City as Subject /Matter
Multiplicity: City as Subject/Matter Marco Antonini
Barricade: The Architecture of Revolution Magdalen Wong
Documentary Sculpture in Tel Aviv - Jaffa Hila Cohen-Schneiderman
The Making of Tirana Eriola Pira
Nadim Abbas, selection from the series: Tetragrammaton (detail), 2013. Set of 16 composite images, Inkjet prints on Duraclear. Right:First Nadim shown Abbas, as part of the exhibition Tetraphilia withfrom support from the selection the series: Tetragrammaton, 2013. Set Fondation dâ€™entreprise HermĂ¨s. of 16 composite images, Inkjet prints on Duraclear. Image courtesy: Fondation Carier. Right: Nadim Abbas, selection from the series: Tetragrammaton, 2013. Set of 16 composite
Michelangelo Pistoletto, Casa a misura dâ€™uomo (House on a Human Scale), 1965 1966. Wood and enamel. Image courtesy: Luhring Augustine.
Cities unite by bringing people together; sometimes they divide for
exactly the same reason. They are both abstract ideas and physical places, strategically sited to coincide with natural resources or created to materialize pure theory. A city is a place for individualism and exchange, solitude and communal living. Its name can engender ideals, both successful and failed, rising to represent something beyond its own history and present/future tensions and aspirations, a total larger than the sum of its parts.
Cities contain multitudes that, as powerful and creative collective
entities, give life to the multiplicity that we have identiďŹ ed as the core value of every urban community. This force induces daily struggles and concerns, dreams as solid as concrete pillars, yet soft as grey matter: resources as inďŹ nite and unresolved as the human mind. Such resources can be either investigated and addressed as a whole or broken down into independent ideas and images, personal concerns and local struggles that, although unique, will necessarily inform each other, presenting macroscopic similarities.
Cities are structured around largely internalized foundational ideals,
inviting (or inciting) contrasting notions of what sharing, protection, tolerance, competition, access, visibility, circulation, expansion, convenience, exchange, service, proďŹ t and productivity actually mean. This multitude of possible readings adds up to a global urban vocabulary straddling geographical and political boundaries. In this sense, Multiplicity strives to present images and ideas as different and distinctive as the urban contexts that originally inspired them, embodying the internal contradictions and boundless potential of small and large, young and old, meticulously planned and chaotically sprawling cities worldwide.
Aisling Oâ€™Beirn, Roaring Hannah, 2006. Cardboard and tripod stand.
Multiplicity: City as Subject/Matter Curated by Marco Antonini. In collaboration with: Catalyst Arts, Hila Cohen-Schneiderman, Khoj International Artistsâ€™ Association, Eriola Pira, and Magdalen Wong. Summer 2014. Part 1: NURTUREart. July 11 - August 25, 2014. Part 2: Mixed Greens. July 24 - August 24, 2014. Part 3: Invisible Exports. August 1 - August 27. Part 4: UnionDocs. Sat. August 9.
Multiplicity: City as Subject/Matter Marco Antonini I’ve been thinking about cities a lot recently. It all started around summer 2013, somewhere warm and pleasant along the Croatian coast, when I was alone and off the grid for a few days in places resembling anything but capital-C cities. A memory came back to me, unexpected. What I remembered was a digital image of Douglas Coupland’s Super City. The artwork in question was presented at Montreal’s CCA in 2005, it is a scale model of a non-existing city, a space generated by fragmentary memories of urban spaces in which the novelist/artist lived at various points in his life. Super City also recalled Mike Kelley’s 1995 Educational Complex. Kelley’s rather antiseptic, yet moving, mix-and-match school/college architecture diorama and Coupland’s awkwardly large, tactile toy city felt pleasantly confusing and bittersweet as only the memory of things past can be. Artworks like Super City and Educational Complex give physical form to what Italo Calvino would have probably described as one of his Invisible Cities: richly metaphorical places yet (in Coupland and Kelley’s cases) as fantastic as elusively “real.” To me, both works existed only as impressions of poor quality JPEGs, reproductions blurred by digital ﬁltering and chipped at by who-knows how many visual memory glitches. Importantly, they were also overlaid with
other landmarks: my own buildings, schools, piazzas and roads. In many ways, they had become part of my personal history in their electronic image form, welcoming other idea(s) of what a city is or should be and a quantity of equally fragmentary memories of the urban spaces I actually lived in. I quickly moved on to imagine parallels between cities and exhibitions, and how to possibly plan and design an exhibition with artworks reﬂecting on contemporary city life and urban environments, rather than personal memories. I found myself calling on people living in places that I will probably never see in person, asking them something as obvious and mundane as to talk to me about their cities: living quarters and public spaces, day to day routines and cherished extravagances, political situations and hopes. Geography has never been my forte, so I will not hide that this process felt at times like mixing it all up, voice after voice, story after story, one city merging into the other. This growing network of friends, colleagues and consultants conversed with gusto and curiosity about all cities, familiar or otherwise, letting information (as factual and trustworthy as the inﬂuence of our personal opinions on contemporary urbanism and related and unrelated issues allowed...) ﬂow in and out. Conversation after conversation, plans for a series of exhibitions giving shape to the abstract idea of a “city of cities” took form, the word Multiplicity almost immediately suggested itself as a possible title and the project was slated as a special program for summer 2014
