The worst way to kick off a new year for an art blogger is to see an exhibition so good you're left wondering if the rest of the year won't be a 12-month letdown.
Manipulating Reality, a show running until January 17 at CCCS in Florence, is brilliant. The exhibition explores the theme of the manipulation and reconstruction of reality through photographic images and videos. Because my blogging slowness is becoming legendary and the exhibition closes real soon, i thought i would be best to post a quick entry about one of the artworks i discovered in the exhibition before coming back with a much wordier report.
Street With A View addresses the tension between surveillance concerns and the triviality of the images captured by Google Street View. As most of you know, this online service is based on photo material gathered by a panoramic camera attached to the roof of a vehicle driven at slow speeds through city streets all over the world. The mapping system has given rise to debates about privacy and the right to publish and use for commercial purposes the images of individuals and of entire neighbourhoods.
With the complicity of both the inhabitants of Sampsonia Way in Pittsburgh and Google Street View, artists Ben Kinsley and Robin Hewlett staged collective performances and actions that took place just as the Google Car was driving through the neighbourhood: a 17th-century sword fight, a lady escaping through the window using bed linen, a gigantic chicken, a parade with a brass band and majorettes, the lab of the inventor of a laser that makes people fall in love, etc. The images that document the events have become an integral part of the Google image archive.
The Street With A View is an ironic comment on the idea of access to reality through mass-media images. Users of Google Maps can have the impression that they have seen (and therefore know) the streets of Paris, New York or Pittsburgh without ever having set foot there. With their series of collective performances and actions, Kinsley and Hewlett create an analogy between their carefully planned and coordinated artistic events and the equally fictitious reality presented by Google. As images cannot replace direct, physical experience, they always constitute a reconstruction, if not indeed manipulation, of the real world, but one that we are led to regard as real in today's media-driven society. According to Paul Virilio, the representation of reality in an image then becomes a reality in turn, but of lower degree. The image has replaced the word, thus creating a visual truth that has become the contemporary language most used and of most importance in the globalized world.
I've spent the past few days highlighting some of the works exhibited but i still had to write a proper review of Green Platform. The exhibition, dedicated to art, ecology and sustainability, closes on July 19 at Strozzina (aka CCCS) in Florence.
It is a good show. Definitely less spectacular but gutsier than Radical Nature which i had visited a few days before. It's also much darker. Although there are projects that lead the way to sustainable and achievable strategies, many others leave you with a guilty (but better informed) "What have we done to this planet?" feeling.
About two third of the pieces exhibited have been produced by the Strozzina. A few of them by the usual suspects but there's also a fair amount of talented Italian artists i had never heard of.
As curator Valentina Gensini explains in the essay she wrote for the catalogue:
Traditional indicators of human well-being (life expectancy, literacy, access to sanitation, grain yield, spread of information technology, etc.) do not take escalating environmental and humanitarian catastrophes into account, nor do they include important data regarding both the reduction of biodiversity - viewed also in cultural terms - and damage to the environment, some of which stems from technological innovations and scientific experimentation whose long-term effects are still unknown. GDP (gross domestic product) does not describe the general quality of life in any way, nor does it indicate the environmental sustainability of the paths that have been undertaken.
Accordingly, the exhibition attempts to address ecological issues not only in environmental terms but also with respect to its philosophical, psychological, economic and social implications. As you can guess, Green Platform provides visitors with an intense experience. One which comes with much more questions to ponder on once you've left the gallery than answers.
The work i found most subtle and powerful was Julian Rosefeldt 's magnificent Requiem, a four screen video installation arranged in a square. Visitors find themselves surrounded by 4 films shot in the Brazilian rainforest, home of one third of the primary forests in the world. Precious and fragile as it is, the area is nevertheless relentlessly threatened by logging multinationals.
