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A Journal of Accounts Art | Culture | Theory

Nancy Adajania | Hoda Afshar | Bridget Crone | Alex Gawronski | Paul Gladston Salima Hashmi | Ray Langenbach | Vali Mahlouji | Charles Merewether | Robin Peckham


From 2-10 February 2018 At Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy Dhaka, Bangladesh The Dhaka Art Summit (DAS) is a bi-annual non-commercial research and exhibition platform for art and architecture related to South Asia. With a core focus on Bangladesh, DAS re-examines how we think about these forms of art in both a regional and an international context. Neither biennale, symposium, nor festival, DAS’s unique interdisciplinary programme commissions local and international guest curators from leading institutions to conduct research across South Asia, unlocking new areas of inquiry into the region’s contemporary and historic creative communities, to build collaborative group exhibitions, experimental writing initiatives, film and talks programmes. Produced by the Samdani Art Foundation, DAS is free to the public and ticketless. For more information visit us at www.dhakaartsummit.org or email us at info@dhakaartsummit.org

Produced By

Supported By

In Association With


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A Journal of Accounts Art | Culture | Theory

Editor Alan Cruickshank Publisher DIVAN JOURNAL | University of NSW Art & Design Design Alan Cruickshank

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD NANCY ADAJANIA India Cultural theorist, editor, writer and curator, Bombay (Mumbai) JOHN BATTEN Hong Kong Writer and art, culture, and urban planning critic

ISSN 2207-1563

THOMAS BERGHUIS The Netherlands/Australia Fellow, Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden University; Principal Fellow (Honorary), School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

© Copyright 2017 Alan Cruickshank in conjunction with the University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney, the authors and artists.

DIANA CAMPBELL BETANCOURT Bangladesh Artistic Director, Samdani Art Foundation; Chief Curator, Dhaka Art Summit, Dhaka Artistic Director, Bellas Artes Projects, Manila

No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission.

FULYA ERDEMCI Turkey/The Netherlands Curator and writer, Istanbul/Amsterdam

d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts is published biannually by DIVAN JOURNAL and University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney.

PATRICK FLORES The Philippines Professor of Art Studies, University of the Philippines, Manila

Editorial | Subscription | Advertising inquiries: Email: artandculturejournal@gmail.com Post: University of NSW Art & Design Paddington Campus, Cnr Oxford St & Greens Rd, Paddington, NSW 2021 Australia

BLAIR FRENCH Australia Director, Curatorial & Digital, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney

The views and/or opinions expressed in d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts are those of the contributing writers and not necessarily those of the editor, DIVAN JOURNAL or the University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney.

PAUL GLADSTON United Kingdom Professor, Contemporary Visual Cultures+Critical Theory, University of Nottingham

divan: from the Persian dīwān, an account book; origin dēvan, booklet; also related to debir, writer; evolved through ‘a book of poems’, ‘collection of literary passages’, ‘an archive’, ‘book of accounts’ and ‘collection of sheets’ to ‘an assembly’, ‘office of accounts’, ‘custom house’, ‘government bureau’ or ‘councils chamber’, to a long, cushioned seat, which in this sense entered European languages. divan presents a shift of content and meaning over time coexistent with evolving historical relationships between the East and West. d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts offers critical interpretations on contemporary art and culture, and its broader art historical, socio-political and theoretical contexts, from the MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia) and Asia-Pacific regions, and Australia.

ADAM GECZY Australia Senior Lecturer, Sculpture and Art Theory, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney; art critic, author, artist

ALEXIE GLASS-KANTOR Australia Executive Director, Artspace, Sydney REUBEN KEEHAN Australia Curator, Contemporary Asian Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Modern Art, Brisbane VASIF KORTUN Turkey Board Member, SALT, Istanbul RAY LANGENBACH Finland Research Fellow, Finnish Academy of Fine Art, Helsinki SUSIE LINGHAM Singapore Independent thinker, writer, educator and maker in the arts IAN McLEAN Australia The Hugh Ramsay Chair of Australian Art, University of Melbourne VALI MAHLOUJI United Kingdom Curator, writer, critic and author, London GUY MANNES-ABBOTT United Kingdom Writer, essayist and critic, London CHARLES MEREWETHER Georgia Curator of Contemporary Art, National Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi NAT MULLER The Netherlands Independent curator and critic, Amsterdam NIKOS PAPASTERGIADIS Australia Professor, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne ROBIN PECKHAM China Editor-in-Chief, LEAP magazine, Beijing SIMON REES New Zealand Director, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

Cover: Khadim Ali, The Arrivals No.6 (detail), 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

TAN BOON HUI USA Director, Asia Society Museum; Vice President of Global Arts & Cultural Programs, Asia Society, New York PHIL TINARI China Director, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing

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MURTAZA VALI USA Writer, art historian, and curator, New York ALA YOUNIS Jordan Curator and artist, Amman

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Contents 5 Editorial

81 Unpacking Ranbir Kaleka’s Toolbox: the Artist as Artificer

ALAN CRUICKSHANK

12 The Arrival of the Demons

NANCY ADAJANIA

20 (Partisans) Kick the Corpse: Post-Truth and the Contemporary Art World

RAY LANGENBACH

28 The Specter of the Soviet Union

ROBIN PECKHAM

42 The Super-Modernism of the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis

ALEX GAWRONSKI

54 Comparative Monument (Shellal): Steadfastness and the Temporal Body…

SALIMA HASHMI

90 Rebranding the Mahathir Era

HODA AFSHAR

PAUL GLADSTON

100 The Loss of Centre

108 Art is Not Magic

CHARLES MEREWETHER

VALI MAHLOUJI

BRIDGET CRONE

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124 Demons and Deliverance 130

IMAGE NOTATIONS


Contributors Nancy Adajania is a cultural theorist and curator based in Bombay. Since the late 1990s, she has written consistently on the practices of four generations of Indian women artists. Her book, The Thirteenth Place: Positionality as Critique in the Art of Navjot Altaf (The Guild Art Gallery, 2016), extends the field of art history by developing regional histories of Marxism, feminism and collaborative art practice in the context of postcolonial Indian art. She has proposed several new theoretical models through her extensive writings on media art, public art, the biennial culture, trans-cultural art practices, subaltern art, and the relationship of art to the public sphere. Adajania was Joint Artistic Director of the 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012). In 2013 and 2014, she taught the curatorial practice course at the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts. She edited the recent issue of Aroop (‘Some things that only art can do: A Lexicon of Affective Knowledge’) with trans-disciplinary contributions from the fields of visual arts, music, architecture, dance and theatre (Raza Foundation, 2017). Hoda Afshar is a Melbourne-based artist/photographer, researcher and educator. She has exhibited in Australia and internationally, and both her images and writing have been featured in online and print publications; currently finishing a PhD in Creative Arts at Curtin University of Technology and also lectures in photography. Through her research and art practice, she reflects on contemporary issues related to representation, displacement, mass migration and identity. Bridget Crone is Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London and Visiting Scholar at CalArts School of Critical Studies, 2017-18. She works internationally as a curator, and has published widely in the field of contemporary art; has written extensively for artists and galleries including Monash University Museum of Art, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Vigo, and for the Journal of Curatorial Studies, Moving Image Review and Art Journal (MIRAJ), Journal of Visual Arts Practice, Eyeline, and Art and Australia. Her book The Sensible Stage: Staging and the Moving Image is published in its second edition by Intellect/University of Chicago, 2017.

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Alex Gawronski is a Sydney-based artist, writer, gallerist and academic; currently teaches at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Sydney; lectured at Sydney College of the Arts 2005-16; has published critical essays on contemporary art in various journals since the mid-1990s; his interests frequently focusing on the institutional dynamics that underwrite and determine how we see and consume art. An anthology of his writing Alex Gawronski, Words and Pictures, (projects and essays), Blair French (ed.) was published by Artspace, Sydney in 2014. Paul Gladston is Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures and Critical Theory and Director of the Centre for Contemporary East-Asian Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham; has written extensively on the theory and practice of contemporary Chinese art for numerous journals and magazines including Modern China Studies, Culture and Dialogue, Yishu, Leap, Art Review, Contemporary Art and Investment, Artworld, Wink, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet and Eyeline. He was Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (Intellect, 2014-16). His monograph Contemporary Chinese Art: a Critical History was awarded ‘best publication’ at the Art Awards China in 2015. Salima Hashmi is an artist, curator and contemporary art historian; founding Dean of the Mariam Dawood School of Visual Art and Design, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore, Pakistan; Professor of Fine Art, National College of Arts [NCA] Lahore and Principal of the College; nominated by The Australian Council of Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) as Inaugural International Fellow, for distinguished service to art and design education in 2011; awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Bath Spa University in 2016; Council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Ray Langenbach is Professor of Performance Art and Theory, Live Art and Performance Studies Masters Program, University of the Arts Helsinki; his installations, video and performance art works have been presented in the USA, Europe and Asia-Pacific; he has written for Performance Research, Oxford Dictionary of Performance, Oxford University Press, 2003; Mediating Malaysia: Media, Culture & Power in Malaysian Society,

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Routledge 2010; Rigorous and Compassionate Listening, Dialogical Writing on Site-Specific Art, Helsinki, 2010; Contesting Performance: Emerging Sites of Research, Palgrave 2009/ 2012. Vali Mahlouji is a London-based curator, writer, critic; independent advisor to the British Museum and the Kaveh Golestan Estate; founder of the curatorial think tank Archaeology of the Final Decade, which identifies, investigates and recirculates significant cultural and artistic materials that have remained obscure, under-exposed, endangered, removed or in some instances destroyed; his recent publications have appeared in The Guardian, Encyclopædia Iranica, Asia Society Museum, Abraaj Group Art Prize, Darat al Funun, Sharjah Biennial, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens, Middle East Institute, and Delfina Foundation, London. His book Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis was published by Black Dog Publishing, London 2016 Charles Merewether is Curator of Contemporary Art Projects, National Art Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia; Curator, Research Institute, Getty Centre, Los Angles 1994-2003; Artistic Director, Biennale of Sydney 2006; Deputy Director of the Cultural District, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi 2007-08; Director, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Singapore, 2010-2013; Visiting Professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 2014 and Baptist University, Hong Kong, 2015; recent book publications include After Memory: The Art of Milenko Prvacki, 40 Years, Combinart Singapore 2013; co-editor After the Event, Manchester University Press, 2010; Under Construction: Ai Weiwei, University of New South Wales Press, 2008; and editor Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950-1970, Getty Publications, 2007 and The Archive, MIT Press 2006. Robin Peckham is a Shanghai-based curator and editor; currently Editorin-chief, LEAP, the international art magazine of contemporary China; previously founded and operated the exhibition space Saamlung, Hong Kong; has organised exhibitions at Edouard Malingue Gallery, K11 Art Foundation, Goethe-Institut and M Woods Museum, all Hong Kong; City University of Hong Kong; Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art and Long March Space, Beijing.


ALAN CRUICKSHANK

Editorial Response to the inaugural issue of dɪˈvan | A Journal of Accounts has been compelling such that the obligation to charge the journal with an editorial has become de rigeur. The imprint’s gestation evolved from a predisposition towards engaging the art historical, the sociopolitical and the theoretical, to act as, quoting academic Nikos Papastergiadis, “a crucial bridge to our region and a much needed perspective for the wider art world.” The appellation dɪˈvan derived from a synthesis of enquiry and chance, perhaps like any idealistic enterprise: “divan”, from the Persian dīwān, an account book; origin dēvan, booklet; also related to debir, writer; a word having evolved through a book of poems, a collection of literary passages, an archive, a book of accounts and collection of sheets, to an assembly, office of accounts, custom house, government bureau or councils chamber, and then to a long, cushioned seat found therein, which in this sense entered European languages: “divan” presents a shift in meaning over time, coexistent with evolving historical relationships between the East and West, and of, according to cultural theorist and art critic Nancy Adajania, “many connotations, that of a plenitude of narratives, but also of accountability: political, aesthetic and ethical.” Apropos to any perceived passé indulgence of ink on paper in a hyperreal cosmos (of the seemingly bottomless pit of imperceptibility) of the Internet, the attested tangibility of the hand-presented and received ‘business card’ of accountabilities and narratives offsets the dubiety of the constellation, if not the Cloud. While dɪˈvan’s contextual boundaries speculate upon geopolitical regions considered germane to the Australian condition—the Middle East, greater Asia and the Asia-Pacific, such an approach of course will inevitably be mediated in relation to other cultural contexts. Predominantly through its military and immigration histories over the past century, Australia’s sociopolitical and cultural contemporaneity has become increasingly infused by their resonant constitution and connectivity, from which flows a critical raison d’etre—history underscores ‘the contemporary’. The years 2014 to 2018 and beyond, for example, present a saturation of ‘anniversaries’ (for want of a better description) of events that give consequence to contemporary cultural aspirations: 2016 being the centenary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and 2017, the Balfour Declaration, both European assertions that after six hundred years of Ottoman rule carved up the Middle East into mostly colonial subplots, the disorder and turbulence of which still influences global equanimity; 2017 being the seventy-fifth anniversary of The Fall of Singapore (and the end of another empire, along with European colonialism in the greater region); the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), at the time of publication being celebrated through the major exhibition Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now, at the Mori Art Museum and National Art Centre, Tokyo; the centenary of the Russian Revolution and the spread of world communism and its subsequent but not total collapse; and the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 referendum that amended the Australian Constitution, the result of which recognised indigenous Australians as citizens for the first time; 2018, the seventieth anniversary of The Partition, the violence and dislocation of which continues to realise disharmony between India and Pakistan; and the establishment of the State of Israel, and Al Nakba, the Palestinian Tragedy... ad infinitum. Across these regions, through artistic expression and its multiple interpretations and translations, history assuredly underscores the contemporary.

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PUBLICATIONS 2016 — 2017

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THEATRICAL FIELDS Critical Strategies in Performance, Film, and Video

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he words “theory” and “theater” share the same etymological root. From thea, “to see,” the two converge in the act of con templative spectatorship. To come to know something, to watch and observe it, requires critical distance from the object of study. Based on an exhibition of the same name, Theatrical Fields presents seminal texts and newly commissioned essays that explore theatricality as a critical strategy in performance, film, and video. Beyond the theater, the con cept of theatricality points to the constructedness of everyday life. Theatrical forms make visible how our realities are often staged, and also the ways in which our histories are constructed and performed. The politics of the theatrical, and the theatricality of politics, configure a compelling space that offers room to maneuver, and a temporary exile within the imaginary. T

Published by

Sternberg Press

TEXTS Antonin Artaud, Mikhail Bakhtin, Ute Meta Bauer, Bertolt Brecht, Giuliana Bruno, Jacques Derrida, Régis Durand, Josette Féral, Jean-François Lyotard, Eva Meyer, Timothy Murray, Katharina Sykora, Marina Warner

ARTISTS Judith Barry, Stan Douglas, Marcel Dzama, Marie-Louise Ekman, Joan Jonas, Isaac Julien, Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf, Ulrike Ottinger, Constanze Ruhm

Including Audio File

EDITORS Ute Meta Bauer, Anca Rujoiu PUBLISHERS NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore; Bildmuseet, Umeå; Koenig Books, London

in collaboration with

Published by

and Sternberg Press Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions is an interspecies

Edited on behalf of the Culture of the German

NTU CCA Singapore

NTU CCA Singapore

NTU CCA Singapore

Association of Arts and

Published by

Becoming Palm is the

Published by

outcome of a conversation

NTU CCA Singapore,

between two friends, artist

Economy at the Federation

König Books, London,

Simryn Gill and

of German Industries

and Bildmuseet, Umeå

anthropologist Michael Taussig responding to oil palm plantations and “the

SouthEastAsia: Spaces of the Curatorial

Theatrical Fields: Critical Strategies in

enormous transformations,

focuses on the practice of curating in

Performance, Film, and Video stages

human, and ecological, that

Southeast Asia, a region experiencing

conversations between theatre and

a time of increased global visibility as

visual arts, theoretical discourse and

well as nation and institution

artistic practice juxtaposing artists and

building.

theoreticians who share a communal interest in theatricality as a critical

encounter between arachnids and anthropos mediated by sound. The audio publishing project is conceived as a continuation, expansion and circulation of the eponymous exhibition of artist Tomás Saraceno at NTU CCA Singapore in 2015. An album with the jam sessions between arachnids and musicians performed live in the exhibition, and various recordings produced in Saraceno’s studio in Berlin, is included in the publication.

this crop engenders” (Michael Taussig) in two remote geographical locations, Southeast Asia and South America.

strategy to address questions of ideology, gender, power relations.

NTU.CCASINGAPORE.ORG NTUCCAPUBLICATIONS

NTU Centre For Contemporary Art Singapore Block 6, Lock Road, #01-09/10 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108934 www.ntuccasingapore.org ntu.ccasingapore @ntu_ccasingapore @ntuccasingapore

NTU.EDU.SG

Located at:


Asia Art Archive launches a redesigned website featuring a new online publication called Ideas. Each Monday, AAA publishes essays, interviews, and curated journeys through our research collections, making connections across Asia and the world.

www.aaa.org.hk

Asia Art Archive 11/F Hollywood Center 233 Hollywood Road Sheung Wan, Hong Kong T. +852 2844 1112 E. info@aaa.org.hk

AsiaArtArchive aaa.org.hk Opening hours Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm


HODA AFSHAR

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The Arrival of the Demons At first our eyes are drawn to the centre of the image. Two boats carry a group of identical looking demon-like figures; some of them are looking into the distance. One points in the direction of their possible destination, another towards the sky. Several look towards each other, as if caught in silent deliberation. Wordless, they appear to be awaiting their arrival. Where it is not known. The surrounding scene is one of chaos. The ocean is agitated, losing its boundaries. Perilous and furious, the sea dissolves into the sky. Weightless and impatient, begrudgingly it bears the burden of carrying these demons. The ocean seems bellicose, but the demons appear unaware. This is the next thing that we notice: in the midst of that infernal circus, both the boats and their passengers appear strangely serene; there is no fear in the latter’s eyes. Neither moved nor defiant, they appear somehow dignified, poised and still. Despite their unmoved faces, these demons are wearing life jackets, and so it can be imagined they are not where they should be; they are seeking land, in transit. The ocean is for them a mere passage. Regardless of their demon-like visage, wearing life vests suggests that they might perish in this ocean. They are living souls then; souls exposed to death. But if they are human souls, then theirs are hidden behind emotionless, half-human faces, behind demon-looking masks. *** As with many of his paintings, the central figures depicted in this image—the nineteen identical-looking demons—were endowed to Khadim Ali from the Shāhnāmeh, or the Book of Kings: the poet Ferdowsi’s (940-1020 CE) epic poem about the history of Persia, just as the continuous tradition of rendering this work in images—the Persian miniature—has supplied Ali with a visual language that he has employed here and in most of his paintings. With its prickly and bestial features—horns, ears and beard—the central figure in this image appears unmistakable, and anyone familiar with the Shāhnāmeh will recognise it immediately. It is the div, a recurring figure both in the Book of Kings and in ancient Iranian folkloric traditions, and one that is generally associated with chaos and disorder. Neither human, nor yet fully inhuman (if we consider its mortal form), the div is or represents the personification of evil; and in the Shāhnāmeh, it is responsible for committing all manner of wicked deeds. (And for some interpreters too, symbolically it represents the enemy of the Iranian people: those invading forces from the north that came to threaten the Persian nation.)

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The Shāhnāmeh and the tradition of Persian miniature have provided Ali with a visual grammar and vocabulary, including a cast of characters that appears in much of his work, a visualisation that is rooted in a particular cultural and art-historical tradition. But as in many of his series, Ali has employed this visual language in this image of The Arrivals (2016) innovatively, in order to communicate a more contemporary and universal message. The scene depicted does not recall a particular episode from the Book of Kings, but rather it evokes an immediate, familiar outlook on an issue of global currency. *** Two boats thrusting out into the ocean, filled with identical-looking demons headed, it might be imagined, towards the shore, their origin and destination uncertain. Clearly reflected in this picture is a layered message and a concrete image, describing the plight of all those that have been forced to flee their homelands, escaping war and turmoil by land and ocean passages that are often just as dangerous as the circumstances they have left behind. It communicates an explicit message of the prevailing global refugee crisis and the conditions that it engenders and reinforces—of a world increasingly marked by unequal geographies and human rights. Just as this understanding is evident, it also presents the query why has Khadim Ali chosen to communicate this through the particular figure of the div? Several possible readings emerge, and while they diverge, they also confirm each other, coalescing in the image of a single subject, albeit imagined in distinct ways. The particular manner in which the subject is depicted is undoubtedly meant to mirror some of our own current judgments and assumptions about those who migrate across the oceans. In Australia, unauthorised arrivals of boatloads of refugees have come to be perceived as those not in search of asylum, but rather as outsiders whose arrival carries another message—a warning about the need to protect social order and the safety of national borders; more so in Europe, where the reality has tended to be eclipsed by another image and narrative. It is important that we understand the figures in this painting wearing demon ‘masks’, as a reflection of our ignorance and, very often, violence. In a very precise sense, Ali is presenting us with an image of the asylum seeker (or of the outsider more generally) as Other, a dehumanising portrait of the excluded. Ali is pointing to the role of such figures of exclusion in the very (political and psychological) constitution of the self or subject, or the way in which we come to know and define ourselves, and the safe limits of our world, first of all through recognising, and secondly rejecting, that which we perceive ourselves not-to-be. It is a process that is well captured by the notion of the abject, which the American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler describes in terms of: [T]hose ‘unlivable’ and ‘uninhabitable’ zones of social life which are nevertheless densely populated by those who do not enjoy the status of the subject, but whose living under the sign of the ‘unlivable’ is required to circumscribe the domain of the subject. This zone of unhabitability will constitute the defining limit of the subject’s domain; it will constitute that site of dreaded identification against which—and by virtue of which—the domain of the subject will circumscribe its own claim to autonomy and to life. In this sense, then, the subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one which produces a constitutive outside to the subjected, an abjected outside, which is, after all, ‘inside’ the subject as its own founding repudiation.1

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The critical issue here concerns the peculiar relationship that is established between the subject-as-inside, and an excluded outside which is, paradoxically, constitutive of the subject, just because this process involves the repudiation—the abjection—of what is recognised as not (or no longer) belonging to the former. And as Butler’s description clearly suggests, it is important to recognise this as a social, as much as an individual, phenomenon. In more familiar terms it is also possible to read into Butler’s words, and in Ali’s image, echoes of a theme which the Greek-Egyptian poet Constantin Cavafy presents in his well-known poem, ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ (1898). Cavafy describes the disappointment that descends upon the inhabitants of an unnamed city when a group of “barbarians”, whom they are awaiting to greet, fail to arrive. The poem concludes: Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come. And some who have just returned from the border say there are no barbarians any longer. And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution.2 Though both their tone and thematic concerns diverge it is possible to draw a connection between Cavafy’s poem and one reading of Khadim Ali’s image, in regard to the meaning and significance of the barbarians in the former, and the latter’s demons. Both groups symbolise Others or outsiders—a real or imagined enemy—that is at once demonised and at the same time needed by the dominant society as it represents for them, in the words of the critic Charles Simic, “a perpetual excuse”.3 Ruminating upon what might be the contemporary significance of Ali’s The Arrivals, one might consider the politicisation of the current refugee crisis and its narrative (re)construction, through which the security of one group has come to be seen (in the eyes of an ever-widening circle) as dependent upon the exclusion of an almost mythically imagined band of outsiders. There is a coincidental and revealing connection to be drawn between the symbolic meaning of Ali’s demons and the barbarians of Cavafy’s poem. The term “barbarian” in ancient Greece was used to refer to non-Greek speaking people due to the “bar-bar” sound of their language (especially that of the Persians). In classical Greek the term “barbarous” was used as an antonym for “politēs”, meaning citizen. Aristotle, in his books Politics, famously pinpoints the true nature and definition of man possessing language (logos) as opposed to a mere voice (phōnē), for while the latter might serve to express animal pleasures and pains, it is only through logos that man is able to indicate what is just and unjust, as a necessary prerequisite to the formation of the polis, or that kind of human community through which man (as a political animal—zōon politikon) is able to achieve his full humanity. An assumption that can be drawn from this is that the Greeks alone possessed logos or reasoned speech; the implication being that everybody else—non-Greek speakers and non-citizens—in lacking this capacity were reduced to mere animal, or at least less than fully human, status. In the context of reading Ali’s image this is significant, not only because the “barbarian” Persian-speaking people who, as their dominant Other, came to occupy the opposite pole to the idealised self-image of the Greeks,4 but also, in light of distinctions that Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben advances—that of zoē or “natural life”, and bios—referring to that characteristic of the polis—political life.5

