If you have the misfortune of finding yourself in Turin in this period of Holy Shroud mayhem, then i send you all my sympathy but also a suggestion to make your way to the Gallery Guido Costa Projects.
The ongoing exhibition Blessing of the Hippopotamus made me discover the magnificent Reverend Ethan Acres. The artist is first and foremost an Evangelist preacher. Just like his dad and his grand father were. Born in Alabama, jewel of the Bible Belt where the percentage of non-religious people doesn't raise higher than 6%, the Reverend performs weddings, last rites for deceased pets and he preaches on Sundays along the famous Fremont Street in Las Vegas where he moved a few years ago.
The Reverend Ethan Acres has made it his mission to "put the fun back into Fundamentalism." He has more verve than a tv preacher, more charisma than a whole drive-in chapel and far more dynamism than a gospel aerobic instructor. The Reverend uses art to accompany his sermons and spread the Word large and wide, linking it to ancient traditions of sacred art. In the '90s he even a converted camper trailer into a mobile Vegas-style church he called the "Highway Chapel".
Christian faith meets Barbarella, Teletubbies, rock and metal band Kiss and pop craft in his paintings, digital prints, installations, sculptures, videos and performances. Proceeds from his artworks provide financial support for his Church of the Holy Fool.
The exhibition is composed of a series of artefacts and of a documentation of the performance that The Reverend gave in Turin. On the evening of March 4, he appeared dressed as a preacher to declare his love for God and tell the tale of his first love. He was a teenager when he first fell in love. He was slim, had long hair and the woman was dying of cancer. He explains how he accompanied her during her last weeks of chemotherapy, walked the dog with her, watched as suitors kept knocking on her door and kissed her on the forehead just as she was passing away. At that moment of his sermon he tore away his clothes, kept just a tiny pink slip (adorned with a padlock) and a pair of knee protectors and put on the mask of a hippopotamus. He immersed himself into a kids' inflatable swimming pool filled with muddy water. He is the hippopotamus and immerses himself in the mud of life. After having washed up in tiny inflatable basins, he stood by the door of the gallery to bless visitors "in the name of the hippopotamus" with a muddy cross drawn on their forehead.
One of the works exhibited in the gallery hints at the Shroud of Turin which is exhibited nowadays in town. The Reverend put inside a frame an "Elvis Sweatcloth". At concert, Elvis would take one of his dozens of scarves, wear it around the neck for a few seconds, long enough to soak in a bit of sweat and then throw it into the audience. He would repeat the operation several times during the show. Why Elvis? Because it appears that the last book The King was reading before he died was The Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus by Frank Adams. He had requested it after having heard that it demonstrated the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, said to be Jesus' burial wrapping.
The Blessing of the Hippopotamus is on view at Guido Costa Projects in Turin until Mars 30, 2010.
Since 1955, the World Press Photo Foundation is awarding the most striking and representative images that illustrate the events of our times in the press. The winners of the contest are exhibited this year in 100 cities in 45 countries and is still expanding. The plethora of venues might explain why World Press Photo is so wantonly careless about the way the images are exhibited. About a year and a half ago, i visited the World Press Photo 2008 exhibition at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere during FotoGrafia, Rome's international festival of photography. There were good quality prints, the light was adequate and the space was lovely. Two weeks ago i saw the new WPP exhibition in Turin this time and it was dreadful. I'm all for financing culture but paying 6 euros to see bad prints of the original images glued on panels which were planted in a room lit like an underground parking lot is not exactly my idea of an exhibition that does justice to the work of talented photographers.
Here's some of the photos i liked the best:
Johan Bävman followed the lives of Tanzanian albinos, an exposed and vulnerable group in one of the world's poorest countries. Many African albinos are hunted and killed for their body parts, believed to bring luck, wealth, good health, etc. In addition to discrimination, and a recent wave of murders, the albino population face serious medical issues. Eye problems often lead to a lack of education among albino people and living under the equatorial sun exposes them to skin cancer.
Palestinian protestors take cover behind an olive tree as they get caught in tear gas fired by Israeli troops, in the West Bank village of Ni'lin, near Ramallah, in May. Residents of the village began staging weekly demonstrations in May against Israel's extension of a barrier which would cut off part of their farmland and therefore endanger their livelihood.
