ART WORLD / WORLD ART NO:3 MAY 2009
You are holding the third issue of Dirimart Gallery’s biannual publication RES Art World/World Art. In recent months, our readers have showered us with the question when the next issue will be out. We are very pleased to see that RES has become highly esteemed in such a short period of time. In this issue, we continue our interviews with figureheads from the world of contemporary art. Our highlights include an interview by Kathy Battista, Director of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York, with Vik Muniz at his studio; Hans Ulrich Obrist’s interview with opera singer and painter Semiha Berksoy who passed away in 2004; a RES interview with Peter Kogler whose works were most recently exhibited at the MUMOK, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, and with the co-curator of this exhibition, Rainer Fuchs; and last but not least, Ashkan Sepahvand’s interview with Iranian artist Solmaz Shahbazi. Debora Warner met James Cohan, who has recently opened a new gallery in Shanghai, while Borga Kantürk spoke with the newly appointed director of the SKOR, Foundation Art and Public Space, Fulya Erdemci, about public art and their forthcoming projects. The curator of the Russian Pavilion at the 48th Venice Biennial (1999), Olesya Turkina, takes a comprehensive look at the contemporary art scene in Russia and Nikola Suica at that in Serbia while Sezgin Boynik touches on the subject of the problematic relationship of contemporary art and nationalism, based on an exhibition that failed to open on the Prishtina–Belgrade axis. The Contemporary Arts Library Prishtina / Berlin project, which was created under the initiative of the three young artists Judith Raum, Fitore Isufi-Koja and İz Öztat, offers an overview of contemporary art in Kosovo. Adnan Yıldız contributed two pieces to this issue: he describes his impressions of the Taipei Biennial 2008 held under the curatorship of Manray Hsu and Vasıf Kortun, and comments on Ayşe Erkmen’s retrospective show Weggefährten (Travel Companions) staged at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin. Sabine Boehl offers an account of Jeff Koons’ controversial exhibition held at the Palace of Versailles last year while Liliana Rodrigues writes about Bjørn Melhus’ exhibition at the American Hospital’s Operation Room in Istanbul. The guests of this issue’s book review section are Freya Martin, with her book titled Der Nitsch und seine Freunde (Nitsch and Friends) about Hermann Nitsch, and Pelin Derviş, Director of Garanti Gallery, Istanbul, about the exhibition Becoming Istanbul at the German Architecture Museum (DAM) in Frankfurt and the accompanying publication. We hope you will enjoy this issue as well as our fourth issue due out in September when Istanbul hosts the 11th International Istanbul Biennial. M. AZRÂ GENIM EDITOR
1 RES MAY 2009
KATHY BATTISTA KATHY BATTISTA The first thing I want to ask you about is your process because you often work in series. Do you start and finish a series or do you work concurrently on several of them? VIK MUNIZ One thing about process is that in my case it is not so much about process in a way that what starts with an idea ends up with an object or an image, but it’s more an exercise in process development. I am even more curious about how to start and end things in different ways all the time than to even think about the process as a way of making art objects. So with that in mind I always try to go backwards—to start with subjects and get to the material or to start with material and then get to the subjects. I think things usually happen when you just allow yourself space for these things to happen. Basically I don’t set myself any rules. The thing that excites me the most when I’m working is when I find a completely different way to go about the making of something. Although I am a conceptual artist there is a lot of room for spontaneity in this. Like this last series at the gallery. KB Verso. VM Yes, Verso. If I had not been at the museum at the right time to ask the right person if I could see the back of this first artwork, those things would not have happened. On the other hand, I like the metaphor… Do you know the Chinese scholar stones? I collect them. (He brings out a scholar stone.) Chinese scholars who practice calligraphy always have one of these. It is just an expression that is found in nature. The idea that you can wander around and find things in their raw state makes you think about something. And then you take that into your studio and you work the base for it. It is not really creation, it is just demonstration. And I really believe in this dichotomy between what you find, what comes into you and what you produce, what you do with that. Most of the time, I just leave things to ferment, so these very unlikely liaisons start to form in a very weird way. I am at a point in my career where the weirdest is the best. One thing is that you are an intellectual, coming up with ideas and trying to make commentary about the world you live in. But on the other side, you are a person, a biological construction (Laughs.). You know what you think about your own body and the way you go about things. All these things have an influence on your ideas, as well as accidents and causality. Everything is there. Verso was conceived when I was seven years old when I come to think of it. The first museum that I ever visited in my life was the Museum of Art in São Paulo (MASP**), which is this amazing building by Lino Bo Bardi. In its original concept, she displayed these masterworks—I am talking about Velázquez, Rafael—and she had these masterworks on glass. I remember as a seven year old, most seven years olds do not have an interest in the master paintings, so I was just looking at them and they were just paintings. I was not really into them. But looking through the glass on the intersection where sometimes one was smaller than the other you could glimpse at the back of these things. I always have this really keen interest in mechanics: what is at the back, how does it work? Somebody had the stupid idea to give
RES MAY 2009
INTERVIEW WITH VIK MUNIZ me a screwdriver when I was seven years old and I opened all the electrical appliances in the house, including the television. It is always good to see what is inside. And I remember the moment stuck in my mind about these places behind images where insects live or you have this secret life of a painting. Later on, when I became an artist, I realized that the side of the artwork you are most familiar with is the one you build. So there was this childhood curiosity about the back. It reminds me of the story of Picasso when somebody asked him to make a drawing at a café in Paris and said, “I’ll pay you anything you want.” So he said, “Okay”, and he drew this pigeon and gave it to this collector and then she said, “How much do I owe you?” and he said “Thirty thousand dollars.” And she said, “Well, it took you just a few seconds to make it.” and he said, “No madam, it took me a lifetime.” Obviously, thirty years ago, if I had approached the curator or conservation department of a museum and asked them to look at the back of a masterwork they would probably have said no. It is just how these things develop from when I was seven years old. Now I am 47. So forty years later I can use some of that because it was there somehow in that soup that I am actually still picking things from. I believe my most successful work to date is where I can get something that has been with me for a long time, that has been brewing there for quite a while, and then at one point it just occurs to me that I can do something, but I do not have to rush it. This is also the benefit of being a successful artist. What I mean by successful artist is that you have your house, you can pay your rent, you have a comfortable life. I am not a multi-millionaire. I come from a working class family in Brazil and I live very well. Another series is Pictures of Dust that I showed at the Whitney. I was living in Paris twelve years before that and I went to visit this show at Beaubourg where they had minimalism. Actually it is funny because they had a collection of international style furniture. I like modernism and I like minimalism—these are like driving forces behind my work, especially minimalism. We will go into that later… They had a major strike of maintenance there. For two months they had not done anything. I was reading this book by George Didi Huberman called Phasm, where he talks about things that grow inside cases of glass at the Jardins des Plantes as some kind of species. In that book he also talks about minimalism, but it took me eleven years. This show was so beautiful because they had the Barcelona chairs and there was this thin layer of dust and it looked like they were made out of marble. Since then, I always had this idea of getting pillows from the Barcelona chairs and getting them carved out of carrara and having these really hard chairs that look soft in my house. I still want to do this because I think it would look like cemetery statuary. When you came to the minimalist sculpture, they had this thin layer of dust. The Donald Judd’s looked like time measuring devices. The idea that minimalism emphasized was that the idea only means itself and nothing else and to know that for something to mean itself it has to rely on maintenance and cleaning because there you have something that means itself impregnated with something that has all the meanings in the world. The most general thing you can think of is dust and then you have this cube. KB Dust is the remnants of people? VM Ten years later, I was still thinking of this and I was looking at dust from the light of a lamp, and I was rereading this book and bingo! I had this curator at the Whitney Museum, Silvia Wolf, and she had asked me for an exhibition for the museum that was very specific, and the work specific started ringing and I called her. It was four o’clock in the morning in Honolulu and I said, “Silvia, I need you to save all the vaccum cleaner bags from this week and I also need access to all the photographs from the records of the museum.” So what I did was look for photographs that were taken by the museum photographers
RES MAY 2009
5 RES MAY 2009 VM You would be surprised. Some of them are quite light, especially Judd’s work. They are kind of deceivingly light. There is this Charlie Ray’s work called Won Ton. It is like a solid piece of metal painted white. I love this idea (Laughs.). KB It is just a white cube? VM Yes, but it is solid. It weighs something like ten tons. It is very heavy. KB I love Charles Ray’s work. VM Me too. I saw his work for this first time in Chicago. He had a line of ink that just dripped from the ceiling. And he had something that was quite beautiful at 303; I will never forget that piece. It was this disc that spun really fast and it looked like stationery. You hear this noise and you look up and find a pencil. Talk about minimalism. People ask, “Where do you find yourself in this map of contemporary art?” And I have a really hard time to do it. I feel very lonely where I am. But the only people that I think about and relate to in a very weird way are people who work with some notion of minimalism or those from the 1970s, mostly sculptors or painters, photography. I have a funny place there. But one of them would definitely be Charles Ray. Whenever he has a show I know I am going to like it. KB Have you been to Marfa to see Judd’s Foundation?
Verso (Starry Night), 2008 Mixed media object, 29 x 36.25 x 12 in / 73.7 x 92.1 x 30.5 cm
VM I am afraid to go because I am afraid I might be disappointed, especially when it comes to places with these mega projects like Roden Crater, Marfa or Spiral Jetty. I am afraid of going there and thinking it is too small. These places, because of their displacement, because they are far off, because they are kind of inaccessible, they start growing in my mind. Every time I go to see a tourist spot like the Pyramids in Egypt or Angkor Wat, I always have this apprehension that I will be somehow killing something that was much more interesting in my imagination than it was in the experience of it. And all the superficial experience by travel would not be as exciting as thinking of these things. KB Marfa is pretty amazing.
of the collections that were shown in the museum and then I rendered them with the museum dust. It couldn’t be more specific and it couldn’t be more general because you get this idea and all this range from the material and the subject. The show was called The Things Themselves and it was the hardest thing I have ever done because it took me about a year and a half working on ten stations continuously. You cannot just put dust where you want it to be, it just falls. So I would work with stencils and air dryers to just pull the dust up to mixing the colors you just lay on top of it. KB Did you adhere it with something, a fixative? VM No. Two of them were completely destroyed in the process. I went weekly to look at the space where they were going to be shown. The installation lasted about five minutes because I knew exactly where they were going to go. I go to museums all the time to look how people walk around in them. For me this is very important, the cinematic thing, the mechanics of going towards artworks because that is how the artwork really functions. It was a really fortunate little click. KB I love the disparity between the lightness of dust and the heaviness of the real work.
VM I was very close when I did a show at Menil. I was very tempted to go, but I had to get back. KB I imagine your office is like a film production in that it expands or contracts depending on the project? VM It changes according to the project. It has been expanding mostly in the last few years. But you have to consider that until about five years ago I only had Erika to help me and she was part time. I worked mainly by myself and it is just the idea that if I were to oversee things like printing I would not have any time to do anything, I would just be consumed by the production of it. Immediately you will see possibilities of avoiding this and delegating that to other people. The reason that I do not do cinema and I do photography is that I have this problem with authorship. With photography you can still say a lot of things and play with all kinds of elements from all sorts of ideas of art production. You can play with painting, with collage, you can do environmental sculpture, you can do microsculpture and still come up with something that can fit inside your own program. You have full control of it. It is not like an amalgam of specialities that ends up being something completely different than what you have
RES MAY 2009
7 RES MAY 2009 conceived. I am still very much into the idea of when you imagine something and go after that thing until you see it materialize and then that becomes a thought to match the vision you had in the first place. So it’s this material dialogue—this dialogue you keep between the material and the intellectual part of an artwork is something that really to me is the most important part because it is sort of a measuring stick for the reality of the world in which I live. The thing is your intellectual side always takes over and then you become more and more ambitious about what you can do. I think the most important thing is that you keep these things in perspective in a way... Although a good artist always works beyond the borders of what is possible. You always work around the impossible. You always work thinking “Can this be done?” I think that is the most important part. You have to keep a little control on “Can this be done and still be my work? Can this be done and still be something that I have full control of?” Most of the people that I work with have been with me for years—any of my assistants, with the exception of Lucas, who helps me with the photographic part, which is just a mechanic, scientific thing. It takes some creativity to illuminate something. It happens that he was also my student at Bard so I taught him all my mistakes, all my errors. I have known most of the people who help me with the photo part through my teaching. Ben was the tech guy at Bard when I was teaching there. I trust these people and I have also been able to pass on a lot of my ideas to them. So they will have similar optics. And a lot of what we do is just about trying to gauge how tolerant I am with certain things. And I am generally tolerant and I like working with a group, but I always think about my experience first of all, and I am very selfish when it comes to that. In the drawing part or the developing part, I work with Cata and AK. Cata has been with me for over five years now. Before, I only had an assistant to look at prints. Cata has been with me at least five years and AK three and a half, and there is another woman whom I am still training. But it is a certain type of training because we are constantly changing things. One thing that I can do with Cata now is to give her an assignment to try out materials. So she is also involved in the part that I did mostly myself before, which is research and development. And I can just harvest the results. That in a way allows me to sit around, read and travel and search for things. I think it is a question of age, too. Your hard drive gets more crowded and you need more time to select stuff that can go into that. You become a little bit more selective and you become harder on yourself. At the end of that you need more information. Your filter is a little bit more tight so you need more time to do that. A lot of the work as it develops we do together. We are working with so many funny things now. I have discovered these non-toxic liquid metals with which I can draw by making little dots. And each dot would be like a Gerhard Richter sphere which shows the entire studio. If we can shoot this extremely sharp, as we usually do, each shot will have the entire studio in it. KB It sounds like Koons’ super-reflective surfaces. VM Yes. Exactly. KB What kind of metal is it? Is it like mercury? VM It looks just like mercury. I can show it to you in the studio. We did this in a series two years ago where I was trapping air bubbles in gel in the position of stars. But I thought maybe now I could just make drawings with them. And I was thinking of constellations, or a unicorn, or little things that do not exist. It comes from my telling my daughter which animals exist and which do not. I keep thinking about that. She is my teacher. I have been learning so much from her.
Marilyn Monroe, Actress, NY City, May 6, 1957, after Avedon (Gordian Puzzles), 2007 Chromogenic print, 70.5 x 70.5 in / 179.1 x 179.1 cm
RES MAY 2009
9 RES MAY 2009
Richard Serra, Prop, 1968 (Pictures of Dust), 2000 Installed at the Whitney Museum in Contemporary American Sculpture: Selection 2, April 4 - May 5, 1969 Ilfochrome print, 67.1 x 48 in / 170.5 x 121.9 cm
Going back a little, you asked about method and process. Your idea of a public also defines your working methods. If you thought of your audience as people who know enough art history or philosophy or postmodern studies, you would work on the more intellectual side of it and the material part would play an entirely different role. I see that as a problem with these international exhibits. They are mainly done for a specific type of people. KB Do you mean the biennales? VM Yes, biennales and documenta. It also looks like an exercise in redundancy. It looks like they are designed for people just like them—curators. I feel that really the defining thing in my working process is my lack of discernment. I cannot imagine my audience. I never could. I do not have a specific person of a certain age, sex, academic background in mind… nothing. I would imagine the basic requirement is that they can see. I walked into this place in Austria once and I heard this laughter. I walked into the rotunda, where the noise was coming from, and I saw a group of blind people touching the sculptures. For them they looked like jokes so they were laughing really hard. You know those busts of seventeenth century where they were making faces? There was a group of blind people laughing so hard and I was kind of jealous. I could not make art for these people. KB Maybe Verso. VM This is a little bit more specialized. You have to know a few things about painting. Everybody knows about paintings such as Nighthawks and American Gothic. People joke about these paintings all the time. They have been in the collective media. Advertisers use them all the time. I think that is not that hard. I like to show it to Mina (Vik’s daughter with Janaina Tschäpe**). Even you are a little bit easy on yourself. Still you are facing this amazing challenge, which is to make art that is completely accessible and intelligent at the same time. This is the really hard thing to do. It is becoming an obsession to me. KB You were talking about your audience. I expect you have a market, and I would guess that people who want your work want photographs. When you move from, say, the Gordian Puzzles or the Pictures of Junk to Verso, which I think goes back to your earliest work, like the clown skull, is there a certain expectation from the collectors? VM It is funny that in more practical terms like collecting, because of the weird spot that I am in— between photography, painting and drawing—I manage to bring in a likely collector who would not buy photography for instance. They only buy paintings and then they buy my photographs, or somebody who collects photographs and then they buy Verso. And also people who do not buy art at all start buying my work because they just like it or because it is something they can relate to. That is what I was talking about with being accessible. I am the first artist of so many collections. I am very proud of this (Laughs.) because if they bought art for the first time because they saw my work, that says something about what I am as an artist. This is when I feel really good. Normally when you go from a body of work, and I get tired of things, I do not do this because of a market request or condition. If I were to do that I would be doing things that I sold a lot of, like diamond or chocolate pieces. I get tired of things so I just move on. And sometimes along the way you come up with the idea to use a very early process. You can always allow yourself to go back if you need to. Every time you come up with a new thing that you are
RES MAY 2009
11 One of the hardest things if you intend to have a very long career is how to manage your creative impulses and respect your own timing and think about the time when people follow your work. I would be working a lot faster, because I have this drive to come up with something. I do not have enough time in my life to work on all the ideas that I already have. Not to mention that I will get more as I go and as I live. So I am very anxious all the time. I managed to spoil a good few things that I did because of this anxiety. I think as you get older you learn to respect that a little more. It is nice to find a balance between betrayal and still having this conversation with your audience. But you have to betray it. Otherwise you start feeling numb. You spend half of your life trying to become an artist or to become this person, and then the other half of your life trying to deconstruct it into something new. There is a story by Borges called Borges and I. Do you know this one? KB No, I do not. VM He talks about Borges and how Borges started very quietly and was just a struggling personality and he ended up just getting to use all his stories and all his personal things and it all became part of Borges’ story. And it is just killing him because it takes all the life of the person who writes this story. Borges is much more powerful. Now he is loved and respected and nobody knows who this person is. At the end he says I do not know who wrote this, me or Borges? It is quite a beautiful story and I think it says a lot about trying to always have this part that is still not you so you can keep on changing it and betraying even yourself in the work. So you have to cultivate even this one part that nobody knows about. I achieved a lot of that through superficiality. I am a very superficial person. I have this sort of crust and I keep it all to myself (Laughs.). I am not a very emotional person. KB That seems unusual for a Brazilian. VM Maybe that is why I do not live in Brazil. I do not like things to surface too much. I am married to a German woman who is completely Brazilian, she is ten times more emotional than I am. I am a Brazilian guy and I am very cold. I never cry. I only cry in cartoons. I am very detached. I like to relate to the things around me as an observer. I need the room between who I am and what is being projected there. KB Your work is like that because it is always one step removed from the objects.
RES MAY 2009
VM This is what I mean about minimalism. Although I am talking about being Brazilian, too, I decided to become an artist only after I moved here. Most of my influences as an artist come from art that was made during my lifetime in Europe and the United States, especially the 1960s and 1970s. This is the stuff that I really like, even in Japan. Mona Ha’s sculpture and performance is something that I moved from Brazil to here thinking about film and theatre and things like this. The whole world, in my formative years as a person, has had a lot to do with art being produced in these main centers. And I didn’t even know that. I just had very inadequate information and my own ideas of what this world would be. There is a guy called Luis Sepúlveda, a writer from South America, and in one of his stories he describes this man who is reading this pink romance about Venice, but he lives in the middle of the Amazon. And he
RES MAY 2009
working on there is a lag. People are unsure about it and they look at it, they like it. Talking about the buying part: My shows are not the type of shows where you go to the gallery and say, “It is all sold out.” A lot of it is sold, but it takes a while for people to get used to it. The thing sort of heats up and you end up selling most of that work.
Action Photo, after Hans Namuth (Pictures of Chocolate), 1997 Cibachrome print, 60 x 48 in / 152.4 x 121.9 cm
13 Art schools today are very different. I went to art school and I just learned academic drawing. And I taught academic drawing for years to make money (Laughs.). I realize that I do not use academic drawing for anything. I probably use more math than academic drawing but still it taught me things and made me think of things that I could not possibly have come up with myself. If I was not there drawing a mood or a landscape or something like that. The practice of drawing is really a setup for you to make pictures for you to train yourself to see things.
Scissors (The Sarzedo Drawings) (Earthworks), 2002 Toned gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 in / 50.8 x 61 cm
describes this Amazonian Venice with crocodiles and everything is green. He fuses these two ideas. And I think my idea of the American European canon of art production is similar to that vision of Sepúlveda’s Amazonian Venice. KB It is like magic realism.
RES MAY 2009
VM Oh yes. When you are just outside of it, just imagining things, there is this gap. It would be a cliché for me to say, I love that, I like García Márquez. But Borges and Cortázar just to start were the very people I read as a kid and I was crazy about them. Or even Edgar Allen Poe. So a lot of my interests come from this gap between reality and intellect. Italo Calvino, for instance, another one, always tries to pair these two notions which I think goes back to what I was saying about minimalism. You get something that is just a cube of metal and only exists as a conceptual device. The discrepancy between the material and the intellectual is so great that it becomes the only possibility for them to connect. It is a very poetic structure, so strategically weak and beautiful when you have something that can only be understood because of its simplicity. It is so simple that it can only be seen from that perspective. I always deal with issues like this in my work; but instead of dealing with issues of form and immediate properties, I deal with material in a sort of detached way as well. And that could be one of the reasons why I photograph
KB Do you not think that a lot of your work is about drawing, even the junk pieces? Those kinds of work are so much about drawing with the negative space. VM Well, I turned to drawing because of a language deficiency I have. I was like a self-taught dyslexic person because I could not write. My grandma taught me how to read words by their entirety when I was four or five. By the time I got to school we were reading Treasure Island already, but I could not write a word until my third year of school because I could not read cursive. I could read only certain fonts, too. It took me a long time to learn how to read. Whenever I could not write the word very fast I would just make a little quick drawing, which was sort of shorthand. And of course if you do it enough you start doing it better and then you start thinking about drawing. I never ceased to look at drawing separated from a certain grammar. It was always a tool. That is why I never thought of becoming an artist earlier in my life. I did think of drawing as making up for some kind of handicap that I had. It was a tool for me to understand things or to express things. And it was so engrained in me that I never thought of becoming an artist, although I could draw very well. It was only once I started looking at it as a tool I saw it as a mechanism. I saw that you could actually add things or take things. I saw which parts were essential and which parts worked better if you designed them in a different way. I could see the grammar of it, too, and through drawing I understood theatre, opera and movies. It was always by comparison that I could analyze other media, based on the simplicity of the simple line of a presentation. I could see where I was and it mapped me to understand more sophisticated media. It also gave me a very good foundation so I could look at them very systematically. I was watching movies and trying to understand the grammar of movies, the individual parts, how they work, how you could build
RES MAY 2009
everything—to be twice detached from the thing. To have the kind of ambiguity, that space in the middle that you can fill in with questions and experience. I really think that photography had a really hard time to be considered an art form for so many years and I think one of the main arguments was that it did not provide the necessary gap for you to think about representation. The photographic image of something is not really what that thing is, but indeed it looks like it is. With a painting, there is already so much room to think about it: the degree of likeness, the light, the color, everything that can go wrong also becomes a sort of meditation on the nature of representation. I think for something to fully represent something it has to be convincing, but it must also inspire thinking about the relation of that thing with the thing represented. So you are aware of the fact that this is just a representation. There are so many modes of representing things. Just think about perspective, even, which is a main element of this argument. You have amazing artists like Hokusai or Hiroshige who discarded the whole idea of depth because they wanted people to wonder about it. Probably my main argument in coming to photography is also the flatness of these images. You must work yourself into seeing depth or you would have to really question your own ideas about how you perceive depth in the picture. It is great that you can touch all these academic little things still. I am very fond of the idea of being able to make something from scratch or pure observation, but these things are still very important and they should not be discarded.
15 KB It is like the Chinese languages where one thing can mean so many different things. VM When you have ideograms then this is a completely different way of thinking again. I may be completely wrong but the way I started writing and creating little memos for myself, the drawings that I had are very ideogramatic, so they are very similar to Chinese writing. A lot of things are shorthand and they look like hieroglyphs. It is a very crooked way, the way I look at things. I think Buster Keaton said if he had not been a comedian he would have been an engineer. I think I can say the same thing. I am crazy about mechanics, about parts, about how to break things apart and put them back together. And it is in my work, how things connect and also how things do not connect. Even in physics, which I love to read, you have particle dynamics and how mountains stay the same shape, things like probability, causalityâ€Ś I am very curious about all this.
digital. I am not a Luddite. I am all for technology, but I like it when you have a certain sense of what you are doing. KB Do you worry that by using digital you manipulate too much? VM Well, you manipulate things one way or another if you want to. If you manipulate the digital capture you lose. Once you bring things into Photoshop they go down in resolution. It still works pretty much like the regular neg or the chemical print or chrome. But mainly what we want to use it for is absolute sharpness. With digital you bypass something that existed. People do not see this but we do, we work with this, which is grain. Digital prints have no grain. They look a little aura-like and unreal, but it is just because we are used to perceiving grain as a syntactical element of a photograph. So it has this semantic relevance but it is just a generational thing. We are conditioned to see grain. KB Do you think the move toward making objects again in Verso is a result of that? VM I am not sure. I really enjoyed doing this. I have three work fronts right now: I have Verso. I have to agree with you, as you mentioned it, it is a little like a film production crew. I have everything from color separation, printing resources, people who can age things, carpentry, people who can make things look really fucked up (Laughs.). On the other end there is Barry, my framer. He is such a detail oriented person that I thought he would be the best person to oversee all this and pass the information on to me. KB There are even rivets on the back of the frames on the photographs in the back room of the show.
KB What about scale? VM This is the greatest thing about photography because it defies or actually comments on scale. You can make all kinds of commentary. You can make very tiny pictures of huge things. You can make very big pictures of tiny things. But the true scale of a photograph is in its resolution. Before digital prints nobody knew what it was but if you make photographs it is a very important thing. You can make a photograph look huge and you do not see anything when you get close to it. As you step away, you get to see it but from where you see it it is not bigger than a postcard. So it is a tiny picture, even though it is printed big. I use very large cameras.
VM Oh yes, we designed the frame to look like the back, but it is not. It is very beautiful but it looks like the back of a painting. Barry oversees the carpentry of these things and he really looks about conservation. We were lucky sometimes, like in the case of Seurat: There were actually two or three chapters dedicated to the conservation of that painting so we had a lot of information on that particular painting. You could put a photograph next to it and it is just like itâ€”every single nick, every single hole. The only thing that we could not exactly replicate is the grain of the wood because you cannot have two grains of wood that are alike. But everything else is exactly the same. KB It is almost forgery.
KB Do you always use the same one? Or does it vary according to the project? VM Different cameras do different things. Right now, we still have not been able to escape the 8 x 10 camera. We have been trying for the last four years that we have worked with people in Europe to get similar results with a digital camera. It is still very limiting in many aspects but I think we are close to it. My theory is that we are not going to have film anymore and then how will we work? The digital industry is taking over and not that many people buy 8 x 10 film these days. We are a very little niche. KB Like the Polaroids.
RES MAY 2009
VM Yes, they just discontinued Polaroids and we are down to our last boxes of 8 x 10 Polaroid. We can preview digitally but still the Polaroid is something that I learned how to work with and I feel more comfortable working with it. But there will be a day when they say we do not make color film anymore, which may not be so soon. After all they still make oil paint (Laughs.). We are trying to do the same with
VM It is more than forgery. Forgers only replicate the look of a painting. The best forgers, as we learned in the project, would know what the label for Leo Castelli in the 1960s or Julian Levy Gallery looked like. Or they had some kind of record of it and would make something convincing. Most of the forgery of the back of paintings is mere art direction and antiquing. The front of it is easy to forge because it is exposed, easy to see. You can take your easel and go to the Met and copy a painting that is there. The back of it is always concealed. It is the privilege of a few people who get to see it or some curious children that go to the museum (Laughs.). It is also the part that looks most like the studios of the artists themselves. When you come to think of it, the people who buy art do not buy the image. That you can get for free on the Internet. Or you can get a poster. You buy the object and the object has two sides. Its least known side is actually the one that tells the story of what happened to that object. The front of a painting by Cezanne, say Mount St Victoire, will bear exactly the same light, the same feeling, the same day, the same afternoon than when painting was made in the nineteenth century. It would be exactly the same today because the function of the painting is to remain the same: to record and document that moment forever.
RES MAY 2009
one thing or the other. So I already had a working principle of looking at things that came from drawing. I think it also came from the fact that I was raised in the time of military dictatorship in Brazil. Somehow you become very cynical and very careful with what you say and very selective with what you say or hear. All the images are sort of coded. I use the term semiotic black market. You have to negotiate the meaning of things to find out what they really are. Brazilians are very versed on metaphors. The language itself has so many double entendres and double meanings you can say three things with one word. The three things are actually meaningful simultaneously, so you can mean three different things just by uttering one word. They also rely a lot on things extraneous to the language itself like your facial expression and your body language. It is a very interesting language to begin with.
17 RES MAY 2009 Marat (SebastiĂŁo) (Pictures of Garbage), 2008 Digital C print, 51 x 40 in / 129.5 x 101.6 cm
Venus and Cupid, after Correggio (Pictures of Junk), 2006 Digital C print, 86.7 x 71 in / 220.3 x 180.3 cm
RES MAY 2009
19 what it is. It reflects the parts. It also got me thinking. It is the only completely organic abstraction that you can recognize as something. They are always cut in the same kind of molds. But even better: it is an object and a picture at the same time. I can work with that as a material. The picture making logic of the puzzle is a physical one. The moment those parts connect to one another they make the picture. What I wanted was to free the picture from the physical dependency, so you make several puzzles. You print them in different angles, then you mix them and remake them again but in the way that you stick to the picture but there is no physical connection between the pieces. They look like they are just thrown there and the picture came out perfectly.
KB Like the film production crews!
Some of them really work; some of them do not work at all. It takes a long time to make one of them, a month, a month and a half sometimes. They did not develop as quickly as these paper cut pieces I am doing now. Cata can make them so fast. She is really good at this knife thing. Before you just know how to make something. It is not until like the sixth or seventh work that you start getting a direction of where you want to take it. Now I already feel we are going somewhere with it. Now we are going to really challenging and complicated things. It takes you a while to find a sense of direction. Sometimes you only find it when the series is already done.
VM Well, you know I live in a place that is plagued with film production crews. KB I want to ask about the Gordian Puzzles. They are like Escher drawings. How did you make them, and what is the scale of the puzzle pieces? VM The puzzle pieces are always the same scale. To begin with a puzzle piece is something quite amazing. This is another one of these fortunate moments. I am very interested in autism as a working metaphor. People like to think of nature as the seashore, clouds and birds. For me, nature is something more frightening than that. Nature is everything that we cannot control. It is everything—chaos, particles, noise. I think of nature as everything that is not culture or civilization. And what we do to be able to exist in this environment. If we could really see things for what they are it would be unbearable. It would be the reality of an autistic person who sees everything as it is, with such an intensity because if a thing moves, it is not the same thing anymore. There are no rocks that are the same. Each one is unique. So an autistic person does not see things by names or categorization. We manage to make a place for ourselves by means of hygiene and cleaning up structures that are perceived to be the world we live in. This is also a working principle for the junk series or the garbage series. The junk itself is just a metaphor for the scales that I think nature is. When you think about autism it is because somehow we were all autistic at one point, when we did not have any discernment, like newborns. We lived in this world where we just suck up every single thing that is light or sound. The moment we start making distinctions we start creating this room where we can see who we are and how we function. From the time written language comes into play and we start to speak, this world is already shattered. It is already organized in little boxes. You cease to have this connection to the visual world as it really is. There is great nostalgia about it. It is an acid trip. Probably that is why people take acid or drink: to lower this linguistic structure. Somehow it gives you better access to this crazy world of just living like a newborn. We have a lot of artificial ways to get to this nostalgia. And one of them is art. Being an artist has very little to do with when you start being an artist; it has more to do with when everyone else stops being an artist. Then you do something that still has some connection with this prelinguistic environment and derive a lot from it.
RES MAY 2009
Observing how my daughter organizes sentences and the relationship to things is like an education. For me—I am 47 and I have a 2 year old—it is nice to be very discerning about looking and observing her with a focus. I am not experimenting on her or anything but I love the fact that I can observe these things—the way she deals with the world—in a very productive way. Sorry, I feel like Sarah Palin answering a question. It got me into autism, which is something I find fascinating. The symbol for the Society for Autism is a puzzle. I saw this logo and I thought it was brilliant, a beautiful logo. You know
KB I have only seen the Gordian Puzzles with female figures. Is this a metaphor for something? VM Now you have really got me in trouble! It is by chance. The themes are all about disruption. All of them are broken. I did one man—Courbet’s Desperate Man. That was the first one I did. Then I did Girl in the Cemetery by Delacroix, Marilyn… Maybe it is something kind of sexist on my part. It is also because I am tapping on a history of representation that is not very recent. If you think about it, until Charcot and La Salpetriere only women were crazy. There were no crazy men. Dementia, senility, these were just things that happened to women. Men got sick, only women got crazy. That is probably one reason I am tapping into nineteenth century iconography for that. Except for Marilyn Monroe. It is always confusing, broken situations. Whenever you have a portrait and you do it with broken puzzle pieces you think of a broken self. You think of something that is kind of not fair. I did some modernist posters, too, the Russian one for example. I also did the Tower of Babel. I did a lot of very complicated multiple things, like images that have lots of images within them so it is harder for you to see it. The one that we did that came out really cool is the Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. Within one series of artists, one of them is pictures with pictures inside, which have lots of different elements. Sometimes these elements may or may not fall within one single puzzle piece. The other ones are these portraits. KB You have worked with children quite a lot, for example, at the center in Rio, right? VM The center is for adolescents from 14 to 22. I wanted to do something with children specifically, but I have not found the right project to tap into it yet. But I worked with homeless children from Salvador. We worked in India, too—Janaina and I—in Delhi and Ibrahimpor. I like working with children. The school in Brazil is sort of a project based art school. They have classes on natural history and the history of philosophy and then along with that they follow one project. Because of the very accessible nature of my work, you see a lot of pictures that look like my work. I am being punished for coming from advertising. Big companies come to me and ask me if I want to do things for them. KB You did something with Lancôme, didn’t you?
RES MAY 2009
The back, on the other hand, tells the entire story of how that painting gets to represent the same thing all the time. It is actually scarred with little nicks and things and people paint on it and people write on it. It is sort of mistreated trust because it is the back of it. It is a very interesting metaphor of the role of the artist in our society. We are like the back of it. All the things that we make eternal—through cameras or the advent of representation or documentation, which after all we have invented—can be replicated, can be remembered, can be thought about even though you are not there. The real meaning of the work is that we can actually function in it. But you know we work on the background. We are just the woods and nails and dirty mistreated part of this world that we want to see, that is beautiful and internal.
21 Normally I say no. I do not want my work confused with commercial things, especially bad business, things that I do not believe in. What happens then is that they say, “Oh, let me get back to you.” And then they hire a kid with some Photoshop experience and they make something that looks like my work this big (Shows a couple of inches with his fingers.). Some people are worse; they make work that looks just like my work and they put it in restaurants and other places. There was this guy in São Paulo who complimented me for work that I had not done! I do not believe in intellectual property. If you learn something, you should pass it on. To be honest with you, I am pretty much against it. It is one thing as an artist to make work that says something about something else. It is another thing when somebody uses your work to sell vaginal cream or panettone. That is annoying because it is just a company doing it. I thought Lancôme was a big company and they twice asked me to do a big project. The first time I said no. The second time I said, before you hire an 18 year old student, let us do this: I’m not going to do the work for you, but I am going to help someone else do the work for you. And they asked who. And I said, a group of underprivileged inner city kids from Brazil. They’re going to do it and this is going to work beautifully. Most of these programs aim at keeping them from being recruited for narco-traffic. You just have to get the after-school things. We started off with the idea of an art school and then I added this other thing. I said, you are not just here to keep busy and get away from the drug trafficking. You are going to work on a project that is going to help the school continue. They take in this project and then they discuss it and then they discuss it with me. Since they want the focus on my work, I talk to them and I lecture them and then they produce the work that ends up being an edition and a book, which by the way is called A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. The rose is the Lancôme logo. They made versions and versions of this rose. And the kids get funding they need to keep the place going, they get something they can take to somebody and say “I helped make this.” It is a real-world thing, a professional thing, too. I have my work being copied or ripped off by people. I wanted them to copy my work, not only because they are young, but because they need it. Whenever young artists copy my work, I love it. And I do not get my work misrepresented.