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For Agamben, this distinction is crucially important because it underlies the operation of sovereign power. He argues (in terms reminiscent of those used above to describe the state of abjection) that political order is based on the exclusion of “bare human life” from, or its repositioning within, the polis (a relation which, for Agamben, corresponds to the same transition from voice to language as described by Aristotle above), in the sense that, it is the sovereign power that decides which lives will be recognised as belonging to the political community and therefore in full possession of certain rights, and which shall be excluded. In other words, it has the power to define the very threshold of human life, now understood in terms of bios or qualified political life; and this includes the power to strip those same lives of their rights as citizens through (what Agamben terms) the “relation of exception” or the “sovereign ban”, a move that sees them reduced from being political, to merely living beings, from bios to zoē; or practically, to animals. Even though Agamben famously sees this “state of exception” reflected most clearly in the status of the homo sacer (or the Roman citizen who, in accordance with Roman law, could be stripped of his rights and killed with impunity), he also finds an essential connection here between this figure and the state of the refugee. Converging his analysis of the fate of the modern nation-state with the problem of human rights, Agamben writes: Here the paradox is that precisely the figure that should have embodied human rights more than any other—namely, the refugee—mark[s] instead the radical crisis of the concept. The conception of human rights based on the supposed existence of a human being as such… proves to be untenable as soon as those who profess it find themselves confronted for the first time with people who have really lost every quality and every specific relation except for the pure fact of being human. In the system of the nationstate, so-called sacred and inalienable human rights are revealed to be without any protection precisely when it is no longer possible to conceive of them as rights of the citizens of a state.6 In reading Ali’s The Arrivals—the question of the real and symbolic meaning of the depicted demon figures—it is possible to see in their cursed half-animal, half-human appearance a reflection of the condition described by Agamben. Perhaps these are not masks, but rather just what a living being reduce to “bare life” looks like; an image—and one that is more than allegorical—of a group of living beings that dwell at the threshold of life and the political community, situated precariously in relation to the safe haven of the nation, and if not quite stripped of, then at least partially excluded from, the rights and protections that it alone grants them. But one wonders why there is no fear in their faces, if they are indeed exposed to death. For the ocean is clearly intent on endangering them, yet their countenance is somehow still, almost quietly heroic. Certainly their appearance carves the same twisted shapes as the turbulent sea, forming a visual rhyme, suggesting that this is what it takes to face chaos. *** Thus two possible readings of real and symbolic meaning of the figures have emerged. We are presented with two ways of imaging a particular group of excluded subjects: as Other and as homo sacer, in each case, representing their exclusion from a defined political community. But then perhaps there is a third reading, that the artist is presenting us with a self-portrait. It is instructive to consider the phenomenon which American sociologist and rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois has described, in terms of a “double consciousness”, affecting the Othered subject, that peculiar sense experienced by such individuals, “of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world l

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The Arrival of the Demons

that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”7 In The Arrivals, reflecting the experience that it seeks to capture, the image of its subject as both self and Other imperceptibly merge. They are constitutive of its subject, and so the image and visage of these demons should not be seen simply as a mask or projection. For having broken loose from the hostile perception in which it originated, it comes to belong to its subject as a permanent trauma, an open wound. Ali places us in the position of its subject. *** As a child, Ali used to identify with and think of himself as Rostam, the legendary hero from the epic poems of the Shāhnāmeh. In one famous episode, Rostam embarks on a hero’s journey to save his sovereign who has been captured by the demons. This journey is popularly referred to as ‘Rostam’s Seven Quests’, and it captures both moments of his glory and failure. In Ali’s imagination, Rostam was like Batman, for the children of his generation in the West. The tragic story of Rostam’s death in the Shāhnāmeh made Ali question everything about life, love and brotherhood. He grew up hero-less, leaving him with an impression that would resurface in his life and work. This perhaps explains why the figure of Rostam never appears in Ali’s work. Rostam’s absence is conspicuous, heightened, in light of the constant presence of the div. I also grew up listening to those same stories of the Shāhnāmeh, imagining them as magnificent painted images. There is something unsettling and disorienting in the way that Ali imagines them, perhaps presenting us with the figure of a re-imagined Rostam. For despite his hero status, Rostam nevertheless is, in the Shāhnāmeh, imagined in the same way as all its human cast, as wearing different masks that reflect, prism-like, light and dark. He is a human figure, like the rest, and therefore reflects humanity’s limitations. The div, however, always represented (for me) everything that Rostam is not, symbolising hostility and darkness. Ali’s images of the div appear fearsome and more complex, as if he is trying to understand this figure, presenting a more human face, as though it has become a mirror and vehicle for expressing his most personal concerns; a self-image. *** Having been persecuted in their ancestral homeland, the Hazara have fled to new ones only to face new struggles and degrees of persecution. Re-settling in Australia, as Other or outsider, it is not unexpected that Ali’s concerns about his (and his community’s) self-image and identity should find expression in his art work. He speaks powerfully about the need for a silent language of art to express the suffering and forced forgetting of his community, the collective memory of a society that has been wounded. About his own experiences, Ali has observed, “The history of the Hazara is always related to loss… of their loved ones and losing their motherland. We have lived in a state of mental and physical melancholia, which forces us to live in the memories of the past. We recall our memories in a highly poetic manner, in our visual art, our craft and our music.”8 Such recollections of loss and trauma are constantly present in his work—not as an invisible layer but immediately, on its surface. Our appreciation should not give way to a mere symbolic reading that would eclipse the concrete meaning. It is this need “to draw the audience to [his] haunted vision of dark history”9 that reveals why Ali has presented this figure of the div, constantly preserving its terrible image (and therefore acknowledging its fearfulness), while also mutely celebrating it. For it reflects, in part, a certain necessity, as a way of reconciling oneself to permanent danger, of protecting one’s open wounds, while also reflecting how the div is perceived within his Hazara community. With its fat belly,

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HODA AFSHAR

beard and donkey ears, the div is celebrated as a sign of wealth and good fortune. After the Taliban usurped Rostam as their own symbol, the div has become the Hazara’s hero. Given Ali’s childhood memories about the death of his hero Rostam, it is clear why he and his community might have come to cling to this figure—the div survives. *** There is a final reading of The Arrivals that should be considered, of what its final, salutary message might convey. Above the two boats and their passengers there is a line of Persian text, somewhat subdued against the brooding blue-grey sky, but visible, in deep red. Its visual style, and (loosely) its visual vocabulary, is the only distinctly recognisable Persian element that connects this work to the cultural milieu of its subject. The viewer might imagine that whatever the ultimate reading of this image is, then it should be echoed—affirmed—in this line of text. For the Persian reader such as myself, it might be imagined that these lines will transport us beyond the surface, that these words might offer some explanation (as ‘inside’ readers), and of these demons. But upon closer scrutiny, these lines appear fragmented and unclear. Each word can be read, each has individual meaning, but as sentences they make no sense. The words float dishearteningly, drawing the viewer in, only then to exclude them, with the distinct impression that precisely those readers who might expect to be able to penetrate most deeply beyond a surface understanding of this work are likely to experience its disorienting effects the greatest. Perhaps then this is as it should be, an effect that is intended to elicit a muted sense of what it is like to become exiled, to draw closer, but to never arrive, to remain outside, staring into an abyss of meaning, and observe its void glare back.10 Notes 1 Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter, London: Routledge, 1993, p. 3 2 Constantin P. Cavafy, Collected Poems, George Savidis (ed.), Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard trans., Revised Edition, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992. See also http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=119&cat=1 3 Charles Simic, ‘Some Sort of a Solution’, review of ‘The Collected Poems by C.P. Cavafy’, London Review of Books Vol. 30, No. 6, March 2008, pp. 32-34; https://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n06/charles-simic/some-sort-of-a-solution 4 Also in Arabic, the term “ajam”, meaning at once “silent”, “mute” or “being incapable of speech” came to be used in the classical Islamic period, referring widely to foreigners or non-Arabic speakers, above all Persians 5 See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Daniel Heller-Roazen trans., Palo Alto CA: Stanford University Press, 1998 6

Giorgio Agamben, ‘Beyond Human Rights’, Open 15, 2008, pp. 86-89

7

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, New York: Dover Publications, 1903, p. 2

8

Khadim Ali, The Force of Forgetting (exhib. cat.), Lismore Regional Gallery, 2011, p. 5

9

Ibid., p. 6

10

I would like to thank Khadim Ali for sharing details of his personal history and his art work, and Timothy Johannessen, University of Melbourne, for his insightful conversations, especially relating to Aristotle and Agamben

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The Arrival of the Demons

19 — july / 2017


PAUL GLADSTON

(Partisans) Kick the Corpse: Post-Truth and the Contemporary Art World 1

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The terms “alt-facts” (alternative facts) and “post-truth” have recently gained popular currency as part of political debates in the mediasphere; the former associated with the presentation of narratives by American President Donald Trump and members of the White House staff countering supposedly ‘fake news’ reported in the liberal-leaning media, and the latter censure by the political mainstream of Trump’s often self-evidently unsubstantiated and highly mobile take on reality. The abbreviation “alt-facts” derives from an interview given by Trump spokesperson Kelly Anne Conway to NBC’ TVs Meet the Press on 22 January 2017 in which she sought to defend White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s demonstrably false claim that crowds in attendance at Trump’s presidential inauguration had exceeded that of former president Barack Obama, as a presentation of “alternative facts”. Conway later sought to clarify her use of the term by redefining it as “additional facts and alternative information”. Between 22 and 26 January 2017 there was a 9,500% increase in sales of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which rose to number one in the USA Amazon bestseller list. The New York Times attributed this precipitous increase in sales to descriptions of Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts” as “Orwellian” in both mainstream and social media. A distinct pre-figuring of “alternative facts” can be found, in relation to Orwell’s use in Nineteen Eighty-Four of the terms “reality control” and “newspeak” to signify propagandist rewritings of historical fact. The term “post-truth” was first coined in 1992 by playwright Steve Tesich, to signify the emergence of a presidential culture in the USA after the 1970s Watergate scandal in which factual counter-argument has been habitually dismissed and detailed policy debate replaced by appeals to subjective feeling. Tesich’s use of the term “post-truth” resonates strongly with Walter Benjamin’s identification of an aestheticisation of politics by the Nazis during the 1930s, involving ritualised appeals to populist sentiment rather than reasoned political argument;2 a development also recognised by Georges Bataille in relation to his founding in 1935 of the short-lived group Contre Attaque, at whose meetings Bataille proposed resistance to fascism through co-ordinated violence and populist myth-making on the communist left. Also prefiguring and informing the emergence into popular consciousness of post-truth political culture is poststructuralist postmodernism’s immanent problematisation of all truth-claims and meta-narratives. Although deployed inter alia as a means of questioning established modernist authority, the sceptical vision of signified meanings advanced by poststructuralism can also be understood to extend to the mobile workings of capitalism itself. Indeed, by the 1990s, poststructuralist discourses had been openly assimilated by neo-liberal capitalist culture as an underpinning to its advocacy of pluralistic difference. Viewed in this light, Trump emerges not as the originator but merely as the crude populariser of an always-already pervasive state of post-truth.

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The current combined use of the terms “alt-facts” and “post-truth” is indicative of an extreme hardening of party-political differences in the USA between Democrats and Republicans. That hardening has been accompanied by an up-swelling of radical socialist/anti-capitalist protest opposed to Trump as well as an emboldening of the far right/“alt-right” whose attitudes align with aspects of Trump’s national-exceptionalist political vision; an alignment signified by the appointment of arch alt-rightist Stephen Bannon as White House chief strategist. Political polarisation in the USA along with the prefiguring of alt-facts by Orwell’s use of the terms “reality control” and “newspeak” and the resonance of post-truth with Benjamin’s identification of an aestheticisation of politics give credence to an increasingly widespread view that we have returned to the starkly bifurcated left-right political landscape of the early twentieth century. This view extends beyond politics in the USA not only to other Western(ised) democracies where differences between left and right have become increasingly pronounced in recent years, but in addition the rise of nationalist authoritarianism within post-socialist states such as the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. Contestations of facts and of the truth in the public sphere are, of course, nothing new. Politics in Western(ised) democratic societies is defined by such antagonisms. Authority over interpretation of the truth of what ‘is’, is conventionally understood to ground the moralising ‘ought’ of democratic political debate irrespective of partisan propaganda and spin. Since antiquity Western(ised) democratic politics has consequently looked towards the parrhesiastes as someone who speaks truth freely to power in public without recourse to distortive rhetoric. Such truth-telling is not only understood to garner moral authority through its evident sincerity but also, crucially, its public risk-taking in the face of a potentially vengeful authority. With the advent of alt-facts and post-truth however, there has arguably been a discernible shift in the public grounding of democracy. Where there was previously a residual faith in parrhesia (sincere enunciation of the truth), there are now significant doubts that democratic politics can be vouchsafed by such speech-activity. Trump may have appealed successfully to populist sentiment among American voters by seeming to cut through neo-liberal establishment rhetoric—that is to say, by nominally occupying the position of the parrhesiastes. But in doing so he has by no means upheld notions of political truthtelling historically associated with that role. His mobile take on truth is not so much economical (in the now old-fashioned Spycatcher sense3) as conspicuously and often farcically distant from any reasonable interpretation of facts. Moreover, as an independently wealthy non-career politician Trump’s public intervention on political orthodoxy has been unusually low-risk. In spite, or more accurately because of accusations of sexual misconduct and financial impropriety, which together would have holed any other presidential candidate below the waterline, Trump has been able to project himself in relation to his existing celebrity status as some sort of an authentic everyman (no doubt by appealing to the narcissistic fantasies of many of those who voted for him). The shift towards an alt-facts/post-truth (post-parrhesia) political culture has not come about simply as a result of Trump’s triumph at the polls, but in addition widening doubts over the factual as well as moral authority of the supposedly progressive outlook claimed by so-called neo-liberal elites, whose advocacy of inclusive pluralism/multiculturalism under globalisation can be seen as the latest dissembling projection of an otherwise perfidious capitalist spectacle. To which one might add continuing failures by the socialist left to break back into the democratic political mainstream, not least because of abiding majority concerns over financial competency and the historical tendency of socialist regimes, elected or otherwise, towards authoritarianism.4

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(Partisans) Kick the Corpse: Post-Truth and the Contemporary Art World

Cut loose from its conventional anchorage in truth-telling and in the face of an increasing economic precarity, with deep social divisions as well as the emergence of ever more restrictive post-panoptical societies of control, democracy is now an open arena for the highest bids in terms of unsubstantiated assurances given to the electorate of their future security and prospects. Faux democracies, such as those of the Russian Federation and Turkey have long-since operated along similar lines. With Trump’s election the supposed bulwark of Western democracy has lurched spectacularly in the same direction. Any absolute differentiation between electoral democracy and authoritarianism —other than as a matter of the superficialities of process—under present conditions is fast receding. No wonder China claims the moral ascendancy of its own brand of socialist democracy. In that context those perceived as having dangerous populist tendencies such as disgraced ‘princeling’ politician Bo Xilai can at least be pre-emptively excluded from the political arena. In the USA it is down to the Republican administration to wrangle the notoriously wayward Trump in office. (I speak ironically.) The role of the parrhesiastes has, as Michel Foucault indicates, always been a problematic one in relation to democracy in view of the possibility that immoral speakers posing as truth-tellers may lead the people into tyranny.5 At present, credible distinctions between good and bad political faith are far from being assured (if indeed they ever were). It is therefore by no means clear how the position of the ‘true’ parrhesiastes might now be resurrected in the majority imagination. On the face of it, renewed radicalism on the left and right are not only starkly opposed to one another but also generationally to a previously ascendant poststructuralist-inflected neo-liberalism. That trinity of oppositions is, however, by no means assured in practice. As previously indicated it is possible to view the post-truth tendencies of the radical right as a partial apotheosis of a more general discursive indeterminacy revealed by poststructuralist postmodernism—a deconstructivist ‘dark side’, if you will. At the same time, neo-liberalism is itself undeniably enmeshed with the assimilation of poststructuralist discourses in support of a global politics of difference. The radical left is by its very nature historically resistant to the profound uncertainties revealed by poststructuralist postmodernism—looking as it does to a more pragmatic common sense resistance to evident social inequalities under capitalism. However, after postmodernism it too now intersects with persistent traces of poststructuralist thought and practice, including in relation to assertions of spectrum identity. As such, it therefore arguably aligns itself, depending on one’s political viewpoint, with a performative assault on binary patriarchy, or a paradoxically authoritarian colonisation of female space. Further to which progressive left-leaning attitudes often remain supportive of the inclusive pluralism associated with neo-liberalism. Exemplary in this regard are many of those on the left who continue to object to Brexit in the UK (the overriding appeal of the European Union being its projection of an inclusive transnationalism) in spite of the EU’s evident pursuit of many of the economic aims of neo-liberalism. In spite of appearances, what has emerged is not a fundamentally polarised political landscape, but instead one commensurate with debates related to the concept of contemporaneity, within which ostensibly opposed but in practice imbricating political-cultural visions are understood to inconclusively resist and negate one another’s authority.6 So what of the contemporary art world in this regard? Majority attitudes within the contemporary art world are ostensibly on or towards the left of the political spectrum. This tendency is generally symptomatic of the continuing dominance within the contemporary art world of Western post-Enlightenment conceptions of aesthetic modernity that have, for the most part, gravitated historically towards progressive/transformative politics on the left through shifts from romanticism to modernism and then to postmodernism. As a consequence, the contemporary art world has

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almost automatically become a focus for liberal poststructuralist postmodernist attitudes supportive of multiculturalism as well as a renewed oppositional resistance to social inequality under capitalism. As numerous commentators have pointed out, alignment between the contemporary art world and progressive politics on the left is heavily qualified by persistent associations with capital. Peter Bürger’s highlighting during the 1970s of the recuperation of modernist art by the market place after WWII strongly informed postmodernist criticism of the avant-gardes as a supposed locus of progressivedialectical criticality.7 Nevertheless, since the advent of postmodern neo-liberalism during the 1980s, there has been an increasingly established coincidence between the workings of the market and the critical value ascribed to contemporary art. Indeed, coincidence between the market place and the critical value of contemporary art is now so potent that it can be understood to resonate indirectly with Damien Hirst’s assertion that art (particularly during times of economic uncertainty) is “more powerful than money”.8 Contemporary art’s close association with capital has not only supported a huge growth in the number of professionalised artists, curators and other art workers world-wide, it has also given rise to a vast globalised infrastructure of museums, festivals and private galleries, including, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, within post-socialist states. There is consequently a heightened state of mutual dependency between art and capital that simultaneously supports and negatively recuperates art’s seemingly progressive engagement with society. It is simply not in the self-interest of the contemporary art world to fundamentally unsettle its close relationship with capital; too many privileged jobs are dependent upon the continuity of that relationship. This paradoxical state of mutual dependency was eminently negotiable in relation to a previously dominant postmodernist neo-liberalism, under which the contemporary art world could dissemble its entanglement with capital by appealing to the notion that it was in fact deconstructively subverting the pernicious effects of the latter. Institutionalised traces of artistic postmodernism, not least in relation to the politics of identity, remain. Nevertheless, in the face of a now roundly discredited neo-liberalism claim by the contemporary art world that it is subversively resistant to capitalism can be seen as profoundly ironic. Further to which, it is by no means clear that the contemporary art world is fully disengaged from politics on the right. As a recent article published on the art world website Hyperallergic reveals, art collectors and museum patrons were among the biggest donors to Trump’s inauguration.9 Such financial connections are indicative of a wider dissembling of bourgeoisconservative attitudes within the contemporary art world under the guise of left-leaning liberalism. There have also been recent signs within the contemporary art world of flirtation/engagement with alt-right thinking against the grain of established liberal attitudes. Exemplary of this tendency is the speakers’ program of the LD50 Gallery in London, which attracted in February 2017 violent resistance from leftist groups because of its inclusion of alt-right speakers.10 Such heterodox interventions can of course be interpreted as a desire to maintain dissensual criticality beyond the politically correct managerialism of the contemporary art world. However, they also inevitably give credence and perhaps indicate allegiances to highly questionable prejudicial discourses. There has, of course, been a much vaunted “return to politics” within the contemporary art world after postmodernism (otherwise known as the “social turn”), often involving Marxian informed public protest and community engagement, ostensibly opposed to neo-liberalism and the rise of the radical right. This return to critical opposition on the left is also problematic however. In seeking to directly oppose the divisive effects of neo-liberalism and its associations with artistic postmodernism, socially-engaged contemporary art has set its face against the critical insights of poststructuralism and l

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(Partisans) Kick the Corpse: Post-Truth and the Contemporary Art World

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PAUL GLADSTON

in particular a demonstrable deconstructivist problematisation of all truth claims and associated metanarratives. Upheld instead is a return to much simpler and more easily digestible dialectical framings of truth and moral-political value in support of supposedly radical social intervention (one might include the readily self-deconstructing idealism of Alain Badiou’s neo-modernist inaesthetics and Jacques Rancière’s appeals to an equality of dissensus). Here, there is arguably an unnecessary conflation of the institutionalisation of poststructuralistinflected discourses in support of neo-liberal managerialism and a controlling political correctness, and the far more critically virulent/saprophytic counter-authoritarianism of deconstruction. The political (re)turn in the art world after postmodernism may thus be interpreted as a misleading reassertion of already highly problematic dialectical-critical assumptions. Further to which, while there are habitual assertions of art’s oppositional social-critical efficacy within the contemporary art world, little actual evidence of that efficacy beyond, perhaps, short-lived localised examples can be shown. As Guy Debord sought to make clear in advance on the institutionalisation of postmodernism, direct critical opposition to authority is automatically recuperated as part of the affirmative logic of capitalist spectacle. What, therefore, pertains within the contemporary art world—as in the “post-truth” political sphere more generally—is an inconclusive circulation of imbricating/mutually-negating discursive positions; one that not only encompasses assaults on the usual suspects of neo-liberal capitalism and the far-right but also attempts to revivify a previously discredited oppositional radicalism on the left. With regard to the contemporary art world’s heightened dependency on capitalist spectacle, that circulation seems less like a genuinely progressive contestation than a mutually assured holding pattern providing appearances of criticality, while shoring up a symbiosis of financial and cultural capital. There is what might be seen in metaphorical terms as a collective (partisan) kicking of corpses that projects a twitching parody of life onto by now thoroughly exhausted political outlooks (“Do the Mussolini… headkick!”). In the midst of what is currently an ostensibly highly polarised political landscape, perhaps something far less easily intelligible is emerging. As Foucault indicates, problematisation of parrhesia is a persistent adjunct to democracy. It is also, he suggests, a locus of the possibility of productive political transformations in relation to the singularity of prevailing historical conditions.11 What could well be taking place in interaction with profound shifts in what used to be referred to as the socio-economic base and a wider natural ecology under globalisation is the un-nameable formation of a reconfigured socio-political landscape to which established post-Enlightenment political discourses on the right and left can only be applied superficially (Fredric Jameson’s framing of an un-chartable postmodernism prefigures this assessment but with a perhaps ultimately redundant recourse to Marxian thought12). As the unfolding of historical events attests, socio-economic change is almost certainly not an absolute guarantor of a progressive millenarian transformation of capitalism as hoped for by the left (viz. Paul Mason13). Gilles Deleuze’s late career analysis of societies of control already indicated the redundancy of such hope.14 Something worse than late capitalism, in at least some respects, is likely to arise. We may also be witnesses to the waning of the long durée of artistic romanticism as a mainstay of post-Enlightenment criticality—of which artistic postmodernism was a last gasp. Heightened convolutions within an absurdist contemporary art world would suggest as much.

