Monday, November 27, 2006

Between us (and the body). Shen Wei

A Chinese photographer moves to the U.S. Here, he discovers bodies. Bodies as social places. Bodies as identifiers, as the places of definition. How does the place one belongs to relate to the body one owns (isn't this a beautiful expression? to own a body...)?
Shen Wei's series Almost Naked is a guided tour of identity caught in body. Or of the body as caught up in identity. Whichever way you put it, there is a feeling of self, that is, that the pictures are not of the person's body, but of a person as she reveals/hides herself. There is a certain foreigner's curiosity of how the others deal with who they are, what they are, and what they can present to someone else. This curiosity, and the way the subjects deal with it, is one of the most delightful aspects of Wei's work.
There is sometimes a feeling of a dangerous zone, of a fragile state that almost makes one look away, as if there was something indecent about showing oneself. As if it were an exposition and not a capturing of something. Then again, curiosity is stronger and I dare you not to look at all the pictures with great attention. The attraction of intimacy, combined with a gentle sense of humor, is right on the spot. Shen Wei says:

Once I achieve the trust of the model, I can feel their energy and their desire to be seen and be explored but at the same time still reserve some for themselves. It is in those Almost Naked moments that my subjects are the most exquisite, when things occur, and what generally is not displayed initially in public is exposed. I emotionally and physically strip the sitters when the trust and friendship is built between us. The key to building that trust and friendship is to make them feel at ease with conversation and personalized emotion contact. It can sometimes be psychological, sometimes more sensual, sometimes more or less sincere, depending upon the personality of the sitters and the intimate level of the environment. It is the art of psychology within making art.

None of the people smile.

I found this through the placebokatz blog, which to my great joy (as always when that happens) has put a link to this humble page.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Yinka Shonibare and the artist's freedom

Yinka Shonibare, Scramble for Africa (2003)

Shonibare's most famous works play on the idea of origin and power. The first lecture is clear: headless people are scrambling for Africa. They are dressed in European clothes, but made of African fabric. They are false. But this goes further. The type of cloth they use, called batik, is used throughout Africa (and not only) and considered a local tradition. But, as Shonibare says, that is not the case:
...the fabrics are not authentically African – they were produced by the Dutch in the 19th century and then subsequently by the English for sales to the African market.
That makes the situation even more absurd and scary. What is left of Africa? And what can be left for Africa?

But there is another issue related to Shonibare that has been interesting me more. The freedom of the artist vs. the necessity of his functioning well in the system.
Let's start off with this:

Yinka Shonibare, The Swing (after Fragonard) (2001)

How much does the artist need to know about what he is doing?
And really the idea behind it is to draw a parallel with the relationship between the contemporary first world and third-world countries. I want to show that behind excessive lifestyles there are people who have to provide the labour to make this kind of lifestyle happen.

But generally I think I made a piece of work about this painting because I actually admire the work very much. And I like the contradiction of taking something that’s supposedly ‘ethnic’ and putting that onto classical European painting.

All this seems fairly light, naive, compared to what the critics have to say about Yinka Shonibare's works. Does this mean he is unaware of the worlds he is creating? Is he simply using strong imagery that brings about a huge load of references? Possibly. Does that change anything? Does that make him a worse artist? Should the artist be his own critic? Should he be a philosopher as well?

Obviously, the artist part of being an artist is to make art. And then, see what happens. That's in the ideal world. In the one I know, the artist also sells his product, by being who he is, by having the life he has, by speaking the way he speaks. This doesn't signify the impossibility of defending oneself through work alone, but certainly makes it all the more difficult. And brings another issue.

What if Yinka Shonibare didn't make contemporary ethnic art? What if his work were just contemporary, and dealt with, say McDonald's or sex or any other issue? And let's imagine, for the sake of the argument, that it weren't any worse than what he is doing now. Would we know him? Who would he be? Would it matter that he is black, was born in London, lived in Nigeria and studied at Goldsmiths? There is a very irritating way the art world defines itself through basic associations of life and work. Possibly this has to do with the art having moved into a direction that is so difficult to judge (although artists like Shonibare play remixing the old school in a somewhat old-school way) that more is required in order to give it value (clearly also market value).

