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.
The one gallery i never fail to visit when i'm in Milan is Galleria Patricia Armocida. Opened 3 years ago, right in front of a car repair shop, the gallery valiantly promotes young underground artists on the otherwise traditional Milan art scene.
Ben Woodward is one of the founders of Space 1026, an independent gallery and printing facility run by artists. Woodward's prints and paintings are inhabited by anthropomorphic animals engaged in situations that oscillate between comedy and drama.
The young girls of Kris Chau are delicate and dainty. Their behaviour, however, is far too emancipated and bold to qualify for the 'ladylike' adjective.
AJ Fosik pieces together hundreds of bits of wood to build colourful animal heads mounted on walls as if they were hunting trophies.
"Not for Nothing" is a typical expression in Philadelphia. It is not by chance that the three artists exhibiting represent the various facets of the human mind: Ben Woodward expresses an existentialism diluted with irony, Kris Chau expresses a pungent and cutting femininity, AJ Fosik represents an atavistic and purely masculine force; eccentric visions of individual contemporary intimacy.
Not For Nothing is open until November 6, 2010 at Galleria Patricia Armocida in Milan.
Last Saturday i finally dragged myself out of the armchair and visited the PAV, the Parco d'Arte Vivente (Park of Living Art - Experimental center of contemporary art) in Turin. Although i was appalled by the utter wrongness of the 'interactive' displays i saw in some of the rooms, I'll be forever grateful to the place for bringing to Turin exciting artists. Michel Blazy, Andrea Caretto and Raffaella Spagna and now Brandon Ballengee.
In Spring and Summer the artist, activist and ecological researcher was in town for a series of field trips on the river Po looking for tadpoles and frogs.
The amphibians studied by Ballengee are praeter naturam, beyond nature. Because of pollution, parasites or predators, the frogs have morphological anomalies such as extra, deformed or missing limbs.
According to Ballengee, amphibians are environmental canaries in the coal mine. The state of this sentinel group of animals is rather worrying, they are not only declining all across the globe, they are also presenting increasing levels of deformities.
Missing or deformed limbs are caused by dragonfly nymphs. The insect rarely eats the entire tadpoles. Instead, they grab it, chew at a hind limb -often removing it altogether- and then release their prey. If the tadpole survives it metamorphoses into a toad with missing or deformed hind limbs, depending on the developmental stage of the tadpole.
However, scientists don't completely rule out chemicals as the cause of some missing limbs.
Images of the field trip Ballengee, scientists and members of the public made on the river Po near Turin where, unfortunately, they found a few specimens of deformed amphibians:
At PAV Ballengée shows a variant of Styx, a table where glass dish display specimens of "cleared and stained" deformed frogs. The body of each tiny frog has been preserved and chemically altered so that bone is dyed red and cartilage blue with remaining tissues transparent.
In the same room is a series of Malamp Iris prints, large-scale portraits of deformed frog specimens.
Also on view at PAV, the Turin Po River Eco-displacement, a portion of the aquatic ecosystem, small paintings made from polluted pond water, coffee and ash and two videos documenting Ballengee's field trips in the UK and in Turin.
Praeter naturam opens until September 26th, 2010 at the PAV, inTurin.
Leigh Ledare's photo portray of his relationship with his mother, currently on show at Guido Costa Projects in Turin, is everything a PC family album should not be.
Ledare's mother, Tina Peterson used to be a delicate and precocious ballerina performing with the New York City Ballet. As years went by she became a model. Then a porn actress. She would also describe herself in personal ads as an "exotic dancer and former ballerina seeks wealthy husband, not somone else's". Today she's a sixty something woman, still glamorous, still spectacularly charismatic. In an old letter exhibited in the gallery, Tina complains that the model is at the photographer's "mercy".