In the beginning of the video, visitors can revel in the contemplation of lush vegetation, bright colours, the hum of insects, birdsong and the sound of raindrops falling from the trees. After a few minutes, the peacefulness is interrupted by a disturbing sound which signals that a tree is falling nearby. The crashing of the tree is quickly echoes by another one. Then another one. Although, no human figure appears on the screen, it is impossible not to feel guilty and ashamed at man's lack of consideration and long-term intelligence regarding the health of this unique ecosystem. The fact that the sound of the chainsaw is absent, makes the crash of falling trees all the more resonant and distressing.
Tue Greenfort is the darling of exhibitions about ecology and sustainability. The work he created especially for Green Platform is a direct reference to the rise in temperature observed in the Mediterranean Sea. A combination of climate change, water pollution and lack of natural enemies like turtles and tuna decimated by overfishing have enabled the mauve stinger, a jellyfish with a very painful sting, to proliferate in the Mediterranean and threaten its biodiversity. Greenfort asked artisanal glassworkers on the island of Murano in Venice (an area which is more aware than most of the consequences that the rising level of the sea can have on urban life) to produce glass models of the pink jellyfish. The battle against the invasive jellyfish is absurd and tragic as the damage they are causing is the result of human foolishness. They are a part of nature but are deemed not 'natural' enough for European waters. The battle against the proliferation of the mauve stinger constitutes the umpteenth attempt by man to combat the consequences of his bad behaviour without attacking the root of the problem.
Henrik Håkansson (who also has another work in the exhibition Radical Nature in London) had a long stay in the Mexican reserve of Montes Azules, in the Selva Lacadona (Chiapas.) The area is gradually shrinking as a result of human activities, leaving animals to constantly struggle for survival against the progressive reduction of their living space.
The audio works featured in Green Platform reproduces the song of the quetzal. Once venerated by the Maya and the Aztecs as Quetzacoatl, the feather-serpent, the "king" of birds is now an endangered species. Visitors can only hear the bird for a few seconds every 12 minutes, a rhythm that reflects the rareness of the bird. To hear the bird, you either have to be patient and stay there until it sings again or you must be lucky and stumble upon it. In Håkansson's work the song of the quetzal is reproduced by an amplifier, a Fender Reverb 65, which is itself considered a legend and defined, on the rock scene, as the "king" of its kind. The work thus takes the form of a sculpture/sanctuary, a tribute to the living legend of the quetzal, whose song might one day be heard and remembered only by artificial means.
Dacia Manto's Inlandsis 09 layers several sheets of delicate eco-plastic, derived from maize, to reproduce the area of the South Pole, which is gradually shrinking due to global warming. It has been estimated that over 13,000 square kilometres of marine ice have been lost over the past 50 years. Internally, the huge shelf loses between 90 and 150 square kilometres of ice each year. Manto invites us to consider the geography of the South Pole as a living and fragile organism whose protection is vital for the future of our planet. It can be disturbed the softest blow and even visitors passing near the sculpture seem to cast a menacing shadow upon it.
Developed in conjunction with artists Kim Stringfellow and Tim Halbur, together with the Pond: Art, Activism, and Ideas and Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice organisations, Amy Balkin 's Invisible-5 has a more journalistic approach. The project examines the social, economic and environmental context of the San Joaquin Valley along whose length runs Interstate 5 connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. A strategic axis for the transport of goods and people, the corridor is also key in the development of livestock farming and intensive agriculture, waste disposal, oil and gas industries and the construction industry. Interstate 5 is one of the most toxic areas on Earth.
Invisible-5 is an audio tour starring the people and local communities who fight for environmental justice. The sound archive, shared over the Internet, gathers the testimonies of the inhabitants along with typical local sounds and music.
Green Platform, an exhibition curated by Lorenzo Giusti and Valentina Gensini, is on view until July 19 in Florence.
Nikola Uzunovski's contribution to Green Platform - Art Ecology Sustainability, an exhibition running until Sunday at the Strozzina in Florence, is a scientific experiment and an artwork that might be less utopian than it appears.