at NURTUREart, in collaboration with Mixed Greens, INVISIBLE-EXPORTS and Union Docs (which all hosted parts of the project,) curators Hila Cohen Schneiderman (Tel Aviv) and Eriola Pira (Tirana), artist Magdalen Wong (Hong Kong) and with the help of entire organizations as in the case of Catalyst Arts (Belfast) and Khoj Artists’ Association (New Delhi). Multiplicity’s three consecutive and partially overlapping parts brought together artists that relate as closely as possible to the diverse socio-cultural contexts to which they belong. This diversity was employed as primary construction material of a new city, or rather, city complex. Selections of works relating to places as far and different as Belfast, Hong Kong, New Delhi, New York, Rome, Belgrade, Prishtina, Tel Aviv and Tirana were presented as an ephemeral polis of images and ideas. Artworks can communicate in fantastically complex ways; they are irregular polyhedrons of content, meaning and form, connecting at random angles with each other when tossed together in a room, like stones in a divination ritual. In this project, they represent the collective wisdom (or madness) and individual genius found in cities worldwide, the thick and the thin, the street life and the dark recesses of a dusty ﬁle cabinet in some governmental ofﬁce, the familiar, yet constantly mutating idiom of a 4-part Babylon. This idiom connects geographically, culturally and aesthetically distant works of art that share a propensity for what one could describe as “poetic urbanism”. This admittedly penciled-in label was useful, to a degree, to describe certain ways to work with the city, and exclude others. It suggests a particular attention on our side for artistic practices that, in simple words, look and feel like art and generally shy away from using contemporary art’s language (or its contexts) as tools towards
the solution of a speciﬁc local or global issue. We preferred works that exist and operate independently from what they reﬂect or comment on, to make sure that the limits of our own political reach remain clear: we have no pretensions to solve problems. If it sounds like ﬂanerie, it might be because the Situationists and their often playful and leisurely experiments in and about the city were a strong inﬂuence. Constant Nieuwenhuys’ painstakingly detailed, imaginative and politically charged New Babylon model-utopia, for example. A forerunner of the more intimate cityscapes described at the incipit of this text, New Babylon reinvented urban space, stripping it, in Constant’s own words, of “any restriction of the freedom of movement, any limitation with regard to the creation of mood and atmosphere” transforming into a place where “everything has to remain possible, all is to happen.” The situationist city was a response to life, not the opposite. It was a place born of conversation and exchange but ﬁrmly rooted in individual and individualistic worldviews. This emphasis on individualism is not as pervasive in Multiplicity, where the intellectual/sensorial/ affective exchanges taking place in and around the city tend to spill over into the controlled spaces and modalities of contemporary art, ampliﬁed via artwork-to-artwork connections and ultimately inﬂuencing the artists’ own responses to them. Setting out to organize an exhibition “about cities,” as I often repeated to incredulous colleagues and friends (many of them now contributors to the project) felt reckless to say the least. No representation, narrative or study can encompass the variety of experiences that qualify a given urban environment, its history, politics and lifestyles. The term “city” is itself vague and imprecise; it was often repeated as
a mantra on both sides of my conversations, for lack of better words, and it is probably annoyingly frequent in this text, as well. Nonetheless, the places we call cities share similarities, derived as much by positive human afďŹ nity and the adoption of no-nonsense responses to common issues as by the demonstrated inclination of most communities to foster (and nurture) cultural homologation, authoritarian control and alienation. Metrics and ďŹ gures seem to suggest that we actually do (or think we do) like to live in such cities, conceding little or no alternative to a paradigmatic status quo of expansive, all-encompassing urbanization that can quickly degenerate from exhilarating to scary. Cities unite by bringing people literally close together, and sometimes they divide for exactly the same reason. They are both abstract ideas and physical places, carefully designed by long forgotten (maybe not in spirit) settlers to coincide with natural resources of some sort, strategically located in regards to something or laid out to materialize pure theory. A city is a place for both individualism and exchange, solitude and communal living. Its name can engender ideals, both successful and failed, rising to represent something beyond its own history and present/future tensions and aspirations, a total larger than the sum of its parts. Most importantly for this project, cities contain multitudes that, as powerful and creative collective entities, give life to the multiplicity that we have identiďŹ ed as the core value of every urban community. This force engenders daily
Multiplicity (Part 1) Installation view NURTUREart
struggles and concerns, dreams as solid as concrete pillars, yet soft grey matter: resources as inﬁnite and unresolved as the human mind. Such resources can be either investigated and addressed as a whole or broken down into independent ideas and images, personal concerns and local struggles that, although unique, will necessarily inform each other, presenting macroscopic similarities. This wealth of similarities, possible intercultural meeting points, common problems, goals and dreams etc. is what people converge around. It makes one wonder what remains of the dream –some will say nightmare– of the global city. The term “global” itself now a cussword of sorts, we have come to endorse or re-endorse localism and its occasional, unpredictable anti-libertarian implications, absorbed as we are in the eternal discovery of difference and conﬂict. Where integration among social strata and purportedly egalitarian societies fail, it is often the ﬁght for tolerance, equality and justice itself that’s abandoned, with blessings from every end of the political spectrum. Progressive civic ideals can become a telescopically shrinking mirage, clouded by a fata morgana of omnipresent metropolitan hustle and bustle; an endless development that demands increasing levels of surveillance and control. As we struggle to carve an existence in the increasingly familiar landscape of growing, shrinking, changing urban communities, we sometimes wish we were out of them altogether. Unfortunately, that’s no way out, either. Escapades to rural or semi-rural autonomy
zones and the ﬂeeting, mysteriously retro-active gratiﬁcation of short-term “natural” otherness seem as quaint as futile. The true place of wilderness has always been in the city, where all things non-human struggle to ﬁnd a place only to leash back as myths, desirable in comparison and contrast to what we have created, conspicuous by their innocence and absence. Multiplicity is an invitation to look at cities for what they are, and rediscover them (as both subject and matter) through a selection of exceptional and exceptionally diverse artworks. As the streams of disinformation, abstraction and de-localization keep eroding and, to a certain degree, necessarily reshaping our understanding of real-life experience, the neglected commons and increasingly inaccessible private spaces of the city present new opportunities for off-the-grid dialogue and activism. This time, it is another grid we’re trying to escape.