The way she performs in front of her son's camera proves how much she has since found a way to be in control of the images. Her son shoots, she fingers herself. Ledare takes picture after picture of his muse as she is giving head, having sex with her young boyfriend, spreading her legs. In Mom After the Accident, she stands on two chairs, wearing nothing but a neck brace. It's far too intimate even for our time of brash reality-shows and online exhibitionism. It's also irresistible. Tina is so alluring, even with heavier thighs and a grim black wig. Most of all, we want to know how far these two are ready to go.
Journalists and art critics have repeated over and over again the words "Oedipus Complex." Meanwhile, Tina's career has been given a new breath and Ledare has found fame. Somehow, i wonder how his other works, in particular Russian Biker Gang and Personal Commissions, will ever manage to emerge from Tina's shadow.
The gallery is also showing two short movies. One of them, The Gift, is an edition of an amateur softcore fetish spanking movie that Tina shot with two friends. The artist explains: The story was so flawed that the tapes sat for 2 years without being able to be made into anything. One day a package arrived with the mail at my door. Inside were two tapes and a small note from my mother telling me they were a gift and now it was my responsibility to make something out of them. I edited out the failed story the initial artists had attempted to film and left my mother playing to the direction of these two men, leaving what can be seen as a real armature for the missing narrative.
The exhibition Le Tit, by Leigh Ledare, is open until September 15, 2010 at the gallery Guido Costa Projects in Turin.
Something i couldn't understand happened at the last Venice Biennale. I had read that
Turns out that the work was -to put it diplomatically- canceled. Without any explanation.
Yet the Biennale had at first approved the project and so did the council and the vaporetto company. All the artist could find out, second-hand, was that the company had 'received pressure from an outside source to shut it down for political reasons'. The company claimed that the problem was with the city authorities in Venice. Jacir, who had won a Golden Lion at the Venice biennale two year earlier, spoke to the vaporetto company in person but she couldn't get any clear answers. 'Oddly,' she told Art Monthly, 'the man I spoke with mentioned the attacks on Gaza last December and said that this played a role in shutting down the project as it made the parties involved in the project nervous. I find that completely bizarre, as the work has nothing to do with Gaza.'
The work was indeed peaceful, it was meant to illustrate cultural exchanges through history. Jacir is an artist of Palestinian descent, she lives and works in Ramallah and New York and Stazione was her contribution to the official off-site exhibition, Palestine c/o Venice. The arabic inscriptions would have placed each floating platform in direct dialogue with the surrounding architecture and urban design, linking them with various elements of Venice's shared heritage with the Arab world.
Jacir was only allowed to distribute a map in Italian, Arabic and English of the number 1 route. It contains a map of the location of the project, as well as the Vaporetto map translated into Arabic and a brief explanation of the background to the piece. However, she was forbidden by Palestine c/o Venice organizers to include a text describing the cancellation of her project by the Venetian Municipal Authorities. She was only permitted to include the following note: THIS PROJECT HAS BEEN CANCELLLED.
The architecture on either side of the Grand Canal testifies to bonds that have connected Venice with the Arab world over the centuries. By placing translations of the stations on either side of the Grand Canal, Emil Jacir would have prompted tourists and Venetians to reflect on these bygone relationships, age-old cultural and mercantile exchanges, and forgotten legacies (glass blowing was invented in Palestine and the first Arab book with Arabic characters was printed in Venice) as they crossed to 'the other bank'. Stazione was hoping to demonstrate that the barrier between two spaces that are considered different, even counterpoised, can be crossed.
The Alberto Peola Gallery in Turin is exhibiting the proposal digitally retouched photographs that show what stazione would have looked like. The gallery is also exhibiting other works by the artist and distributing copies of the map that Jacir distributed during the Biennale.
Stazione is on view at the Alberto Peola Gallery in Turin until Saturday 24 April 2010
Interview with the artist in the New York Times.
Previously: Salone del Mobile: It's lamp time, everybody!