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(Partisans) Kick the Corpse: Post-Truth and the Contemporary Art World

Notes 1 This title derives in part from the lyrics to Cabaret Voltaire’s song ‘Do the Mussolini (Headkick)’, 1978 2 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt eds, Illuminations, New York City: Knopf Doubleday, 1968 3 The phrase “economical with the facts” was used famously during the trial of the former MI5 agent Peter Wright in relation to the publication of his memoire Spycatcher; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/7547558/Peter-Wright. html; accessed 21 April 2017 4

In spite of unexpectedly winning an increased number of seats at the 2017 UK general election, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, for example, remains no closer to power in terms of vote share than defeated New Labour under Gordon Brown in 2010. This electoral ‘success’ was achieved in large part through Corbyn’s undeniable charismatic self-presentation as a parrhesiastes. However, while resonant with an increased share of hopeful middle class and youth votes, Corbyn’s truthtelling was dismissed by a still doubtful majority (albeit reduced) who continued to place their political allegiances eswhere. One wonders at the irony of Corbyn’s rapturous post-election reception at this year’s Glastonbury festival, which carried distinct traces of the aestheticisation of politics identified by Benjamin. Populism rather than nationalism has become the order of the day, even of the left

5 See Michel Foucault, ‘Discourse and Truth: the Problematisation of Parrhesia’, Six lectures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California at Berkeley, 1983; http://foucault.info/documents/parrhesia/; accessed 21 April 2017 6

See Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, London: Verso, 2013

7

See Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-garde, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 [1974]

8

See Sean O’Hagan, ‘Damien Hirst: “I still believe that art is more powerful than money”’, The Guardian, 11 March 2012; https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/mar/11/damien-hirst-tate-retrospective-interview; accessed 28 April 2017 9 Benjamin Sutton, ‘Art Collectors and Museum Patrons among Biggest Donors to Trump’s Inauguration’, Hyperallergic, 20 April 2017; https://hyperallergic.com/373504/trump-donors-art-patrons/; accessed 28 April 2017 10

See May Bulman, ‘“Far-right” gallery in London forced to close because it “keeps getting attacked”’, The Independent, 15 March 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/far-right-gallery-art-hackney-ld50-london-attackedshut-down-lucia-diego-nick-land-andrew-osborne-a7631971.html; accessed 28 April 2017

11

See Michel Foucault, ‘Discourse and Truth: Problematisation of Parrhesia’, op cit.

12

Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, London: Verso, 1992

13

Paul Mason, Postcapitalism: a Guide to Our Future, London: Allen Lane, 2015

14

Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, October 59, 1992, pp. 3-7

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CHARLES MEREWETHER

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The Specter of the Soviet Union This essay began as an enquiry into contemporary art in Eastern Europe—the time of writing being the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution (which enabled the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922). Almost immediately, I was challenged by its definition—what countries make up Eastern Europe today? Looking for such a definition raised as many if not more problems as it did answers.1 It became apparent that to speak initially of a post-Soviet Europe would be more useful as a beginning. The reason being that the definition of what countries make up Eastern Europe has gone through substantive changes and, to some extent, refinements of definition during the past twenty-five years. Since the end of the Soviet period, this definition has ranged across some twenty-two countries, including what is now referred to as Central Europe and Central Asia. The first section ‘Sovereignty’, addresses this issue of mapping an Eastern Europe and the rise of sovereignty. When and how was it first defined? This will lead us back to the Yalta Conference in 1945 that sought to redraw the lines marking the region and make possible a national autonomy in countries that had been under Soviet control. However, it also led to the beginning of the Cold War that would take some forty-five years to end. Eventually, the collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in a new era for Eastern Europe, within which any such discussion included Central Europe insofar as having experienced Soviet occupation or domination, and subsequent liberation. The second section will look at the ‘National’ and how it has been defined in the various books and museum exhibitions that have explored contemporary art in both Central and Eastern Europe, its focus on material published since the break-up of the Soviet Union. As noted, added together, these books and exhibitions cover some twenty-two countries but the areas of attention have also changed significantly over the course of this time. The focus of this section is on the different conceptual and theoretical approaches that have been developed more recently, making sense of contemporary art in these countries through a comparative analysis with contemporaneous work elsewhere, while also exploring the ‘Inter-local’, displacing the international or translational as a concept of analysis. Such an approach by and large subsumes the national distinction as the means of determining and discussing contemporary art. The idea of the ‘national’ invokes a prevailing opinion and hence majority of a country’s population, the recent English Brexit referendum of 2016 being a good example. National distinctions have served to distinguish one country from another at an international or regional level but, even then, are usually symbolic in nature. Hence the concept of a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale is no longer that the art is representative of that country but, rather that the artist has been chosen to represent that country, regardless of the artist’s nationality.

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The local is altogether different. There can be many coexistent local opinions, points of view or ways of doing things that are constituent of and survive in a democracy and have a voice in a larger national forum. In the field of art and culture, the local is a means of distinguishing and characterising the particularity of a practice from that of another. This can be then the basis on which to compare with other artists locally, regionally and internationally. These issues will be discussed in relation to recent writings by three authors: Boris Groys, Piotr Piotrowski and Terry Smith. SOVEREIGNTY By the end of the 1980s, the fate of Eastern Europe appeared on the verge of irreversible change. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the break-up of the Soviet Union by 1992 and the Balkan Wars leading to the collapse of Yugoslavia and successive independence gained by the former countries of Yugoslavia (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia) through the 1990s, all signalled the end of the Cold War.2 Yet, the governance and cultures of Central and Eastern European countries in fact, did not radically change. The course of their independence became embroiled in Russia’s foreign policy and ambition to assert itself as a regional and global strength. As a consequence, we must acknowledge not only Eastern Europe’s historical ties to a Soviet past but to the Russian present. The recent history of the Ukraine is a pivotal example. Its eastern regions are in an ongoing state of a bloody civil war between pro-Russian and Ukrainian armed forces, as well as Crimea having been annexed by Russia in 2016. These are deeply troubling events and threaten the right to national sovereignty. Recently, the Ukrainian artist, Nikita Kadan, explores this in a work that references the Crimea, once known as a beautiful Ukrainian resort island.3 With a national flag placed above the artwork, the installation explicitly supports the independence of the Ukraine. In this way Kadan’s work directly reminds us of Russia’s ongoing aggression against its neighbors, wielding its force again as in the days of the Soviet empire and equally, that the sovereignty of countries remains as fragile as at the end of World War Two. Addressing the subject of the mapping of Eastern Europe begins with the Yalta Conference in 1945. Seeking to redefine the region and countries under Soviet control, the Yalta Conference sought to lay the ground for a new Europe in which the national sovereignty of much of Eastern Europe was promised. Sometimes called the Crimea Conference, it brought together the three heads of government of the UK, the United States of America and the Soviet Union: Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin respectively, for the purpose of discussing Europe’s post-war re-organisation. Convened in Livadia Palace near Yalta in the Crimea, its goal was to shape a post-war peace: the ‘Declaration of a Liberated Europe’. The signed declaration pledged, “the earliest possible establishment through free elections governments responsive to the will of the people.” Such a promise would allow the people of Europe “to create democratic institutions of their own choice.”4 This peace, it was hoped, would represent not just a collective security order, but also a plan to give self-determination to the liberated populations of post-Nazi Europe. Germany would be divided into zones of occupation and Stalin agreed to permit free elections in Eastern Europe. At the same time, Stalin demanded both USA and British recognition of a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and postwar economic assistance for Russia. The Soviet Union would join the nascent United Nations, insisting that each of the fifteen Soviet Republics be given a seat. However, only three countries—Belarus, the Ukraine and the Soviet Union were included. Stalin, in return, agreed to enter the Asian war against Japan, for which he was promised the return of land, l

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in particular Manchuria, lost to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.5 There is very little that survived the initial promises made between these countries. Stalin was to break his pledge given to Churchill and Roosevelt. Instead of allowing the people to establish their own form of governance, the Soviets actively encouraged Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and other neighbouring countries to each construct a Communist government. Whether one believes Roosevelt conceded Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union or that Stalin simply took it, it has remained under Soviet and Russian sphere of influence to this day. Averell Harriman, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Commerce, remembers that Roosevelt “didn’t care whether the countries bordering on Russia became communised.”6 It is only in recent years that these countries have been named. The post-1945 maps of Eastern Europe left unmarked those countries east of Central Europe and the Black Sea, including those that make up the North and South Caucasus—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnia, Dagastan and Georgia. This anomaly raises the persistent question of how do we define Eastern Europe? Re-drawing the maps and, in particular, rethinking the reality of a post-Soviet history demands a recognition of each of these country’s local cultural histories and traditions, as well as their shared histories. THE NATIONAL Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, various books and exhibitions have explored contemporary art in those countries that were once part of the USSR. As already noted, these books and exhibitions cover some twenty-two countries, including for some writers and curators Central Europe, based on an understanding that many of those shared with Eastern Europe the experience of Soviet occupation or domination and subsequently, a period of post-Soviet liberation. The varying options in approach by cultural historians and curators are significant. For some museums and writers, it has been determined by nation, recognising the formation of independence from the Soviet Union. In the wake of independence, this was particularly important politically and socially. It gave people a sense of their distinction and relative autonomy. Others projects were organised and presented through interlocking themes/subjects/concepts and grouping artists from across Eastern and Central Europe, in some cases, across international lines. One of the first post-Soviet exhibitions was After the Wall: Art and Culture in post-Communist Europe, curated by Bojana Pejic and David Elliott and held at the Modern Art Museum in Stockholm in 1999.7 Through an exhibition, symposium and catalogue, the project presented twenty-two countries of the former Eastern bloc and newly independent states (NIS), focusing on the period from the mid-1980s until 1999. The curators write that After the Wall focuses on this period, marked by many dramatic political and cultural changes in Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. Perestroika, the shattering of the Iron Curtain, the end of the Cold War, the foundation of new states and their progress towards democracy, the reunification of Germany, ethnic cleansing and the Balkan and Chechen Wars all marked this time within the post-totalitarian landscape. The exhibition and catalogue were organised under four sections: Social Sculpture, Re-inventing the Past, Questioning Subjectivity, and Gender-Scapes. Two catalogue essays were by Bojana Pejic and Piotr Piotrowski8—Pejic’s ‘The Dialectics of Normality’ astutely raises the problems associated with the geographic division associated with being ‘Eastern European’, but equally of being considered as autonomous, while Piotrowski’s ‘The Grey Zone of Europe’ critiques the “centralist character of globalisation and multiculturalism” and its pervasive influence. In its place, he seeks to characterise, through the work of some Eastern European artists, not with a universalist approach

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based on a Western modernist concept, but rather around a trajectory of conflicting directions, or a “critical geography”, as Irit Rogoff was to define it.9 Shortly after, in 2000 Rogoff published Terra Infirma, in which she articulates her use of the term (elaborated in her earlier essays), “critical geography”.10 She looks at contemporary art in the context of living in a “post-colonial, postcommunist world”, writing, “Critical activity which locates geography as its field therefore pursues an active form of unnaming, renaming and the revising of such power structures in terms of the relations between subjects and places.”11 Rogoff explores the “links between, first, the dislocation of subjects, the disruption of collective narratives and of languages of signification in the field of vision, and second, an epistemological inquiry which stresses difference rather than universal truth.”12 With these issues in mind, she looks at contemporary art as part of a “situated knowledge” (a term coined by Donna Haraway some years earlier), and not through a universalist or nationalist lens.13 As Rogoff writes, this framework enables her to address the “current reality of living in a post-colonial, post-communist world, a world in which the subject of the migrant has made us recognise that the issues of national borders, of belonging and identity are in crisis.”14 In 2002, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York published Primary Documents: A Sourcebook of Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s.15 In some respects, this book followed the model of the earlier and invaluable series Documents of Twentieth Century Art (originally edited by Robert Motherwell). Tacitly, the book acknowledged the far-ranging diversity of modernism in Central and Eastern Europe after World War Two, with a strong emphasis on Russia as well to the Balkans, the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Clearly, these countries share in common historical relations to the Soviet Union era and post-Soviet Russia. However, the reasons for its geographical focus on countries west of the Black Sea remain obscure; missing from the book was an account of art practices in the many countries that lay east of Central Europe. Perhaps, it can be accounted for by the overbearing impact of Russia’s continuing control and its lack of recognition of the independence of the Ukraine, Bulgaria and countries of both the North and South Caucasus. In 2005, three years after the Primary Documents book, Piotrowski published In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe 1945-198916 which engaged Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, with ‘forays’ into Bulgaria. Reminding its audience of the importance of the Yalta Agreement, Piotrowski proposed that the geographic and spatial character of Eastern Europe is, as Michel Foucault had argued “an essential plane for the relations of power”.17 Foucault had written in another context that to deconstruct the relations of power embodied in space, involves not only dividing but also a crossing of borders. Piotrowski uses this idea as the basis upon which to include the eastern part of South Europe as well as Eastern Europe. Piotrowski notes that his book is a comparative analysis in which a “diachronic dimension is therefore established through several synchronic samples.”18 On this basis, his argument establishes a more equal and comparative exchange than that proposed by the ‘globalisation argument’ or the line of enquiry that has explored modernity as a plurality of modernities, including both minor and repressed. The author’s caveat is, nevertheless, that the type of art produced in these countries differs between each other because the communist systems were “different... sometimes contrary [in] character and intensity.”19 Such an approach, sensitive to these country’s specific histories and their current relationships with Russia, is vital to understanding the complexities of these particular countries. Georgia is such an example, having resisted two Russian invasions in the past twenty years. Having inherited a Soviet infrastructure, it l

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wavers between impoverishment and economic stability. As such, Georgia seeks to develop greater access for Europeans, a tourist industry and forms of exchange with other countries across Eastern and Western Europe. All this is seen as vital to its independence, livelihood and growth. Georgia is also a country where many of its finest artists have left to live and work in Western Europe in order that their work be seen and collected. If the concept of a cultural ecosystem incorporates the question of survival, then Georgia is a good case in point. In 2007 Afterall journal published East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, the result of their long research project on Eastern Europe.20 Edited by the Slovenian art group IRWIN and introduced by museum curator Charles Esche, the voluminous book consists of essays on contemporary art in eighteen countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Essentially, the book stays with national divisions in the post-Soviet era with a focus on particular artists and artworks; the only exception being the final essay ‘The Post-Soviet Condition’ by eminent cultural historian, Susan BuckMorss who writes of a universal condition; “we are all in this time that is both transient and universal; we share the same contingent history.”21 She then cites an unpublished manuscript by Helen Petrovsky who notes “a human community (or collective) in the making”, a “transient social present and ‘the shock of non-similar similarity’.”22 The following year, the Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato held the exhibition Progressive Nostalgia, curated by Viktor Misiano. Dedicated to contemporary art from the former USSR, the exhibition covered eleven countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Krgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and the Ukraine.23 It thereby expanded both the MoMA and Piotrowski books to include certain Caucasus countries, and two from Central Asia: Kazakhstan and Krgyzstan. In the introduction, Misiano writes that there is a larger problem at the heart of the matter. He notes, “History is... a drama and a utopia that is today becoming a strategy of resistance... The more authoritarian and corrupted that the ideology stabilisation becomes the more the practice of cynicism and ironic deconstruction (the strategy of resistance that was practiced back in the Soviet years) becomes filled with liberated meaning.”24 In Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe, edited by Phoebe Adler and Duncan McCorquodale in 2010, presented six essays and some fifty-six artists from sixteen countries, of whom twentyfive are from Poland and Russia.25 The editors note the artists are chosen based on the “account of their reputation on the international contemporary art scene”. They go on to observe, “The work is subsequently arranged by medium, rather than country of origin, paying testament to the fluidity of borders and geographical regions that the book looks to highlight, and furthering creative discussion through the juxtaposition of artist’s nationalities and works.”26 Shortly after, Terry Smith published his book Contemporary Art, offering an alternative critical model through which to tackle the contentious issue of distinctions made on the basis of geography.27 In his introduction, Smith argues that “the contemporary” or “contemporaneity” are quite distinct from “the modern”. Drawing on Etienne Balibar, Smith notes Balibar’s idea of translation as, “The showing of that which is shared, that which is different, and that which is untranslatable in all spheres of life... Alertness to multiplicity and difference has been and continues to be, at the core of contemporaneity.”28

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In 2014, the exhibition Fragile Sense of Hope opened in Berlin. Its ambition, as stated by the organisers, was to “invite visitors to contemplate the fragility of Europe’s many private and public hopes.”29 It included artists from the Balkans, notably Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova, Macedonia, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and the Ukraine. The modern social and cultural history of the Caucasian countries was and remains not so different from others, such as the Ukraine or Romania. There had been equally vital avant-garde movements, even though their respective, unfolding histories were distinct in regard to the presence of the Soviet Union and the Cold War.30 As noted earlier with Georgia, many artists only live occasionally in their countries of origin, preferring to produce and exhibit their work primarily in Western Europe. Hence, a writing of their histories cannot be adequately mapped within the context of their country of birth, nor country in which they live. The 1990s was a period of tremendous hardship for Georgian people and contemporary art had begun to change. A new generation of artists emerged but many subsequently left to live and work in Europe. A good example of this was the 2016 exhibition Here There: Matters of Location, Contemporary Georgian Art at Karvasla, Georgian National Museum31 which included the artwork of Mamuka Japaridze, focusing on the subject of an imagined utopia and dystopia, and Lado Darakhvelidze, who explored the competing national histories of the region by using texts and images drawn from local student textbooks. For some of these artists, their work engaged aspects of the cultural history and traditions of Georgia. For most participating artists the sense of materiality was tied to installation practices, allowing them to combine both an international language of form with the specificity of the local. For example, Sophia Tabatadze’s wall and curtain installation captured the power structures dividing the European region, and Tamar Chabashvili, whose work utilised the traditional blue tablecloth used by Georgian women, to develop a broader dialogue about women’s everyday lives. A regional perspective is another response to moving beyond the local without negating it. This was the aim of the exhibition Across the Caucasus, finding a common language between artists while addressing local issues, and including one artist from each country: Taus Makhacheva (Dagastan), Aslan Gaisumov (Chechnya), Vajiko Chachkhiani (Georgia), Ali Hasanov (Azerbaijan) and Vahram Aghasyan (Armenia). I wrote at the time that the exhibition sought to present, …the differences of their cultural heritages and current day condition. Their recent heritage was of course, determined by the Soviet era during which they were made subservient to Soviet rule. But this has changed, and the landscape of their countries has reasserted its presence with, at times, an ironic twist. Marks and indelible traces can be found in their black humor or wry ironies that reflect the condition of contemporary life in the Caucasus. The exhibition shows objects and videos that poignantly capture a life coming out of darkness, pending an unknown future.32 THE INTER-LOCAL This final point of focus, on the different conceptual and theoretical approaches underlying some of the books and exhibition projects highlighted in the previous section, moves beyond the national and addresses the inter-local (distinct from the inter-national) as the organising concept around which to look at and evaluate contemporary art not only from Eastern Europe but rather, those post-Soviet Union countries—and this means also Central Asia—that remain outside the sphere of influence of and exchange with Western Europe.

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This approach by and large subsumes the national and regional distinctions as the means of determining and discussing contemporary art. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, writers were beginning to look more closely at the concept of the global. Hans Belting had argued that contemporary art is global by definition, “engaging with the issues important to the whole world, while its critique aims at the processes which shape the present time everywhere. Consequently, what is local has become global.”33
While true, I would give pause to a global perspective without recognising its co-option into a global cultural economy and employing some means of differentiation informed by the recent and current political framework that has defined Eastern and Central Europe.34 Until recently, Eastern Europe had been neither defined by geographical nor social reasons but rather, first and foremost, by political and economic factors. This was critical in distinguishing features of post-Soviet countries as distinct from Western European culture and art. For many of these contemporary artists, geography is a highly charged term, at one time, nation-bound. However, national distinctions are understood as no longer the basis of comparison, but a point of reference. At the same time, we can no longer base our reading on a universalism that was the underlying principle of modernism. As Piotr Piotrowski notes, this was oriented around the “centre-periphery distinction and constituted a vertical and revisionist history of art”, hence raising issues of locality and difference. He likened this approach to Edward Said’s characterisation of orientalism. Moreover, reflecting on the “global turn” in the humanities, Piotrowski observed in 2008 that the type of locality related to the structure of nation states and the modernist form of nationalism “is now changing on account of the process of globalisation”, specifically with “the transformation of nation-states into more cosmopolitan organisations.”35 In its place, Piotrowski proposed a horizontal approach, rather than a universal reading of contemporary art. Despite his enthusiasm at the time, Piotrowski was still hesitant to accept that locality had disappeared as an identity marker. ‘The nation’ seen from a postmodern perspective is deprived of its essential features. Post-colonial scholarly practice however, relies on the essence of the nation to define its critical strategy and resistance to ‘the centre’. Using an international horizontal art history, operating with the notion of ‘the nation’, there must be a defense of the (national) subject. It is thus closer to the post-colonial interpretation than to the postmodern. In this regard, the concept of geography becomes critical. As Rogoff has written in Terra Infirma: Geography is at one and the same time a concept, a sign system and an order of knowledge established at the centres of power... Geography as an epistemic category is in turn grounded in issues of positionality, in questions of who has the power and authority to name, of who has the power and authority to subsume others into its hegemonic identity.36 We can say that the suppressed unconscious of art history, namely, national art histories, was interfering with the idea of a horizontal art history. Ten years ago, the question of nation-building and nationalism seemed a distant and obsolete issue, but much has changed since—the rise of a populist and reactionary nationalism that has turned its back on refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers, or waged political, religious or ethnic repression against others. Poland, Hungary and The Netherlands have seen the rise of right-wing political parties. The genii of xenophobia, hatred and racism have returned. In such a climate the cause for any kind of regionalist, internationalist or universalist approach has been swiftly rejected as irrelevant, if not denounced as threatening to local interests and needs.

