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 Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo in Sevilla is currently running an exhibition dedicated to Ant Farm, a group of experimental architects and critical artists active mostly in the '70s. The exhibition includes videos, models, original drawings, inflatables and all the quiet you can expect in a cultural center located inside a stunning monastry on the bank of the Guadalquivir River, the Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de Las Cuevas.
Founded in San Francisco in 1969 Ant Farm could be regarded today as a very effective mix between Archigram, the Rolling Stones and The Yes Men. Ant Farm embraced the latest technologies at the same time as they hit American culture on the head with their social and political comments and their highly critical (up to being in some cases destructive) approach to mass media. Their projects do not stop at the work of art itself, they also encompass the mass media rendering of that work of art.
All i knew about them was their rusty Cadillac Ranch installation which i do not like very much but the rest of their practice impressed me beyond words. I can't think of any artistic group playing a similarly brilliant, innovative and multidisciplinary work today. Here's a shortcut to their works:
Ant Farm deployed their conceptual world through videos, manifestos, spectacular performances and installations until 1978, when they disbanded following a studio fire. Most of the slide and video documentation was saved, but very little else survived.
Ant Farm started their career as evangelists of inflatable structures. Cheap and easy to assemble, they challenged the American consumerism culture and fitted perfectly a nomadic, communal lifestyle, in total contrast with the Brutalist architecture prevalent in the United States during the 1960s.
In 1971, they took the road abroad their Media Van, a customised Chevrolet van turned into a mobile studio to share information and images with the public while they toured the country to give talks and organize public happenings. The van not only transported the material necessary to build their ICE 9 inflatables but its motor was also used to generate the energy indispensable to blow up the structure.
In 1972 the group built in Texas the House of the Century, a ferro-cement weekend residence with organic shapes that remind the inflatable structure that Ant Farm had realized a few years earlier, in particular their ICE 9 prototype.
Video showing what the House was like before its decay:
The Dolphin Embassy was a never realized sea station in Australia which engaged with interspecies communication using the new video technologies. The structure would sail with the help of a solar mechanism.
In 1974, Ant Farm created their most famous pieces in Amarillo, Texas, Cadillac Ranch. They half-buried a row of used and junk Cadillac automobiles dating from 1949 to 1963, nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. To add to the outrage done to the iconic vehicle, the public is very welcome to graffiti the cars.
The installation was originally located in a wheat field, but was later moved 3 kilometers to the west, to a cow pasture in order to place it further from the limits of the growing city.
A year later Ant Farm staged the performance Media Burn. Dressed as astronauts, they drove at full speed a 1959 Cadillac into a wall of burning television sets. Media Burn critiqued American ideals of heroics and technological superiority, and offered an affront to the television media who were the only one invited to attend the event.
Their video of the performance is styled after news coverage of a space launch, including melodramatic pre-stunt interviews with the artists and a speech by "JFK" (impersonated by Doug Hall).
Media Burn was not their first attack of the media, in 1972 they collaborated with the video collective Raindance to launch the guerrilla Top Value Television (TVTV) to provide alternative coverage of the political conventions of that year.
Let's close the post with The Eternal Frame, a 1975 reenactment of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Part of it plays on America's obsession with the media, but the video demonstrates also that the sacred images of the assassination cannot be mocked. The work can be read as a commentary on the pervasive media culture in America, as it explores how the Kennedy assassination itself became a new type of media event.
Actar has just released Ant Farm - Living Archive 7. Felicity D. Scott has collected archival material to illustrate the early trajectory of the collective, including its architecture, inflatables, performance, multimedia, and video work.
Nice, nice. I've lost my connecting flight and now i'm stuck in Madrid Barajas waiting for the next flight to Sevilla. It's an 8 hour wait but i'm on my way to ZEMOS98 so i am still cheerful.