RES MAY 2009
Companies have a lot of pressure from a different kind of luxury ideology, mostly put forward by people like Bodyshop or Natura, the companies that come with a philosophy, which is mostly about environmental or social sustainability. They are losing ground to this new generation of consumers who think the ultimate luxury is not bling, but health and a clean consciousness. Lancôme is extraordinarily ahead of their own time so they have been thinking about this. You use this change in consumer behavior. For them, it is wonderful because they are doing something that is socially relevant, they end up with the same product they wanted to have, and they are associated with my name, if that is what they wanted to begin with. So everybody wins. Lately I have another idea how to do this, with not only my work, but with other artists. So we’re setting up what feels a little like an advertising office called Micro Madness which is named after a story by Voltaire, the first science fiction story ever. It is about connecting large companies to social projects through artists. It takes up the idea of Centro Especiale,
which by now in its second year, is developing projects with Nokia. We have actually been able to place them in the work force. It is not like here. In Brazil, it is hard to be an artist, especially in Rio. Rio is a very small town for art production. São Paulo is where everything is. Rio is a resort, although Rio is a lot more sophisticated in terms of a social network. Everybody lives in Rio and works in São Paulo. That is the idea. I am from São Paulo, but I am the biggest defender of Rio.
RES MAY 2009
VM Yes. Before Lancôme, there were many companies who asked me if I wanted to do a project with them, mostly ad agencies. The first thing is it does not really pay because they want to deal with me as an illustrator. Normally I say no. If it is something really interesting that is going to help people I try to work with them, but then my speed of work does not match their expectations. I get requests for editorials all the time and I cannot do it because of my timing. We work a lot with New York Magazine because they know that we are slow (Laughs.) so they ask us earlier.
And so the conversation moved on to the beaches in Rio, Brazilian bodies and politics. Muniz has that rare combination of keen visual acuity, intellectual prowess and approachability. After a long conversation in his study, he gave me a tour of his studio and introduced his core team. There was a warm atmosphere—no doubt initiated by the amiable Muniz—which reminds one more of a family in Rio than a commercially successful artist’s studio in Brooklyn. A photograph was being composed on the floor, which took up most of the space. Comprised of thousands of tiny, brightly colored toys that formed an image out of the negative space, with a large camera poised above it, one could see the influence of his daughter Mina on his practice. Far from rushing me out so that he could get on with his work, Muniz took the time to show me the new liquid metallic material that he is experimenting with as well as the draft layout for his forthcoming artist’s choice show at Modern Museum of Art (MoMA) and the large scale computer that he and his team use. On the way out, I noticed a large display cabinet filled with antique cameras. Muniz is a collector—of ideas, of images, of intriguing things and people.
Kathy Battista is a writer, lecturer, and curator. She is currently director of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, New York. Her doctoral research centered on the work of feminist artists in 1970s London. She is a coauthor of Art New York (ellipsis, 2000) and Recent Architecture in The Netherlands (ellipsis, 1998). Her articles have appeared in Ladies and Gents (Temple University Press, 2009), Arcade: Artists and Placemaking (Black Dog, 2006), Surface Tension: Supplement 1 (errant bodies, 2006) and Surface Tension: Problematics of Site (errant bodies, 2003), as well as the journals Third Text, Frieze, and Art Monthly. She is on the editorial board of Art & Architectural Journal and is the New York correspondent for PhotoIcon. She has taught at Birkbeck College, Kings College, the London Consortium, the Ruskin School of Art, and Tate Modern.
Cloud Cloud, Arizona (Pictures of Clouds), 2001 Gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 in / 50.8 x 61 cm
All images © Vik Muniz / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
HUO I am delighted that we can see this. I thought your room at the Global Art Exhibition was very interesting. It was an incredibly dense space, your room. SB My room... my bedroom. HUO Exactly. You are a singer, an actress, a painter… HANS ULRICH OBRIST TEXT IN GERMAN. TRANSLATION BY MICHA GOEBIG AND CHRISTINE LIESE-SCHIKANEDER
Semiha Berksoy in 1930’s
SB I’m a Gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis of all forms of art!
HANS ULRICH OBRIST I understand you were in Paris?
HUO So you see all your work as one unifying great artwork?
SEMİHA BERKSOY They were going to make the first film about Turkey, in Paris, with René Clair. I actually met René Clair, can you believe that? He wanted to work with me, but I told him, no. You see, I was just a child, 20 years old, I had no common sense. I did not want to stay in Paris.
SB Everything I do is art: I write, I sing, I act. I do not compose though. I don’t have enough time for that. I’ve done all this since I was five years old. I painted, sang, acted. I was born that way. I never studied any of it. I just started singing on my own.
HUO When was that?
SB I have always thought things through and then did everything myself. And the professors thought I was right. They would present me as a role model in school, regarding my voice and so on. I studied at the Conservatorium—opera with Paul Lohmann, a renowned teacher…
SB In 1931. The first sound film, Dans la Rue d’Istanbul, by Studio René Clair in Epinay. I was very young then. I have always been a star, from my very youth to today as an old lady.
HUO Could you tell us about your early years? You were born in 1910. When did you start? SB As a child, I played with my mother. My mother was a very curious person; she always went to the movies to watch these Italian silent movies. Later, at home, she would play and I watched her. I was four years old when I became an actress myself, so to say. I played together with my mother. I always had a good voice, even when I was only five. In kindergarten, I would sing Mozart, a tune from Figaro’s Wedding, in Turkish and would act at the same time. Can you imagine that? I was only five years old! I did not know yet that I was going to be an opera singer. But a person always stays the same from the day of birth. I am a born actress and opera singer. I have a voice for Wagner, you know, from birth. I am a soprano, but not one of those translucent, gentle sopranos. I am an old soprano for Wagner, a rich, full-bodied soprano. You can hear my voice. I still have a tape of me singing the Liebestod aria in New York. I also sang in The Days Before by Robert Wilson. He wanted to work with me.
HUO So you are self taught?
HUO Where was that? SB In Berlin. I was at the Richard Strauss Festival in Berlin in honor of Richard Strauss’ 75th birthday. I was chosen to sing in Ariadne [auf Naxos] during the Hitler era. Can you imagine that? It was in 1939; I was completely unknown and then became a star, made a worldwide career. I was an impeccable singer. Unknowingly, this is just how I sing. I found my voice myself, without any outside help. The way I sing is light and natural... For me, speaking and singing are the same. First I would speak a text. I learned the words by heart for the lead in Ariadne in Berlin. “Es gibt ein Reich wo alles rein ist, es hat auch einen Namen, Totenreich!” Then I sang: “Es gibt ein Reich wo alles rein ist!”. It is exactly the same, very simple. Singing is easy. Speaking and singing are the same. I always speak. When you sing, you need to speak the text, you must speak it correctly.
HUO How was working with Robert Wilson? SB He gave me all the freedom I wanted. He knew I was an actress. He told me: You are free, you are an actress. I used to be a sparrow all my life. He was enthusiastic about me. I am currently making a film, a performance. I have made a performance with Kutluğ Ataman [Semiha B. Unplugged, 1997, SingleScreen Video Installation] before. This is the second one. I am making it with a young man who works as a camera man. I play all alone, it is my performance: I act, I speak, all alone. And now I will show you my latest pictures.
HUO And does painting also come easy to you or is that more difficult? SB No, it is also easy. I just do what I feel. I don’t think about it. For example, my portrait: I did this in Berlin.
RES MAY 2009
HUO In 1958?
Semiha Berksoy in 2000’s
RES MAY 2009
INTERVIEW WITH SEMİHA BERKSOY
HUO I meant to ask you more about the city because you said you lived in Ankara.
I also play, I studied acting at the Conservatory in Istanbul. I sang in Berlin, during the Nazi time. I met von Ribbentrop. I was invited to the embassy in Berlin. I sang at a reception for Secretary of State Joachim von Ribbentrop. Afterwards he came up to me and said: “You have a great voice!” I have a fabulous voice. He was absolutely enthusiastic. A handsome man, tall, blonde, blue eyes. My life—and all this will not change until I die—has always centered on art. I will never do anything but art. This is who I am. I do music every day, and I love art.
HUO What do you think of the city today? How has it changed?
SB I had a commitment in Ankara, at the State Opera House. This is from where I retired, as the first opera singer. My life has always been connected to the Ankara Opera, and also to the theatre. I played in both. HUO But Istanbul has always been your favorite city? SB I was born here. The house where I was born is now a museum. I think they show my bedroom and my studio. HUO The room I saw in Bonn? SB The house where I was born is in Çengelköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, very beautiful.
SB Istanbul is a very old city and very beautiful, the most beautiful place on earth. You won’t find something like the Bosporus anyplace else. HUO You have seen the city grow. Fifty years ago, there were about one million people, and now there are more than ten million. SB Yes, but this doesn’t make a difference to me. I am not interested in such things. But,of course, the world changes. There is so much envy; we have too much envy. In their character, people are the same all over the world. Envy is an essential part of the human character. Do you know Wagner? HUO I do know Wagner’s work.
HUO Who were your role models in art?
SB Why should I have any? I go by my feelings, then I know what to do. I paint because I like to, I don’t have to. Nobody tells me to paint and to work. But when I feel the urge, I go ahead immediately. HUO Have you always had a house in Istanbul? Have you always lived here or were there times when you left Istanbul?
SB The Ring of the Nibelung, a great opera, is about society. He tells it all. The world is going downhill; it won’t take long any more. It is all very bad. People kill each other and treat each other badly. This is not good. HUO Were you influenced by Wagner? SB One has to see Wagner, all those pessimistic feelings. But he is right, because people are very jealous.
SB I was also in Ankara, at the State Opera House. When Karl Ebert came to Ankara, I was the first opera singer. Atatürk founded the first opera house in 1934, and I sang the lead in a Turkish opera. Karl Ebert arrived in 1936 and founded the Conservatorium. I sang in the first European opera, Toska. It was translated into Turkish by our famous poet Nazım Hikmet. You know him, he is world famous. He was in prison. HUO Under Atatürk? SB Not under Atatürk! Later, after Atatürk had died. That was in 1941. Nazım Hikmet was in prison and I visited him. He was a great poet. Hikmet died as an immigrant in Moscow, in 1963, from a heart attack.
HUO You have worked in so many fields: as a singer, an actress, a writer, you have painted and drawn. I would like to know if you could tell me more about this fluidity, this incredible agility with which you move back and forth. You are completely free.
RES MAY 2009
SB I do it all. It does not make a difference to me whether I sing, paint, speak, act… everything is done by feeling. I paint with this feeling, I sing with it, I act with it. It is always the same, a feeling. Art is a matter of feeling, full stop. Feeling defines it all. For example, right now I don’t feel ready to sing. But I have the feeling. I sing with a feeling. I don’t think about whether my voice is sick or healthy, no idea. I am only interested in art, feeling. Sing with feeling, put it in your expression. Then people will recognize what you do. I speak right, I feel right. You have to have the right feeling. Art is a matter of feeling, right?
RES MAY 2009
25 Sound, 1970 Oil on Cardboard, 39.4 x 27.6 in / 100 x 70 cm Private Collection
SB In 1958 when I was in Berlin. My aunt and I were staying at a B&B. She said that I would have to stay at a different B&B as she did not want me to stay at the same place as herself. I was so upset! I just thought about how much I loved my aunt and why she would treat me like that. I was very sad. This is why I made this picture spontaneously. It came directly from my soul, this expression. My pictures always show a story, this is about feelings. It’s totally different from making portraits like photos. My paintings always tell a story, there is for example such an expression… I was totally surprised myself.
27 SB Ölümü... German, French, Italian, Turkish. I am an opera singer and an actress. I am a Gesamtkunstwerk!
SB Unrealized projects, realized projects! In art, there are different ways. You have to stay realistic. But you need fantasy as well. It is art, feeling. But first you have to sit right. An idea and a feeling have to sit right. A style may change, but an idea and art… art and a feeling should sit right.
HUO And here, your life as a singer, your music, enters into the painting?
First you have to think and feel right, and then comes everything else. Then you can do surreal things, make fantasies become real. But the idea and the feeling matter, they have to be right, that is the main thing. One should not do nonsense. It is obvious immediately if a piece is not good, not art. Art is never nonsense. Art has to think and feel right. In art, you need to think right, think about it and feel right. This is art. Self-Portrait, 1972 Oil on Cardboard, 39 x 27.6 in / 99 x 70 cm Semiha Berksoy Opera Foundation Collection Now I show you my paintings. (Berksoy unfolds a folded canvas with an assistant.) Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. This painting is called Isoldes Liebestod. I need large canvases, but the material is not available. Because there are not any big-scale canvases like these, I work on bed sheets. HUO Is this a new painting? SB Tristan. Isoldes Liebestod. She is dying, right? He is already dead. And this is Wagner, down here. HUO This is Wagner? SB Wagner, yes. I saw Wagner in my dream, exactly like that. He came to me and then Robert Wilson who hired me. I saw them in my dream, imagine that! So, dreams are important.
SB Yes, it is all about the feeling. I have some more I will show you: Phoenix Anka. This is my self-portrait as a phoenix. It is a story. But it has something to do with reality. I become the Anka bird, the Phoenix. In the past I was envied so strongly because of my voice. They do not let me sing. In other words I am murdered. But I have a strength that God has given me. I revive and take the stage. What do you say? HUO This means that your paintings tell stories. SB Stories, yes, amazing stories. I did it in about an hour. Phoenix Anka has a unique, beautiful voice. [On the back of the painting it says:] Phoenix Anka Semiha burns herself on the 7th of January. And revives from her own ashes. HUO You paint that fast? SB Yes, and I wrote the story. The phoenix was born 12,000 years AD in Levant. They found a Turkish statue, not in Egypt or India. This is where one found it. We have the Turkish artifacts. Phoenix is a bird, you know. And I am a phoenix because I have many powerful, bad stories which I cannot tell. This is one story. The phoenix will burn and then return to life from its ashes. This image became my story. Many people are very jealous.
HUO Dream is reality! HUO Many people envied you? SB Yes. So then I made this painting for Wagner. You can read this all in German. I wrote it down. Something to think about. There is no second Semiha in the world. I painted what I saw in my dream. Read what I wrote about Richard Wagner. He came to me in my dream, just like this, and then Robert Wilson. I sang in New York City, at the Lincoln Center in the millennium year 2000, in the days before... Isoldes Liebestod, from his Tristan and Isolde. Wagner gave me this picture as a gift, in 2001.
SB Yes, but I did not give anything about that. I was tough and stayed alive forever, like that. This is a story. HUO Phoenix is always a beginning, too.
HUO An homage to Wagner! SB Phoenix dies. SB Do you see the date? I did this the day before yesterday! As seen in my dream. This is what it says here, too. HUO Isoldes Liebestod...Mort d’Isolda... Morte di Isotta... Isolde’nin Aşk Ölümü.
RES MAY 2009
HUO You have done so many things in your life, so many performances, paintings. Are there any unrealized projects?
HUO And then there is a new beginning...
RES MAY 2009
SB The story goes on and on and on. You know the phoenix is why Atatürk founded the opera.
Love, Self-Portrait, 1974 Oil on Cardboard, 39.4 x 27.6 in / 100 x 70 cm Private Collection
29 RES MAY 2009
HUO This is Atatürk’s Opera House in Ankara? SB In Ankara, yes, founded in 1934 by Atatürk. He did it because of me. HUO Have your literary texts been published? SB No, I write for myself. What I do is all mine. I write, I sing... Here is another story. A dervish, you know. A necrophilic dervish loves the woman and goes into the grave with his dead lover. Altogether in the grave, there is also a snake. The snake gets jealous of the dervish, you see, because it loves the woman. HUO And the snake kills the dervish… SB Not kills! The snake was jealous and wanted to kill him, to bite his nape because it was in love with the woman. But it does not succeed. The dervish is a cardiologist; he cures the woman and takes her from the grave. The only thing I cannot do is composing. Maybe, if I had had the time… HUO So could one say that composing is your unrealized project? SB Richard Wagner had to compose, I don’t. He is all I need. I am absolutely in love. And he was in love too and came to me… I sang in New York. Wagner loves me. This is why I sang in New York. I was in Bayreuth three times and sang on stage. Wolfgang Wagner invited me to Bayreuth in 1958. He was a very handsome man and he wanted to work with me but I had an engagement in Ankara. “Is this a fixed contract?” “Yes, it is. I have my fee and I will receive retirement benefits as well.” He wanted me to come to Germany. I was invited three times. He doesn’t know what I do today, but I am going to send him a letter.
TOP LEFT Family, 1972 Oil on Cardboard, 38.6 x 27.2 in / 98 x 69 cm Semiha Berksoy Opera Foundation Collection
HUO And you mentioned earlier that there will be a museum. Where will the museum be? In your house? In the house where you were born? And when is it due to open?
TOP Love Eyes Shut, 1966 Oil on Cardboard, 29.3 x 18.5 in / 74.5 x 47 cm Semiha Berksoy Opera Foundation Collection
SB The house where I was born. In a year, it will be a museum. The woman is Diton. She dies. This is my story. I have six stories. I have a Wagnerian voice, a deep, rich soprano. Let me sing Wagner and you will hear it. Singing in New York is difficult. Nobody is allowed to do it. I sang in Fidelio. Just look at this Beethoven portrait. I have always loved Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss. It is because of my voice. They composed for me! They composed the right things for me to sing… I have another one. Did you like the story?
RES MAY 2009
See, this is a head. This head has nine holes: two eyes and ears, the horns, the tongue hole, six, seven, the breath hole and the food hole, nine holes altogether. And then a hand. The head is clever. It points to C, an important point in the world that is naturally in the right spot. In the bottom, you see two stupid people, a whore and a pimp who work together successfully. Stupid people believe that these people are
LEFT The Birth, My Mother, 1972 Oil on Cardboard, 39 x 27.6 in / 99 x 70 cm Semiha Berksoy Opera Foundation Collection
31 RES MAY 2009
artists. But this is not true. One day, the head shows culture coming from above. The two on the bottom die, culture is on top. Culture and art are always on top. Other, wrong people lose, they always do. What do you think of such ideas?
HUO Here? SB Yes, here. I found this person I worked with. He wants to work with me again, but I don’t want to. HUO And what are you doing in front of the painting? Will you be telling stories?
HUO This is a picture within the picture. Many pictures within the picture. SB Everybody has an idea. Stories and ideas. I was in Bursa in Turkey. There a museum director came to me and gave me a golden bowl of a pharaoh. I drank water out of it. He said I was a great artist and told me to drink from the bowl. This was my fate, yes… This is a coffin.
SB I am going to do this performance soon. As Salome and others. It will be called Love. And this a picture of me as a child. Can you see that? HUO Absolutely! SB A portrait of a girl, a picture from the grave. This is a story for Nazım Hikmet. This one is together with my mother. I always paint my life. This is my doctor, a cardiologist, a new portrait. Many different things. But I think it is enough for today.
HUO A green coffin. HUO Alright. Thanks a lot. SB My grandfather was a dervish, an intelligent man.
My Mother and Me, 1974 Oil on Cardboard, 39.4 x 27.6 in / 100 x 70 cm Semiha Berksoy Opera Foundation Collection
HUO Your grandfather was a dervish?
This is one of the last interviews Berksoy gave before she died. First published in RES. Hans Ulrich Obrist would like to thank Vasıf Kortun for introducing him to Semiha Berksoy in Istanbul in 2003.
SB Culture... the window... prayer... window... for praying. Paris... A portrait of my mother. Exposition, Champs Elysees. My critics were enthusiastic. I have a large collection.
Semiha Berksoy (b. 1910 – d. 2004, Istanbul) was a world-renowned Turkish soprano opera singer and a painter. She studied painting at the Istanbul Academy of Fine Arts and singing at the Istanbul Municipal Conservatory. Berksoy started her acting career in the role of Semiha in the first Turkish sound movie Streets of Istanbul when she was 21. In addition to her career as a soprano singer, with her heavy make-up making her an icon in Turkish culture, she was known internationally for her paintings which often depicted a little girl, a symbolic personification of herself. She was honored as the First Turkish Opera Singer and qualified for a scholarship at Berlin Music Academy. She started her international singing career in 1934, performing in Turkey, Germany and Portugal, becoming known as a Wagnerian soprano.
HUO A collection of works by other artists? SB My collection, only mine. HUO Of your paintings? SB My paintings, right. HUO So those are all your works? SB No, this one is from an old Turkish artist, an acquaintance. I do not sell my works because I always tell stories from my private life. This is why I cannot sell them. I tell the story of my life. HUO You mentioned earlier that your latest project is a performance in which you stand in front of a painting.
In 1939, for the 75th birthday of Richard Strauss, she sang Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos in Berlin, becoming the first Turkish prima donna to perform on stage in Europe. Despite her success in Germany, she chose to return to Turkey that year and assisted Carl Ebert in his efforts to create the Turkish State Opera and Ballet. This initiative led to the creation of the Experimental Stage of the Ankara State Conservatory in 1940. She retired from the Istanbul Opera in 1972. Following her retirement, she remained active mostly as a theater artist. At the age of 90, she appeared in a dramatic scene singing Liebestod in Robert Wilson’s opera The Days Before: Death, Destruction and Detroit III at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 1999. In 2003, she participated in the Vienna Biennial with her stage interpretation of Salome, and she was preparing another project, Beethoven Night, with Robert Wilson for 2005. Hans Ulrich Obrist (b. 1968, Zurich) joined the Serpentine Gallery as Co-director of Exhibitions and Programmes and Director of International Projects in April 2006. Prior to this, he was curator of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris since 2000, as well as curator of museum in progress, Vienna, from 1993-2000. He has curated over 200 exhibitions internationally since 1991, including do it, Take Me, I’m Yours (Serpentine Gallery), Cities on the Move, Live/Life, Nuit Blanche, 1st Berlin Biennale, Manifesta 1, and more recently Uncertain States of America, 1st Moscow Triennale, 2nd Guangzhou Triennale (Canton China), and Lyon Biennale. In 2007, Hans Ulrich co-curated Il Tempo del Postino with Philippe Parreno for the Manchester International Festival. In the same year, the Van Alen Institute awarded him the New York Prize Senior Fellowship for 2007-2008.
SB This is a completely new, a completely different type of performance. HUO And you are wearing different costumes? SB I have them in my room. I have another studio. RES MAY 2009
All images courtesy Galerist, Istanbul
Hans Ulrich Obrist Photograph: Dominik Gigler
DR. OLESYA TURKINA “Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.” “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass The reception of contemporary Russian art is still much influenced by the fact that, in the earlier twentieth century, Russia was the homeland of modernism: it led some of the most radical experiments in politics, economics, and aesthetics. Whereas the first two (political and economic) utopias utterly collapsed, and seventy years of Soviet rule were declared a failed experiment, the aesthetic experiments Pavel Pepperstein, Antennae for Communicating with the Deceased. Erected in 3014, 2007 made during the period continue to bear fruit. The Russian Acrylic on canvas, 27.6 x 74.8 in / 70 x 190 cm avant-garde discovered non-figurative art (1), dubbed art a Courtesy Regina Gallery technique, declared its rejection of the easel format (2): all these highways of modernism continue to ably channel the traffic of international contemporary art. It is no accident that after Perestroika—which is when, two decades ago, the very notion of contemporary art, until that point divided into official and unofficial art, entered the Russian vocabulary (3)—the quest for a new revolutionary art became, in essence, a search for a miraculously preserved modernism that had been repressed by the Stalinist regime and was therefore untouched by time. This quest brought many curators, critics and museum directors into this newly opened territory. The discussion of the global versus the local (4), so critical for the past decade, features in a particular way in contemporary Russian art. The “local” Russian avant-garde that emerged in the early decades of the twentieth century became a global phenomenon. Now, global trends in contemporary art have taken on a local flavor in Russia. The dialogue with modernism is one of the most characteristic “local” traits of contemporary Russian art. This does not so much involve attempts to preserve and revive an “avant-garde halted in mid-flight” (5) as much as a rethinking of the “utopian heritage,” a search for an answer to the question of what to do after utopia.
RES MAY 2009
AFTER PAINTING “The medium is the message”: Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement is a slogan of modernism and is thus akin to the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky’s definition of “art as technique” (6). With the end of modernization and the realization that a socialist utopia is impossible, artists begin to re-examine that most traditional medium, painting. The extreme example here is the emergence of good bad painting, which diagnoses the death of painting (7). Moreover, the end of painting was postponed. The end of painting didn’t come when total ideology made the autonomy of painting impossible by substituting the
33 grand narrative of Socialist Realism in art for formal devices (8). Nor are we referring to the radical rejection of pictorial form—for example, Alexander Rodchenko’s 1921 declaration that he had put an end to painting (9). We have in mind, rather, the fantastic mix of art and forensic medicine, the fusion of a contemporary ars morendi and a dying ideology that emerged at the very end of the totalitarian Victor Alimpiev, Thrown Banners Look like an age in the art of necrorealism. Necrorealism was a movement Arable Land 5, 2005 Acrylic on canvas, 68.9 x 79.9 in / 175 x 203 cm that arose in Leningrad in the mid-eighties as a reaction to Courtesy Regina Gallery the official doctrine of death in socialist realist art. It is no accident that, in the movement’s name, socialist was replaced by necro where an eternally living realism situated in the timeless utopian space of social justice and universal prosperity was declared dead. Necrorealism emerged at the end of the Soviet period, during the so-called era of stagnation, when the country agonized along with the last General Secretaries of the Communist Party Central Committee, who died off one after the other (10). By satirizing the beloved motifs of official Soviet culture—courage and heroism, the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the Motherland—necrorealism transformed the bombastic tales of socialist realist art into the black humor of its necrocomics. Understanding that the utopian experience was a “living death,” the artists formulated the fundamental aesthetic principles of their movement: extreme stupidity, toughness, and courage. The movement’s founder, artist and independent filmmaker Yevgeny Yufit, worked in film, necroperformance (which he described as wild, senseless activity), staged photography (for which he developed a special “zombie make-up”), and painting, which for Yufit meant covering canvases with a frozen, black-and-white animation. The characters of his paintings are animal-like beings, half-men/ half-beasts who form daisy chains in which the tail of one beast ends up in the maw of another beast. Yufit’s principal motif—in cinema, photography, and painting—is zooanthropomorphization. Whereas the characters in his films are mostly middle-aged men involved in secret experiments to improve human nature and the products of these experiments in crossing men with trees or chimpanzees, the subjects of his paintings are beastly bipeds who become the symbol of Positive Regression (as the artist’s latest series of paintings is titled). Sergei “Serp” Barekov paints a kind of necrograffiti. His favorite subject is the harvest festival. (It is no coincidence that the artist’s pseudonym— Serp, or sickle—refers simultaneously to a farming tool and to the Soviet symbol of the union of workers and peasants, the hammer and sickle. The agrarian cult of fertility is transformed, in Serp’s paintings of brutally mutilated male figures, into a deliberate rejection of productivity, fertility and, finally, life itself. Vladimir Kustov produces his own black-andwhite paintings by using forensic medicine textbooks as the source of his iconography. His characters are transformed by bullet wounds, stab wounds, fire, and decomposition, forming a black-and-white ornamental pattern that ushers individuals along the “corridor of dying” (one of the main points of the necro-method developed by the artist).
Eugeny Yufit, Egg from the series Positive Regression, 2008 Oil on canvas, 59.1 x 78.7 in / 150 x 200 cm Courtesy the artist
RES MAY 2009
WHAT IS CONTEMPORARY IN CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN ART
35 Reflection on socialist realist painting was the starting point for the conceptual project of Alexander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubossarsky, Commissioned Painting, which they launched in 1994. The turn to the rejected, unfashionable painting of the recent past might be read as an artistic gesture for whose sake the artists declined their “personal” style. Taking the socialist realist notion of the “social commission” (i.e., art should address workers and collective farm laborers) to its limit, Vinogradov and Dubossarsky reestablished the hierarchy of the subject matter of Socialist Realism’s grand style. They produced series entitled Painting for Different Countries, Erotic Pictures and Images of Labor and Struggle. In their paintings, memories of the socialist realist style merge with the new consumerist mythology; the manner of execution and the heroes of TOP Ivan Plyushch, Dance, 2008 the grand style, with images from contemporary porn magazines. The Tempera on canvas, 157.5 x 78.7 in / 400 x 200 m painters create an earthly paradise where the social utopia of happy, Courtesy the artist free labor meets earthy erotic fantasies. The artists transferred the MIDDLE bombast of Socialist Realism into the new mediatized space (which Vlad Kulkov, TXK FOIL from the series / SUB, unique, 2008 included glossy magazines and advertising) that appeared in Russia Acrylic and marker on canvas, 59.1 x 102.4 in / 150 x 260 cm Courtesy Regina Gallery during this period. In 2001, Vinogradov and Dubossarsky launched the project Total Painting. Mass culture images populate their BOTTOM Kerim Ragimov, Human Project, Portrait #35, 2007 paintings as in the cycle Our Best World, in which pop stars and comic Oil on canvas, 74.8 x 107.1 in / 190 x 272 cm book heroes Schwarzenegger, Spiderman, Madonna, and Barbie meet. Courtesy the artist In the project Underwater World, which began in 2003, the heroes of the glossies celebrate a utopian Christmas with aquarium fish. The artists moved from the Soviet ideological utopia to its mass-media equivalent by fusing various clichés from a mail-order “paradise” into a single picture. Good bad painting emerged in Russia as a reaction to the destruction of the political message and modernist intentions of the last grand style—that is, at the moment when the mass-media ideology replaced totalitarian ideology (11).
RES MAY 2009
The mass-media imaginary is represented by painterly means in the projects of Kerim Ragimov. The artist literally transfers onto canvas images found in newspapers and magazines and preserves the compositions and color schemes of his “originals.” Unlike photorealism, with which critics frequently compare Ragimov’s painting, his focus is not optical verisimilitude vis-à-vis the printed original, but the mediatic nature of the image. In the series The Human Project, which the artist began in 1994, Ragimov presents anonymous group portraits based on photographs found in mass publications. In these works, the individual meets the collective in the phenomenon of “humanity.” The subjects in these scenes, captured by a photographer and scrupulously reproduced on canvas by Ragimov, make an emotional
impact, whether they are family members, homeless children, schoolgirls or rollercoaster riders recorded in a random snapshot. The characters of The Human Project are bound together by a common emotion, be it pride, rage, pain or joy. In this project, Ragimov asks what humanism means in the age of mass media, when media does not merely reflect events but creates them. The young artist Valery Ulymov works in a hyperrealist style, but rethinks the meaning of this school of painting for today. Ulymov paints cars and details of cars, and this in part evokes memories of futurism’s glorification of mechanisms, as well as meditates on the car as an object of desire and as an inalienable attribute of the new economic hierarchy of the contemporary world and its glamour culture. The steely, shiny, cold surfaces of the automobile pipes and engine parts that Ulymov presents to the viewer generate a new reality whose function is limited to the object itself, to its aesthetic, which is capable of reflecting its environment. The narcissistic reflection in the world of sheen and glamour, in the mirror of the valorized object, becomes an artistic technique in Ulymov’s paintings, a system of multiple of reflections and perspectives. The young artist Ivan Plyushch creates a series of ruined monuments— painted panels that depict Stalin-era playgrounds. These viscous, dense, plaster-like paintings show us the archaeological ruins of a fun park populated by totalitarian ghosts. Through the tempera surface, which is cracked just like the “originals” themselves—plaster-cast figures of halfruined Young Pioneers dancing in a circle—we glimpse childhood memories. The new generation of artists who have turned to painting after the end of painting and the end of ideology, appeal not so much to the integrity of the bygone totalitarian ideology, which might be read either in their subjects or techniques, as much as to this ideology’s ruptures, cracks, and wounds. AFTER IDEOLOGY Ideology is one of the leitmotifs of Russian art. It is curious that the artists of the Russian avant-garde did not call themselves avant-garde, but rather “leftist” artists, thus giving a political label to their art. Beginning with Sots Arts, which unveiled the mechanism of image-production within the framework of the hegemonic socialist realist style, the appeal to ideology becomes a formal device. The rethinking of ideology after the collapse of the Dmitry Gutov, Fence, German Ideology, Karl Marx USSR takes on various forms. The first of these is art activism. Here, one of (1818-1883). A Page of the Manuscript of the German Ideology from the Chapter Feuerbach, 2007 the principal figures is the artist and activist Anatoly Osmolovsky. Founder Metal, 78.7 x 47.2 in / 200 x 120 cm of the ETI group (Expropriation of the Territory of Art), editor of the radical Courtesy the artist journal Radek, and author of the revolutionary program Netseziudiki, Osmolovsky throughout the nineties elaborated on the theory of the leftist movement in post-Perestroika Russia. Along with his comrades, he spelled out the word Khui (“dick”) on Red Square and organized the action Barricades on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street honoring the fortieth anniversary of the student revolts of 1968, thus following the slogan which he declared along with his allies, that only utopian ideology provides the basis for struggle. In the new century, after a dalliance with “non-spectacular” art, Osmolovsky has shifted to the production of a series of objects that reexamine the history of abstraction. Thus, in his work, utopian ideology meets its artistic source, leftist political thought meets the left-wing discourse of the avant-garde.
RES MAY 2009
Necrorealism emerged at the end of the totalitarian ideology, in anticipation of its imminent death, and it overturned its principal values. Despite the fact that one ideology (the ideology of redistribution) was replaced by another (the ideology of consumerism), the question of life and death, or rather, the question of death in life, is still relevant in the new ideological regime of advertising and profit, which the necrorealists reject as much as they rejected its predecessor.
RES MAY 2009
The actionism of Oleg Kulik, who rose to fame in 1994 with a series of performances exploring the “non-human” (the most famous of these involved the artist taking on the role of a dog), was the corporeal manifestation of the political trauma experienced in the post-socialist space. The images that Kulik created have proved so powerful that they are still subjected to censorship. Thus, at the last FIAC art fair in Elena Gubanova and Ivan Govorkov, Vanya, Come Back Home!, 2007 Paris, police removed photographs of his performance Mad Dog, or The Site specific installation, dimensions vary Last Taboo Guarded by a Lonely Cerberus from the stand of Moscow’s Pulkovo Observatory, St. Petersburg Courtesy the artists and Marina Gulyaeva XL Gallery because they might offend the sensibilities of viewers. After a series of photos, objects, and videos produced in the new century, Kulik has shifted his emphasis to collective (conciliaristic) work by curating the 2007 group show I Believe, in which he reassigned personal response to a commune of artists. The political activism of Dmitri Gutov is bound with an unmediated appeal to Marxist theory. The creator of installations and pieces inspired by the aesthetic of the sixties—a period that saw the last upsurge of romanticism—Gutov founded the Mikhail Lifshitz Institute. Mikhail Lifshitz was the founder of a Marxist aesthetics and the author of such odious book as The Crisis of Ugliness (1968) in which he savaged bourgeois aesthetics. Gutov turned to Lifshitz’s texts right at the moment when the influence of triumphant capitalism in Russia (which Lifshitz had criticized in his own day) made itself felt not only in the social and political conditions of existence, but also in contemporary art. Gutov is one of the founders of the Karl Marx School of the English Language in Moscow. A collective reading of Marxist texts is accompanied by the production of paintings in which text is reproduced on monochromatic canvases (as in the aesthetics of the sixties)—for example, in the project The Declination of Atoms from the Straight Line (2007, together with David Riff), which was shown at the last Venice Biennale. In Fence (2007) Gutov reproduces the words of Marx, Beethoven and Mi Fu as objects reminiscent of the barb-wired fences at Russian dachas. In these objects, which were presented at the last Documenta, Gutov, true to his theoretical views, offered his own take on the Marxist notion of popular self-education.
