Last month, i visited the Liverpool Biennial. It was boring (BO-RING) but it was still worth the trip. One: because I love Liverpool and i'm happy as long as people around me have that cute accent. Two: because of the show at the Open Eye Gallery. It is part of the official programme of the biennial but it was one of the few shows in town that made me think and reflect upon the art world and the way it is represented/represent itself.
Not All Documents Are Records: Photographing Exhibitions as an Art Form looks at photographic works that bring a critical and artistic gaze on some of the most important art events in the world and asks the question: "Can photography be the site where the history of an exhibition is produced and still retain its independent artistic autonomy, thus overcoming pure documentation?"
Four bodies of works are brought together to make us reflect on this question. Two are contemporary, they are by Cristina De Middel of the Afronauts fame and by Ira Lombardia. The other two, by Ugo Mulas and Hans Haacke respectively, are historical.
I'm going to start with Ugo Mulas' take on the Venice biennale of 1968. I knew the photographer's work for his portraits of the superstars of the art world in the 1960s. But the photos exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery are miles away from the glamour you might expect from the Venice event.
Mulas had been covering each edition of the Venice biennial since 1954. The images in the gallery date from 1968, a year marked by social uprisings around the world (Mai 68 in France, anti-Vietnam war demos, etc.) The art biennial, which naturally echoes changes in society, experienced similar turmoils. Students and intellectuals took to the street to protest against the establishment represented by the Venice Biennale, brandishing banners that denounced the "policed biennial of the bourgeoisie" (policemen were indeed guarding the entrance of the Giardini) and claiming that 'La Biennale è fascista.'
They also questioned the institution itself on matters such as freedom of speech and vilified it for its sales department, accusing the biennial of being a capitalist playground for the rich. The biennale's board subsequently dismantled the sales office.
In solidarity, some of the participating artists covered up their works, withdrew their work, turned them over or wrote over "in these conditions i'm not working."
Mulas photographed the most salient moments of the opening: the protests, the curators carelessly drinking spritz on Piazza San Marco, the police crackdown against demonstrators, etc.
The context of Hans Haacke's photos of the second edition of Documenta in Kassel is very different from the one of the 1968 biennial. Founded in 1895, the Venice biennial is the oldest exhibition of its kind. Documenta was created 60 years later as a means for bringing Germany up to speed with the most modern and contemporary art forms that had been banned under Nazi's politics of artistic obscurantism and censorship.
Haacke, still a student at the Art Academy in Kassel in 1959, worked as an exhibition guard for the second edition of Documenta. In his free time, he independently took on the task of visually 'documenting Documenta'. The 26 black and white images hanging on the walls of the Open Eye Gallery are witty and full of humour. Instead of being strictly about the art exhibited, the images display Haacke's interest into the rituals and peculiarities of an art event. They show how absurd the dialogue between artworks and viewers can be. A family attempts to find some relationship between a description in the catalogue and the work hanging on the wall. A young boy is far more interested in mickey magazine than in the Kandinski hanging behind his back. Other photos gives us a glimpse of what happens behind the curtains of the art world: cleaning ladies doing their job, a Moore sculpture waiting next to a pile of bricks to be carried to the exhibition room.
Nowadays, most of us have seen images of the kind. The museum photos of Thomas Struth or Martin Parr's sneaky portraits of collectors at Dubai Art Fair, for example. In 1959, photographers' sociological explorations of the art world were pretty unusual.
Cristina De Middel was invited by the gallery to imagine what the future edition of the Liverpool Biennial would be like. The commission came as the preparations for the event were underway.
Instead of going into wild speculations, the photographers looked for evidence in the archives of photography and press cuttings that documented past editions of the event. She then used and remixed the images and headlines in prints that cover the walls of the first room of the gallery.
To create her collage, she contacted both the photographers who had made the original images and the artists whose work appear in the photo. The photographers gave her the permission to use and rework their images. Many of the artists, to my great surprise, refused. So while artists have been constantly borrowing and re-appropriating other artists works to create new ones, they negate photographers the possibility to do so. Does that mean that a photographer is not an artist? That they can only produce images that document? To meet their censorship, De Middel painted over the artworks appearing in the photos, blurring and often even distorting their contour. Her new body of work interrogates thus the authenticity of photography (something she had done previously with the Afronauts, a series that charted the 1964 Zambian space programme which never actually came to its full realization) and highlights the tension between creativity and documentation that the photographic medium encompasses.