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The changing political landscape of Europe has additionally altered the rhetoric, urgencies, alliances and agencies of academic discourse. The attempt to apply a regional perspective at a time of pervasive nationalism also reflects Piotrowski’s project of subverting the hierarchical position of different art histories by positioning them horizontally. Borders are being closed, but they continue to be crossed throughout the continent. It can no longer be simply the embrace of the national and with it, the sense of national self-definition, but rather the argument for and defense of some form of transnational values. This position left Piotrowski with two issues. First, the key problem of horizontal art history is the problem of localisation: “We have the ‘history of modern art’ with no local specification, while on the other hand (outside the centre) we have all kinds (of) adjectives specifying the regional.”37 Secondly, he was conscious of the paradox that equality might come at the price of losing local, and especially national histories, specificities, peculiarities, and subtle distinctions. He writes of the need to recognise local canons and value systems which often contradict those of Western art centres. In so doing one does not produce a single meta-narrative which would adhere to the West-centric, universal, vertical model of art history, but a horizontal, polyphonic, and dynamic paradigm of critical art-history analysis.38 Seeking to syncretise the two streams in his vision, he stated that “horizontal art history written from a micro perspective... has to make a critique of the essence of the national subject, has to deconstruct it, in order to defend the culture of the ‘Other’ against the national mainstream.” He developed the solution of transnational, regional art history narratives which negotiate values and concepts along lines other than the opposition between national and international.39 This changed orientation of the positioning, literally inverted the loci of the region’s art history and challenged the centric position of the canon. Piotrowski offered a positive solution as to how to overcome the limitations of binary opposition, juxtaposing the diverse art histories of the centres and margins and placing them on the same level, removing any hierarchical or subordinate relations between them. According to this theory, the necessary act of levelling should be twofold; the manoeuvre of “localising” the centre should go hand-in-hand with an analogue process on the other side, namely, “The Other must also take a fresh look at itself, define its position and the place from which it speaks.”40 In other words, the local becomes the means of and source for distinguishing and characterising the particularity of a practice as distinct from another, by and large, regardless of national boundaries. As if in response, Boris Groys, in his introductory essay, ‘Haunted by Communism’ to the book Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe, wrote: Can this art be said to possess a distinct character? Is it possible to speak about Eastern European art as a cultural phenomenon that crosses the borders of individual national cultures and unifies, to a certain degree, the Eastern European cultural space—being at the same time distinctive from that of other regions. Indeed, the Eastern European cultural space is extremely heterogeneous... In fact, there is only one cultural experience that unites all Eastern European countries and at the same time differentiates them from the outer world—it is the experience of Communism of the Soviet type.41 Groys continues that for post-Communist artists “the socialist alternative is not only a utopian, idyllic dream project into the future but also a nostalgic and simultaneous traumatic memory of their recent past.42 In this sense, it is simultaneously utopian and dystopian. Furthermore, many shared an ambivalent artistic attitude of the post-Communist period and used irony to distance themselves from the official ideology.

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Today the art scene is a place of emancipatory projects, participative practices, radical political attitudes but also a place of memories of the social catastrophes and disappointments of the revolutionary twentieth century. In this context Eastern European art plays an important role because the revolutionary past is its own past. Just as the demise of Eastern European Socialist regimes left a vast territory and resources for private appropriation, the simultaneous death of Socialist humanity left a vast empire of feelings, a huge emotional estate released for individual artistic appropriation.43 Groys goes on to discuss the emergence of the Western art market and commercialisation and commodification of Eastern European art as the result of the Cold War, characterising the latter as “post-Communist art”. This, for him, is the only way to speak of art from these countries as a whole, over and above specific national identities. As a result, socialism’s legacy is that the avant-garde in the East has not been charged by utopian perspectives. Rather, it has primarily worked from a collective perspective, as distinct from the individualist characteristic of the West. Moreover, this avant-garde was founded and functioned in a transgressive, non-academic manner, venturing into uncharted territories, innovating and challenging the status quo and creating different life conditions. One may ask why Groys avoids including Central Asia in this summary of a post-Soviet condition. In fact, it is clear that the same conclusion can be applied to countries such as Kazakhstan or Krygystan. If we study the past three generations of Kazakh artists, there has been an increasing shift away from a Soviet ambit and ideas towards individuality. Young contemporary Kazakh artists align themselves with Western artists in spirit where their personal lives and experience are more important than the idea of a collective or national identity. Moreover, they don’t seek to establish some link to their past or traditions of the land or popular culture. This is why too, Misiano includes Central Asia, recognising the post-Soviet experience as the defining principle rather than only Eastern Europe in understanding the character of contemporary art in all those countries once controlled and defined by the Soviet Union, and Russia. As he writes, “history (is a) drama and a utopia that is today becoming a strategy of resistance... The more authoritarian and corrupted that the ideology stabilisation becomes the more the practice of cynicism and ironic deconstruction (the strategy of resistance that was practiced back in the Soviet years) becomes filled with liberated meaning.”44 Terry Smith in Contemporary Art proposes an alternative critical model through which to tackle this issue of the local/national/international.45 As noted earlier, Smith argues that “the contemporary” or “contemporaneity” are quite distinct from “the modern”. But this does not mean that it is an even playing field or, that every country is on the same economic or socio-cultural footing and is therefore comparable with one another. While citing Piotrowski’s work on Poland, Smith does not discuss the author’s elaboration, first proposed in 2008, of the concept of “horizontality”. Piotrowski was pointing to the clearly perceived need to shift positions as defined in the late 1990s, from defining a specific space for the region to placing it in a critically nuanced global perspective.46 Piotrowski’s concept of horizontality accommodates the concept of “contemporaneity”, providing a comparative means of evaluating contemporary practices. The promise of the “now-time” of “a human community (or collective) in the making... of (a) non-similar similarity” lies before artists of both Eastern European and Central Asian countries.47 And yet, the chronic lack of a local infrastructure, of resources and support for contemporary art in almost all these countries needs to be recognised as issues to overcome in order to make possible their cultural development. It is, if nothing more, the reason why artists of these countries work in, if not move, to Western Europe or elsewhere and, why the critical value of “horizontality” remains an unrealised promise.

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Notes 1 See Éva Forgács, ‘How the New Left Invented East-European Art’, Centropa Vol. 3, No. 2, 2003, pp. 93-104 2

In 2003 the Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel held the exhibition In the Gorges of the Balkans: A Report. Its focus was exclusively the Balkans and hence is not discussed in this essay

3 Nikita Kadan has made a series of work using the Ukrainian flag, included in the exhibition From the Shores of the Black Sea, September 2016. See From the Shores of the Black Sea, Contemporary Art Gallery, Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi History Museum: 2016, pp. 48-51 4

See Yalta Conference; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yalta_Conference

5

Soon after the Conference, Roosevelt died, to be succeeded by Harry Truman, the Cold War began, Stalin died in 1953, and successive Russian governments followed 6 Harriman served Roosevelt as special envoy to Europe, and as the American Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Great Britain 7 After the Wall: Art and Culture in post-Communist Europe, Bojana Pejic and David Elliott eds, Stockholm: Modern Art Museum, 1999 8 After the Wall: Art and Culture in post-Communist Europe, ibid. See Bojana Pejic, ‘The Dialectics of Normality’, pp. 16-28 and Piotr Piotrowski, ‘The Grey Zone of Europe’, pp. 35-41. Piotrowski’s essay was later republished in Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2010, pp. 199-206. There were other catalogues and books published during these years on the subject of East European art not discussed here. I have confined myself to Western languages including translations. See for example, Attila Melegh, On the East-West Slope, Budapest: Central European University Press, 2006 9

Piotr Piotrowski, Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe, ibid.

10

Irit Rogoff, Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 2000. Here we should mention Edward Soja who developed the concept of a critical geography more broadly applied in Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory, London: Verso, 1989

11

Ibid., p. 21

12

Ibid., p. 12, xiii

13

See ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective’ in Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, New York: Routledge, 1991

14

Irit Rogoff, op cit., p. 20

15

Primary Documents: A Sourcebook of Eastern and Central European Art since the 1950s, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002 16 Piotr Piotrowski, In the Shadow of Yalta: Art and the Avant-garde in Eastern Europe 1945-1989, London: Reaktion Books, 2009. First published in Poland in 2005 and later in English 17

Piotrowski, ibid., p. 15. See Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge, Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, Colin Gordon (ed.), New York: Pantheon Books, 1980. See also Foucault and Space, Knowledge and Power, Foucault and Geography, Jeremy W. Crampton and Stuart Elden eds, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2007

18

Piotrowski, op.cit. See Fn.16, p. 9

19

Ibid.

20

East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, IRWIN (ed.), London: Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, 2007. The essays devoted to individual countries were first published as a part of Afterall journal in 2002

21

Susan Buck-Morss, ‘The Post-Soviet Condition’, East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe, ibid., p. 498

22

Ibid. Helen Petrovsky, unpublished manuscript. Petrovsky is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Analytical Anthropology in the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy, Moscow

23

Progressive Nostalgia: Contemporary Art from the Former USSR, Prato: Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 2007

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24

Viktor Misiano, ‘Progressive Nostalgia’, ibid., p. 12

25

Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2010

26

Foreword, Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe, ibid., p. 7

27

Terry Smith, Contemporary Art: World Currents, London: Laurence King, 2011

28

Etienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe: Reflections on Transitional Citizenship, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 115

29

Fragile Sense of Hope – Art Collection Telekom, me Collectors Room/Olbricht Foundation, Berlin, Germany, 10 October– 23 November 2014. The exhibition was curated by Nathalie Hoyos and Rainald Schumacher, and organised in conjunction with me Collectors Room/Olbricht Foundation

30

If we consider Georgia as one of the key countries of the Caucasus that has time and again resisted Russian domination, then we might also look at its history over the past one hundred years. See my essay ‘Redrawing East of the East,’ Contemporary Art Gallery, Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi History Museum, 2016, op.cit., pp. 11-16

31

Ibid., pp. 53-70. See also Khatuna Khabuliani, ‘Between Art and Contexts’, ibid., pp. 21-23

32

Ibid., pp. 70-90, and for my introduction, p. 70

33

See Hans Belting, ‘Contemporary Art and the Museum in the Global Age’, Contemporary Art and the Museum: A Global Perspective, Peter Weibel and Andrea Buddensieg eds, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2007, pp. 16-38. Also Hans Belting, ‘Contemporary Art as Global Art: A Critical Estimate’, The Global Art World: Audiences, Markets, and Museums, Hans Belting and Andrea Buddensieg eds, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2009, pp. 38-73

34

Anthony Downey has written recently an excellent critique of the cultural economy of globalisation. See Anthony Downey, ‘Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East’, published in di’van | A Journal of Accounts, Issue 1, 2016, pp. 110-119

35

Piotr Piotrowski, ‘On the Spatial Turn, or Horizontal Art History’, Umeni/Art, Vol. 56, Issue 5, 2008, pp. 378-383

36

Rogoff, op cit. See Fn. 10, p. 21

37

Piotrowski, ‘On the Spatial Turn, or Horizontal Art History,’ op.cit., p. 381

38

Ibid., pp. 378-383

39

Ibid.

40

Edit Andras, ‘What Does East Central European Art History Want: Reflections on the History Discourse in the Region since 1989’, Extending the Dialogue, Berlin/Vienna: Igor Zabel Association for Culture and Theory ERSTE Foundation/Archive Books, 2016, p. 60


41

Boris Groys, ‘Haunted by Communism’, Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe, op.cit., p. 18

42

Groys, ibid., p. 21

43

Groys, ibid., pp. 20-21. Groys offers as examples the work of the Russian artists Komar and Melamid and Slovenian group IRWIN 44

Misiano, op. cit. See Fn. 23, p.12

45

Terry Smith, Contemporary Art: World Currents, London: Laurence King, 2011


46

Piotr Piotrowski, ‘East European Art Seen from Global Perspectives: Past and Present’, Galeria Labirynt, Lublin, Poland, 24-27 October 2014

47

Helen Petrovsky, op.cit. See Fn. 23

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The Super-Modernism of the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis The philosopher, as a necessary man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, has always found himself, and always had to find himself, in opposition to his today. Friedrich Nietzsche1 One of the distinctive virtues of modernism is that it leaves its questions echoing in the air long after the questioners themselves, and their answers, have left the scene. Marshall Berman2 *** The following research coincides with a contemporary surge of interest in focusing attention on historical gaps and lacunae across all cultures and disciplines.3 Institutions expand to incorporate alternative narratives, academies broaden their reach to be inclusive of other canons beyond the centres, and the centres are eager to investigate, learn from and reign in modernities of the elsewhere.4 Simultaneously, these invigorated art historical interests have turned their attention more intensely beyond the commercially established and the mainstream to focus on, for example, the performing art forms. And this can be witnessed particularly with regard to institutional re-stagings and re-tracings of twentieth century performances and happenings in the bellies of major public collections and museums.5 It is in this context that I have been working since 2010 under the umbrella of a platform I founded called Archaeology of the Final Decade. This is an ongoing curatorial think tank that researches histories of nations condemned by social displacement, cultural annihilation or deliberate disappearance. I engage with accounts of culture that have been lost through material destruction, acts of censorship, political, economic or human contingencies. The research identifies, investigates and re-circulates significant cultural and artistic materials that have remained obscure, under-exposed, endangered, banned or in some instances destroyed. The retracing and reintegration of these materials into cultural memory and discourse counteracts the damages of systemic erasures and fills in gaps in history and art history, and constitutes an act of healthy historical reconciliation. The research poses a wider question about the long-term effects associated with systemic mutilations inflicted on cultural memory.

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Speculation abounds regarding the invisibility of collections hidden from the public by institutions and individuals alike. Removed from cultural circulation, it is less frequent that such works are intentionally relegated to unceasing slumber. When such collections are displayed for the public, a simultaneous opening up of potentiality, audience and creative engagement is implicated. Yet, what if the collection or the artwork no longer exists in the conventional sense of a tangible art object? What if the object was ephemeral, with all records of its existence buried under a mythological façade of epic exaggeration and unwarranted demonisation? Such was the fate of the Jašn-e Honar-e Shiraz or The Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis, a ground-breaking international festival of performing arts held annually in Iran every summer between 1967 and 1977, in and around the city of Shiraz and the ancient ruins of Persepolis. The intellectual drive behind the festival, its modus operandi, as well as its aesthetic content constitute a highly enduring, contested space despite the passage of a half a century, reflecting the Festival’s complex nature. This stands in contrast to most other concurrent pre-Islamic Revolutionary cultural initiatives, like the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA), which have been retrospectively endorsed and validated by artists and cultural practitioners who have inherited their material and intellectual assets. Jašn-e Honar-e Shiraz shares an intimate history with the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Both represent compelling international pinnacles of a widespread cultural infrastructural policy from the pre-Islamic Revolutionary moment; materials related to both endeavours have remained out of cultural circulation for the most part since 1979. Unlike the artwork stored in the basements of TMoCA however, the cultural object produced by The Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis was transitory and immaterial. A dual reality is at play here. The Festival’s artefact materialised distinctively as a transitory experience shared by an ephemeral and temporary community of participants—actors and spectators. The artefact is absent beyond its occurrence, its artistic status embedded in its aestheticism, contained within its particular eventness.6 This abstraction and immateriality renders the cultural capital essentially non-commodifiable, in direct contrast to TMoCA’s repository of actual, material and commercial capital. Today and for posterity, TMoCA’s material presence consolidates and affirms both its visionary stride and its cultural capital, while the Festival’s transitory space of cultural negotiations remains obscure. Performing the archive of the Festival constitutes more than a recirculation of a document: this re-presentation unearths a potential, an atmosphere charged with desires, aspirations, shared hopes, rages and resistances—a substance infrastructure—as much as it captures a historical moment in shared global history.7 The Festival emerged in the context of an expansive, systematic, cultural policy during the 1960s and 1970s, which established numerous public museums, cultural institutions, the National Iranian Radio and Television (NIRT), networks of exhibitions, festivals, centres of education, archival documentation, research, development and dissemination, including the lauded Kanoon-e Parvaresh-e Fekri-e Koudakan va Nojavanan (Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults). The inaugural performance was staged on 11 September, 1967 and its last being 26 August, 1977. A small coalition of like-minded Iranian cultural practitioners masterminded the Festival. Leading this group was Reza Ghotbi, director of the newly founded NIRT, who sought the collaboration of Farrokh Ghaffari, who had returned from la Cinémathèque Française in Paris, and Khojasteh Kia, who was educated at the Old Vic and led the theatre research at the NIRT in its initial stage. Many other cultural practitioners were intimately involved with the organisation of the Festival, including Sheherazade Afshar, Bijan Saffari, Hormoz Farhat and Fouzieh Majd.

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As articulated extensively in the first catalogue published in 1969, two primary aims were clearly identified within the local context: first, to allow local artists to share a platform with other cultures, and second, to oxygenate isolated local traditions through stimulating exposure and confrontation, especially by situating the local in relation to Asia.8 “The activity of the Festival has a two-way effect. It is designed to bring international artists into an inspirational setting, and at the same time expose creative Iranians to the cultural currents of other countries. The accent is on stimulation—whether it be from the profundity of tradition or the genius of innovation.”9 Interviews conducted with the younger generation of festival-goers—both performers and spectators—attest to the unique opportunities for growth, experience, exchange and exposure which the Festival provided.10 This exposure fuelled innovation locally and, crucially, linked a new wave of Iranian artists with international networks. A striking example was the Kargah-e Namayesh or Theatre Workshop (1969-78), a collective of Iranian writers, actors, directors and designers that constituted an important forerunner of contemporary experimentation. Two seminal Kargah productions premiered in 1968: Pazhouheshi zharf va setorg va no dar sangvareha-ye dowre-e bist-o-panjom-e zamin shenasi (A Modern, Profound, and Important Research into the Fossils of the 25th Geological Era) by Abbas Nalbandian and Shahr-e Qesseh (City of Tales) by Bijan Mofid. Scores of Iranian theatre talent performed, such as actors Parviz Sayyad, Ezzatolah Entezami, and writer-directors Bahram Beyzai and Ali Nasirian. A fledgling Iranian cinema found a platform which afforded Iranian filmmakers such as Parviz Kimiavi, Nasser Taghvai, Fereydoun Rahnema, Dariush Mehrjui and Arby Ovanessian visibility alongside recognised auteurs, such as Yasujiro Ozu, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel, Sergei Paradjanov, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Satyajit Ray and Marguerite Duras, and effectively initiated these Iranian artists’ entry onto the international scene. Iranian artists and productions comprised the largest group represented on stage (with Indian productions occupying second place in terms of the sheer number of performances). Approximately one fifth of the events presented over the eleven years were devoted solely to Iranian music: classical/traditional, regional and folk, by far the most performed genre during the decade of events. Contemporary performance artists such as Reza Abdo, Sussan Deyhim, Susan Taslimi, Shohreh Aghdashlou, Mohammed-Bagher Ghaffari and Attila Pessyani, to name a few, belong to the next generation whose artistic development benefited from such exposure.11 The Sixth Festival was considered by many to be the most difficult. There was little appeal to popular taste, a certain sign that the organisers now knew what they wanted and were prepared to present it regardless of critical comment, which was not slow in coming. The controversy that aroused antagonism in normally placid Shiraz was rightly considered to be part of the Festival’s raison d’etre, and as a welcome stimulus to artistic creativity and art criticism in Iran.12 In contesting opposition, the Festival essentially adopted a Faustian motto—a quest for experience, mastery and knowledge, and a disavowal of the status quo. It chose to embrace and contain developmentally necessary cultural controversy, despite and even in opposition to popular tastes and consumption. This avant-garde curatorial direction amounted to what Julia Kristeva calls a disturbance of “orderings of subject and society alike”, putting “subject-hood in trouble,”13 exposing it to a form of crisis in order (borrowing from Hal Foster), “to register its points not only of breakdown but of breakthrough.”14 Thus, the Festival articulated, via crisis, the possibility of transformation.

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Transnationally, the curatorial approach mediated connections beyond concrete ideological, economic and political fault lines. It operated against a backdrop of Cold War polarities, scars of the Vietnam War, European movements of 1968, military dictatorships in Southern Europe, the transformative surge of decolonisation across nations in Asia and Africa, notwithstanding the greatly influential Algerian Revolution (or Algerian War of Independence), and sentiments incited by the revolutionary militia movements in Cuba and elsewhere. The Festival directors were well aware of these complexities and consciously responded to their influence.15 As a post-colonial stage, over three quarters of the total three hundred and eleven events (an approximate figure traceable thus far) were devoted to productions from the developing world: West Asia, Central Asia, East and South East Asia, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. Local Iranian artistic productions shared a stage with Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menuhin, Ram Narayan, Bismillah Khan and Indian kathakali performers, as well as a wide array of artists (in many cases commissioned by the Festival) ranging from Tadeusz Kantor, Joseph Chaikin, Robert Wilson (who was commissioned to create early epic performances such as KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia Terrace), Maurice Bejart, Iannis Xenakis (who had fled the Greek junta), Olivier Messiaen, Robert Suramaga and Núria Espert (who found relative freedom in Shiraz, away from the dictatorial constraints of Francoist Spain).16 Many, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, found the Iranian sphere’s lack of cultural baggage conducive to facilitating and mediating encounters, in contrast to the uneasy dialogues with their audiences at home. The directors at Shiraz-Persepolis identified and tapped into a repository where nonEuropean expressions were highly developed, in order to exercise an anti-hegemonic, democratising global attitude in the immediate aftermath of de-colonisation. This was actualised in its third iteration in 1969 around the thematic title, ‘Percussion’. As the most fundamental ingredient to all music, rhythm signified a return to basics and resonated with elemental, instinctual drives. This theme allowed for a fluid programming, one that included traditional Iranian naqareh-khaneh and zurkhaneh music, the Rwanda Drum Ensemble, Balinese gamelan concerts, Iranian masters Jamshid Shemirani, Hossein Tehrani (tombak) and Faramarz Payvar (santur), American jazz percussionist Max Roach, and French/ Greek experimental musician Iannis Xenakis with a site-specific commission Persephassa. The Festival not only placed expressions from non-European and Euro-American traditions on the map as valid and equal, but it also actualised a utopian direction, articulating notions of unification and universalism through sound. These trajectories were successfully articulated the following year through the 1970 thematic title of ‘Theatre and Ritual’, intersecting various archaic, primitive and primordial rituals with contemporary avant-garde experiments. Striving for authenticity, modernisers from the Third World were keen to base their investigations on native rituals, traditions and folklores. This process of discovery, deconstruction and reorientation found a natural ally in the internationally fluid and subversive avant-garde, who sought a break from the constraints and stabilities of its own traditions, in some instances, turning to investigations of ritual. “With the recent involvement of the Third World, a new perspective has been opened… World theatre seems even closer to achieving the goals set by the visionary Artaud… An important trend of the avant-garde is devoted to developing this kind of expression for an intercultural audience.”17 These experimental productions promised the release of universal ecstatic powers and insight into the unconscious world of the collective, on the basis that it brought theatre closer to its essence. Ideals of catharsis and a connection with the emotional core of drama were unifying, underlying drives. Furthermore, the performative, represented by the primitive, supplanted the textual l

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or European tradition. A wide range of expressions included influential Polish creator Jerzy Grotowski with Calderon’s The Constant Prince; an adaptation of Gorgani’s verse Vis-o-Ramin by Mahin Tajadod and director Arby Ovanessian; Jean Genet’s Les Bonnes by director Victor Garcia and Teatro Núria Espert; and Fire, by Bread & Puppet Theatre directed by Peter Schumann. The Festival Program explained, “‘Ritual theatre’ was the theme of the Fourth Festival, an appropriate choice, since Asia still remains a rich storehouse of ritual and ceremony, and, after a long period of lack of interest, the West is once again rediscovering its roots in Asian arts. Shiraz was the ideal meeting place for the purpose.”18 The experiences of ‘Theatre and Ritual’ at the fourth Festival informed the creation of the seminal, site-specific 1971 commission Orghast by directors Peter Brook, Arby Ovanessian, Andrei Serban, Geoffrey Reeves, poet Ted Hughes and dramaturg/linguist Mahin Tajaddod. Its performers hailed from Iran, Cameroon, England, France, Japan, Mali, Portugal, Spain and the USA. Tajaddod and Hughes invented a language called Orghast, based on Middle Persian Avestan and ancient Greek. Incomprehensible to the modern audience, its primary intention was the omission of text as the carrier of symbolic meaning. This was consciously in line with Antonin Artaud’s thesis as laid out by Jacques Derrida, whereby “the logical and discursive intentions which speech ordinarily uses in order to ensure its rational transparency” are subordinated “to purloin [the theatre’s] body in the direction of meaning.”19 Attainment of meaning would transcend the need for rational discourse and bring the audience to alternate modes of consciousness, forming a new community “beyond any fixed, stable identity.”20 According to Ted Hughes, “The point was to create a precise but open and inviting language… a language belonging below the levels where differences appear, close to the inner life of what we’ve chosen as our material, but expressive to all people, powerfully, truly, precisely.”21 With the sixth year in 1972, programming aligned three important experimental practitioners with non-European traditions to which they were indebted. John Cage had studied with Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, a theologian of Zen Buddhism. Together with Cunningham, they drew inspiration from the ancient Chinese divination text I Ching (The Book of Changes) to explore notions of chance and indeterminacy and, ultimately, to break away from narrative and compositional conventions. Karlheinz Stockhausen’s compositions aimed at reaching a state of inner asceticism and spirituality correlating with philosophies of Hinduism. Importantly, the curating underscored the reverse transmission of knowledge from the so-called periphery to the centre, highlighting the depth and continuity of Asian philosophical influence on Europe. The Festival program articulated further; Our societies have been evolving in recent years under the shadow of the technologically dynamic West. Our cultures are becoming recast in a new crucible. The impact of the West is a force we must contend with. Our responses to it should well be witnessed, both for the mutual edification of non-Western countries, through which we can study precedents and solutions in reasserting our age-old cultural heritages, and for the interest of Western artists, who might draw inspiration from the perspectives of other cultural arenas.22 The affirmation of indigenous traditions and sensibilities of Asia, especially China, India, Indonesia, Japan and various African impulses directly responded to Third World emancipatory movements in the immediate aftermath of decolonisation. A new post-colonial generation of African dramatists, including the well-known Duro Lapido, drew upon indigenous traditions and mythologies, these investigations focusing on national revivalist drives within an intercultural dialogue that resonated with the direction of the Festival. Artists from Senegal, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda—countries which gained independence in the early 1960s—represented ritual and contemporary cultural expressions.