RES MAY 2009
The Chto Delat work group, which includes the artists Dmitry Vilensky, Gluklya and Tsaplya, as well as the philosophers and writers Artemy Magun, David Riff, Alexei Penzin, Alexander Skidan, and Oxana Timofeeva, has made the publication of an eponymous newspaper one of its principal artistic gestures, along with installations and video works. Like its art projects, Chto Delat newspaper combines leftist intellectual theory, the pathos of the workers movement and reflections on the role of art in new circumstances. Ideological utopia per se is redefined in the projects of contemporary artists who were old enough at the time to witness the collapse of the Soviet utopia. Pavel Pepperstein, a postconceptualist artist and a founder of the Medical Hermeneutics group, has created the project The City of Russia—a futuristic image of a new Russian capital, which the artist proposes should be built in a location between Moscow and Petersburg. According to Pepperstein, he was moved by a preservationist impulse, by the desire to save both Moscow and Petersburg from wild capitalism, which is literally destroying the architectural landmarks of the capitals before our very eyes. On the other hand, this is a project for a positive utopia in which the repressed past meets the future that was rejected for the sake of the present. The City of Russia is a series of works that represent a new, symbolic urbanism—for example, Mountain of Skyscrapers: Drunkard, Year 2604, which takes the form of an enormous figure of a sleeping drunkard, one of the most beloved popular characters in both the old and the new Russia. Government House is depicted by the artist as a gigantic black cube, reminiscent of both Malevich’s
1 Alexander Vinogradov and Vladimir Dubossarsky, Kiss Mickey Mouse, 2003 Oil on canvas, 51.2 x 35.4 in / 130 x 90 cm Private Collection, Courtesy the artists 2 Blue Soup, Lake Video still, 2007 Courtesy XL Gallery 3 Valery Ulymov, BMW, 2006 Oil on canvas, 47.2 x 59.1 in / 120 x 150 cm Courtesy XL Gallery 4 Vladimir Kustov, Dissolution, 2007 Oil on canvas, 77.2 x 57.5 in / 196 x 146 cm Courtesy the artist 5 Oleg Kulik, Mad Dog or the Last Taboo Guarded by the Lonely Cerberus (with A. Brener) Performance, 1994 M.Guelman’s Gallery, Moscow Courtesy XL Gallery
39 TOP Elena Gubanova, Redshift, 2007 Installation, dimensions vary Pulkovo Observatory, St. Petersburg Courtesy the artist and Marina Gulyaeva BOTTOM Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Charles Rosental, White Ball 1930 Color pencil and water color on paper, 19.3 x 15 in / 49 x 38 cm Courtesy the artists and Garage Contemporary Cultural Center, Moscow
Peter Belyi works with architectural utopias, and his projects involve the modeling of the past, although modeling usually relates to the future. It was not by chance that this genre was popular in the twenties, during a period of utopian hopes when artists were engaged in the design of future cities. Belyi calls his technique memorial modeling, and it is directed not toward the future but to the past, to the hopes pinned on utopias and the disappointments generated by them. Associated with the idea of progress, modeling in Belyi’s rendition is focused mainly on the sixties and seventies. By analyzing architectural hopes and disappointments, the artist deconstructs utopia. In the project Danger Zone (2006), modeling, which was once bound up with the project-based character of the avantgarde, becomes a model of the trauma caused by modernism. This trauma is literally manifested via physical damage, via the destruction of social space. Multi-storey buildings—or rather, the carcasses of buildings manufactured from plasterboard, an extremely short-lived material—create the impression of a fragile construction whose builders either did not complete their work or who abandoned it to its eventual collapse. It is unclear what caused the destruction—time, war or the latest change of political regime. Danger Zone imparts an aesthetic meaning to mechanical trauma, and this meaning produces a therapeutic effect. Pinocchio’s Library (2008) deals with a sixtiesera architect who embodies in the faceless building projects of the sixties and seventies, one of the last utopias, and his hopes and disappointments. The strict censorship established by ideology leads to a disappointment with knowledge—Pinocchio’s wooden books cannot be opened. His library is a peculiar memorial to utopia, which in itself is always already a memorial. Moreover, the library is a memorial model of the city: the upright books and the bookshelves in Pinocchio’s Library are urban housing projects, skyscrapers.
RES MAY 2009
AFTER THE AVANT-GARDE The fate of formalism could be compared to a dotted line that, while it preserves its vector, periodically disappears and becomes invisible. We might also speak of the direct application of avant-garde traditions in unofficial art beginning in the sixties. One of the most consistent experiments in this form of revivalism was the undeclared, semi-legal school of Vladimir Sterligov, who was a student of Malevich at the Ginkhuk in the twenties. In the sixties, Sterligov and a group of young artists who gathered at his studio studied Malevich’s supplemental element system as well as the bowl-and-cupola system discovered by Sterligov himself. Despite the fact that the avant-garde was legalized after Perestroika, the
Sterligov School retains its private character in the studio of artists now headed by Sterligov’s student Gennady Zubkov.
RES MAY 2009
Black Square and the black cube of the Qaaba, the principal holy site in Mecca. Over the city of Russia looms the Sphere of Russian Spirituality, which recalls both the weightless compositions of the Suprematists and the snowballs from which snowmen are made. It features antennas for communicating with the dead, as well as cultural and atmospheric memory. Despite the political connotations and the letter that accompanies the project, which Pepperstein sent to the Russian president and to the mayor of Moscow, this is first and foremost a poetic image of the future.
The re-elaboration of formalism as an appeal to artistic values, whether those of the Russian avantgarde or American minimalism, is characteristic of the work of Alena Kirtsova. From the late eighties on, Kirtsova has produced a series of abstractions generated by a “technical task.” Kirtsova made concrete prefab housing blocks the subject of her abstract paintings, and she continues to elaborate on this project. In 2006, she produced a cycle entitled A Manual on Color. The title reprises that of a wellknown book published in 1932 by the avant-gardist Mikhail Matiushin and his students in which they developed a system of color schemes for the façades of buildings in Leningrad. This book was printed in a limited edition, and the tables included in the manual were hand-colored. The technical task was thus embodied in a series of tables in which formal problems of color were solved. In Kirtsova’s paintings it is the painterly problematic itself that serves as this technical task. Elena Gubanova and Ivan Govorkov rely to a great extent on the experiments of the 1910s and twenties in their objects and paintings. One of their most formalistic objects was not an abstract sculpture or painting but rather the site-specific object Vanya, Come Home (2007). At the site of the first Soviet radio telescope, which was set up at the Pulkovo Observatory in the seventies, Gubanova and Govorkov placed a stool and a set of headphones under a large antenna. When the visitor put on the headphones he expected to hear a “message from the cosmos,” but instead he heard the words of the artist’s mother, who summoned the artist to come home. The simple and effective device, the critical approach to the mediality of the present age, the appeal to the utopian dreams that were, in particular, embodied in scientific discoveries (including the invention of radio telescopes, which enabled scientists to listen the “voices of cosmos”), and the illogical nature of the situation the combination of incompatible elements) remind us simultaneously of the futurist period and the attempts to industrialize art in the twenties. David Ter-Oganyan, an artist of the new generation, has turned to the tradition of the avant-garde and undertaken the modernization of modernism. In 2003, he produced a series of abstractions, entitled Operation, in which geometry turns out to be the plan of some kind of anti-terrorist operation. This project was realized right at the moment that Moscow was rocked by a series of explosions in subway stations and a hostage crisis. In the series of black-and-white geometric objects This Is a Bomb (1999), which are seen as it were on the screen of a security monitor at an airport, Ter-Oganyan also explores the links between the avant-garde and the political conjuncture. The explosiveness and political power of art, in which the avant-garde had once believed, is reconfirmed in the way that the project has been received. The assemblages of everyday items—for example, canned preserves to which electrical wires and insulators are attached— incited real-life anti-terrorist operations in 2005 when This Is Not a Bomb (1997-2008) was presented at the 32nd FIAC art fair.
TOP Peter Belyi, Danger Zone, 2006 Installation, dimensions vary View at Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, NY Courtesy the artist
BOTTOM Peter Belyi, La bibliotecca di Pinocchio / Pinocchio’s Library, 2008 Installation, dimensions vary View at Galleria Pack, Milano Courtesy the artist
David Ter-Oganyan, Series of photos, 1999 7.9 x 11.8 in / 20 x 30 cm Courtesy the artist
Alexandra Galkina, who likewise works with the problematic issues of formal art, turned miniskirts into Malevich’s Red Square in her project Skirts (2006). The artist also produced a series of graphic works, Untitled (2005), in which she presented images of black-and-white Suprematist underwear. She thus doubly inverted the historical situation: first, by recalling the avant-garde’s involvement with clothing design in the twenties; second, by using the formal innovations of these artists in a latter-day design project.
When artists turn to abstraction, which is experienced anew after the end of painting, after the end of ideology, they do not adhere to one canon or another, but formulate a new approach to media. Alexandra Galkina, from series Renowned for his video works (symbolic poems of Skirts, 2004 sorts in which the simple action is made visible and Print on paper, 23.6 x 23.6 in / 60 x 60 cm tangible through the device of de-familiarization, Courtesy the artist by means of color and rhythm), Viktor Alimpiev has in the new century been at work on a series of Alexandra Galkina, from series Shoes, 2004 painted abstractions—for example, A Battle in the Print on paper, 23.6 x 23.6 in / Distance, The Abandoned Banner and The Banner’s 60 x 60 cm Courtesy the artist Edge. His minimalist abstractions are a battlefield between two colors, gray and pink. The utterly legible boundary between the two colors produces a symbolic fold in which we might make out either the contours of clouds, or of a crowd that merges into a single whole or of a landscape. Here, it is not the associations that arise that count. Whereas Kandinsky wrote about his most precious experience—the sense of being surrounded by painting—Alimpiev’s paintings insist on their two-dimensional surfaces. In an age of flat screens, his abstractions emerge on the screen of the canvas.
RES MAY 2009
In the animated film Sex Lissitsky (based on an idea by David Ter-Oganyan), Alexei Buldakov literally reanimates a Suprematist composition by adding a porn film soundtrack to it. Thus, the vitality of the Russian avant-garde, which was the perpetual object of desire for nearly a century, and its “fertility” get an absurdist reading that is very much in keeping with the spirit of the avant-garde itself. In the blackand-white minimalist animated film Crash Test, Buldakov shows safety tests performed on a car and an airplane. A formalist approach is likewise revealed in the film’s incessant and repetitive action.
The young artist Vlad Kulkov produces pictures that merge graffiti with abstract expressionism. Kulkov’s expressive manner of painting is a territory where the artist’s spontaneous gesture—be it that of Jean-Michel Basquiat or Jackson Pollock—is the subject. Kulkov paints on canvases, banners, and paper, adding marker, acrylic, spray paint, graphite, rust, and caramel to traditional oil paint. In his abstractions, in the midst of patches and clots of color, suddenly, as in a forest, figures of strangers emerge—freestanding “energy clots of urban environments” (as the artist himself puts it). Kulkov fashions his own mythology, fusing the jungle and urbanism. It is in this space that a new tribe arises.
In the work of the group Blue Soup (Alexei Dobrov, Danila Lebedev, Valery Patkonen, and Alexander Lobanov) abstract tendencies were manifested in the late nineties, in such simple, witty digital geometric animated films as Center, The End and Report. Moving to 3D computer animation, the group set about producing futuristic installations whose utopian character is emphasized by the technicality
Focused on a reexamination of the utopian heritage (whether in politics, society or aesthetics), contemporary Russian art is partly reminiscent of the straits that Alice finds herself in the lookingglass world, where “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” The fixation on utopias makes cause and effect switch places. In the twenties, the futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov said
RES MAY 2009
41 David Ter-Oganyan, Not a bomb, 1998-2008 Mixed media, dimensions vary Courtesy the artist
and cold estrangement of the modeled space. Thus, in the installation Echelon (2006), the idea of three-dimensional space is conveyed by three projections: speeding trains to the viewer’s left and right, and, on the center screen, cargo plunging from heaven to earth. Blue Soup’s installations analyze the virtual nature of contemporary perception. The video installation Defense (2008) features a carefully elaborated double projection of a swamp in which alterations—such as an increase in fog that lowers visibility—take place quite slowly, almost imperceptibly for the viewer. This slow-motion stream of virtual images is periodically speeded up via a percussive sound that recalls a gunshot.
that time “times” from the future. In the sixties, the astronomer Alexander Kozyrev, working at the Pulkovo Observatory, elaborated a new theory of time in which he reevaluated the linear nature of time, the concept of entropy, and chains of cause-and-effect. The new revision of utopia in art that is taking place before our very eyes would have been impossible without the experience of the twenties and sixties. Ilya Kabakov has graphically described the difference between the two decades as that between “rising” and “falling” hopes.
(10) After the death of Leonid Brezhnev in 1982 (he had ruled the country since 1964), state funerals almost became the main news event in the USSR. In 1984 his successor Yuri Andropov died after serving for almost two years as the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee. He was followed by Konstantin Chernenko, who was in power for little over a year. Retrospectively, this series of funerals can be imagined as rehearsals for the death of the Soviet empire. (11) That is, if we accept Boris Groys’s argument, in The Total Art of Stalinism (Princeton Univ. Press 1992), that Socialist Realism was in a way a continuation of modernism. (12) Ilya Kabakov, The Sixties and Seventies: Notes on Unofficial Life in Moscow (in Russian). Wiener Slawistescher Almanach, Sonderband 47, translated by Thomas Campbell, Vienna, 1999, p. 227
The sixties were a movement toward chaos. This involves a rather faint recollection of rising currents, of rising vectors of being, but it is a movement of dying, of collapse. In contrast, the twenties were a movement toward new worlds. It was a purified movement: it is not for nothing that the new tendencies— Suprematism, Constructivism—were ascetic movements, lean and stripped-down to the essential. They cast aside all that was superfluous and revealed the essence, certain perennial architectonic structures (12).
Dr. Olesya Turkina is a critic, curator of numerous exhibitions, including the Russian Pavilion at the 48th Venice Biennial (1999) and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Contemporary Art in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. She has written articles for the Moscow Art Journal, Paradoxa (London), Cultural Studies, Kabinet (St.Petersurg), Siksi (Nordic Art Review) and numerous catalogues (Europe, Kunst. Hannover, 1991; Manifesta 2, 1998; After the Wall, Stockholm, 1999; Manifesta 3, 2000, Berlin; Moskau. Kunst. 1950-2000, Martin-Gropius-Bau, 2003). She is also the St. Petersburg correspondent for Flash Art International. Since 2003 she edits an online journal on Contemporary Russian Art http://www.newsletter.net.ru. In 2006 she was awarded the first National Innovation Prize in contemporary art theory and criticism for 2005. Recently she contributed as one of 10 curators to the publication ICE CREAM. Contemporary Art in Culture. 10 curators. 100 contemporary artists. 10 source artist, Phaidon Press Limited, 2007. She teaches contemporary art at Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St. Petersburg State University. She has been a Member of the Russian Space Federation since 1999. For several years she has been working on the films series The Chain of Flowers in collaboration with The Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles).
In their installation An Alternative History of Art, presented this fall at the newly opened Garage Contemporary Cultural Centre in Moscow, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov exhibited the story of three generations of fictitious artists—Charles Rosenthal, Ilya Kabakov, and Igor Spivak, inhabitants of utopia. Rosenthal allegedly studied with Malevich in Vitebsk, but he was unable to give up realism and immigrated to Paris, where he attempted to unite two mutually exclusive tendencies, abstraction and figurative art. He lived and worked there until 1933 (the year of Kabakov’s birth), when he tragically died after being hit by car. Ilya Kabakov (that is, the show’s fictional version of the artist) saw the works of Rosenthal, whom he considers his teacher and whose work is poised between two poles, abstraction and realism as well. Igor Spivak supposedly lives in Kiev; his works, which are part of the installation, were produced in the nineties. An Alternative History of Art, an enormous installation housed in a constructivist building designed in the twenties by Konstantin Melnikov, asks the fundamental question—the question of utopia’s fate. To answer the question, the Kabakovs created three fictitious artists who produced an endless series of works. Via their efforts we might try to rewrite the history of art the same way that the literary text rewrites life.
RES MAY 2009
NOTES (1) The Russian avant-garde focused precisely on the reject of figurativism and the production of “nonfigurative” art, not abstraction. (2) The rejection of previous art forms, the industrialization of the artistic gesture, and the transition from individualism to collectivism, from easel painting to a merging of art and production, was incarnated in Productionism, one of the major tendencies of the 1920s. (3) The division between official and unofficial art emerged after the Khrushchev Thaw, when the easing of the political climate made the partial emergence of alternative culture possible. “Official” art followed the doctrine of Socialist Realism that was declared in 1932 and continued to exist until Perestroika. “Unofficial” art refused to recognize the primacy of the only politically permitted style. (4) The discussion of the balance between the global and the local has not let up since the nineties. It began with the notion of the glocal, proposed by Klaus Biesenbach, and has continued up to the last Documenta, which exhibited the “migration of forms” in local modernisms. (5) Yevgeny Kovtun, a leading specialist on the Russian avant-garde, coined this phrase in reference to the repression of the avant-garde during the Stalinist period. (6) This is the title of Shklovsky’s landmark 1917 essay. On formalism in contemporary Russian art, see the catalogue Modus R. Russian Formalism Today. 20 Russian Artists. Newton Building, Miami Design District , 04-12 December 2006, in conjunction with Art Basel Miami Beach. WAM Publishing House. (7) Consider, for example, a recent exhibition at the MUMOK in Vienna, Bad Painting Good Art. (8) This situation was inverted by the Sots Arts movement, in particular by its founders Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, who began in the seventies to represent this narrative as a device. (9) In 1921, Rodchenko painted three monochromatic canvases, Pure Red, Pure Yellow, and Pure Blue, and declared, “It is all over. The primary colors. Every surface is a surface and there should be no images.”
Alyona Kirtsova, Landscape #23 from the series Color Guide, 2006 Oil on canvas, 23.6 x 31.5 in / 60 x 80 cm Courtesy the artist
ADNAN YILDIZ A) TAIPEI CITY CONTEXT AND CURATORS’ APPROACH After landing at the Taipei International Airport, on my way to the hotel, I was listening to my taxi driver’s choice of program, which apparently was broadcasting the morning news in Mandarin. All I understood was the same word being repeated in English, and a country name (“America”). Probably the reporter was talking about the financial crisis, which is the biggest since the Great Depression of 1929: “depression, depression, depression”. Even if it is a global “depression” that is closing in on us from every point of the world economy, it did not so much depress me at that moment. In fact, I kind of liked the way it was becoming a pastiche of itself, as in a Dadaist performance. It may be a “Global Depression” but I was in a local paradise. At that time, maybe because of jetlag and cultural disorientation, I had not realized that this small incident would come back to my mind during my stay in Taipei visiting the Biennial show. Traveling into the capital Taipei by taxi, moving from the sub-urban outskirts into the center, I had a chance to watch how the urban sprawl has been changing Taipei’s face throughout different sections of the city: Here, some abandoned houses and factories, there newly developed housing estates, and old gardens making way for apartments… Old letter types and logos faded away between bright signs of led lights, huge advertising and mobile companies’ billboards. Since the 1950’s Taiwan has grown from an agricultural into the model of a developing industrial society. Since then, the island state has seen many changes and transformations. China always casts its powerful shadow over the country, and whilst America is Taiwan’s chosen ally against this threat, Japan is influential on its industry and fashion business; Taiwan was once heavily ‘Japanized’ and there are still many from the older generation who speak fluent Japanese. Expanding into an urban city within a short time period, Taipei has experienced all the challenges of transport, tourism, and the service industry. Moreover, it is developing its own synthesis of global identity, following the track “think globally and act locally…” Taipei Biennial 2008, which is curated by Manray Hsu and Vasıf Kortun, aims to present a large-scale panorama of today’s neo-liberal capitalist globalization through diverse positions and statements. Bringing together 47 artists with their projects that have either been commissioned or re-adapted, the Biennial looks at global issues in their specific local context. In their statement, the curators underline that Taipei Biennial has always been embraced by the citizens of Taipei, and their primary aim was to create a platform for its people to generate a collective public discussion, which will hopefully continue after the show closes rather than focusing on an international/professional audience as a reference as so many internationally recognized biennials do.
RES MAY 2009
This is the Biennial’s working strategy in terms of the links between the organizational structure, its
45 budget, and target audience who pays the entrance fee. Taipei Biennial is organized by Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) as part of its official program. A majority of the Biennial’s installations and events take place in the museum. Kortun and Hsu have developed an interdependent structure in the city between institutions and individual projects, and this structure already has triggered a discussion through one of the pieces in the show: Jun Yang’s proposal which asks an interesting question; “How ____ a contemporary art center ____ in Taipei?” for a city, where the local art market has already begun to connect with the international market. It is clear that the Biennial audience is not provided with a “happy meal menu” show with a “tops of the pops” artist list, but an exhibition, which is primarily based on an honest and natural relationship with the city. The audience is throughout included in the discussions. This strategy turns into an efficient starting point where the show not only works for the local audience, but also for the professional/international art scene. Moreover, the context-sensitivity, which this approach produces, covers the whole map of the show and creates a ground for the audience. As mentioned before, most of the installation takes place in the TFAM, however the audience can easily forget that s/ he is in a museum setting since the installation is smartly penetrated into that context; rather than an institutional representation, it is more like an alternative form of discussion about today’s economical and political spheres of liberalism. That’s why it is not only for the audience, but also for the global players to see how transparent it is as a ground. At the end of the day, the Biennial in Taipei happens to be as the curators wrote in their text: “every situation is specific”. B) THE EXHIBITION GUIDE AS A TOOL OF DEMOCRACY The exhibition at Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) is the heart and soul of the Biennial program. From the entrance of the museum to the second floor the works are positioned as open-ended discussions and reflexive proposals. A collective from Argentina, Internacional Errorista, welcomes the viewer with an installation that looks like a stage for a demonstration, or what is left after a real one; papers on the ground and Christodoulos Panayiotou, Never Land moments from the memory; politicians, politics, Slide projection, 2008 Courtesy the artist and Rodeo Gallery and public voters in the public space. The term Internacional Errorista is conceived from The Errorists that first appeared as a protest group during the visit of George W. Bush to the Summit of Americas in Mar del Plata in 2005. This performing art practice continues its process just after the action in the lobby of the museum, taking over the “empty“ public space, which is run/rent/sold by state money. How you define “museum“ and think about its relation with economy and state also engages you in a discussion about the way you perceive the state economy: a) as a capitalist form of control, b) a national power that keeps the borders, or c) a trans-global entity, which transmits its local values into market dynamics. The collective not only questions the audience by their absent presence but also provides a persona, which could be also reflected again and again on the audience, for them; the audience is given a stage where they can perform their virtual citizenship in their own understanding and experience
RES MAY 2009
A REVIEW OF THE TAIPEI BIENNIAL 2008: (WHEN) GLOBAL ATTACKS ON A LOCAL PARADISE
their possible participation in any demonstration they have been, a) as a demonstrator, b) as a member of the police force, or c) as a speaker. The multiplicity of shadow identities creates a silent comedy in the space like a sort of 2008 version of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. The installation also makes the museum staff more visible in the lobby when they move. Instead of seeing them as usual in an institutional emptiness like a sort of Matrix background the audience now see them as figures on a stage of shadow characters. For instance, as far as I saw, almost all the museum guards were middle aged or elderly, fewer men than women who sat at their desk all day, drinking green tea with a social smile, and dressed like stewardesses or stewards. In this installation, where everything looks as if it is a stage for a Brechtian play; that looks like the two dimensional characters are aware of the presence of the audience and the other characters in the museum as guards or hosts, these attendants all looked like “aged” flight nannies for First Class kids; as if you were a child of six or seven and you have flown too far into the atmosphere, where the air staff on the plane has aged and you also have become adult. The Errorists play with your imagination in a delicate manner of transforming an institutional space into a possibly real but conceptually artistic experience. Seso Sedlacek’s Beggar Robot is the second stop in the show. Passing it, the robot moves its hands towards you – like a beggar – since it has sensors and the hands move like those of real beggars on the street. This work is about how humans are becoming robots on the streets in order to survive as “public space pets” that try to survive by selling the most private aspect of their life, their misery. This robot in the museum is also like a proposal, Sedlacek suggests that “by applying do-it-yourself strategies and participating in open source and common goods, we can create a more inclusive environment for the growing number of people who feel excluded, disposed, or simply unsatisfied with the mainstream.” This robot is allowed to enter to a museum, which a beggar – under normal conditions – cannot enter; they cannot pass through the security, which is manned by police officers paid by the state. Nasan Tur’s Backpacks comes next, with videos that show public space actions and bags, which are used / to be re-used for these actions. They all create a conceptual imagination; invisible “tourist” profiles; artists, curators, audience as tourists – mobile entities in the public domain.
RES MAY 2009
Shaun Gladwell’s videos are also about actions, but he appears (or performs) in his pieces with an abstracted style of movement; they are urban expressions (on a motorbike or a bus) as poetically beautiful statements. Lene Berg’s video piece Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache, a delicate film episode about art-history and politics, is about a drawing by Picasso. The drawing is
produced on the occasion of Stalin’s death and commissioned by Aragon for Les Lettres Françaises. The historicity of the discussion about artistic freedom and political ideologies is the reference point of the artist as a contributor to the Biennial. Berg reflexively staged a historical example with a conceptually designed storyboard or a desktop film, which fictionalizes an experiment done by Picasso during the Cold War. Focusing on one drawing, she created a discussion about what an artist can/might/must/ should/shouldn’t articulate through a political party (in this case the Communist Party) or another public media. Roderick Buchanan’s video Here I am that simultaneously shows two bands marching next to each other complements Berg’s work: one video calls for the removal of British heritage in Ireland, other is for preserving the British heritage. The show gains momentum in the following sections where it becomes clear that a globalist point of view is being challenged by new politics and critics in the public space, as in the form of site-specific intervention by Lara Almarcegui or an investigation on border control by IRWIN. It continues with artistic reflections: Christodoulos Panayiotou’s archeological research of “ready-made” images from Cyprus turns into a site-sensitive slide-projection installation; Mario Rizzi’s film, which is about two foreign women (an Indonesian and a Vietnamese) in Taipei deconstructs the orientation of the context of the biennial and tries to create a balance between diverse modes of Orientalism, and Self-Orientalism; and Bbrother’s wall painting (for/in a museum) as a graffiti is organically connected to Cheng-ta Yu’s documentary videos of his public space intervention on the street..
BOTTOM Internactional Errorista, We are all Errorists Mix technique installation, 2008, dimensions vary Courtesy Buenos Aires Internacional Errorista
RES MAY 2009
Democracia Welfare State / Smashing the Ghetto 4 channel video-installation / stands, 2007, 12’43”, dimensions vary Courtesy the artists
49 RES MAY 2009
Some artists helped me to sort out Burak Delier’s Counter Attack, a decoratively designed documentation of a social intervention (or another neighborhood project), a temporary public installation in form of a huge banner – installed with the participation of the schools and a young community – over the houses of Shijou Community. The work is based on the sad story of Shijou construction workers who worked on the contemporary architectural projects Taipei 101, and whose houses now are on the brink of destruction. The banner carries the words “We Will Win”. The statement was written in English as the banner was “speaking up to the heights”, thus communicating directly with airplanes, skyscrapers, and others (big brothers) who control and watch us from above (as a counter attack). But there was a question: Who decides what to say for whom? An artist who is also showing in the Biennial, Jun Yang has answered my question: “What to say was already decided before getting on the plane to Taipei, so it was like a closed discussion, how can you speak for these people just after staying one week or ten days in the city? What a generous gesture and a brave heart? If he were a local artist doing this, then it wouldn’t be such a nice story on the museum wall…” On the second floor, the exhibition continued with a video-based surface, which reflects a wide variety of video content ranging from diverse artistic to activist approaches. The presented Jun Yang, A Contemporary Art Centre, Taipei [A Proposal] artists such as Nevin Aladağ, Ziad Antar, Installation, 2008, dimensions vary Courtesy the artist Anetta Mosa Chisa and Lucia Tkacova, Nicoline van Harskamp, The Yes Men all share critical positions as well as similar humorous tonalities. Katya Sander’s installation, a 3D visual experience positioned between the videos, shows the four different views from the museum into the surrounding landscapes; one is the real landscape to be seen from the window of the room, whereas three others show recorded material. The installation does not only function as an architectural stage but also interacts with the other works in the show as a research-based, site-specific installation. This makes for the most interesting twist in the show: a formalistic and site-specific approach that ends up with a critical transformation of its own context, extending its conceptual approach and opening a virtually distorted panorama for the viewer who looks at it through a museum perspective. The distortion of perception is complemented by the illusion of the exotic, namely Kuang-yu Tsui’s Invisible City: Taipari York which reproduces international cultural heritage such as the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty and puts them in a Taipei context, thus transforming them into local everyday situations or teasers made of postcards.
RES MAY 2009
The second floor is composed of installation units; rooms host different project-based collaborations such as IAA, Superflex, The Yes Men etc. Various forms of presenting research and practice together, combining performance with documentary and interaction, create a vivid and dynamic platform that demonstrates how contemporary artists produce global strategies to get in touch with local realities. One of them is Superflex with a playful installation. They produced Free Beer for the Taipei Biennial audience and designed an alternative economy to make the buyer-seller relationship more visible
Superflex, Free Beer Taiwan Interactive public installation, 2008, dimensions vary Courtesy the artists
(and at the same time maybe even more abstract) in the museum context in terms of its production, circulation and collaborative identity under the Creative Commons license. There is also an artist-curated exhibition at the Biennial, A World Where Many Worlds Fit by Oliver Ressler. However, the show is not as promising as its name but more or less a didactic scenario and a dry statement that makes it easy for the audience to anticipate the end of the story. So most likely, people do not keep watching till the end. Rather than taking a position or producing something political, it mostly shows people who involved in political activities or engaged in a discussion. Allan Sekula’s slide projection meets with Petra Gerschner’s poster – and it cannot compete with the open structure of the Biennial, but becomes a representation of an old story: Yankee go home. There was one piece I could not part with: Mieke Gerritzen’s video Beautiful World, something like a moving version of a slot machine that churns out sounds, logos, messages, quotations and effects from global contemporary culture such as Twin Peaks or Antonio Negri, bringing about a world of controversy and allegory. The Taipei Biennial map includes a metro station, Taipei Beer Factory, and some other spots in the city. In my opinion, the show at the beer factory should have more material inside, or let’s say the organizers might use it more efficient as it is – both architecturally and contextually – the most challenging and interesting venue on the map. Instead of stuffing the museum space with most of the pieces, Taipei Beer Factory (Taipei Brewery) might open a new contextual and open frame for some of the works like Nasan Tur’s Backpacks or Superflex’s Free Beer. At the point when it starts to trigger the visitor to look at the factory again, the show suddenly ends with an art historical gesture: Didier Fiuza Faustino’s installation that provides a chance of experiencing Yves Klein’s legendary proposal from 1960, Leap into the Void. Definitely, the beer factory needs more input… The Madrid based collective Democracia’s monumentally beautiful and politically poetic installation, including a multi screen projection of a film about the demolition of El Salobral in Madrid, creates a unique environment that puts ghetto life in a contemporary context and leaves a very strong impression. For me, a question like “What is the end of globalization going to look like in the neo-liberal capitalist societies?” has become more and more apparent and dominant during my walk between The
51 C) GLOBAL HELL AND LOCAL PARADISE Taipei Biennial has been developed as a reflexive and a critical discourse against the mainstream politics of today’s neo-liberal society. Globalization means more than a factory in China shutting down because they cannot sell their denims to Americans any longer who, in turn, start to lose their jobs because of the financial crisis, since the American banking system, which is based on borrowing and consuming also effects the Chinese markets. If America is not going to buy all these consumer goods anymore, since they can’t pay back their credit card loans, then what for is China going to produce all these products? To whom are they going to be sold? The global crises also decode the global traffic of capitalism, which has been organized on the condition of buying and selling without any logic. But this is not the whole story; globalization also means that a 15 year old girl who works for 60 cent an hour at that denim factory also borrows money to afford pills that help her stay awake during her night shift. How can any economist explain this? How the global economy attacks the local paradise is the real story.
Roderick Buchanan, I am Here 16mm film transferred to video, 2007 Courtesy the artist
RES MAY 2009
Errorists and Democracia. While the first serves more as a parody of public space, redefining it as “the territory of power”, the second is a lyrical epilogue about a real situation of legal terror, which turns into a homage to the people living in the ghetto.
Katya Sander, Estimations 4 screen video installation, 2008 Courtesy the artist
In one of his early writings, Walter Benjamin reflected on capitalism as: “Capitalism is a religion of pure cult, without dogma. Capitalism has developed as a parasite of Christianity in the West (this must be shown not just in the case of Calvinism, but in the other orthodox Christian churches), until it reached the point where Christianity’s history is essentially that of its parasite—that is to say, of capitalism.” In a nut shell, what he is emphasizing is positioning capitalism as a religion that he focuses on the pure cult without any dogma. Capitalism needed a kind of common optimism, a general believe in its promises of happiness and liberty. Moreover when it is the moments of big economic crisis, this always reduces the “gloriole” of capitalism and of economy and along with this process neoliberal arguments about deregulation as the way to universal troubleshooting are loosing their power of persuasion. That’s why the local territories, which still have some of their traditional and moral values, beauties, and patterns (that have not been transformed after capitalist revoltion) look like local paradise... Where you can escape from the harsh capitalist models, but at the end find the most direct and wild face of it. Just a few weeks before the biennial program, China and Taiwan have signed historic agreements to establish regular direct flights and allow more mainland tourists to visit the island. This was the first time since the two sides have been holding their first formal talks till 1999. It was almost the right time to make a change, so the biennial also plays the role of opening many discussions around one basic challenge for Taiwan; the challenge of how to be a participatory member of a global transformation and to negoatiate resisting as an independent unity. The biennial as a show is a generous attempt – not stuck in its ambition, audience, budget and borders, but also aware of its limitations and edges… It has a lot of stories for its audience. Today, it is not easy to be generous in a world that the official global language belongs to buyers and sellers, they are the ones who rule it.
RES MAY 2009
Adnan Yıldız (b. 1979) is a curator and a writer. He is also co-editor of Muhtelif, an Istanbul based contemporary art publication and co-founder of Good Gangsters (www.goodgangsters.com and www.bigfamilybusiness. net). He studied psychology (BA, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul) as well as visual arts and culture (MFA, Sabancı University, Istanbul) and later participated in Curatorlab/Konstfack, Stockholm, a research based curatorial residency program (2006-2008). Currently he travels back and forth between Berlin and Istanbul for projects that are mostly based on fiction(al space) and audience.
Kuang-yu Tsui, Invisible City: Taipari York Video, 2008 Courtesy the artist and Eslite Gallery
INTERVIEWS WITH SOME PARTICIPANT ARTISTS:
ADNAN YILDIZ How do you think showing at Taipei Biennial will (or has) influence(d) your practice? BBROTHER Well, it is the first time that I am shown in a museum as a “graffiti writer”. When you paint on the street at night with a bag of 12 spray cans and a climbing rope, it is just a matter of being busted or not. However, when you are in a museum, you have to deal with many other things, such as curators, executives and your audience which is, you are in the system now. To me, graffiti is an unrestricted way to express myself, to speak to different people in unexpected ways. Being in the show, you can only choose “one way”. Your audience has been selected and they are already trained to see your work as an art piece. I think, showing at Taipei Biennial reveals the contrary roles of being an artist and being a graffiti writer.