Anyway, gives me plenty of time to catch up with the emails and the long overdue posts. So back to New York where i was a few days ago and the Exit Art gallery. I'm still wondering how this place managed to escape my radar so far.
Until April 19 they are running a fascinating exhibition on artistic explorations of the current advancements in neurological research. The works shown in BRAINWAVE: Common Senses encourage visitors to consider the brain not only as the center of human activity but as a site for interpretation, for scientific and philosophical debates, for examining our relationship to the world - and for questioning our common sense.
I am usually not very excited by media art works which engage with the little grey cells. Blame it on the BrainBar, when i discovered it i somehow felt that had seen it all. Well, maybe not... I went to Exit Art to see Fernando Orellana and Brendan Burns' robot that "plays back dreams" which was twice as fantastic as i expected but i also discovered 2 or 3 outstanding works.
Suzanne Anker's fascinating and elegant The Butterfly in the Brain uses three-dimensional Rorschach inkblot tests, brain scans and images of butterfly wings to explores the imagery of the symmetrical (or virtually symmetrical) structures of butterflies, the brain, and chromosomes.
I somehow can't get the black hovering butterfly bat she painted on the wall out of my mind. "By taking the butterfly bat image out of a textbook, scaling it up to a large size, and putting it in a site-specific environment, one turns the image into an entirely new and other kind of affective entity," she explained.
Although the use of Rorschach inkblots is controversial in psychology, the images are widely recognized among the public.
Anker used a computer program to convert an inkblot into 3D structure so intricate they could probably not be re-created using traditional sculpture. After which a machine produces the object using plaster and resin. "Looking in 3-D," Anker argued, "one begins to assess new meanings: bones, sea creatures, body parts. These are surrogates for the imagination itself, opening up a dialog between the mind and body. What happens when you can pick up a psychology test in your hand? The mind essentially has been embodied."
She also transposed butterfly wings onto MRI scans, drawing a parallel between genetic patterns in nature and advanced imaging technologies. Like constellations in the sky, butterfly shapes may be found in neurological maps as well as charts of urban sprawl.
Windows of the Soul, asks whether or not one can read madness in another's eyes. 300 b&w mug shot photographs of mental patients, taken in the '50s when they were admitted in the hospital. The eyes of the individuals are projected on a canvas hanging from the ceiling. The rest of the face lays on the floor. Every 5 seconds, another pair of eyes and a face take their place on the split screen. Riveting and disturbing.
Dustin Wenzel's brass sculptures are brain-cavity castings of Great Whales from the New Brunswick Museum collection.
It has recently been discovered that some humpback whales have spindle neurons, a type of brain cell previously considered to exist only in dolphins, humans and other primates, which may indicate a high capacity for intelligence. Although white males possess the largest physical brain of any animals (Wenzel's castings were indeed impressively big), there is no scientific consensus about the nature, magnitude or even existence of cetacean intelligence.
And now for the gizmos:
Artificial neural networks are often used in voice recognition systems and IA research. They consist in mathematical computations that mimic the neural network patterns of the nervous system. Jamie O'Shea's Alvin is a realization of an interactive and electronic neural network constructed with physical hardware. When left alone Alvin is dormant, but if you the lay your hand on the interface provided, you will set an electronic neural-like network in motion.
Alvin is a cellular automaton organized around eight cells which produce sound. The sound one cell produces is determined by what sound the other cells are making. This interrelated input and output scheme is an artificial neural network; a simulation of a brain. The imitation of life goes even further, because Alvin's sound circuits are built and destroyed by one another, rather than just turned on or off.
The chamber where they live contains food, water and light to keep them warm but also sensors that detect the changing light patterns produced by their movements. The sensors send the light data to an on-board microcontroller, which in turn activate the motors moving the device in relation to the movements of the flies.
Oh, look! i took all those little images.