Upstairs, i almost missed the work of Ira Lombardía. During her visit of the last edition of Documenta, the artist saw a light phenomenon on the floor of one of the exhibition gallery. She mistook it for an authentic work of art (such confusions happen to the best of us when dealing with contemporary art.) Lombardía took a photo of it and went on to create a whole narrative around it. She invented an artist and a description for the artwork that never was. She then copied faithfully the catalogue of the Documenta exhibition and substituted one of the artworks by her photo of the light phenomenon and added the bio of her fictitious artist. She later wrote a letter of apology to the artist whose name and work she had removed from the catalogue.
Not All Documents Are Records: Photographing Exhibitions as an Art Form, curated by Lorenzo Fusi, remains open until 19 October 2014 at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.
On 12 July, the Arts Calalyst organised one last evening of discussions in its Clerkenwell Road HQ.
The Language of Cetaceans brought together two men who share a passion for whales. One is environmental scientist and marine biologist Mark Peter Simmonds who investigates and raises awareness about an issue that is far away from our sights: the threats to the life of marine mammals caused by the increasing emissions of loud noise under water. The other is artist and inventor Ariel Guzik who has spent the last ten years looking for a way of communicating with cetaceans.
The evening started with Nicola Triscott, Director of the Arts Catalyst, showing us the Field Guide To UK Marine Mammals. I had no idea there were whales, dolphins, seals and sharks sharks on the coast of the UK!
We might think that oceans are silent but they are filled with noises and animal conversations. First of all, marine mammals, fish, and a few invertebrates depend on sound to locate food, identify mates, navigate, coordinate as a group, avoid predators, send and receive alert of danger as well as transmit other types of information. It's very dark deep in the ocean so hearing is the sense they rely the most on.
Nowadays, however, whales and other mammals cannot hear with each other because of all the man-made noise intruding on their habitat.
Some of these sounds are so loud, they are driving the animals away from areas important to their survival, and in some cases injuring or even causing their deaths. The intense sound pulses of mid-frequency military sonars, for example, have been linked to several mass whale strandings. But it's not just the military that is to blame. The fossil fuel industry is firing loud air guns fusillades to detect oil buried under the seafloor, undersea construction operations drive piles into the seafloor and blast holes with explosives. Add to the picture, the dramatic growth in shipping traffic that generates a constant noise.
Whales are particularly vulnerable because they communicate over vast distances in the same frequencies that ship propellers and engines generate. The whales are not only unable to communicate with each other but they also panic when the noise gets too loud. When they are hit by a blast, the creatures flee, abandon their habitat and with that the source of their alimentation.
NGO Ocean Care has launched the Silent Ocean campaign. Have a look at their video, it explains the issue with more clarity and details.
And here's the video of Mark Peter Simmonds's talk:
Ariel Guzik then presented his attempts at creating instruments that would mediate the communication between cetaceans and humans. One of his latest instruments is currently shown in the Mexican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
The devices that the artist developed over the course of his career go from Laúd Plasmaht which uses the electric variations of Mexican cactuses to make a concert for plants to Nereida, an underwater capsule that doubles as a musical instrument to establish contact with cetaceans.
Here's Ariel Guzik's talk. It is not as fast-paced and entertaining as the one by Mark Peter Simmonds but Guzik is one of those 'crazy' visionary artists whose work involves biology, physics, music and a deep respect for the environment. His work, i'm sure, will fascinate you:
The rest of Ariel Guzik's talk is over here!
Matteo Bittanti and Domenico Quaranta, the authors of the very enjoyable and clever book GameScenes. Art in the Age of Videogames, are onto great game art adventures again. This time, they curated an exhibition that celebrates the work of Italian artists who have been experimenting with game-based technologies for more than two decades. The retrospective is heralded as an alternative to the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale --which content Adrian Searle has compared to a tour of Silvio Berlusconi's brain-- and its title is as provocative as it can get: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! While some of the names of the artists selected in the show might be new to many of you, the work of others has traveled beyond the frontiers of Italy, and in some cases has even reached far beyond the world of art games itself.
Because i make it my duty to attend as few art openings as possible and because i'm a creature from the North who finds Summer temperatures in Venice to be unbearable, i won't be able to visit and report on the show before October. But the exhibition looks so good that i decided to go ahead and ask Domenico Quaranta to tell us what we can expect from ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!!
Hi Domenico! Let's start with the title of the exhibition because i can't let you get away with a title like that without a word of explanation. How dared you?