AY How do you think showing at Taipei Biennial will (or has) influence(d) your practice? CHENG-TA YU It is a great opportunity for me, especially as I am still a student. It gives me a wonderful experience to work with international curators, artists and a museum as well. It is a good start for my art life and I treasure it. AY How is the local audience responding to the Biennial and particularly to your work in this context? CY I googled some blogs about 2008 Taipei Biennial and found lots of responses from the local audience who seems to like it very much. This exhibition shows something about Taipei in a humorous way; it makes people realize what the works really say and what the idea of the show is. I am also happy about getting some positive feedback on my work. Lots of people told me that they watched all of the videos and loved them. Especially on the weekend, people have to line up for watching my videos. Really unbelievable! AY What does the Biennial mean for Taipei? CY The most important point of Taipei Biennial is not publicity for this city. I think it is a good event for developing the artistic practice in Taiwan. Taiwan is a small island in Asia, and particularly our art history is not too long. The Biennial is a standard for art people and provides a new vision for Taipei. In this respect, Taipei Biennial 2008 did really a good job for Taipei
AY What does the Biennial mean for Taipei? TOP TO BOTTOM Installation view from Lene Berg’s video Stalin by Picasso or Portrait of Woman with Moustache, TFAM Courtesy the artist Didier Fiuza Faustino, Opus Incertum, Taipei Brewery Courtesy the artist
RES MAY 2009
Oliver Ressler, A world where many worlds fit, TFAM Courtesy the artist Photographs: Adnan Yıldız, 2008
KUANG-YU TSUI The First Taipei Biennial was cutting-edge among Asian countries and the sort of show that helped promote the city. But later the focus transferred slowly towards the quality of the Biennial itself. Now it finds its position again. Of course there is some competition between Asian countries, but it seems to be meaningful to built a platform and connect Taiwan to other artists and put it in an international context.
For example, this time you can find that many technical resource and education systems as well as the art community in Taipei are involved in and supporting the Biennial. It is a good opportunity for both sides (especially for local ventures) to engage and ‘know’ what is happening inside or outside Taiwan. Maybe this is not true for all participants and locals, but it is still something valuable for some. I do not expect local or international artists could really react to this Biennial or Taipei City, but what matters is the process of people communicating with each other.
ON THE EXHIBITION OF PETER KOGLER AT MUMOK
TEXT IN GERMAN. TRANSLATION BY MICHA GOEBIG AND CHRISTINE LIESE-SCHIKANEDER
RES What was the motive for your current exhibition series about internationally renowned Austrian artists? RAINER FUCHS We are running a series of exhibits at the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) in Vienna. They show works by Austrian artists who are in the stage of mid-career. RES What exactly do you mean by mid-career? RF That means artists who are in the middle stage of their career and who have an international reputation. RES So that has nothing to do with their age? RF Well, in a way, yes. The series shows a selection of artists who are about 50 years old. We have shown Heimo Zobernig, Erwin Wurm, Gerwald Rockenschaub, Peter Kogler. We have also exhibited Brigitte Kowanz’ work. So we are talking about a generation of artists who emerged from the new painting movements of the early 1980s and then went on to take their own, different positions and ended up working increasingly with conceptualism and various media. Kogler belongs to this group of artists, and so do Zoberling, Wurm and Rockenschaub. These are artists who had a much broader approach, who took a more differentiated position than the merely painterly. They have demonstrated a more powerful and substantial development, they have been exhibited internationally and they have consistently developed their body of work. We are looking at artists who have gained a reputation through their participation in international exhibitions—like Peter Kogler who was shown in two Documentas and in a Venice Biennale—and who have influenced a new generation of artists. It is our job to show these various artistic positions within a museum context and to accredit and substantiate them with appropriate theoretical publications and catalogues, and then to position these artists internationally via collaborations with other museums abroad. With these exhibitions we try to illustrate the artists’ development; how the early works, their themes and motifs were the foundation for their later work and how this development happened and evolved. Kogler, for example, has this very specific style, and we look at how his work was modified by the introduction of new kinds of media; how the transition from traditional media such as drawing and works on paper to working on the computer changed his oeuvre. We are also looking at how these changes in the use of media influence the formal esthetics of his work.
RES MAY 2009
To place the whole exhibition within a certain art historical framework, we have outlined a tentative chronology and show how each artist reacted to influences of his time: what is so special, individual and
55 new about his or her work, and what logic is behind this specific development. In the exhibitions the viewer can trace specific themes that carry through the particular artist’s whole career and recognize a repertoire of motifs and themes that is developed inventively and in numerous variations up to the present. Let’s take the current show as an example: Peter Kogler has this specific interest in the relationship of space and architecture and in the role of media. In the early 1980s, when most artists were interested in modernist painting, Kogler concentrated on modernist film. That was a really new theme in art at that time, this sort of technical media. And that set him apart from all those new painters, this interest in film-making and the subject of urbanization that was so important in the films of the 1920s and 30s. This subject also includes the idea of the mass society and the tension between the individual and the collective due to urbanization which plays a great role in the films of that era. Kogler took a historical position by drawing on the past and updating and adapting it to the transition from the 1970s to the 80s when there was this wave of new media. This set him apart from all the new painting that was going on around him and we try to show his specific position in the exhibition. Both architecture and media are dominant themes in Kogler’s work and we look at how these themes have evolved, developed and changed over the thirty years of his career so far. Kogler’s reference to space and architecture is integral to his work, also in the way it is perceived because it means that the viewer is set into a specific context with the space where the work is shown. And when the work is an installation or the room itself is the work, perception plays a great role—may it be the change or irritation of perception which Kogler might be aiming at with his interest in media, virtuality or simulation. Kogler investigates how new technological media change our perception of reality and our cognitive abilities. How do communication technologies that connect places all over the world at the speed of light influence our idea of space, our concept of stability, of the orthogonal world? These are the essential questions. RES So that is why every room in the exhibit is clearly defined, right? Basically we get to see three main rooms: the first being the outside façade which can only really been seen when it is dark, then the foyer with its projections and finally the large space upstairs with its patterned walls and ceilings and the paintings on the walls. In addition there are two small rooms and passages. Every room is a separate entity and yet there is a consistency throughout. RF Yes, and that is significant. It demonstrates that Kogler thinks in categorical norms—also when it comes to the presentation of his work. Even the early works that often look like architectural models are positioned or hung in the room in such a way that the space itself becomes part of the work. The space where the works are shown is not merely some neutral backdrop but it becomes an integral part of the artwork and a model of its own means. And this theme carries on throughout the whole show. Kogler is an artist with a great sensitivity for space and he has this idea that the space is not just a place to hang a picture or to display a work but it is also part of the situation. And that is why he visually designs or decorates the rooms and incorporates them. It can happen that either the theme of a picture merges with the room that may itself become a picture or that the room has some kind of pictorial quality—you can see this, for example, with the brain pictures that are hung on a brain pattern wallpaper, as if the motif has spilled over onto the space. Architecture and space are central motifs in Kogler’s work. RES Would you consider the exhibition also a kind of retrospective?
RES MAY 2009
INTERVIEW WITH RAINER FUCHS AND PETER KOGLER
57 RES MAY 2009
Untitled, 2008 Installation, computer animation, projection, looped Faรงade of Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
RES MAY 2009
59 That wouldn’t be possible anyway because Kogler’s work consists mainly of temporary installations in public spaces. His works are short term and can’t really be exhibited again. They can be documented in some ways but this exhibition is primarily a selection of important works that are representative for the artist’s overall development.
RES I would like to start by mentioning that you were expelled from the Vienna Academy as a student. But you returned as a professor. Is that correct? PETER KOGLER Yes, this is how it was I guess. RES Why were you expelled from the academy in the first place? PK At the bottom of the matter there were a few misunderstandings. But you could also say that the Vienna Academy was a very conservative institution back in the late 1970s. RES But I would like to know what happened exactly. Misunderstandings, well yes, but there must have been a reason.
RES How has the reaction of the public been so far?
PK Yes, sure. We just had a fundamentally different understanding of what art was and how it could be received.
RF It has been very positive. What has worked particularly well in this exhibition—and has been positively noted by the viewers—is that they learn to trace and thus comprehend the artist’s development without the show having to become superficial or didactic. The personal experience of the spaces and their visual perception or the irritation of one’s perception becomes the focus of the exhibition. The involvement of the viewers and their integration in the perception of the works are a major aspect here. We want the viewers to be actively involved in the reception of the work and to experience their own creative self. I believe that is an essential quality of this exhibition and it has worked very well with both the public and the media.
RES Let me ask directly: What did you do?
RES Where will the show go next?
PK A few things came together. But I guess the trigger was a little performance I made. It referred to Marcel Duchamp, and at that time that was clearly a cause for conflict. Duchamp was not really dealt with in Vienna back then. RES So people were mad that you referred to Duchamp in your performance? PK I don’t know if it was because of Duchamp or if it was the overall thing, the form … That all happened a long time ago. I only have a vague memory of what actually happened.
RF After Vienna the show will go to the Museum Berardo in Lisbon in spring 2009. And in 2011 it will be shown at the Santral Istanbul. However, it must be understood that a traveling exhibition of Peter Kogler does not mean that the same exhibition will be shown at different locations. Another place will always generate a new definition and understanding of the work because the space plays such a significant role in the conception and the presentation. Different rooms will mean a different or at least modified exhibition. Kogler’s work is a living organism that can’t be easily transplanted from one place to another. What can be transferred is this idea that the early works—those drawings and collages—lay the groundwork for the later oeuvre. We can demonstrate how incredibly versatile this artist is and how accomplished he is in adapting and reacting to different spaces and in creating a site specific interpretation.
RES But it was a performance?
Rainer Fuchs (b.1959 in Judenburg, Austria) studied art history, history, and philosophy in Graz and Vienna. He is a Vice-Director and Head of the Scientific Department at MUMOK. Exhibitions include: Self Construction (1996), Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1998), Lois Weinberger (1999), Öffentliche Rituale – Video/Kunst aus Polen (2003), Christian Hutzinger (2004), John Baldessari (2005), Keren Cytter (2007), Roland Kollnitz (2008). Various publications on modernism and contemporary art.
PK My first teaching assignment was at Städelschule in Frankfurt, filling in for Thomas Bayrle in 1987 or 1988. Thomas went to San Francisco, California, for a research semester and asked me if I would be willing to fill in for a semester. This was my first teaching experience.
PK Yes, a little performance, I think in 1979, in February or March, or maybe January. RES Did you need an official permission to make a performance? PK You were required to obtain permission, but I did not. So someone called the police—which was actually not that uncommon in Vienna at that time. RES Yes, we know that from the Viennese Actionism. How was your time as a professor in Vienna? You still teach, don’t you?
RES And later, in Vienna? How was it and how had the academy changed since your time as a student?
RES MAY 2009
PK They asked me to establish a media class in 1993 because they did not have one at all. There was no new media infrastructure—just like at Städelschule, by the way. So I started to set up a computer lab.
RES MAY 2009
RF Well, it gives you a certain overview. It is not a retrospective in the sense that it shows the artist’s complete oeuvre, but it is a selection of specific groups of works that helps the viewer understand the way the artist has developed. And it also shows in which direction he is headed. We are not looking at a completed body of work but at one that continues to evolve and expand, that is dynamic and open toward the future. So you can only apply the term retrospective in a relative sense. It would be better to think of the exhibition as an “overview” because that term puts it into a more neutral context and clarifies that there is not a complete oeuvre on show.
Untitled, 2008 Installation, computer animation, multiple projection, sound, looped Sound: Franz Pomassl
Untitled, 2008 Installation, computer animation, multiple projection, sound, looped Sound: Franz Pomassl
RES Together with Peter Weibel? PK It is nice, but it is also a fresh start. PK No, that was earlier, in 1987 or 1988 when the school did not have any computers. RES So that was even before Kasper König arrived? PK König was not there yet. Peter Kubelka still served as the principal. So I arrived in 1993 to set up the media division. It started as a very small unit, a tiny room with three computer workstations. But it grew over the years, and towards the end it was a really good media lab. RES And now you are in Munich?
RES Do you see a problem in being an artist and a professor at the same time? Does this cause any problems, with regard to time for example? After all, you have to give a lot. PK The point is that you have to find a balance between your own work at the studio, your own artwork, and whatever is necessary for teaching or doing something at the art academy. Naturally there is some overlapping. I always enjoyed teaching because it forces you to keep up to date. You need to be familiar with the current debate—at least to a certain extent. I have always enjoyed the input I get from young artists, not only in terms of art, but quite generally, with regard to music or films that are widely discussed.
PK Exactly. RES In your work, the computer plays a major role as a medium. Before that weren’t there silk screen prints? RES Doing new media again? PK Graphic design actually. RES MAY 2009
RES How do you feel about being a teacher?
PK No, not before using a computer. On the contrary, the computer came first and then silk screen printing. Because when I started to work with a computer, there were no suitable machines for data output. There were no digital printers, only matrix printers and that was it. So in the beginning, silk screen printing was the most direct way to transfer information to a carrier material.
63 RES MAY 2009 RES MAY 2009
Untitled, 2008 Installation, computer animation, multiple projection, sound, looped Sound: Franz Pomassl
65 PK It is probably easiest to reconstruct this development chronologically. In the late 1970s, I started to become seriously interested in art. This is the period before the return of painting, if you will, when I started to do art. The things we mostly discussed were minimal art to a certain extent, but primarily conceptual art and performanceâ€”two forms that are based on a rather radical definition of art. In the case of conceptual art, in its most radical form, it is the reduction to the term itself, an art form that has become intangible. At that point, it does not matter whether it is carried out or not; the concept is equated with its implementation. The second form was performance art, another form that is basically reduced to the body of the artist, to an idea or perception of art that has something intangible to it. These were the main things we discussed when I started out as an artist, so they were formative in a certain way. The return of painting was something absolutely irritating for me as a young artist. And not only the return of this art form, but its strong presence in galleries and on the market. But it is fair to say that I have always been interested in the production of pictures and also in the discussion about painting, but from a certain distance. I have always been more interested in positions with a focus on conceptual perception or art that included signs, pictograms in the broadest sense. And these things happened much more in America than in Europe. I am talking about artists such as Matt Mullican, Keith Haring or Donald Baechler, to name a few. These are artists for whom painting or producing pictures is of a certain importanceâ€”but you are aware of the impact of conceptual art. Untitled, 1986 Acryl, silkscreen print on canvas, 86.6 x 68.9 in / 220 x 175 cm
RES Back then, the computer was a completely new medium in art production, right?
RES MAY 2009
RES In the early 1980s, you did charcoal drawings on cardboard, made models from cardboard with drawings on them, put them up on the wall and painted on transparent paper. Usually, when we think of the 1980s, we think of the predominant style of Wild Painting. But you started working with a computer instead. How come?
PK I think computers have existed since the late 1940s. They had definitely been around quite a while. The new thing was the graphic interface and that you were able to use computers directly to generate images. For the first time, you could produce images intuitively and directly and even manipulate images without being a programmer. For some reason or other, the computer facilitated a language of images that was completely in line with the things I developed in my charcoal drawings, namely images and pictograms. RES The resemblance between your earlier works and the latest works exhibited at MUMOK is pretty obvious. The transparent paper painted yellow, red and blue points to your interest in minimal art, like Who is afraid of Red, Blue and Yellow. In retrospect, I would say that your work demonstrates a stringent development, also with regard to your motifs; the ants, the tubes, the brains. You drew these things in the very beginning, transferred them to the computer and still use them today. When a medium develops, your approach develops as well, but not your motifs. PK As you have mentioned them, I would like to comment on the transparent things. They are older than the charcoal drawings. I think I used the transparent material because it makes the wall to which the paper is attached part of the work. This is probably most obvious in works in which the form of the frame is an important issue, in which the interior and the exterior form an equivalent, in which the pictureâ€™s surrounding is on par with the picture itself.
Untitled, 1986 Acryl, silkscreen print on canvas, 86.6 x 68.9 in / 220 x 175 cm
67 PK I think this is called wallpaper works—because the wall space is turned into an image space. These are considerations dating back to minimalism. It all started with Frank Stella who made the shaped canvas a central theme. Or the interrelation between this picture window and the space, the architecture, anything else. I think this was the reason why I used the transparent material: because the drawing appeared to be directly on the wall, as if the wall was a part of the whole thing. And fact is that there is a certain continuity in motifs, something like a vocabulary of images that developed early on, a few basic motifs that remain and are only modified depending on the medium I work with. So this vocabulary is modified, but also expanded, there is always something new to add to it. RES How did you come to use these particular motifs; the ants, the rats or the tubes, for example? PK I think the decision for these things is pretty intuitive. It is a mix of reflection and intuition, but I would say it is more up to intuition. This little film in the exhibition with the ant crawling across the newspaper was not meant to be art when I did it. But the main point is that it is not the image of an ant in its natural habitat but an ant in the context of a sign system. And it took the works I made many years later to remind me of this little film and to make it important for me. So it was not a deliberate decision to film an ant on a newspaper to make a particular artistic statement; it was only material, but in the context of different things I had meanwhile done, the film became important to me. RES Is there a difference between your earlier and your later ants? PK There have been small modifications. Just like a piece of furniture: When you keep building it for a long time, it will change slightly. Not too much, but there might be changes to the symmetry, the contrast between light and dark maybe or the form over the years. RES This is also true for the brain. PK Yes, it applies to all motifs. RES It is an interesting fact that you do not use many motifs, but when one looks at your work, the impression is that it is different every time. The motifs are not carried out identically. This seems to be true for the matrixes as well. When I saw the Ornament and Abstraction exhibition in Basel in 2001, I saw your matrixes for the first time. And today, at MUMOK, there is also a matrix work and it looks completely different. PK Well, these two works are eight years apart. RES So while you continue to work with similar motifs, you never repeat yourself.
RES MAY 2009
PK I think there is a certain system you work with and within which you change things around. Maybe it can be compared to working in a lab where you have a certain number of certain parameters and substances and then you start trying out variants, just trying to find out what happens. This can be done at an artist’s studio as well, at least to a certain extent. You have a basic material and a certain constellation and then you just go ahead and try out things, just to see what happens or whether the
focus shifts to something else. You know from your own work that it is basically a process. Sometimes you have a certain intention and then you start and the outcome is something completely different. Maybe it is even more interesting than what you had in mind originally. And sometimes you cannot use it at all. RES You transfer patterns developed on the computer to the canvas by silk screen printing. The continuously developing digital print techniques provide many options how to implement an idea. So how important is silk screen printing today? PK Many things have changed, so that affects my work as well. Silk screen printing is still a good method to transfer color directly—something that is still difficult in digital print as far as materiality is concerned. Things have improved a lot over the last few years. It is only a matter of time until new technologies develop. But I do not see a hierarchical order in these technologies. I am as interested in the rough surfaces we could produce in the 1980s as in the super-fine surfaces we can create now. Because each surface corresponds with a certain culture. So we had a particular surface in the 1980s, another one in the 1990s, and again another one now. RES The way I see it, it is quite a challenge in your work that you started to use computer technology so early and established it in your work and in the art world in general in a time dominated by Wild Painting. PK It was very appealing, primarily because in the mid-1980s when the computer appeared as a paint tool it hardly had any history at all. So I basically had a chance to start from scratch. At the same time, it was already obvious that image production would be dominated by this medium at least for the next decades—and not only image production, but a variety of different areas in arts and culture, in business and communication and whatever. So this gave people a chance to work with a medium that would have an effect on all cultural and social areas. You were able to use an interface that was connected to all other processes. RES In the current exhibition, I was fascinated by the heads on the red background. And I was very surprised to read about your interest in Communist portraits. Your exhibition, apart from the façade, starts with them. For me, these are rather strange motifs. I could not connect to them as works made by you. PK Because they are so grotesque? RES Grotesque and somehow different. But when I read that you speak about empty forms in this context, it took shape for me. Are you very interested in Communist painting? PK Actually, not at all. What I am interested in is the Russian avant-garde at the time of the Soviet Revolution. But I could not care less for Socialist Realism. It was more about these omnipresent Soviet portraits I remembered from my childhood which were reproduced time and again. They were so monumental that they lost every trace of subjectivity you would generally associate with a portrait. They reached a great degree of abstraction and that was what interested me, but based on this formalism: There are always these red backgrounds and usually more or less black and white portraits.
RES MAY 2009
RES I also see similarities between your wall projections and your works on transparent paper.
Installation view, 2008 Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
RES I would like to talk about your entire body of work because you make a lot of very different objects that are exhibited next to each other: tables, furniture, wallpaper, projections ... How would you comment on the idea of oevres—in the context of you living in Vienna, with a view on the historical Wiener Werkstätte? And what is your relationship to ornaments? PK I have to confess that I have never been particularly interested in this Viennese tradition. But obviously, when you have lived in a city for so long, things leave their mark. So there were things that were important to me, especially Actionism. I would say that that was the most important thing to happen in Austria after the war. And I think that internationally it is still underrated. It gave artists a significant impetus and there was nothing to add to it, it was completed. The early period of Modernism, at least when we are talking about fine arts, never really existed here in the way it did in France or later, after the war, in America. I dealt a lot with Fritz Lang who lived in Vienna. He directed films but was an architect by training. So architecture and things like ornaments play a key role in his films. And this is something I have always been interested in. RES In your exhibition, there is a drawing from a film of his ...
RES MAY 2009
PK There are some works from the early 1980s which quote Fritz Lang films or generally films from the 1920s, German expressionistic and Russian avant-garde films, but Fritz Lang in particular. This scene is from a Fritz Lang film.
RES Another thing I had to think of is your interest in motion in general. Even if an image does not move, something else does, like the curtains. PK Yes, that is true. I think in the early 1980s, it was due to my interest in film and how films are made. You know those stills taken fast enough to be put together to form motion sequences. This includes movement on the one hand and reality on the other hand because this role of film also represents a form of ornament or surrealism. And at a certain point the computers’ performance was good enough to convert stills into moving images. I am not sure about the curtains, though. The curtains, the room dividers, the wallpapers—they are an expression of my interest in a form between image and architecture, a type of hybrid of image, furniture and architecture. RES I did not see the curtains on San Marco Square in Venice. Can you tell me a bit more about the project? PK There are these white curtains on San Marco Square that serve as sunscreens. They are always there, and for my project I simply exchanged them with the curtains I had designed. Another thing I should mention about these curtains is that they were not printed but weaved. They were produced on a jacquard machine, an invention dating back to the early 19th century, most likely about 1830, and those were the first punch card-controlled machines, the first digital machines. Obviously this aspect was important to me.
71 RES MAY 2009 RES MAY 2009
Installation view, 2008 Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
73 RES One last question: If there were new developments in computer technology, would your work reflect these changes?
PK I am not sure about that. You think so? RES Yes, I do. PK I have always seen it as an equivalent to receiving architecture. When you enter a building, let’s say a cathedral, it is difficult to put a distance between you and the building, simply because you are inside. It is something that surrounds you. The involvement is quite different from a painting that hangs in front of you like a defined field and allows you to keep your distance. RES What is your next project? What are you up to right now? PK The exhibition will next be shown at the Berardo Museum in Lisbon. And there are several projects that I will turn to now that have been neglected for a while because of this exhibition. One is for the National Archive in Paris, a rather large project. And there are a few upcoming exhibitions, such as the one at Santral Istanbul scheduled for spring. So I have to start working on those.
PK I guess they always do. I have always tried to observe from a general perspective what happens in the field of technology that I could apply to my work. This includes new computers, new software that supports processes one did not think of before. My work changes along with the medium I work with.
Peter Kogler (b.1959 in Innsbruck, Austria) was on view from October 31, 2008 to February 2, 2009 at MUMOK. Curator: Edelbert Köb, co-curator: Rainer Fuchs. The exhibition covered over 100 works from 1979 up to the present. A two-time documenta participant, Peter Kogler began to use media and computer technology as the basis for his installations in the early 1980s, confronting and blending the perfectionism of the new technologies with physical and organic motifs. Simple basic modules such as an ant, a brain, a rat or a pipe (which are then serially reproduced) have become distinctive features of his works. Architecture and public spaces serve as the medium for impressive, large-scale works which are structured in a repetitive, patterned way.
RES I am especially happy about that. PK I am also looking forward to it. RES What do you think, how will the media computers develop further? PK These things have always been hard to forecast—apart from the fact that they will definitely become faster and faster. But I don’t think that the consequences can be anticipated. A good example would be the graphic interface I have talked about: A technical innovation allows us to use certain machines in the way we know from our childhood, by pointing and interpreting a low number of images. You do not need to use language any longer to manage these complex machines. It is enough to point to something, to a paint bucket, to an eraser, and something happens. It is fascinating to see that this technology brings us back to a communication level we thought we had long left behind. Another aspect we could consider is the area of computer games which gives you the possibility to simulate realities in a highly complex manner. The interesting point is that the focus is not on modern, technical spaces but on a very romantic space, similar to what we know from the 19th century. Just think about Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings. These are images you would not dream of putting in a context with state-of-the-art technology because they are highly irrational and romantic. RES So in the future we will be able to do without real screen heroes and simply replace them by computer-generated heroes.
RES MAY 2009
PK This phenomenon exists, yes. But you have asked me what I think will happen in this field and I think it is hard to forecast. The first applications that were developed for computers, during the war, were coding and decoding programs, a rational, mathematical procedure. So this was the one area, the other one was chess. Once again an application characterized by its high degree of rationality or by the intellect. We have come a far way when we look at the surfaces of today’s consoles.
Peter Kogler at MUMOK Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien Photograph: RES
RES MAY 2009
RES Your work requires active viewers.
JC Well, we don’t represent him but we have included his work in several shows, and similarly we were always very close with Lewitt and when he was alive he would make wall drawings for us. DW Have you seen his installation at Mass MOCA? JC Not yet, but I can’t wait to. Have you? DEBORA WARNER
DW No, I just finished reading the NY Times review. Actually, I loved the Haacke piece you had in the Mask show. What a great piece!
DEBORA WARNER I don’t want to talk too much about the market, even though it is relevant right now. JAMES COHAN But it is temporary.
JC Right. We also showed a work from 1964 called Blue Sail, a blue billowy cloth with four weights on each corner and there was a fan underneath that made it float up in the air. That was in an exhibition called Air that we did when we first opened downtown in 2002.
DW How temporary is it? DW The move to Chelsea in 2002 was from 57th Street? JC I am sure it is temporary, but who knows, we have never been in an economic crisis like this before. JC Right. We were on 57th Street from 1999 until 2002. DW It is unprecedented. DW When did you work for Anthony D’Offay? JC Totally, so everyone is pretty freaked out. DW Did you have your gallery during the previous downturn in the early 1990s? JC No, I didn’t. I started in the art world in 1982 when I got out of college and I was traveling two simultaneous paths. One was studying art history at Washington University. I had received a grant from the NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) with a partner to do an exhibition on Joseph Cornell and his relationship to symbolist poetry. The idea was the result of a highly drug induced evening where we were talking about art and literature. My partner was reading Thomas Coleridge and I was studying Joseph Cornell’s work and we shared a common interest in symbolist poetry, and so wouldn’t you know it, two days later there was some application that appeared at our university for an NEH grant. The long and the short is that we did this beautiful exhibition of thirty Cornell boxes in St. Louis. So then I thought that maybe I would take a curatorial route and applied to the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU, but I was always inclined to be more entrepreneurial as opposed to academic so when I got to New York I decided to defer graduate school for a year and went to work for galleries. And this is where I have been ever since.
JC In the early 1990s, my wife and I moved to London where I worked for D’Offay for almost five years until we moved back to New York in 1996. In New York, he and I were then partners for three years. It was the best university that I ever went to, incredibly informative. DW Did you take on some of his artists? JC Anthony D’Offay was the greatest model for how to be very precise about art dealing and he was also brilliant in his management of his staff in that he really empowered people to make decisions and work with artists that they felt passionate about. One of the questions he asked me when I first moved to London was, which artist do you think we ought to be working with whom we don’t work with already? Just off the cuff I said, Bill Viola, because I had seen this incredible exhibition of Viola’s in 1986 at the Museum of Modern Art which virtually no one reviewed and it was just an extraordinary experience. Another artist friend of Bill’s, Peter Campus, had told me to go see it. Anthony said, great, why don’t you go meet him and see about organizing an exhibition. So within a month I was in California and Bill and I were talking about doing a project together. I think that was one of the really significant relationships that I was able to foster in London that has continued in New York.
DW So you were working in galleries… DW What’s Bill Viola up to these days? JC I started in the early 1980s which were incredibly bleak. Then there was a moment at which Charles Saatchi was buying minimalist art and suddenly people were willing to pay like $20,000 for a Robert Mangold painting or a Judd or even think about Lewitt at that time. So it was quiet but interesting. I worked for John Weber Gallery for five years where I had the good fortune to work with Hans Haacke and Sol Lewitt, among others.
JC We just finished this large project that Viola had in Venice during the time of the last Biennial, called The Ocean Without A Shore. Viola created this beautiful piece with three monitors in an intimate chapel just off San Marco Square. That work was an edition of three, one of which was just installed in Australia at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. He is now working on a very significant commission for St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, so that’s where he is at.
DW And are you still working with Hans Haacke? RES MAY 2009
DW And now you have a gallery in Shanghai.
RES MAY 2009
INTERVIEW WITH JAMES COHAN
77 RES MAY 2009 RES MAY 2009
Installation Trenton Doyle Hancock: Fear at James Cohan Gallery, NY, 2008
79 JC Yun-Fei Ji is someone who has been living in New York for the last 15 years. He is from Bejing originally, but immigrated to America around 1985. Xu Zhen, the other Chinese artist we are working with, is living in Shanghai and is very much a product of us being there and getting to know the community. However, our brief in China at this point is not really to show Chinese art. Instead, it is to develop the Chinese market for Western art because we think that has a rich potential. It is a long road because it will take a long period of education, but we think it is a fruitful one. There are a lot of Western artists who are very keen to show in China, and if we can provide that opportunity I think it could be very successful. DW There are currently no other Chinese dealers bringing Western artists to China that you are aware of? JC Not really, more or less the Chinese market is about domestic Chinese art. I think the biggest hurdle we have to deal with is that the Chinese collector lacks the educational background and consequently the confidence to go forward and make decisions about which direction to travel within the Western art world. So many times people have said to us we would love to collect European and American contemporary art, but we just don’t know where to begin. So what has happened over the last half year is that we have met collectors that have been introduced to us by Chinese artists who are interested in our program, which is very intriguing. DW And how many exhibitions have you had there so far? JC Well, we opened in July and we are heading into our fourth exhibition. Installation Folkert de Jong: Early Years at James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai, 2008
JC Right. A couple years ago one of our directors, Arthur Solway, who had been married to a Taiwanese woman, started traveling rather consistently to Asia, meeting people and discovering what the market was like in Taiwan as well as in Mainland China. Over a three year period, he met lots of curators, collectors and artists and he convinced me that this was an opportunity for us to have a presence in Asia and that he wanted to move there. I think he really has been the driving force behind that project, and we have opened a beautiful space in the French Concession quarter of Shanghai. Have you seen it? DW No, I have yet to travel to Shanghai. But I saw some images on your website.
RES MAY 2009
JC Well it is not in the commercial center of town, but rather in a historic neighborhood where the Shanghaiese live, with lots of small boutiques, restaurants and cultural centers. We have the ground floor of a beautiful Art Deco building which used to be the old villa of the Vice Mayor of Shanghai. The space has a lot of personality, and it is much more about placing art within a domestic environment rather than in a white box, which Arthur thought was a very good idea from the point of view of showing the Chinese public how you can live with art. Having a gallery in Shanghai is an exciting opportunity for artists, because any great gallery is actually an invitation to artists. They are the ones who are the driving force behind any successful gallery. You know, collectors come and go, but artists are the franchise that we depend upon.
DW You received a lot of attention for the Mask show here in New York around this time last year. How did that exhibition come about? JC You know we have done a number of exhibitions that are cross cultural and not so much about selling. They are a lot more about putting a set of ideas together and running with it. Unlike a museum we have the ability to be more flexible and can work with a whole variety of dealers and collectors as well as artists. Two years ago we did an exhibition called Cosmologies, which was based on works of art that were all relating to artists’ ideas of a cosmological world view— their world, the outside world, micro, macro, cosmic views. At the same time that I was looking at the art of the Jains from the Indian Jainism that someone had introduced me to. They have a long history of making these cosmological mandalas that are both physical as well as conceptual mappings of their universe—present world, past life, their future life as well as the geography of their society. It was really interesting to explore the idea that in the 17th century some of the great Jain cosmologies were being made while at the same time, 7,000 miles away, Robert Flood in England was making his cosmological drawings and writings about the micro and macrocosm of the world. So, during the same time period in totally different cultures, comparable ideas are being played out; at the same time we know that contemporary artists like Anselm Kiefer are keenly interested in Robert Flood and the Jains. It all kind of started fitting together: working with a whole host of different objects and artists. We had everything from a young artist named Dawn Clements, to Fred Tomaselli, to Kiefer, to Terry Winters, to Mark Lombari who did a series of cosmological drawings that were about …
RES MAY 2009
DW I see you have two Chinese artists in your program. Are they recent additions?
81 RES MAY 2009
DW … corporations. JC Yes, and the network and scandals that surrounded certain corporate structures. Last year we did another such exhibition called Mask. At that time, I met a dealer who had a great collection of masks. To cut a long story short, I was introduced to that collection and then thought this would be another really interesting combination. The idea of “masking” as well as the mask: obscuring or hiding behind one’s identity seemed really compelling. DW I’m really sorry I missed it! JC We were thrilled. It got a great response, and I think it is important to be able to do exhibitions where people come in and have that sense that the show is compelling and passionate and not about commerce per se. It is about a set of ideas, and if people end up buying something, fantastic! But in the end, 95-99% of the people who walk into the gallery will never buy anything from us. We could make a very nice living just selling art privately, but the point of the gallery is to be a public resource and this is what artists really want. They want that feedback and they want the public exposure. So, it has been fun. DW It is unusual to see such a broad range of works like in the Mask show in a commercial gallery. JC Well, in a way I think New York is the greatest resource in the world. I suppose Paris or London would be comparable in that there are so many dealers who are dealing in so many different disciplines that it is a treasure trove, and everyone is interested in meeting new possible collectors and introducing new communities to their ideas, so it is actually very collaborative. DW Speaking of New York, do you think it is still important for artists to have a presence here? JC I would say in the long run you have a greater probability of gaining the community that is necessary to sustain a career here in New York. Now I don’t think proximity to the center is what makes greatness, but I think to get recognition it probably helps to be closer to the center. On the other hand, less than half of our artists live in NYC. We have an artist from Nigeria, Yinka Shonibare, who is living in London, Beatriz Milhazes, who lives in Brazil, Xu Zhen, who is in Shanghai. Trenton Dolye Hancock lives in Houston, Texas. Bill Voila is in Long Beach, California. So I think it is not imperative, but for a younger artist … for a younger American artist it probably makes a big difference. Do you think it makes a difference? DW Yes, I do. The community is something I love about being here in New York. We take care of each other. JC I was once being interviewed for Brazilian TV and they were asking me to describe the art world and the art community in New York, and at a possibly more cynical moment I just said, “What art community?” The truth is—and I do think it is—it is an isolating experience to be an artist anywhere. In New York I think you have the benefit that you can leave your studio and go to an opening and find other artists, but in large part, it is a pretty solitary career. DW It is quite opposite from your role as a gallerist. RES MAY 2009
Installation Folkert de Jong: Usual Business at James Cohan Gallery, Shanghai, 2008
83 RES MAY 2009 RES MAY 2009
Installation group exhibition Mask at James Cohan Gallery, NY, 2008
85 JC No, but I run. I run like 10k. I am not into killing my body. DW I just have one final question, because we didn’t really end up talking about the market at all. There are a lot of younger galleries closing at the moment. The phrase from the early 1990s was “Stay alive till ‘95,” right? So what are people saying now? JC I don’t know what they are saying. I think it will be a big challenge. There is something I have often said, not to sound pretentious, but I think it is fair to say that even though there are more collectors ... because the broadness of the market and the depth of the market became so extraordinary over the last five or six years, with an explosion of wealth, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are more great artists, which I think is the unfortunate truth. If you look over time and history, there will still only be a handful of artists who will be remembered and who will be the defining figures of any one period in art. I think that is just kind of a Darwinian reality of life. It is great because there has been more opportunity for people to be discovered, but the reality is still so harsh. So we will see. Installation group exhibition Mask at James Cohan Gallery, NY, 2008
JC I love the idea that we can do exhibitions and lots of people can come to see it and I love the energy and the theater of putting on exhibitions. DW And you have a partner. JC Yes, my wife and I have worked together since 1999. And it has been a great learning curve for her because she had not been in the art world before. She was an industrial designer. Jane has overseen the fabrication of works of art and more elaborate projects, and she takes care of all of our publicity and has done a brilliant job. So it has been very gratifying. DW Now what happened with Roxy Paine’s elaborate piece, Inversion, which was at Basel? JC We are in the middle of negotiations with a museum over the purchase of that, but Roxy has an exhibition that will open at the end of April 2009, which is on the roof terrace of the Metropolitan. So he will follow Jeff Koons and be the next commission for the Met. It is a wonderful opportunity for him and—true to form—he has made an incredibly ambitious project, which he is now fabricating upstate.