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Ballet National du Sénégal participated in 1970, and the Ensemble Lyrique du Sénégal in 1976. Duro Lapido’s opera Oba Ko So, a dramatisation of the Yoruba story of Shango, King of Thunder, was staged in 1973. The Festival implicitly entered into an intercultural dialogue with contemporaneous African platforms, most notably the World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (1966) and the Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algiers (1969). It is important to note that the regional, nativist, or ethnographic nature and purposes of these festivals do appear to contrast with the inclusive, panoramic view of world culture as articulated at Shiraz-Persepolis. The latter more explicitly set out to provide opportunities for juxtapositional complimentarity between cultures—a utopian unity of disunities. Reinserting the artwork back into the centre of critical enquiry has been essential for retracing the actual object and deciphering the complex areas of obscurity and polemical contestation. In a vacuum of records, data and archives, a gap has been left in scholarship, while mythologies have shrouded and mutated to epic proportions. A close study of the content elucidates a distinctly sophisticated, complex and revolutionising stage which is immediately at odds with previously accepted scripts that have condemned the Festival as a decadent space of elitist gharbzadegi (Westoxification), a bourgeois project from above, an unengaged space of aesthetic formalism, reducing the entire project to “the wrong act, at the wrong time, in the wrong place.”23 The Festival’s terrain was an obviously vulnerable one—intellectually and logistically —not only for its own controversially pioneering missions to destabilise hegemonic hierarchies of culture, deconstruct geo-political binaries of First and Third World spatio-temporal, aesthetic and conceptual denominations of archaic/traditional and contemporary. Local and international historical contingencies presented enormous and often contradictory obstacles and challenges. To mount the Festival on the international scale was not only unusual for the time, but it was also colossally ambitious in terms of basic logistics. Assembling artists from across the divides, for example, was not simply a curatorial choice. It often had to be approved by foreign offices and intelligence services from all sides of the political world. Perhaps the most striking achievement—in light of these logistical and pragmatic challenges—was its insistence on maintaining an egalitarian ethos while shifting the centre of gravity of cultural production and politics towards the re-emerging Other. Contrary to claims, if there were economies of prestige considered to be at play in this sphere of cultural negotiations, they would actually be most safely positioned amongst the forces of the peripheral, the Third World, the dissenting, the unorthodox, the counter-cultures, the outsiders—all those that contemporary scholarship strives today to incorporate into its canon. Locally, the Festival’s ethos appears incongruously correlated with the Iranian political realities of the time—a radicalised, politically frustrated space, rife with dogmas and intoxicated with scepticism.24 First, under the open-minded sponsorship of NIRT, it operated as a liberal space across political restrictions, beyond the remit of the Ministry of Culture and politically imposed red lines. The Festival’s progressive curatorial policies were well beyond the understanding of the censor’s conventional definitions; its artistic content was not under their direct control. Its autonomy quickly became a thorn in the side of the zealously paranoid state security and intelligence service, SAVAK, which considered the Festival an opportunity for dissenting artistic expression. SAVAK would often readily undermine the Festival’s credibility, in spite of its royal endorsement through the patronage of the Shahbanou,25 Farah Diba, instigating antagonism towards the Festival from within the state apparatus.26

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Second, sizeable circles from the intellectual polity, particularly those on the left, failed to engage with the project’s cosmopolitan, universalising world view, while the Festival in turn failed to directly respond to the more dogmatic, political discourses that dominated much of the intellectual community.27 The Festival would be best recognised as functioning meta-politically, as a temporary autonomous zone developing its own political and spatio-temporal set of values, and parameters of expression and encounter beyond and outside the conventional realities of its time.28 Controversy and contestation were detrimentally heightened by the fact that at ShirazPersepolis, the artwork itself was not only potentially subversive, as live performance inherently can be, but also more importantly, that it was optimistically and democratically spread across the open landscape and cityscape (from shrines to streets, archaeological ruins to gardens and the bazaar), unprotected and over-exposed to the uninitiated. By its own admission, the Festival had boldly set out to challenge, not conform. Its playing field was not insulated within institutional walls, unlike TMoCA’s safeguarded collection. Instead, the Festival was more immediately, intimately linked to life, as performance is. Its artistic material—music, dance, drama and storytelling—was itself fundamentally indigenous to all cultures, to all historical eras and to all people. Notes 1 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, Judith Norman trans., Rolf-Peter Horstmann and Judith Norman eds, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002 2

Marshall Berman, All That is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, London, New York: Verso, 2010, p. 21

3

Retracing the archives forms part of an ongoing research and curatorial platform entitled Archaeology of the Final Decade. For further reading, see Vali Mahlouji, ‘Perspectives on the Shiraz Arts Festival: A Radical Third World Rewriting’, in Iran Modern, Fereshteh Daftari and Layla S. Diba eds, New Haven: Asia Society Museum/Yale University Press, 2013; also Vali Mahlouji, ‘The Contested Space: The Metapolitics of The Festival of Arts’, Shiraz-Persepolis, in Unedited History, Iran 1960-2014, Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, 2014; and Rome: MAXXI Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo, 2014

4 See a proliferation of institutional exhibitions of works by non-Western artists in London, Paris and New York; for example, Modernités Plurielles de 1905 á 1970 at Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris 5 Recently articulated in the theoretical and curatorial vogue for a “relational aesthetics”, institutions have looked to incorporate practices from outside the art museum during the twentieth century, especially ephemeral performances and events. This resonates with interest in the role of the audience as constituting part of the artwork itself, or its activation. The Tanks at Tate Modern is one example of a museum space dedicated to performance 6

Erika Fischer-Lichte, Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual, Exploring Forms of Political Theatre, London: Routledge, 2005, p. 25

7

Substance infrastructure here expands beyond the notion of infrastructures of knowledge and systems of statements generated by displacement of the object through time and place as discussed by Michel Foucault; see Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, A. M. Sheridan Smith trans., London: Routledge, 2002. It resonates with the conceiving of infrastructures as “sites of affect and contradiction” as articulated at Bergen Assembly 2016 in ‘Archives of Substance’, which featured the Archaeology of the Final Decade exhibition A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis 8 ‘A Report from the First Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis: Why Was the Festival Founded?’, Festival of Arts, ShirazPersepolis Program 1967-68-69, Tehran: Sekkeh Printing House, 1969. This was the first annual program published; the years 1967 and 1968 did not have a published program 9

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Program 1974, Tehran (NIRT), 1974, p. 7

10

Author’s interviews with Iranian artists Sussan Taslimi, Mohammad Bagher Ghaffari, Iraj Anvar, Shohreh Aghdashlou, Saddreddin Zahed, Attila Pessyani, Sussan Deyhim, Shahram Karimi, Shoja Azari and many others

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11 Mohammad-Bagher Ghaffari, Shohreh Aghdashlou and Susan Taslimi were all linked to the Festival as actors from Kargah-e Namayesh (Theatre Workshop). Ghaffari lives and works in the USA and was also the convener of the ta-ziye program; Aghdashlou lives and works in the USA and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (2003). Taslimi lives and works in Sweden and was awarded the Swedish Academy Award (1999) for her role as Medea. Attila Pessyani is based in Iran and is a prominent theatre director and actor. Reza Abdo was an experimental theatre and film director living and working in the USA. Sussan Deyhim is an influential experimental vocalist and musician living and working in the USA 12

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Program 1974, op cit., p. 23

13

Julia Kristeva, cited in Hal Foster, The Return of the Real, Cambridge, MA, London: October Books/MIT Press, 1996, p. 153

14

Hal Foster, The Return of the Real, ibid., p. 157

15

Author’s interviews with artist Bijan Saffari and other collaborators, director Arby Ovanessian, academics William Beeman and Peter Chelkowski

16

Author’s interview with actor and director Nuria Espert

17

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Program 1974, op cit., p. 30-31: Antonin Artaud observed Balinese dance at the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931. This led him to develop theories on theatre that investigated a relationship to signs rather than words. The directors identified a visionary in Artaud, whose purposes were in line with their own

18

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Program 1974, op cit., p. 17

19

Jacques Derrida, ‘The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation’, in Writing and Difference, Alan Bass trans., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978, p. 240

20

Erika Fischer-Lichte, Theatre, Sacrifice, Ritual, Exploring Forms of Political Theatre, London: Routledge, 2005, p. 228

21

Participating poet Ted Hughes in A. C. H. Smith, Orghast at Persepolis, London: Eyre Methuen, 1972, p. 45

22

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Program 1974, op cit., p. 25

23

The loaded neologism gharbzadegi (Westoxification) was conceived as early as 1959 by philosopher and intellectual, Ahmad Fardid. A discrediting of those influenced by Western ideas and values formed its ideological bedrock. The term was featured in the new intellectual trajectories of the likes of Jalal Al-e Ahmad (who adopted gharbzadegi as the title of his influential book in 1962) and Ali Shariati, both of whom were influenced by revolutionaries such as Frantz Fanon. See Ali Mirsepassi, Political Islam, Iran and the Enlightenment: Philosophies of Hope and Despair, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011, who argues that, far from being rooted in indigenous thoughts and native exigencies, gharbzadegi can be traced back to the ontology of the Heideggerian critique of man. Fardid, All-Ahmad and Shariati had definitive interests in European thinkers, more so than any indigenous philosophical strands: Al-e Ahmad in Camus and Sartre; Shariati in Heidegger and Sartre; and Fardid in Kant and Heidegger. Mirsepasi argues that overt hostility towards the ideas of the West concealed a much deeper, original fascination with them

24 For the Iranian political narrative post-1953 coup, see Ervand Abrahamian, The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and The Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations, New York/London: The New Press, 2013 25

Shahbanou is the Persian title to denote Empress. Farah Diba was also directly linked to the formation of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. She was patron of many other cultural institutions founded in that era as well as numerous humanitarian organisations

26

Author’s interviews with Festival organisers, including artist Bijan Saffari

27

For more on contemporaneous intellectual discourse, see Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996; Hamid Dabashi, Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Piscataway NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2006; Fred Halliday, ‘The Iranian Left in International Perspective’, in Reformers and Revolutionaries in Modern Iran: New Perspectives on the Iranian Left, Stephanie Cronin (ed.), London: Routledge/BIPS Persian Studies Series, 2004

28

“Temporary autonomous zone” as used here is an expression coined by Hakim Bey (alias Peter Lamborn Wilson), the poet and critic who wrote a book by that title. Wilson paid numerous visits to the Festival and produced different texts on the content of the projects. He went on to be employed by Seyyed Hossein Nasr at the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy until 1978. For him, the temporary autonomous zone is a new territory on the boundary line of established regions, its focus on the moment being beyond any structured system that fuels individual creativity

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Comparative Monument (Shellal): Steadfastness and the Temporal Body…

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What is more important than resistance is our living… I mean this “sumud” (steadfastness) is resistance.1 Tom Nicholson’s work is often discussed in relation to memory or remembrance. Most commonly drawing is evoked as the mnemonic practice at the heart of his work—both the activities of drawing through to the expanded and collective practices of walking (or marching), which might be understood as a kind of drawing on a collective scale. This essay shifts this focus to ideas of ‘presence’ and ‘time’ in Nicholson’s work, and it maps these terms through the third in the Comparative Monuments series, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-17).2 Explorations of ‘presence’ and its temporal modalities have a complex relationship within Comparative Monument (Shellal) where these concepts overlap, conflict and produce many knots and entanglements. Most significantly these occur between the spiritual and the secular, and between the terms “presence” and “present” (being present, the present moment of time). These complexities emerge from a series of works that each deal with the question of repatriation and return, focusing as they do upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the struggle for an independent, secular Palestinian state. In Comparative Monument (Shellal) these questions centre around the mosaic discovered by members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) in 1917, now in the Australian War Memorial (AWM), and an additional mosaic by the Australian artist, Napier Waller that is also situated in the AWM. Nicholson’s work activates questions of repatriation that go beyond a straightforward notion of ‘return’ to ask: to whom and where would the mosaic be repatriated and in what form? Indeed, the work questions the very notion of return predicated upon an initial departure, a schism, a removal or a break. Comparative Monument (Shellal) therefore demands that we reformulate our perceptions of time and presence to one that disavows the division of time into a ‘before’ and ‘after’. This is a way of thinking about time without division so that the idea of return exists without departure, exile without leaving, and presence without absence. It is suggested in Fragments from conversations with Nuri el-Okbi, one of the videos that makes up Comparative Monument (Shellal), in which el-Okbi, a Bedouin Palestinian activist, invokes life itself—the continued process of living—as the greatest form of resistance: “What is more important than resistance is our living… this ‘sumud ’ (steadfastness) is resistance.”3 This practice of “sumud ” or the “assertion of continued presence” is to stand firm, to stay alive, to remain, as Djon Mundine proposes in relation to Aboriginal Australians’ ongoing struggles for sovereignty.4 Yet it also forces us to consider what ‘presence’ is and how it might be practised, as well as the influence that “the assertion of continued presence” or “sumud ” has upon our understanding of time as continuity, rather than as separation or division. While both el-Okbi and Mundine refer to the practice of “steadfastness” as living through the continual violence of colonialism in its various forms, “steadfastness” or “continued presence” can also be considered in connection with an understanding of presence as a form of spiritual embodiment.5 This is an understanding that is directly related to the Shellal mosaics, which are embedded in a form of animism inherent to the Byzantine tradition, and it is further emphasised by Nicholson’s activation of the Shellal mosaic in relation to the mosaic and stained glass windows by Waller (an ex-WWI soldier) that are located adjacent to it in the Hall of Memory in the AWM. In entangling the Shellal mosaic with the Waller mosaic and windows, Nicholson activates a confrontation between different orders of being in the world—the monotheistic in relation to the unitary and transcendent nature of Waller’s golden dome, and the embedded and embodied world that characterises animism. These are both simple and complex questions to raise at a point when the human

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(and the human body) is challenged in so many ways, not only by the incursion of the technological but most significantly by the shift towards a competitive inhumanity and the conflict to be ‘alive’ (and to be recognised as such) against the odds of war, displacement, dispossession, austerity and so on. As American writer and theorist Tom Keenan so eloquently questions in his essay ‘Or Are We Human Beings’, why are appeals to humanity—the demand to be recognised as “human”—so common today?6 The Shellal mosaic was discovered during the Second Battle of Gaza at a site between Beersheba (now Be’er Sheva) and Khan Yunis, “on the main road from Jerusalem to Egypt”.7 Uncovered by Australian soldiers on the 17th April 1917 and dated circa 561-562 CE, the mosaic was an elaborate floor piece measuring approximately 8 metres by 5.5 metres, rich with animal and fish motifs, and images of fruit, doves, olive branches, baskets, vases and birdcages. Following laborious work (in extreme heat) to excavate the mosaic, it was shipped to Australia in December 1918 after a dispute over its potential ownership (with Britain laying a claim through the War Trophies Committee in London). After touring Australia with other ‘war trophies’ and artefacts, the mosaic was cemented into the wall of the Australian War Memorial in 1941. It is significant to note that at this point, the Shellal mosaic goes from being a floor mosaic rich in its own symbolism to becoming a symbol of acquisition and conquest. Comprising a complex interrelationship of parts (“I am the true vine; ye are the branches”8) and a symbolic world that one enters in walking upon it, the mosaic undergoes a shift from the horizontal to the vertical once affixed to the wall. This move from the floor to the wall in the War Memorial is significant for the manner in which it alters the position of the viewer from an embodied experience of being within the space of the mosaic to that of a disembodied eye that looks at or upon the mosaic from a distance. This disembodied view is precisely that found in the Waller mosaics, which were designed to be viewed from afar and is thus contrary to the original intentions for the Shellal mosaic. Nicholson plays with this tension between the vertical and horizontal placement of the mosaic in Comparative Monument (Shellal) by opting to display his mosaics in the manner in which the original Shellal mosaics first arrived in Australia and were exhibited; each decorative motif or element of the mosaic separated from the rest and contained in a series of wooden crates, having been placed in plaster-of-Paris beds in order to be safely transported from Palestine. Nicholson’s Comparative Monument (Shellal) therefore does not proceed from a simple juxtaposition of the Waller and Shellal mosaics, but from a transposition and weaving of the two together. The work comprises a series of glass mosaics displayed in shallow wooden boxes, and a two-channel video work. The mosaics in Comparative Monument (Shellal) have been made by processing the Shellal mosaic through the visual system of the Waller, so that Waller’s tiles and colour system are utilised to remake the Shellal. In effect, the two mosaics are folded or knotted together. Most importantly, the process that Nicholson undertakes in remaking the Shellal mosaic through the Waller recognises the location of the two mosaics in the AWM. Situated adjacent for more than fifty years, Comparative Monument (Shellal) suggests that neither mosaic is unchanged through their life in proximity. It is also the entanglement of two visual systems—the linear, unitary system of Waller’s Art Deco style, on the one hand, and the elaborate Byzantine whirls and folds, on the other. Situated (living) adjacent to each other and sharing a history of site since Waller completed his Hall of Memory in 1958, Nicholson’s gambit recognises that the Shellal and Waller mosaics have been irrevocably linked despite their contrasting visual and conceptual systems. In preparing for his commission, Waller made a series of paintings examining details of the Shellal mosaic, yet his own mosaic is markedly different in style and vision. (The first chapter of Nicholson’s video begins with an image and caption: “Detail of the Shellal mosaic from a painting by Napier Waller.”) Unlike the dispersed nature of the Shellal mosaic in l

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which animal forms and other objects are situated across it in a complex bestiary linked by vines and other decorative elements, the Waller corrals the space to direct its figures—representatives of army, navy and airforce—towards a singular, golden lit dome.9 The contrast is immediately stark, between a complex horizontal interrelationship of animals, vegetal and other decorative forms, and a vertical movement of human forms towards a singular transcendence that is suggested by a soft golden glow at the central, highest point of the dome. Waller represents symbols of loss and service—the soldier, sailor, airman and servicewoman who move upwards through the divide between the human and spiritual whereas, in its original orientation as a floor mosaic, one would enter into the physical space of the Shellal. In the Waller, a division is set up as a true ascendency in which those figures that display model Australian qualities rise upwards towards the golden heights of the dome. These qualities—resource, candour, devotion, curiosity, independence, comradeship, patriotism, chivalry and loyalty as they are named by Waller—are represented through a series of stained glass windows situated in the lower portion of the dome alongside the mosaics. These figures then rise above the earth (following the vertical axis dominant in the Christian tradition and associated philosophies), their souls rising towards the heavens depicted by the Southern Cross.10 They rise from the present towards a future redemption. There is much scholarly literature detailing the manner in which images were considered to be an embodiment or presence within the Byzantine tradition such that the separation between body and image is collapsed and the latter is experienced as more than an aesthetic or signifying form. In her essay, ‘Presence and the Image Controversies in the Third and Fourth Century AD’, Marina Prusac observes that images and idols were considered to be “matter animated by spirit” whereby the “metaphysical aspect of images is usually referred to as presence or prototype.”11 An image is therefore the isolation of a single element from the world and the enactment of a ‘linkage’ between what is presented (the metaphysical) and what is seen (the representation or likeness) so that the image is always a type of ‘presence’.12 Here images are active or “performing agents”, rather than the static, isolated and mimetic traces of human agency that we too often consider them to be today.13 This animism also demands that we imagine time beyond the existing limits of the human (the human body and humanistic discourse) for to imagine an image within the wild terrain of animated matter (or as itself animated) is to consider its life within and beyond the continuum of life as we understand or experience it.14 The image, therefore, has a life that extends beyond our own presence and limited interface with the temporal nature of the present, and thus extends the notion of “presence” beyond simply being present towards a differing, more expansive attachment to time and space. The Shellal mosaic therefore announces a particular (Byzantine) world order that is proposed by the ‘living’ image—an image that acts and lives amongst a polyphony of other living things.15 It also points to a particular conception of time that is not based on the ordering and management of time according to a human priority of organisation and division, but to a time that is more expansive—a form of time that recognises return without departure, a time of continuing presence. Like many of Nicholson’s ‘monument’ works there is an emphasis on a process of collective action in Comparative Monument (Shellal), and time is also related to a collective process. We see these precedents most significantly in his early banner marching projects in which groups of volunteers navigate through a given city following a route that retraced post-1901 (Australian Federation) national boundaries while carrying large banners bearing pixellated, dot-matrix-like (but fastidiously painted) portraits (e.g. Documents Towards a Banner Marching Project, 2004-07). Here there is a reactivation or retracing of the shape of an historical event through activity that takes place in the present, and translated across different geographic as well as historical terrains. Put simply, the past is retraced through the

