Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Gerhard Richter: the self-critical optimist

Of course I constantly despair at my own incapacity, at the impossibility of ever accomplishing anything, of painting a valid, true picture or even of knowing what such a thing ought to look like. But then I always have the hope that, if I persevere, it might one day happen. And this hope is nurtured every time something appears, a scattered, partial, initial hint of something which reminds me of what I long for, or which conveys a hint of it - although often enough I have been fooled by a momentary glimpse that then vanishes, leaving behind only the usual thing.

I have no motif, only motivation. I believe that motivation is the real thing, the natural thing, and that the motif is old-fashioned, even reactionary (as stupid as the question about the Meaning of Life).

- Gerhard Richter (20 February 1985)*

Several things strike me in the text above. One of them is how distant Richter seems from any sort of affirmation of having found something (he's so incredibly distant from Picasso's "I don't search - I find"!). It is much more than humbleness. It seems an actual feeling of worthlessness. And, all the same, persistent.
Another thing is the wonderful phrase: "a momentary glimpse that then vanishes, leaving behind only the usual thing". The usual thing. Great stuff.

Yet another nice touch is the identification of "the natural thing" with "the real thing". Coming from Richter, it sounds just out-of-this-world. I'm too tired to explain this, I hope you can think of what I mean.

*quoted from:

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Two Iranian women by Shadi Gadhirian

(From the Qajar series)
(from the Like Every Day series)
I am a woman and I live in Iran. I am a photographer and this is the only thing I know how to do. I began work after completing my studies. Quite by accident, the subjects of my first two series were "women". However, since then, every time I think about a new series, in a way it is related to women.

It does not make a difference to me what place the Iranian woman has in the world because I am sure no one knows much about it.

Perhaps the only mentality of an outsider about the Iranian woman is a black chador, however I try to portray all the aspects of the Iranian woman. And this completely depends on my own situation.

- Shadi Gadhirian

The two images above are my favorite ones from each of the series. The first one, because it's delicate. I find many of the other pictures in the Qajar series too obvious, too aggressive and thus too simplistic. The idea is explicit, and the contrast between modernity and "timelessness" looks more like a Hollywood time-travel film than a piece of reality. And that's fascinating - how
carefuly reality needs to be managed in order to appear as reality. In this particular picture, the time contrast fades to second plan. We have a duo - the phone and the girl. The phone seems to somehow upstage the girl. Its silence is stronger. It attracts the girl without her knowing about it. We know she is waiting for a call, and that is the reason for her being serious. And only now, after "reading" this, do we realize we exist in a strange time zone, the picture is old, very old, the girl is "timeless", and the phone is the only connection to... us. At the same time, it is a somehow outdated phone, one we rarely see around us (depending where we live, of course!). And once again, time is suspended: is it the local object-time? Or is it really going back? When is the story being told? How far are we?
The second picture is part of an entire lot of kitchen appliances. Do I need to spell out what it does? I like this particular objects, because it hurts. In this context, it could very well be an instrument of torture. Isn't it?

Snail on Zebra

This is apparently a fairly old video, but I have just received it now. Hail to street-wise grassroots performance!
(Click on the image above) The video is apparently by one Johan van Hensbergen.

I have been desperately trying to make the Fluxus Films work on my computer, alas, to no avail. Hope you have more luck!

Jack Vettriano as wall decorator

"I just consider myself a trader. I take my goods to the marketplace and try to get the best price I can."

The greater glory of art doesn't come into it, he confirms. "That's not why I paint," he said. "It's wall decoration for me, I don't regard it as this big meaningful thing. My subjects are men and women getting off, that's all. Mind you, some people don't think sex is serious, but I happen to think it's terribly serious."

from an interview with Jack Vettriano

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Search for the Perfect Dress

Burkha, by Spanish designer/artist Alicia Framis, is made of Twaron, also known as kevlar or aramid fiber, an ultra-resistent material that is bullet-proof, but also resists flames and dog bites. This is to protect its wearer in dangerous extreme right-wing neighbourhoods where violence against immigrants and religious minorities often takes place.

Looking at the picture, Linda Zacks' question "Burka or Bikini?" comes to mind.
Why does this answer scare me even more? Am I being way too conservative? Besides being an artistic work, it is also a social statement. Yet, somehow, it seems to provoke both sides, the islamic culture and the "Western rationalism". Yes, I think I like this chill down my spine. There is something wrong with the picture, because there is something wrong with the sudden proximity of tradition in its most limiting sense and modernity in its most limiting sense. Seen from the point of view of the other, they both might seem ridiculous. And they could, if they wished to, listen more carefuly to who the other one is. On both sides.

