Today people will look down on you if your art space doesn't have an exhibition dedicated to ecological issues on its agenda. Unsurprisingly, Milan still hasn't organized anything worth mentioning but her little neighbour, the enlightened and chilly Turin, did. The show is called Greenwashing. Environment, Perils, Promises and Perplexities and is on view at the Fondazione Rebaudengo until May 11, 2008.
Here's the premise: The diverse practices represented in the exhibition do not just point the finger at the degradation of our planet, they also make more tangible the contradictions and responsibilities that we encounter personally and as a society. Art here does not necessarily proclaim a 'correct' ethical or green choice, but allows the possibility for broadening and analysing our perceptions and actions.
The 25 artists and groups selected not only engage with emissions' offsetting, food miles, environmental marketing, ecological footprints, and other eco-conscious issues but they also bring attention to their political and social consequences. Many of the works selected are extremely good at making environmental issues less abstract and remote from our daily reach. I'm glad i had the opportunity to see all these pieces in one go. That's what thematic exhibitions are for, right? However, i couldn't see much past the simple gathering of works, they have this environmental streak to keep them together but there is something missing in the curatorial vision. I don't know the secret to curating an exhibition with a scope and breath which will go beyond the sum of all the works it gangs around but it sure is puzzling when the multiplier symbol is missing.
Still, this exhibition provides enough food for thought for people who are naive enough to believe that they can sleep soundly in their organic cotton bed linen just because they recycle glass, never print any paper unless they have no other choice and always bring their own bags to the supermarket.
I, for one, can say proudly that i only drive bikes (i don't have a driving license anyway) but when i saw the posters of RAF / Reduce Art Flights i could only laugh out loud at my own candor. I might not own a Hummer but i take an awful lot of planes for my work.
Initiated by Gustav Metzger, the RAF campaign upholds that the art world - artists, curators, critics, gallerists, collectors, museum directors, and art bloggers too i guess - could or should swap planes for less carbon dioxide-emitting transports.
The RAF acronym deliberately echoes the Royal Air Force - the aerial warfare branch of the British military - as well as the militant left-wing group known as the Red Army Faction. The message is communicated by mass-produced leaflets first distributed during Sculpture Projects Münster last Summer. The Turin version of the leaflet is available in art galleries and inserted into international mailings in connection with the exhibition.
BP's environmental record is pretty appalling. In 2000, British Petroleum changed its name to BP (Beyond Petroleum) and chose a yellow and green sunflower-like as its logo in a bid to highlight its interest in alternative and environmentally friendly fuels. Nevertheless BP was named one of the "ten worst corporations" in both 2001 and 2005 based on its environmental and human rights records.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation's installation Beyond Pastoral (Shroud of Turin) grows out of a project that the BHQF initiated for an exhibition in New York in 2007, which consisted of a 1/5 scale model of the BP petrol station located opposite the gallery, underneath which thousands of lemons and limes were arranged in the form of the BP logo.
Each fruit was wired with electrodes and together they generated enough electrical current to illuminate the model. The irony of this seemingly earnest demonstration of an alternative energy source lies in the fact that the citruses quickly started to rot, posing a health hazard. Besides, transporting the fruit had required hundreds of liters of fuel. The Turin version of the work presented only the beautifully parched carpet of lemons and videos documenting the New York installation.
Beyond Pastoral exploit the power of faith, images and advertising in the new found religion of 'green' to further test the sustainability, credibility and authenticity of both corporate critique and supposedly miraculous technological promises.
A few weeks ago, i was in a museum bar in New York and almost fell of my chair when i was served a bottle of San Pellegrino, a water that (i think) comes from Lombardy in Italy. Minerva Cuevas's installation in Turin echoes our absurd and eco-damaging fetishism for "exotic" waters.
Égalité (2003) also involves the sabotaging of a corporate graphic identity. Owned by the Danone group, Evian is probably the world's best-known bottled water. Considering that the global market for bottled water multiplied more than 1000 times in the last decade - its average price is more than that of petrol - Cuevas has kept the shape and design of the bottle intact. Bar one detail: she replaced the familiar brand's lettering by Égalité, as in France's motto, 'Liberté, égalité, fraternité' (Liberty, equality, fraternity), subtly pointing out political issues linked to water throughout the world nowadays.