Opposite: Sascha Pohﬂepp, The New York Times (detail), 2013/14. Projected digital images.
Barricade: The Architecture of Revolution Magdalen Wong In September 2014, student groups (The Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism) protested outside Hong Kong government headquarters’ ofﬁces against China’s plans for the city’s electoral reform. Protestors, starting with a few hundred students on strike, sitting in an adjacent park, were later joined by members of political parties and other civic workers. Rallying the media, the protest expanded into a two-month long occupation of public roads in the districts of Admiralty, Causeway Bay, and Mong Kok. During these months, many local residents and tourists joined the protest in support of universal suffrage in Hong Kong, while opposing voices spoke out for the pro-Beijing camp. China’s ﬂag was raised on October 1st, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. Students and protestors faced away from the ﬂag in their own silent solidarity. Over the following months a series of violent clashes between protestors, armed policemen, passing pedestrians, and local gangsters erupted. On the streets, walls of open umbrellas blocked invasive tear gas, and cardboard shields received blows from heavy batons. Newspapers, radio broadcasts, TV news reports, Facebook and Twitter feeds were bombarded with a frenzy of mobile photos and shaky video footage of the on-going debates
and struggle. Holding umbrellas as a symbolic gesture, Pussy Riot and other artists and musicians sent their messages of solidarity to Hong Kong’s pro-democratic protestors, along with supporters from across the globe. Because of the continuing protests, the Hong Kong government later cancelled a second scheduled meeting with student leaders, Joshua Wong, Alex Chow, and Lester Sum. No further meetings were held between the two sides. In this state of political urgency, protestors constructed blockades with bamboo scaffolding that also propped up calligraphic slogans. Metal barricades held together by broken umbrellas, and found objects piled with restaurant chairs stopped all trafﬁc along occupied city roads and pedestrian walkways. Roads, usually known for their trafﬁc jams, were decorated with murals, sculpture, and poetry along rows of colorful tents, makeshift shower stations, and stalls of donated and sponsored food and drinks. Goggles and facemasks were kept handy in preparation for any possible police action to clear the occupied areas. In the evenings, protestors, journalists, photographers, and policemen armed themselves for street combat. Live reports and nervous dialogue covered TV screens and Internet news reports. Angry pro-government ﬁngers and discouraging remarks were pointed at stubborn protestors. Empty bottles and swear words were thrown at the armed forces. Media staffs were caught between the two front lines, while
a sea of people amongst rows of camera ﬂashes pushed back and forth into the night under tall skyscrapers of steel and concrete. By day, protestors recuperated under white and blue striped tarps held up by ropes pulled tight to create bands of shade from the sun. Curious tourists and visitors passed through ad hoc pathways and bridges connecting occupied streets, constructed by scrap wood and stained carpet. Students focused on their school assignments and read in street libraries assembled with donated furniture and books. Men and women sat by concrete road dividers enjoying cups of tea, engaged in a tug-ofwar debate over differing political views and the possibilities for the city’s future. A pop-up street garden of sunﬂowers and other plants were carefully tended. Thousands of personal thoughts and messages, written on colorful sticky notes, layered the “Lennon Wall” – a long wall running alongside a spiral staircase leading to the Hong Kong Central Government Ofﬁces. Hong Kong’s vertical cityscape now had a competing organic sprawl of creative temporal street-living. The city’s frantic life-style was heightened by the need for change, a desire to open opportunities, and the courage to remain autonomous. Rivaling the large overhead neon signs and billboards, these occupied campsites had been quickly constructed, often using creative solutions to recycling wood scraps, old furniture and found objects. The road blockades
also accompanied an assortment of critical writing next to gobbling, mocking political rhetoric - all scribbled and taped onto precariously propped-up boards, umbrellas, tarps, metal fences, mannequins, bus stop signage poles, old mattresses and chairs. Camping tents were decorated with strings of origami umbrellas, cartoon stuffed-animals, Guy Fawkes masks, house plants and towels aired on tightly strung ropes. Some even added a patch of AstroTurf as a front yard for their tented mansion. It was a Hong Kong with street colonies of migrant students and protestors. By mid-December all were cleared. The ﬂying banners, the bamboo blockades, the padded tents, the street calligraphy and murals, the wooden bridges, the pedestrian garden, the street libraries, the electronics charging station, the wall of sticky notes, and the umbrellas were cleared by a ﬁnal police removal operation, and dumped into a mountain of rubbish, perhaps becoming landﬁll for Hong Kong’s next harbor extension project.
