Thursday, September 29, 2005


Read more about the low-fi exhibition (my last post concerned a work exhibited there) in this excellent review at

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Picture the world

How important is your country? Does it even exist in an international perspective? Or has it disappeared in the midst of liberal media wars? Vanishing Point is an attempt at portraying the issue
Vanishing Point consists of a map of the world connected to a database fed by news coming from several international newspapers. The visibility of each country on the map results from the quantity of media coverage the country receives, so those countries that do not make the news disappear progressively.
It is actually quite a scary sight. The question is: why? What makes some countries so attractive for the media, and others completely insignificant? Does it all come down to $? And is it a good power-meter?
One could surely argue this work is more of a social-interest site than an art work. We cannot forget, though, that it is a clear interpretation of the world, its transformation for the purposes of a very broadly understood mimesis. What's more, it seems increasingly apparent that our appreciation of the world is difficult to separate clearly into an aesthetic and extra-aesthetic one. Thus, (remembering, as well, that the eye of the beholder is the final criterion), if we look at Vanishing Point from this perspective, we may find a deeply, though subtly, artistic endeavor.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


What we need is a point of view.
Somewhere to look from.
And then, somewhere to look to. That might just be the landscape.
Whatever frees itself from the arms of focus to go behind, outside, further, deeper.
Focusing on landscape is an oxymoron.
Try focusing on Andreas Gursky's house
Oh but this is not a landscape
(says someone).
This is a house. But of course, it is a landscape, exactly because we get lost in it. A house, namely, this house, may very well be a landscape.
To put it more positively: landscape envelops our sight.
I like that.
The seminar I participated in, about New Ways of Approaching the Landscape, had an incredible diversity of people using this envelop. There was a land artist, a scholar studying the aesthetic aspects of landscape, a photographer, a cinema director, a digital photo effects specialist (hence the Gursky reference above...) and a multimedia artist working with(in) landscape.
Of course, each of them spoke about a somewhat different landscape. Each of them caught me off guards in a specific, particular way. What became clear was that, somehow, landscape has become an object. How can one objectify what we can't even focus? (someone asks)
I guess it is the simple fact of the sight being a construction that turns our sights into objects. But this doesn't seem to answer the question, as landscape is considered precisely this outer limit of our sight's grasp. Maybe it instinctively guarantees some sort of firm ground? And yes, let's admit it: this guarantee is false. Which is bad news for the believers, and great news for the manipulators - artists. Suddenly, the artist's playground extends beyond the sic et nunc of his focus. It gains a haziness that irritates the precise purist minds and fascinates the romantics. It creates the challenge of containing space. That is what constitutes the paradox of art dealing with landscape: it confines the thing defined through openness. That is why a picture of a landscape at the same time seems the most direct way of representing landscape, and the most false one - as the frame kills space.
Liz Larner, Corridor Orange/Blue, 1991

At the seminar, the philosopher Nuno Nabais introduced the topic by referring to landscape (as art) as a way of applying Kant's concept of the sublime to art. One of the main characteristics would be its limitless quality. Kant opposes the sublime to the beautiful - the sublime has no limits, no balance, no order, while the beautiful has all these qualities. Could we thus say that artists that work with the landscape approach the sublime with the instruments of beauty?

(The speakers during the seminar were: Claudio Melo, Duarte Belo, Ivan Franco, Maria Lino, Nuno Mendoca, Nuno Nabais, Sandro Aguilar)

Enrique Zabala, Isn't It Colder 05 (2004)

I'll be spending the next four days on an artistic residence in northern Portugal, that came about as a continuation of ArtLAB's seminar and a second part of the Landscape workshop. I'll try posting from there.

