were casting onto the wall of the booth slide images that, seen together, suggested the night-time skyline of a distant metropolis.
In 1997 Carl Michael von Hausswolf initiated a series of works under the title "Operations of Spirit Communication", inspired by his research on Electronic Voice Phenomena techniques. His ready-made machines were showing the possibilities of ghosts and other kinds of life forms living inside a certain space or inside the electricity grids. Unfortunately for me the lovely person in charge of the Niklas Belenius booth was a friend of the gallerist and he could not give me much information about this particular piece. He merely gave me the name of the artist and had me press a couple of buttons.
Superflex was showing the Anti-Piracy Machine, from its Free beer / Counter game strategies series. Anti-Piracy Machine models the struggle against counterfeit goods. One player (the 'pirate') places bootleg material (represented by potatos) into the marketplace (represented by the launching tube). The other player (the 'police') uses the subtle and finely-tuned instrument of the law (represented here by a hammer) to remove pirate material from circulation. Five points to the pirate for every potato missed, one point to the police for every potato hit.
Niklas Belenius's booth (again!) had photo documentation of John Duncan's installation The Rage Room, part of The Dream House in which each room is specifically designed to evoke a specific state of consciousness.
Susan Norrie's stunning video installation was dedicated to the people of Porong and East Java who are battling the biggest mud volcano in the world. In 2006, an eruption at the Banjar Panji 1 gas and oil drilling well created an environmental disaster in the region that continues to this day. Company officials claimed that a distant earthquake had triggered the eruption; others believed that the catastrophe was primarily due to the mining company's operational negligence.
The toxic fumes spreading from the well include hydrogen sulphide, which causes long-term neurological and physical effects. The mudslide inundated villages, leaving more than tens of thousands of people homeless. It is expected that the flow will continue for the next 30 years.
Lou Reed lighting a cigarette on the first track, side one, of the LP Take No Prisoners, recorded live at the Bottom Line, New York, May 1978. The sound is played through a microphone connected to the headphones output of a 1970s reel-to-reel tape recorder.
And a very happy new year to you dear readers.
Yesterday i paid a visit to the Piemonte Share festival, at the Science Museum in Turin. The new media art event might have its flaws but its energy and focus remain pretty unique in the country. Sunday was the day i wouldn't have missed for the world: i knew that neither Bruce Sterling nor Siegfried Zielinski would have disappointed the audience.
I wish i could have spent more time at the festival and dedicated a more generous space to it on this website but since all the art events are now taking place during the same weekend in Turin (and once again i believe that the person behind this idea should be hanged, drawn and quartered on Piazza Castello), all i'm going to blog is a series of bits and pieces from yesterday.
Like every year, there were works that fascinated the public and works that made me happy (I feel like an old bat when i realize that nowadays they almost never coincide.) Let's start with an example of the former, shall we?
0h!m1gas (migas being the spanish word for ants), by Kuai Auson, is one of the latest addition to the long (long!) line of artworks in which the movements of animals perform a task usually fulfilled by human beings.
Some activate vehicles (think of Ken Rinaldo's Augmented Fish Reality, Garnet Hertz's Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot or Seith Weiner's Terranaut). Others control the arrival of your emails (RealSnailMail by boredomresearch). Some can even play musical instruments. The mice of Gail Wight's Rodentia Chamber Music Chamber play the piano, carillon, drum, harp and cello. The fish in Keny Marshall's Apophenia play brass horn.
0h!m1gas harnesses the relentless activity of an ant colony into a DJ scratching performance.
Just as the DJ/VJ culture is characterized by movements and noises expressing a human state of mind and feelings, these social agents engage in turntablism activated via motion tracking and contact microphones, so that the communication network in the colony can be analyzed as a form of biological data that produces a new form of emerging music.
My pictures are the crappy usual. Apologies to the artist.
And now for the project that made me happy.
Inspired by the proliferation of surveillance technologies, knowbotic research's macghilie - just a void transports into a more urban setting the ghillie suit. This type of camouflage clothing, first used by hunters and then by soldiers in WW1, is covered in loose strips of cloth or twine, so that its wearer will be confused with heavy foliage.
Here's what i wrote about the project a while ago: One of the battle cries of KR is that they want to see the development of new zones of in-transparency in which people can fully experiment and circulate, where one is neither representable nor identifiable. A bit like the character (some kind of Cousin Itt alter-ego) that appears in their projects macghilie - just a void. What would happen if we fight surveillance society with transparency?