Images on following pages: Magdalen Wong – From a short visit to Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution – 2014
Douglas Coupland, Towers (detail), 2014. Lego, 50 components. Courtesy of the Artist and Daniel Faria Gallery. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery.
Nadim Abbas, Erik Benson, BroLab, CPak Studio, Endri Dani, John Duncan, Yael Efrati, Todd Shalom (Elastic City), The Extrapolation Factory, Vibha Galhotra, Darren Goins, Michael Hanna, Meg Kelly, Nicholas Keogh, Alban
Muja, Aisling O’Beirn, Jan Pfeiffer, Sascha Pohflepp, Gigi Scaria, Irgin Sena, Alice Schivardi, Seher Shah, Saša Tkačenko, and Amir Yatziv.
Seher Shah, Mammoth: Aerial Landscape proposal, 2012. Archival digital print. Image courtesy: Scaramouche Gallery.
Aisling Oâ€™Beirn, Derry Diamond, 2006. Cardboard and desk lamp.
Darren Goins, Flexible Models, 2013. Acrylic, rubber, aluminum. + Workout A (Dance), 2013. Digital video with sound.
Alice Schivardi, Le Chiavi di Casa, 2007. Digital video.
Above: Saša Tkačenko, Perfect Ride, 2012. Digital video.
Left: BroLab, Humps and Bumps, 2013. Wood and rubber surface.
CPAK Studio, The Making of Neon Signs, 2014. Digital video.
Left: The Extrapolation Factory with PS147, Mobile Service Stations, 2014. Mixed media.
Below: Meg Kelly, The Broadway Triangle, 2012. Digital video.
Above: Vibha Galhotra, Altering Boon, 2011. Glass beads, wire, wood. Image courtesy: Jack Shainman Gallery.
Right: Nadim Abbas, selection from the series: Tetragrammaton (detail), 2013. First shown as part of the exhibition Tetraphilia with support from the Fondation dâ€™entreprise HermĂ¨s.
John Duncan, selection from the Bonfires series, 2008. C-type print on Dibond.
Amir Yatziv, Detroit, 2009. Digital video.
Alban Muja and Yill Citaku, Blue Wall Red Door, 2009. Digital video.
Nicholas Keogh, A Removals Job, 2012. HD video.
Elastic CIty, Willing Participant Response #2: For Trayvon, 2013. Participatory sculpture.
Jan Pfeiffer, Beyond Control, 2014. Performance.
Gigi Scaria, Someone left a horse on the shore, 2009. Digital print on archival paper.
Endri Dani, 182cm, 2012. Archival inkjet print.
Erik Benson, Pink Thank You, 2012. Acrylic on canvas over panel.
Michael Hanna, selection from Welcome to my school or college, 2014. Book page.
28 Multiplicity (Part 2) installation view. Mixed Greens Gallery
Documentary Sculpture in Tel Aviv - Jaffa Hila Cohen-Schneiderman “Documentary Sculpture”1 is a concept I would like to consider in relation to the work of a group of artists currently active in Israel and working in the city of TelAviv. These artists take condensed urban spaces that have caught their attention, and reproduce them within exhibition spaces. The act of citation is necessarily imprecise, and entails certain shifts such as the detachment of the space from its original context, its defunctionalization, and a radicalization or abstraction of its character. These operations enable such spaces to be reexamined, or alternatively to be seen and noticed for the ﬁrst time. In this short article I would like to render an outline for “Documentary Sculpture” reﬂecting on contemporary documentary and the crisis of the concept of testimony. Testimony is a channel of information through which we construct knowledge. It is composed of two paradoxical aspects – on the one hand, a pursuance of the truth, of the objective; and on the other hand, the insight that all perspectives are subjective and hence partial or biased. The function of the witness is described as early as the Bible’s foundational Ten Commandments text. The Ninth Commandment – “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 20: 12,) demonstrates, even thousands of years ago, its tremendous social importance, alongside
an understanding of the problematic nature of relying on a channel of information motivated by various interests and dependent on personal perspective. In the internet age, which has brought with it a democratization of information, we are increasingly becoming consumers of testimonies and their producers. The conventional context in which we think about testimony is a criminal/legal one, but today testimony has become a device by which citizens defend themselves against a ﬂattening or equalization of consciousness by those in power. We have become skeptical observers, inventing new modes of communication and self-reporting by and for ourselves. At the same time, as observers, we are aware that any image can be manipulated, hence we constantly question what is and is not real. Many artists operating in the documentary ﬁeld are essentially playing a double game: the ﬁlms of Renzo Martens2 and the media actions of The Yes Men3 are just two noteworthy examples. Documentary art’s main ﬁeld of activity appears to be photography and video, but I would like to shift the focus here precisely to work that is spatially and materially based. In their Mengele’s Skull: The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetic, Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman are dealing with forensic science. The book refers to the shift from the “witness era,” signiﬁed by Adolf Eichmann’s trial with its subjective, vulnerable and human witness to the center, to the “object era” signiﬁed by the forensic investigation of Mengele’s skull. In this
