Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blocked Keys

The etude by Gyorgy Ligeti I would like you to pay attention to is the second one. It starts at 2'15".
Here is what a competent source has to say about the work:
The third etude, "Touches bloquees" ("Blocked Keys"), uses the same technique that first appeared in "Selbstportrait," the second of the Three Pieces for Two Pianos. Certain keys are held down silently with one hand while the other hand plays a very fast chromatic line on and around the blocked keys, which of course do not sound. The result is a complicated rhythmic pattern that gives the music a somewhat mechanical quality. At first the silent gaps are all the duration of a single eighth, but eventually the gaps are two eighths, then three, and continue to increase in length until the texture becomes increasingly sparse. Again, this etude is about the creation of illusion; we see a continuous pattern of eighth notes on the page, but what results in performance are quirky rhythmic patterns that are not discernible to the eye and would be all but impossible to notate in a more traditional fashion to achieve the desired effect.
Actually, it wasn't so much about the listening for me. What put me in a state of awe was the seeing. It is the clear struggle between the hands, the tension between the immobile one and the one that runs crazily above it or under it. Also, the tension of the one that is supposed to stay immobile, simply blocking some keys, but cannot resist the opportunity and spurts out sounds now and again, as if to underline it has total power. And then they switch. And we hear it, we hear this body negiation, we hear it once we see it, once we understand the game, it becomes obvious.
The music becomes obvious. Because it's about music, right?
And the soldier-fingers, constantly attempting to design the space through movement. A movement whose purpose is not something else - like a sound - is a dance. If you ever needed proof, here is one.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cattelan's Finger

Yet again, Maurizio Cattelan achieved his admitted goal: he is on the covers of magazines.
The finger, called L.O.V.E.*, has been erected in front of the Milan stock exchange for the duration of the Fashion Week happening in the city.
Everyone is happy: Cattelan gets his attention, the public is proud of such a daring representative, the city gets its Fashion Week (kind of) publicized, and the brokers... well, the brokers have a good laugh and continue their business as usual.
That is not to say the work is not good. It is poignant. The finger that is sticking is the only one remaining on the hand. The others seem to have been severed. So is this hand telling the bankers to go fuck themselves, or is that the only thing it can say? Or maybe it's that when you have next to nothing, the middle finger is the one to resist longest.
Oh, but of course, it's made of marble and put on a pedestal.

But that, really, is not the work at work here. The work is to have been able to put it in front of the Stock Exchange. To have shown them the finger and have them accept it. This is what makes a real contemporary trickster - not the sculpture, but the context.
"We want to be confirmed as the capital of contemporary art", the city's administrators officially stated, "and we have to not only mediate but also accept what we do not like".
Which is a hilarious comment, and only confirms Cattelan's intelligence. One wonders how he did it. Maybe what he said was, let's cut the crap, it is a criticism, but it will attract more tourists than you can ever imagine, and will not hurt you in any way whatsoever, because no one is going to take their money out of the stocks after seeing my work. On the contrary, the tourists will leave their money in Milan.
But the controversy remains. “It is unacceptable that the City sticks its finger up to the Stock Exchange" – said the councillor for Town Planning Carlo Masseroli in a fervent discussion.
Masseroli says: "the administration cannot be culturally subordinate to a self-styled artist like Cattelan who wants to use Milan to earn money”.
Oh, that's right, Cattelan made money off this! I wonder who payed him.
So the question is, who is Cattelan showing the finger to?
I'm not sure, but the pictures suggest that the finger is in front of the stock exchange. And is not pointing towards it, but from it.

Which could end this text. But will not. Because even if Cattelan laughs in our face, even if he plays a trick on all of us, he still plays out the crucial role of catalyzer - he materializes the tensions that are already there. He makes us go "Hey! Wait a minute!" He sticks the finger where it hurts.

*The title was originally supposed to be "Omnia munda mundis" ("To the pure ones everything is pure").