James Cohan Gallery opened in New York City in September 1999 with an inaugural exhibition of early photopieces by Gilbert & George and James Cohan Gallery Shanghai opened July 2008 in the French Concession quarter of Shanghai with a group exhibition entitled, Mining Nature. The focus of the gallery exhibition program in both New York and Shanghai is international contemporary art. The gallery works with established and emerging artists; those represented include: the Estate of Robert Smithson, Manfredi Beninati, Ingrid Calame, Folkert de Jong, Simon Evans, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Yun Fei Ji, Richard Long, Beatriz Milhazes, Bill Owens, Roxy Paine, Richard Patterson, Alan Saret, Hiraki Sawa, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Erick Swenson, Tabiamo, Alison Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Tomaselli, Bill Viola, Wim Wenders, and Xu Zhen. In addition to representing and building the careers of artists on our roster, the gallery maintains an active business in the sales of works and selected exhibitions by other modern and contemporary masters such as Anselm Keifer, Nam June Paik, and Sol Lewitt among others. Alongside the vibrant program of solo artists’ exhibitions, the gallery distinguishes itself through presenting thematic group exhibitions that explore topics throughout history and across cultures. Debora Warner is an artist, activist, and amateur triathlete living in NYC. Her latest multi-media exhibition was at the I-20 Gallery in NYC (2007). Prior to that, Debora had solo exhibitions at the Akira Ikeda Gallery in Tokyo and Berlin. Recent group exhibitions include Alt Pictureshow at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and The Shadow is a Bit of Ideology at the University of Illinois Gallery 400, Chicago. Her audio pieces have been presented at the FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, and in New York at the Swiss Institute, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, White Columns, and Art in General, among others. The next solo exhibition is scheduled for 2009 at the Akira Ikeda Empty Space Project New York. Current works explore the concept of social transformation symbolically and metaphorically. This interview was conducted on December 18, 2008, at James Cohan Gallery. RES gratefully acknowledges Jane Cohan, James Cohan and Kara Vander Weg for their contributions.
DW It is a new piece? JC A brand new piece. It will be called Maelstrom and should be spectacular. DW No more trees?
RES MAY 2009
JC Well, I think it is related to that idea of dendroids and the kind of branching networking systems of nature as well as the biological ideas of networking in the brain and the body. It should be a very ambitious, enveloping environmental experience for everyone. So we are excited.
All images courtesy James Cohan Gallery
RES MAY 2009
DW That is fantastic. I see you have your Polar fitness watch there on your wrist. Are you training for a marathon?
SEZGİN BOYNİK It is possible to discuss at length about the problematic relationship between contemporary art and nationalism; as a cultural field for potential political emancipation, contemporary art has usually been interpreted in relation to nationalism in a very affirmative way. This means that contemporary art is affirmative in the sense of emancipatory politics of anti-nationalism. But as we tried to show earlier, contemporary art can also be a material basis for nationalistic ideologies, with the difference from the forms of so-called ‘’vulgar’’ nationalism only in the degree of sophistication (1). In order to discuss this question it would be interesting to analyze the failure of one exhibition. This exhibition was titled Exception (Odstupanja) with the subtitle Contemporary art scene of Prishtina and was curated by Vida Knezevic, Kristian Lukic, Ivana Marjanovic and Gordana Nikolic. It was planned to open in Gallery Kontekst in Belgrade on February 07, 2008 (2). However, the opening of the exhibition was cancelled because a Serbian radical fascist youth organization called Obraz (cheek) protested against the show. Its members managed to break through a police cordon and to destroy one of the art works in the exhibition. This event, the aborted opening of an art exhibition due to lack of security for visitors and organizers (as police announced), followed by a euphoric flow of national feeling in the media, triggered a lively discussion among intellectuals and contemporary art professionals. For a reader who is not familiar with the specifics of the local circumstances leading up to this situation we have to explain some basic historical and political facts which led to the decision not to open this exhibition in Belgrade. As regards the timing of the exhibition in Belgrade, the organizers foresaw problems and had requested police protection in advance. The fact that Kosovo declared its independency only ten days after the failed opening shows how tense the political situation is. The exhibition Exception had been planned and organized under these circumstances, and so it was open to be interpreted by the public in different ways.
RES MAY 2009
After the NATO intervention and the establishment of the UNMIK protectorate in 1999 Serbia lost all its political rights over Kosovo. From that time on, Kosovo was a kind of spectre state, which was operating within pseudo-definitions of sovereignty. But in the meantime in Kosovo, especially after 2001 and further on with the support of the German Cultural Foundation, a new contemporary art scene emerged. The correlation between the new para-sovereign state and contemporary art was more than accidental. Kosovo was experiencing post-socialist transition symptoms like uncontrolled privatization, corrupt governance, wild urbanism etc. together with the flowering of a contemporary art scene. For the first time artists from Kosovo were represented in international exhibitions, and curator Rene Block went so far to declare that “Kosovo is the avant-garde of the Balkans.” In these international, mainly ‘Balkan’ exhibitions some kind of connection and collaboration started between artists from the ‘Balkan’ states.
Unfortunately these kindred spirits of ‘Balkanization’ based their collaboration on the fundaments of nationalist representations and all the economic politics of this exploitation passed unnoticed. Two main reasons of the resulting dead end is cultural-nationalism in the definition of curators like Herald Szeemann and René Block, and an apolitical readiness of local art practitioners.
RES MAY 2009
WHY AN EXHIBITION OF THE PRISHTINA ART SCENE COULD NOT OPEN IN BELGRADE
NO EXCEPTION FOR CONTEMPORARY ART
What I want to show here without repeating myself again is that these ‘Balkan’ exhibitions created some kind of national agenda, which the art exhibitions in the region readily followed. That is the reason why the Exception exhibition was also based on this kind of discussion. But the situation in Belgrade is far more delicate than it is in Kassel. Even if there has been no official and public relationship between Belgrade and Prishtina since 1999 (apart from Kosovars who applied for foreign visas or medical care in Belgrade) artists from both regions made personal contacts in the international ‘Balkan’ exhibitions. Exception was aiming to establish an official platform for these contacts. This exhibition, as the curators stated, wanted to challenge the ignorance about the contemporary Kosovo among the Serbs. In almost all Serbian media, Kosovo is represented as a culturally backward feudal place under a heavy influence of ultra-nationalism. The curators of Exception wanted The protest of the opening of the Exception exhibition to escape these stereotypes by trying to show the urban and at Kontekst Gallery in Belgrade on February 7, 2008. modern life in Kosovo. This is why didn’t advertise their exhibition as ‘Kosovo art’, but as ‘contemporary art from Prishtina’, which meant first to avoid the name “Kosovo” in the title of the exhibition as it has an over-pejorative meaning in Serbia, and second not to ‘nationalize’ the exhibition by reducing it to a region or state. By underlining the city, the curators also attempted to show that the exhibition wanted to deal with one specific contemporary art scene as a social rather than national phenomenon. Imagine, for example, an exhibition in Istanbul which would be about the ‘Diyarbakır contemporary art scene’: Regional, national and specific social conditions for the definition of the exhibition’s scope would merge. Exception is in many ways symptomatic: first, the fundaments for making this kind of exhibition have their own historical problems as in the way the Balkan is defined by the imagination of Block and Szeemann (even though the curators of Exception are aware of this danger and they warn of a possible misunderstanding in further readings of the exhibition). Second, the curators, even if they wanted to avoid an ethnic or national reading of the exhibition, could not avoid that because most of the selected art works for the exhibition are works which are uncritical about nationalism or are even ambiguous about it. Works by Lulzim Zeqiri, Nurhan Qehaja, Dren Maliqi, Fitore Isufi-Koja and Flaka Haliti are directly or indirectly connected to nationalism, and in many of the art works it is possible to see the Albanian flag or to hear Albanian folk music. These works are not ‘nationalist’ in the sense of an official representative ideology of the state, like most
of the art produced in the Art Academy of Prishtina. They are more careful in their attitude about the ‘national’ problem and its representations. Many of the artists are dropouts from the Art Academy, an institution that produces the most vulgar aesthetic nationalism. But by dealing with this issue in an ambiguous manner these artists risk a Democles sword of cultural nationalism to wave over of their head. What happened at the opening of the Exception exhibition in Belgrade is that somehow a work by Dren Maliqi, Face to Face, was destroyed. How it could happen that, in spite of police presence, one work from the exhibition was ripped from the wall and was destroyed remains a mystery. The incident caused too many people to believe that the police collaborated with the fascist youth organization. Dren Maliqi’s installation Face to Face was made in 2003 and shows Elvis Presley and Adem Jashari, a UCK fighter killed together with all his family in 1998 by the Serbian army. Both Elivis and Jashari are shown holding weapons and painted in Warholian pop art style. When Maliqi made this work it was supposed to represent the Kosovars’ two different and opposing orientations, which could refer to American or Western values via Elvis and traditional or nationalistic values via Jashari. It was a work about the ambiguity of the post-Rambouillet Kosovo. In the exhibition in Belgrade Face to Face was completely misunderstood and the main focus was on the depiction of Adem Jashari. The work ended up being destroyed and the whole exhibition postponed to an uncertain date in the future. Adem Jashari was the most famous UCK fighter, as the Serbian curator Branislav Dimitrijevic pointed out in one of his interviews, and to Serbs he represents the ultimate evil. and is held in greatest contempt. Following this incident, a very emotional discussion about the destruction of one artwork and cancelling the exhibition started in Serbia. First, the organizers of the exhibition together with the most prominent curators, art theoreticians and artists from Belgrade organized a discussion panel on this kind of censorship called RUK which is the acronym for Radnici u Kulturi (Workers in Culture). They published the newspaper 7/February which refers to the date when Exception was supposed to open. Considering the fact that RUK participants included the Dean of Belgrade University, the Deputy Minister of Culture and other high ranking cultural officials within the contemporary art establishment, Serbian critic Nebojsa Milikic jokingly renamed RUK Rukovodioci u Kulturi which means Managers in Culture. RUK and many other discussion groups which followed the censorship of the exhibition are also a symptom of the significance of the ‘national’ agenda in contemporary culture of Serbia.
RES MAY 2009
In a very short time Exception stopped being merely a criticism of Serbia’s ignorance about Kosovo’s contemporary culture but became a symptom of the inner problems of the First and Second Serbia. A very simple fact demonstrating this is that RUK’s newspaper 7/February does not carry a single
NOTES (1) Contemporary Art and Nationalism. Critical Reader, Edited by Minna Henriksson and Sezgin Boynik, MM-Publications and Contemporary Art Institute Exit, Prishtina, 2007. (2) Exception was first opened, without any problem, at the Contemporary Art Museum in Novisad on January 22 and closed on March 5, 2008. It was celebrated there as a proof of the level of democracy in the Vojvodina region in Serbia. Sezgin Boynik (b. 1977) lives in Prizren. Teaches Sociology in Prishtina University, Department of Turkology. Finished his master thesis on ‘’Aesthetical Political Strategies of Situationist International’’ in 2003 in Mimar Sinan University Institute of Social Research. Edited issues of art-ist contemporary art magazine, Situationist International (2004), Finnish Radical Art (2005). Participated in many conferences like Punk Kongress, Kassel; Serious Pop, Vienna; Klartext, Berlin and contributed to many journals and publications on radical political movements, on nationalism and on punk. Recently co-edited books like Nationalism and Contemporary Art–critical reader (by MM Publication, Prishtina, 2007), An Interrupted History of Punk and Underground Resources in Turkey 1978–1999 (by BAS Publication, Istanbul, 2007) and Public Turn in Contemporary Art (by Santralistanbul, Bilgi University, Istanbul, 2008). Currently works on political history of Yugoslav underground and subversive cinema history of 60’s and 70’s. All images © Vladan Jeremic
RES MAY 2009
91 The opening of the Exception exhibition
statement by a Kosovo artist, art critic or curator. No one from Kosovo was asked to interpret what had happened and no artists were interviewed or their views quoted. The main problem of RUK’s interpretation of Exception was reduced to the impossibility of having a contemporary art exhibition in Belgrade. An article by the curator and art theoretician Dejan Sretenovic titled Alarmed Signal compares the closure of this exhibition to the expelling of Joseph Beuys from the Dusseldorf Art Academy by the regional government in 1972. Sretenovic politicizes the situation by arguing that the Exception incident demonstrates that Belgrade does not pass the exam of a truly urban city, meaning that Belgrade cannot claim to be on par with cultural cities in the West. He also believes Belgrade demonstrated that it is not democratic and open enough to bear hearing other opinions. A similar article in 7/February is written by the editor of the newspaper, philosopher Branimir Stojanovic. In his article Where Was Shiptar From Now On Will Be Contemporary Art, Stojanovic devides the cultural and political scene of Serbia into two opposite poles by considering their relations to Albanians. The ones who are critical about Albanians and are against the Exception exhibition are ‘regressive’ citizens of Serbia, and the others who support the emancipation of Albanian national identity and Exception are ‘progressive’ citizens of Serbia. This kind of polarization is typical of Serbian political discourse, familiar from the era of Slobodan Milosevic, but then it was defined with different terms as the First and the Second Serbia. The First Serbia was everything associated with Milosevic, which is nationalism, xenophobia, corruption, closeness, antiEurope, mafia-like para-state powers etc. The Second Serbia was everything absolutely not-Milosevic, which means rock culture, liberalism, openness, non-dictatorship, contemporary art, NGO culture etc. So it is easy to see that the First Serbia is against and the Second Serbia is pro Exception. Because of this, the discussions which followed the closure of the exhibition in February became so sensitive and hysterical that all the intellectuals and citizens of Serbia once again came to realize that their cultural foundation is based on shaky grounds and that the shadow of Milosevic still lurks in Serbia: The collateral damages of Milosevic’s ideological apparatus continue to be present in the discourse of today’s Serbia.
REFLECTIONS ON THE PROJECT BY JUDITH RAUM (BERLIN), FITORE ISUFI-KOJA (PRISHTINA) AND İZ ÖZTAT (ISTANBUL) JUDITH RAUM The Contemporary Arts Library Prishtina/Berlin started in 2005 as a project resulting from an exchange between young artists from Frankfurt/Main, Germany, and Prishtina, Kosovo. Art books were collected from artists, curators, art institutions and art publishing houses—at that point only from Western European addresses. 9,000 collected resources, apart from books also films and music, were brought to Prishtina in 2005, and the National and the University Library of Prishtina, centrally located in town, supported us with a space to house the material. The books were placed on shelves, but in 2007, when I first traveled from Berlin to Prishtina in order to take over the project from friends, the Contemporary Arts Library was not really used and accessible. When connecting with local artists and creating visions for the library project, I primarily asked myself how and if an idealistic but also slightly paternalistic project like the donation of thousands of books on contemporary art from Germany to Kosovo could work out at all. Could a non-systematic library based on donations (and the imagination what could be needed in Kosovo) that had been implemented in a local context start to develop its own logic and subsequently its own roots on site? Myself being myself from Germany, I also wanted to challenge the fact that there was a domination of “Western” publications and to put a focus on notions of artistic practice, research and publications in the region. I proposed to do a series of workshops in order to connect people and books, to reinforce the public awareness of the resources available in the Contemporary Arts Library and to make sure that the personnel and institutional structures for the library would be supportive in the future. New books were collected and presented on the occasion of two multi-day workshops, with international guest artists talking about their work, offering seminars and group readings. The first workshop in January 2008 with Berlin-based artist Elke Marhöfer also included the construction of new furniture for the space, namely colorful boxes for the presentation of new books. Technical equipment to watch films was acquired. Elke Marhöfer proposed to regard the library as a thought in progress—a playful but also programmatic attitude which tried to consider the fact that some of the books available in the library were publications of—possibly—minor importance for current users. For days, discussions on art unfolded while workshop participants looked at books together, discussed the relevance of certain subjects, sorted out books and rearranged them on the shelves, creating new categories.
RES MAY 2009
During a second workshop in November 2008 with guest artists Laura Horelli and Gerhard Friedl, two Berlin-based filmmakers/video artists, as well as artist İz Öztat from Istanbul, we discussed the documentary in cinemas and museums today and studied artists’ initiatives, collaboration and selforganization. Our meeting and cooperation in Prishtina in November resulted in the decision that Fitore Isufi-Koja would take on the project in Prishtina independently. We also developed a strategy for the future of the Contemporary Arts Library—both in Prishtina itself as an open space for events and
93 a functioning library, and beyond Kosovo as a structure that myself and other artists who are not based in Prishtina can use as a framework for research projects, collaborations and the organizing events.
RES MAY 2009
THE CONTEMPORARY ARTS LIBRARY PRISHTINA/BERLIN
The way we live it, the structure of the Contemporary Arts Library Prishtina provides us with a space for dialogue as well as an archive of the recent past. It pools our activities and allows participating artists from different backgrounds to create own structures and networks and to enter into dialogues that we are interested in. A recent project that exceeded the function of a library was an exhibition at Frankfurter Kunstverein, where I reflected upon my experiences of working with the conditions and implications the project produces. The presentation included a series of talks on diverse topics stretching over the time of three months and given by guest speakers from Kosovo, Germany and England. Here the emphasis was on the discursive space created by the Contemporary Arts Library. Another example is the collaboration of a group of artists from Kosovo, Turkey and Germany that arose from discussions during the last workshop in Prishtina. Doing a series of interviews, each of us in her specific context researched the Balkanization phenomenon in international art exhibitions in the recent past. FITORE ISUFI-KOJA The concept of the Contemporary Arts Library was from the very beginning a collaborative one. Equally important for me is another key idea: to create networks of contacts, based on which this library—I call it a new art institution—then works to develop an accessible public space through various events. By addressing art institutions, publishing houses as well as different individual artists with a call for donations of books on contemporary art, this project very quickly became an ‘institution’ and the most important gift of art-related material this country has ever had. The books were put up in a large space Artist talk with Elke Marhöfer at the National and University Library of Prishtina. The Contemporary Arts Library, Prishtina, 2008 It had been proposed right from the start to install the Contemporary Arts Library at the National and University Library because this way it would be accessible to university students of all disciplines. This means that from the beginning the Contemporary Arts Library had a strategic foundation that determined its development. It creates a space for relevant activities by people of different ages and professions and a neutral platform for an open dialogue between members of the contemporary art scene in Kosovo. It is gradually clarifying its position in the local landscape of institutions and selforganized activities. Kosovar intellectuals were very successful in self-organization as one can see when looking at the parallel cultural and intellectual systems which existed during the years of conflict in the region. These parallel institutions were the only way to oppose the repression at the time. They were run by what I would call elites who produced culture individually or in groups and acted without institutional support
95 RES MAY 2009
to realize their visions. They cultivated the first real avantgarde movements in the country, means of artistic expression to react to the dominant ideology in the former Yugoslavian region and society. With the country in crisis for so long, artists in Kosovo lived in a culture gap, led a ghetto artistic life. Following the international political and military intervention, these underground artists were seen as artists again (just like the NGOs and alternative institutions they had established). They started to bring up new and interactive ways of expressing their own artistic ideas and this way opened borders that had been established for decades. Prishtina still has some of these alternative, independent art institutions. But our challenge when coordinating the Contemporary Arts Library was quite different. The Contemporary Arts Library is located in an important institution from where it tries to merge the â€˜mainstreamâ€™ or some predominant ideologies expressed by the contemporary art scene in Prishtina and the Kosovar society into a neutral, contemporary cultural diversity. To regard the Contemporary Arts Library as a platform in a strategic sense also means challenging the people in control of institutions, of government funds, as well as the content they push. It is also designed to challenge artistic positions and structures of the contemporary art scene in Kosovo and beyond. As artists who are engaged in the Contemporary Arts Library, we can take advantage of the symbolic meaning of its physical body (the resources) and its location in the National and University Library when developing operational modes for its policy management. It strengthens our position towards important art institutions and the people in charge, and it provides us with the tools to cultivate an elite intellectual structure among the young generation which can then attempt to reach important positions in state/official institutions such as museums and galleries.
RES MAY 2009
This year some important events are going to take place at the Contemporary Arts Library. Let me mention some of them: For a panel discussion, Methodologies of Research and Teaching at the Faculty of Arts, Adem Workshop with Gerhad Friedl and Laura Horelli Rusinovci, Head of Faculty of Arts at University of The Contemporary Arts Library, Prishtina, 2008 Prishtina, will be invited together with further longterm professors and the young alternative professors of the faculty. Another workshop will examine Genuine Critical Understanding and Critical Writing about Contemporary Art in Kosovo. Art critics, sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, artists, curators and feuilleton journalists will be invited. The strategy of the Contemporary Arts Library will consequently be built together with the invited people. Their presentations and lectures will help us figure out our preoccupation and discuss the priorities of the local contemporary art community.
Judith Raum, The Contemporary Arts Library Services, Prishtina/Berlin Presentation and lecture program, Frankfurter Kunstverein, 2008 - 09
97 I organized cura bodrum residency with the support of my family, private sponsors, Platform Garanti and the cooperation of participating artists in August 2008, an experience which led me to do research in two areas; exploring self-organized support structures created by artists for artists, and finding out where the funding for residency programs came from and what kind of rhetoric these programs employed. In October 2008, I was invited by Judith Raum to do a workshop at the Contemporary Arts Library Prishtina and decided to share some of my research with the title, Formation of Artistic Cultures in the Absence of Experts and Professionals. At present, Turkey and Southeast Europe share the same faith, as they are trying to envision their place in a Europe expanding east. This process manifests itself in cultural policy as cultural integration and diversity while the integration of the world into a single market is underway. Boris Groys writes, “Europe is a giant private-public partnership securing the capitalist integration and standardization of Southeast Europe into the global, Western-dominated economy and security architecture, while offering its populations the advantages of economic prospects and imperial protection, both military and legal.”
material-based work and process-based projects, alone or in cooperation with others. Her work was exhibited in solo and group shows in German and international contexts, such as UFO UNO at Frankfurter Kunstverein in 2006, Videonale at Kunstmuseum Bonn in 2005 and recent shows at Samsa Presents Berlin and Artpol, Cracow. Since 2007, she has worked on the Contemporary Arts Library project, organising workshops, talks, seminars and exhibitions in and outside Kosovo. The project is currently presented in a solo show at the Frankfurter Kunstverein. Judith Raum teaches at the University of Fine Arts in Berlin.
RES MAY 2009
Fitore Isufi–Koja (b. 1982) is a Prishtina based artist. She has graduated from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Prishtina and recently joined artists’ residencies in France and in New York City. Fitore Isufi’s work was part of several national and international exhibitions, among them Academy Remix at Portikus, Frankfurt/a.M., Germany in 2005 and Exception/Contemporary Art Scene of Prishtina, Museum of Contemporary Art Vojvodina, Novi Sad, Serbia in 2007. Fitore Isufi has been engaged in the organisational team of the Contemporary Arts Library Prishtina since 2008. She developed a conceptual framework for the library project on site in Prishtina and is responsibly coordinating 2009’s program of events in the space. İz Öztat (b. 1981) is an artist and performer who lives and works in Istanbul and London. She completed her MA at the Sabancı University, Istanbul (2006–08) and her BA at Oberlin Collage, Ohio, USA (2000–05). She is interested to learn how to be a good provider of spaces for the articulation of new cultures. She and Emincan Alemdaroğlu made the first attempt for this with cura bodrum residency in Muğla, 2008; it was made possible by the commitment and support of the participating guests and hosts. Her first solo show in Istanbul, Read/ Oku took place in PiST (2008). Her upcoming show is Translation and Conversion in colloboration with Nanette Yannuzzi–Macias, Sarah Schuster and Ian Warren at Play Studio in Istanbul.
Within the bigger picture, attempts by artists that create alternative structures for a transnational dialogue open up a space that does not exist within established institutions. When the host and the guest are artists in an equal relationship and the financial resources are theirs to make decisions with, an experience of very strong community emerges. With these thoughts I arrived at the airport, passed through the security with every single book in my suitcase being flipped through by the security guard. I found Judith and Altin, who were encountering problems getting newly arrived, donated books for the library out of customs because of the changed procedures after the independence. Following negotiations, the five of us—two more guest artists, Judith, Altin and me—as well as our luggage and three big boxes of books crammed in a car and were headed to the National Library of Prishtina, home of the Contemporary Arts Library. Spending time in the library, I got to learn about the contemporary cultural production in the region in more depth. The strong presence of Marxist critique and the solid intellectual ties in the region that articulate a dialogue beyond the recently constructed borders was very impressive. A history of Balkan shows produced in big European institutions also became visible through catalogues and books, demanding me to reflect once again on the role culture plays in the expansion and integration process of the European Union. I experienced the Contemporary Arts Library in Prishtina as a structure that over a long time and thanks to great commitment and a dialogue approach managed to create a discursive public space within the local scene, as well as forming transnational connections. It is a resource and a platform managed by the emerging generation of artists, who can take advantage of it to articulate their own culture in dialogue with the recent past. And, like any other artistic collaboration, it has the potential to expand and grow in any direction.
Judith Raum (b. 1977) is an artist living and working in Berlin, Germany. She studied fine arts at the Städelschule in Frankfurt/a.M. and at The Cooper Union in New York City, as well as philosophy at Goethe University of Frankfurt/a.M. Her work includes the making of objects and images, writing, interviewing, teaching and curatorial practice. She likes to explore the political and aesthetical in human activity through
The exterior of the National and University Library Prishtina
RES MAY 2009
RES MAY 2009
BEYOND CYNICAL REASONING ENCOMPASSING THE CONTEMPORARY ARTS IN SERBIA
RES MAY 2009
What can happen to a society that, for more than fifteen years, has become isolated and violently threatened by its own doing? An anthropological overview is definitely needed, as the more recent and ongoing transitional examples in art demonstrate the scope of relentless individual procedures. They reflect the increasingly relational complexity of challenges both of culture and of specific visual arts in Serbia. It is a commonplace to comprehend the kind of artistic reactions that political and economical circumstances produce. Global practices of exhibition making, networking workshops and the sharing of topics have also affected the standards of art values. They have developed into a state of altering the modernity, not at least as to a gathering of diverse perceptions or image making procedures. This elevation toward self contained and satisfactory illusion became effective after the dreadful and grim nineties period, and in terms of territory inside of what has remained of the Federation of Yugoslavia. The Republic of Serbiaâ€™s coming to terms with nationhood had a deep impact in the most awkward manner: the ruling party that had pervaded the period as well as the idea of nationality appeared to generate a validity of overly exposed issues for the rest of the world. Armed wars close to the region defined the postmodernist variable of focal instability. Effects on questions of knowledge, on culture in general and visual arts were undoubtedly quite social phenomena. Although they can be seen as such everywhere in the world, in the case of Serbia, they led toward more stressful psychological anxieties. This was reflected in artistic behavior in several ways. One was the formation of a parallel Second Serbia, a number of socially aware strategies of non-alignment practices of opposing the institutional and governing trends that started as minor social ensembles of statements at the very beginning of the wars in 1991. Second Serbia was critically oriented toward a new system of diversity, even to the absurdity of the multitudes of political parties and options, each with their own position and viewpoints. This phenomenon has served as an enduring stance of democratic choices for all, but, in fact prolonged a weakness to any real challenge to the autocratic rule. Artistic and performance awareness of the then current negative history output were displayed whether in indirect post-conceptual gallery practices or in the politics of protest (notably throughout the massive Belgrade protests in late 1996 with imaginative outputs), but the role of the individual artist in society served as a decorative, non-recognizable activism. This inefficient rhetoric of the other, of dealing with the principle of governing became a mere hint. In the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, changes that have struck most of the ex-communist countries were moving away from the decades of state controlled political life. The new language of art was bred in the redevelopment of culture in crisis. Crisis on the other hand, as painful as it can be, can help the language of art reconfigure itself. New migrations within the networking agencies became a principle of mere survival for younger artists, no matter their tiresome clichĂŠs of question, of adaptation and ad nauseam reprisal of social anthropological redefinition of issues such as identities, gender or political correctness. In the physical sense, the tied knot of the political, the ecological and
Milan Blanusa, Untitled, 2003 Oil on canvas, 47.2 x 39.4 in / 120 x 100 cm Courtesy the artist
Maria Calic, Isaiah 63:15, 2007 C-prints, 47.2 x 35.4 in / 120 x 90 cm Courtesy the artist
101 One is the following accumulation of artistic activism, such as the alienation and the so-called aware, a socially and political conflicting decade that became a subject of cultural conflict. Both the absurdly coherent and ridiculously tense political campaigns after 2000 and the overthrowing of the ruling Socialist party defined an entirely agonistic conflict. This term can be applied to a real afterworld in the visual arts practice both of New Media, as well as of engendering or recomposing the advanced cynical dissemination of what contemporary existence in Serbian ruined cities and isolation has proved to be. It is generally seen that the age of explorations within recent history and technology that redefined the artistic production or can be revealed inside layers of history have become the past. Provoking and ambitious international exhibitions such as Punti Cardinali di arte, or Identity and Alterity at the Venice Biennale in the mid-1990s, or previously Lâ€™epoque, la mode, la morale, la passion at the Centre Georges Pompidou in the late 1980s set the cultural parameters for a quest for significant artistic relations. After their demise, the art projects, market and the staging of relevant artistic theme parks cannot equate the flow of social legitimacy and cultural experience of constructive functions. Such oriented concern is the landmark of the current age as it contributes to a rethinking that can be seen as arguing the ideology and the very idea of development of art, whether postmodern or a neo-modernism within the practice of post-conceptual shaping capacities. Employing work from artists is often confronted with realms of advertising, commercialism and entertainment methods that have taken the image generating techniques for the sense and the placing of what is the craft inside a mere positioning one has to recognize as contemporary art.
Nenad Glisic, Moving track, 2007 Video stills, 10 min. Courtesy the artist
RES MAY 2009
Mihael Milunovic, The Bound, 2004 Plywood and cables, 98.4 x 47.2 x 4.7 in / 250 x 120 x 12 cm Courtesy the artist
Nowadays it seems that everything that appears to be irreducibly singular, utterly willful, unrealistic, and of course marginal in social and psychological fashion is creating an outlook that handles the artistic currents. In Belgrade even in gallery practice, both in solo and group exhibitions from the mid1990s up to the already generated social capacity for visual art in the first decade of the 21st century, we are witnessing the constant interplay between traditional boundaries. Contributions are lively, self reflexive, globally inclined or domestically overburdened in the disappearance of significance and increasing operating principles: society is addressed both in the current narrow margins of Serbia, or inside a wider network of the global deployment of produced or referred images. Even in Serbia, the artist as the creator / presenter of images is trying to react inside the low-profile position of media or objects produced advertising effects that somehow personify the layers of perception. There is a vast scope of such documented and perceived focuses, as we also have to grasp a projected existence. This explains that art becomes capable of handling resources that are not just breaching the modernistic dream of progress or motion image in video, as well as environmental and exteriorizational techniques in postconceptual art. The specific perusing quality as the nomadic artistic quest can be seen in quite diverse artistic launchings into negative utopia of political weariness , of historical myths and predicted social perspectives of Serbian society that have no culminating point. It became obvious that the paradox of political violence must be generated inside frictions of exiling inside worlds of used objects or waste disposals.
RES MAY 2009
the landscape of inhabited architectural realm of the City of Belgrade (notably a center), and also in the cities of escalated poverty and social turmoil such as Nish, Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Uzice, Negotin, Bor, Pirot, Vranje and others as well as the troubled borders of southern Serbia, the questioned province of Kosovo, remained impoverished and quite dependent. What could be seen were the narrowing troubles that artistic source, the media, as well as the possibility of public approach had in common. There is an obvious result that has to come in terms in a variety of artists and their exemplary practice.
103 The history and engendering the origin of conflicts or quite evolutionary even of the whole vast world, came through the title of the famous Courbet painting L’origin du Monde. Such compositional reprise for Tania Ostojic came as a trail of her gender as the object influenced her work in sculpture and performance: depicted is a direct photographic emulation of the female crotch from this famous painting, but dressed in knickers decorated with Eurostars. The picture raised several issues such as the questions of hiding of one’s own security, the mockery of creation and the immensely scandalous affairs of European self-understanding. The de-constructive demonizing of the military and cognitive function as well as the historical past were created in the figurative approaches both in paintings, prints and sculpture-objects by Mihael Milunovic. His somber mechanical machine works came as the afterfall of the period of the diminishing violence of the 1990s in Serbia and the global breakdown of meaning.
RES MAY 2009
TOP TO BOTTOM Tania Ostojic, After Courbet, 2004 Color photography, 18.1 x 21.7 in / 46 x 55 cm Courtesy the artist
OPPOSITE PAGE TOP TO BOTTOM Simonida Rajcevic, Diagnosis, 2008 Acrylic on canvas, 177.2 x 82.7 in / 450 x 210 cm Courtesy the artist
Ivan Petrovic, from the Documents Series, 1999 b/w photo prints, 11.8 x 15.7 in / 30 x 40 cm Courtesy the artist
Jovanka Stanojevic, Untitled, 2007 Acrylic on canvas, 66.9 x 94.5 in / 170 x 240 cm Courtesy the artist
Artists’ activities and also the general emotion were quite different from the now almost archaic dissent of politics and artistic experiments in the days of student and labor movements that spread over Europe and the world four decades earlier. The examples of cynical imaginative stripping down, even the possibilities of wider movements of dissent and contestation can be seen in the media-oriented work of younger artists such as Natasa Kokic, Gordana Zikic and Jovanka Stanojevic. Their punctual and media-controlled work contains the imagery of cityscapes, media and multicultural controlled expression. In their meticulous and eloquent compositions, such as large open faced portraits, the readings of the other are provoking the apparent struggle with turbulence and solitude within the artistic experience in contemporary Serbian society. On the other side are the globalized receipts of making imagery on the brink of global subculture by Gordana Zikic. In her videos, photo snaps and paintings the conflict of the solitary female warrior is a model for the harsh breaking of everyday communication. Such insights reside apparently on the side of politically provocative paintings such as the series by the veteran from the late 1960s, Milan Blanusa. His expression in grey tonalities is another passionate play with solitude and social misconduct, where the international heroes are artists such as Beckmann or
RES MAY 2009
When the question of the emblematic image of local time can be visually pronounced in economic and brutal turmoil, what comes to mind is a slow motion of a video work by Nenad Glisic titled Moving Track where the fixed camera follows a powerful and aggressive fighting bull terrier in an exercise chamber on a moving track belt accompanied by amplified growls and screeching sounds. The dismantling of the primordial suggests that no voluntary identity is a heightened task. Such examples are only the principles of an arbitrary closure that the sense of sadness permeates the works of independent artists. Their display is often neglected, a non-recognizable subjective result in their media output, no matter the painting, sculpture, objects, installation, photography, video or rarely site-specific examples. The lenticular prints of Cedomir Vasic are a source of historical paintings, mainly a national treasure of late 19th or early 20th century that were pushed into an angle of disappearance as another pictorial level of political conflict. The scope can be determined by undermining the information of what the central Serbian historical myth, such as the 1389 Battle of Kosovo, holds as well as inside contemporary reflection of the past and the troubled affaires of the same territory of Kosovo by the end of 20th century.