scientiﬁc investigation the skull referred to via a nickname, hence this object-ive witness became much more reliable than the human one. In other words, objects are the new witnesses: they echo the existence of human subjectivity and its perspective, and yet are independent and separate from it. Artists involved in documentary sculpture serve as eye-witnesses to the urban environments in which they live and operate. This being the case, I would like to argue that they are engaged in the political, even if not directly and explicitly, as the origin of the word “politics” is the term for the Greek city-state – the polis. That is to say, politics was born in the citystates and was meant to serve the citizenry by involving them in urban political action. In my view, these artists’ observation of the urban is part of a wider trend in which politics is being reclaimed by the public. They are witnesses to unrestrained processes of consumerism, globalization and gentriﬁcation with the city being the crime scene and the site of abundance in which they thrive.4 It is important to note that installation art that reproduces or creates urban environments is nothing new. However, unlike ‘installation artists,’ documentary sculptors do not seek to produce total installations or spectacles that cause those who enter them to feel they have stepped into another world. Instead, we can deﬁne their works as “mini-spaces” – deliberately fragmentary, authentic and unauthentic, referential of some thing or environment identiﬁable in reality, yet simultaneously exposing
themselves as fakes, or at least attesting to their partialness. Door, Balcony, Washing Machine The artists I discuss below relate in their work to everyday local urban spaces, and to mundane architectural and design forms, such as elevators, balconies, front doors, building facades, house walls, washing machines, bricks, most of them very local and Tel-Avivian in nature. Their pieces reproduce something, a fragment of a structure, a shopping experience, the consumption of images. They engage in semi-documentary actions, that is, it could be said of their work that it has a documentary character, only that the documentation is not necessarily faithful to the original. Sometimes it is abstract, sometimes it is replicative, but it inevitably refuses to be functional. One of the tactics that allows them to generate this move is deliberate “mis-citation,” a concept coined by the theorist Homi K. Bhabha and developed by Judith Butler in reference to identity construction. In her article “Critically Queer,” Butler speaks of manner in which identity is constructed through routine reiterative performance of behaviors. In her conception, by replicating received behavioral patterns we become familiar to ourselves. In this context, Butler discusses the construction of queer identity, which miscites behaviors accepted as “straight,” and in so doing, subverts them. Through citation, Butler argues, acts accumulate power and au-
thority from prior linguistic acts, which themselves accumulated power from reiteration or citation of a preexisting authoritative set of practices.5 Persistent reiterativity, and the understanding that every performative utterance is a citation of a citation of a citation and so forth, opens up subversive possibilities realized through mis-reiteration.6 Documentary sculptures miscite every-day, functional spaces. This involves certain shifts including decontextualization, defuctionalization, isolation of an object’s “shell,” and abstraction. The objects and environments that documentary sculptors create revisit the familiar subject of the still life – only that here we are talking about urban still lives. These are artistic practices of defamiliarization, which allow us to reexamine and dwell upon every-day, taken-for-granted structures. The environments they reproduce are not autonomous or the fruit of the lone artistic genius’ inspiration but rather forms that we consume daily, instantaneously. They are so familiar that they are forgotten, invisible, and yet still present in space. The light that these artists shed on them restores their luster, and notwithstanding their familiarity, they are in effect simultaneously abstract, in that they expose the ideological system in which we live. Entering the exhibition space we encounter mundane forms, but their appearance in new clothes reinvests them with a certain splendor, such that when we go back outside and reencounter them, now as utilitarian objects, they are defamiliarized , and at the same time become a reﬂection of ourselves.