There is little equality as far as access to water is concerned, and those who have a seemingly unlimited access to it would rather pay ridiculous prices for something that comes almost freely from a tap.
Wilfredo Prieto's Estanque installation is a congregation of crude oil barrels choreographed to look like an idyllic lily pond habitat complete with water puddles and a live frog (which had left the building when i visited the show).
Petroleum oil, which is itself an organic substance, is converted by the sheer iconic power of its container into a symbol of all of the ills of our fossil-fuel dependency. Yet the sculpture inevitably suggests the prospect of eco-advertising, as if its graphic visual summary of apparent amphibian-petroleum harmony could perfectly lend itself to an audacious company marketing department in a bid to demonstrate their 'green' industrial principles.
Simon Starling's ironic C.A.M. Crassulacean Acid Metabolism belongs to the artist's fascinating series of "cactus works." This installation is made of functioning cast iron radiators shaped like cacti and connected to a boiler with copper piping. The title of the work comes from a biochemical pathway that is a complex variation of photosynthesis, whereby some plants acquire carbon dioxide during the hours of darkness, minimizing thus eco-physiological stress and water loss from their leaves by avoiding gas exchange during the hot part of the day. C.A.M. opposes the supremely efficient and economical cactus strategy with the slightly ludicrous man-made radiators that expel heat into the exhibition space.
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, whose life-sized clay hippopotamus had charmed me so much at the Venice Biennale in 2005, presented photos that document a participatory performance event they staged on the island of Vieques in March 2003 together with local residents and activist groups protesting against the U.S Military occupation of the island. The U.S had bought the land from the Puerto Rican government and had been using it for military exercises, and as a firing range and testing ground for bombs, missiles, and other weapons. The military experiments brought together with them severe ecological damage.
Allora & Calzadilla designed rubber shoe soles to be worn during actions of protest. When activists illegally entered the bombing range, they left behind indented messages for the US military staff. The imprints were a way of reclaiming the disputed territory, giving new power to the term "landmark."
Today the contested territory, though still contaminated and debated, is a wildlife reserve under the protection of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Verdict: Greenwashing is a moving exhibition worth taking the train for if you ever come to Milan this month for the Salone del Mobile. I'm sure there will be some inspiring projects and gadgets presented this year at the international furniture fair. I wonder if any of them will have the strength of most of the artworks i discovered at the Fondazione Rebaudengo the other day.
I went camera-crazy again.
Related: Book review: Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century; Ecological Strategies in Today's Art (part 1 and 2).
Previously at the Fondazione Re Rebaudengo: Murakami exhibition in Turin.
Image on the homepage: Amy Balkin, Public Smog, 2004.
The show features only one art piece: Martyr, created specifically for the gallery. This large scale installation represents the synthesis of Paul Fryer's research into the origins of technology and the labyrinths of science. The actual elements used to construct the artwork - stainless steel, wax and glass - testify to this synthesis.
The origins of the work are bound up in an event which made news at the end of the 19th century. A Western Union lineman, John Feeks, employed alongside others to hang the thousands of kilometres of wire connecting one building to another and providing the city of New York with electricity and information. Freeks was accidental electrocuted and his corpse corpse dangled for hours in a tangle of wires above the Manhattan streets, to the horror of thousands of onlookers. His fate became symbol of the perils of technological advancement, a martyr of progress, and one of the most famous victims of the electromechanical revolution at the end of the 19th century.
What i found striking is that i was sure i had seen a photography of Freeks death somewhere. After some research i realized that what i had seen what a picture similar to the installation. But it wasn't in the US, it was in Mexico. Jesus Bazaldua Barber, a telecommunications engineer, was electrocuted by more than 60,000 volts whilst installing a new phone line. Toluca, Mexico in 1971 and Enrique Metinides "immortalized" the scene.
Fryer's installation is a sort of modern monument to the forgotten workers and their anonymous contribution to supplying the electricity to power modernity.
