Previously: Manifesta 9 - The Age of Coal.
Let's head back to the mine for a quick review of the 9th edition of Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art which is held this Summer in the former Waterschei coal mine in Genk, Belgium.
While floor one and two were focusing on the history of the exploitation of coal in the Limburg region and in the rest of the "western world", the top floor of the crumbling art deco industrial building is filled with contemporary artworks that address de-industrialization and post-industrialization. As you can expect, many of the works come with a sense of doom similar to the one experienced by local communities when the mine closed in 1987. The artists selected for the biennial confront issues such as the dematerialisation of production, new forms of labor, the loss or transformation of social ideologies, the challenges of creating energy, counterfeit luxury goods and the parallel economy it generates, etc. Unfortunately, post-industrial practices are more than the pretext for an art exhibition, they also crucial motors of the current socio-econo-political climate and they are affecting or will soon affect the life of every single visitors.
One of the most impressive and colossal pieces in the show is Carlos Amorales' Coal Drawing Machine which draws what looks like elegant electronic circuits continuously throughout the run of the exhibition. Well maybe not 'continuously' because it wasn't turned on when i visited. Long strips of print-outs are cut and hung from the ceiling to form a delicate and fascinating maze.
The machine receives transmissions from an unseen and unknowable source but instead of synthetic toners or dyes, the machine draws with charcoal. The Coal Drawing Machine questions the tension between the hand made quality of the traditional coal drawings and the fact of these being industrially produced by a machine.
A couple more images because that machine was one of the highlights of the show for me:
Some of the artists took the walls, corridors, floors and other architectural elements of the Watershei building as the point of departure of their intervention. They did it so unobtrusively and delicately that visitors run the risk of walking by them or over them without even realising it. Takes these three artworks for example:
Rossella Biscotti's Title One: The Tasks of the Community is part of the floor of the exhibition space and you're free to traipse all over it. The material use comes from a disused nuclear power station in Lithuania. On December 31, 2009, despite popular resistance and economic consequences, Unit 2 of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant was closed under pressure of the European regulatory bodies. As part of the dismantling process, materials from the site were put up for auction as what the Ignalina plant's website described as "unnecessary property." Biscotti attended two public auctions, acquired lead and industrial copper cables, and used them for her installation. The lead is part of the floor-based sculpture, the copper was recycled into new electrical wires to supply electricity to the show. These gestures allude to the climate of social concern around the role of nuclear energy in post-Cold War Europe, but they also create a short circuit between distant social processes that typically remain opaque to the citizenry, physically inserting art, its institutions and audiences into the complex life cycle of the productive system.
Nemanja Cvijanovic's work The Monument to the Memory of the Idea of the Internationale starts with an unasuming music box that will remain silent unless a visitor comes closer and activate its handle (the contemporary art world calls that 'interactivity'.) The instrument plays the Internationale anthem. The music is picked up by a microphone, travels to the speakers in another room where it is in turned picked up by other microphones, etc. The music ends up being played outside by a big pyramid of speakers. The revolutionary anthem gains in volume as it travels through the site but somehow, some of its power also gets diluted in the process. Video.
Oswaldo Maciá collaborated with a perfumer to fill a dark and humid corridor with a smell that is meant to evoke failure. But because Maciá's installations also make use of sounds to synaesthetic experiences, he didn't just create a smelly corridor, he made an 'auditory olfactory composition.' There is a sound element to his work and it nods to the rise of heavy (and noisy) machinery of the Industrial Revolution. The sounds of five different anvils being struck by hammers in distinct echo in the corridor across ten separate channels of sound arranged along the corridor.
Manifesta might have a one and only focus (industrialisation in all its pre-, post and de- forms) and a unique venue but its breadth runs wide. Hopefully, i'll find more time in the coming days to come back to it. If i don't, here's a shortlist of the works i discovered:
The story begins in an unspecified Asian country where an entrepreneur (whose face is concealed) describes how he founded a clandestine, million-dollar business that exports fetish wear, with a small start-up investment from his father. The women who work as seamstresses in his small factory believe that they are sewing body bags for the US Army, straight jackets, and accessories for circus animals, though they do have their doubts. The video continues with testimony from an educated textile designer who found herself unwittingly designing for a business with which she does not personally identify, a white collar professional man who is open about his sexual identity and finally, from a woman who performs role play services using the paraphernalia in question.