What happens to the freedom of the artist? What freedom does the artist have? Will we ever know of Shonibare's landscape sketches? And more broadly: how does an artist deal with the fact that many of his better ideas might not actually be better as seen from a social/market perspective, while some of his simpler, more obvious ideas are caught on and bought on the spot? How many more African-dressed figures does Shonibare need to make? How many can he handle? Isn't this exactly the same branding phenomenon as in other areas of commerce? Can we still call this investigation and digging in? How often do we see an artist still digging many, many exhibitions later, when he really shouldn't? I believe Louise Bourgeois said about Francis Bacon that it is true that he always paints the same painting, but it's a very beautiful painting.

Isn't there something wrong with this picture? Some sort of an obsession that has more to do with the way one is seen than with the way one sees? Of course, Bacon had enough guts to spill them over and over again on the canvas. But let's put it bluntly: most of us, most of artists, are not Francis Bacon. And still, they keep on painting the same painting. Looking for what? Perfection? Style? Truth? Exploring? Or self-branding, self-censoring?

Yinka Shonibare, Toy Painting 26 & Toy Painting 27 (2005)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Shadowing light. Jindřich Štreit.

This magnificent artist has been recommended to me by my brother. Just look:

And more...

I feel like showing most of the images on the site which represents him,
One thing makes me wonder. All of the pictures above were taken in Czechoslovakia before 1989. The question that comes to mind is: what can be the role of the circumstances on a photographer's quality? If a photographer is a document-maker (in a broad sense, and I mean a photographer that goes out of the studio), than doesn't the reality he has access to play a crucial role? How would he deal with a less unreal reality?
Jindřich Štreit tried. Many of the pictures were taken in France, some in Germany (?). And they do look more pale. Some of them are very pretty, some play with the idea of social criticism, but it seems far from the quality of the Czech works:
So is this a question of time? Does the world today have less to offer to the eye of a photographer? Apparently not:

The picture was taken in 1997. But in Siberia. Which still remains somewhat exotic. Exotic. There's the rub. Maybe the politician that bows while saying hello is just as exotic to someone from a different culture as many of those pictures are to us? (And then, of course, what is "us"? Isn't it an impossible word when publishing something on this site?)
So the question is: can the world be really becoming boring, or is it just becoming more alike to a certain standard we are used to, and this standard is just as ex-centric to someone from somewhere else as this someone is to us? And another, more specific point: what is the artists position in this mutating situation? Or rather, what are his possible positions? How does the role of a witness change in these changing times?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Make art to experience and not art to read about

"7. Don’t make modern art.

Modern art tends to be ironical, cynical, self referential, afraid of beauty, afraid of meaning
-other than the trendy discourse of the day-,
afraid of technology, anti-artistry.
Furthermore contemporary art is a marginal niche.
The audience is elsewhere.
Go to them rather then expecting them to come to the museum.
Contemporary art is a style, a genre, a format.

Do not fear beauty.
Do not fear pleasure.


Real people are starving for meaningful experiences.
And what’s more:

society needs you.

Contemporary civilisations are declining at an unsurpassed rate.
The world is collapsing while the Artists twiddle their thumbs in the museums.

Step into the world.
Into the private worlds of individuals.
Share your vision.


8. Reject conceptualism.

Make art for people,
not for documentation.
Make art to experience
and not to read about.
Use the language of your medium to communicate all there is to know.
The user should never be required to read a description or a manual.

Don’t parody things that are better than you.


Don’t settle yourself in the position of the underdog: surpass them!
Go over their heads!
Dominate them!
Show them how it’s done!

Put the artistry back in Art.
Reject conceptualism.
Make art for people, not for documentation.
Make art to experience and not art to read about. Use the language of your work to communicate its content. The audience should never be required to read the description.
The work should communicate all that is required to understand it. "

Realtime art manifesto (fragment)
by Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn

(but see e.g. the comment to this post at networkable social object for a critical view of the above)

Friday, November 17, 2006

The only thing that irritates me here - and I suppose that's just a silly problem - is that the brilliant guys that created this, Winkler and Noah, have absolutely no problem whatsoever selling these wonderful, environmentally friendly messages...