Alona Rodeh operates within the frayed ﬁeld of sculpture, as sometimes one ﬁnds that her works possess an indisputable physicality while other times she “sculpts” ambiences with smoke machines and sound. As such, her work contains something of the intangible on the one hand while the abstract is lent a materiality and volume on the other hand. I will focus my discussion here on her piece entitled The Resurrection of Dead Masters (2012), presented in the framework of the Sotim (Perverts) exhibit at the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon. Rodeh found her inspiration for this piece as she walked through the streets of Tel Aviv, which are sources of inspiration for many of her works. In this case, while walking along the street, Rodeh encountered a glass door with a metallic frame, and behind it an iron door locked with chains and a padlock. The duality of the doors attracted her attention. Rodeh resolved to duplicate this environment in the exhibition space, to recreate its essence, that is to say, to reproduce only the door and install it inside one of the white exhibition walls, such that a sort of hybrid was formed, which amalgamated the “low,” every-day language of the street with the cleanness of the exhibition space. It should be noted that the Center for Digital Art is not a typical museum space and is far from ideal in the traditional sense for art exhibitions: it has low ceilings, small rooms and old ﬂooring. In spite of its not being an ideal space for the display of art, Rodeh’s work intervened in the space in such a total way that one could easily mistake it for an organic part of the space itself. As a counterpoint to the piece’s quiet façade Rodeh added hard rock music which seeped out from behind the hermetic doors. Rodeh chose the song Master of Puppets by Metallica after hearing/viewing cover versions
of it on YouTube. Rodeh is interested in covers as a ﬁeld that is expanding virally and offering personal, and therefore “distorted,” interpretations of the original songs. Adding knocking sounds, which faded in and out, created by means of ButtKicker automated percussors, which she uses frequently in her work. The cited object took on a new life in the exhibition space. Rodeh used the space, which she transformed into a sort of sounding board, as a musical instrument. The harsh sounds and their intensity emanated from her choice of the iron door. Rodeh calls this procedure “sound integrated in architecture,” which means that she creates architecture that dictates the terms of viewership and action in the sound work. Given the mounting intensity of knocking sounds, one got an increasing sense that some primeval forces were behind the doors trying to break out/in. The simple door became a loadstone, a magnet, without anything substantial changing in the situation. In other words, there was a tremendous sense of anticipation that whatever was happening on the other side of the door (and everything was ostensibly occurring ‘inside’) would soon be visited upon us (on the outside), when the door would open, and there would be a catharsis. The anomalousness of this highly charged door within the sterility of the exhibition space lent what at ﬁrst appears to be a diaphanous, common object a new visibility, and revealed its explosive potential, not in the exhibition space but rather in the urban sphere itself. Another artist whose work, as aforesaid, could be categorized as documentary sculpture is Yael Efrati. Efrati dwells in her work upon the “standard” – e.g., an unremarkable building that she encounters on a daily walk in the city, a plastic electrical socket, a stairwell or building lights mandated by Tel Aviv building
codes. In a project entitled 6 Gnessin Street (2009), she paid homage to a building slated for demolition at this Tel Aviv address. Because the building was not designated for conservation, as part of the ongoing development of the city, it could be demolished to make way for another structure. In this project, Efrati rebuilt, in precisely equal relation, parts of the building – a section of a balcony, a drooping electrical cord, a corner. In general she devotes her attention to environments that are non heroic, and thus invisible or taken for granted in the public’s consciousness. Efrati, originally a photographer, attests that all her pieces begin with photography, and accordingly bear a direct and fundamental relation to concrete reality. Her sculptures rely on photographic perspective, on images generated photographically, and hence by their very nature cannot truly be faithful to the original object but rather only to the manner in which it is reﬂected in the image. In effect, the artist creates a situation in which the viewer stands before what might seem to be terribly familiar object, yet, by changing its location (placing it in the exhibition space), and enacting various shifts in the transition between photography and sculpture, she enables the viewer to spend time with these objects and reconsider them. This delay, it seems, is one of the main objectives of her work, as her pieces demand our company, our gaze, our attention, in order to open our eyes to their presence in concrete reality. Her pieces are made by hand, in most cases her own, that is to say we are talking about a process that is highly time-consuming, and one could even say unwarranted – as in principle she could hire an experienced worker, technically reproduce objects, or occasionally purchase molds from which they could be
Alona Rodeh, The Resurrection of Dead Masters, 2012.
produced. In the framework of her artistic practice, Efrati learns building traditions, and thereby actively engages in their preservation. She walks in the footsteps not of the buildingâ€™s residents or even its architect but rather those who built it in practice â€“ construction workers. The focus of her work is not architectural planning but rather construction itself. What is important to Efrati is not necessarily the structure but the ability to create it, not the product but the processes and skills by which it is produced. I cannot help but sense that her work is an act of mourning, inextricably linked to photography and its inherent relation to death,7 in that Efrati creates three-dimensional images that call to mind pale
monuments, not aggrandized in scale but rather remaining in a 1:1 relation to the objects they cite, standing as evidence of their existence, moving in their simplicity, and yet encompassing powerful defamilarization mechanisms. Being and Delaying The insertion of defunctionalized mini-spaces into an exhibition space transforms that space into a conceptual arena. This in turn permits a reexamination of the manner in which such mini-spaces reďŹ‚ect the society that created them, the function they serve, and the ideologies they reinforce. The act of artistic citation entails certain shifts, and seeks not merely to reference the original but also to expose the
ideological system that enabled its existence. The choice to slow down, to delay, to dwell upon a work of art that duplicates familiar objects allows both for an encounter with urban and public environments that we tend to overlook or be wholly oblivious to and for a reconsideration of the forms that we create as a society and as individuals. Economists suggest that we are undergoing a transition from a service economy to an experience economy.8 Today companies sell their customers “user experiences,” memories, events that are formed and replaced by new ones at hyper-speed. Given this reality, lingering may be considered a poetical/political stance that seeks to slow down our consumption patterns and image production, but mainly to create a user experience whose aim is not to sell anything but rather to allow “users” of the works of art to truly sense and perceive the space and time in which they live.
Butler, Judith. Critically Queer. Tel Aviv: Resling. 2001. 16-17. (Hebrew). 7. Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reﬂections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang. 1981. 8. Pine, Joseph B. & Gilmore, James H. The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage. USA. 1999. ( http://books.google.co.il/books?id=5hs-tyRrSXMC&printsec=frontcover&hl=iw&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=true).