We cannot escape having divided personalities. Having our culture invaded by the culture. I always tend to think of the times of the Roman Empire, when latin invaded the world. The ridiculous nature of civilization is so clear in these periods of overcoming, swallowing... A recent lecture, Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, comes to mind: are we better because we wash twice a day? Are we better because we have a method for writing down our history? Because we own what we call rationalism? How many of us own it, to be precise? But, if we accept the "barbarians", if we embrace the other, either in our tolerance and/or in our wish to enrich ourselves, who are we? And if we are the other, and decide to take some of this otherness in parantheses, as the vast majority of religious people do today, as do people from influencial cultural backgrounds, who are we then?
Double-headed monsters?
Rosemarie Trockel, Schizo-pullover (1988)

About Performance Art (I)

In the days of my blogsilence, I went to Coimbra, where I was invited to talk about performance art at the Santa Clara Gallery. I spoke about how performance art has changed in the last few years, and why it has been so often practiced by minorities. Obviously, I wasn't talking about anything one can call performance art, but rather, about certain currents I see in performance.

My idea is that, beyond the fact that it's so ill-defined it can be practically anything, and so "whatever you do, it works", several more specific characteristics make it a great means of expression for groups with a strong sense of identity (as is the case with minorities).
  • First, its rebellious nature. This is probably the most commonly known quality of performance, which, in my eyes, has done it just as much harm as it has publicized it. True, it puts performance art on the side of the underdogs, giving the "rebels" a chance to speak up. But how "up" is it? Who listens to them? Other performance artists and a tiny crowd of admirers. At least, that was the case with performance art (as it was defined by those who did it and saw it) for the past decades. A scandal is good every once in a while, but constant scandals are simply not a scandal any more. They tend to be tedious, long events where the suffering and pain of the performers brings suprizingly more embarrassment than empathy. Nonetheless, scandal, if used in a fresh way, can be good. It also emphasizes the difference, the otherness, the identity of the other, thus allowing this other to appear as an actual player.

Rudolf Schwarzkogler, Aktion (1965)
  • Performance art looks for communication, but not through a mimetic de-monstration. Instead, it puts an accent on the very being, looking for the communicative aspects of reality. This can mean simply performing something, as in executing an action (see Althamer's Film), or it can mean looking at being in an objectifying way, like Vanessa Beecroft or Santiago Sierra might be doing.

What may come as a surprize is that this objectification can actually get us closer to the identity of the people. We feel empathy for Sierra's performers; we somehow refuse to see pure objects in Beecroft's girls. We feel obliged (yes, a moral category!) to project on them a presumed humanity, to see them as people, to ask ourselves about them, about their position, role, about why they are doing what they are doing and why we are doing what we are. This brings another point,

They all share a space of intimacy, of sharing, of actually living together. This is a game of acknowledgement, of personal limits being overcome. It is creating a space where it is difficult for me to say something is simply a "good" or "bad" show, because I get involved (remember the Bill T. Jones case?). I don't need to actually be a "participant", i.e. I don't need to be performing an action, but I need to feel that the bond between me and what is happening on the "stage" (or in the "framework", to use an excellent term by the great Irving Goffman), that this bond goes beyond a show.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Post-Private Post

Swipe could be seen as anything but art. It seems simple: the bar has a special ID card reader, just like in a grocery store, or rather - a police car (in the U.S., that is). It allows the bar owners to see a lot of things about the customer. If it sounds to you like a sci-fi film, it's probably because you don't live in the U.S. So far, it is nothing more than an ID-checking system turned marketing device. We've heard about it, we might have had the chance to see some of them, but that's about it.

But this time, there is more.

Many people are unaware that personal data is even encoded on their license, and, if they do realize this, they probably do not know exactly what information is there. SWIPE brings attention to these practices and enables people to see exactly what is stored on their mysterious strip.

SWIPE also illustrates how this information is used and why businesses and government crave it. Our hope is to encourage thinking beyond the individual self ("I do not care if a bar database has my name and address and time of visit...") toward understanding databases as a discursive, organizational practice and an essential technique of power in today's social field.