A band formed by members of the Niger Movement for Justice helps spread the message of the Tuareg, a nomadic people living in an area that crosses a number of North African countries. They complain that they are excluded from local mining income, and lack political representation. Tuareg groups in both Niger and neighboring Mali attacked government facilities and took scores of prisoners, following the collapse of a 2006 ceasefire.
A Zimbabwean man crawls through the border fence from Zimbabwe into South Africa, close to Beit Bridge, on May 21. Zimbabwe was experiencing spiraling hyperinflation and critical unemployment. Official figures set immigration to South Africa at an average of 96,000 per month, not taking illegal migrants into account. In May, xenophobic violence broke out in Gauteng province, around Johannesburg. Attacks against migrants accused of taking homes and jobs from locals went on for several weeks, leaving around 60 people dead.
Women bathe on Pitzunda beach, on the Black Sea coast. Abkhazia was once popular as a holiday destination for the Soviet elite. During the 2008 South Ossetia War, Russian and Abkhazian forces attacked the Georgian units located in the region and occuped Kodori Gorge. The majority of the population was forced to move to Western Georgia. The Russian Federation recognized the independence a Abkhazia in August 2008.
Carlo Gianferro's Gypsy Interiors opens the doors of the homes of affluent Roma in Romania and Moldova. Little is allowed to disturb the flamboyant and spotless rooms. Kitchen, for example, serve primarily for display, as women prefer to cook outdoors in communal cauldrons amongst friends and neighbours.
Italian Coastguards find a lost, overloaded migrant boat from Libya after hours of search, Mediterranean Sea, Italian waters around the island of Lampedusa, Italy, July 30, 2008. Just off the coast of Tunisia, Lampedusa forms part of a much-used route for illegal immigration from Africa into Europe. Authorities on the island struggled to cope with an increase of 75% in migrant arrivals in 2008. Detention centers were filled beyond capacity, forcing hundreds to sleep outdoors.
The exhibition is on view this week in Istanbul, Jakarta, Tel Aviv, Kapfenberg, and soon in Leipzig, Jena and Torun.
Photo on the homepage: Davide Monteleone, Contrasto. Men sit in a coffee bar in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi.
Spain has ARCO in Madrid, France FIAC in Paris, the UK do Frieze in London, Germany has Art Cologne and art forum in Berlin, etc. But what is the main contemporary art fair in Italy? Do sit down please because the list is getting longer. There's a contemporary art fair in Bologna, one in Milan, in Bolzano, in Verona. And then there's Turin. Surely there must be one in the South of the country but i don't think i've ever been told about it. I only go to Turin, not just because i have the misfortune to live there, but because Artissima, which closed a few weeks ago, never disappoints me. It is decidedly the edgiest and most exciting contemporary art fair in the country. In fact, you'd almost think that people come here because they love art, not just because they want to buy, invest and speculate.
Over 45,000 visitors visited the fair and the sales went fairly well (at least that's what you tend to hear and read in times of crisis.) Not everybody was ecstatic though. There was the scandal of the catalogs (one of them compiles interviews with gallery owners some of which were not present at the fair and were therefore not contributing to the financing of the catalog printing, the gallery owners who had not been interviewed for the booklet felt they had been cheated), others lamented Turin's decision to focus many of the city's art events in November, with the effect that collectors and visitors had less time to spend at the fair than gallerists might have hoped.
As i mentioned a few weeks ago, the fair had the objective of being affordable, introducing young artists at "prices you can buy." The definition of 'affordable' being open to debate, Artissima opened THE STORE, a shop curated by Adam Carr, at the back of the exhibition space. Plebeians like you and me could snap a poster, bag, lollipop, video, postcard, mug or balloon for 0 to 450 euro (i was told you were even allowed to bargain) by artists such as Nina Beier, Stella Capes, Tomas Chaffe, Claire Fontaine, Ryan Gander, Liam Gillick, Loris Gréaud, Arunas Gudaitis, Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Jonathan Monk, Paola Pivi, Mario Garcia Torres, etc. I got the Jonathan Monk bag with the press kit so i'm as happy as a clam (never inquired about the degree of felicity of a clam but i found the expression on google and thought it sounded adequate.)
Now I'll just throw a few pictures and artworks at your face, go back to my "English Period drama tv series" viewing and come back to you tomorrow with a post focusing on the photographic works i discovered at Artissima.