... and next to them, selling some of the most environmentally unfriendly ones. It's as if there was no difference. Who are they, you might say, to decide on that? They simply do their job, and that is, to come up with something that sells well whatever it is its supposed to sell. Hmmm... I guess you're right.
But just go beyond the surface of it's all the same and compare this to Adbusters. While Adbusters try to be the Good Guys (with all the risks that are part of it), Winkler and Noah would be an example of the UnGuys - neither good or bad. Excellent quality for sale. Sound right?


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Perfect Gift

Keep the world full of surprises.
If you don't have any books to cross, and are really not in the mood for a birthday party performance, then think of something else. Make it fluffy, hard, shiny, matte, transparent, sticky, disgusting, funny, shocking, simple, personal, whatever you make it,
hide it.
Anywhere you want, as long as it's a place accessible to anyone.
Then, go to Drop Spots, and put your drop spot on the map. So far, it seems to have been extremely popular around Belgium and the Netherlands. I suppose the authors - Brijetta Hall, Dan Phiffer and Ed Purver - might have something to do with it?
So far, there is only one drop spot in Lisbon. Hopefully this will quickly change. I'll try to participate as well.
(There isn't a single drop spot in Poland! Get to work, people!)


How far are we today from the first experiences with 'pervasive internet' by the folks from Blast Theory? Not very far. The gaming industry is getting all happy, there are new initiatives (especially with locative media, but not only - see this absolutely amazing site with pretty much everything you thought was possible already cataloged). But one can feel all this is still very young. Artists don't really know what to do of all these possibilities. It seems like the world is suddenly too large, not too small. And so these are small experiments for something that, I think, will be much more impressive, overwhelming, and deep-going than anything we see around today. Are you as curious as I am?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Of course, of course. This is not what it seems.
This is not a concrete column. This is not graffiti. This is something entirely different. It is a picture, a photo of graffiti. It is printed on dibond, the type of aluminum that is used for traffic signs, for example. And these metal sheets are then screwed onto a plywood construction. And all this is put in a different, non-street setting (in this case, the «lovely Dicken's Library of the Mary Ward House, Bloomsbury, London», but in another, more gallery-like setting, which make it seem much poorer, almost as if it were a strictly site-specific installation).
But what is striking about this is that it is exactly what it seems - a dislocated object, a rupture in reality, an addition that questions its context. In that sense, it is correct to say this is a column with graffiti. Because here, in this space, that is what works, what creates the tension. And then, all the other levels come into play, in this sort of a hide-and-seek of «objectiveness». It all stops somewhere, because it is a self-commenting (self-referential, if you like) convention. It plays on the very fact that it's a fake. And that it is still incredibly near to reality. So near, the showing fragments of plywood actually seem glued onto the concrete pillar.
The fact that the installation is in a library seems crucial (no matter why it actually got there). It speaks volumes about what we are, who we are. Our «means of expression» and aesthetic values and the gut need for destruction (or is this just me?). At the same time, it is a taming object. It tames the defying attitude of the original by turning it into a slick, clean, savvy copy of itself. Now, this is the pillar of knowledge. Of civilization. Of us. It is what sustains - or what makes us believe it sustains the heavy walls of our libraries. And if we ridicule it for being a fake structure, we might just bee too confident in our own walls. Underestimating the actual proximity of the object, and the image.
Kristin Posehn, Replicant (2005-2006)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Magdalena Jetelová. How much should we know?