Ah ah! To answer this question, I have to tell you why I enjoy so much to work with Matteo Bittanti. First, he is a good friend. Second, we have a pretty different perspective. Matteo is interested in art, sometimes he even acts as an artist himself; but he is much more into games. He debuted as a reviewer for game magazines, and he is now one of the most acclaimed game students around. I'm interested in games, even if I'm not a hardcore gamer, but I'm much more into art. As Italians often working abroad, we both have to confront ourselves with several commonplaces. I'm not just talking about that Jersey Shore kind of stuff. If you work in the games world, you know that Italy has a weak game industry, that has never been able to produce something relevant not only internationally, but even for its own local audience. Italians interested in working on games usually leave for other countries.
If you are working in the art world, you know that Italy has a weak art system, unable to support the artists working here on the international platform. The absence of Italian representatives in some key international events doesn't even become news anymore.
Discussing the show, we realized that the contribution that our artists brought to the international debate around videogames is much more relevant than what our weak art system, our weak game industry, our retrograde art schools, and the immaturity of the same debate in the Italian academia (and on the Italian media), would let you imagine.
Wanting to make this visible, we decided to deliver the message in a blatant, outrageous way. To be aggressive, and make some noise. To fight a commonplace you need a stock phrase. Matteo proposed to call the show "Teh Italians do it Bettah!!". We moved back from jargon to plain English to make it easier for anybody. Matteo kept the original title for his catalogue text.
The title seemed to match with many other things: the recent involution of our international reputation. The nightmare of the Italian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale. The celebrations for the 150 years from the unification of a nation that somebody called "a geographical abstraction". The fact that many artists in the show - and Matteo himself - actually live and work abroad. And the fact that most of them hate the title :-)
I couldn't see which artworks were selected (only the name of the artists) so i have to ask you whether what you attempted with this show was to demonstrate how broad the range of Italian video art game is or whether you were rather trying to highlight something they have in common?
The show is as dumb as the title we chose for it. We selected fifteen artists / works that have a little in common except their passport and the interest in videogames as a cultural form. The exhibition space was just a bunch of square meters, so we decided to fill it up without caring about the dialogue between the works. Some of them are whispering love to each other, some others are enjoying a flame war session. It's more like a salon or a fair booth: we want to sell "Italian Game Art" to the international audience of the Venice Biennale. We are waiting for some better images, but in the meantime you may enjoy my Flickr set.
By the way, is there something that makes Italian video art game different from art games from the rest of the world? The press release for the exhibition states: ITALIANS DO IT BETTER!! thus asks "What does it mean to be an 'Italian' artist working with video-games, today?" Do you have some kind of answer to that question?
No, except for what I told you above. I don't even know what it means to be Italian. A national identity is not, for me, a fixed concept. It's an abstract idea that should be always negotiated. Institutions usually take care of restoring it, protecting it from the attacks of internal and external forces. Somebody said: "We made Italy, now let's make Italians". Today, nobody is working on this anymore. We did what an Italian cultural institution should do, claiming the contribution of our artists to a given field of culture. But we did it without the rhetoric of an institution, and with all the irony that being freelance curators playing the role of a phantom institution allowed us to use.
The artists included in the exhibition are Italians by chance. Many of them are not even living in Italy. They are not a group, and they didn't learn what they do at school. They just share a common interest in videogames. They can't even be described as "game artists". If the term Game Art can still make some sense as a category (and I'm not completely sure about it), the term "game artist" doesn't make sense at all. It's not a matter of identity, it's just a matter of cultural interests and medium occasionally employed. With a few exception, for these artists the interest in games is just part of a broader interest in media. Carlo Zanni made a wonderful online videogame in 2004, and back in 1997 Antonio Riello made one of the first art games ever. Is this enough to call them game artists?
Neoludica is one of the collateral events of the 54. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte - la Biennale di Venezia. Can you imagine that one day a game artist would be selected to represent a country (Italy maybe?) in one of the national pavilions? How far away are we from that idea?
More seriously. The art establishment is ruled by old people who still think that videogames are just entertainment for teenagers. The cultural impact of videogames is still far to be broadly recognized by highbrow culture. But it's just a matter of time. Bill Viola made a videogame recently. The Smithsonian Museum is setting up an impressive exhibition on videogames. Neoludica is just trying to force the process a bit, bringing people together, facilitating dangerous liaisons, etc.
The exhibition was curated for the first edition of Neoludica. Can you tell us something about Neoludica? For example, is IDIB just part of a broader event? Who is behind that organization?
Italians Do It Better!! is a selection of contemporary artists concerned with the socio-cultural impact of videogames, and sometimes using games as an art medium. It was commissioned as part of Neoludica, a bigger event attempting to explore the relationship between these two terms - "art" and "videogames" - in the broader sense. Can videogames be considered art, and not just entertainment? How many creative practices converge in this innerly multimedia art form? Can videogames change our broader understanding of art? These are some of the questions Neoludica is trying to raise.