When (or "if") fully developed, My Sunshine will reflect the sunlight and provide extra hours of lights in urban areas around the Arctic Circle, a region that receives no sunlight in Winter time due to the rotation of the Earth's axis. My Sunshine takes the form of a disc with integrated mirrors, suspended from a transparent aerostatic balloon. Climatologists, meteorologists, astrophysicists, aviation engineers, architects and designers were called by the artist to devise and agree on a theoretical groundwork that would enable these mobile reflectors to bring sunshine to Lapland at the height of winter.
Uzunovski's room at the Strozzina presents his virtual mobile workshop to the public but also engages local design students in workshops that aimed to design the revolving rings on which the reflecting mirror will be anchored.
The most important aspect of this research is the impact on the local population: an artificial sun also comes with improved social interaction and psychophysical well-being.
Interview with the artist.
As i wrote yesterday, i've just spent a day in Florence to see Green Platform - Art, Ecology, Sustainability at the Strozzina center. It is a good show, more coherent than Greenwashing and much darker than Radical Nature. Proper review should land on your screen shortly but i felt compelled to dedicate a post to a project i found particularly striking.
In the Winter of 2001/02, Michele Dantini traveled to Cameroon to photograph and document what is still the biggest private sector investment in sub-Sahara Africa: the construction of the controversial Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline.
The World Bank takes the name of the international financial institution that made the construction possible. It's indeed the World Bank that teamed up with ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and Petronas of Malaysia and allocated 4.2 billion dollars to the ambitious project. Concerned by the potential risks to human rights and the environment, international NGOs and local communities voiced their opposition right from the start. The consortium attempted to calm down the accusations by forcing the governments of Chad and Cameroon to sign a strict guarantee protocol destining oil revenue for health, education and agriculture.
It soon became clear that the petroleum exploitation did not manage to balance juicy profits with ecological and social principles. The pipeline required the cutting through the primary forest of south-eastern Cameroon for some 1000 kilometres in order to reach the export-loading terminal on the Atlantic coast and the drilling of 300 oil wells in Doba, south of Chad. The region affected by the project is a richly biodiverse area and home to the forest-dependent Bakola and Bagyeli people. 150 families were singled out for resettlement, many village lands were expropriated, crops and plants destroyed and water sources polluted. The upgrading of existing seasonal roads has facilitated logging and illegal poaching in otherwise inaccessible areas. Besides, the arrival of largely male job seekers in the area has led to serious social disruption of the communities, with prostitution, alcohol abuse, and STD all on the rise. The compensation plan crafted by the World Bank was very limited in scope and inadequate to restore or improve on broken livelihoods.
The pipeline commenced operation in autumn 2003. Less than five years later a statement from the World Bank announced that it was ceasing to support the project because Chad's government had repeatedly violated the terms of the agreement by using oil revenue to purchase arms and recruit French troops.
In retrospect, Dantini considers his project a sort of "test" that verifies the skills and socio-environmental responsibility of the managers of the largest Western financial institution, the ideologists of a single model of "development" that has all too often shown itself to be inadequate, unsustainable and even harmful.
The artist created a magazine (bilingual: italian and english) distributed in the gallery and entirely dedicated to the pipeline and its developments. If you can't go to the Strozzina befor ehte show closes, you can download the PDF of the mag online.
Related entry: Flotsam Jetsam.
I'm off to spend hours on a train to Florence to see Green Platform at the Strozzina cultural center. I'll write something more verbose when i'm back but i'm so slow writer exhibitions are dismounted long before i blog about them. So here. A quick appetizer of an exhibition that takes an interdisciplinary look at environment, ecology and sustainability:
Green Platform runs until July 19, 2009 at Strozzina in Florence.
ART, PRICE AND VALUE - Contemporary Art and the Market (Part 1). The exhibition, which closed a few days ago at Strozzina - CCCS in Florence, investigated the increased links between contemporary art and the international market.