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Old-Time Avantgarde

Oh, and on a different note, here's a little bit of pre-mash-up mashing up, for your listening amusement, the one and only John Oswald:

It is a fascinating feeling, to realize that today's contemporary is tomorrow's retro, that no matter what, everything we wear, listen to, appreciate or create today will be looked at in just a few years with a paternizing, if not condescendent, smile. Timeless art? Pl-lease. The very feeling of them not being timeless, of being dated, is part of the pleasure of appreciating them. Age can work for the work, but it is still at work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How I Got Tino Sehgal


The exhibition "Sexuality and Transcendence" at the Pinchuk Art Center in Kiev, Ukraine (open until 19.09) fulfills its task better than it could hope for. If you expect an overwhelming, total experience, you got it all wrong. The space was not designed for anything overwhelming – the narrow staircase leads to narrow rooms, everything is fit-to-measure, and in consequence too small for the abstract pseudo-objectivity we are used to in most contemporary museum spaces. It could be a great space to move towards the intimate, and the topic seems to welcome such an interpretation.

This is not the case either. This version of transcendence seems to have little to do with what grows out of the self, or moves beyond it. It sometimes appears like it's all about impressing the hell out of us, poor mortals, and this state of awe at first reading seems to be the contemporary proposition of transcendence.

But there is more.

Yes, it is but a collection of the creme de la creme of contemporary art. Yes, it focuses more on showing off the stars and thus confirming the power of the producer. Its sexuality, beyond a few exceptions, lies more in the power fetish of the curator than in the actual exploration of the field. Sexuality is not sexual - here it is first and foremost an artistic product.
Transcendence, here, is a plastic material that shines and can be molded into big lumps of money. It is mainly about transcending sex – by overtaking it with colorful, shapely, huge art gadgets. So we get our yearly fix of Takashi Murakami, Jeff Koons, Richard Price, a touch of Cattelan and Sarah Lucas. All this is a clear power-play. Apparently, sexuality is in most cases a clear excuse for power plays.

Is this the new transcendence? Having spent the day walking around Kiev, I get a slightly different impression. What if this was not an exhibition trying to interpret concepts in a universalist way? What if it was about how the people here see transcendence? The people who function in the art world? The rich? The ones with access to culture? Then it all makes sense: sexuality moves into fetish, and the fetish is the icon, the huge, shiny penis of power that transcends everything else. Looking at the over-sized cars and houses and planes of the Ukrainian nouveaux-riches, it seems like an obvious reading. If we can trust no-one and nothing, if all the gods betrayed us, we are left alone. And soon, our intimacy, our body, begins growing new forms of transcending itself/us, it moves from the swirls of sperm into the swirls of objecthood and plastic imagery, it objectifies itself so that it can be more than it is, so we actually move towards the metaphysics, the moving beyond, be it at the cost of losing all the rest – but isn’t this the price of any transcedence? When moving up, aren’t we left without the feet, without the stomach, without the tongue, with a spirit that needs us no more, no more subject, no more, a bare experience of the other, the perfect object, the one we become?

If this is so, it is a confirmation of how sad the exhibition appeared to me. Photos were not allowed, and that is just as well, it all seemed haunted rather than transcendent, and the guards checking you at every corner made sure you understood that clearly. (Those were not your average staff, but looked like actual bodyguards. Try and fly with such company at your side).