BRAINWAVE: Common Senses is on view until April 19, 2008 at Exit Art Gallery in New York. This exhibition is part of Exit Art's Unknown Territories series of exhibitions that explore the impact of scientific advances on contemporary culture and examine in particular how contemporary artists interpret and interact with the new knowledge and possibilities created by technological innovation in the 21st century.
10 days ago, i was in Ghent for the festival The Game is Up! at the Vooruit. Artists who study the relationship between art and consumerism were invited to perform, and present their work to explore this year's theme: Art for Sale.
Vending machines, installed all around Vooruit magnificent 1913 building, were packed with surprise objects made by the artists who participated to the exhibition: t-shirts, 5 euro banknotes inside blank envelopes, badges, crazy eyeglasses to see what is happening behind your back, etc.
Eva De Groote had invited me to moderate a couple of Fricties Salons. That's how i finally got to have dinner with one of my heroes, Heath Bunting, saw a performance of Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping, had drinks and a lot of laughs with the smart and hilarious Christophe Bruno and the guy who resuscitated net.art Carlos Katastrofky. Definitely one of the most exciting events of this year for me (so far). Bliss-a-lujah!
Not that it has been a piece of cake. How do you introduce people who should not be introduced? Who have to keep their identity secret in order to be able to keep on doing their own activities? All i could find in the press were stories about the CIA or Mafia like secrecy that surrounds them and implies that "Spouses and friends do not know that the members are in the organization."
"Improving outdoor advertising since 1977" is the catchphrase of the Billboard Liberation Front. The idea is simple: by making small adjustments to billboards, the BLF creates ironic and often highly critical street marketing campaigns. By changing just a few or sometimes only one letters, they turn upside down the clean and seemingly well-controlled facade of an entire company.
BLF has several sets of presentations. They could have gone for the "terrorist" version but given the theme of the festival, they chose the "corporate" one.
First, we were given a tour of the Fundamentals of the organization, its clients and the opportunities.
They started their actions 30 years ago. At the time, there was no internet, no mobile phone, no blogs, etc. It was also a time when advertisement communication just went one way. Consumers received it and didn't have anyway to hit back through blogs or forums. There has been dozens of members over the years, some have gone, others have arrived more recently.
In 77 a "bunch of freaks" in San Francisco called the San Francisco Suicide Club had vowed to live each day like it was the last one. 27 of them (including ten members wearing gorilla suits) were blindfolded and taken up to a roof. They were faced with two Max Factor billboard and some paint. Unfortunately they were a bit drunk, a bit conspicuous because of the gorilla suits and they started arguing about what should be done with the billboard. Some neighbour called the police and SF Suicide Club learned the message the hard way: be prepared, don't get drunk, don't wear stupid suits.
1980. Marlbore instead of Marlboro. It was the first time that the prank was interpreted as a real message from the tobacco company while in fact BLF wanted to comment on the lack of originality of the billboard.
1989. Kant, probably done by a student intern. "Actually it was probably a European intern as no one in the U.S. has ever heard of Kant."
1994. an ad for the the Hillsdale Mall. Very straighforward operation, all they had to do was turn a couple of lights off and just keep the central letters: LSD.
Only a few months after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the most devastating man-made environmental disasters ever to occur at sea which occured in Alaska in 1989, the BLF turned HITS HAPPEN -- NEW X-100 into SHIT HAPPENS -- NEW EXXON
Then they became more ambitious:
1997. Alteration of a Levi's billboard overlooking a major highway. BLF issued a press release in which they introduced Charles Manson, a figure who didn't need any introduction, as the new corporate spokesman of the jeans' company. This historic collaboration between two of most potent iconic forces of the 1960's taps into a frothy zeitgeist of manipulative nostalgia.
1996. Am I dead yet? Technically more elaborate as they had to sub-contract an electrician and a neon guy.
1989. The "Think Different" campaign of Apple became "Think desillusioned". The company had appropriated the image of famous dead guys or exiled ones like the Dalai Lama. Bulletins are the biggest and the most expensive.