The entrance of the fair was particularly eye-catching thanks to the Constellation section which presents a museum-style selection of installations, sculptures, videos, and large-format works selected by Heike Munder, from the Migros Museum Für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich. I only paid attention to it at the end of my visit when i saw these alpine lads falling half-asleep during a dancing marathon on a rotating podium:
Stas Volyazlovsky's artworks are painted on bed-sheets, pillow-cases and towels dipped into a strong tea which is very popular among inmates of Russian prisons. They figure Pushkin, Hitler, "lolitas", mutant nurses and Dracula among obscene words and motives that remind criminal tattoos.
Naïma Bourquin, Johan Wacquez, and Vassili Lavandier are three fictive persons. Artist Jonathan Delachaux sculpts then photographs them for the realization of his paintings. Everything in the painting is very realistic. Except the characters, they retain their eerie puppet appearance.
Carsten Höller reminded us that he was trained as a biologist by filling a series of vitrines with Doppelpilze (Double mushrooms). Each replica of mushroom was halved and then coupled with a different kind of mushroom.
Amusingly, this slot machine which seemed to work like your usual slot machine was defined "an interactive sculpture." You'll notice an artwork featuring skulls just behind this -now that i think of it- rather uninspiring 'interactive sculpture'.
I saw an awful lot of skulls at Artissima.
See you tomorrow!
Picture on the homepage: Seb Patane, Absolute Körperkontrolle, live audio-visual mixed media installation, 200. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London and Galleria Fonti, Naples
No matter how hard i try to keep in touch with what is going on in Turin, i always seem to do an awful job. Latest openings in London, Berlin, Eindhoven, San Diego or Venice? Easy peasy. But Turin does its best to keep me bored and uninformed. I discovered only a few days ago, as i was taking the plane to Graz (did you know Arnold Schwarzenegger comes from there?), that here was a fantastic exhibition in town. It had opened in May and i managed to visit it yesterday morning, a few hours after being back from Austria.
East of Nowhere - Contemporary Art from post-Soviet Central Asia showed the work of 32 artists coming from countries i'm unable to locate precisely on a map, except when wars or Hollywood mockumentaries give me a helping hand.
The countries investigated are 5 ex-Soviet republics (Kazakhstan, Kirgizistan, Uzbekistan, Tadjikistan and Turkmenistan), along with Afghanistan and Mongolia. These two had been at some point under Soviet leadership and they show ethnic and cultural affinities with the republics just mentioned.
East of Nowhere, located in the beautiful but cruelly un-heated Fondazione 107, uses photographic works, videos, installations and sculptures to document a moment of extraordinary transformation for an area that is 5 times as big as Europe. The result is bold and exciting with its mix of "globalization", acceleration, nomadic lifestyle, pre-soviet and islamic traditions.
The oldest artworks in the show are Dugarsham Tserennadmid's b&w photos. From the '60s till the '90s, she documented everyday life in the steppe as well as the key moments her country -Mongolia- was going through. In the '90s she decided to leave the art scene and go back to her roots: nomadism.
In The Way to Rome , Said Atabekov recalls Marco Polo's thirteenth century journey from Italy through Central Asia and up to China, and how he returned to Rome and became a symbol of the encounter between the East and West. Atabekov traveled through Kazakhstan to capture ordinary actions, landscapes, people, moments and objects that all look very exotic to us.
With her series titled Self Soviet Architecture, Ekaterina Nikonorova imagine there's a syntony between places and the persons who inhabits them.
One of the most exciting works for me was a video animation by Regina Shepetya, Diana Yun and Malik Zenger. Mixing archive images, plasticine figures and playful graphics, World War Too is a super pop and concise account of WW2. A few minutes takes viewers from the rise of Hitler to the invasion of Poland, the Blitz, Operation Barbarossa, and finally to a defeated Hitler puppet fleeing a Berlin under the bombs.
Alimjan Jorobaev's photo series Men Praying on the Central Square in Bishkek looks at the interconnection between manifestations of military and state power and the increased presence of religion in public space in his country, Kyrgyzstan. One of the photos shows people praying with their backs turned to a sculpture glorifying Lenin. A powerful image since ideas of Soviet collectivism have been replaced by identity politics and an obsession with nationhood. Besides, the sculpture has now become a tourist attraction rather than an homage to the communist leader.
I can't end the post without showing a couple of works from Kazakhstan that reflect on the Borat phenomenon with irony and humour:
More images in the Flickr set.