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present. This activation of the possibilities of the present also occurs in more recent examples, such as Comparative Monument (Palestine) (2012) or the earlier work, Unfinished Monument for Batman’s Treaty (2011). In both there is a mobilisation of the (collective) activity of distribution such that audience-viewers are invited to circulate posters across Ramallah or display them in their Melbourne homes, thus propelling the work in such a way that it produces a vast distributed ‘monument’. However, unlike the earlier banner marching projects, there is a turn towards the future as these posters are distributed and laid ready to be summonsed or gathered up for a vast future collective ‘monument’ across the city. These ‘unfinished’ monuments lie dormant, latent and ready for fruition. It is in these works that a future is addressed, as the activity of the present distribution extends beyond its bounds towards a potential future, and it is this gesture towards a possible future that becomes more evident in Nicholson’s recent work. Time exists here across a horizontal rather than vertical axis; rather than being neatly segmented and arranged according to assumptions and hierarchies of progress, it is a horizontal combination of parts (like the Shellal mosaic itself)—a combination of histories, hopes and present-day conditions that are never neatly ordered (or resolved) into a division between past-present-future, but stretch and loop across delineations. The terms “presence” and “present”, in which one is folded into the other (present-presence, presence-present) introduce a correlation of space and time that emphasises an event of ‘now’ but also seeks to escape it. Therefore ‘presence’ suggests both a time of encounter—an encounter with other material bodies—and a possibility of something outside this, and the “present” is activated not so much as a measurement or delineation of time but as an unfolding or ongoing site of activity. Nicholson articulates this clearly in relation to Comparative Monument (Shellal), stating that he is “making something for a future” through “claims upon the present”.16 This thinking can also be found in the early Christian worldview in which the future could only be attained through being physically ‘present’ in the present.17 This “making something for a future” through the present is achieved in Nicholson’s artwork through an emphasis on labour or process. In the instance of Comparative Monument (Shellal) Nicholson utilises a complex numbering system in order to painstakingly plot the transition from the Waller to the Shellal mosaics, such that tiles from one visual system could be mapped onto another. In this endeavour, Nicholson worked extensively with the artist Jamie O’Connell developing complex ‘cartoons’ for the mosaics; these were plans for the puzzle of remaking the Shellal by using only the glass tesserae from the Waller dome. (The mosaics were created with the Mosaic Centre, Jericho, by artisans Rafat Al Khatib and Renan Barham.) Most obviously, this means that the Shellal mosaic changes colour, taking on the golden hues of Waller’s dome. Less obviously, it presents a giant puzzle in which the unity of the Waller is disassembled into the horizontal network of the Shellal. The combining of the different visual systems and processes undertaken in each of the original mosaics results in a reanimation of the Shellal, where familiar forms—such as the peacock, a common Byzantine motif—is rendered something more akin to a lyrebird, and other forms are also estranged. The Byzantine mosaic process proceeds through making an outline of a form and then following this line to fill the space between one form and another, producing what has been suggested earlier as a vast interlinking system. The Waller mosaic takes a more linear, unitary approach in which colour is mapped or plotted across the dome, gradating in intensity towards the central uttermost point. As Nicholson has observed, the single source of light and tight unitary system presented in the Waller gives way to the many folds of the Byzantine mosaic.18 This involved laborious work to ensure that all the tiles that were taken from the Waller dome would find a place within the pictorial logic of Nicholson’s Shellal, a process that involved treating the tiles like pixels and compiling, taking apart and recompiling a huge

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data-set. As Nicholson observes in the voiceover to one of Comparative Monument (Shellal)’s videos, “I try to reconstitute the particles of an image.”19 (This is incidentally not dissimilar to what a dataanalyst does in looking for equivalences and transferences between sets of data, patterns and codes. As suggested at the beginning of this essay, this brings into play a series of questions and equivalences concerning the human-machine interface. This could be connected into a discussion of animism or a digital animism, that might also reflect upon the original location of the Shellal mosaic on a hill that now lies between the hi-tech Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, and Gaza City.) “This mosaic is repatriated.”20 The baldness of syntax in this statement, that begins the final chapter of Comparative Monument (Shellal), echoes the lines of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Jidarriya (Mural) that also forms the title of the 2016 Qalandiya International, where Comparative Monument (Shellal) was first exhibited. Darwish’s words, “This sea is mine”21 are repeated throughout Mural as a statement, a form of incantation, and a claim. What happens to notions of presence and absence, or exile, if these two declarations are combined? “This mosaic is repatriated. This sea is mine.” Both statements address the material and immaterial, fluid and stable, irrefutable and imaginative. More importantly, they speak to a continuity of belonging. By speaking to the impossibility of containment inherent in the popular image of the sea as fluid and uncontainable, and at the same time evoking a very particular attachment to that sea, Darwish un-fixes the notion of belonging from a simple factual contract (without denying its importance), aligning it with something much deeper and more temporally complex. “Mine is the ghost and the haunted one,” he writes. “Mine is the temporal body, present, and absent.”22 Here again time is related to presence, to states of being-present—the material thickness of the body—and to absence as an immaterial presence that lingers stubbornly. The coupling of the lines “This mosaic is repatriated. This sea is mine” works itself into this tension. Within this equation, Comparative Monument (Shellal) is a tribute to the power of “sumud ” as “steadfastness” and “continued presence” that goes beyond the physical, towards an uncontainable immaterial and timeless presence. In the video, Fragments from conversations with Nuri el-Okbi, the camera allows us to watch the setting sun with el-Okbi (and we cannot help but think of the corresponding golden orb at the centre of Waller’s mosaic). The strong continuous presence of the sun is discussed in this scene with fulsome joy; it is a companion in “sumud ”. “It’s better when it’s sunrise. The sunrise is much better. There is optimism,” el-Okbi states. This optimism is woven into the core of Comparative Monument (Shellal) through the entanglement of the world orders of the Waller and Shellal mosaics: one designed to be seen from a distance that makes a promise towards a transcendent future, the other, originally a floor mosaic designed to be stood upon, presenting a world that surrounds the viewer in its immanence. It is this knotting together of the (imagined) action of standing upon or within the floor mosaic, materially encountering it and entering into its world, that Nicholson orientates towards the future. This is a future that begins from the density of the ‘presence-present’ couplet. That is to say, it begins with the practice of “sumud ”, the steadfastness that calls forth a presence and belonging that extends from now into the future and beyond. It is a future that occurs “at an edge before imagining begins.”23 A glass surface to stand upon. A place to look out from. A viewing platform. …This mosaic is a ground for this coming into view.24 Notes 1 Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-17) 2 The three bodies of work in the series are Comparative Monument (Palestine) (2012), Comparative Monument (Ma’Man Allah) (2012-14) and Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-17)

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3

Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-17)

4

Djon Mundine, ‘An Assertion of Continued Presence’, di’van | A Journal of Accounts, Issue 1, January 2016. Curator and activist, Mundine writes that, “This was when I thought about making that ‘assertion of continued presence’ rather than a memorial.” There is of course a direct connection with the subjects addressed in Nicholson’s work, which might also be understood as the assertion of the ongoing presence of Aboriginal Australians and their rights to their land. For example, Nicholson’s Towards a monument to Batman’s Treaty (2014), gathers the bricks from the site of the Corranderk Aboriginal Station which were are imagined to be distributed across present-day Healsville after Corranderk’s dispersal 5 See Marina Prusac, ‘Presence and the Images Controversies in the Third and Fourth Centuries AD’, in Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity, Kristine Kolrud and Marina Prusac eds, Farnham, England and Burlington, USA: Ashgate, 2014, pp. 41-56. In her essay, Prusac observes that, “The metaphysical aspect of images is usually referred to as presence or prototype, and happens when images are perceived as matter animated by spirit”, p. 41 6 Tom Keenan, ‘Or Are We Human Beings?’, e-flux architecture; https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/superhumanity/68719/ or-are-we-human-beings/; last accessed 8 May 2017 7 A.D. Trendall, The Shellal Mosaic and Other Classical Antiquities in the Australian War Memorial Canberra, Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1942, p. 9 8

Trendall, ibid., p. 17. Here describing the popularity of the grape vine in floor mosaics

9

Trendall describes the design of the Shellal mosaic as a field surrounded by an ornate border and divided by “vine-trellis forming medallions or by varying geometric patterns into compartments” with animals, birds, fruit and flowers. Ibid., p. 21 10

The Southern Cross is one of the popular national symbols used by Waller in his mosaic; another example is the representation of the black swan, another uniquely Australian symbol

11

Prusac, op cit., pp. 41-56

12

Here I refer to Heinrich Falk, ‘On the belief in Avatars: what on earth have the aesthetics of the Byzantine icons to do with the avatar in social technologies?’, Digital Creativity, Vol. 21, 2010, issue 1 13

Prusac, op cit., p. 42

14

Australian anthropologist Micheal Taussig writes that “wildness is the death space of signification”, which is relevant here as it signals to the animism of the image, to which I allude. See the reference to Taussig’s work in Anselm Franke, ‘Much Trouble in the Transportation of Souls, or the sudden disorganisations of boundaries’, Animism, Anselm Franke (ed.), Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010, p. 19. Franke also devotes a large section of a preceding passage to the discussion of the work of the nineteenth century anthropologist, Edward Taylor who observes that animism is the “primordial mistake of primitive people who attributed life and person-like qualities to objects in their environments.” Franke, ibid., p. 11

15

It is widely understood the Byzantines considered painting as “living painting” and images or icons as embodied forms. See e.g. Glenn Peers, ‘Real Living Painting: Quasi Objects and Dividuation in the Byzantine World’, Religion and the Arts, 2012, pp. 433-460

16

Conversation with the artist, 17 April 2017

17

“In the orthodox worldview, ‘man must always relate to the spiritual through the physical’.” Hieromonk Auxentios, ‘The Iconic and Symbolic in Orthodox iconography’ quoted in Heinrich Falk, op cit.

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18

Paraphrasing a conversation with the artist, 17 April 2017

19

Conversation with the artist, 17 April 2017

20

Ibid.

21

Mahmoud Darwish, Mural, Rema Hammami and John Berger trans., London: Verso, 2009

22

Ibid.

23

Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-17)

24

Ibid.

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Unpacking Ranbir Kaleka’s Toolbox: the Artist as Artificer The storytelling that thrives for a long time in the milieu of work—the rural, the maritime, and the urban—is itself an artisan form of communication, as it were. It does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel. Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller’1 Can art that is not directly political provoke an affective response to situations that are profoundly immersed in the political? The video works of the Delhi-based new media artist Ranbir Kaleka suggest this is possible. In these works, we come face to face with the ecological refugee drawing his house in the sand; the migrant worker’s psychedelic melancholia; the flickering image of the labourer trying to feed thread into the needle’s evasive mouth; the man in thrall to a cockerel, a soul-bird caged in a mortal body. In the late 1990s, Kaleka, until then largely known for his paintings, made a memorable breakthrough, producing a dynamic interface between painting and video projection. In the presence of these works, the phenomenological separation between viewers of the painted image and viewers of the cinematic image came undone, was dismantled with a panther-like unpredictability. This essay positions the artist’s hybrid intermedia practice within a region-specific historical account of Indian new media art. It offers an analytical account of the concepts of slow time, the philosophical possibilities of video as a medium, the ludic and the abortive performative gesture, the artisanal craft of storytelling, and the complex notion of a transcendence bound up with an elusive materiality, as these play out in Ranbir Kaleka’s art. TRANSITIONS The paintings that Ranbir Kaleka produced during the first phase of his artistic activity, from the 1970s to the 1990s, are charged with the irresistible force of the erotic, and centred flamboyantly on the self. These intensely visceral paintings attest to Kaleka’s preference, in those years, for conjuring up a series of irreal, often grotesque creatures that are terrifying and tantalising by turns. In his pictorial orchestrations, we are hypnotised, variously, by a deathly ogre, by a nayika whose finger twirls itself into a lizard, a child-man who knows too much, a pregnant girl with rickety legs, or a howling dog. In sharp contrast, Kaleka’s intermedia works—the video projections on paintings that he developed during the second phase of his career, from the late 1990s onwards—are pensive, philosophical in tenor and implied theme. The frenzied agonism and the phallocentric perspective of his earlier painted narratives are supplanted by a deep empathy with both the animate and the inanimate domains of life—his conceptual spaces are open both to the unaccommodated migrant and the discarded teapot.

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The distance that Kaleka has traversed may be gauged by a comparison of his theatrically expressionist 1991 painting, Cock-a-doodle-doo, which bursts with a spirited, pagan, even gleeful sexuality, and his 2001-02 intermedia work, Man with Cockerel, a meditation on the desiring subjectivity, on possession and loss. Like many of Kaleka’s intermedia works, Man with Cockerel is marked by a deliberately slowed-down pace and a singular gesture: these strategies allow the artist to conjure up an enigmatic atmosphere that summons forth our contemplative engagement. The intensity of affect no longer depends on an elaborate mise-en-scene of pneumatic or falling figures. And while the atmosphere of Kaleka’s intermedia works is streaked with anxiety and a sense of anticipation, we do not sense a compelling need on the artist’s part to overwhelm the viewer’s consciousness with phantasmagoria, as he did in his earlier work. Instead, and especially in those works where he brings the filmed body and the painted body into dialogue, the given image and the made image flicker, separate and come together ever so quietly. What does this transition in Kaleka’s work tell us? Might two natures inhabit the same artist —each revealing itself more fully at a different stage of his life and a different phase in his work, and eventually engaging each other in vibrant dialogue? Or might different media call out to an artist in different ways, drawing out one or another of his two natures? Or do the conceptual and formal shifts in Kaleka’s art map a paradigmatic trajectory from the robust, confrontational energy of youth to the measured, thoughtful perspective of maturity? In the third and ongoing phase of the artist’s work, we may decipher a pattern of dialectical evolution: the aesthetics of the voluptuary intersects with the philosophical struggle to deal with life’s complexities, to produce neither a baroque maximalism nor minimalist contemplation but a third thing that melds the two. As an example, I would cite Kaleka’s exhibition of paintings, sculptures and found objects titled Reading Man, in which there is an intertwining of erotic playfulness and elegiac wisdom. Among his video works, I would point to the intermedia work Sweet Unease (2011) and the high-spirited performance, The Dinner (2015). The video medium certainly allows for an intensification of the performative element in both works. In Sweet Unease, a man and his alter ago are pictured at table; gradually, they disengage themselves from the mundane yet essential act of eating to lock each other in a wrestling bout. A slow choreography unfolds as the bodies entangle, disentangle, lunging and resisting. The tight embrace of the wrestlers could be seen as a homoerotic fantasy, as well as an austere reflection on the condition of permanent war in which we find ourselves, as we negotiate the arena of life. The Dinner, a burlesque feast that serves up gyrating dancers, magic potions and perfumes, flying bowls, and Commedia dell’arte masks, ends in a de-escalation of sensory pleasure into sleep, with oceanic tides for backdrop. We sense a cycle at work, rather than a linear progression: the intention of the work, apparently, is not to set up a spiritual binary between the voluptuary and the austere, but to express the impossibility of one being able to exist and define itself without the other. THE STRANGER IN THE HEAD Sometimes, we join the story mid-passage, or when it has decided to interrupt its momentum with a pause that might last a second or a millennium, for all you know as you stumble into it. Sometimes, we meet people in such a pause, and they come to incarnate our anxiety or bafflement. In Kaleka’s video projection on painted canvas, Cul-de-sac in Taxila (2010), for instance, a middle-aged man in a suit seems to wait out his time. We will never know what passes through the mind of this prisoner of everyday life, whose existence is measured out by the rhythmic sound of a single drop of water falling into a bowl. We cannot help but think of the legendary Chinese dripping-water torture method; only, here, l

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the water falls into a bowl and, not on the victim’s head. Just when we seem to have been completely mesmerised—or, if we are more hardy, perhaps anaesthetised—by the near-metronomic rhythm of the falling water, the filmed body of the man slips out of its painted twin and strikes the air with a hammer. A gong goes off, conjuring up a gorgeous phantom. A pale horse of great beauty appears on the screen. It is a satori moment. We hold on to its resonances, even as the itch to interpret creeps up on us. Depending on specific cultural readings of the symbolism of the white horse, the apparition could signify purity or heroism; or a premonition of death, since the horse acts in some traditions as a psychopomp, a figure that accompanies the souls of the dead into the afterlife. Above all, there is a sense of imminence in the air. To the Indic sensibility, the apparition could appear as a sign of the impending Kalki avatar. Kalki, the tenth and final avatar of the supreme god Vishnu in the present cosmic cycle, is regarded as the future saviour of the universe; conventionally, he is depicted as a rider on a white horse. Kalki’s advent will mark the end of the current era of evil, the Kali Yuga, and the beginning of an era of virtue restored and renewed, the Satya Yuga. But Kaleka’s white horse manifests itself on the screen very briefly: for less time than it has taken you to read the paragraph about it. Time swallows the miracle of its appearance: the repetitive character of the video loop, as a format, will allow neither a complete rupture with the past nor an absolute leap into the future. It obliges us to meet our fate again and again, in a gesture of amor fati that does not let us evade our predicament. Is the white horse the token of a saviour figure, or the relic of a dream that did not translate into reality? The title of the work implies that our soteriological reading is destined to come to a dead end; it also offers us a place name redolent with millennia of historical significance. Taxila, which is the Greek version of the Sanskrit Takshashila, was no ordinary city: the capital of Gandhara, located in present-day Pakistan, it was a prosperous city on the Silk Road and home to a university whose name was venerated from Antioch in the west to Yarkand and Khotan in the east. An ancient centre for Hindu and Buddhist learning, Taxila was home, at various times, to a variety of cultural figures including the court physician Jivaka, who is said to have healed the Buddha, the grammarian Panini, and the political philosopher Chanakya. The horse was to be found everywhere along the Silk Road. It was on the backs of horses that wars were won, negotiations conducted, peace enforced, and mercantile exchanges conveyed along this continent-wide network of trade and pilgrimage routes. Taxila flourished until it fell to the Huns in the fifth century AD. After this catastrophe, the centre of gravity of the Sanskrit cosmopolis—as Sheldon Pollock terms the transcontinental ecumene bound together by the use of Sanskrit—shifted to Nalanda in present-day Bihar.2 Today, Taxila, a supremely important archaeological site, is threatened by war, terrorism and plunder. Symbolic of itinerancy, migration, exchange and cultural transfusion, the horse fades into a distant dream, trapped forever in a punishing loop. Cul-de-sac in Taxila is replete with coded meaning. The title works against its own apparent emphasis, opening up etymological doors for us. In the original Sanskrit, “Takshashila” was, as myth tells us, the capital of the Naga king Taksaka. The Marxist historian D. D. Kosambi places another gloss on the place name: it is, he suggests, derived from the Sanskrit “taksaka”, which means “carpenter”.3 But the taksaka is no simple carpenter: he is a “superior craftsman”, indeed, he is an artificer, one who combines the skills of the artisan, the architect, and the magician: a Daedalus figure, creator of labyrinths, flying machines, or floors so glassy that they look like the surfaces of lakes. Coincidentally, Kaleka’s first intermedia work, Man Threading a Needle (1998-99), featured the artist’s carpenter, Sadanand. Not only has Kaleka always been respectful and admiring of the work of those who make things with their hands, but he has also always felt a special affinity for people far removed from his own class and milieu.

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The artist confesses to being bored by people like himself or of his own class; his work often pivots around the frisson that occurs during an encounter with the stranger, or the stranger in the head. Taxila also embodies the deep archive of Kaleka’s own history: it stands for the classical past of northwestern India, of western Punjab, which is integral to the artist’s imagination and to his sense of his own moorings. We see a rare glimpse of Kaleka’s ethnic identity in his four-channel intermedia work, Crossings (2005), where the turban, a distinctive religious symbol of the Sikh community to which the artist belongs, unfurls as a token of atavistic continuity but also as a river of blood, invoking memories of the 1947 Partition, which divided British India into the postcolonial nation-states of India and Pakistan. The Partition turned Punjab into a battlefield, as the transfer of populations and the experience of mass exile turned rapidly into a holocaust. THE SCREEN Taksaka or Buddhist monk, despite or beneath his business suit: the stranger in Kaleka’s head who strikes the air with a hammer to produce a gong in Cul-de-sac in Taxila? While this figure may have emerged from the recesses of the artist’s imagination, I would like to dwell on the physical thrum I experienced, as a viewer, when I heard—or saw; or saw and heard—the gong. What Kaleka produced was a synaesthetic encounter during which light appeared to produce sound, a visual provocation triggering an aural impact. Kaleka’s turn towards the filmed image, which has often been conscripted into the nascent history of video art in India, would seem, at least to me, to have its origins in cinema’s magical dealings with sound, light and time, and not in the proceedings of much video art as it sets out heavy-handedly to establish that the tedium is the message. Kaleka incarnates the aphorism, often attributed to Bill Viola, that there is no such thing as video art; there are only artists who use video. During a conversation intended to trace the sources of his interest in new media, Kaleka told me—instructively—that he does not remember the first video work he saw. But the first film he saw as a child is etched in his memory, or at least a single scene from it is. “I remember, it was a man sitting on the floor and then he sits up and picks up a hammer and starts hammering, moulding something,” he recalled. “I think that hammer stayed with me. That clanking sound, it was surprising that something that had no substance was creating sound. I thought it was light creating sound, didn’t know there were speakers. It seemed very magical.”4 Kaleka’s family was populated with storytellers who took turns to enthrall the children at bedtime with tales of sand fairies and ghosts who walked backwards, while the shadows on the walls of the family haveli or mansion in Patiala threatened to grow longer. Proto-cinematic devices such as the shadow play or the magic lantern, which enchanted him as a child, have had a clear role to play in his early cinematic education. Later, as an adolescent, Kaleka tapped into the film society movement and the embassy circuit to screen foreign films. The work of the icons of world cinema—Bergman, Fellini, Ozu—materialised on his verandah wall in Patiala. One of the deep and abiding sources of Kaleka’s intermedia works is the primal cinematic experience of seeing an image establish itself as an immaterial yet compelling aura on the opacity of the projection surface. Of course, this is not to argue that video art has held no significance for him. On the contrary, he has been profoundly receptive to its poetics, imbibing from the finest video art practices the preference for a stretched temporality, and the crux of a gesture held against the infinite refrain of the loop. Kaleka brings these sources into interplay as he orchestrates his intersections between the light and mobility of video and the materiality and stillness of painting.