The contemporary art world has experienced transformations over the past few decades, it attracted attention and investors and turned into a non-stop party. But time has come for hangovers: collectors and sponsors' enthusiasm has been shattered by the economic downturn. Speculations about what the new situation will entail are raging all over the contemporary art community.
An idea that pervades the various forecasts and analysis is that if the global financial crisis changes the rules and the players, it might also bring some positive corollaries. As the art critic Robert Hughes has argued, the appreciation of art has become too tainted by its association with bloated values (via). The crisis might force the contemporary art world to find alternatives to a money-centered situation which had blown out of proportion, invent new survival strategies and readjust the way we value art. I quite like this extract of an essay that Manuel Borja-Villel, Director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid wrote for El Pais: We didn't realize that this creativity and radicality had become labels for consumption. We must reflect on where we are, what we want and where we are going and ask ourselves whether what we are looking for is an art that contributes to the public space, or on the opposite, whether what we are interested in is to create a new label to show off in parties.
Some would even add that there's nothing better than a dire financial context to stimulate art and see new avant-gardes emerge. Maybe but i still hate the idea that artists have to suffer, drink their despair in absinthe and cut their ear in order to gain talent and respect.
Enough of my two-pence on the subject. Let's get back to the exhibition with a couple of artworks:
Fabio Cifariello Ciardi's A BID Match is based NASDAQ Voices, an audiovisual installation that turns real time trading data over any day of trading on the NASDAQ Stock Market into sound compositions. A BID Match maps the performance of the share price of Sotheby's and of the New York Stock Exchange. The term BID refers both to the bidding process at an auction and to the abbreviation BID for Sotheby's at the New York Stock Exchange. The time span monitored was 15 September 2008, the first day of the auction of Damien Hirst at Sotheby's. Surprisingly immune from any preoccupation about the financial markets that were crashing that very week, the auction outperformed the expectations of Sotheby's.
Just pasting below a BBC report on the auction. In almost 2 minutes and 30 seconds they manage to repeat over and again words that relate to money but never comment on the artistic qualities of the work:
Pablo Helguera's Manual of Contemporary Art Style is a witty book that scrutinize the inner social workings of the contemporary art scene, and guides the readers through the the do's and don't of life in and around the art community.
The Manual gives answers essential questions such as: Should one sleep with an artist whose work one does not like? How can one escape from a never-ending video installation while in the presence of others? How to cure the "festivalist syndrome"? How to use google as a curatorial tool? I'm going to order the book just for this other question: What should one say to close friends when they exhibit bad work?
You think that as a mere gallery visitor you are an outsider who doesn't have to abide by the rules? Big mistake. You have duties and must adopt an adequate behaviour. Even the perfume you are wearing must show some respect to the art space.
I had a quick look through it. Despite its almost comical purpose and style, the book is shock full of recommendations that have more sense than folly. I kept catching myself thinking "That's exactly like that!" Chapter after chapter, Helguera paints a portrait of a contemporary art scene constantly swaying between the need to cultivate an image of avant-guarde and non-conformism and the necessity to please the conservative art market that sustains them financially.
What turns an object into art? Where are the analogies between money and art? For the exhibition at the CCCS in Florence Cesare Pietroiusti covered a wall with 3000 one- and five-dollar bills previously treated with sulphuric acid and stamped on their back side. While it had lost its worth as a currency, each banknote had acquired the status of a unique work of art. The visitors were invited to take one of the bills, on the back side of which the following warning was stamped: "each monetary transaction involving this artwork will invalidate the signature of its author and consequently transform it into a fake".
By inviting the audience to actively take part in this process in which Pietroiusti is preventing the individual artwork to be converted into money. Art becomes a non-monetary gift. The artist thereby undermines the logic of the art market which thrives on the idea that a work of art in not only a commodity saleable at a certain price, but that it may even generate a profit. By excluding the characteristics of an artwork as a convertible currency, he is revealing and removing one of the fundamentals of the art market.
The exhibition closed a few days ago but you can explore its theme further in the catalog published in both english and italian.
All images Strozzina - CCCS.