But let's get back to Smart Mistakes, the theme of the festival which elevates glitches and errors to a more noble status. Bruce Sterling gave a new perspective on our notion of mistake with a presentation of 3 inventors (somewhere in his presentation he also managed to mention Carla Bruni):
The first one is Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the first practical telephone but also the author of many less successful inventions and experiments.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, who invested and lost the fortune he had earned with his books in the Paige typesetting machine, a device designed to replace the human typesetter of a printing press with a mechanical arm. Twain was hoping he would turn into a media mogul by selling the machine to all the newspapers in the country. Unfortunately, the Paige composer took too much time to be perfected and was made obsolete by the Linotype.
The most interesting character however is Thaddeus Cahill, an engineer who invented the telharmonium. Together with Alexander Graham Bell, Cahill dreamt that the telharmonium music would soon be broadcast into hotels, restaurants, theaters, and even houses via the telephone line. As we know, this never happened.
But what if we got it all wrong? What if the man whose genius should be celebrated in this trio was Thaddeus Cahill? He might never have achieved his dream of rocking ball rooms with music played over phone lines but maybe we should herald him as the god father of electronic music. His telharmonium after all was the first electromechanical musical instrument ever created. And if we look closer in history, how will upcoming generation view the walkman which has recently put out of production after 30 years of activity? Will they look at it the way we look at the telharmonium today? Will they see it as nothing more than a clunky, cumbersome assemblage of plastic in which you had to insert boxes containing rolls of magnetic tape? Will they see it as a failure of engineering?
Of course, I took pictures.
Another update from Artissima, the contemporary art fair taking place this weekend in Turin. There's vodka in the press bag, the art girls wear Melissa shoes, they still rock those pointy shoulder jackets, the men are strongly encouraged to make sartorial efforts, and photography seems to have fallen out of favour.
Meanwhile half of the public is either walking up and down the scaffoldings of raumlabor's life-size maquette of an experimental museum or relaxing with friends on the huge heap of smelly discarded clothes that the Berlin-based collective has 'erected' by the bar. When i saw the mountain of clothes from afar i actually thought it was a scaled-down version Christian Boltanski's Personnes at the Grand Palais in Paris.
raumlabor's construction -which you can find at the back of the exhibition space- was designed to host the fair's cultural offer, a program mixing dance performances, literature, film screenings and architecture. The idea is brilliant and the structure certainly attracts more passersby than the white rooms where the conferences usually take place.
The House of Contamination forms a parallel architecture in clashing contrast both with the sleek volumes of the Oval building where the fair is hosted and with the squeaky clean walls of the gallery booths.
The walls of this experimental museum are built with compressed stacks of plastic, paper, metal, fabric and wood. All the material is recycled. The books of the library are kept inside disused fridges, tables are installed on top of upside-down washing machines. A huge fan intermittently blows wind that moves the fabric walls of the corridor. Up there, a rudimentary skywalk allows visitors to get a better idea of the architecture of the museum.
As the description of the House of Contamination states, all rooms are intercommunicating, the only dividing wall can move merging cinema and theatre, simultaneously sealing the literary salon.
Let's see if this experimental museum gets a life beyond the 4 days art fair.
Previously: Permanent Error.
The show is indeed disturbing. Not so much for the images but for the issues they uncover: domestic violence, decaying corpses, mass graves for cattle, post-war trauma, pollution, nonconformist sexual practices, etc. I'm almost ashamed to admit how much i enjoyed the show. It was extremely moving even if it made me feel sometimes as if i were a voyeur and a vulture.
Curators Germano Celant and Melissa Harris have hung on the white walls of the Triennale 260 pictures from 24 contemporary photographers. Each of these images follow the footsteps of the photos which surfaced from Vietnam in the '60s and '70s and were so shocking that they played a crucial role in changing public opinion about the war.
Images that emerge from conflicts are so powerful that in the early '90s, at the start of the Gulf War, the U.S. government has restricted the photographing or filming of dead soldiers or their caskets and its subsequent broadcast in the U.S.
Philip Jones Griffiths knows about military censorship. Following the publication of Vietnam Inc. in 1971, he was banned from re-entering Vietnam. Until 1980 when the photographer traveled back there to document the effect of the U.S.'s chemical warfare. Griffiths spent several months in the country to meet some of Vietnam's estimated 1 million victims of Agent Orange, one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military to defoliate forested and rural land, depriving guerrillas of cover and forcing peasants to leave the countryside.