Based on archival research, observations, and interviews, the video investigates the relationships between entrepreneurship, labour, use value, and the production of both commodities and subjectivities in the current global cultural economy.
Claire Fontaine's work The House of Energetic Culture is an adaptation of the neon that once overlooked the House of Culture in Pryiat--nowadays a ghost town located within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The sign that was once a symbol of modernity, comfort and culture acts now as a reminder of the blessings and dangers that progress brings upon society.
Tomaž Furlan's Wear series of strange contraptions and performances gently deride the routines of modern workers. Their work -whether in office or factories- might be assisted by technology but it is nevertheless as alienating, repetitive and disrespectful of the human body as ever. Video.
Manifesta 9, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art, is on until 30 September, in Genk, Belgium.
Genk is a city almost entirely devoid of any grace but it is also the site of the 9th edition of Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art. And who needs grace and glamour when you have an exhibition as sensational as as the one that Cuauhtémoc Medina curated in a disused coal mine at the outskirt of the city?
To be fair, i suspect that the spectacularity of the Manifesta 9 show owes much to the venue. The art deco architecture of the ex-headquarters of the André Dumont mine is so stunningly dilapidated, it silences any flaw in the show.
Instead of showcasing exclusively the latest and the very best in contemporary art, the exhibition, titled The Deep of the Modern, is articulated as a triptych. The first floor pays homage to the cultural and social heritage of Limburg mining industry. It had its surprises and joys but maybe my enthusiasm comes from the fact that I grew up in an ex-coal mining region and other visitors will probably have a very different experience of this section of the show.
Upstairs is an 'art historical section' with works from the 19th and 20th Centuries that looked at the coal industry. From the figure of the miner Alexey Stakhanov and the "Life is Joyous Comrade" slogan to Marcel Broodthaers' critique of Belgian mussels & coal identity. From Bernd and Hiller Becher's b&w photographs of mining units and buildings to Mike Figgis and Jeremy Deller's Battle of Orgreave. Some of the works in the space --such as Deller and Figgis' re-enactment of the 1984 confrontation between miners and police, the documentary about the shooting of Belgian miners during a 1966 strike and the photo documentation of picketing miners in England in the mid-80s-- find a sad and direct echo in this week's news of the police opening fire on striking miners at a platinum mine in South Africa.
The top floor hosts the work of artists who were invited to extend the mining theme and explore the legacy of industrialization and global systems of production.
The result is a very literal, very dark exhibition. But Manifesta 9 managed to devise an inventive formula at a time when most art critics question the raison d'être of the (mushrooming) art biennials.
I'm going to cover the contemporary art section of the biennial in another article. This one is merely an introduction and a quick / copy paste of some of the works i liked in the two 'historical' parts of the show. In no particular order, mixing modern art, anecdotes, and historical figures.
First the setting:
1200 coal sacks were hanging from the ceiling, an homage to Marcel Duchamp's 1938 installation 1200 Coal Sacks, intended to trash the ambiance of an art gallery and bring dust and dirt inside the 'white box'.
Speaking of dirt....
Victorian barrister and writer Arthur Munby is famous for his photographs of working girls who posed, with dirt on their face and soiled clothes, in front of the white backdrop of his studio. Munby might have been a mysophiliac, a person who finds dirt sexually attractive. Munby secretly married Hannah Cullwick, a maid who posed for him scrubbing the floor, as a chimney sweep or as a farm girl.
Igor Grubic's Angels with Dirty Faces is an homage to the Kolubara miners' strike that eventually brought down the Miloševi´c regime, and sparked the end of socialism in Yugoslavia. At the time, the Kolubara mine was the largest supplier of lignite coal in Serbia, producing almost half of the country's electricity. The workers are portrayed against the backdrop of decommissioned factories or industrial sites.
Oh! God! Even Rocco Granata was participating to the biennale. Granata was born in Italy but immigrated to Belgium when he was ten and later briefly worked in the mine. In 1958 Granata wrote and released the song Marina. It became an international success. The song has subsequently been performed by such artists as Louis Armstrong and Dalida.