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I must ask my readers to forgive me if this section assumes the rather Upanishadic form of a “neti neti”, an argument that proceeds by declaring “not this, not that”. I make this choice in the interests of clarifying the sources and contexts of Kaleka’s intermedia art, and retrieving them from several of the well-meaning but misleading readings of his work that currently prevail. One of these readings claims Kaleka’s intermedia art for the realm of “expanded cinema”, a claim that I would question. “Expanded cinema”, a term attributed to the American artist Stan VanDerBeek, rejected the conventional screening of films by producing immersive film and kinetic art environments in the 1960s. According to artist and theorist Peter Weibel, expanded cinema deploys multiple screens, multiple projections, new materials such as inflatable structures and air or water, and fosters audience participation with viewers’ bodies doubling as the site of projection.5 Kaleka’s intermedia works were not intended to exceed or expand the viewer’s expectations of cinema; instead, they could be read as explorations of expanded painting. The artist was drawn to works such as the surrealist painter Max Ernst’s Two children are threatened by a nightingale (1924) and Rauschenberg’s combine Monogram (1955-59), which pushed the boundaries of the two-dimensional canvas. The model of a wooden gate literally fixed to the surface of Ernst’s painting pulls us into a nightmarish scene not dissimilar to the fantasies that populated Kaleka’s childhood. In the painting, a child-abductor reaches for an actual doorknob protruding from the frame of the painting. The gate and the doorknob suggest devices that could open up closed forms or secret domains. They induce the viewer to re-think the Renaissance idea of painting as a window to the world. They complicate the illusion of a continuum between the viewer’s sightline and the picture plane by positioning objects as obstacles on the picture surface. Rauschenberg’s combines of the 1950s brought elements of painting and sculpture together to create a third thing. They challenged the viewer’s relationship with the picture surface in dramatic ways. As the critic Leo Steinberg observed, these combines were like a receptor surface, a tabletop or a bulletin board on which objects were scattered or pinned.6 Kaleka was alert to the expansion of artistic practices in India too. During the early 1990s, he was following the work of artists such as Vivan Sundaram (born 1943) and Nalini Malani (born 1946), who were in the process of moving beyond the two-dimensional frame and embracing the possibilities of assemblage, installation, video and performance. An early outcome of this process was Sundaram’s Collaborations/Combines (1992), in which the artist extended a series of charcoal drawings into sculptural forms and assemblages, combining these with engine oil trays, to annotate the First Gulf War against Iraq. Another striking work produced during this period was Malani’s ephemeral site-specific installation, City of Desires (1992), in which she made drawings directly on the walls of the gallery, a gesture intended to expose the irony of nineteenth century murals in the temple town of Nathdwara being allowed to disintegrate while Hindu majoritarian forces were inciting a form of holy war in the name of an imagined past. These artists were responding to a twofold challenge posed to them during the early 1990s: on the one hand, the technological forces of globalisation, with the arrival of twenty-four hour television, the domestication of video technology and access to the Internet; and on the other, the threat of communalism, with India’s composite and largely inclusive cultural fabric being ripped apart by the divisive and polarising politics of Hindu majoritarianism. From this experimental moment, there also emerged works like Sundaram’s video installation House/Boat (1994), on the politics of migration, and Nalini Malani’s Remembering Toba Tek Singh (1998-99), an ambitious immersive video installation based on Saadat Hasan Manto’s story about the absurdity and horror of The Partition, as well as the continuing aggression between India and Pakistan. During this momentous phase of India’s collective l

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life, Rummana Hussain (1952-1999) combined autobiographically charged performance with sculptural elements in her practice, which directly confronted the majoritarian politics that was in the ascendant in India at that time. Kaleka’s own steps beyond the painted frame were more cautious and tentative. With Man with Bhutta (1999), a nocturnal blue expressionist oil painting, he produced a break in the flat pictorial space by giving it sculptural volume. Paradoxically, the illusion of the painterly convention is simultaneously maintained and broken here—a strategy that is also used in his intermedia works such as Man Threading a Needle. In its first iteration, the spell produced by a seemingly static image of a man focusing on a precise gesture is disrupted by small movements such as breathing or a facial twitch and in the second one (He was a good man, 2008), the depth produced by the skin of the painting and the overlapping video projection is flattened by the image of a train speeding through the protagonist’s body. Kaleka enchants his viewers with an elaborate oneiric vision; and, just when they are completely captivated, he reveals his machinery, the artifice that lies at the heart of art. Crucially, I would argue, Kaleka’s move in the direction of intermedia art spelled out his unfolding formal arguments with himself, with the inner logic of his art. Unlike practitioners such as Sundaram, Malani and Hussain, he was not primarily motivated by a political choice. Rather, his intermedia works share a greater affinity with those of Baiju Parthan, who was one of the first Indian artists to generate an interface between the domains of painting and the Internet, as he engaged with distributed conceptions of selfhood and the distributed self ’s reserves of memory and dream. I would suggest that a more viable armature for the experiments of Parthan and Kaleka is that affirmative ‘prehistory’ that I have elsewhere proposed for new media practices in the Indian context—one that rejects the tropes of lack, belatedness and permanent apprenticeship which plague the narrative of non-Western art. Instead, my ‘prehistory’ privileges the experiments in film and photography conducted by Akbar Padamsee, Nalini Malani, Tyeb Mehta, M. F. Husain and Krishen Khanna during the late 1960s and 1970s, especially at the Vision Exchange Workshop, Bombay. It also claims Dashrath Patel’s transdisciplinary installations, and his exhibition designs for international expos and grassrootsactivism projects from the 1960s to the 1980s, as a legitimate yet overlooked genealogy for new media art in India.7 It is in these formal, conceptual and existential expansions of consciousness and practice—rather than in an overtly political choice—that we may more productively anchor Kaleka’s oneiric departures in the flux of intermedia. THE MIGRANT, HOME AND AWAY Kaleka’s carpenter, Sadanand, plays the protagonist in three of the artist’s memorable works. Man with Bhutta, as well as intermedia works Man Threading a Needle and its second iteration, He was a good man. In the latter works, he is presented in a moment of preparation, evidently just as he is about to stitch a tear in his vest, or stitch back a button that has come loose. At one level, we could read his gesture of singular focus as a psycho-sexual dilemma; or perhaps as a meditative act, labour transmuted into dhyana, as in Vermeer’s 1670 painting, The Lacemaker. Or could this flickering portrait be read as an allegory about migration? Even without the train hurtling through the protagonist’s body in He was a good man, other clues sensitise us to the artisan’s situation. The portraiture hints at a man far away from home, isolated in a space defined by labour, without family near him. The sound track filters in people’s opinions about this nameless “good man”, precarious and vulnerable (“pakad liya” or “caught him”, somebody shouts implying a game of cricket or a police chase). Is he alive or dead; ‘was’ he or ‘is’ he?

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The spectre of internal migration has haunted independent India since 1947, without amelioration in the living conditions of people displaced by large-scale projects, mass violence, forced labour, economic emigration from one region to another. While the commentariat focuses much of its attention on the migration from rural to urban India, there is also a vast and less visible movement of populations from one rural zone to another; most pertinently from Kaleka’s perspective, the wellestablished seasonal migration of agrarian labourers from Bihar to Punjab. Kaleka’s approach to these questions may not be phrased as a sociological investigation; but it is no less powerful, communicating itself as a deeply affective phenomenological exploration, whether in Crossings where the bird-seller juggles captivity and flight through an adroit sleight of hand, or in Not from here (2009), where the migrant family spat out by the passing train turns into a phantom image, their faces overexposed, their togetherness soon becoming a memory of the past. Without warning, this multi-channel work fills its screens with a dreamscape of psychedelic colours pierced by the enunciation of a single word—“akele” or “alone”—its syllables stretched and aborted. The artist observes that he was seized, while developing this work, by the memory of the railway station platform in Patiala where the train brought in farmhands during the harvest season. I suspect that Kaleka returns to the theme of migration, not only because he feels an empathy for those who have been exiled from their homes, but also because he feels permanently exiled from his own childhood home: the haveli where he once led a sheltered existence, travelling on the iridescent wings of stories of varied kinds. Stories with a moral at the end, as told by his father; his uncles’ stories, full of adventure, kidnappings and magic; erotic stories whispered into his ears by the house mason; and his mother’s sad stories, which made him cry. The loss of this temenos, and its forced evacuation from his adult life, have perhaps made him long for that walled garden of enchantment all the more.8 The home as construct and as an aching absence makes an indirect yet palpable appearance in Man with Cockerel II (2004). The visual choreography of what could be best described as an exercise in aparigraha or non-possessiveness, in Jain philosophy, is counterpointed with sounds emanating from a domestic space, chopping, grinding, the flushing of the toilet. The gravitas of a philosophical exercise is disrupted with these interruptions of everyday life, with the act of possession and letting go composed in a repetitive loop that offers us a choice between the shackles of the everyday and the explosive hope of redemption. With House of Opaque Water (2012-13), a set of three immersive video projections, Kaleka made a rare bow in the direction of the documentary format. This work narrates the real-life account of an ecological refugee, a man with a culturally confluential name, Sheikh Lal Mohan, who lives in the lush mangrove forests of the Sundarbans delta in eastern India. Mohan talks of the submergence of his house in the hungry tidal waters of the delta and pats into shape a mud map of his lost village. His loss generates a powerful catharsis, which manifests itself through successive waves of consciousness. Dreams alternate with hallucinations here, and events with hopes. The sound track of the video installation is visceral in its immediacy, laid over as it is with the roar and stutter of the motorboat, the solitary foghorn and also the resonant Tibetan Buddhist chants which, paradoxically, seem to make the tide heave like a monster. In Kaleka’s handling, the classic documentary format —premised on a quest for truth—opens itself up into a zone of transformative vision, where the ground conditions of reality are metamorphosed in, and by, the act of active seeing or through heightened apperception.

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THE PAST IS NEVER OVER Walter Benjamin’s privileging of the artisanal aspect of storytelling, where the story-artifact carries the breath patterns and handprints of the storyteller in the passage that gives this essay its epigraph, could apply equally well to Kaleka’s work. We find the impress of the intuitive and cognitive experiences from his childhood firmly set on his narratives. Constructed as a fairytale, the video projection Forest (2012) contains Kaleka’s favoured tropes: the Mahatma-monk, the angel-flagellant, the lion who knows no fear, and the heart of knowledge, the library. As Bruno Bettelheim noted, fairytales are like user’s manuals of child psychology, which can help us understand the emotional upheavals and torments that haunt a child’s mind.9 They can also serve to clarify the adult mind, which is often too afflicted by hubris to realise that the past is never over. In response to Kaleka’s ambiguous stance towards his material in Forest, his collaborator, the composer Elliot Goldenthal, decided not to achieve a perfect musical ‘gestalt’ for the sound component of the work. Goldenthal’s score combines “musical realism with dream-like tone-scapes that straddle nature and the subconscious”.10 The score is dynamic without being theatrical, and legible without imposing closure. In effect, the score captivates and surrounds the viewer but does not overpower her. To arrive at a clearing in the forest is, in archetypal terms, to achieve self-knowledge, this is the space of illumination, to which Heidegger referred as the “Lichtung”. But here, the ground is charred, suggesting ecological devastation, and the presence of a flagellant seeking atonement hints at mass graves of political dissidents and the murder of innocent people by totalitarian regimes. The flagellant-angel’s quest to rejuvenate the human spirit is deferred by a fire raging in a library in the middle of the forest. Without the aid of documentary footage, we remember the burning libraries of Persepolis and Nalanda, as well as the nightmarish book-burning rituals instituted by the Nazis in 1930s Germany. At least two kinds of knowledge, intuitive-divinatory as well as textual, crisscross each other in Forest. Neither overwhelms the other; it seems that Ranbir Kaleka, as the storyteller-taksaka, would prefer us to arrive at self-knowledge by zigzagging through the terrains both of experience and discourse. Notes 1 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov’, in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, New York: Schocken Books, 1969, pp. 91-92 2

Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men​: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India​, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006 ​ 3 D. D. Kosambi, An Introduction to the Study of Indian History, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1975, p. 129 4 Interview with Ranbir Kaleka, Ephesus, 2 July 2009; in Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania, The Dialogues Series: Ranbir Kaleka, Bombay: Popular Prakashan: forthcoming 5 Peter Weibel, ‘Jeffrey Shaw: A User’s Manual’, in Jeffrey Shaw–a User’s Manual From Expanded Cinema to Virtual Reality, Karlsruhe: Editions ZKM & Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, 1997, pp. 9-19 6 Leo Steinberg, ‘Reflections on the State of Criticism’, orig. pbl. Artforum Vol. 10 No. 7, March 1972; rpt. in Branden W. Joseph (ed.), Robert Rauschenberg, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press/ October Files 4, pp. 6-37 7 See Nancy Adajania, ‘New Media Overtures Before New Media Practice in India’ in Gayatri Sinha (ed.), Art and Visual Culture in India 1857-2007, Bombay: Marg, 2009. See also, Nancy Adajania, ‘Dashrath Patel’s Non-aligned Alignments’ in Seminar Magazine ‘Inheritances’, No: 659/July 2014 8 It is not as if there was no violence in the immediate environment when Kaleka was growing up. He would hear of people being maimed due to family feuds, for instance; but he was largely protected from the outside world 9

See Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, New York: Knopf, 1976

10

From Elliot Goldenthal’s correspondence with the artist, shared with the author on 3 November 2013

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Rebranding the Mahathir Era In July 2016, the curators of Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur asked me to lend my 1994 video of the Warbox, Lalang, Killing Tools exhibition that had been held at the former Pusat Kreatif, Balai Seni Lukis Negara (Creative Centre of the National Art Gallery), for their forthcoming exhibition Era Mahathir. After considering their request, I arrived at the following conclusions.1 *** Throughout history, art often has been appropriated by those in power to prototype new ideas, represent conventional or alternative notions of beauty, represent and enhance power, and construct narratives. Power and patronage have long been passionate bedfellows, and artists usually end up serving both. The Era Mahathir exhibition (24 July–30 November 2016) provided a compelling insight into the Rabelaisian bedchamber of Malaysian patronage and power. The political and economic benefits of sponsoring the arts has not been entirely lost on Malaysian politicians and patrons, although the country in this regard has lagged far behind its neighbour, Singapore. This may have been a motivating factor in the opening of Ilham Gallery in 2015 by Malaysian entrepreneur Daim bin Zainuddin, the former Economic Minister during Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s rule. Daim owns and underwrites the gallery while it is managed by the wellknown Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie, with Rahel Joseph, formerly a curator at Galeri Petronas and Director of Cultural Affairs at the Australian High Commission to Malaysia.2 Ilham’s third major exhibition, Era Mahathir, was curated by Valentine Willie, Rahel Josef and Assistant Curator Azzad Diah. It correlated Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s two decades as Malaysia’s Prime Minister with progressive and activist art produced during that time. The gallery borrowed works from several private collectors but primarily from the exhibiting artists.3 The didactic wall text clearly intended to bring the public into synch with the exhibition’s historical context: The Mahathir era (1981-2003) was a transformative period for the visual arts in Malaysia, a period which saw the re-emergence of the figurative in producing socially relevant art… It saw the flourishing of art as a form of social commentary. Artists began to respond to the complex socio-political issues of that time with works that addressed far-ranging subjects from the effects of globalisation and rapid development to specific political events such as the Asian Economic Crisis and the sacking of the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim which subsequently led to the Reformasi movement in 1998.

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The modus operandi to showcase “socially relevant art” is of intrinsic value and feeds a local and international market where such works hold an important niche. But this exhibition was not just about art and the market. Mahathir and Daim are still active in Malaysian politics. Mahathir signed the 2015 Deklarasi Rakyat (Citizens’ Declaration), demanding the resignation of current Prime Minister Najib Razak and has been working since to depose the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) he had formerly led, currently under the leadership of the Prime Minister. During the two decades of Mahathir’s rule most artists experienced ambivalence toward his authority. On the one hand, Mahathir oversaw a period of substantial infrastructure and national development that accompanied the migration of the rural population to the urban centres, especially Kuala Lumpur, which was conveyed by the exhibition’s wall text: During the twenty-two year administration of Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the country underwent a transformation from an agrarian nation to a largely industrial one. The landscape of the country was forever changed with new infrastructure and development projects including the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, KL International Airport, and the network of highways which connected urban and rural centres all over the country. At the same time, Malaysians were imbued with a burgeoning sense of self-confidence which epitomised the “can do” spirit (“Malaysia Boleh”) of those times. His policies transformed the physical, political and social landscape of this country, the effects of which are still felt today. Not articulated here (but mentioned in the catalogue essays) was that artists, students and activists also created artworks and established civil society organisations that opposed Mahathir’s draconian policies, including the coalescing of executive power over all other organs of government. And they did this at considerable personal risk. Non-government organisations and the opposition were controlled through the reactivation of a series of colonial acts—the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, the Societies Act 1966 and the Printing Press and Publications Act 1984. The most significant of these was the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) that allowed for indefinite detention without trial. The ISA provided the threat and force behind all the other acts. It was deployed in the 1987 Operasi Lalang to arrest one hundred and six opposition figures, including Members of Parliament, NGO activists, intellectuals, students, artists, scientists and other members of civil society. Student activists were also detained, ironically when they demonstrated against the government’s deployment of the ISA. Following the ‘9/11’ attacks on the New York World Trade Towers, many Muslim activists were also detained under this act. Era Mahathir included some critical art works from this period, and several generated by the Reformasi movement that began with the removal from office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, and continued through his arrest on charges of sodomy under the old Section 377, a remnant of the former British colonial era penal code. Mahathir deftly capitalised on the ubiquitous homophobic sentiments held by a conservative populace and even by some opposition politicians. Reformasi activists, including some of the artists in the exhibition, subsequently sought reformation of the government and the electoral system through demonstrations. The multi-cultural opposition party, the coalition Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front) in 1999, and the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party) were established. Splits in the PKR in 2015 led to establishment of Patakan Harapan, which Mahathir later joined.

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The exhibition, the gallery and the artists were thus all tied into the “game of thrones” of Malaysian politics—the spectacle of an apparent struggle between two groups of economic elites, with the former power nexus of Mahathir and Daim on one side versus the current Prime Minister Najib with his cabinet on the other. Both groups have demonstrated their belief in the efficacy of autocratic governance supported by the arbitrary deployment of force—a political philosophy certainly not shared by most of the exhibiting artists. Neither of these two economic cartels has shown genuine interest in the democratic process or egalitarian consensus when in power. But since his retirement Mahathir has been reborn as a political reformer. In Era Mahathir cultural time was presented as coeval with national time, and the artworks were positioned historically and hierarchically within a nationalist framing of power relations, patriarchy, ethnicity and ideological interpellation. Visitors could easily have gained the impression that the Reformasi artists had decided to re-align themselves with the anti-Najib, pro-Mahathir/Daim camp, despite the fact that much of the art on display had explicitly or tacitly emerged in opposition to what was then perceived as Mahathir’s corruption and autocratic rule. The curatorial depiction of an apparent U-turn4 by the artists further implied that Mahathir was now open to criticism of his earlier policies. This assumption of course strengthens his hand in gathering support for his current efforts to unseat yet another of his former deputies.5 Courting criticism from others and engaging in public selfcriticism offers the image of a resilient self with a humanist core: fallible and willing to learn from earlier mistakes. It is a classic propaganda technique formerly used by Mao Zedong during the Yan’an period of the Chinese Revolution. It was also used more broadly by the USA during and after the Cold War to divert attention through affective display while the underlying project of coalescing hegemonic power proceeded uninterrupted. Hence the conundrum faced by the artists: the exhibition’s structural footing tacitly promoted the present activities of the now semi-retired but still politically active Mahathir, while it subverted the long-standing enmity of the artists by appropriating their critical works presented in a gallery owned by one of his closest confederates. Intended or not, the exhibition thus functioned as a rebranding exercise for both Mahathir and the artists. Extraordinarily, the artists were either not cognisant of this or were willing to ignore it. Perhaps they were motivated by a long desired historical recapitulation of their early careers, reconvening earlier alliances and informing the public of their early ideals and ideas, or they decided to dust off old works for reintroduction into the market. Some artists have since expressed disappointment with the rush to mount what could have been a more substantially researched exhibition, noting the curatorial gaps, including works by Wong Hoy Cheong, Hisham Rais, Sharon Chin and others. Participating artist Yee I-lann also noted the intriguing absence of the blatantly propagandist murals on display in the UMNO headquarters. Where were the adulation paintings of Mahathir?… Those epic paintings of the Malay warrior, of UMNO’s worldview. That ideology has shaped this country and given picture to it… Where is the wall of hundreds of idolatry Mahathir paintings that fed multiple artists throughout the 1990s? Where is the depiction of Mahathir as hero, as God even… these hero paintings at that other end of the spectrum that give rise to such a figure. Isn’t that important too? To understand how art has given rise and made possible an era dominated by this God-like figure.6

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These profoundly reactionary and partisan murals would have seemed completely out of place aesthetically, but would have been a sociologically and politically fascinating addition. They exemplify some of the central themes of Mahathir’s rule, nostalgically presenting an unabashedly racialised and masculine romance harkening back to an imagined ‘golden age’ of Malay supremacy during the fifteenth century Malacca Sultanate. Implicit in the mono-ethnic depictions is the underlying bumiputra (“son of the soil”) essentialism that dominated UMNO politics under Mahathir, and remains unabated under Najib Razak. Along with the gaps, there were also some odd inclusions. Not all the artworks were from the Mahathir era, thereby eroding the exhibition’s conceptual rigour and raising questions about the validity of the title.7 Had the murals been included they would have revealed the propagandistic gambit already in play, namely the farcical re-presentation of the formerly politically active art scene now driven by contemporary political expediency, nostalgia and commodity capitalism. The exhibition called to mind Karl Marx’s comment on a phrase by Hegel in the former’s Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”8 Marx was referring to the ludicrous nature of historical fetishisation. In Era Mahathir exchange-value replaced use-value. Works formerly meant as oppositional political statements now repackaged that former radicality for the benefit of Mahathir and for subsequent marketing. This reading suggests that the exhibition was a cognitive trap, perceivable only by those members of the public familiar with the implications of its institutional affiliations with Daim and Mahathir. Most visitors, unfamiliar with local political intrigues or with the importance of undertaking this sort of structural reading, probably would have approached the exhibition simply as presentation of interesting, progressive artworks displayed on neutral white walls. If there had been a statement by Ilham openly spelling out the exhibition’s complicity with the Mahathir-Daim faction, or if the catalogue had dealt with this issue, then it would have had a much stronger theoretical and historical footing. None of the commissioned texts in the catalogue presented this, nor did any of the artworks. This exhibition’s foray into contemporary Malaysian politics also had the effect of concealing a far more complex view of Malaysia as a situated cosmopolis. Ilham Gallery’s mandate on its website reads, “Ilham is a public art gallery committed to supporting the development, understanding and enjoyment of Malaysian modern and contemporary art within a regional and global context.”9 But this “regional and global context” was absent. Ignored in the curatorial concept and design, its traces nevertheless appeared within the individual artworks, most of which were clearly aligned with prevailing international styles and conceptual methodologies of the period. While 1980s and 1990s global art references were framed within the artworks, there was no curatorial cross-referencing to artistic trends in the region or in other cosmopolitan centres. The border of the nation-state co-served as the parergon to the exhibition. This was accentuated by the exclusive selection of artworks by Malaysian-born artists in a country inhabited as well by artists from elsewhere in the world. Birth and passport were seemingly co-determinant with the exhibition’s precis and non-naturalised contributors who were active during the period of its embrace were elided.10 During Mahathir’s rule the Malaysian art scene was a diverse plurality, but ironically, the country’s complex transnational profile was more inclusively represented in a historical timeline at the entrance by art historian Simon Soon, rather than in the exhibition itself.