"Spending time with the affected children is never easy - twenty year-olds living in ten year-old bodies. Some howling like animals, some giggling hysterically while others search with catatonic stares for meaning in the heavens... Giving birth becomes a game of roulette". --Philip Jones Griffiths.
Nina Berman's wedding photo of wounded Iraq War veteran Ty Ziegel and his bride, Renee Kline, has become one of the most iconic images of contemporary warfare. The young US marine suffered horrific burns after a suicide bomber blew himself up by his truck in Iraq. After months in hospital, he went back home and married his high school sweetheart. A few months later, the couple divorced. The portrait is part of a series that follows Ziegel's recovery, homecoming and wedding day.
Also present at the Triennale is her Purple Hearts series which portrays American soldiers who were submitted to heavy surgery after having been wounded in Iraq.
As Alfredo Jaar's Untitled (Newsweek), 1994 demonstrates, images documenting horrifying events do not necessarily get to the front page. A painful contrast to the images that James Nachtwey took in Rwanda (see b&w picture below), Untitled (Newsweek), 1994 brings side by side the covers of Newsweek published during the unfolding of the Rwandan genocide and the historical facts pertaining to the genocide. Yet, for months, the genocide will be absent from the covers of the American news magazine. The focus is instead on the deaths of Kurt Cobain, vitamin pills, the trial of O.J. Simpson, etc.
By the time the magazine finally devoted a headline to Rwanda, in August 1994, more than one million people had been killed.
"The boy is saying to his father, 'I hate you for hitting my mother, and I hope you never come back to this house.' Nobody, even the parents who signed a release for this picture, realized how powerful it was going to be until they saw it in the magazine and they flipped out." --Donna Ferrato.
Donna Ferrato's Living with the Enemy documents domestic violence in the early '80s. At the time, women abused by their partner didn't talk about their suffering. They didn't call the police either, police officers seldom intervened anyway. It is partly due to Ferrata's series that the issue of domestic violence finally gained significant attention in the USA .
With Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue, Eugene Richards chronicles the usage and effects of hard-core drugs in North East USA through the 1980's and early 1990's.
Richard Misrach's photographs of The Pit follow the process of decomposition at three mass graves for dead animals in the Nevada desert. The reason for the sudden death of the horses, sheep and cattle may be related to a nearby nuclear test site. The highly aesthetic images are so distressing that they resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
I've just spent the afternoon at the professional sneak peek of Artissima, Turin's contemporary art fair. Since i'm still uploading the hundreds of pictures i took, going through the catalogue, trying to identify the performances and screenings worth attending over the coming days and wondering whether i shouldn't get away from this screen and head to the Share festival right now (whoever decided that the few interesting art events in this town should be crammed together in a couple of days should be submitted to the ordeal of hot water), i'm going to do the lazy thing and give you an easy preview of Artissima using a selection of the press images i received a few hours ago. I promise to be more diligent tomorrow. In the meantime, here are the goods:
I loved this one and i'll add that the Polish galleries rocked the fair this year:
Artissima, Turin's contemporary art fair is open to the public on November 5, 6 and 7 from 12.00 to 8.00 pm.
While in Milan i ventured into the Disquieting Images exhibition at the Triennale. I faced more shock and scandal as i was expecting. The exhibition doesn't shun from showing images that depict domestic violence, decaying corpses, post-war trauma, animal abuse, unorthodox sexual practices, etc. The usual suspects were there - Diane Arbus, Letizia Battaglia, Nan Goldin, Yoshiyuki Kohei, Robert Mapplethorpe, etc. - and so were many photographers whose work i was not so well acquainted with.
Full report on your desk as soon as i'm out of this wifi limbo where uploading an image takes longer than reading a volume of A la recherche du temps perdu.
Speaking of usual suspects.... Pieter Hugo was there.
After the moving and now iconic series The Hyena and Other Men and the stunning Nollywood, Hugo's latest work, Permanent Error, portrays the people, animals and landscape of a dumping ground for computers and electronic waste from Europe and the US. The area, on the outskirts of a slum known as Agbogbloshie, in Ghana, is a shocking contrast to the better faster shinier life promised by the unrelenting advances of technology.
Notions of time and progress are collapsed in these photographs. There are elements in the images that fast-forward us to an apocalyptic end of the world as we know it, yet the alchemy on this site and the strolling cows recall a pastoral existence that rewinds our minds to a medieval setting. The cycles of history and the lifespan of our technology are both clearly apparent in this cemetery of artifacts from the industrialised world. We are also reminded of the fragility of the information and stories that were stored in the computers which are now just black smoke and melted plastic.