See this>
These are powerful images. Dark, quite genuine in their landartishness, in their hands-on approach to the material. No gimmicking with the pictures here, just plain, gloomy black-and-white pulp.
My recent lectures, concerning Shakespeare, his work and times, put these images in a great perspective. What is the disappearance of the battleground? And the rupture between violence and human territory? Is it about the transmitting of the violence as a value, from generation to generation? An ever-available tool? Then the battleground disappears, since war becomes a state of mind rather than an act, which is but its realization. It is the possibility of all wars against evil, be it another culture ("barbarians" means "the foreign ones") or another, more sophisticated concept required to execute the inherited right to violence ("war on terror", of course...). So the battleground disappears, and there is a rupture between violence and human territory - because it isn't about the land any more. It is about identity. About preserving what is mine, because it is mine, and because it is what it is and is in danger of becoming what it is not. Suddenly, seen from this point of view, war is everywhere. It is unbearably flexible. It becomes this dark, black mass that is there.
Then there is another level. Atlantic Wall is the title of the series of pictures by Czech-born artist Magdalena Jetelová. The Atlantic Wall, (ever heard of the Siegfried Line?), were huge fortifications made by Hitler during WW2 along the coast of the Atlantic. What does that knowledge change? How different is the spectator's position? Now go a step further in the mythological aspects of the Atlantic Wall. And now, go for an informed review. How does your response to the work change as you discover the various layer? Does it necessarily get «better»? You don't need a spoiler to make it a spoiler. In this particular case, the Atlantic Wall looked at with all the info, seems like a mere illustration to a book. A beautiful illustration, but not more. It is very difficult to forget. Go back to all this Shakespeare, which from this perspective can seem like naive babbling of an ignorant.

Among Jetelová's many great projects, one of the most powerful ones is the Domestication of a Pyramid (to see more pics, on her site go to global-pyramids, then click on pyramid corners).

Once again, my silly question: How much should we know? In this case, I preferred to remain innocent and not inquire. After all, once I know, I cannot unknow, can I?

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Thought Project by Simon Hogsberg is very close to the spirit of Sophie Calle, with a slight postsecret twist. Here, too, the idea is simple: ask strangers what they were thinking at the very moment you stopped them. What impresses is the quality of the answers. It seems everyone here is either a writer or a character in a book. That is the impression I have gotten when (rarely) I had the chance to see/read Sophie Calle's work. How can the world be so filled with these amazing characters, these wild thinkers, these witty artistes... Don't get me wrong - not necessarily complex, deep thinkers. But... good people. Ben Harper asks Where'd all the good people go. To the Thought Project.
Then again, Hogsberg interviewed 150 strangers. And on the web page have 55 of them speaking. How was the choice made? In this case, isn't art the sort of science which can allow itself to be subjective, to be flawed, to be partisan? Don't we deserve some hope?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Two more pics of Cabrita Reis + bonus

(part 1 here)

It is constructed. It is not freely distributed. It has a structure. It is the structure it has. The lights have rhythm. The lights are the chaotic order that sustains. They... some are covered with glass. Like a mirror of water. But their transparency doesn't support. Is it protected by those tables? Can we sit on the tables? And what about the guard? Does the guard know he is performing? I suppose so - both him and his colleague try hiding every time I take a picture. What is this light for? What lack of purpose? Who can I ask? Can I ask? Look at this red, look at this brown, look at this gray. Does it ring a bell? Does it ring? And once again: what are we shedding the light on? What foundation? What does it matter? After all, if it is THE FOUNDATION, shouldn't it matter? Those damned neon lights don't even shed the light, they produce it and let it go...
Something apparently useless, apparently stumbling, ending, losing itself, or outdating itself? Then, as long as you persist, as there is another structure, and another, as there is a view, and a point of view, and a work, a body of work, you just find yourself within it,
if you please.

And as a bonus, you get an engraving of an actor in a Japanese opera, from the wonderful exhibition of Japanese engravings, also at the Gulbenkian Foundation, only in the Library building.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pedro Cabrita Reis - «Foundation» at the Gulbenkian Foundation

Foundation is, of course, the Gulbenkian Foundation. I have myself had the chance to discover some of the Foundation's warehouses and storage rooms, and it was an impressive experience. The average visitor has no idea that the two buildings, seperated by a medium-size, beautiful park with a pond in the middle, are actually connected underground. And I suppose that's where most, if not all, of the material for Cabrita Reis' work comes from. Neon lights, glass plates, old tables and shelves, cables, more cables, boxes, fragments of stairs, marble bases for sculptures, huge stones... The guts of an institution renowned for its clean, effective approach. The entrails we shouldn't be seeing, impressed as we like to be by the harmonious landscape designed to be seen from the outside, never from the inside. What is the impression now? How does it change our perspective, our view of the basis? The Gulbenkian Foundation can afford this self-irony. It is generous enough, and has good enough taste.