The mind behind the event is Debora Ferrari, one of the founders of Musea (the association that co-produced the event), who two years ago organized a big show on concept art in Valle d'Aosta, called The Art of Games. The exhibition puts together many different things, from contemporary art to concept design, from commercial videogames to indie games (the work of Tale of Tales is well represented). Personally, I'm both frightened and excited by this overlapping of different fields and different ideas of art. And if, on the one side, I made my best to work as a gatekeeper, designing the space in order to keep IDIB separated from the rest of the show, at the same time I think that we somewhat need such a broader platform. I'm sure that the Biennale audience will turn its nose up in front of such a mess, where commercial videogames, good craftmanship and contemporary art share the same space. But I'm really interested to see how such a dialogue will help all these cultural forms to evolve in the next years.
Any new video game artist, Italian or not, we should keep an eye on?
Let me give you a couple of names. Santa Ragione is a little game factory based in Milan. In IDIB they show their first consistent effort, Fotonica (2011). It is a first person game about jumping, traveling and discovering. You don't win or lose, you just endlessly explore a metaphysical space made of light lines inspired by abstract paintings and early 3D videogames. It has been released a couple of days before the opening, and I loved to play it at the exhibition.
The other work came too late for the show. It is a photographic project by Giovanni Fredi, a former student of mine at the Academia in Milan. He visited two places with a somewhat similar name, but very different nature, and he portrayed people playing videogames. The first place is Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. There, boys play videogames - mainly soccer games for Playstation - all together in self-built game arcades, on found TV screens, using electricity stolen from the street lightings. Akihabara, also known as Akihabara Electric Town, is a major shopping area for electronic, computer, anime, and otaku goods in Tokio, Japan. There, people play everywhere, walking in a bubble inhabited only by themselves and their Nintendo DS. Giovanni followed these gamers, pictured them, and made two nice booklets picturing two different ways of approaching videogames. And, of course, of living in the XXI century. The project is called Kinshasa vs Akihabara (2011). When I saw the project, I sent it to Matteo, who made this nice interview for his Wired.it blog.
I thought Miltos Manetas was Greek?
Miltos Manetas is a netizen. He was born in Greece, he studied in Italy where he started getting interested in videogames. Than he moved to the States, and the Internet became his core interest. Then again he moved to London and then back to Italy. Currently, he lives in Rome. In an interview that we published in the book we just made with LINK Editions, he says: "I don't belong to any Nation. I have a Greek, an Italian, an American and also a British in me, but more than anything I am from the Internets. (Internets are realities that exist online as well as in any different territories influenced by the power of the Internet.)"
Italians Do It Better!!, an exhibition curated by Matteo Bittanti & Domenico Quaranta as part of the NEOLUDICA EVENT - ART IS A GAME 2011-1966 at the 2011 Venice Biennale of Art remains open at Sala dei Laneri, Santa Croce, 131 in Venice until November 27, 2011.
Previously on the Domenico Quaranta channel: Playlist - Playing Games, Music, Art, Playlist, it's not (just) about nostalgia, Playlist - the physical dimension, KIOSK. Artifacts of a Post-Digital Age, ARCO - Expanded Box and ARCO Beep New Media Art Award.
By bringing the focus of their exhibition on the thousands of buildings that remain unoccupied in The Netherlands, the Dutch Pavilion puts an ironic twist on "People meet in architecture", the theme of the ongoing Architecture Biennial in Venice.
Even the building where the exhibition takes place has been empty for over 39 years since its inauguration in 1954. The Dutch Pavilion -just like any of the pavilions of the giardini- is indeed open for just a few months per year.
Rietveld Landscape, the office appointed by the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) as curators, has emphasized the vacancy of the pavilion by leaving the ground floor of the pavilion completely empty. Only by walking the stairs up to the mezzanine can the visitor discover that what looked like a foam blue ceiling is in fact a suspended landscape made of the models of vacant lighthouses, schools, water towers, factories, hangars, offices, etc.
A 'placebook' on the wall shows the connections that could between vacant buildings and creative professionals:
The exhibition Vacant NL is a call for the intelligent reuse of temporarily vacant buildings around the world in promoting creative enterprise.