The summum of the visit, the moment I was waiting for, was at first the most painful disappointment. Here comes Tino Sehgal! Here he is! Right here! His very own work, live, behind this wall, right here, yes. At your feet, the couple moving in an embrace, harmoniously, those are some well-behaved bodies, they know how to move, and where to be, they glance at me for a second, and then move into the embrace, I am here, the spectator is here, so it is time to work, and so they work, kissing and moving slowly and passionately, and I wonder why I’m witnessing this, not that they’re doing it wrong, but he is doing it wrong, Tino, and the curator, and owner, and whoever thought of putting this here is doing it wrong, very wrong, remember when Tino Sehgal’s work was transparent? When you would have to guess where it starts? When it was gentle and witty? Well, this is the exact contrary, you know exactly where it starts, it is there in a clearly defined space, you pay attention, you wait, they deliver, the two lovers embrace, and you get it, I get it, only they are now but a rich man’s entertainment, they dance as they are told to, this is a simple dance, not unlike some dances you might have seen around, the one and only difference remaining that they are in a museum, so it’s hard not to look at them as at an object, it is humiliating, deeply humiliating to see these people kiss just because some millionaire felt like having the work where two people kiss, I wonder if Sehgal realizes how close this is getting to the (in)famous pieces by Santiago Sierra where he made poor people do humiliating things for little money, only this was supposed to be something else, wasn’t it? It was fighting to be a celebration of the eventness, of the fleeting nature of all this, of the focus we try to have and never get, the performativity, the overpowering of being, action, contact, yes, the transcendence, somewhere along these lines, and the humanity, the humanity, where is the humanity? They keep embracing, and this is really a shy substitute of erotic shows, I observe the people coming in, they are all embarrassed, they don’t really watch, no longer than a minute or two, there is something unbearable about this, it is not the eroticism, certainly not the transcendence, rather the invasion, and as much as the performers try, they are still being invaded, they are not the hosts, we try to make it as easy for them as possible, but the invasion came much earlier, when they were hired to kiss, hired to kiss, hired to kiss, what a pity, and the sculpture of Louise Bourgeois stuck in the corner looks like an ironic comment, like some empty shell reminding us that this is an object and that is an object, that we are to treat them the same, that they are the famous artist’s participation in a show about power, damn it, damn it, I want out.

And so I’m out, I walk through the rest of the exhibition, uncomfortable, everything seems so dry now, I notice that Murakami’s famous sperm squirt (My Lonesome Cowboy, seen on pic) is actually made of two pieces, the sperm spiral is like a lego set, it is not one smooth surface, and that is so disappointing, this one line separating the two parts confirms how irrelevant all this is, how unexciting, how unengaging. Or maybe I can’t engage, maybe this is all about me, sure, good excuse, whatever.

(There are moments where I can’t even recall how it was possible to write reviews that pretended to be objective)

And I go back. I go back to the damn Sehgal, because I’m stubborn and because art often requires stubbornness, and I want to see the bodies, I want to compare them to dance, to think of performance art and theater, to watch the watchers, but mainly, to see the bodies, to resist resisting, to let go, to see where they take me.

And so I watch, mostly alone, for some 5-6 minutes. Maybe 10. And they move through the space. Almost absently. The choreography gets more and more constructed, I feel the dense layer of dance history, of dancers’ solutions to problems with moving from beneath, or above, or grabbing someone’s leg without hurting, it is technical, it is, it seems, a commodity, a good product, gentle and sweet, not as sweet as ice-cream and not as gentle as my cat, so the disappointment remains. And then another couple arrives and they take over, they do the same thing, for some two minutes they do it all together, the four of them, and I see how the new ones are new, how they actually make it theirs, you know, the interpreter’s thing. Now the new couple is alone and I enjoy the sulpturedance more. But that’s not the point.

The point is, at one moment, the sculpture looks at me.

The girl looks at the people who are there, into their eyes. And no one can resist such a look. No one is prepared, and the gaze of a living sculpture can be a scary thing. It is the medusa, it does not take hostages, it reminds each spectator of the double-edged gaze, and they give up quickly, they surrender, they turn away, they are perplexed, as this is no theater, this is hardly a performance, it is an objectified couple that knows you are here. That knows!.

But I have been here for a while and gazing back is a thing I often do. So I do.

And we lock. The eyes do not move away. She looks at me, I stare into her eyes, more into the left one, to focus well, and after a short time I don’t remember how the girl looks like, I have no idea, not even the face, I focus so much on the looking, and she looks back, she is moving, they are moving, the lovers are moving and one of them looks at me and acknowledges my presence, that’s all, forever, she is unbearably present and everything about her is the person that is there, and yet she is completely corresponding to what she is doing, to her submission into objecthood, to her awkwardly present dance, people start to look at me, they are not sure, you know, and now I get it. I get it, not like you get a joke or a conceptual piece. But like you get a virus, I get it, I got you, Tino Sehgal, you have no face and no shape, you have some blurred though precise movements, and I got you now, and yes, I believe this is transcendence.


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