You can also invite SWIPE to your private reception. Here is the "performance" that will take place:
People who approach the bar in search of a refreshing drink will be asked by a bartender (SWIPE member) to show their driver's license for age verification. The bartender will look at the license and place it in an automated, scanning device. While the customer waits for his/her drink order, the SWIPE cash register performs a technique called computer matching based on the driver's license information. Several minutes later, the person's name is called and he/she receives their drink with "receipt." The receipt is a SWIPE compiled data image consisting of the data encoded on a driver's license augmented by online searches of data-warehouses and/or demographic analysis generated by SWIPE custom-designed software.

Basically, you get a fairly detailed picture of yourself. And if you think it matters that it has a few mistakes - it really doesn't. The data will soon be tested on you anyway. You can also access the internet toolkit, hosted by Turbulence. I found out through it that the data I regularly give away for various reasons (studies etc.) are worth $54.18.
This is a very strong initiative, and one of its creators, Beatriz da Costa, seems to be gaining momentum (she will appear in the San Jose Interactive City festival). The worst part is, this is no conspiracy theory. It is describing a simple fact, something that has been taking place for some time now. Privacy is actually at stake. And if you don't care, you might just not be getting it. Quite yet.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ernesto Neto's latest fluff

Ernesto Neto's Humanoids are my favorite piece of his. Most of his pieces are somewhat creepy. Yes, there is light in them, and a playful spirit, but there is also something sleazy, the smell is often intensive, and they seem distant, almost inhuman. It is not the case with these funny, soft creatures. They have a wonderful, light spirit, while remaining somewhat enigmatic and out-of-this-world. I wish they were available in stores. Wouldn't that be an amazing armchair? Design and fine arts couldn't be closer...
The work is part of a whole "labyrinth" of forms called the Malmo Experience (you guessed it, it's exhibited in Malmo).

Monday, March 06, 2006

A game for those who like to take it slow, get a little confused, a little charmed and above all, who find there is magic in the keyboard.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Pretty plagiarism?

As much as I like this picture by Nicoletta Ceccoli, which adorns the cover of the last Born Magazine, it seems like...well, I'll say it - plagiarism. The Lithuanian-Polish artist Stasys Eidrigevicius painted incredibly similar pictures some 30 years ago or more, in a children's book I have somewhere in Poland. Here is an example of a similar book, though slightly different.
The pictures I'm refering to show a boy with his head covered in birds that fly away out of it. The book is a poem by Joanna Papuzinska about a boy that instead of having toys or adventures has ideas.
Even the birds look similar.
Then again, Bach's copy of Vivaldi's violin concerto was apparently a great tribute. How are we to judge?

Monika Hoinkis: humanizing the object

Why is the metronome only listening to its own rhythm? Can't it ever listen to me? React to me?
And this compass? Why should it always point to the North, ignoring me completely?
What if it actually lived with me? Monika Hoinkis decided to live with the objects and see if they will also accept to live with her. And they did.

The compass points at the person holding it. The metronome reacts to physical presence. Even water vibrates to... you guessed it, to your own heartbeat.
And this umbrella? Come on, you know you want it. Give it a hug. It's the only way to be well protected anyway.

See the whole Living with Things series.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Women by women

Billboard (2003) by Heta Kuchka

Billboard (2003) by Liv Carlé
Part of the Billboard project www.women2003 :
From 23. March to 4. April [2003] one hundred and two Scandinavian female artists will present their own personal and artistic female image in the public space ? entering a dialogue with the images created by commercials. (...)
In that way the new female images created by this project will form a solid and diverse contrast to the monotonous representations created by the commercial market.
What is strange is how many of these works (the ones above included) define the woman through her relation to the man.
Both these images are disturbing. And they say somewhat similar things - the fear of rejection, the question of being appealing or not, the scary idea that the author, a woman, is completely wrong, just because she is herself.
And while it's supposed to question our values as men (and women who accept this), I'm not sure if it doesn't do exactly the opposite, provoking us to answer, "Get a grip on yourself girl! If you can't make him appreciate you for who you are, if you can't gain respect, if you get a guy that sees you as a toy, you better look around. There are plenty more of us, you know".
But, look at it from another point of view. The two works I present are part of a series of actual billboards put in and around Copenhagen and Malmö. They are not as much a statement, as they are an answer. They laugh at the myth. At the plastic imagery we know all-too-well. And if that answer tells more about men than about women, it might be giving us a hint about the images it aims to reply to.


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