The clients this time were technology companies, with a sector focus on the "dot-coms". Large-format warning labels were added to the billboards, in the style of a standard computer error message, bearing the bold copy: "FATAL ERROR - Invalid Stock Value Abort/Retry/Fail".
A billboard manipulation can take from a few hours to a few weeks for the most ambitious actions.
Much effort is deployed to make sure that the members of BLF never get arrested. Very few members of BLF climb onto the billboards themselves. Down there on ground level, other members keep an eye on the street, communicating with walkie talkies and checking if they are not getting too much attention from, say, the police. Ground crews posing as drunks, French TV crew, beautiful babes, couples about to engage in a heated argument to divert attention from the billboard in case anything turns wrong.
Even before the improvement action takes place there is a careful preparation. The area surrounding the billboard is mapped, looking for the best ways of quick escape, ideal positions for ground crews, etc.
BLF has to go more and more tech-savvy, just like the industry does. Today you get talking billboards, talks of billboards in space, billboards activated by motion sensors, etc.
In 2005, they collaborated with artist Ron English for their first animatronic billboard alteration. The background is an original 12' x 22' painting by English. At the foreground the animatronic of Ronald McDonald feeding a fat kid his daily dose of Big Macs. The improvement took place in broad day light at a busy cross road in San Francisco while 15 persons where on the ground, dressed up like McDonald and acting crazy.
Some of the key rules of their billboard improvement actions:
- Make alterations that will make people smile not something that will make them angry,
- Send the press some media releases to better disseminate the action. A modified billboard might remain only one hour in the street before it is removed but its traces remain forever online.
And just like Rev. Billy did in a local shopping center, BLF made their own billboard improvement in the streets of Ghent.
More images of their actions.
New and improved!
Last week i flew to one of my favourite cities, Liverpool, to visit the Sk-interfaces exhibition at the FACT art center. The show, curated by Jens Hauser, explores, materially and metaphorically, the concept of skin as a technological interface.
A controversial new exhibition on display in Liverpool showcases real skin tissue in sculptures wrote the BBC news website. Yet every single person i spoke with during the 2 days i spent in the city didn't seem to find the show controversial. Interesting, surprising, fascinating, challenging, thought-provoking, worth bringing my mum, etc. That's what i heard but no one i talked to seemed overly shocked nor disturbed.
There is material to cause quite a stir in sk-interfaces but Liverpudlians seemed to be more concerned by the issues brought to light by the artists than by the potentially seditious or "freaky" character of the works on show.
I'll start the blog visit of this multi-disciplinary exhibition by walking to the second floor of FACT.
Immolation is a video installation concerned with the subject of the use of incendiary weapons on civilians after the Geneva Convention and the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons of 1980. The USA have refused to sign the convention and they make regular use of firebombs in the Middle East. Not because these bombs are the most efficient (they are not), but because they act as moral crushers, tapping on people's visceral fear of being burned alive.
This video chronicles the major war crimes of the United States involving these weapons on a ( macro) landscape level, and contrasts it with the damage done to the body on the (micro) cellular level.
To accomplish this task, the Critical Art Ensemble (a collective of tactical media practitioners who explore the intersections between art, critical theory, technology, and political activism) grew human tissue at SymbioticA last year, and using high-end microscopy shot the micro footage of skin cells dying by either exploding or imploding. In parallel, CAE shows film footage of present and past wars that have used immolation against civilian targets as a strategic choice for the sole purpose of terrorizing entire populations.
The result is a video where war crime are shown at both the micro and macro level but which skips the human level. Yet you still manage to view your own body in the narrative. The video is made even more unsettling by the absence of sound, it's just silence and destruction.
The goal is to provide a different way of imaging, viewing, and interpreting the human costs of these war crimes, in contrast to the barrage of media imagery to which we have become so desensitised. The video portrays what CAE calls an "ecology of crime."