Immendorf who hold a necessary artistic frontier. Through examples of the younger generation, such redefining of anxieties is a mixture of popular culture and the everyday, as displayed in the expressive rendering of the human and historical affections in the works of Simonida Rajcevic. The tensions of isolation, of wars, or many low intensity and irrational conflicts represent an uncanny reflection in contemporary artworks. These attitude of haunting and of disturbance is quite different in dealing with the past principles of artistic freedom that became a Serbian liberal and anarchical potency in culture in the late 1960s and 1970s. Since the 1990s, Serbian society has in each political campaign created vast and absurdly impoverished sectors of daily living, of security and diminishing illusions. Now facing the new global recession, the state of current facts, there was a magnitude of present and slowly advanced examples within stances of current visual arts. They are displayed through responsibilities for the rise of violence: against the own people, along the governing line or even the use of relational aesthetics art as Serbian official post-conceptual practice and an obsolete recycling of the media imagery. Is this leading to a political awakening beyond the confines of the art world? Throughout the most recent three Venice Bienniales, the selection was a calculating symbolic marking of the Serbian art world in an attempted goal to internationalize the Neoavantgarde presentations, no matter their pictorial and individual, usually undoubtful qualities. This use of what is significant on the international level of presentation, and, what is really subverted, or laid back in the contemporary practice and even repressed is a defining principle of artistic modes in contemporary culture in Serbia. Through comprehending the non-political terrain with visual scopes of internalism of the very artistâ€™s body or the question of solitary self-examination comes the video art as well as the installation interiors with objects and projections of Anica Vucetic. Their visual strength follows the encounter with a fragmentary pulse of multi-screens or overlapping details that dominate the emotionally charged gallery environment. It is obvious that the rediscovered emotional mixture occurs in not a few examples of critically aware photography or photography oriented artworks. The evidence or a record of ruined social gatherings of society during or in the aftermath of the NATO bombing campaign of 1999 seen in photographs of Ivan Petrovic carry a meaningful response to the human portraits of the media-driven, post-historical state of facts. Representation both of nature and social space grasps the composition in the polyptich photographs of Maria Calic. They testify the painterly tradition of the European heritage and the uncanny layers of memory in the ruined or eroded relics of time, where the issue of temporality is holding a universal and pervasive significance. Both the mentioned examples as well as the whole gamut of processed and lively work produced and exhibited mainly in Belgrade and other Serbian cities gather the positioning of art from a quite diverse generation of active artists. Their contextual regional and global awareness relate to the geographic and psychological positioning of existence.
Nikola Suica (b.1960, Belgrade, ex-Yugoslavia) completed his BA and MA in History of Art at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, and his PhD on Visual Arts/Photography and Film Studies at the University of Arts in Belgrade. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Arts in Belgrade. Since 1987 numerous public lectures and presentations, contributions to the programmes of The British Council in Belgrade, Cinema Rex Radio B92, Center for Cultural Decontamination, Jewish Community Belgrade, Instituto Cervantes, Goethe Institut Belgrad. Co-organiser of Outside Project SACI Florence in Belgrade in 2002. Since 1999, associate editor of Alexandria publishing house, Independent Cultural Journal from Belgrade (www.alexandria-press.com) and since 2002 editor of Web Journal of Mecena Association of Fine Artists of Serbia (www.ulus.org.yu) Solo and group exhibitions in Belgrade and Pancevo in 1996/1998 and 2008. Author of several exhibition monographs, including Reljic, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 1996; Memorial Chamber, Gunpowder Storage, Belgrade, 1997; Leon Koen, Yugoslavian Gallery of Artworks, Belgrade, 2001; Sculpture of Milun Vidic, ULUS, 2003; Tom Phillips, New Moment Magazine, 2003; Closed Circuits, Belgrade, 2005.
Cedomir Vasic, Fugitives (detail), 2008 Lenticular print on canvas, 64.2 x 90.6 in / 163 x 230 cm Courtesy the artist
RES MAY 2009
Anica Vucetic, Iris, 2008 Video stills Courtesy the artist
RES MAY 2009
ON SKOR AND PUBLIC ART WITH FULYA ERDEMCİ BORGA KANTÜRK TEXT IN TURKISH. TRANSLATION BY BÜLENT ÇINAR
BORGA KANTÜRK You are the new director of SKOR (Stichting Kunst en Openbare Ruimte / Foundation Art and Public Space) succeeding Wilfried Lenz who worked in that capacity for the last eight years. Eight years is a long time. Could you please tell us about his approach and in which ways you plan to improve the process? Do you have your own projects? What shall we expect to change? FULYA ERDEMCİ SKOR has a rather long history, dating back to 1986. It was founded as Praktijkbureau Beeldende Kunstopdrachten (Bureau for Visual Art Assignments). In 2000, it became independent from the Mondriaan Foundation and has since specialized in art and public space. The period of Wilfred Lenz can be summarized as a transitional period towards creating an independent institution and this process is still continuing. Since I don’t believe in top-down changes, I am trying to suspend all my existing ideas and visions and to understand the local context better to be able to create my specific contribution. To that end, I have been doing research, visiting galleries and exhibitions and meeting with artists and representatives of city councils, ministries and institutions. I have already started to develop certain ideas and plans and to discuss them with the SKOR team. BK Considering the structure of organizations and the art institutions in Turkey, eight years is a very long time compared to the continuity of the institutions, foundations and organizations in Western Europe. Will we also see Fulya Erdemci as the director of SKOR for such a long time? FE After my seven years as the Director of the Istanbul Biennial, I consider eight years a rather long period for an institutional commitment. However, I regard SKOR as a long-term project and want to see what we can do together. BK Between 1994 and 2000, you worked as the Director of the Istanbul Biennial for the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, when the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Istanbul Biennials were held. At the same time, you were closely involved in the presentation of public art in Turkey through a foundation. Since then, we have seen the Pedestrian Exhibitions (1), which you realized with Emre Baykal, centering on the street as the exhibition venue. That was truly a groundbreaking, pioneering exhibition in Turkey in this field. We can even say that after the exhibition, public art has entered into a legitimate, recognized dimension for the City of Istanbul. SKOR, whose director you are, also focuses on art in the public space. How does the system work in such a structure? We are talking about an institutional address for an art form that is directly linked to the street. What kind of a role does and should a foundation with such a title assume?
RES MAY 2009
FE There is a substantial support system for arts and culture in the Netherlands. The so-called one percent rule makes public money available for projects in public spaces. Financially it is a very well
Lin Tian Miao, 5. International Istanbul Biennial, 1997, Curator: Rosa Martinez Courtesy the artist and the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV)
109 BK In her book The Place of Public Space in Urban Venue (2), Pelin Gökgür states that the definition of public space is based on three theoretical attributes: mediation, communication and participation. Do you agree with this structure? And how would you place SKOR within such a structure; which of the three aspects do you consider the closest? FE Since I haven’t read it, I cannot talk about the tripartite structure in the book. However, mediation, communication and participation are common terminology in reference to public space. I think that we should discuss these abstract concepts in today’s context: we have to discuss and question the transient meaning and usage of this trio in relation to the transformation of cities under neo-liberal urban policies. The regeneration and transformation of the cities are, like anything else, subject to market conditions and almost everything is focused on commercial interests, business, entertainment and tourism. In this sense, the public space is under question and negotiation. Can we, for instance, call an open-air shopping mall a public space? I think that art can assume a meaningful position in this change process: It can create a platform for research and mediate between the micro milieu and the macro milieu; between the community/ground, the planners/developers and other protagonists involved in shaping urban space. SKOR offers an incredible opportunity to develop research and practice. BK Public space has its own rules and also requires a mutual accord. While this accord works between the institution, the street, people in the street and the artist, where does SKOR step in and what is its role in sharing this space? RES MAY 2009
FE SKOR has considerable experience and specialized expertise in public domain issues. As you
mentioned, any art project created for the public space is a result of such a consensus, so expertise in this field is required. SKOR’s role is to create a consensus between the parties involved without sacrificing the quality of the artwork and the idea of publicness. BK SKOR offers financial support and consultancy services for the realization of art projects in the public space. Could you please tell us briefly about the consulting process? FE As I mentioned before, we receive applications from several institutions, city councils etc. SKOR curators research the case and discuss it with the team, the advisory committee and the managing board. If we decide to develop a project for that specific situation, we propose three artists to the hosting institution or municipality and point out the several different aspects that each artist can convey. After we reach a consensus on the artist, we contact the artist to start a dialogue on the specific case and ask for a proposal. If the proposal is accepted also by the applicant, we ask the artist to develop the project. If the project is not accepted by the applicant for sensible reasons, we ask the same artist for a different proposal. At each step the artist receives a fee, whether or not her/his project is accepted. Our financial support includes 1/4, 1/3 or at most 1/2 of the total project costs. How much we pay depends on several different criteria, such as location, use and for whom this artwork is created. BK What is the respective share of long-term projects, permanent works and short-term projects? Does the foundation support artists whose works are specifically produced for the public space or organize related exhibitions? FE Most of SKOR’s projects are either permenant or long term. Temporary exhibitions are exceptional. Increasing the share of such temporary manifestations among SKOR’s activities is part of my future plans. Rather than supporting already defined projects, SKOR invites artists to develop site-specific and context responsive projects. Very rarely SKOR supports already existing proposals since there are several institutions in the Netherlands solely dedicated to supporting artistic production for the public space or other purposes. BK Does SKOR operate only in the Netherlands? Or does it also provide assistance in public art productions and events through international partnerships? FE Actually it is a national institution. However, there are exceptions in terms of international activities. As you may know Mondriaan Foundation is a governmental organization that supports international activities like the Dutch participation in international exhibitions, biennials, etc. Right now, we are working on a number of commitments that SKOR can undertake in an international context. BK SKOR was established by the Office of Visual Arts, so it is associated with public institutions. However, it claims that it is managed independently. Are we talking about full independence here or is there an ongoing negotiation between the state and the foundation? I am asking this out of a concern that the funding for long-term projects and support for artists may be cut when there are changes in the government and the administration.
RES MAY 2009
organized system. SKOR advises and develops exemplary projects for the public domain: health-care and educational institutions, urban development projects like highways, squares or projects related to nature and its transformation, like the polders. Such institutions, municipalities or related official bodies as well as individuals apply to us to develop projects for the public domain. According to the Ugo Rondinone, 6. International Istanbul Biennial, 1999, Curator: Paolo Colombo nature of the project, we interview the Courtesy the artist and the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) applicant and visit the site. If it can be evaluated under the SKOR’s aims and vision, then one of our curators develops a project to be presented to the advisory committee. All projects developed by SKOR are discussed by the committee, which consists of a curator, an architect/landscape architect, an artist, a producer or representative of media/ new media and a designer. In accordance with the decision taken by the committee, we either continue to develop the project further and, if needed, provide financial support or, if the project cannot be realized by SKOR, we provide the applicant with necessary advice and suggest specific institutions that could evaluate the applicant’s project. In the case of projects which require support from SKOR exceeding the amount of 50,000 euros, the management board’s approval is required. Besides these regular procedures, SKOR can initiate other projects which are considered exemplary projects, like the BEYOND exhibition that was developed by Tom van Gessel (Senior Curator/Adjunct Director) in 2002 for Leidsche Rijn, a recently developed residential area, and that will be finalized in September 2009.
111 SCAPE 2008 CHRISTCHURCH BIENNIAL OF ART IN PUBLIC SPACE Curated by Fulya Erdemci and Danae Mossman “The function of public art is to de-design.” Vito Acconci (1) Contingencies of Space The exploration of urban spaces that construct and contain the life of the city engages with the issues of how we live and how culture is constantly transforming and adapting to new conditions. Unlike earlier permanent “drop sculptures” in public spaces, temporary¬ art interventions respond to the contingencies of real time and space, in other words of everyday life. The SCAPE 2008 Christchurch Biennial is firmly positioned in the dynamic systems of the city and will develop relationships between artworks and an infinite number of spatial, urban, social, psychological, individual or communal, political and historical contingencies that exist in the city. Making these seemingly invisible contingencies visible, the artistic interventions can propose an entirely different experience of locale and situation. In this sense, interweaving art within the social and urban context is vital in initiating a critical dialogue about a new culture of space. In line with Vito Acconci’s definition of the function of art in public space, all SCAPE 2008 projects will be selected in accordance with their ability to de-design/deconstruct the spatial politics of established ways of operating to reveal conflicts in specific localities. The title Wandering Lines (2) is drawn from the notion that “indirect or errant trajectories obeying their own logic” (3) can provide new understandings of space. It was chosen because of SCAPE 2008’s desire to unfold the constituting structures and conventional ways of operating within the existing urban design. This suggests a deconstruction of the city grid which can reveal new possibilities beyond those the city proposes.
(1) Vito Acconci, Leaving Home, Notes on Insertions into the Public in Public Art, ed. by Florian Matzner, 2004, p.30. (2) Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1998 (3) Ibid. From de Certeau describing Francios Deligny’s experience of working with autistic children who “trace indeterminate trajectories” that are apparently meaningless since they do not cohere with the constructed, written and prefabricated space through which they move. These trajectories are sentences that remain unpredictable within the space ordered by the organizing of techniques and systems. Although they use the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspapers, the supermarket or city planning) as their material, although they remain within the framework of prescribed syntaxes (the temporal modes of schedules, paradigmatic organizations of places), these “traverses remain heterogeneous to the systems they infiltrate and in which they sketch out the guileful rules of different interests and desires.”
BK As the director of SKOR, you were also selected to serve as the co-curator of the 5th SCAPE Biennial of Art in Public Space. I am sure that a mere relationship between the street and the audience is not the only characteristic that distinguishes a biennial with Art in Public Space in its title from other biennials. What is the key objective of this biennial? FE As the co-curator of the 5th SCAPE, rather than commenting on the priorities set for SCAPE in general by the organizing institution Art and Industry Biennial Trust, I would prefer to mention very briefly the specific focus of the actual exhibition I am involved in. As articulated in our conceptual framework, my co-curator Danae Mossman and I wanted to create a research exhibition in public space on the transformation of cities under neo-liberal urban politics in the specific case of Christchurch City. And our understanding of participation or commitment can be summarized as to create a contrast in the public space. BK Has your curatorial production always focused on public art? Could we call public art curatorship a field of specialization and research?
RES MAY 2009
FE Certainly. To function in public space is not only a matter of different locations, not just a matter of inside and outside. It is almost two different registers. Considering art in public space as the most vital interface between life and art, it is a challenge to reach the people in the street and simultaneously the museum-goers. Furthermore, there are two major approaches to intervening with the city: taking the city as “museum without walls” or taking the city as a research field and intervening with it through context responsive proposals which grow from the very texture of the city. Therefore, it is a vast field, and as you mentioned, it requires specialized research and expertise.
BK You have a great deal of experience with museum administration and a considerable number of international exhibitions. Among these, the first that comes to my mind is the Organized Conflict (Proje4L, Istanbul, 2003), in which you focused on painting and brought together various stances in painting. This exhibition has made you an important point of reference in the contemporary art world in Turkey with regard to the redefinition and reimagination of painting. Another show would be Regrets, Dreams Changing Skies (Karşı Sanat, Istanbul, 2001) that was organized on a rather low budget. But it employed and marked the entire gallery space as well as the building itself and its surroundings. Are you now far away from this type of exhibition? Or do you think about such processes and installations? FE It is true that my present focus is on the art in public space, however, it is still very exciting for me to think about exhibitions for the places reserved for art. Certainly, indoor exhibitions give you more control over the totality of the manifestation and what you aim to deliver. In Joep van Lieshout, Darwin, 2008 public space, you work with constraints and you SCAPE 2008 Christchurch Biennial are engaged with daily routines in urban life, Copyright Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu Photograph: Hayley Roberts thus, with ever emerging problems. BK Getting back to the issue of public space, when this space is organized in accordance with its own rules in an independent and hidden way—I could call this illegal or underground art— there is no lavish funding. On the other hand, high-budget institutions commission artists for productions similar to the monuments of the past to be placed in the public space. Of these production practices, one aims to be documented while the other undertakes to camouflage itself in the bustle of the city rather than being an obvious sight. At this point, which aspect does the foundation heed? FE I think that we have to take art in public space in its historicity and avoid oversimplifying its complex processes. The main challenge today is to open up art in public space in contemporary languages of art. Actions and practices of so-called interventionists, activists or shock art artists are a part of what we call art in public space today. However, there is a general tendency in contemporary art: the appropriation of radicalism by the establishment. And in that sense, there is no cutting edge. For instance, right now, ephemerality is one of the priorities of the governmental art institutions and the differentiation between legal and illegal does not work in western societies the way we imagine it. The conflict is no longer between the official bodies and the radicals but between the radicals and a neo-conservative society. The western society, maybe especially after the creation of the European Union, has become more and more a part of the establishment. For instance, Paul McCarthy’s “sexy”
RES MAY 2009
FE In the Netherlands, such systems are organized very successfully; governments do not interfere with the internal affairs of SKOR or any other institution. However, like almost all the art institutions in this country, SKOR is subsidized by the Ministry of Culture and Education with strict regulations in accordance with an approved four year policy plan and related budget. Any new proposal intervening with these basic policies requires an official process of negotiation. For instance, I am currently working on expanding the existing public program of SKOR, which has been a minor function till now, into a main activity of the foundation. We are in the process of negotiation with the ministry and other related parties to create funds for this major change though we have sufficient budget to do it. So, unlike what we are experiencing in Turkey, continuity is not a problem in the Netherlands, but maybe overprogramming can be a limitation.
FE I think, rather than making a differentiation in accordance with the formal properties of an art project in public space, like its visibility, we should evaluate art in public space projects in their situation-specific context. Today we are talking about the New Culture of Space (this was a part of our title for the Scape Biennial) or Politics of Space related to the transformation of cities under neo-liberalism that creates socioeconomic divides within the cities. Therefore, new forms of commitment and strategies in public space include more architectural and spatial practices that have a higher visibility. However, we cannot judge an art project in accordance with its form or visibility but, as I mentioned before, in accordance with the reactions and discussions it calls for. Very ephemeral community projects may also sooth the public reaction and cover the conflict imbedded in that situation. I personally try to avoid such general remarks and to think about each specific case and situation. Murat and Fuat Şahinler, Breather / Tenefüs, 2008 SCAPE 2008 Christchurch Biennial Copyright Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu Photograph: Brendan Lee
Santa Claus, which was created for and installed at Rotterdam’s Schouwburgplein, was taken down because of the vociferous complaints from the general public. An artwork in public space, thus, cannot be considered as an object by itself; the public reactions it may cause are as important as its objecthood. Refusal of a project by the authorities or abolition of an installed work because of negative reactions from the public are an essential and integral part of the processes involved since such reactions unveil the basic bureaucratic or cultural structures in that particular society. In this sense, an unrealized project fulfills its function sometimes more than its realization on the condition that it is discussed and recorded publicly.
RES MAY 2009
BK When we compare examples of contemporary art that centers on the street, with the performance and street art of the 1960s, I believe that today’s productions have transformed into a majestic show rather than a strong socio-economic gesture that gravitates towards the market trends in the international art world, to the showcase of contemporary art. Consequently, it seems inevitable that this area will assume a more distinct yet harmless role that receives institutional support as it legalizes and popularizes. A result of this would be the desire for more grandiose, greater and more striking works that everybody can see and that result in better publicity. This is at times demanded also by the supporting institutions and by the artists themselves. Ultimately, after all this process of shaping and bending, does art lose its essence and power? Should we link this to the structure of the historical period or to the liberalized conciliatory policies? True, there is better funding, but is more global and conciliatory art acceptable art?
However, I can also understand very well what you are implying with the repercussions of funding and support systems. Such democratic funding systems simultaneously create downfalls such as loosing the sense of urgency.
James Oram, See change, 2008 SCAPE 2008 Christchurch Biennial Copyright Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu Courtesy the artist
NOTES (1) The 1st Istanbul Pedestrian Exhibition was realized in Nişantaşı from September 28 to October 29, 2002, and the 2nd exhibition in the Tünel-Karaköy district from September 16 to October 22, 2005. (2) Pelin Gökgür, The Place of Public Space in Urban Venue (available only in Turkish), Bağlam Publications, Istanbul, March 2008 Fulya Erdemci (b. 1962) studied art history and theory in the graduate program of art history and archeology at Columbia University, New York, from 1990 to 1993. On her return, Erdemci begun to teach part-time at Bilkent University in Ankara and worked as the Director of the International Istanbul Biennial from 1994 to 2000. She initiated the series of urban art exhibitions in public space called Istanbul Pedestrian Exhibitions in 2002 and 2005 (Istanbul Pedestrian Exhibitions 2: co-curated with Emre Baykal). Erdemci co-curated (with Ron Mandos) Between the Waterfronts in Rotterdam in 2002, a cultural exchange project between Istanbul and Rotterdam. She co-curated Where?/Here?, Saitama in 2003 with Emre Baykal, Vasıf Kortun and Yuji Maeyama, again as a part of a cultural exchange program, this time between Japan and Turkey. She worked as the Associate Curator for the Istanbul section of the 25th São Paulo Biennial, Citades/Cities, 2002. In 2004, she was the Temporary Exhibitions Curator at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and curated two of the inaugural exhibitions, Making of Istanbul Modern and 3 Videos. She was appointed Director of Proje4L–Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art in 2003. She was part of the curatorial team of the 2nd Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art (2007) and curated the contemporary art exhibition (1970–2000) of Modern and Beyond, an art historical account of Turkish Modernism and Contemporary Art (1950–2000) in 2007. Fulya Erdemci also taught at Marmara University in Istanbul (1999–2000) and has been teaching part-time at Visual Communication Design Department, graduate program, Istanbul Bilgi University, since 2001. Erdemci recently co-curated with Danae Mossman Wandering Lines: Towards A New
Nasan Tur, Demo-kit, 2008 SCAPE 2008 Christchurch Biennial Copyright Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu Photograph: Michael Leung
Culture of Space, the 5th edition of the Scape Biennial of Art in Public Space, Christchurch, New Zealand (2008). Currently, Fulya Erdemci is the Director of SKOR, Stichting Kunst en Openbare Ruimte (Foundation Art and Public Space) in Amsterdam. Borga Kantürk (b. 1978) is an artist and curator. He graduated from the Department of Painting and completed his master’s degree at Dokuz Eylül University in İzmir where he has been working as a research assistant since 2002. Kantürk has participated in several international and national exhibitions and has curated international exhibitions with the support of Hiap, FRAME, Av-Arkki (Finland), Atelier Frankfurt (Germany) and K2 Art Center (İzmir). As the founder-director of KUTU Portable Art Gallery, he also worked as a project director at K2 Art Center from 2004–2007. Kantürk was a member in the curator team of the 10th Istanbul Biennale Nightcomers project (2007). In 2008, he founded the İzmir Contemporary Art Archive and curated several exhibitions for 1 Network Contemporary Art, İzmir. He lives and works in İzmir.
Luna Maurer and Kristin Maurer, who were commissioned by SKOR and the St Jansdal hospital, are the two artists behind the project. From January 6, 2009 all patients staying at the St Jansdal hospital will have a ‘sea view’, just like in the old days when Harderwijk still bordered the Zuider Zee. From their beds they will be able to receive live images of the sea on their televisions. In short, a camera and sound installation pointed at the Oosterscheldekering in Zeeland will record round-the-clock live images of the sea for a period of one year. The images will be sent by internet to one of the hospital’s TV channels, making it possible for viewers to experience the waves, tides, surf, and sea sounds at any time of the day. Luna and Kristin Maurer, The sea to Harderwijk, 2009 Courtesy SKOR, Photograph: Teo Krijgsman
Luna and Kristin Maurer, The sea to Harderwijk, 2009 Courtesy SKOR, Photograph: Luna Maurer
Jan Dibbets, 12 Hours Tide Object with Correction of Perspective on the Maasvlakte beach, 2009 Courtesy SKOR, Photograph: Paloma Polo
RES MAY 2009
The artist has made a new version of his film 12 Hours Tide Object with Correction of Perspective (1969) on the Maasvlakte beach, February 8, 2009. The film was shot during Art Rotterdam (February 5-8, 2009). It also marks the start of Portscapes, a series of artists’ projects which are being developed by the Latitudes curators duo (Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna) for the Port of Rotterdam Authority in consultation with SKOR.
AS Most of the population is quite young, correct?
ASHKAN SEPAHVAND ASHKAN SEPAHVAND You were trained as an architect. What was the basis for your decision to study architecture? SOLMAZ SHAHBAZI My father is an architect. Other family members of mine are architects as well; some are engineers. I started studying architecture at a technical university for a year, and then I went to an art school and started painting, and finally I transferred to the Academy of the Arts in Stuttgart, which is pretty free—you study mostly theory and conceptual art. There, I began working a lot with video. I developed a few projects that utilized video while in the architecture department at Stuttgart, combining the two. I was always looking for something else.
SS The average age should be somewhere around 25. My theory, which I began exploring five years ago, is that the Iranian Revolution has not finished yet. I had some hope that this new generation will change a lot, but unfortunately they have been stopped. The four people I interviewed are all the same age, yet they come from very different parts of society. One is the son of a lawyer, one is a girl who has been working as a photojournalist since she was 16, one is a boy whose parents are both unemployed, his father is a drug addict. He works jobs here and there just to make some money. And the last one is a young mullah from a very poor family, who attends a theology seminary in Tehran, hoping to gain some power by becoming a mullah. What I do is put them next to each other. I am not judging them, I am presenting them only as a snapshot of the Iranian youth. You can decide for yourself—whether being a mullah makes you bad or not, because this guy at the end is the nicest guy, and I didn’t make him the nicest, he is just the one you feel closest to. Here, I am talking about the preconceived images that one has when approaching this subject, and how these images change by taking a closer look. Also, I selected the girl who works as a photojournalist because I wanted to show that it is possible to work in Iran as a young woman. I chose the lawyer’s son because he is the intellectual one, and he demonstrates a certain anger. Actually I have made a third film about Tehran. AS It is called Persepolis?
AS How did you begin your collaboration with Tirdad Zolghadr on the film Tehran 1380? SS I met Tirdad after I graduated. I went to Tehran for the summer and met Tirdad. We got into this conversation about the city, and about the Ekbatan housing project specifically (1). We discovered that we were two of the rare people who really love this complex. We continued this conversation about Ekbatan and urban planning in general in Tehran. And then I asked him to make a film with me because I thought that it would provide a different perspective on looking at Tehran: I had spent my childhood there, he hadn’t; he knew a lot of theory and history and about the political situation, but I knew more about the daily life, and together it was an interesting collaboration.
SS Yes, it is called Persepolis after the high rise building in Tehran that I live in. It does not have anything to do with all these symbols that the word Persepolis evokes. I try to avoid using these stereotypes, because when you come from Iran and you are a woman, there is a whole set of expectations about you already in people’s minds. About who you are, what you do, what you are interested in: the nostalgic Iranian woman who goes back home and talks about her memories. I always negate that concept in my work. I am interested in examining these subjects from all possible perspectives. I am approaching Tehran as a modern metropolis. I look at memory as a subject in itself. This is not about Iranians talking about memory, rather, people talking about memory, youth talking about youth.
AS I am curious to know if any of your memories of growing up in Iran have taken you back there, pushing you to explore something personal in your work?
AS You are always in the present it seems. Working with what is there, what exists right now. What are you focusing on specifically in Persepolis?
SS Not really. You’ve watched Tehran 1380. It doesn’t deal so much with memory. I recognized during the making of Tehran 1380 that I naturally felt much more emotionally close to everything, but I had to get rid of that in order to make the film the way I wanted it to be. And the next film in the trilogy, Good Times / Bad Times, has nothing to do with memory.
SS What I tried to do in this trilogy initially, with Tehran 1380, is to start with a panoramic view of Tehran. In Good Times / Bad Times I attempted to get closer to the subject with the camera, which means becoming more private, asking more personal questions. The pictures of the city are far away, but the people are right in front of the camera. What I do in Persepolis is to go into people’s private homes, all of whom are my neighbors in the building. I ask them to describe the city of Tehran. I attempt to point out that even though I have started a personal discussion about my memories of Tehran, I do not remember that much. I must go and ask others, I have to hear their stories. What I don’t do in Persepolis, however, is show the people.
AS What is Good Times / Bad Times about?
RES MAY 2009
SS It is about youth. Actually, the title comes from a German soap opera [Gute Zeiten – Schlechte Zeiten]. What I intended to say with that choice is that being young in Iran is not so different from the daily, average lives of youth here, their problems and concerns. Of course, it’s not exactly the same thing, but there are many similarities. In the film, I interview four people who were born after the Iranian Revolution. I call it the Iranian Revolution—not the Islamic Revolution. This is related to my interest in the idea of what this “revolution” was. When did it start, did it ever finish? And given the fact that most of the population was born after the Revolution…
AS You only show the objects they have in their homes. SS Yes, very private objects. You hear their voices and their stories and you see the objects in their living room and you have to imagine for yourself what the city looks like, what the person could look like, and who this person could be.
RES MAY 2009
INTERVIEW WITH SOLMAZ SHAHBAZI
119 SS Exactly.
Solmaz Shahbazi, Perfectly Suited for You, 2005 Video still, 2 channel video installation Projection 15 min., tv screen 13 min., edition 4+2ap Courtesy the artist
AS It seems then that in your trilogy, as a whole body of work, you explore an arc that spans the range of public and private spaces available, not just in the literal distinction of city/home, but also in the technical and aesthetic components of each film.
SS They are all urban subjects. You do not see any people, therefore you cannot recognize through a human reference where the photo was taken. It is all about the urban atmosphere. In the two video works I showed in Istanbul, I offer two narratives. One video shows the sprawl of the gated communities, located on the outskirts of Istanbul, and how they form a bizarre version of their own imagined perfect place. The second video involves one private interview with a resident of this specific community called Kemer Country, reflecting their fears and anxieties about the city, as well as demonstrating their shared feeling of community and security. Once again, I am not judging the people I am interviewing, just allowing for their point of view to demonstrate complex shifts in urban patterns.
RES MAY 2009
AS Thus the only register the viewer has is the series of objects that the camera records, and the objects come to represent the individual memories of the person speaking. Memory becomes, so to speak, embodied in each subject’s material existence.
AS You have explored in your works ways in which our physical reality is constructed as well as how our built environment is mediated by bio-political interests in “modernizing” identity. What do you wish to accomplish artistically by exposing the intricate narratives behind urban, social experience?
SS Right. AS Have any of these works in your trilogy been screened in Iran? SS We tried to screen Tehran 1380, but since we had people engaging a bit in political conversations as well as some women who decided not to wear the headscarf, we decided to have one semi-private/public screening once, but a week before the screening we were told that the tapes had to be sent to the Ministry of Islamic Guidance to be checked, so we decided not to. We showed it in private groups. Why do you ask? AS I am curious to know if you feel as though the information presented in the films would reveal itself differently, through public reception, if it were seen by an Iranian audience? SS It is not interesting to the people there at all. People get angry. They ask: What are you trying to do? Why are you telling me this? I know all of this. It is obvious. We made Tehran 1380 for a Western audience. And even the aesthetic, the aesthetic of art and film, has a very different definition in Iran than it does in the West. At one point, we had problems with filmmakers here in Germany who became very angry with us, saying, “This is not a film!” And in Iran it was even worse. People would not even look at the film. In their film tradition they go back to Nouvelle Vague, black and white, and super straight editing. They would not even give it a chance. Tehran 1380 does not serve any of those expectations—of what a “work of art” should be or even an “experimental film”. It is not the kind of Tehran you want to see, not the kind of film you want to see, not the kind of editing you want to see, and definitely not the type of editing you are used to. AS You have also done some work in Istanbul? SS Yes, I did two videos as an installation for the 9th Istanbul Biennial in 2005, on the subject of gated communities. I also did a photo series presented in light boxes titled Untitled Series and that is about urban spaces. The viewer is told at the beginning that the photos were taken in the Middle East, Germany, Switzerland etc. but I do not tell them the location of each photo. What I am doing again here is catching people by their own expectations of what they want the Middle East and other places to look like. AS What are your photographic subjects in this series?
SS I would not say that I am trying to accomplish a specific thing. I am more interested in the global similarities of how cities are developing. I do not want to be specifically an “Iranian working on Iran.” There is nothing unique to the situation in my Tehran trilogy, which is why I have also worked in Shanghai and am now doing a project in Berlin. There are patterns that exist similarly in modern metropolises, and there are historical, modernist connections to these patterns. AS There is a quote in Tehran 1380 that really struck me. One of the urban planners you interviewed was saying that in order for Tehran—and all of Iran by extension—to develop, “the cramped and chaotic social structures must first be broken, in order to set up clear boundaries for the inhabitants of Tehran and then one can hope to introduce a new, law abiding mentality among them.” This is a reference to the destruction of older neighborhoods and the complex communities that resided in them, eradicating these private spaces in order to build huge housing projects like Ekbatan and Navvab (2). And I cannot help but to think of an historical example: the International Congress of Modern Architecture’s “Athens Charter”, set down by Le Corbusier in 1941, which stated that “in the functional city, chaos, brought on by the introduction of the machine, would be eradicated, not by restricting machines, but by remaking cities more rationally…To do this, cities would have to become more scientific, less emotionally charged.”
RES MAY 2009
SS I have always been interested and immediately drawn to modernist thinking, especially that of Le Corbusier. I think part of the reason I was attracted to Ekbatan initially, as an architectural form, was because of my interest in Le Corbusier. And if Le Corbusier were to see Ekbatan and hear the people’s reactions, he would be very happy I think.
Exhibition views from the 9th International Istanbul Biennial (September 16 - October 30, 2005) Courtesy the artist
121 RES MAY 2009
with the appearance of the city. As one person we interviewed said: “The entrance to the city must be appropriate.” Navvab is in the south of Tehran, where visitors arrive and pass from the new Imam Khomeini International Airport. AS And as they drive along the highway, they would pass rows and rows of block housing, which are effectively acting as a high-rise wall to block the view of the rest of underdeveloped, poor and crowded South Tehran. SS Exactly. And these highways that visitors, say from the West, would drive on, would hold panoramic images of new, sleek, “modern” housing, making a first impression on the viewer as the taxi speeds along the major highway that connects South Tehran to North Tehran, where all the luxury hotels are. And although the people do not care, though they are used to being offered a new vision of life, it does not mean they will simply take it. AS: What was most astonishing to me was how the architect you interviewed in Tehran 1380, Forouzan Deylami, says that “This is the role of the architect: Forcing people to get used to new living conditions.” SS To show people how to live. AS Do you believe this creates an alienating situation among the population? Persepolis, 2005 Video still, single channel video 17 min., edition 5+2ap Courtesy the artist
AS And in that sense, given the Shah’s persistent use of Western models, it is immediately drawing inspiration from modernist urban architecture… SS Right. Le Corbusier’s plans and ideas are not far off from what the original architects and developers were looking at when they envisioned Ekbatan. Today, everybody who lives in Ekbatan loves living there; everybody is happy; nobody wants to leave. That would give Le Corbusier a stroke, out of joy or confusion, since all other urban housing projects in the West have been met with so much hatred and resentment. AS That’s bizarre and wonderful. This particular urban reorganization also reminds me of what happened in European capitals in the mid-nineteenth century, specifically the Haussmannization of Paris, based on a fear of the masses. Do you believe that all these new urban planning projects in Tehran are an attempt by the government to reorganize formerly tight-knit neighborhoods into an open, urban space, for the purposes of public order and surveillance?