Is this ridiculous? Shouldn't we be analyzing something else? After all, Foundation is, of course, not just this foundation, but the foundation of something, the basis, the beginning, the rule - what Germans call Grund. Knowing Cabrita Reis' work to be often focused on the art world and museum institution as such, this might be the foundation of art, the real foundation of art, apparently chaotic, meaningless, or at least incomprehensible, often unaccessible (we can walk on some parts of the installation, but in an arbitrary way it is decided by the guards that we cannot walk on other parts), complicated, complicated, overwhelming... and yet, somehow harmonious, fitting, as if there was space for us, as if there was space for what we do, for our creation and our appreciation, for free-associating and even squatting on a stone, if we insist (although I haven't tried that, the guards might react).
If all this can be dwelved into, then why do I prefer to describe the Gulbenkian warehouse? Maybe because the one thing that's difficult to comprehend is how direct this link is. We are there, at the Center for Contemporary Art of one of 10 richest foundations in the world. And yet, this is the way it works. This is the foundation. It is a complex game of basic elements. Of course, with a Corot stuck somewhere to a wall.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

On Performance Art, In Lisbon

At last! Some good quality theoretical debate about performance, in Portugal! This is a very unexpected early Christmas gift.
With artists such as Rui Horta and Pedro Tudela, and among the curators, Isabel Carlos and the Portuguese star-curator Delfim Sardo, this is going to be a delicious series of conferences. Considering performance is one of the crucial languages of today's art, this is a must-see.

This series of lectures takes the practice of performance in visual arts as departure point, with a view to covering certain thematic extensions that contribute largely to the definition of the individual nature of each performance.
In addition to an historical approach, the lectures will concentrate on these thematic extensions, thanks to the contributions of a group of speakers from different fields, work areas and artistic domains.
More on the Culturgest site.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Both pictures are by Margi Geerlinks, at the Aeroplastics gallery in Brussels.
Her works seem very uneven, some are simple "surrealist" plays with meaning, others are quite clever social commentary, others yet - really freaky stuff, way out there. But one thing is sure - she doesn't stop herself from going after what the mind's eye sees. Of course, that might not always be good.
I really liked both the works above. The first one, because making simple yet sustainable statements is extremely difficult. The second, because... what in the world is that? Extremely aggressive, yet organic, what starts off sexy ends with a scandal. And then, why is the scandal a scandal? This reminds me of elephant man, the figure/state and the film. But it's... controversial. In the litteral sense - it goes against the flow. The shock is not in the ugliness. It is in the denial of prettiness. What's wrong with us? What's wrong with us? Why is pretty so pretty? Why is not pretty such a problem? Say it's pretty, believe it's pretty.

There are other works in Margi Geerlinks' portfolio which I simply didn't dare to put here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why I like Elizabeth LeCompte

Wooster Group, Hamlet (2006). Photo Paula Court

Everything I come up with in my head, I put it on stage. But in 90% of the cases it doesn't work, precisely because it's in my head.

I think about what the audience will think. Every single moment. I want to be there, every evening, and observe what people do when they watch the play. If I feel them disengage or feel uncomfortable, it forces me to think about what I really want.

- Elizabeth LeCompte, artistic director of The Wooster Group, in an interview with the French review Mouvement (no.41, oct-dec. 2006). (my translation)

Do the above two quotes appear innocent to you? If they do, you probably don't have much contact with contemporary performance. These two sentences are sure to shock a lot of the avant-garde purists out there. The second sentence is simply a shocker: a seemingly avant-garde artist thinking about the audience? How dare she! She is supposed to be focused on art, on her experience, on the stage, on the essence, or on the periphery, but hers and hers only. The public should be the witness of something beautiful, not a criterium of artistic choice... Oh, how tremendously, absolutely silly. How pretentious, snobbish, irritating. How old and tired and, silly, just silly. And naive.
Notice LeCompte doesn't say the public's opinion decides. She doesn't say she changes everything if the public doesn't like it. But it makes her rethink. In her own words, "it forces" her. She doesn't feel there is really any choice. Is there? Certainly. You can turn your back to the ignorant multitudes and do your own thing your own way for your own self. You can have an inner voice that says this or that. You can be forever faithful to this voice. It's up to you. Or you can have a little modesty. And listen. And respond. Or not. But listen.
The first quote has to do with creativity on stage. LeCompte has no problem saying she has ideas first, then she comes into the rehearsal space and tries them (all!) out. Instead of doing it the traditional, "new" way, devising everything together in one pretty melting pot. Instead of making everything appear out of improvisation, as is expected from a performance group. And if that were not enough, she admits that yes, 90% of her ideas suck on stage. And she doesn't see any problem with that. And it works.
(at least I hope it does. if you want to confirm - go see The Wooster Group's Hamlet at the Festival d'Automne in Paris, Nov.4-10 at the Centre Pompidou.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fixing theater