Vacant NL, where architecture meets ideas is not only an appeal to creative talents to exploit the value hidden in society but also unsolicited advice to countries who want to advance up the table of global knowledge economies but don't know where they can find the hidden strengths. The transition to a creative knowledge economy demands specific spatial conditions. Offering young talents from the creative, technology and science sectors an affordable place where they can share their knowledge, creativity and networks is a way of promoting mutual influences, enterprise and innovation. Vacant NL, where architecture meets ideas shows how architecture can contribute to tackling major social problems.
Project Team for the pavilion: Curator Rietveld Landscape worked with Jurgen Bey (designer), Joost Grootens (graphic designer), Ronald Rietveld (landscape architect), Erik Rietveld (philosopher/economist), Saskia van Stein (NAI curator), Barbara Visser (visual artist).
The Venice Biennale of Architecture runs until 21st November, 2010.
Sorry i've been a bit lame and vague in keeping up with my reports from the Venice Architecture Biennale. I'm going to post a couple more stories about the event then we'll move on with our life.
Just like two years ago, the Belgian pavilion was the one i liked the most. This has very little to do with my nationality. I entered having no idea of what i'd find there and was almost immediately struck by the simplicity and charm of the exhibition.
This year's Director of the Biennale Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA invited participants to explore the relationship between architecture and human occupation. No one has taken the theme as literally as Rotor at the Belgian Pavilion. By focusing on the mundane and the overlooked details of architecture, the collective brought poetry, history and emotion to the biennale.
Called Usus/Usures, the exhibition investigates a specific phase in the life of construction materials: the time when they are subjected to use and are gradually re-shaped by human beings passing through them, walking on them, touching, pressing, stroking, scratching or holding them.
The Rotor collective spent years touring public buildings in Belgium to document and collect sections of walls, banisters with chipped paint, wooden floors, stained carpets, tired stairs, elevator cabins, plastic chairs, door handles, windows, and other worn out fragments of buildings. A selection of them hang on the white walls of the pavilion. Taken out of their original context, the objects looks like minimalist sculptures.
Rotor's interest in fatigued bits and pieces of architecture started as a study to evaluate the viability of a resale network for construction and demolition waste. Their concern, however, was not entirely ecological:
Like any product, they also elicit an aesthetic evaluation and, indeed, an emotional one. Traces of wear play a crucial role in this. They frequently evoke a sense of repulsion from potential buyers, but occasionally evoke attraction and even fascination.
With wear and tear, the material gains a new dimension that is both physical and situational.
A few pictures i took. Image on the homepage by Eric Mairiaux.
Usus/Usures is a project by Lionel Devlieger, Michaël Ghyoot, Maarten Gielen, Benjamin Lasserre, Tristan Boniver, and Melanie Tamm, in collaboration with Benedikte Zitouni and Ariane d'Hoop.
The Venice Biennale of Architecture runs until 21st November, 2010.
Keeping up with the visit to the exhibition of the Venice Architecture Bienniale at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni:
A nail house is a Chinese neologism for homes belonging to people who refuse to move out and make room for estate development. The most famous case is the one of Wu Ping and Yang Wu who declined during two years to sell their house to the developers of a shopping mall under construction in Chongqing. The developers cut their power and water, and excavated a 10-meter deep pit around their home. The family turned down an offer of 3.5 million yuan (US$453,000), but eventually settled with the developers in 2007.
Architect Caruso St John and artist Thomas Demand are paying homage to the Chongqing nail house with a project currently exhibited inside the Palazzo delle Esposizioni during the Venice Biennale of Architecture.
The Nagelhaus (nail house in german) is the winning project of a competition to redesign the Escher Weiss Platz, a former industrial area in Zurich undergoing a dramatic transformation that involves new commercial developments, new cultural institutions, and even new inhabitants. Caruso St John and Thomas Demand propose to reconstruct the Chinese Nail House in the square, under a road viaduct, and to open it to the public as a 24/7 restaurant. The modest building would appear as an archaeological fragment of a street that stood there previously.
The reconstruction of the nail house is also a social experiment that explores how migrating forms can bring new life into an overlooked urban setting. The experiment takes a particularly interesting meaning in a country ill at ease with immigration. Only a few months ago, a referendum has backed a proposal to ban the construction of new minarets.
The Nagelhaus project is facing controversy in Zurich, with the right-wing populist SVP trying to prevent its construction. The party has obtained the requisite number of signatures to force a referendum and the matter will be voted this month. Looks like the brave little Chongqing nail house will have to face yet another battle.
The installation at the Biennale consists of the reconstructed house, built to look like a Demand paper model and squeezed under the roof of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, as well as illustrations of the restaurant under the viaduct.
The inside of the Nagelhaus looks like the hidden side of a theater set.
Also at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni: Tom Sachs at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.