CAE felt that as long as warfare would be at the center of the Bush agenda, they had to come up with new connections and find venues to show their work (since the arrest of Steve Kurtz some US administrations are feeling the pressure).
Right next to Immolation, is Truth Serum, a work that responds to the lawsuit against Steve Kurtz and their persecution of Critical Art Ensemble in the USA, which marks an ever-increasing creep of the security state into the nervous system of culture.
For Truth Serum, The Office of Experiments, initiated by Neal White, follows research on serums used historically by official authorities in interrogation processes as a means to obtain information without using torture. The effects of truth drugs were first examined in the 1920's, and heavily used by the CIA during the Cold War. The present artwork echoes the debate around art's freedom in the fear and increasing security regime that has emerged after 9/11, while drawing on the cultural history of so-called truth drugs and recent discussions about their use in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.
The use of truth serums is actually illegal but after 9/11 there have been talks (mostly in the press) of using the method again during interrogations by the FBI and the CIA, even though truth serums are more an art than a science.
The installation at FACT combines a space concealed behind a white door and a series of video works that reflect on the aesthetics of terrorist messages, using a dark clown as an anonymous spokesman who reflects on the possibility of carrying out mass self-experimentation with truth drugs as a form of self-defence.
On 29 March 2008, volunteers will be able to participate to the performative part of the Truth Serum installation in support of freedom from artistic censorship.
In a central (and still secret) Liverpool location, participants will willingly submit themselves to a short psychological experiment based on substantiating Truth lasting around 10 minutes. The aim is to probe an atmosphere of paranoia spreading since 9/11.
sk-interfaces is on view until March 30 and launches FACT's Human Futures programme which includes 3 sections - My Body (SK-Interfaces), My Mind and My World, each one hosting a major exhibition, conference and research focus. You can follow its development through Human Futures blog.
On Saturday, i visited the Biennale de la Photo de Liège. Now you might never have heard of Liège. Good for you! That's where i grew up and i must say that apart from the sticky Sirop de Liège (which i've never really liked but was nevertheless almost forced to eat), a fantastic programme at a couple of independent movie theatres, and Georges Simenon, there is nothing exciting nor even remotely nostalgic i'm ready to say about that city. Pass your way, dear tourist... Unless you happen to be stuck there before March 30.
The concept of Territories is the centre of Liège's 6th International Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts. This theme is explored through different aspects: "Mental Territory", "Political Territory", "Mutating Territory" or the relationship between "Territory and Identities".
The selection is really good but the curators didn't take any risk. I mean you can't go wrong with the likes of Edward Burtynsky, Xavier Delory and Patrick Messina, can you? Several aspects of this biennale looked a bit like a re-load of several exhibitions on the same topic i've seen over the past couple of years (namely BAC! Living in Babylon in Barcelona and Spectacular City in Rotterdam) but, hey, i enjoyed the biennale a lot so i'm going to stop spitting in the soup now. As I applauded some chapters of the biennale much better than others, i'll exercise my right to be a subjective blogger and focus only on what grabbed my interest.
My first stop was at the luminous Ancienne Eglise Saint-Antoine, an ex-church recently restaured with a very profuse helping of white paint. Wars and fights have marked the history of nations but also left stigmas on the landscapes and in the hearts of people. While some of the artists presented in the Political Territory exhibition turned their lens towards the geographical borderline - seen here as either a real or a symbolic delimitation, other photographers reflect on the human and social consequences which inevitably tailgate these geopolitical challenges.
A fascinating place was dedicated to migrants, "unrooted" or displaced persons, all those who move to another land following their own will or obligation and had to somehow adjust and rebuild a new community and identity.
Today, long after the fall of the iron curtain, new reinforcement measures are being put into place. The buffer zone that was formerly made up of the 'sister countries' of the URSS, is slowly becoming the European Union's buffer zone against illegal immigration and illegal traffic.