In the next couple of years I'm determined to make a couple of independent short films. I' m disappointed by a great deal of theatre. I love it, but I am beginning not to like its transience; as I get older I want to do something fixed.
- Pete Brooks
found here, along with a couple of other great quotes from the book On Directing.

Videoart contest

Magmart | International Festival of VideoArt | 2nd edition

"Is now starting, till February 2007, the 2nd edition of Magmart | video under volcano, international festival of video art.
The festival is a production of studio tad, with partnership of Casoria Contemporary Art Museum, GenomART and Computer Arts magazine (italian edition)."

Enrico Tomaselli
festival staff
Skype: MetaArt

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Aram Bartholl is playing with your life

Aram Bartholl
, First Person Shooter

Pretty self-explanatory. Among Bartholl's projects there are several ones playing with the idea of an "online" gaming world. It is all light-hearted, smart material. Taking oneself just seriously enough, but for heavens' sake, not too seriously! See, for example, this charming film from the WoW project:

(if nothing appears, see here)
Notice that the first work shown here seems to be created by someone protesting against the violence in video games. But discovering the artist's portfolio makes us realize he is rather someone who has been working (among others) on the crossing between real life and the gaming reality. This hides a very interesting and delicate issue: the spectator usually expects the artist to have some sort of an agenda, a declared ideology that he would be pursuing (here, it could be pacifism). Instead, artists often work on a vocabulary, a particular language, rather than an idea(l). Matter forms itself in a certain way and the artist, like the first spectator, discovers its dynamics and its possible readings. Especially in the world of theater (though not only), this makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The idea of an artist as someone entirely in control, like some mad scientist who knows what he is inventing (!) makes it difficult for many artists to assume: this is what I discovered, I'm not sure what it is, but I like it, and I hope we can all find out more about the potential vectors of this...thing. As Goat Island puts it, "we have discovered a performance by making it".

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Since we're on the light side

Visitors to Paul De Marinis' installation A Light Rain (Helsinki, 2004) were given an umbrella to walk into the rainbow and listen to the music played by water.
De Marinis is also known as an electronic music composer, and a recent installation of his was featured at we-make-money-not-art. Personally, I like this one more - it's technically much simpler, but to the point.
Also, I really wouldn't need any music, and think it might fit better in the middle of, say, Lisbon, where the summer heat would be enough of a motivation to dive into the rainbow - no need for umbrellas or such. I know the umbrellas serve as speakers, but it looks like more of a gadget than anything else here, there is something wrong about it in this case. Maybe it's the isolation from the rainbow? Or maybe umbrellas simply have a sad relation with water.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Carsten Höller at the Tate: Are we having fun yet?