East of Nowhere was the inaugural show of Fondazione 107. I'm afraid it is closed by now but i'm looking forward to see what Fondazione 107 is going to program in the future.
Photo on the homepage: Almagul Menlibayeva, Kissing Totems, Still from the video - 2008.
On Thursday, i did a tour of Artissima, the contemporary art fair in Turin. One of the objectives of the fair this year was to be 'affordable'. "We are not interested in having artworks that costs 10 million euros. We want to enable young people and those who have a passion for art but a limited budget to become collectors," explained to La Stampa Andrea Bellini, the Director of the Turin art fair. I didn't ask for any price so i'll take his word for it. I did notice a fair amount of young and i must say rather exciting artists in the booths.
Well, that was a pretty inappropriate introduction because i'm actually going to focus on a photographer who gained fame in the '70s and '80s for her documentation of the internal war of the Mafia in Sicily at its bloodiest, and its devastating impact on the rest of the society.
In 1974, when the mafia moved from organised crime to heroin trafficking, mafiosi became more brutal. They murdered anyone who would stand in the way of their business, from the chief of police to family rivals. By 1981, there was one killing every three day. Sometimes many more.
At the time, the Cosa Nostra was identifiable. It had faces one could photograph and associate with crimes. Today, mafia is much less visible. Battaglia's pictures, because of the corruption, silence, violence and suffering they laid bare, played a crucial role in the anti-mafia campaign. They show anti-mafia Judge Cesare Terranova shot in his car, corpses of mobsters abandoned by the road, tears of the wives and mothers when they discover the scene of the crime, arrests of a mafia boss, teenagers pretending to be though guys with attitude and guns.
Some of her photos were even used as evidence of corruption against Giulio Andreotti, a man whose authority in Italian politics was so powerful he was known as Divo Giulio, "divine Julius" an epithet of Julius Caesar. In 1993, when prosecutors in Palermo indicted the ex-prime minister, the police searched Battaglia's archives and discovered two 1979 photographs of Andreotti with an important Mafioso he had denied knowing. These pictures were the only physical evidence of the politician's connections to the Sicilian Mafia. Battaglia's life, after she retired from photography, is as awe-inspiring as her images: she's a photoreporter known for taking risks but also an editor and environmental writer and politician.
The Cardi Black Box gallery in Milan brought the work of Battaglia to Artissima, along with two other photographers of tragedy: Enrique Metinides and former Swiss police lieutenant Arnold Odermatt who during almost 50 years recorded car accidents.
Wikipedia has a list of webpages where you can find more photos of Battaglia.
I'm just back from the Piemonte Share Festival, one of the few events showcasing media art here in Italy. Pity I won't be able to attend the conferences that will be running every day until Sunday as i'll be visiting Artissima tomorrow (yeah!) and then i'm off to Graz for a jury.
The exhibition takes place at the Natural Science Museum, a seventeenth-century building which used to be the main hospital of the center of Turin. Although i like the museum a lot i must say that the atmosphere of the show was pretty gloomy. The exhibition rooms are below the ground and the lighting is spectacularly bad. Still, there's some very good pieces that need to be seen. I found Ralf Baecker's Rechnender Raum (Calculating Space) particularly intriguing.
Seen from afar, Calculating Space looks like a sculpture made of toothpicks. It's made of sticks, strings and little plumbs. This fragility and transparency give a physical presence as much as they hide the logic and functioning of the machine. Its units operate like a very basic artifical neural network.
Through its strict geometric and otherwise very filigree construction, the observer is able to track the whole processing logic from every viewpoint around the machine. This disclosure of the machines core is enforced by an uncommon distribution of its constructing elements: a nine angled architectural body forms a torus. In contrast to an ordinary alignment of a hidden logic and an outer user facing display its geometric basis is turned inside-out. The core of the machine, with all its computing elements, is shifted outwards on the surface, while the "display" which indicates the results of the tasks is displaced into the center of the system. Even though the tasks and their logic runs directly in front of the viewers eyes and even if one is long sinking into the interaction of the elements which is accompanied by a polyphonic but steady and reassuring buzz, it is not possible to follow the succession of the single conditions of the machine. (...) The results of the computations are sent inwards -into its own center- they are not intended for the viewer.
And of course i took a few pictures of the exhibtion.