The one exhibition not to miss at the Ventura Lambrate area is Hotel RCA. I wish i were not writing so often about RCA but why should i resist when they keep on churning out some of the best projects around.
Their exhibition for the Salone del Mobile is called Hotel RCA because it fulfills the functions of a hotel as an organizational structure to exhibit a broad selection of new designs. There's a reception, a bar, a breakfast room and all kinds of service areas. Hotel RCA was built inside a disused warehouse by the Design Products department, a two-year postgraduate masters course including diverse design approaches -called Platforms- that range from the quirky to the practical and innovative, from the speculative to experiments with materials and techniques. The new Head of the Department, Tord Boontje, has invited alumni to present either the projects they had exhibited at the Summer exhibition last year or the new projects they developed since they had left the College. Damn it was good!
Merel Karhof's Wind Knitting Factory harnesses the power of the wind to activate a knitting machine, right from a free, natural element to a finished product. The machine visualizes directly what you can produce with the present amount of urban wind. Along the façade, the knitwear moves slowly through the window into the building as a long scarf, going faster at high wind speed. Every now and then, the wool is harvested and rounded off in individual labeled scarves. The time to knit one is related to its length, and people will protect their neck from the element that has actually conceived the scarf. Each scarf comes with a label that tells you in how much time it has been knitted and on which date.
I probably walked by Shu-Chun Hsiao's Emf Chime without paying much attention to it. It's only now that i'm back home and clicking all over the Hotel RCA website that i'm discovering it. The suspended chimes play sound when sensing the electromagnetic field in the air. Movements are made by the invisible force and respond with a harmony sound. Any visitor making a call may trigger the chime, actually feeling the invisible existence of EM fields.
Wearable Sound Systems are part of Benjamin Newland's reseach on how mobile infrastructures of sound reproduction can open up new ways to perform, and engage with surroundings and the people within them.
Jen-Hui Liao is not only showing his blockbuster Self-Portrait Machine but also the tongue-in-cheek How to Train a Man to be a Father. During the mother's pregnancy, a Pavlov's Dog training principle is applied to help the male partner create an instant response to the baby's crying in his mind. The machine is radio-linked with a baby doll and wired to a home entertainment system like a TV or PS3. When the doll simulates crying, the trainee must hold and cradle it correctly. Depending on the correctness and reaction time, he will receive levels of rewards as positive reinforcement (they range from one pound coin to a voucher of great sex.) If the trainee ignores the baby's crying, the machine will shut off the power to the linked TV or PS3 as a negative reinforcement..
Once the baby has been born, the father will be able to react to it correctly.
Georgi Manassiev's washing machine doesn't just wash clothes, it also aims to bring people together outdoors, by relocating the public laundry in the park. The concept is based on the classical playground seesaw where more than one person is required for it to work. The washing machine uses rainwater and no electricity at all.
CCTV chandelier - Virtual Doppelganger Simulator, by Hwang Kim, has a dozen CCTV cameras distributed around the viewer's face and engineering their experience to show their Virtual Doppelganger in the connected TVs. The system allows the participant to see his/her own body or the surrounding environment from a third person's perspective. Therefore, the viewer and visitor is displayed as an object in the gallery.
Sarah Colson, Fungi Furnature / Distortion was utterly repulsive to me. Yet, fascinating: Dowel soaked in a mushroom spawn solution, usually intended in domestic cultivation, has been a catalyst for inspirations within this project. The intention is for spawned dowels to be used in furniture construction lending themselves to domestic objects. Due to the nature of cultivating mushrooms the objects will be made from green timber in order for the fungi to have the optimum conditions to grow as it would naturally. Over a period of six months the mushrooms will flourish and the wood will distort, debilitating the object's initial purpose, but regenerating a new function fit for human consumption. The final transformation will be when the nutrients that the fungi needs are absorbed and its life will cease to flourish. The object will then be given back to nature providing further nourishment for the continued life cycle of future objects.