A whole area of the first floor was dedicated to Granata. Click on the video below at your own risk. I did that 3 days ago and the song hasn't left my head ever since.
I might have danced on the late '80s remix version back when i was a growing up in that other mining region of Belgium.
In the mid-80s, Keith Pattinson documented the miners' strike in the Easington Colliery
I found the video below very moving: For Sounds from Beneath records a male colliery choir singing the subterranean sounds of a working mine. A colliery in East Kent, once populated with workers, machines and the sounds of their activities transforms into an amphitheatre haunted by a stranger, resonating sounds of explosions in the ground, machines cutting the coal-face, shovels scratching the earth and the distant melody of the Miner's Lament, all sung by the choir grouping in formations reminiscent of picket lines.
Manifesta 9, The European Biennial of Contemporary Art, is on until 30 September, in Genk, Belgium.
A couple more posts about this year's edition of Manifesta. Apart from Bolzano which i started covering this week, another location for the biennale is Rovereto. The Manifattura Tabacchi, an ex-tobacco factory built in the 1850s, hosts one of the exhibitions set up in the tiny city. The show curated by Adam Budak is called Principle Hope, and i must say that it kicks off jolly well.
Right after passing the ticket booth, there;s the free ice cream. Hurray! I'm lactose intolerant. Art Flavour by Tim Etchells translates into gelato flavours some key themes of contemporary art: The Body, Memory, Spectacle and The Archive.
Party goes on! In the courtyard, there is a bouquet of giant helium-filled balloons.
Ricardo Jacinto's Labyrinthitis (2007) physically alter's visitors perception by upsetting their system of balance and therefore upsets the relationship of their body with space. You can grab the bar, lift your feet and hang gently from this levitating sphere-cluster. Your weight is diminished by roughly 35kg.
However, the colour of the giant bouquet is black and its title refers to something as dark as balance disorder, the labyrinthitis. The work seems therefore almost more ominous than playful. As the description of the work states: the monumental sculptural "cloud" announces a decline of modernist utopias and articulates the precariousness of political balance.
At some point during my visit i saw Guido van der Werve's video Nummer acht. Everything is going to be alright (there's a poor version of it on youtube). I found it so mesmerizing that the rest of my visit at the ex-tobacco factory is lost in some kind of fog so i'm afraid my report from Rovereto will end here.
The film documents a performance that saw the artist walking 15 meters in front of an icebreaker in the landscape of the Finnish Gulf of Bothnia. The performance lasts only 10 minutes, the time of one roll of film but this duration bears a sort of never-ending and meditative quality.
Manifesta, the itinerant European Biennial of Contemporary Art is hosted this year by the Trentino - South Tyrol Region. It runs until November 2, 2008.
Last year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Philippe Rahm's installation Diurnisme was introducing the night during the day as a perverted answer to the perpetual daytime created by the modern lightening, internet and globalization. The room was bathed in a very bright orange/yellow light that triggered the production of melatonin which regulates our perception of day and night, fooling the body into thinking that it is nighttime.
Rahm is an architect of the invisible and physiological aspects of space. One of his earlier projects, Hormonorium, featured an alpine-like climate, complete with the brighter light and shorter supply of oxygen you get at high altitudes. Made of 528 fluorescent tubes, the floor emitted a white light that reproduces the solar spectrum. The very bright light stimulates the retina, which transmits information to the pineal gland that causes a decrease in melatonin secretion. Visitors were thus supposed to experience a decrease in fatigue, a probable increase in sexual desire, and regulation of moods. Besides, the oxygen-rarefied space caused a slight euphoria due to endorphin production.
Rahm is showing two new projects at Manifesta 7, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art currrently taking place in Northern Italy. Both installations engage with architecture's contingent relationship with climate, this time with a higher emphasis on the state of our planet:
The first project was exhibited in the Scenarios exhibition at Fortezza, near Bolzano. That's actually the only show i didn't visit (but if you read italian, i'll recommend you the report that SounDesign wrote of the show).
Fortezza was built in the 1830s by the Habsburgian Empire in order to defend the north/south passage through the Dolomite mountain region from two sides. For the biennale, the fortress is hosting projects which are mostly immaterial: voice recordings, text, light and landscape.