RES MAY 2009
SS In a way it is also interesting that the people do not really seem to care. It is not such a one-sided action with the government demanding and the people giving. Or that the urban planners rebuild and the people are helpless. First off, many of these neighborhoods, such as Navvab, are really not “historical.” They may be old but it is not as if there were historical monuments or buildings being torn down. On the one hand, it is an attempt to follow through with plans drafted under the Shah, now that the funding has become available once again. These are purely superficial plans, concerned
SS But that is the way many architects think. That is the way many of my colleagues at school approached architecture. That is the role of the architect. I had big discussions with the students who would get very experimental in their architecture, asking them, do you think other people beside architecture students would feel comfortable in this building? Why would you do that? As an architect it is your basic job to give people buildings that they live in, that accommodate them, that are comfortable, and some people just take it to another level, understand their duty as an architect in a different way. AS The same authoritarian discourse can be seen in Adolf Loos’s manifestos on architecture, where he saw the works of the Jugendstil and Art Nouveau architects as not just excess, but immoral. In his opinion, these architects were building houses with fanciful decorations envisioned as a personal interpretation of their subjects’ desires. Loos said that instead “The artist, the architect, first senses the effect that he intends to realize and [then] sees the rooms he wants to create in his mind’s eye. He senses the effect that he wishes to exert upon the spectator.” The Tehran 1380, 2002 architect does not produce what his subject desires. Instead, he Video still, single channel video produces his desired subjects. 45 min., edition 4+2ap Courtesy the artist
SS And that is why we chose to show the scene we did after Deylami’s comment. If you remember, it shows the dining room inside of one of Navvab’s apartments, and the ceiling has caved in directly above the dining table. There are huge chunks of ceiling covering the table and at the same time, the man living in the apartment is telling us, “Thank God that my children were having their breakfast over here, on the floor, rather than at the table.” They would have been injured if they had been at the table. But what is interesting is that
123 AS The “Shahr-e Ma, Khane-ye Ma”, Our City Our Home campaign? SS Yes this has become a joke. The campaign extends from brightly painted murals down to trash cans, promoting people to throw away their trash in the proper place. And now people just laugh and joke around when they need to throw away something, “I need an Our City Our Home”. AS I was also interested in the popular reaction to what these architects are doing in Tehran. One of the residents in the older neighborhood of Navvab does not express contentment with the housing project. She curiously says, “The models our architects and engineers work with are not Iranian ones… They get their ideas from the other side.” What, then, is an Iranian model? SS I think a modern model does not really exist yet and that is the problem. AS I mean, how could architects in Iran incorporate traditional, indigenous forms of architecture—the shadowy entrance portal, the courtyard, the small garden space, the water fountain, the shaded part of the house that allows for spending afternoons outdoors—how could these be unified with more modernist concerns of formal division and spatial efficiency? SS That is a good question. AS The forms may not be provided, but as with your example of people having picnics along the grassy strip on the highway, maybe people recreate the activities that the traditional courtyard, let’s say, would normally allow for, but somewhere else. They transport their practices. SS Yes. AS Do you believe in imagination in architecture? I mean, in a way, imagination would allow for the incorporation of traditional forms into modern ones.
SS I do believe in imagination in architecture. But at the same time, there are practicalities. Where is your money coming from, who is developing your project, will the city approve of the plans? Each idea may start with imagination but imagination is contorted and diluted by all the official processes that surround the actual building of the site. Think about Rem Koolhaas’s work: Over the years he has written extensively, described numerous architectural visions, and employed much imagination. Yet, only a few of his buildings have been built. Now they are instead being built within the art context. AS Like his pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in London. SS And this demonstrates that although I believe imagination can play an important role, it is given a limit by the way the world works. But people will use the space given to them by architects and urban planners in their own way. They will interpret. Some of these projects fail, and some take interesting turns, developing in ways never imagined. Architecture cannot change people completely; it only extends the possibilities of space.
NOTES (1) ‘’Shahrak-e Ekbatan” is the largest residential complex in the city of Tehran. It is located in the west of the city in Tehran Municipal District No. 5. Construction of Ekbatan was initiated under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1975 and was completed shortly after the 1979 Revolution. Italian and German engineers designed and oversaw its construction. It is composed of 15,500 housing units, constructed over a three-phase period, and spreading over 2,208,570 square meters. Ekbatan has around 70,000 inhabitants. (2) Navvab is a neighborhood in the southern part of Tehran. Currently still under construction, the Navvab project will consist of 743,640 square meters of subsidized residential housing units and 160,800 of commercial and office space, along with a highway running through the complex, stretching 45 meters at its widest. The highway connects the main road leading south out of Tehran to the main highway system downtown. Solmaz Shahbazi (b. 1971, Tehran) lives and works in Berlin and Tehran. Ashkan Sepahvand (b. 1984, Tehran) is a writer, translator, and cultural researcher. Since 2006 he has been working with Reloading Images, with whom he has co-organized the artistic research workshops Reloading Images Berlin/Tehran Work-in-Progress 2007 and Reloading Images Damascus Work-in-Progress 2008. His personal research interests center on the Messianic operative, new iconoclasms, the aesthetics of terrorism, subjective historiography, and porno/political desire-machines. His forthcoming book To Whom Life will be published by the London-based organization Book Works as part of the Semina series in April 2009. He lives and works in Berlin.
RES MAY 2009
even though they are given a table, no one can force them to sit there; they continue to sit on the floor, the traditional way to dine, eating their breakfast. The architects and the mayor can say what they want but their power is limited when it comes to the private decisions of individuals. So many things have become jokes, even—for instance, the strips of green land running along the highways that pass through Tehran—part of a city beautification project. These green spaces have been effectively co-opted by families sitting View from the exhibition Time Present, Time Past: Highlights from 20 Years of The International Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul Modern, 2007 there and having their picnics, children playing Courtesy the artist and Istanbul Modern badminton, youths relaxing in the sun. These spaces are not meant for such use, but the people use them as they would traditionally use green space, regardless of the highway. And the murals that the Mayor commissioned all over Tehran.
RES MAY 2009
RES MAY 2009
KOONS IN VERSAILLES “...LOUIS XIV IS POWER, A SYMBOL OF USING ART AS AN AUTHORITARIAN MEANS...” Lobster Collection, Michael and BZ Schwartz, Studio Jeff Koons
SABINE BOEHL TEXT IN GERMAN. TRANSLATION BY MICHA GOEBIG AND CHRISTINE LIESE-SCHIKANEDER
Jeff Koons, 2003, Studio Jeff Koons
With all its strong references to the Rococo, it was an apt decision to present Jeff Koons’ work at the palace of Versailles. In this respect, the harsh criticism voiced by the French Writers’ Union appears ever so much more incomprehensible, whose president Arnaud-Aaron Upinsky scored the ultimate own goal of complete lack of connoisseurship in arts by comparing the exhibition to sticking a fake moustache to Mona Lisa….. huh? Where better can we witness the ultimate representation of zeitgeist—that of the Ancient Regime with its Palace of Versailles or that of our times and age in which the shell is the statement of the status quo? And by the way, which French artist actually made a picture of Mona with a beard? Follow my little excursions and I might reveal his name.
Although Jeff Koons’ work adopts the idea of the ready made by means of shifting context, it still banks on the affective aspect of the object. Koons is a brainchild of the 1980s, the atmosphere of which was effectively mirrored by Brett Easton Ellis’ protagonists. Jeff Koons is the consumer who seeks the promise of happiness in consumption. “It is a commercial world, and morality is based generally around economics...” Koons translates the desires of childhood and consumption into an artistic context via cartoon characters, toys, super aestheticised sex scenes or consumer products: “A viewer might at first see irony in my work (…) but I see none at all. Irony causes too much critical contemplation.” In an interview in April 2008 Koons states: “Well, I think that works have to be chameleon to a certain degree. If a work isn’t chameleon, eventually someone is going to be in front of it and not find any meaning. Things change and works have to be adaptable to be able to absorb meanings that people place on them or find in them.” Koons’ chameleons are now revealing themselves in the historic spaces of the palace of Versailles. Having passed through the palace’s iron gates that are crowned by the yellow gold escutcheon of France, one encounters the greenish yellow Balloon Flower (Yellow) that mirrors in its windings the palace’s façade in numerous perspective distortions. The object reclines in the forecourt of the palace like the blow-up version of a cheap accessory from a bijouterie, a semi-finished product that hasn’t received a proper tinted gold coating, while reflecting both the historic and contemporary epochs physically and rhetorically.
RES MAY 2009
Entering the royal apartments the visitor passes through a number of sculpture-lined corridors on the first and second floor to finally enter the first room of the exhibition, the Salon d’ Hercule. Here, the magenta colored Balloon Dog turns its rear end to the viewer, blocking the view on Veronese’s Le Repas chez Simon as if he himself was contemplating the painting. All of a sudden it becomes notable that in the Veronese the depiction of the washing of feet is flanked by two dogs in the foreground.
127 RES MAY 2009
TOP Rabbit Collection, Private Collection, Studio Jeff Koons BOTTOM Rabbit, 1986 Stainless steel, 41 x 19 x 12 in / 104.1 x 48.3 x 30.5 cm Studio Jeff Koons, Le Salon de l’Abondance, Grand Appartement du Roi
New Hoover Convertibles Green, Green, Red, New Hoover Deluxe Shampoo Polishers, New Shelton Wet / Dry 5-Gallon, Displaced Tripledecker, 1981-1987 123 x 54 x 28 in / 312.4 x 137.2 x 71.1 cm Studio Jeff Koons, l’Antichambre du Grand Couvert, Grand Appartement de la Reine
RES MAY 2009
129 In the Salon de Diane, a sculpture of a boy pushing a pink pig flanked by two angels (Ushering in Banality, 1988) is placed in front of a Bernini sculpture of Louis XIV, which incidentally is supported by golden angels. Hung head down in the same perspective angle as a chandelier is the signal red Lobster—a creature that Dali already used as an Aphrodisiac Telephone in 1936—creating a disharmony of nuances of reds in the otherwise red and blue decorations of the room next door. Split Rocker, 2000 Stainless steel, soil, geo-textile, internal irrigation system and natural florescence, 440.9 x 464.6 x 426 in / 1120 x 1180 x 1082 cm Studio Jeff Koons, L’Orangerie (Du côté du midi)
A portrait of Maria Leszinska (wife of Louis XV) is joined by Koons’ steel bust of Louis XIV. The material is kept matte with exception of the highly polished face that—framed by decorative hairdo and clothing— reveals itself to and simultaneously withdraws itself from the viewer by reflecting its surroundings. The silver tonality of the bust echoes the overall grey tones of the painting that focuses merely on the color triads of the dress’s floral décor and of some furniture details. Following this installation is Koons’ self portrait in the Salon d’Apollon, the former throne room: a white bust of upward reaching crystalline forms which is placed on top of a neo - baroque pedestal. In the Salon de la Guerre, one of the two rooms that flank the Hall of Mirrors, Koons has installed Bear and Policeman of 1988. In this room which displays gold leaf depictions of prisoners in chains by Antoine Coysevox that border a ceiling high relief cartouche of the king as a roman emperor, Koons’ comic figure bear puts one paw on the shoulder of a policeman while grabbing his whistle with the other.
Moon, François Pinault Foundation, Studio Jeff Koons
RES MAY 2009
Continuing on the walkabout through the palace, one notices a bluish convex shape at the front wall of the Hall of Mirrors. It seems to be derived from the halved shape of a foil party balloon—or better: a hybrid between a crown cap and this balloon form (Koons developed it by a crown cap). The object was produced in five pastel color versions silver, light blue, yellow, light pink, violet—the object initially strikes one as a disturbance, a blemish to the perfect harmony of this historic space. Stepping closer to the object, the eye catches on the light effects of its crimped and frayed edges which open up associations with mercury, a material used to make mirrors. Standing in front of the object one discovers that it actually reflects the entire hall in a highly comprised fashion.
RES MAY 2009
In the following Salon de l’Abondance, the chromeplated Rabbit (1986) is placed under a showcase on top of a porphyry plinth in front of a green velveteen wall covering. Continuing to the Salon de Venus which was decorated by LeBrun as part of a baroque master plan, perspective tricks make corners appear to jut into the room and both the walls and ceiling merge into a single decorative ensemble. Placed underneath a ceiling fresco depicting Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, and her attribute, the swan, is Koons’ porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson with his pet chimpanzee Bubbles. Framed by gold ornamented doors, this installation creates not only a contextual but also a dialogue of color with its environment.
131 The Antichambre du Grand Couvert where Queen Marie Antoinette used to proceed to dine accompanied by music, is furnished with a tower of stacked vitrines from Koons’ New Hoover series. A newer piece, Chainlinks (2003-2008) will be on display in the Salle des Gardes, where the queen’s guards did their duty, until January 4, 2009. Surrounded by historic scenes relating to Jupiter (the god who devoured his newborns) are two inflated swimming toys—a green turtle and a blue hippo—placed vertically against a wire mesh fence. Looking at the installation from behind, the oval shapes of Koons’ toy sculptures correspond with the bellicose scenes on the marble wall panels. Koons’ Hanging Heart (1994-2006) greets the viewer on the marble stairs leading away from the flight of halls. Inspired by a heart shaped chocolate that Koons discovered while travelling in Bavaria, he remembers “seeing a chocolate heart in Munich wrapped in reflective cellophane. It had two figures on the front—a little boy and a little girl—and I removed them to make something that balances (…) It could represent romantic love or spiritual love or Christian love.” And thus, after having been first greeted so rudely by the Balloon Dog’s backside, the viewer is finally seen off with an afterthought about different aspects of love to meet up with the last object of this exhibition. Split Rocker is an over-dimensional fragment of a rocking horse or a dinosaur, composed from innumerable blossoming plants, comparable to Koons’ earlier Puppy sculpture. Already in 1999, Koons had created this object in a multicolored aluminum version. Seen from the left, this chimera looks like the blue and violet colored half of a rocking horse with a hand bar made of green-yellow plants. On the other (right) side one discovers the handle again, this time, however, composed of red plants. Also the eye, which on the “horsy” side is composed of white blossoms with a darker centre, reappears on the other, but is placed at a higher angle. The object which changes its appearance and hues like a chameleon depending on the different blossoming cycles is placed in the midst of the ornamental grass lawns of the Orangery. And whilst Janus is the god of beginnings (and endings), Split Rocker with its childlike abstract forms reminds the viewer of the fleeting beauty of the horse and the fossil brutality of the dinosaur. Followed by the aromatic scents of the historic flower gardens, I leave the exhibition, once more passing the yellow reflections of the Balloon Flower sculpture.
Self-Portrait, 1991 Marble, 37.5 x 20.5 x 14.5 in / 95.3 x 52.1 x 36.8 cm Studio Jeff Koons, Le Salon d’Apollon, Grand Appartement du Roi
What a clever idea to place this object in this specific location and to enter a game of distortions which the baroque era was so very fond of. With its irregular shape and distorted reflections, this installation plays elegantly with the etymological sources of the term “baroque” which in French means “bizarre, grotesque” and hails from the Portuguese “barroco”, a term used for an irregular shaped pearl.
RES MAY 2009
In the following Salon de la Paix leading to the queen’s apartments, the viewer encounters Pink Panther (1988), where the comic character snuggles up to a half dressed buxom pinup. Entering the queen’s bedroom, Koons’ Large Vase of Flowers perfectly blends in color and shape with the room’s Rococo
Contrary to Damian Hirst who exploits the superficiality of the art market in order to make it “dance” around a golden calf, Koons’ works lure the viewer as much as they cast him back upon himself with their distorted reflections. Jeff Koons’ mirror is not as much one that symmetrically and accurately reflects the elegant dimensions of baroque spaces but one that casts the warped and distorted view of its funfair equivalent. Oh, I still owe you a name: It’s Marcel Duchamp whom Henri-Pierre Roche called “a hermit, a contemplator” and who used a urinal for his Fountain in 1917. Duchamp wanted to use “objects that have the least chance of being loved” and in 1919 pencilled a moustache and a goatee on a postcard reproduction of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (L.H.O.O.Q. read as: Elle a chaud au cul). Duchamp did not care for art for the retina, and Koons on the other hand is no friend of irony. Jeff Koons bets on visual overflow.
RES MAY 2009
decorations of gold and floral wall hangings. In the Salon des Nobles—where Marie Leszczinska held audiences—the steel sculpture Jim Beam-J.B.Turner Train (1986) is placed in front of apple-green damask. Its historic counterpart in this room is a depiction of Mercury, the god of commerce, rendered in gilded stucco.
SONGTEXT OF MOMUS, 1999
He has come to bring you things that make you happy A gigantic puppy made of living flowers A ballon dog like a helium Brancusi Baroque and Rococo, Louis Quatorze Basketballs suspended in Bavaria Usher in a fatt contented pig Whose every hair is hand-carved by Italian master-craftsmen A porcelain Michael Jackson and Bubbles in a wig A box of breakfast cereal we market to the morning A teddy bear policeman reprimands you with a warning And all that’s made in haven falls apart Pink and yellow arrows through your heart Blue and yellow arrows through your heart Green and yellow arrows through your heart Mr. Koons with a swordfish! Pin the tail on Koons! President Koons on Mount Rushmore! The Klondike Trail by donkey Context is a game that you can play And art can help you have a better day Pink panthers from the realm to the ephemeral A friendly advertising testimonial A second empire chair, Botticelli hair Cut-outs at a fun fair and the clothes you love to wear Every time that it appears that happiness and fun Are as far away as Jupiter and Mars According to the lore of great philosophers A shaman must appear amongst the stars A Sun King lifts hands amongst the stars And a vacuum cleaner stands amongst the stars Gigantic baboons Cereal spoons Philosopher kings The moon in June Disney cartoons The morning sun Jeff Koons
All images courtesy the artist and Musée du Château de Versailles © Jeff Koons, Laurent Lecat/Éditions Xavier Barral
Jeff Koons Versailles, Château de Versailles September 10, 2008 – January 4, 2009
RES MAY 2009
Sabine Boehl (b.1974, Darmstadt, Germany) 1995 – 1999 Hochschule für Gestaltung, Offenbach; 1999 – 2004 Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (studied under Gerhard Merz and Daniel Buren); 2003 Meisterschüler Gerhard Merz; since then national and international exhibitions; 2001 – 2005 Critics for www.kunstmarkt.com.
ADNAN YILDIZ In Spielberg’s movie, Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there is a short conversation between the spooky character of the story, Oxley (John Hurt), and Indy Jones (Harrison Ford): I.J.: Where’d they go? Into space? Prof. ‘Ox’ Oxley: No. Into the space between spaces. This is not out of blue, since the most fascinating motif of this episode of the legendary movie series is the architectural transformation of the hidden temple, which is produced with the latest visual effect technologies; specifically the way the hidden temple is transformed into a spaceship leaving an apocalyptic scene behind as if nothing has happened or everything has ended… I would like to borrow this image for describing Ayşe Erkmen’s work: Erkmen does not only investigate contemporary forms of spatial relationships and new forms of spatial perception; but she also creates spaces between spaces. Ayşe Erkmen, Weggefährten / Companions, Hamburger Bahnhof
Her focus possibly promises an alternative transition between/ within spaces; no matter which form of medium she chooses—video, sculpture or installation—she always deals with where we are, from which point we look at things, and the context/ground of the exhibit as her main statement. Titled Ayşe Erkmen—Weggefährten (Travel Companions) her retrospective show at Hamburger Bahnhof —Museum für Gegenwart— Berlin is on view through January, providing an opportunity to the Berliners and other passers-by to experience diverse levels of perception regarding space, time, movement, and image. Even before this retrospective at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin has been living with Erkmen’s work for quite a while. Since 1994, the façade of an apartment, which is situated on the lively Oranienstrasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg, has been the showcase for an installation of the end syllables of the Turkish -mış, -miş… tense, cut out of black plexiglass. Erkmen’s gigantic pieces that represent various possible narrations of Turkish grammar—when they are added after verbs—are installed over the very concrete stones of the building. Since the title of the installation is On the House, it can be seen as a way of getting into a relationship with a context through a specific site that could bring up some unspeakable aspects of the space but does not have to provide an inevitable reading. The piece is openly waiting for anyone who will see it or ignore it.
RES MAY 2009
During one of her interviews, Erkmen mentioned that the installation caught mostly the eyes and attention of Turkish people who live there or pass by every day. In the beginning of the process,
135 the installation was supposed to stay only for a month and a half but later people who lived in the residential building wanted to keep the installation until the next refurbishment. Erkmen reflects that the audience is free to think about the piece and to get out of it whatever they want. Likewise, how the work is going to survive also should not be only decided by the artist but also by the people who have it in their everyday life. Being known as one of hot spots of the Turkish-Kurdish community in Berlin, the district of Kreuzberg— and especially this particular street—has a lively café culture where you can see a wide range of lifestyles. Turkish men sit together drinking tea or coffee and play the Turkish game Okey whereas gay and lesbian couples sip cappuccino right across the street. Fans of a football club come together in a café—also named after their favorite team. The street is vibrant with people socializing and enjoying their social life. Each place has its own style, menu, fashion, customers and way of life. The end syllables -mış, -miş, -muş, -mişiz, -yormuşuz, -mişsin could be understood as a way of telling stories about you, me, us, them or those—anyone who is part of our social life—and can all together create an invisible public in our minds like a sort of structure that can be best explained as patterns of meta-cognition or steps to hell. In this context, it is a good idea to remember Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Problem of Speech Genres that deals with the difference between Saussurean linguistics and language as a living dialogue (which can be also conceptualized as translinguistics). Bakhtin distinguishes between literary and everyday language, arguing that genres exist not merely in language but rather in communication. According to Bakhtin, genres have primarily been studied only within the realms of rhetoric and literature, but each discipline draws largely on genres that exist outside both rhetoric and literature. The extra-literary genres have remained largely unexplored. Bakhtin makes the distinction between primary genres and secondary genres. Primary genres comprise those words, phrases and expressions that are acceptable in everyday life; various types of text—such as legal or scientific texts—characterize secondary genres. Through her approach, Erkmen reminds us of Bakhtin’s emphasis on the hidden agenda of the language; of course she does not indulge in a theory of genres from this point but creates an archeological study on the grammar of the language in a context that is open to any discussion regarding migration politics, integration and democracy. How everyday politics/reality are fictionalized and narrated in Turkish (as possible forms of language) and in Kreuzberg (in a multi-cultural context) through different circles is metaphorically characterized by a minimalist intervention; leaving the Turkish words (which are not even words themselves, but elements of Turkish grammar) in the air and alone for passers-by. Through jokes, exaggerations, humor and gossip, identities and profiles are reproduced in conversations on the street day and night. That is why Erkmen’s installation of end syllables (specific forms of Turkish grammar), which do not exist in German as narrative tenses make another cultural channel visible and accessible in the middle of everyday chaos. Through this channel Erkmen enters into a reflexive dialog with something that reminds us of a phenomenon, which is known as the Chomsky hierarchy.
Ayşe Erkmen, Weggefährten / Companions, Hamburger Bahnhof
RES MAY 2009
SPACES BETWEEN SPACES AYŞE ERKMEN—WEGGEFÄHRTEN
137 and speed (if speed used to be the essence of war, today speed is war) Erkmen’s installation points at time as the main element of the social determinator in relation to the history of the building, which used to be a railway station. In his writings which he has published since 1976, Virilio comes to three basic conclusions: a) whoever is seen has been killed; b) because media undermine time and space, flood the body and make it superfluous, they have lost credibility since information is not mediated any longer, but is immediate; c) no time for control, filtering or double checking remains. Information is disinformation, and media are everywhere and nowhere at once and allow no resistance. With her red signature-like gesture, Erkmen shoots the time, space, space-time—bang bang—or in essence she kills modernity by going back to its ultimate reference.
At this point we can develop a comparative reading of Erkmen’s work referring to the Danish artist, Jen Haaning: Haaning broadcasted jokes in Turkish (and also in Arabic but using another medium) over a loudspeaker in the main square in Copenhagen. According to Jennifer Allen, the Turkish Jokes (1994) and Arabic Jokes (1996) are enjoyed by Turkish and Arabic speaking immigrants in Europe; their laughter connects them while cutting them off from the native speakers of their adoptive countries who cannot understand why they are laughing.
Like an elementary school teacher, as if marking a student’s homework, Erkmen uses a sort of resemblance which reminds us of “the red pen”. This is a formal gesture, and rather than an institutional criticism it should be taken as a formalistic gesture that would also function at any social and cultural level such as in context with Berlin; a post-war city, that has been painfully industrialized and gradually transformed into a contemporary metropolis. Erkmen’s gesture of cancelling the access to a clock on a museum also refers to Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s masterpiece The Clock Setting Institute (1963) which is about fictional characters who fail to catch up with the rapid change of their times within the nostalgic aura of mourning for the destruction of traditions under harsh Westernization.
In comparison to Haaning, Erkmen’s work is conceptual and minimalistic regarding the artistic approach that shapes the form of installation whereas Haaning triggers an open ended process that can be also seen as a performative research on how the public space is or isn’t represented by minor identities in that cultural context and that a sound installation might make the community or other possible identities more visible (or not), it might create an audience (or not). As an installation it is highly political through the way it conceptualizes its audience. In my opinion Haaning’s piece is designed to be completed through its audience, his work needs a process and an audience in order to process its statement. Erkmen’s installation prefers to be alone and formalistic in order to retain its conceptual power. Erkmen’s installation is not only about the grammar or the effect of syllables separated from the language, but also about the relation between form and space.
RES MAY 2009
We can begin to review Erkmen’s Hamburger Bahnhof exhibition by first looking at her intervention to the façade of the museum building. Erkmen again transforms the façade of Hamburger Bahnhof, but this time her point of reference is directed to the notion of time. Her intervention makes the clocks of the building look as if they have been sketched by a giant red pencil, scratched into the façade with red blood. With a simple gesture, she delicately plays with the notion of time and its relationship with the institution and organization. In relation to how Virilio conceptualized time
Ayşe Erkmen, Weggefährten / Companions, Hamburger Bahnhof
Here it might be crucial to define the term “site-specific” in terms of Erkmen’s approach; the term is often used for any work that is permanently attached to a particular location, context, site or space. However, in her work it certainly indicates a context-sensitive historicity starting from a formal link to its appearance or space. Site-specificity generally addresses works that are conceived for a special place, a certain context; for instance a street, a building or a landscape etc. And a site-specific work is
RES MAY 2009
The controversial American writer, Noam Chomsky, has investigated various kinds of formal languages on the basis of their capacity to capture key aspects of human language. Chomsky hierarchy separates formal grammars into classes, or groups, with increasing expressive power, i.e. each successive class can generate a broader set of formal languages than the one before. Chomsky argues that modeling some aspects of human language requires a more complex formal grammar (as measured by the Chomsky hierarchy) than modeling others. For example, while regular language is powerful enough to model English morphology, it is not powerful enough to model English syntax. That channel is the synthesis of linguistic fragility and narrative difference of a culture, which exists in another one— albeit in another context.
139 RES MAY 2009 Ayşe Erkmen, On the House, Permanent installation, Berlin-Kreuzberg, 1993
organically connected to its environment. In Erkmen’s work, it is mostly the context that provides the conditions for its functioning but the perception processes through its meaning on the surface.To specify her notion of site-specificity, Berlin based art-critic Travis Jeppesen quoted Gertrude Stein: there is no there there… When you walk inside the museum to see Erkmen’s installation, first you have to pass through the metal detector, which originally did not exist and is actually an installation by the artist that was originally exhibited at the Porticus in Frankfurt. The detector has no security function; the viewer is already in the museum, and you generally see this kind of metal detectors at the entrance of shopping malls, parks, museums or galleries, but not inside when moving from one show to another. Referring to the control mechanisms that have a growing impact on our everyday lives after 9/11, Erkmen’s piece creates an obligation, which means that you have to smile at the museum guard and let the detector check you when you are passing through. You have to get into a social contact with the museum, with the institution in terms of public security. Fredric Jameson described pastiche as blank parody (Jameson, 1991), especially with reference to the post-modern parodist practices of self-reflexivity and inter-textuality. Rather than being a jocular but still respectful imitation of another style, pastiche in the postmodern era has become a “dead language”, without any political or historical content, and so has also become unable to satirize in any effective way. Whereas pastiche used to be a humorous literary style, it has, in postmodernism, become devoid of laughter (Jameson, 1991). Erkmen’s detector not only reproduces the situation of being controlled and letting the museum institution be controlled, but also doing this publicly, creating its own queues, social talks and relations. The metal detector is a monumental representation of today’s public space and for me is going to be homage to the “Jameson” pastiche.
RES MAY 2009
On the first floor, you see fluorescent lights which have been hung low from the ceiling. The way they represent and reflect light plays with the notion of institution. Fluorescent light normally looks cold and formal but here through the way Erkmen arranged them the space becomes a stage that the viewer walks through, an absurd experience in an institutional setting comparable to a Kafka story that tells
more about bureaucracy and institution with a gesture of cacophony. It is a reference which would make sense as part of an architectural space such as a hospital or a school or a government office but here in the museum it looks like something from Star Wars. As this sort of lighting is mostly used in public buildings, fluorescent lights reminds us of the way public space is defined in terms of neutralizing the space with white light and white walls. The way these lights have been installed creates an absurd comedy; it breaks the cold atmosphere and draws a panorama of lights in the air. If you like, you can touch them, walk between them or look at them from a distance while they all together create a painting (made of light) in the air. Continuing through the exhibition, we find cut-out layers on the carpet or more clearly, Erkmen cropped the carpet. By showing the underlying pattern of the floor she makes a statement out of form and ground in the space. Like the flag, that adorns the roof of Hamburger Bahnhof, “Ayşe Erkmen” is written on ribbons like a label or a brand. The ribbons are hung from the ceiling and look like a green waterfall. This piece works as a signature, which has been reproduced over and over again through a fabric, which is mostly used for decoration, celebration and covering. The same installation is repeated on both floors, huge digital prints mounted on two big walls; these two big installations look like billboard advertisements. One of them displays the image of a woman who reaches up from a pool. She is supposed to stand on the shoulders of a man who most probably has been distorted through digital intervention. Like the way Erkmen cuts the shapes and gestures out through physical intervention, here she also repeats her strategy in the virtual by distorting the image and blowing it up to a gigantic monument of an advertisement which does not advertise anything but is decontextualized. Upstairs you first see a gnu before entering a room dedicated to sound and image, all together creating a big noise pool. Every ten minutes, the gnu moves through the audience that can be taken as a sad welcome but also makes a dramatic effect. Next, Ayşe Erkmen videos are shown on seventeen monitors. It becomes a game room, like the one you can see at amusement parks, a room that is full of videos reflecting each other and showing something from Erkmen’s history of image, movement and animation. In this big room you are in between all the stimulation and input, in this big pool where safety belts
surround the whole space and where “Ayşe Erkmen” videos are all installed the same way, screens on grey pedestals. A sequence of images tie you up to your seat without a belt, or with a belt that you cannot see. What stays with me after leaving the installation is the desire of running to Oranienstrasse, having a coffee under that apartment where Erkmen’s installation waits for its passengers, and thinking about what is -mış, -miş, -muş, müş... Observing people who pass by and listen to their stories from the next tables. Eventually again and again being part of it...
Ayşe Erkmen (b.1949, Istanbul) graduated from the sculpture faculty of the State Academy of Fine Arts in 1977. She took part in the Istanbul biennales of 1989 and 1995 and was invited in 1993/94 to join the Berlin artists program run by the DAAD. Numerous solo and group exhibitions in Germany, Sweden and Switzerland (Kuckuck, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen) while she has also contributed to a number of biennales. Besides her much discussed contribution to Skulptur Projekte in Münster 1997, Erkmen caused a stir with her Shipped Ships project in Frankfurt am Main in 2001, conceived for the Deutsche Bank’s art series Moment-Temporary Art in Public Space. In 2002 she was awarded the Maria Sibylla Merian Prize of the Ministry for Science and Art of the Hesse state government. Since 1998 she has taught at the University of Kassel and from 2001 until 2005 was appointed professor to the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main. The artist lives in Istanbul and Berlin. Ayşe Erkmen’s solo exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof includes both retrospective elements as well as a site-specific installations—a “path” from the exterior to the interior of the museum. This path leads the visitor through many spaces, eventually arriving at the main exhibition hall where her sculptures, larger installations and film works are on view. The installation comes out of a practice of creating interventions where the viewer is at odds with the surrounding objects. Her minimalist work entices the viewers to have physical reactions to their environment and to be in dialogue with said physicality. Through interventions and installations—including a work specially created for the façade as a prelude— Erkmen interlinks the various spaces leading to the actual exhibition site on the first floor of the east wing. She creates irritating situations by staging subtle references to the specific conditions of the exhibition site and the metaphorical associations it evokes. Along with sculptures and large installations, her film oeuvre is shown. Adnan Yıldız (b. 1979) is a curator and a writer. He is also co-editor of Muhtelif, an Istanbul based contemporary art publication and co-founder of Good Gangsters (www.goodgangsters.com and www.bigfamilybusiness. net). He studied psychology (BA, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul) as well as visual arts and culture (MFA, Sabancı University, Istanbul) and later participated in Curatorlab/Konstfack, Stockholm, a research based curatorial residency program (2006-2008). Currently he travels back and forth between Berlin and Istanbul for projects that are mostly based on fiction(al space) and audience.
RES MAY 2009
All images courtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin Photographs: Adnan Yıldız, 2008
LILIANA RODRIGUES The Operation Room Art Gallery at the American Hospital is hosting a show of video installations by German artist Bjørn Melhus from February 25, 2009, on. The exhibition which includes videos such as Still Men Out There, Again & Again, The Oral Thing, and Deadly Storms has been curated by Ekrem Yalçındağ and will be on display until April 19, 2009. Presenting key works within the artist’s oeuvre, such as Again & Again (1998), The Oral Thing (2001) and Still Men Out There (2003), from which the exhibition borrows its title, the show also features recent pieces like his 2008 multi-channel video installation Deadly Storms. If the centrality of the works alone is not reason enough to visit the venue, the specific chance provided by their selection is. This exhibition offers the viewer the opportunity to grasp several decisive aspects in Bjørn Melhus’ work– particularly, the artist’s attention to the worlds of American commercial film, television, pop music and publicity. Works in which the artist embodies all the media roles coexist with more abstract works in which he consciously withdraw himself from. And finally, a certain performative aspect made available through the documentation in the catalogue published on the occasion of this exhibition, of the intense and rich pre-production work involved in all of Bjørn Melhus’ films. Born in 1966 in Kirchheim/Tech, Germany, Bjørn Melhus grew up as a member of one the first generations of children watching TV, in a time in which dubbed versions of popular American TV series, such as Lassie, Flipper, Fury and Bonanza were extremely popular. Recognized internationally as one of Germany’s most famous video artists, Melhus stressed in various interviews how his childhood as a spellbound television watcher and the sense of strangeness he felt regarding the shortcomings of the synchronization of American TV series came to influence his overall production.
RES MAY 2009
This exhibition provides the viewer with an opportunity to compare works regarded upon as classics +those in which the artist himself appears and acts out different characters— with a work like Still Men Out There. Less recognizable as a Melhus piece, Still Men Out There is basically a pure, synchronized sound and light installation in which the artist consciously redraws the shape of his own figure. The current show demonstrates that —besides pieces which are figurative and in which Melhus embodies different roles, including sometimes that of a woman— the artist has also created pieces in which images are reduced to abstract fields of color. Both approaches have in fact always coexisted in Bjørn Melhus’ oeuvre and their absence in some of his pieces is not as unusual as one might think, though this fact is not without consequences for the overall understanding of his work. Far from being an isolated example, one must only think of Emotional Fields (2007), Murphy (2008) or Melhus’ successive tree houses to recognize that. Most significantly, all these works have been produced at the same time as those in which the artist plays different roles and which the public specially identifies as typical for the artist and critics have paid most attention to.
143 Missing a trademark —namely Melhus himself— the installation Still Men Out There nevertheless contains other characteristics of the artist’s work, such as the exploration of the conventions of film (American war movies in this case), repetition and multiplication of effects and sound footage. Placed on the floor in three concentric circles, the screens of the eighteen monitors face upwards. Monochrome color fields alternate rhythmically, pulsing to the sound of machine guns. The soundtrack, composed of snippets from mainstream war movies, includes everything a good war movie requires, from marching troops to tragic love, gunfire and heroic soliloquies. These sequences of monochrome image, script and sound produce a penetrating effect. At times full of pathos, at other times pure kitsch, Still Men Out There stresses the highly entertaining and spectacular qualities present in American mainstream war cinema. The work’s sources are well documented: Still Men Out There includes sound footage from Platoon (Oliver Stone, 1986), The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, 1998), Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott, 2001), and We Were Soldiers (Randall Wallace, 2002). Melhus is interested in showing how cinema, as the greatest manipulative technical dispositive of all times, has been conditioning our feelings and behavior in respect to our cultural notions of, in this case, war and death. Regarding this aspect, the artist said in an interview: “Still Men Out There is not a statement about war or politics (even if the material does refer back to this reality), but is about evoking and exposing cinematic stereotypes.” But this is only partially true, for in the end the work does open into the ideological workings of cinematic war representation. It is extremely significant that we are offered the spectacle of war without images (except monochromatic images), a fact that directly addresses what has recently been described as the “American media’s refusal to show the American dead and injured in the war”. On the one hand, the work conveys the idea that one can no longer trust any image of war to be authentic and that the only solution would be the renunciation of all imagery. This feeling is a direct consequence of the ongoing control of images of war scenarios since the Gulf War —from which only generic night shots of Bagdad under attack were divulged. And of the so-called “embedded journalism” in practice since the Iraq war —when journalists marched alongside the troops during their advance— which resulted in a loss of objectivity and also contributed to a general sense of crisis due to the conflict of interests it generated. On the other hand, because we can identify the audio sources of the installation, the work forces us to deconstruct the cultural references regarding war on film, thus giving rise to all sorts of images of war which lie dormant in our heads and which obviously have been shaped by the mass media. Still Men Out There does not only explore the impact of American cinema on
Far Far Away (Dorothy), 1995 16 mm film, 39 min.