A rose is a rose is a rose. Only each time it appears in a different light, in different hands, in different eyes, the name of the rose changes. If the above statement was as obvious as we would like it to be, if it encompassed all possible interpretations (of the world, of art), the world would be boring. Relativity only goes that far. Fortunately, things have a tendency to take shape. To taste, to appeal, to be somethings. And I wonder if this is not exactly why a lot of contemporary art works so well for me: this tendency to be defined - and not the opposite tendency to be all-relative or blurred!- is what gives it the tension, the controversy, the attraction and power.
A slide, in art, can hardly be a slide, can it?
We feel its tendency to be a slide, but it's this very change in definition, this provocation of designing it as something-else, something-more, some sort of hidden being, that brings about the blush of art experience.
There are several reasons why this slide can't just be a slide. 1) It is set at the Tate Gallery Turbine Hall; 2) It is considered a sculpture by its author; 3) It is considered a sculpture by the art milieu; 4) I feel like seeing it as something else (a sculpture, a performance, a social experiment, an undefined set).
Each of these reasons has an entire theory attached to it. Points 1) and 3) are closely related, they belong to the "institutional definition of art". Points 2) and 4) are both part of the "subjective definition of art", with some important differences.
But why bother defining? What does it matter? Can't we just enjoy the ride?
We can. Yet, we don't need to. And since art is to be an enriching experience (even if not always and not necessarily a pleasant one), why limit ourselves? Thus, the art amateur will know (what a scary word!) what he is dealing with. He will take pleasure in discovering all the undiscovered worlds that a quasi-ready-made (post-ready-made?) gives us. He will be extatic about the many directions, readings, he will talk about verticality, and danger, exhilaration, and pleasure... It has to do with enthusiasm and letting go, with laughter as an aesthetic experience, be it of the one laughing or of the one watching others laugh. The problem is, the deeper we go into the theory, the more concepts we use to describe the slide, the further we seem to get from the first purpose of the slide - to make us slide. Sure, we can consider it a wonderful performative installation, we can stay contemplative and look at how grandiose and imposing it seems. But all this would be nothing if there wasn't the sliding.
It seems only logical that the installation be presented at the Turbine Hall. This is another turbine, a machine that we fuel. By forcing ourselves to forget the conceptual grid, with its heavy chunks of grey cell mass, and diving in. Only then does it seem possible to believe in the
utopian vision of a world in which slides are a means of getting from one place to another, an alternative to stairs, lifts and escalators.
And only then does this whole affair appear as fun, appealing, and something that actually works, rather than as a funny but futile game. (Unless, of course, we accept art as being futile anyhow.)

Is there a difference between this slide and any other slide in the world? Any substantial difference? Not to me. Which doesn't in the least take away the value of this particular work, as art and as slide. Because thanks to this one, I will cherish watching slides, and sliding, even more. It brings a new starting perspective, like a paradigm that allows to see things with a previously unfelt freshness. I could hardly expect more from art.

There is a lot of time to visit the installation: Carsten Höller's Test Site, as the work is called, will stay at the London museum until April 9, 2007. More about the work: good article, excellent interview with the artist, medium article with a flash/podcast presentation, medium article but with the only note of criticism, original Tate site. Finally, the source of the photos.

PS.: A friend pointed out that to go on the large slides one needs a free ticket. Now that's a way of making you feel you're sliding art.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


The new work by Verónica Conte is called Stratification. It is what I would call a 10-day sculpture, or rather, an evolving sculpture captured in a picture. More frequent visitors to this blog will immediately recognize that I am hinting here at the dramatic - and yet so necessary - moving from object to picture. That actually puts the virtual spectators in a great position: it admits the value of the experience of seeing a picture of a thing, like a document, instead of a real thing.
But what is the real thing? Or rather, what is the value of the real thing? It is barely the touch, the touch that can be done in so many ways. Of course it matters. Take, for instance, other pictures from the same series, only re-mastered by me:
This seems like an entirely different universe. It is leading us towards a different experience. The neutrality of the object is gone, as is its distance. It is now an intimate shape, a playful image, a play with sense and senses where what is shown is just hidden enough to be curious. It looks pretty - but also somehow fake. The lack of context takes away the pleasure of believing that it's real. Sure, it's a nice idea, but not much different from a drawing, or a photomontage. And as such, it might be too little to actually hit the soft spot. But take another example (also a Vvoi remastering):

The intimacy is blatantly clear. But more than that, the link to the ground is there. The egg is just an egg-shape, it suggests, but doesn't really reveal. This could still be happening. Then, there is the gel, here in the form of a mass, maybe like boiling water? And then, where is the secret? Is it deep down? Or is it in the dark zone between the tender leaves?
There is one last detail these particular pictures don't show: there is a root coming from under the egg. Nice touch. The Grund - reason, grounds, basis - is here. Nearly transparent. But not quite.


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