NOTES 1. “Documentary sculpture” is a term used by Michal Helfman, in reference to Yael Efrati’s work. 2. Renzo Martens in a Dutch artist and activist. His work raises questions regarding the journalistic use of peoples suffering and documentary cinema. 3. The Yes Men are an eco-activist duo created by Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin. In their various actions they impersonate corporate ofﬁcials, politicians, etc. in order to expose their crimes or alternatively to confess to them publicly. 4. Some of these artists include Alona Rodeh, Shelly Federman, Elisheva Levy, Ariel Caine, Yael Efrati and Tchelet Ram. 5. Butler, Judith. “Critically Queer.” In Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’. New York: Routledge. 1993. 223-42. 6. Miri Rosemarin, in her preface to Butler’s article, elucidates the nature of subversive reiteration. See:
Yael Efrati, Untitled, 2010. Perspex, LED lamps.
36 Above: Yael Efrati, Broken sidewalk in Tel Aviv, 2009. Photocopy. Right: Multiplicity (Part 3) installation view, INVISIBLE-EXPORTS.
The Making of Tirana Eriola Pira
“Tirana is an open source to contemporary art, offering an unprecedented interaction between artists and the public, attracting an ever-growing number of visitors and tourists. As the city continues its strife on the way towards the future, the spectacle of colors, already turned into political investment for development, unfolds every day and lies in wait for its continuation.” —Edi Rama, Mayor of Tirana 2000-11.
Contemporary art in Albania looks a lot like Tirana. What that means is that, like Tirana, art is in a state of transition from isolation under communism to global capitalism, but also that contemporary art in Albania is all about Tirana or more abstractly —the city. The city, the locus of modern life, has always been a space and source of inspiration artists, but Tirana became even more so once art was instrumentalized in shaping both the city and the way it is perceived; changing at once its material landscape and its image. Painting grey and drab communist building facades in lively, bold colors would have at most registered as a clever municipal project but when the mayor is an artist —as was Tirana’s Edi Rama at the time— well, it’s now considered an art project of it’s own. As the iconic image of the colored facades came to stand in for Tirana it-
self — forging a professed new and improved identity and relationship among the city, its inhabitants and the outside world —there arose a need to participate in the making, negotiating and challenging the meaning of such an image. For artists, Tirana became not only a ready-made image but, more importantly a city imagined as a geographical locale, as a historical context, and as a sociopolitical situation they engaged and presented with new visual tools and discursive means. As Albanian artists re-imagined not only their subjective relationship to the city and to the rapidly changing social reality, but also re-imagined the city itself as both subject matter and site of art, they established a social typology and urban iconography that contribute to the making of the city as a discursive phenomenon. The overwhelming majority of urban aesthetic practices in Albania fall along a spectrum deﬁned, at one pole, by the city serving as a subject for art, and on the other, by the city as art itself. For many artists, the architecture of the city and of the urban sprawl Tirana experienced after the 1990s serves as a proxy for understanding contemporary Albania. In these works, the city is documented and encountered as a work of visual and spatial art, with Tirana’s architecture presented as evidence, expression and embodiment of social relations and ideologies vying for power in the capital. In contemporary Albanian painting and photography, Tirana’s architecture appears as sculpture in the round, surrounded entirely by empty space, to be seen from all sides.
Standing alone or as part of sweeping vistas of the city, these structures appear abstracted and in isolation from the social forces that have shaped their formal composition and informal qualities. The aestheticization of space and aesthetics in space that inadvertently occurs in
Edi Hila, Penthouse, 2013. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy Galerie Mitterand.
many of these works detaches Tirana-as-subject from its political referentiality. Edi Hila’s paintings, seemingly, fall in this ﬁrst category. He is perhaps its most known and exceptional practitioner. Paintings of half-ﬁnished houses or buildings that dot the Albanian landscape, in muted and dusty colors, are a composite of research photographs and the artists metaphysical interpretation of a transitional landscape: where communist ghosts, creative destruction forces and Western desires manifest and brutally clash, yet grotesquely co-exist. But Hila’s work does not merely document these various contradictions at work as much as tease out and test out their promises and perils in visual terms. His penthouse series, the last in a long body of work, similarly portray hyperreal and absurd buildings —that might well exist, in condensed form, somewhere in the outskirts of Tirana. He foregrounds penthouses that sit atop long tower-like ediﬁces, ultimately turning them into objects atop pedestals. Prized as these houses are, they are also unattainable and, ultimately, unlivable spaces. Hila’s paintings do not glorify or embellish Tirana’s landscape. It is not pretty, by any means, despite the infusion of colors his student, Edi Rama, gave the city. Whereas other artists in this category end up neutralizing spatial politics by way of aestheticizing the city, Hila’s textual and allegorical paintings of the vernacular architecture that dominates it discretely pronounce the very politics that have brought to bear on the fears, ambitions, and aspirations of a post-socialist society.