RES MAY 2009
STILL MEN OUT THERE: AN EXHIBITION BY BJØRN MELHUS AT THE AMERICAN HOSPITAL’S OPERATION ROOM IN ISTANBUL
2a Primetime, 2001 Video installation at the Kunstverein, Hannover 2b Primetime, 2001 Video installation, 11 min. 3a-b The Oral Thing, 2001 Video installation, 8 min.
our collective memory but also forces us to admit that some of our notions are actively designed by it, against historical facts and in favor of specific ideologies. So the work does not only put the spotlight on cinematic stereotypes but also encourages us to critically consider the reception of cinematic war representation. The sound and its different moments lend a narrative structure to a work, which is in itself abstract. As previously noted, this “practice of fragmentation, destruction, and reconstitution of well-known figures, topics, and strategies of the mass media opens up not only a network of new interpretations and critical commentaries, but also defines the relationship of mass media and viewer anew.” (Schmidt, Bremen, 2002) By exposing the mechanisms of mainstream cinema, Melhus rebels against pre-established simplifications and global cultural standardization. Admitting that today no images exist apart from those in the corporate media, Melhus’ works contest such iconographic hegemony. Both fascinated and disgusted with the American mainstream media culture, Bjørn Melhus has made his field of research what others would hastily judge as American trash. In a meticulous and consequent way he has been exposing the manipulative power of the modern media by successively paying attention to several genres, including Hollywood films, TV news channels and the talk show format, just to name a few.
In Again & Again, Melhus conducts a discussion between two identical doubles of himself, a saleswoman and an eager buyer. The process of giving birth to a clone repeats itself again and again, and the clones look at each other in open admiration. Words like “fabulous”, “beautiful” and “perfect” pop up in the air. The buyer exclaims, “I’m in love with it,” to which the saleswoman responds, “What’s there not to love?”. Happiness is derived from being identical with the image we consume on television. But Melhus seems to imply that this thrilling promise only results in depression and alienation from oneself, as the reversible clones flatten into 2-D boards when they turn around. One side as “high polish, beautiful finish” and the other as “satin finish —a little bit quieter, a little bit more demure.” If in Again & Again (1998), created as a direct response to the public debate on cloning at the time, multiplication is understood positively as a process of self-infatuation and reinforcement, No Sunshine (1997), produced just one year earlier, seems to stress the opposite. It shows two bodies fighting the process of unification and a note of disharmony in the duo is openly introduced as one of them strives for liberation. Corresponding to a specific period in Bjørn Melhus’ production, these works deal with identity and selfreflection —though this is less an exploration of the artist’s identity but an exploration of the logic and effects of the mass media in our culture. In his 2001 piece The Oral Thing, the artist uses the talk show format and the phenomenon of televangelism and builds a parody around it. A compressed version of this format’s strategies and inner laws is exposed in a hysteric crescendo. The metamorphosis of the victim into the aggressor can both be seen as a criticism of the weird inner logic of television and of the consequences brought about by the passivity this medium sentences the viewer to.
RES MAY 2009
If in The Oral Thing shows as Jerry Springer and Maury Povitch served as a source of inspiration, in Deadly Storms the artist had a close look at one of the most powerful and influential US American news network, FOX News. He manages to reveal how both formats —the talk show and the news channel— exploit the viewer in their own, very specific manner.
RES MAY 2009
1a-b Again & Again, 1998 Video installation, 6 min.
147 Liliana Rodrigues (b. 1979, Lisbon) graduated in History of Art and post-graduated in History of Contemporary Art at the University Nova in Lisbon. She complemented her studies in Spain (Erasmus), Germany (Leonardo da Vinci scholarship) and New York (research grant by the Luso-American Foundation). In the past years she made an intership and worked in the area of Contemporary Art, Art Communication and Public Relations, in art scenes as diverse as New York (Mike Weiss Gallery), Lisbon (Gallery Filomena Soares) and Leipzig (Gallery SPINNEREI Archiv Massiv). Together with Professor Doctor Marc Ries, she recently lectured a seminar on “New-Media and Self-Reflexivity” at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in Leipzig. Since May 2008, she works on a freelance basis for Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt.
RES MAY 2009
The talk show format is designed to elicit a confession of sorts. While the participant seems reluctant at first, we come to realize that he in fact enjoys being the object of attention. The Oral Thing makes us understand how the participant basks in his newly gained self-importance and in being watched, even though it means being placed under the judging, humiliating gaze of others. More than in seeking justice or vengeance, the victim is usually interested in this new “heroic” status which results from the recognition of one’s own role as a victim by others. Tampering with our expectations and our knowledge of such talk shows, Melhus humorously transforms the victim into the aggressor, thus, at the same time, forcing us to confront with our role as ecstatic viewers.
All images courtesy the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt.
By exposing the dangerous logic behind this approach, Melhus’ work forces us to conclude that “there are no more identities, just endless reflections, whose forms and contents arise from earlier media reflections.” (Schulz, Saarbrücken) The topic of the human conditioning being perpetrated by modern media brings about the most dreadful consequences in Deadly Storms where the mechanical BOTTOM repetition of catchy slogans sets the pace to a general Captain, 2005 tone of alarm and the complete emptiness, if not 2 channel video installation, 14 min. impossibility, of meaning. Based on appropriate audio footage from FOX News, a network that claims to be fair and unbiased, Deadly Storms reveals exactly how FOX News is instead a populist propaganda machine whose success is based on creating and exploiting an atmosphere of permanent alarm and fear. TOP Auto Center Drive, 2003 16 mm film, 28 min.
Three identical talking heads rhythmically repeat alarming sentences and statements, slogans which are becoming more common, even in the so-called serious press, exercising a hypnotic power over the viewer. The extremely emotionally charged language and the tone, which keeps us in a state of constant attention and anticipation, oppose the emptiness of its content. The constant repetition of such stuttered, broken sentences and sound bites makes us realize the complete absence of meaning and the fact that there is no dialog or communication. With his systematic examination of different mass media frameworks, Bjørn Melhus has been exposing the stereotyped voices, gestures and slogans which are conveyed on a daily basis and which seem to be dictating our behavior. It is up to the viewer to decide what to do with this awareness and whether to accept it as a sort of pledge for responsibility.
Deadly Storms, 2008 video installation, 7 min.
RES MAY 2009
FREYA MARTIN TEXT IN GERMAN. TRANSLATION BY MICHA GOEBIG AND CHRISTINE LIESE-SCHIKANEDER
On 29 August 2008, the conceptual artist and painter Hermann Nitsch, born in Vienna, celebrated his 70th birthday—the perfect occasion to publish a book about the “Austrian master of Conceptual Art.” As as it turns out, Der Nitsch und seine Freunde is not your ordinary artist’s biography. Taking a look behind the scenes, the book presents Hermann Nitsch, the person—the husband, colleague, campaigner, companion, artist, boss, pioneer, and most importantly, the friend.
The cover of Der Nitsch und seine Freunde, Freya Martin, Styria Verlag, 2008 Photograph: Erika Schmied
Freya Martin’s Der Nitsch und seine Freunde is a unique kind of biography as it combines stories by people who accompanied Nitsch in different phases of his life, some of them very close to the artist. The result is a collage of narrations of and talks with Nitsch’s family, friends, companions, colleagues, benefactors— including the internationally renowned Austrian painter Ch. L. Attersee, the fellow conceptual artist Günter Brus with his wife and muse Anni Brus, the famous benefactor and art collector Karl-Heinz Essl, Hermann Nitsch’s foster son Leo Kopp, his Italian friend and supporter Francesco Conz, the photographer of his Orgies Mysteries Theater Heinz Cibulka, the long-time friend and director Peter Kubelka, the German-Austrian gallery owner Heike Curtze, the art critic Wieland Schmied, the CEO of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna Peter Noever, to name a few.
The book serves two purposes: First, to present a less well-known and unresearched image of Nitsch, namely how he is perceived by people in his environment. And second, to derive an understanding of the artist/person Hermann Nitsch from his direct, intersocial context. This unique portrait of Hermann Nitsch as a person also brings forth a complex and interesting picture of Hermann Nitsch the artist. The book focuses on anecdotes and little stories from everyday life all of which feature Hermann Nitsch. Numerous photographs and images—from both private sources and archives—underline the almost intimate character of the book/collage paying homage to the artist on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Though Hermann Nitsch’s upcoming birthday was the initial starting point and inspiration, Nitsch himself could be regarded as the project’s guiding spirit: Besides being an artist whose work is often controversial, Nitsch is a person who has a lot to give and does so generously. Considered both significant and typical for Nitsch, this character trait is mentioned by many people who have told their stories to the author.
RES MAY 2009
Long-standing friendships and other relationships—some dating back to the late 1950s—have always been a staple in Nitsch’s life and biography. “I love boundlessness, excess, opulence, vastness, inexhaustibility,” Nitsch says about himself. This quote also applies to his approach to friendships.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM The wedding with Eva Kranich; Beate, Hermann and Heinz Cibulka, Asolo, 1974; The wedding of Hermann and Rita in Prizendorf; Geoff Hendricks, Rita and Günter Brus, 1988 Courtesy Francesco Conz Der Nitsch und seine Freunde, p. 62
LEFT, FROM TOP TO BOTTOM While Nitsch is drawing, Asolo, 1978; During the edition of the Last Supper, Como, 1983; The preparation of cloth with blood and water, Villa Meneghelli, Dolo Venezia, 1983; Hermann Nitsch, Prof. Gadenstätter with his wife and Francesco Conz Courtesy Francesco Conz Der Nitsch und seine Freunde, p. 63
RES MAY 2009
DER NITSCH UND SEINE FREUNDE (NITSCH AND FRIENDS)
2 Hermann Nitsch in his studio with his dog, Fredy Courtesy Studio Nitsch Der Nitsch und seine Freunde, p. 186
Nitsch lives at Prinzenburg with his “small zoo.” Villainized by the press and other critics as an animal torturer and murderer for decades, Nitsch keeps a multitude of different animals, including peacocks, ducks, chickens, geese, a donkey, a goat called Louise, cats and dogs—at Prinzenburg and in harmony with nature.
3 Karlheinz and Agnes Essl with Rita and Hermann Nitsch at the vineyard in Prinzendorf Courtesy Studio Nitsch Der Nitsch und seine Freunde, p. 101
In the book, the internationally renowned art benefactor Karl-Heinz Essl shares a story about Nitsch’s geese at Prinzendorf Castle:
4 Nitsch—Wine, 2007, bottled by Michael Martin Courtesy Rudolf Klapper Der Nitsch und seine Freunde, p. 172 2
“On November 15, 1998, my wife and I visited Hermann and Rita Nitsch for the traditional goose at Martinmas. When we arrived, we were welcomed by a flock of squawking geese. When I told Nitsch about it, he responded: ‘No surprise there; they know you. Every time you come for a visit, their flock is diminished by one …” Nitsch is an artist through and through. Nevertheless, he has never stopped to draw on the plentiful resources life offers and to tap into the full human potential. The most fascinating thing about the person Hermann Nitsch is his precision in approaching things and trying to understand them as well as his naturalness in receiving the world beyond his art. Nitsch has a unique and rare talent to live to the full and to celebrate life in all its facets. This alone is an art few people master. When asked about his oeuvre, Hermann Nitsch frequently answers, “It is what it is!” And it seems fair to add: “HE is what HE is!—Simply Nitsch!” DER NITSCH UND SEINE FREUNDE Freya Martin Published by Styria Verlag, Austria, August 2008
Freya Martin (b.1975, Klagenfurt/Austria) studied German Literature and Theater Studies at the University of Vienna. In 2007, dissertation about Hermann Nitsch and his Orgies Mysteries Theater in the context of the Greek tragedy. In 2008, publication of Der Nitsch und seine Freunde on the occasion of Hermann Nitsch’s 70th birthday.
RES MAY 2009
Hermann Nitsch and Freya Martin at the Prinzendorf Castle, Prinzendorf/Weinviertel, Austria, July 2008 Courtesy Freya Martin
RES MAY 2009
Another fact that worked towards the creation of Der Nitsch und seine Freunde is that the book’s author/publisher, Freya Martin, lives in the direct vicinity of Prinzendorf Castle, Nitsch’s residence, in northwestern Austria close to the Czech border. Hermann Nitsch has been living and working at Prinzendorf, his “Bayreuth” as he likes to call it, since the early 1970s. The baroque castle is also used as a stage for his Orgies Mysteries Theater productions.
1 Karlheinz Essl with Hermann Nitsch in front of his house in Asolo, 2000 Courtesy Sammlung Essl Der Nitsch und seine Freunde, p. 96
RES MAY 2009
PELİN DERVİŞ / GARANTİ GALLERY TEXT IN TURKISH. TRANSLATION BY NAZIM DİKBAŞ Site: A 19th century villa in Frankfurt on the side of the River Main, on Schaumainkai Street. From 1979 to 1984, transforming the villa into a museum, architect Oswald Mathias Ungers preserved only the outer shell of the building, adding a second structure almost as high as the building itself. This second building is formed of cubes fulfilling different functions and spatial organizations on each of the 4 levels. The cubes form closed spaces on the entry and top floors and the structural system (beams and columns) are visible on intermediate levels. The cube and gallery spaces on both sides (in relation to lower and upper levels) disrupt the continuity of the space on all levels. Looking up from the gallery spaces, this second structure placed within the building is perceived as a whole. As in his other designs, this design too stands out more with the staging of the story/scene Ungers is after rather than the arguable success of the formation of an exhibition space. It is quite problematic to design an exhibition in such a space. The surface area in this in-between space featuring beams and columns and gallery spaces is increased using temporary partitions because of insufficient exhibition surface, further articulating the main space. This is the German Architecture Museum (DAM), one of the first architecture museums in Europe. The Becoming Istanbul exhibition organized by Garanti Gallery was installed on the first floor of this building (September 6 – November 9, 2008). The theme was Becoming Istanbul. Exhibition set-up: The space is approximately 300m2. 10 projectors, 10 computers and 8 pairs of speakers are concealed behind the beams and 8 tables, 16 stools and a glass wall have been placed in the space. 8 projectors are used to project the same database on the 22 m. wall, and the stools and tables with a mouse each are placed parallel to the beams. At these tables, the viewer is able to browse within the interactive database. Two separate videos of maps are reflected on the other two, narrow walls. The glass surface features the introduction, logo and credits of the exhibition. That is all. Perhaps after a long time, Unger’s design returns to its original state with this set-up.
RES MAY 2009
EXHIBITION a) Interactive database: The first page of the interface features 8 pairs of concepts, forming the main map. Each pair of concepts is tagged with 10 further concepts. When the user clicks on a tag, a motto and a series of thumbnails are accessed. When the user scrolls on a thumbnail, a short introduction to the content and red guiding lines indicating the other concepts this particular medium is related to on the interface will appear. Having chosen the medium, the viewer can click on the thumbnail to begin to watch. Once the user clicks on the thumbnail, the other tags related to the conceptual content of the medium selected will appear on the left of the frame of the medium. The “click to close” sign is on the right top corner. The viewer can close the window at anytime to return to the main map or click on one of the concepts on the left of the screen to access one of the related thumbnails. The media featured include: Series of photographs, videos, articles, architectural projects, caricatures, TV news reports, advertisements… There are 390 visual groups under the 80 sub-headings featured on the database. More than 7000 visuals were accumulated for the project.
Photograph: Tomas Riehle Courtesy Deutsches Architektur Museum/German Architecture Museum DAM, Frankfurt/Main
escape, nostalgia, concerns/anxiety over localization and globalizations, belonging, fear for the future, pessimism, idleness, charity…The exhibition does not attempt to construct any single one of these concepts on its own, rather, it attempts to visualize this coiling triple spiral structure (discoursephenomenon-aura). It was impossible for the concepts to be complete/absolute, we never claimed them to be either. But we still tried to keep the spectrum as wide as possible. The pairing of the concepts on the interface with concepts pointing in different directions helps this opening. Concept pairs on the interface:
Exhibition view Photograph: Uwe Dettmar
b) Mapping Istanbul: This 16-minute film features 70 maps on different subjects. A group of these maps features statistical information and the information is presented in comparative charts. Some other maps present relational cartographies. Book: An A-Z, atypical Istanbul encyclopaedia. 152 different articles were presented by writers from a range of disciplines including anthropology, literature, economy, urban planning, architecture, music, history of art, film and sociology. The black and white book was printed in two separate editions, English and German. The Turkish edition will be printed in 2009. English edition is 384 pages.
RES MAY 2009
Conceptual structure, content and method: This exhibition was based on a series of concepts. The subtlest part of the work was perhaps the selection of the concepts to be instrumentalized when constructing the city’s story of transformation for the exhibition – whatever the method of exhibition may be. The discourses of the actors who physically change the city, of the inhabitants and the outside observers, popular domestic – international urban jargons, outdated historicist approaches, words of the opposition, cries of the victims, arguments of those who fail to survive…This is the discursive aspect of the project. Another aspect is related to concrete phenomena and physical change. Urban policies, building development decisions, master plans, existing urban texture, landfill areas, new residential areas, new ideal living conditions, new bad living conditions, new museums, skyscrapers, shopping malls, tourism, conservation, failure in conservation, expulsion, educational-school buildings, public space, transport, culture-arts, hygiene-health buildings, sunken tankers, overflowing rivers, dam water levels, bank loans. And finally, the singular and collective spiritual/psychological structures this plurality possesses. Fear, terror, hope, search for democracy, search for power, becoming visible, hiding,
AMASS – DISSEMINATE EXISTENCE – INEXISTENCE FEAR – RELAXATION MOVEMENT – STASIS OLD – NEW PURE – HYBRID VISIBILITY – SURVEILLANCE YEARN – FORGET
It is of course vital to correctly determine the documents to be used. We attempt first to decipher and then to reconstruct the city using intersections taken from this complex structure. We resort to different types of documents and presentation techniques which will help to open a concept to communication. This enables an artist’s video on closed housing estates, an article on the rehabilitation of Fener-Balat, a demonstration about Iraq in a TV report and an architectural project to exist under the same heading under equal conditions. The relationships presented in various layers by the maps exhibited using a different technique of presentation contribute greatly to understanding the triple spiral structure of the database on a higher scale. For example, visualizing the relationship of the building stock classified according to age along with the location of hospitals enriches our view of the city as a whole. Maps are amazing tools in understanding the whole of the city via the statistical and relational information they carry. The data the maps specifically prepared for this exhibition contain is systematically accumulated not from a single database but from various sources of reference. We cannot fully guarantee the accuracy of data accessed via different sources. When we were able to access more than one source, we have had to select the one which seems most realistic to us. And in other cases when no data at all was available, there were instances where we gave up on mapping out a certain topic. The categorization and transfer of data to graphic maps was realized with meticulous care. Mapping Istanbul is an important document both with the information it contains and its easily understandable nature. A further stage of the project is to show how we conceptualize both the discourses of different actors and urban and psychosomatic phenomena. Here we again have to attain a very sensitive balance. For instance, with law makers on one side, executives on the other and legal grounds on another, what exactly does ‘conservation’ mean for us in the context of Istanbul? This exhibition does not intend to reach any final judgment or have the final word, quite the opposite; it is important for us that the viewer
157 RES MAY 2009
159 RES MAY 2009
can feel the chain of thought and the position taken which integrates the exhibition into a whole. This is why we attach our own notes next to the tag: “Conservation kills the dead”. Another indicator of our intent is to which tags the documents have been related to. We clearly adopt a critical stance; however, we have tried not to fall into the trap of aestheticizing instances of beauty or ugliness, to be fair, or in other words, to define the existing state with all its aspects. The database also contains approximately Cem Yardımcı, Self Portrait of Istanbul, 2006 40 architectural projects of various scales completed in the last 5 years. Some of these works are projects featuring large scale urban interventions, others have the potential to completely change social structure, yet others are more modest. The authors of some are very young, their projects are perhaps being exhibited for the first time, others are star architects of Turkey. Each of the 40 projects takes its place on the database with its relationship with the city explained by its author and all the projects have equal weight in Becoming Istanbul, where they are seen as singular entities, just as they are in the city. All media proposed for the database were examined, eliminated, selected, modified if necessary, classified and associated one by one according to these criteria. We critically benefited from the communication network we formed in this comprehensive study. Many activists, thinkers, photographers, architects, artists, producers, archivists, academicians, writers and artists took part in this work. The platforms of discussions formed on the occasion of this project were realized with a belief and motivation almost independent of the exhibition. The multi-authored book prepared along with this exhibition is not a catalogue. Although its subheading states that it is an ‘encyclopaedia’, it is not a typical encyclopaedia, it neither has historical timeline, academic perfection nor bibliography; it incorporates the same triple spiral structure and the texts are associated with other articles via reference notes. Most of the articles from A to Z often struggle with concepts, however these are not necessarily the concepts directly adopted by the exhibition. It is more a book to dip in and out than a reference book. It has a changing rhythm, some texts are aggressive, some are calmer. With all the differences it contains, it is both serious and fun, and a contemporary book. A question: Is this an exhibition? All the work is very rich, very beautiful, and that’s fine, but the database and the maps could be uploaded to a web site, allowing the user to access it from home, so why restrict it between four walls? The number of people a web site could reach would be much higher than the busiest exhibition hall. So, then… I find this question very important and I am curious about the answers. Becoming Istanbul borrows its logic from the internet in the first place. We believe that it can be transferred to the web, and in fact that it must at one stage. That it will then have more visitors and that it will possibly be better consumed… After all, an exhibition like this cannot be fully consumed by any viewer in a defined space for a defined time.
There are increasingly more exhibitions where spectators take on an active role, this is no longer a novelty… Becoming Istanbul also gives the viewer an active role, and in this sense it presents nothing new. In fact, one could demand that the exhibition were held in the same exhibition space but within a black-box or that it were reduced to a few personal monitors… No, it is difficult to support the latter idea, it would then be more suitable to broadcast the entire exhibition on the web site. Why?
RES MAY 2009
Becoming Istanbul could have been organized on panels affixed to the surfaces of the walls which are now being scanned by projectors. The exhibition could have been interspersed with models and videos and presented with an expansive content where the final word would still be held back… If there is a powerful aspect in the presentation of the exhibition as it is shown today, it is about the changing sounds and images of the space. The visitor begins ‘work’ at zero point and creates her own exhibition in the form she determines. It is an inspiring journey. Every visitor in a foreign city determines her own itinerary and forms a perception that belongs to herself. This perception is related to what the visitor takes rather than what the city gives. What remains on the journey home is memories, one or two tourist guides or books and this unique perception. The Becoming Istanbul exhibition, reflected through 8 projectors and in a constant motion of change determined by its visitors, exhibits 8 different journeys in this mould. “It succeeds in transmitting the chaotic structure of Istanbul” is a comment we have received, and that may be true in one sense, but then again, the exhibition of any metropolis would be chaotic by definition. It seems more appropriate to speak of personal journeys rather than chaos in the context of this exhibition. What has then been skipped, which routes have been by-passed? Do visitors get absorbed in what the person sitting on the next stool is watching? How many unique trips has this exhibition produced?
Conceptual Design for Printed Material and Logo Bülent Erkmen, BEK
BOOK CREDITS: BECOMING ISTANBUL, An Encyclopaedia Editors Pelin Derviş - Bülent Tanju - Uğur Tanyeli English translation Nazım Dikbaş German translation Stefan Hibbeler Design concept and consultancy Bülent Erkmen, BEK Graphic design Burcu Kayalar
Photograph: Oğuz Meriç
The future: Garanti Gallery and Platform Contemporary Art Centre are merging. These two institutions see the future on a platform beyond singular disciplines and they will transform their structure in accordance with their belief in this future. The building on İstiklal Caddesi/Istanbul where Platform realizes its exhibitions and other programs will be completely renovated. These two institutions will begin to serve with a new identity and new programs in this renovated building. The Becoming Istanbul exhibition will travel to other cities/countries after Frankfurt and then return to Istanbul for the opening of this new institution. Looking at the city, at intersections and relations in multiple dimensions, Becoming Istanbul finds itself in this new institution’s field of interest. We want to publish the entire database on the web after the exhibition in Istanbul. Our aim is to both enable much wider access and to allow the project to grow by incorporating new data. It will soon be possible to reach data related to the web site via www.becomingistanbul.org
Pelin Derviş (b. Ankara, 1967), architect. Graduated from Istanbul Technical University and completed her master’s degree in the university’s History of Architecture Program. She established her own architectural practice and worked on a variety of projects ranging from urban inventory projects to spatial and object design (1997 - 2004). While continuing to practice architecture she also took part in various exhibitions and book projects. Since 2005 she has been the director of Garanti Gallery in Istanbul.
Authors Ahenk Dereli, Alan Duben, Alexis Şanal, Arzu Öztürkmen, Atilla Yücel, Ayda Arel, Aydan Balamir, Ayşe Akalın, Ayşe Çavdar, Ayşe Erek, Ayşen Ciravoğlu, Başak Sanaç Tanrıverdi, Bengi Güldoğan, Beyhan İslam, Bülent Tanju, Bülent Usta, Burçak Madran, Burçak Özlüdil, Can Altay, Cem Akaş, Cem Yücel, Deniz Aktan Küçük, Didem Danış, Ekin Sanaç, Ela Çil, Emre Ayvaz, Emre Zeytinoğlu, Ersin Altın, Evren Uzer, Faruk Göksu, Fatih Özgüven, Funda Uz Sönmez, Gila Benmayor, Gökhan Özgün, Gül Köksal, Gülsün Tanyeli, Hakan Tüzün Şengün, Hakkı Yırtıcı, Hülya Hatipoğlu, İlkay Baliç, İpek Yada Akpınar, Işıl Baysan Serim, İsmet Elif Kılıç, James Hakan Dedeoğlu, Kathrin Wildner, Kerem Öktem, Kevin Robins, Levent Şentürk, Meltem Ahıska, Meltem Türköz, Meriç Öner, Murat Şanal, Nalân Bahçekapılı, Namık Erkal, Nermin Saybaşılı, Nora Şeni, Orhan Esen, Osman Cenk Demiroğlu, Özge Açıkkol, Pelin Tan, Peter Taylor, Rinaldo Marmara, Saadet Özen, Saitali Köknar, Şebnem Köşer Akçapar, Senem Akçay, Senem Deviren, Sıla Durhan, Şükrü Aslan, Süreyyya Evren, Tangör Tan, Tolga İslam, Uğur Tanyeli, Ulus Atayurt, Yıldız Salman, Yoshiko Tsuruta, Zeynep Kuban, Zeynep Mennan, Zühre Sözeri
Design for Printed Material Emre Çıkınoğlu, BEK Exhibition Design Mario Lorenz, Deserve (DAM) Interface Design, Application and Post production JKRProject Maps Superpool Murat Güvenç, Eda Yücesoy – Serdar Özbay Motion Design Lasyos Medon Translation Tankut Aykut, Melahat Behlil, Ergin Bulut, Nazım Dikbaş, Balca Ergener, Alev Erkmen, Cem Şimşek Scanning Ottoman Bank Archive and Research Center Difo Lab Newsclips Fehmi Gürdallı, Research Sena Oğuzertem, Transcription Karma Yapım, Post production Source: NTV Archives and Institutions Arkiv, Arkitera Architecture Center Caricature And Humor Arts Museum Cengiz Kahraman, private collection Hafriyat Institut Français d’Etudes Anatoliennes Istanbul Magazine Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts Ottoman Bank Archive and Research Center Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center Pozitif Magazines and Newspapers XXI, Yeni Mimar – Depo Yayıncılık
EXHIBITION CREDITS: BECOMING ISTANBUL Exhibition Curators Pelin Derviş, Bülent Tanju, Uğur Tanyeli Project Coordinators Meriç Öner / (GG), Mario Lorenz / Deserve (DAM)
RES MAY 2009
Assistance Bengi Güldoğan, Paula Quentin, Ekin Sanaç (GG)
Artists/Works Özge Açıkkol – (Photographs, 2 groups), “Shore” (video) Laleper Aytek – (Photographs, 16 groups) Selda Asal – “Competing With Genies”, “Hard To Die” (video) Altan Bal – (Photographs, 2 groups) Osman Bozkurt – (Photographs, 5 groups) Banu Cennetoğlu – (Photographs, 1 group) Antonio Cosentino – (Photographs, 4 groups)
Cevdet Erek – “The 2nd Bridge” (video) Özgür Erkök – “Balcony”, “5 Hours” (video) Esra Ersen – “This Is The Disney World” (video) Juul Hondius – (Photographs, 1 group) Pınar Gediközer – (Photographs, 3 groups) Murat Germen – (Photographs, 2 groups) Erik Göngrich – (Photographs, 1 group) Ebru Karaca – Anja Hansmann – “GecekonduÜber Nacht Gebaut” (video) Gülsün Karamustafa – “Memory Of A Square”, “Stairway”, “The Days We Have Waited For”, “Bosphorus 1954” (video) Ömer Kokal – (Photographs, 4 groups) Halil Koyutürk – (Photographs, 1 group) Oğuz Meriç – (Photographs, 5 groups) Murat Musulluoğlu – Erdem Helvacıoğlu – “İstanbul Kondu” (video) Ceren Oykut – Selda Asal – Neriman Polat – “Postcards” (video) Ceren Oykut – “City Can” (video) Fatih Pınar – (Photographs, 6 groups) Erich Pick – “Duplication 1-2”, “Garden Cities 1-2”, “Monument 1-2”, “Stadtkrone 1-2”, “Visionary Tower 1-2”, “White Cube 1-2” (video) Neriman Polat – (Photographs, 1 group) Neriman Polat – “Two Partridges”, “Crazy In Love” (video) Ali Saltan (Photographs, 1 group) Nermin Saybaşılı – (Photographs, 1 group) Tayfun Serttaş – “The Other, The Other And Beyond” (video) Solmaz Shahbazi – “Perfectly Suited For You” (video) Senem Sinem – (Photographs, 4 groups) Ali Taptık – (Photographs, 2 groups) Nasan Tur – “Somersaulting Man” (video) Aysim Türkmen – “Galata Tower Street No:23”, “Sulukule, My Love” (video) Aysim Türkmen – Erkin Peprek – “Kapital-Istanbul” (video) Belmin Söylemez – “34 Taxi” (video) Özlem Ünsal – Research project Cem Yardımcı – “An Essay On A Space”, “Selfportrait Of Istanbul.09.2006” (video) Hakkı Yırtıcı – (Photographs, 1 group) Anze Zadel – (Photographs, 1 group) Architectural Offices and Projects Boğaçhan Dündaralp DDRLP - NP12 Houses Boran Ekinci Architecture - Ekinciler Construction Ltd. Headquarters, Eston Housing Showroom and Sales Office, Esit Administration Building, Hisar House, Tedkent Kemer 50 Houses, Ursa World Megayacht Shipyard CM Design/Architecture - Rose Marine Social Center Emre Arolat Architects - Kemerlife XXI, Maksimum Houses and Sales Office, Santral Istanbul Contemporary Art Museum Emre Arolat Architects – NSMH Nevzat Sayın Architecture Services – İhsan Bilgin - Evidea Erginoğlu & Çalışlar Architecture - Açı Elementary School, Açı High School Esin Yürekli Tire Construction - Tire Apartment Building
RES MAY 2009
Consultancy Özge Açıkkol, Ulus Atayurt, Deniz Aslan, Osman Bozkurt, Banu Cennetoğlu, Didem Danış, Ayşe Erek, Saitali Köknar, Fatma Olgaç, Evren Uzer
Photograph: Laleper Aytek
GB Engineering Architecture - Bozbağ Apartment Building Kreatif Architecture - Babylon Music Club, Memorial Hospital, Sahra Apartment Building MAM Architectural Research Center - Green Valley Residences, Millenium Park Residences MArS Architects - garajistanbul, Süngü Apartments Murat Arif Suyabatmaz - Mısırlı House Mutlu Çilingiroğlu Miar Architecture - Antrium Residence, Refiye Soyak Mosque NSMH Nevzat Sayın Architecture Services - Gön, Irmak High School, Maya Çekmeköy Campus, NSMH Office Plan A - Istanbul Bilgi University, Noa Galata Triumvirate Tabanlıoğlu Architects - Istanbul Modern, Kanyon, Levent Loft I TRafo Architects - Istanbul Technical University Rectorate; Maksimum Houses, Tarabya, Özen House (landscape projects) UMO Architecture - Milli Reasürans Multi Storey Automatic Carpark Building Uras + Dilekçi Architects -360 Istanbul, Fateks Headquarter Building, Krunch, Prestige Mall
CONTENTS INTERVIEW WITH VIK MUNIZ KATHY BATTISTA INTERVIEW WITH SEMİHA BERKSOY HANS ULRICH OBRIST WHAT IS CONTEMPORARY IN CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN ART OLESYA TURKINA A REVIEW OF THE TAIPEI BIENNIAL 2008: (WHEN) GLOBAL ATTACKS ON A LOCAL PARADISE ADNAN YILDIZ INTERVIEW WITH RAINER FUCHS AND PETER KOGLER RES INTERVIEW WITH JAMES COHAN DEBORA WARNER NO EXCEPTION FOR CONTEMPORARY ART: WHY AN EXHIBITION OF THE PRISHTINA ART SCENE COULD NOT OPEN IN BELGRADE SEZGİN BOYNİK THE CONTEMPORARY ARTS LIBRARY IN PRISHTINA / BERLIN JUDITH RAUM, FITORE ISUFI-KOJA, ‹Z ÖZTAT STATES AND TRAITS OF SERBIAN ART SCENE NIKOLA SUICA INTERVIEW WITH FULYA ERDEMCİ / SKOR BORGA KANTÜRK INTERVIEW WITH SOLMAZ SHAHBAZI ASHKAN SEPAHVAND KOONS IN VERSAILLES SABINE BOEHL SPACES BETWEEN SPACES: AYŞE ERKMEN—WEGGEFÄHRTEN ADNAN YILDIZ BJØRN MELHUS AT THE AMERICAN HOSPITAL’S OPERATION ROOM LILIANA RODRIGUES DER NITSCH UND SEINE FREUNDE (NITSCH AND FRIENDS) FREYA MARTIN
RES Art World / World Art Publisher: Dirimart Abdi ‹pekçi Caddesi 7/4 Niﬂantaş› 34367 Istanbul TR T: +90 212 291 3434 F: +90 212 219 6400 firstname.lastname@example.org www.resartworld.com www.dirimart.org Not for sale Review biannual Not to be cited without permission of the author/s and RES Art World / World Art ISBN 978-605-5815-05-9 Editors: M. Azrâ Genim, Micha O. Goebig Layout Design and Art Direction: Emre Ç›k›noğlu, BEK Graphic Design: P›nar Akkurt, BEK Design Consultant: Bülent Erkmen Pre-press: BEK Design and Consultancy Ltd Printing and Binding: Mas Matbaac›l›k Hamidiye Mahallesi So€uksu Caddesi No:3 Ka€›thane Istanbul Turkey T: +90 212 294 1000 F: +90 212 294 9080
COVER (detail) Vik Muniz, Action Photo, after Hans Namuth (Pictures of Chocolate), 1997 Cibachrome print, 60 x 48 in / 152.4 x 121.9 cm © Vik Muniz / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Published on Apr 14, 2017
Published on Apr 14, 2017
Interview With Vik Muniz Kathy Battista Interview With Semiha Berksoy Hans Ulrich Obrist What Is Contemporary In Contemporary Russian Art Ol...