Rahm placed black-backed lightboxes over the outside of some of the fortress windows. This light installation, named Climate Uchronia, refers to how our perception of natural and artificial ambient conditions are subtly influenced by factors such as climate change.
Rahm's purpose is to re-create, inside a room, the climate and exact daylight that the city of Bolzano would experience in the absence of global warming. The installation demonstrates how today, you can still obtain a 'natural' climate but only through artificial means.
The concept is not as 'crazy-arty' as some might believe. In the UK, the Royal Society is about to launch a study aimed at reviewing the possibility of saving the planet by "geoengineering" the climate on the grandest scales imaginable.
Based on an Atmospheric Chemistry Model that sets out to remove the effects of greenhouse gases since 1850, a computer generates the uchronian climate of Rahm's installation for each minute of the duration of the biennale. The software calculates the variation of light intensity depending of the variation of the relative humidity in the air. With Climate Uchronia, the architect offers visitors the possibility to inhabit for just a moment a world that we will never know.
The second work, Météorologie d'intérieur / Interior Weather, 2007, was exhibited in Rovereto, once again in a post-industrial sites (the Ex-Peterlini cocoa factory). I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the exhibition space as i was too busy admiring the glorious Uterus Flags that graced the street right in front of the Ex-Peterlini.
Interior Weather is conceived as two spaces, one white gallery whre an abstract "interior weather" condition is produced, and the other black space, where the resultant data is interpreted.
In a brightly lit and enclosed room, sensors measure variations in light, humidity and temperature; the space is analyzed as a micro-geography in constant flux.
The results of these measurements are sent to the adjacent gallery where they are visualized as images and stories. Unlike what happened in the first gallery, stern sensors are not guiding the communication of the data. Instead, the information is freely reinterpreted in "fictional scenarios" written by French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet and visualized with a projection in the black room.
The installation suggests how the infinite combination of light, humidity and temperature parameters have the potential to generate new spatial practices and social behaviours, and in turn, new architectural forms. In opposition to previous architectural theories (namely the Form follows function position vs the Function follows form one), function and form emerge here as a spontaneous response to climate. The possible use of space is dictated only by the chance confluence of climatic parameters, suggesting new spatial practices, new forms of social behavior and new urban and architectural forms.
I liked 'The Rest of Now', the Bolzano section of the Manifesta biennale so much that i fear that i'll end up forgetting about the other exhibitions i saw at the Biennale this week. Two of the participating artists/architects took very literally the questions put forward by The Raqs Media Collective who curated the exhibition: What gets left behind when everything is taken away? What can be retrieved, and what can be remembered? How can the residual become the engine of meaning?
Over time, parasitic micro-organisms such as cyanobacterias and the Cladosporium genus of fungi, have occupied and taken over the walls of the abandoned Alumix factory. The restoration of the ex-factory means that the building is loosing its value as habitat for the organisms.
Architects Stangeland and Kropf decided to engage with this transitional state. The Naked Garden is generated by the mediation of different modes: biological propagation, mathematical abstraction and technological execution. A robot, programmed with the rules by which the fungi grow, engraves and perforates the wall already inhabited by fungi, thereby allowing light, water and wind to enter and to facilitate the basic conditions of life.
Jorge Otero-Pailos is an architect and theorist specialized in experimental forms of preservation. His contribution to Manifesta is The Ethics of Dust, an installation intended to preserve pollution and the dust that has to be swept away from the building during the renovation process. Pollution has negative connotation. Yet, it can tell fascinating stories about our social, cultural and industrial past.
During two weeks, Otero-Pailos and his team of architectural conservators coated in latex an entire wall of the a wall inside the ex-Alumix factory in order to trap the dust and any trace of air pollution that have accumulated over decades. The architect then peeled the latex off, displaying it like a semi-transparent and precious shroud.
Following the tradition of nineteenth-century archeologists, who made plaster casts of the world's monuments so that European academics could study the architecture of distant cultures, Otero-Pailos suggests a new way of looking at architecture and our history.
Manifesta 7 - the European Biennial of Contemporary Art runs until November 2, 2008 in Trento, Fortezza, Rovereto and Bolzano.