Like Ron Mueck, Fryer uses wax to render anatomical details. However, the reason why the artist chose wax was not to re-create life but rather because it the material that best communicates the rigidity of death.
I took many pictures.
Previously at GCP: The Velocity of Thought.
On view until 31 January 2008, at the Guido Costa Projects gallery in Turin.
It all started when i almost fell on my knees in front of an installation by Michel Blazy. The first time i saw his work was at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The installation Post Patman stank, rot, crumbled and formed mushrooms, attracted insects and birds but i love it.
The work on show at Artissima, Le tombeau du poulet aux quatre cuisses (The grave of the four-legged chicken), is a skeleton laying on a bed of earth and surrounded by mushroom. The skeleton looks indeed like the one of a chicken, a giant chicken and as it is made of dog biscuits (made themselves from animal products) will be slowly desintegrating over time.
The PAV was also exhibiting one of Jun Takita's sculpture Jusqu'aux recoins du monde, the sculpture of a brain recovered with bioluminescent algae. For years, the Paris-based artist has been interested in bioluminescence.
According to traditional classification, photosynthesizing organisms
It is easy to perceive a figure in the landscape within 10° of one's line of sight (the size of the visual field of a fist held out at arm's length). For example, constellations are based on the principle that one reads stars at a distance of up to about 11° from one another as part of a group. Even when we look at the sky, the human hand is the unit of reference for measuring an image. If an object exceeds this 10° visual field, we have to move our eyes in order to perceive it in its entirety. Vision is then constructed by the accretion of several images memorized by the brain. In 1998, the artist started to work on a garden project based on this phenomenon.
The elevated garden is to be situated on top of a building in Tokyo. As Tokyo is a very polluted city, it is not unusual to see gardens being grown on the top buildings by inhabitants in order to cool down a bit the temperature of the city.
The central element of Takita's own garden is a mineral sculpture composed of three walls forming a cave and a bush pruned into a hemisphere. The inside of the cave is to be covered with a bioluminescent moss produced with genetic engineering technology. The moss will emit light via photosynthesis. The visitor is led to a viewpoint along the axis of the sculpture, where the bush is framed by the cave. The distance from this point to the bush will permit the eye to perceive the whole installation at once.
The visitor is invited to discover a visual experience made possible through genetic engineering. During the day, the light of the sun is much stronger than the one emitted through bioluminescence, therefore the form of the bush will be lit by the sun, and its shape will serve to distinguish it from a dark background. After sunset the opposite happens: the bioluminescent background will be broken up by the silhouette of the bush, forming a negative figure (via Takita's paper and the notes i took during the artist's presentation during the round table, titled Places and creative processes of the living arts, and organized by the Parco d'Arte Vivente at artissima).
Last week i went to the temporary headquarters of the PAV to check out their exhibition Living Materials. It closed yesterday but will be traveling to Austria. I do not have the details about that second show yet. But when i do, i'll let you know because Living Materials is a very charming exhibition.
Every work presented involves the public in a timed process cadenced by the cyclic rhythm of biological and ecological phenomena. Life and death are simultaneously present and aesthetically represented in the continuum of procedural works which ask us about the man-nature relationship in the age of biotechnology.
The works on show include Le Poulet and photos of Jun Takita's work but also:
An array of hundreds of lemons are pierced with small metal sheets, they are in fact Volta batteries supplied with citrus energy which powers tiny Leds, one every 4 lemons. Originally the lemons looked like the ones you can see on the image above but when i visited the PAV, the lemons were a yummy green as you can see on the image on the right. I actually liked that a lot, in yellow, they were too perfect, too plastic looking, but covered with decay they were more living than ever.
The artist writes: I imagined that the lemons during their "work" of withering and decomposing would give back the sun stored by the tree in his fruits during its productive phase in form of small flares.
I think it's fascinating that a fruit of nature through an electronic device can palpitate for some days. It seems the proof to me of our dependence on the environment, of our tight and deep bond to nature.
The project proposes a reflection on the energetic resources of our planet and re-explores one of the artist's theme of predilection: time. Six months of ripening, several days of life for the work and very short flashes of light, like snapshots of the passing by of time.