In 2002, just before some of the Eastern countries would join the European Union Yann Mingard and Alban Kakulya took a GPS and travelled along the length of Europe's new frontier, from the Adriatic to the Baltic to give a snapshop of the state of a border separating the European Union from countries of the ex-Soviet Union.
East of a New Eden raises a series of questions: What is happening today in a zone where people, who have been accustomed to the standards of the Ancient Regime, are suddenly expected to follow the rules of the European Union? Will the iron curtain be replaced by a high tech surveillance barrier?
Rip Hopkins traveled to Uzbekistan, a country very few people could locate on a map but also an artificial country as it was peopled "forcibly" by outcasts from various counties of the former Soviet Union. The Displaced ("From Home and Away") photos are accompanied by a short text which tells the story of one of these Uzbeks who might or might not feel that they really belong there.
Leonid Svertchkov in Tashkent's Geology and Biophysical Institute's conference room. He is 42 years old. He is Ukrainian and works at the Science Institute as an archeologist specialised in Zoroastrian sites in the south of Uzbekistan bordering with Afghanistan. Leonid was born in East Germany and came to work in Uzbekistan in 1982. He will not leave to join his wife and two sons living in Athens, Greece. 30/07/02
Lena Olegovna in the shop Les cadeaux de la Dame Nature in the city centre of Tachkent. Lola Karimova, the elder daughter of President Karimov, owns this shop. Lena is 24. She is an english, russian and ouzbek interpret. Her mother is Tatar and her father is half Russian and half Ouzbek. She want to go to Norway. 03/08/02
With Linewatch - Pasaje en la frontera, Laetitia Tura documents the border areas between the United States and Mexico and in particular the police control systems erected across the accidents of the landscape.
Jérôme Brézillon's series Souverains, Indiens des Plaines is a breathtakingly beautiful and thought-provoking series about the fate of Indian Americans. In 1868 the Treaty of Fort Laramie set the frontiers of the land assigned to the Yanktonai Sioux, Santee Sioux, and Arapaho and stipulates that the land is theirs to use as they deem fit. History showed that their territory was not always respected.
In the Souverains (Sovereigns) series Brézillon juxtaposes a portrait of a Sioux Lakotas with a landscape of Indian reservations. An identity relationship is instantly created. History, myth and ancestry ensure that the intimacy cannot vanish so easily nor be reduced to folklore.
The exhibition Mutating Territory, at the greyer than grey Musée de l'Art wallon, explores how men appropriate a territory and shape it according to their own requirements.
But doesn't this new territory in turn also shape a new humanity?
Joël Tettamanti toured the globe to document the way mankind takes root in the landscape.
Edward Burtynsky collects evidences of man's boundless disregard for the planet: oilfields, polluted ship-breaking beaches, recycling yards, quarries, industrial refineries, etc. He takes images of the colonized landscape but he also enters factories to take sublime shots of intricate industrial constructions or chain workers in the process of loosing any personality.
Xavier Delory didn't have to take any plane to dedicate his attention to the houses "clé sur porte" (key in the door), they are all over Belgium and many other European cities. Manipulating the images to remove any trace of door and window, he leaves us with a soul-less canvas which has no qualm about being in total disharmony with the environment.
I'm going to pretend i haven't visited Territory and Identities and go directly to Mental Territory at the MAMAC. The territory this time is the one of human intimacy, the internal territory mapped by our choices, family, loneliness, etc. Although i tried as hard as i could there was little attention left for anything else than her pictures the moment i saw Marrie Bot's Geliefden. Timeles Love. The series shows elderly having some very intimate moments. Hard not to let your jaw drop and ask your companion "How can they?" "You'll find me so awful when i'm seventy, we will just hold hands and that's it right?" Hard to also not to think that these couples are incredibly lucky to still love each other so much after decades of marriage.
Territoires, the 6th Biennial of Photography and Visual Arts is on view at several venues in Liège until March 30.