Monday, September 19, 2005

3D=2D (Sheep)

Kyle Trowbridge, Cavlery (2005)


I have been very busy recently, helping out the ArtLAB with an excellent initiative of theirs, a conference about New Approaches to Landscape (it took place yesterday here in Lisbon at the Superior Institute of Agronomy). It was very inspiring, I learned a lot and will write some more about it soon, but first I have some material that got delayed because of all the activity. For starters, a web project about alternative lives. The possibility of having other lives is so tempting , and for anyone spending some time in the virtual realm it is so close to reality, that it seems almost natural to re-write one's life in a "what if" narrative. Surprisingly though, we rarely go through with it, we rarely actually dare to imagine what ways our lives could have gone, and think it out till its ultimate consequences (those latter being altogether quite similar in all cases). The whatif project by Craig Robinson is one project that went all the way. In it, you can follow the author's (the politically correct version: "his alter ego's") life through all its possible events, with their often surprizing consequences. Wandering through these possible lives, I remembered the contemporary philosophical discussion about "possible worlds" (Saul Kripke is one of the main actors in this discussion), a very "fun" concept for a very un-fun environment that analytical philosophy can be. The question often asked is: "what do we talk of when we talk about possible worlds?" To put it in another way: how real are they and what's the use of talking about them? We could say they're useless inventions. But take a look around Robinson's possible worlds. Surprizingly enough - they tell us a lot about his actual world, the possible choices, events - and outcomes - all fit snuggly in one universe. You might accuse this universe of being too light-hearted and smartass-funny (I suppose I would agree with you), but nonetheless you do get a clear picture of who Craig Robinson would like to be, thinks he could be, thinks he could have been, thinks who he thinks he is not, and all the other possible options - that could well tell you a good bit about who Craig Robinson is.


Thursday, September 15, 2005


A simple, some will say trivial, twist.

- Of disbelief ("this is not right").
- Of belief ("things make sense").

What separates form from chaos?

Is it the tension, the working muscles, as if dancing flying working? The hands, sticked out as if flapping, as if searching calming (down)?

Maybe it is what remains of metaphysics: the correction: the fragment of land below.
Ground, as if reason. As if.

(the original photo is by Karan Reshad)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Lite Nature

Tree, by Simon Heijdens, is projected onto several facades in the city, including dark corners and alleys. The main location has a 3x8 meter drawing of a tree projected onto the facade of a building. The branches and leaves move slightly, with an intensity that depends on actual wind gusts.
(Found here)
The tree also reacts to sound (the leaves fall from noise), and is sensitive to what happens to other trees in the city. Ahh, the beautiful empathy of inanimate objects. So perfect, direct, immediate.
Watching the new artistic inventions these days is like looking at a wonderful playground. You just can't get enough watching, it all seems fresh and new and unexpected - but at the same time you, I, can't wait till the next step.

Monday, September 12, 2005


With our present-day awareness, the arts as we have known them up to now appear to us in general to be fakes fitted out with a tremendous affectation. Let us take leave of these piles of counterfeit objects on the altars, in the palaces, in the salons and the antique shops.
They are an illusion with which, by human hand and by way of fraud, materials such as paint, pieces of cloth, metals, clay or marble are loaded with false significance, so that, instead of just presenting their own material self, they take on the appearance of something else. Under the cloak of an intellectual aim, the materials have been completely murdered and can no longer speak to us.
Lock these corpses into their tombs. Gutai art does not change the material: it brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material. In Gutai art the human spirit and the material reach out their hands to each other, even though they are otherwise opposed to each other. The material is not absorbed by the spirit. The spirit does not force the material into submission. If one leaves the material as it is, presenting it just as material, then it starts to tell us something and speaks with a mighty voice.

Jiro Yoshihara, The Gutai Manifesto (1956)

The Gutai were a wonderful movement. I have been interested in them for a while, but only rently did I come across the original Gutai Manifesto. It is a strange document. First of all, it sounds old. Nobody writes like that any more, nobody has this sort of ambitions and generalizing ideals. Think of the Dogma95 (and the other manifestos Von Trier wrote before it). They are political, activist-like, they are purposefully extreme, while trying to maintain a universal appeal. The Gutai seem from another world, way, way back. They are wilfully primitive, primary one could say. Of course, these are the 50's in Japan, the air is still filled with smoke, "civilization" still might sound funny. That's for the historical analysis. But the world has since changed not necessarily in the sense of a reconstruction, but rather, of an integration, a multiplication of forms that attempts to include movements such as the Gutai or the Dadaists (from the same family). But of course there is no particular thing that attempts anything. There is rather a proliferation of movements and ideas which all need a basis. And the (claimed) pureness of Gutai makes them perfect to grow upon. We can easily see artists ranging from Marina Abramovic to Matthew Barney use Gutai's dramatic staging of the limit of matter.
Another thing that surprised me in the Manifesto was the way it combines theory with a very down-to-earth (pardon the pun) description of the artists and their work that makes one think of publicity:

Other works which deserve mention are those of Yasuo Sumi produced with a concrete mixer or of Toshio Yoshida, who uses only one single lump of paint. All their actions are full of a new intellectual energy which demands respect and recognition.