The last work on show is Food Island, by Andrea Caretto & Raffaella Spagna. The complex water system feeds several interconnected little islands containing various natural elements: stones, plants or animals.
A pump dipped in a water container sends water which reaches each island through transparent tubes. The water produced through various natural mechanism or which is not needed by the island is then collected and sent back to the main water container. the whole installation constitutes a kind of hypertextual narration which explains phenomena of growth and transformation of the material, from inorganic to organic and vice-versa.
On the left, an aerial shot of the dam (image The Times)
The Three Gorges Dam is the largest project in China since the Great Wall and the Grand Canal. The hydroelectric river dam, probably the biggest concrete construction in the world, spans the Yangtze River. The total electric generating capacity of the dam will reach 22,500 MW, at which point it will also claim the title of the largest hydro-electric power station in the world by capacity. The dam is not expected to become fully operational until about 2011.
Unfortunately and despite the economic benefits such as flood control and hydroelectric power, the project also sets records for number of people displaced (at least 1.3 million), number of cities and towns flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages). The 600 kilometre long reservoir will flood some 1,300 archaeological sites and the effects on the environment is quite frightening (the quality of water in the higher banks of Yangtze is falling rapidly, biodiversity is in danger, etc.)
Upstairs is a screening of the Flotsam Jetsam video along with photographic material. Downstairs, there's a wooden model of the submarine and Embankment, an experimental documentary created during a research trip in the Three Gorges area and which you're invited to watch lying on water beds.
Very quietly and elegantly, the work engages with landscape's relationship to identity, in the midst of the deep infrastructural changes at the Three Gorges site. The first video details the process of fabricating a submarine, launching it below the Three Gorges Dam, following the submarine's progress along the river and through the dam's boat locks to the reservoir. Along this journey various performances are enacted. These vernacular tales compose a third narrative regarding landscapes link to imagination. Inspired from a collection of sources including: Chairman Mao's many swims in the Yangtze, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and contemporary news' exposés on economic development and imaginaries of the Asia 's modernization.
You left me no other action / cool off whiner, 2004
The fugly pets are made using mostly trash materials: scraps of wood, bits of fabric, felt, fake fur, glitter, and glue.
When i read that Os Gêmeos were having a solo show in Milan, i nearly fell off the chair. I wasn't expecting it. Not that the guys aren't everywhere, they were part of the The Graffiti Project which invited Brazilian artists to paint the walls and turrets of the south side of Kelburn Castle in Glasgow, i discovered their huge mural in Berlin, they've exhibited at Art Basel Miami in 2005, etc. but while looking for exhibitions to check out this week in Milan and Turin, i found so many "recycling": yesterday i saw the Gilbert & George retrospective at the gorgeous Castello di Rivoli, yes that's the same show which took place at the Tate Modern in Spring. Last week i had a look at David Lynch's The Air is On Fire at the Triennale di Milano which had previously been shown at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. And the next one on my list is Vivienne Westwood at Palazzo Reale in Milan, the very retrospective set up at the London Victoria & Albert Museum in 2004. Although i'm quite happy to catch up with exhibitions i had missed, i can't help but be disappointed to see that independent galleries are not taking much risk either... Except the freshly opened Patricia Armocida. The gallerist actually told me that she jumped into the fire and opened her own gallery because the city of Milan was in need of a space dedicated to the independent underground art scene.
To launch the exhibition space, she turned to identical twin brothers, Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, AKA Os Gemeos.
In this show called Assum Preto (Blue-Black Grassquit), Os Gemeos are exposing six previously unreleased canvases paintings and two installations, in addition to new works painted directly on the walls of the gallery.
I particularly liked the noisy and lovely El Mentiroso. While wandering on a flea market in Italy Os Gemeos found an old tiny b&w television set, they zapped from one channel to the other until they discovered a telemarketing channel which fascinated them so much that it inspired a sculpture exhibited in the Milan gallery: El Mentiroso (The Liar.) Permanently set on the telemarketing channel the tv has most of its screen covered by a wooden portrait, so all you get is the sale pitch without the image.