For other artists, the physical city does not simply manifest as image but it is a socio-political and cultural space that is constantly being mediated and constructed. Theirs is a city that creates, communicates and challenges identities and social relations. As such, these artists are concerned with intervening in the landscape and challenging the dominant narratives and perceptions of the urban space and experience. For the most part, they take a performative approach to the city, entering into direct relationships with its built space and its structure of feeling. These artists tend to directly engage with the city and its citizens at an everyday tactical level that operates under, and counter to, the city’s spatial and social dictates. These sorts of interactions can assume a broad array of forms, ranging from the visual and poetic to the socially engaged. Endri Dani photographed himself in the entryway of various buildings throughout Albania that were built, during Communism, to the exact height of the Albanian dictator: 182 cm. This happens to be the artists height, too. Part of a larger project that includes mapping the buildings with the 182 cm doorways and interviews with the architects, the photographs themselves are rather deadpan. The artist is not interested in identifying with the dictator or even with commenting on the megalomaniac reach of his power to such absurd ends. That’s all too known and notorious by now! But what is less talked about is the way these measures of control and idolatry continue to encroach on the lives of people still living in these
ediﬁces. By inserting himself in these spaces, Dani engages with them as material and social space that give way to a structure of feeling, everyday practices that lend a sense of place. Whether to counter communist or global capitalist bio-power, artists like Dani place the body and social experiences at the forefront of engaging with the city as a construct to be decoded and recreated. Such artistic gestures are constitutive of both self (subjectivity) and space —the urban milieu. Through this work a complex and composite portrait of the city emerges: one that, like the city itself, is constantly being performed and in the process of becoming. The city — its landscape, architecture and urban experience — are not offered as the ﬁnished products of a society, but these art works are themselves the processes through which the city as a place of meaning and feeling is constructed. Not merely a structural and conceptual space, the city is an embodied relationship developed through the interaction between structure and the agency practiced by its inhabitants at the street level, on an everyday basis. Irgin Sena’s video, it started started started somehow (zoo), and the drawing object 3 ten provide a multipronged introduction to Tirana. His is a city composed of competing forces and disconnected signiﬁers. The relationships that emerge between its parts, in the case of the video: the Skanderbeg monument in the city center and the surrounding trees; the half-built buildings around a zoo and crying sounds of its impoverished animals; an interior scene and pedestrian life — do not attempt to represent Tirana on the whole. This would not be possible, even if desired. As any other large and complex city, in a hyper-mediated and accelerated technological age, Tirana can, at most, be apprehended in senso-
ry glimpses that invite, and just as soon avert attention. Flashing images, sounds, and the relationships between them repeat, confound and puncture each other to represent, indeed construct, the city, as it is being encountered, as real or imagined space. Tirana’s rhythms, experiences, and modes of interaction captured in Sena’s lens, which he later edits to achieve a mode of expression and visual discourse emblematic of its subject, are “its kinetic activity, its juxtaposition and ironies, its massive forms and tiny details” —the great themes of the city, as urban theorist Frederic Stout put it. His work does not show us Tirana as much as shows us ways of seeing the city, where the way it is seen transﬁgures that which is seen. Sound plays an important part in Sena’s artistic interests and here too the sounds of the city, like visual cues, orient and position us in space, making us aware of the acoustic environment in relation to the built one. Through visual representations, as well as performative and interventional tactics, contemporary Albanian artists have re-produced Tirana by way of visualizing and altering spatial practices —offering new ways of seeing, imagining and living in the city.
Irgin Sena, 3 eight (detail), 2013. Pencil on paper, ink, wood.
NURTUREart Non-Proﬁt, Inc is a 501(c)3 New York State licensed federally tax-exempt charitable organization founded in 1997 by George J. Robinson. NURTUREart Non-Proﬁt, Inc is a 501(c)3 New York State licensed federally tax-exempt charitable organization founded in 1997 by George J. Robinson.
We receive in-kind support from Blick Art Materials, Lagunitas, Tekserve, and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.
NURTUREart receives support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, including member item funding from City Council Members Stephen Levin and Antonio Reynoso, the New York City Department of Education, and the New York State Council on the Arts. NURTUREart is also supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the British Council of Northern Ireland, Con Edison, the Greenwich Collection, Ltd., the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, and the Walentas Family Foundation.
NURTUREart is grateful for signiﬁcant past support from the Liebovitz Foundation and the Greenwall Foundation, and to the many generous individuals and businesses whose contributions have supported us throughout our history. Finally, we would like to acknowledge the artists who have contributed works of art to past beneﬁts—our continued success would be impossible without your generosity.
Special thanks to everyone at Mixed Greens, INVISIBLE-EXPORTS and Union Docs for their support, and eternal gratitude to the many volunteers who helped us installing and deinstalling, driving artwork and supplies around town, keep our sanity. This exhibition series and publication would have been impossible without generous support from:
John Duncan, selection from the Bonfires series (detail), 2008. C-type print on Dibond.
Brooklyn, NY. March 2015 / Book Design: Ido Michaeli and Marco Antonini/ Editing/Copyediting: NURTUREart Non ProďŹ t Inc. Images on pages 4, 8, 9, 16, 17, 32, 33 by Etienne Frossard. All other images courtesy the artists and/or respective galleries as noted.
Published on May 23, 2015
This book documents NURTUREart's 2014 Summer Program with an introduction by curator Marco Antonini and essays by Eriola Pira, Magdalen Wong...