At the same time, the Manifesto sounds honest. It is clearly one person's point of view ("In my case...", "there were many points I could agree with"), which is rare in any manifesto, to say the least. But it doesn't give us enigmatic, hermetic descriptions we are so used to in contemporary art. How often do I feel cheated (or stupid, or both) upon reading some artist's statement! It often seems the artists belong to some higher realm which only they can fully appreciate. Here...well, maybe I was too quick to say it isn't the case at all. Maybe it is the turning point? Since next to the theoretical descriptions are all these very concrete examples of what they mean. It might seem though as something too far-fetched to be credible. It obviously all comes down to personal taste, but if this train is too fast for you to take, you certainly won't enjoy much of what is being done today. Maybe that is what makes the Gutai a turning point: they take the action to another level of abstraction, through the gateway of fine art (in fine art, it had been done for some time before, though not with such a wonderful insistance on the romantic dance of man and matter).
It all sounds very honest, genuine. But from what I've been reading, and this is truly surprizing, the Gutai [link to French site] were hardly as spontaneous and work-focused (as opposed to publicity-focused) as they often appear. They repeated several actions in special performances for the journalists (Making a Work of Art with My Body, also called Challenging Mud, was one of them), and prepared them in quite a publicity-conscious way. Which would explain the commercial-like fragments of the Manifesto. But does it take away any of the credit? Who am I, who can admire music videos, TV commercials and well-designed chairs, to judge them?

"We have struggled to find our own method of creating a space rather than relying on our own self."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Death toy

Zbigniew Libera's series called Lego is a Lego version of a concentration camp. It raises many, many questions, some of which are presented here. The one that I have been discussing with some Polish friends recently is the Venice "scandal". As the article I've linked to mentions, Libera was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale (I think the 1998 edition). He wanted to present Lego. Some time before the Biennale, the curator asked him not to show that particular piece. The artist got offended and refused to participate altogether. It was said, at the time, that Poland is still not a free country after all, that artists should be free to present whatever they wish to, and if one invites them to a show, putting conditions like that is simply censoring art.
I know personally the person who suggested Libera's work shouldn't be shown at the Biennale. The argument was: people around the world have been brought up believing that Poles helped exterminate the Jews during WW2. Contrary to the "Western" countries, Poland never had the possibility of answering, of proving the claims were wrong, until 1989. And after that, there were many other much more important things to deal with than history. Which means that the stereotypes and falsities still prevail. Showing a work like that without a serious comment, analysis, accompanying event, would not only be dangerous, it would be devastating for the slowly-reconvering opinion about Poland.
At the time, most Poles found this to be ridiculous. We knew our history, and found the claims about WW2 so false, so crazy, that most Polish people thought the censorship was a sign of some sort of schizophrenia, of mad political correctness.
A few years later, the Poles woke up. They realized newspapers were being printed around the world that used the term "Polish concentration camps", and others insinuated or explicitly stated that the Poles, being Jew-haters, were delighted to see Germans come in and clean their country, and that the country helped Nazi Germany with the extermination. A huge political scandal erupted, and together with lots of international politics and activism actually managed to make a difference - to the point were the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (1944, 200 000 victims), was transmitted around the world, and finally distinguished from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
All this happened long after the refusal of Zbigniew Libera's work. Not many people looked back to think about it. For many Poles, the accusations against them only appeared after 2000. They didn't. It truly is a nasty combination of art, history and politics. One could wish things like that didn't happen. Probably as an artist I would be just as furious and feel just as offended as Libera did. The question remains: what is the responsibility of the artist? And is any context acceptable for showing his work? When is a work a provocation, and when is it an argument in a flawed debate? And does the artist have to be conscious of this? Can't he just do his job, and let the viewers decide?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Another break

I'll be spending the next week in Poland, quite busy with some non-artistic matters. Hopefuly will be back on track on the 7th of September.


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