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Interestingly, Singapore shares some of the same tensions. Many of the drivers of Singapore culture during the 1990s and early 2000s carried Malaysian passports. The Singapore government perversely reminds them of this by periodically retracting Permanent Residencies and work visas and deporting them without explanation or recourse. Any serious history of Singapore art would unquestionably include these artists, actants and activists. Correspondingly, Malaysian academics, artists and theorists can be found in universities and cosmopolitan centres throughout the world, carrying motifs of their culture with them. This missing ‘international other’ in Era Mahathir eliminated one of the most important aspects of Mahathir’s tenure. He significantly increased Malaysia’s global profile through his ideology and acts, and his willingness to speak truth to Western hegemonic power on the international scene through his “Look East” policy and “Asian Values” rhetoric. Tragically, he did this while simultaneously crushing dissent and abetting domestic cronyism and corruption. The Mahathir years exemplified a ‘situated cosmopolitics’ rooted in an agoraphobic nation-state while engaged with the larger forces of globalisation: the non-aligned movement, the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the decay of undisputed American global influence, in tandem with the expansion of Asian influence in international affairs. And most significantly, the period was marked by a growing influence of the global Islamic resurgence in Malaysia (and other parts of the Malay archipelago) with the formation of Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, the “Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement” (ABIM) in 1971, at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia by Anwar Ibrahim and others. The global economic collapse in 1997 that triggered the Asian Economic Crisis led to Mahathir’s shock pegging of the ringgit’s exchange rate and sequestering of the Malaysian economy, as he resisted the imposition of austerity and control by the International Monetary Fund. This was a clarion call for other small nations to protect their economies from the hegemonic forces of the IMF, the World Bank and the Washington-London-Brussels nexus of neo-liberalism.11 It might be queried why this exhibition didn’t reflect these global aspects of Mahathir’s tenure? Instead, it presented a closed, essentialist representation of Malaysian art created only by registered citizens with a covert political subtext that could be appreciated by only a small coterie of cognoscenti who were perhaps too jaded to notice. Structurally, the exhibition’s representation was antithetical to the internationalising tendencies during Mahathir’s rule. It provided no new research or insights into the various off-shore constellations and generational flows of art production in Malaysia and their global and regional links. Artists were treated as siloed individual creators or as members of Malaysian-only artist groups, rather than as nodes in regional and global networks of transmission and circulation. Correspondingly, the artworks were presented as economic fetish objects of desire, rather than vehicles for ideas in global and regional circulation at the time. This impression was accentuated by the absence of non-commodified, ephemeral varieties of artistic production during an era that saw a global shift toward the theatricality of performance art, guerilla video art, community-based and socially engaged initiatives, street art and the aesthetics of the barricades. This erasure of influences and crossfertilisations flattened and homogenised the diversity and depth of Malaysian culture from the 1980s through the 1990s.12 The so-called “Mahathir era” was a particularly fecund period of biological and cultural miscegenation between the cultural agents of Southeast Asia. Artists met, traded information, developed the first international festivals and exhibitions, and experimented with a wide variety of art forms, ideas and aesthetic methodologies. Their work was informed by many other artists, writers and thinkers who were also working locally but thinking globally in their respective countries. The individual artworks ultimately contradicted the exhibition’s constrained theme and title. They demonstrated that the art and

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ideas of that period could not be reductively squeezed into a singular category named after a singular politician, no matter how important. Indeed, from the evidence of his policies, Mahathir seemed determined to curtail those registers of Malaysian culture that he feared or could not comprehend. He clearly showed a human failing that we all share: he had a limited understanding of his own time. Was it really his era? I prefer a more Tolstoian view of the man and the period. Like everyone else, Mahathir was along for the ride. Notes 1 Ilham Gallery sought my documentary after the artist Wong Hoy Cheong decided not to exhibit his artwork from the 1994 exhibition Warbox, Lalang, Killing Tools, produced by Five Arts Centre, of which he was one of three participating artists, while I was editor of the exhibition catalogue. I noted that the curators perceived my video as a shorthand representation of Wong Hoy Cheong’s outdoor installation and performance Lalang (1994) from the exhibition, rather than as an artwork in itself, that mirrored Malaysian culture in that historical moment. In reviewing the wall texts, a catalogue essay and photos of the proposed artworks, the contradictions that I have laid out in this text became all too apparent 2 Until 2014 Valentine Willie owned five regional art galleries. According to Joseph, Ilham Gallery is run as a non-commercial public art gallery or museum, with no sale of artworks and no collection of its own. Works for exhibitions are regularly borrowed from collectors and institutions, university museums and various private collections 3 Including two from Daim bin Zainuddin’s collection. The artists were Ahmad Fuad Osman, Abdul Multhalib Musa, Anurendra Jegadeva, Bayu Utomo Radjikin, Chang Yoong Chia, Chuah Chong Yong, Hamidah Abdul Rahman, Ismail Zain, Nirmala Dutt, Noor Azizan Rahman Paiman, Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Phuan Thai Meng, Rahman Roslan, Roslisham Ismail (ISE), Syed Ahmad Jamal, Tan Chin Kuan, Vincent Leong, Yee I-Lann, Zulkifli Yusoff and Five Arts Centre 4 A reference to the ‘No More U-Turns’ slogan of the China Avant-Garde Art Exhibition, National Art Gallery, Beijing, 1989. The two exhibitions of political art in its tenuous relationship to political power in the two countries make for an interesting study in contrast 5 Mahathir infamously undercut the power of his former Deputy Prime Ministers, Anwar Ibrahim, who was sacked and imprisoned, and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who succeeded him as Prime Minister from 2003-09 6 Whatsapp chat with Yee I-Lann and Kean Wong, 13 September 2016. Yee is a cross-disciplinary photographer and installation artist whose work was presented in Era Mahathir. Wong was a special issues editor for the Malaysian Sun daily newspaper in 1994. He is currently an independent media consultant in Australia and Malaysia, and has covered the Reformasi period and its aftermath for The Economist magazine 7 In an interview with The Edge writer, Sarah Abu Bakar, 4 November 2016, Valentine Willie justified the inclusion of contemporary works: “For better or worse, the policies and politics of Dr. Mahathir continue to have an impact on Malaysia today. The man himself remains in the news and continues to loom large. We have always tried to use our small galleries on level three to commission new works as we did in our inaugural show, Picturing the Nation. The three new works on level three of Ilham, commissioned for Era Mahathir, show how the man and his policies continue to seize our collective imagination.” The works comprise Mohd Azlan Mohd Latib’s series of 55 photo-collages and installation titled Wayang: Proparism (2010-16), Kenneth Chan’s 91 postcard-sized digital prints titled #DrMLovesU (2014-16) and a video work by Rahman Roslan, Testimonial (2016). Sarah Abu Bakar, ‘The indelible Mahathir factor’; http://www.theedgegalerie.com/ news/2016/11/indelible-mahathir-factor, 4 November 2016 8 Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852; https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18thbrumaire/ch01.htm; accessed 8 April 2017 9

My emphasis. See http://www.ilhamgallery.com/about/; accessed 27 March 2017

10

Whether indigenous (Orang Asli) artists were included is not clear from the listed biographies

11

Jahabar Sadiq, ‘From Dr. Mahathir to Malaysia, a Complex, Diverse Legacy’, in Era Mahathir (exhib. cat.), Kuala Lumpur: Ilham, pp. 24-29. The sequestering of the economy by an all-powerful executive protected the Government Linked Corporations that had been doled out to the new Bumiputra entrepeneurs under the New Economic Policy, who were Mahathir’s power-base. As suggested by Jahabar Sadiq in his catalogue essay, Mahathir’s actions then set the stage for the succession of Najib Razak, who now uses those same tools of executive power pioneered by Mahathir

12

A fuller exposition of some of these issues may be found in Nur Hanim Khairuddin, Beverly Yong and T.K. Sabapathy eds, Narratives in Malaysian Art Volume 4: Imagining Identities, Kuala 
Lumpur: Rogue Art Volume IV, forthcoming

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ROBIN PECKHAM

The Loss of Centre

For anyone who has worked in or even visited China within the past several years, it is no secret that the centre of gravity has shifted away from Beijing. Long the undisputed focal point of the Chinese art world by virtue of its critical mass of artists, curators and galleries, its scene and system coalesced around the orbit of Wangjing-Dashanzi before and after the year 2000, with the relocation of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and the gradual entry of studios and other actors into the 798 art zone. This axis was heightened in 2007 with the opening of Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA), the only institution in China managed and programmed with a vision, calibre and rhetoric that could be called global—or, at the time, international. Such terminologies define a number of actualities: separate from the intimacy and potential corruption, real or perceived, of the existing institutional system but still connected to a selection of its artists and players, and engaged with a network of like-minded spaces distributed across a certain portion of the globe, held to a certain standard of presentation and promotion that must be linked still to the scale and production expected of art in China. In short order, the UCCA became the only institution in China where it mattered for an artist on the rise to have an exhibition. Under UCCA’s founding team, the inaugural exhibition ’85 New Wave: The Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art was one of the most scholarly attempts at a rigorous historical survey of the early moments of contemporary art in China. In 2008, House of Oracles: A Huang Yong Ping Retrospective established the institution as a worthy recipient of exhibition loans from institutions like the Walker Art Centre in the USA. In 2009, Breaking Forecast codified the generation of artists including Cao Fei, Liu Wei, Yang Fudong and Zheng Guogu, while the Curated By series created a career pathway for their students, disciples and assistants. The groundbreaking collaborative exhibition Olafur Eliasson & Ma Yansong: Feelings are Facts developed the mould for both architectural exhibitions in Chinese museums and the kind of experiential spectacle that dominates today. Massive and immersive commissioned exhibitions by Yan Pei Ming, Zhang Huan and Zhan Wang defined the tenor of the (director) Jérôme Sans era, whereas for Philip Tinari it was retrospectives of Gu Dexin, Wang Xingwei, Xu Zhen and David Diao. In 2013 there was ON | OFF, which brought together a generation of then emerging artists, while 2015 saw the birth of both the New Directions series, a platform for solo exhibitions by young Chinese artists, and the Secret Timezones trilogy. For nearly ten years, it meant something to be included in the project space program, and everything to be a part of a Great Hall exhibition. This was no small feat: there are many organisations that call themselves museums in Beijing, but UCCA was the only one worthy of the designation. Under the leadership of Sans, Xue Mei and Tinari, it gave Beijing a centre, and made Beijing a centre. l

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Naturally, this primacy did not go unchallenged. The same time that UCCA opened also saw the launch of the art fair SH Contemporary in Shanghai, an occasion that felt like the first global moment for the Chinese art world. In its first few years it was important, drawing significant attention to Shanghai in a way that would presage the order of things to come. This also marked the high-water point of the expansion of the art fair system, which Beijing, with its surplus of powerful galleries, gallery-proof artists and publicity-averse collectors could never enter. Months later, the art fair ArtHK debuted and quickly claimed for Hong Kong the role of leading market event across greater China, largely due to its beneficial taxation and customs regulations. For the better part of a decade, the role of Beijing as an art centre consolidated around UCCA in contrast to the market: if Hong Kong and Shanghai were about buying and selling, Beijing was about making and showing; if Hong Kong and Shanghai appeared on the art radar two or three times a year, Beijing maintained a consistent presence. This distinction came with a certain righteousness, a logic by which the artists and gallerists of Beijing descended temporarily onto the stages of the fairs and auctions before returning to their Olympus on the Fifth Ring, the dusty highway that arguably marks the current (if ever-shifting) transitional zone between the city and its margins. A decade later, Shanghai appears to be a mature, multi-faceted art scene with a rich ecology, while Beijing seems to have been hollowed out. Hong Kong may remain the undisputed centre of storage and trading through turnover, but Shanghai has surged with two new art fairs, a half-dozen private collections with major public venues, multiple freeports for bonded storage, and a generation of new galleries and curators. Whereas in Beijing, the profusion of satellite neighbourhoods surrounding 798 that fed off its energy have been excised like unhealthy growths: Caochangdi, Jiuchang and Heiqiao have seen spaces migrate inwards to 798 or closed entirely, leaving it the undisputed core—albeit one that seems to be ever-weakening with a drastic drop in the average quality of programming. Perhaps the hardest felt loss has been that of Heiqiao, the sprawling studio district a short ride away from 798 that marked the artistic home of a generation of artists; most tenants have now been evicted and moved on to make way for new development. This dynamic is not unfamiliar, but Heiqiao seems to be the last centralised studio agglomeration of any notable density. Artists now feel pressured to move further out into the suburbs, often into larger and more formalised—and therefore less affordable—developments, and often further from their peers. There is a tendency for some to move to Shanghai rather than the warehouse districts around the Beijing airport. In Songjiang, the studio zone forty kilometres from downtown Shanghai, contract law at least seems more tenable than in Beijing, and artists may be more comfortable buying or leasing for the long term. Of course, this is not the only attraction to Shanghai, even for artists now; a complex interrelated system of public institutions—Power Station of Art, private institutions such as Rockbund Art Museum, Yuz Museum and Long Museum, the major exhibitions of Shanghai Biennial and Shanghai Project, the galleries ShanghArt, DonGallery, Bank, Antenna Space, Capsule Shanghai and Leo Xu Projects, artist-run spaces AM Space and Radical Space—is tempting to join, in spite of, or perhaps because of, there being no centre, no keystone institution to consolidate the circuit. Beijing currently is defined by the euphemism ‘uncertain future’ for both the city and an arts sector circulating around the UCCA. An art city without a centre is not an art centre. Imagine New York without its Museum of Modern Art, London without the Tate. The past year since the Ullens family’s announcement that it was seeking a buyer (the second such release made after an earlier deal with Minsheng Bank collapsed) has been dominated by rumours in the guise of strategies and complex business plays. Such whispers have not been received lightly; their shapes and contours have much to

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say about how art functions in elite Beijing society and where this art world is headed. For example, rumour number one, actively spread by core allies of the UCCA, is an admired and vast corporate art collection would take over the Centre, presumably injecting its own values into the exhibition program and perhaps commissioning on the basis of existing holdings. Rumour number two, perhaps the most short-lived, a wealthy and powerful artist, long understood to be opening his own private museum, would assume the management, integrating personal historical interests and collections with his own network. Rumour number three, a high-flying entertainment executive turned painter would do the same. And lastly rumour number four, the UCCA staff and patrons would band together to perpetuate the status quo. These are all wonderful thought experiments highly relevant to the very idea of what it would mean for Beijing to continue having an important museum. Another perspective on what the UCCA means to Beijing, and Beijing to China, is through the most ambitious exhibitions that it and rival institutions have mounted during the time in which these rumours circulated. For the former, this mostly means The New Normal: China, Art, and 2017, a group exhibition of young artists that refers to the situation of the institution itself as much as to the shifting global political landscape and Chinese macroeconomics. Designed by Li Hu, the architect who perhaps best captures the state of Beijing with his work on Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid complex—a selfcontained climatic loop that is permeable on all sides and oscillates between shared media ecologies or spectator positions and isolated miniature natural environments—where the Second Ring road meets the highway to the airport, the exhibition feels something like an inverted art fair, a series of discrete booths for individual artist presentations distributed across a dark space that feels simultaneously commoditycentric and yet commercially unattractive. This speaks to the conceptual framework of the exhibition, in which China’s nominally globalisation-friendly approach to economic contraction is taken more or less at face value, a context for how international art is increasingly accepted within Chinese institutions. As such, this exhibition contains contributions from artists from China, of Chinese ancestry living abroad, and from elsewhere. While its linear layout offers a particular narrative, certain themes and aesthetic categories seem to be addressed by dispersed groupings of works. Beginning with architecture, which seems logical given the design of the exhibition, there are several artists (mostly women) who present a masculine, brutal imaginary of collective space, a reflection on the status of the commons under the state of exception. One of those artists is Zhang Ruyi, whose sculptures of facades and minor architectural details, some at scale and others in miniature, may have once felt quaint; here they are barren and imposing, forceful and raw, tense with an energy that, if not explosive, certainly seems to have corralled much of the erotic friction of everyday hassle and harassment that makes up the Chinese city. Another, Cui Jie, enacts a parallel transformation in turning from the architectural paintings for which she is known to delicate and bold sculpture dealing with the same material. She collects moments in the urban landscape at which the future of some particular past intrudes into the smooth functioning of the present, obsessed with buildings and planning elements that seem to indicate an optimistic retrofuturism in which the future seemed closer then than now. And Max Hooper Schneider, who turns toward a more ecological vision of shared cultural space with Accidental Menagerie (2015), an installation that remixes several of the master vocabularies of the current moment: the grid and the core sample, filled here with everything from t-shirts and cigarettes to dog bones—a stenography of someone’s present. The question of whose present is at stake, and what it means for artistic globalism to be enunciated alongside economic globalisation, is resumed in a set of works that speak more directly to identity as a marker of place, and vice versa. Shen Xin’s Provocation of the Nightingale (2017) is a maddeningly pretentious video installation that instigates a dialogue about religious doctrine between two women, l

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whose screen presences constantly slip sideways between the status of actors and acquaintances; Shen has now strung together a series of short films that circulate around similar dialogues that amble along the edges of personal background and metaphysical aspirations. The same could be said of Wu Tsang’s videos, which collectively track the artist’s evolution over the past ten years from a performative monologue to a dialogue with scholar Fred Moten. In both of these bodies of work the dialogue between two figures is key, a process in which no term can be left untested. Another thread concerns materiality in several senses. For artists like Li Jingxiong, the process of becoming an artist is one of discovering and working through material. Like Cui Jie and Zhang Ruyi, he understands public space as brutal and unfinished projects, his intervention is in its texture rather than its meaning, its real rather than its symbolism. The ambiguity of his dripping, dragging, accumulating, scratching and puncturing surfaces is overwhelming, an antidote to the slickness of the technological imagery that composes the majority of artwork touching upon material being in the current context. Black Friday (2016) by Sophia Al-Maria, falls into this category, a high-production visual exploration of the cultural artefact of the shopping mall through her language of Gulf Futurism; the strength of the work lies in the fact that it never touches the ground, that it feels like a film trailer all the way through, in applying a high-definition filter to its world, forcing a sardonic vision of the neutral globalism that Chinese discourse can only aspire to. This is somewhat complicated by the understanding that the UCCA has introduced this exhibition as the third entry in a previously unrealised series: a survey of young art (recast as “recent developments”) taking place every four years, beginning with Breaking Forecast in 2009, and encompassing ON | OFF, the sprawling 2013 exhibition that ran to some fifty artists born after 1975. The first codified the standout representatives of a generation already comfortable in that role; the second was comprehensive, pointing to just about everyone worth showing who was active at that moment, while the third takes a more piecemeal, more realistic approach—a recognition perhaps, that the UCCA is no longer a site for grand, sweeping statements. A centre no longer at the centre, and a centre that is no less important for its marginalised position, with a ‘new normal’ that does not preclude the production of pressing content. Of the signature exhibitions that took place in Shanghai between 2016 and 2017, exactly the opposite must be said. The 11th Shanghai Biennale: Why Not Ask Again? Maneuvers, Disputations, and Stories, curated by the artist group Raqs Media Collective, embraced an urgent format, novel frameworks and media, creating real and lasting interventions into the shape of curatorial discourse in Asia, not least of which by inverting the normal gender ratios and geographical backgrounds of participating artists. But it did not make a claim to speak fluently within the art world, unable to cite what is meaningful and what is not. Rather, it belonged to the context of international curatorial discourse and not enough to its place. The success of the UCCA’s program has relied on its simultaneous alignment with both circuits, with the content of one and the context of the other. In the instance of the Shanghai Biennale, much of this can be written off to the viewing habits of the Chinese art world, which is easily frustrated by exhibitions that contain more international artists than not. But sensitivity to such problems is not a strong characteristic of Shanghai institutions; it is a common criticism that even those that produce exhibitions and public programming at the top level often feel like they have little to do with the production of art in Shanghai. Why Not Ask Again? will be remembered for its insistence that its curators begin their work in China, in the region, and in Asia, and that the exhibition contribute something, at least conceptually, to how this geopolitical positioning works in relation to the global art world. And yet, beautiful juxtapositions and moments of coincidence and transcendence aside, its overall artistic structure diverged too far from the shape of the art world as it is understood in Shanghai.

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ROBIN PECKHAM

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The Shanghai Project on the other hand, is an ongoing, nebulous construct led by Yongwoo Lee and Hans Ulrich Obrist that is genuinely invested in reinventing the public museum for a new historical moment, one in which audiences shaping the attention economy gather not to peruse visual artefacts but rather in order to engage actively in discourses from the scientific to the aesthetic. The first chapter of this non-biennial consisted of a conference and a pavilion that became a base for an ongoing program of talks, performances, happenings and assorted events. It began with ‘Nihao, Shanghai!’, a conference that set the framework and boundaries of the inquiry with architects, artists, curators and scholars. It then moved to the opening of Sou Fujimoto’s Envision Pavilion, a new temporary structure outside Pudong’s Himalayas Museum dotted with plants and places for conversation—ecology and dialogue, apparently the twin pillars of current museum practice. The highlight of this phase was Otobong Nkanga’s Landversation, an ongoing set of performative dialogues around purpose-built furniture focused on crises of land and society. Nkanga is one of the Shanghai Project’s Root Researchers, meaning that her projects mark a persistent backbone from which other researchers and their work are expected to riff and expand. Chapter Two takes the form of the exhibition Seeds of Time, which sets out from the imagery of the Svalbard Seed Vault, an ecological doomsday bank in which the Shanghai Project sees its own image—a repository of emergency ideas for the future. (The symbol and temporality of the seed is key throughout, as the Chinese version of the Project may be more literally translated as “Shanghai seeds.”) Participating artists are called Researchers, with many of their works resonantly to-the-point, even if, again, the exhibition seems to speak directly to a public, real or imagined, without taking into account how other institutions and artists in Shanghai might respond. By engaging with an urgent global discourse and cherry-picking from Chinese art, new organisations like these drive home just how much the UCCA was a place of and for the Chinese art world—a castle for the kingdom. In the Shanghai Biennale and the Shanghai Project, and art fairs and other institutions that warrant somewhat less critical writing, this new emergent phenomenon constitutes a system spanning China, relatively integrated across the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, if not further; it is engaged with local realities and global discourses, and reads as more or less evenly distributed over dozens of galleries and museums, hundreds of artists and curators, and many sources of public and private capital. Most importantly, it is no longer subservient to Beijing—no longer the centre and the authority, much less any one of its individual institutions. Strategic documents released by the central government have begun to consider Shanghai a cultural centre, a position formerly held exclusively by Beijing. (The old stereotype, both for visitors from abroad and for local residents, proposes Beijing is all soul and Shanghai all gloss; Beijing is culture and Shanghai is commerce. That this might be a stretch of the imagination at best should not even be debated. That officials see the need to fight such a stereotype with real policy designations and funding says much about the current situation.) This is exactly what politics requires: a merging of capital and aesthetics at a safe remove from real power. Geographic distance is not everything, but in the imagination of contemporary culture artists in Guangzhou often see themselves as aloof from government, while in Beijing artists see themselves as speaking directly to, or past power. This is why the weakening and potential disappearance of UCCA is serious, and why it marks the transition from one system of cultural production and circulation to the next: it is a part of the intentional evacuation of a circuit which a centre might occupy. In order to function as a smooth centre of political gravity, Beijing must be centre-less in every other capacity. If UCCA was, at its prime, something of an embassy for global contemporary culture in Beijing, its future iteration, whatever that may be, seems destined to function as a parallel processing component of a much broader system: a centre no more.

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ALEX GAWRONSKI

Art is Not Magic

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…for the disenchanted world the fact of art is an outrage, an after image of enchantment, which it does not tolerate. If, however, art unflinchingly acquiesces in this and posits itself blindly as sorcery, it degrades itself to an act of illusion in opposition to its own claim to truth and undermines itself with a vengeance. Theodore Adorno1 Art’s relationship to magic is historically embedded and has taken many forms. Today, there are increasing numbers of exhibitions that seek to emphasise contemporary art’s connection to magic, myth or ritual. Given that the contemporary term of ‘magic’ denotes an extremely generalised series of trans-cultural narratives, images, pseudo-beliefs and superstitions, it is worth considering what art’s renewed interest in it might mean. The more life is conditioned by precarity linked to materialism, the more art seeks to escape this reality by regressing into fantasies of mystical non-alignment. ‘Magic’ is a useful cliché already associated with the history of art that allows it to pretend exemption from present ugly truths, whether political or economic. What better way to exit the pressures of the present, felt acutely by many artists, than imaginatively via recourse to the pseudo-discourse of magic? The more complex and compromised the present, the more enslaved by corporatism and the ‘magical’ effects of virtualised finance, the more tempting it is to withdraw to an art world conceived as a magical kingdom. Interestingly, as magic is a stereotype long associated with creativity, its referencing in contemporary art paradoxically supports its financialisation. Art which seeks to reveal magical truths and that endows the artist with unearthly visionary abilities, effectively transforms it into a post-religious talisman. Art becomes a magical thing, thus escaping its identity as a mere commodity among commodities. Yet it is ‘spiritual’ in the safety of an almost entirely secularised global art world. It is a magical ‘thing’ in the absence of a genuine belief in transcendence. As much as contemporary art is founded firmly upon principles of extreme individualism, it is devoid of the collectivism necessary for a coherent theory of transcendence. Nevertheless, art becomes something to believe in again in a world of extreme relativism where the only guarantee of value is located in the literalism of material success. As a result of globalised economic circumstances the effects of this literalisation of value ‘as if by magic’, has reached every corner of the world. Trends and cultural discourses that were once limited to the West have spread globally. Nonetheless, the magical identity granted by art world aficionados to select contemporary artists in the USA and Europe, and assumed by some of the artists themselves, has yet to travel to regions like the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. While economic globalisation functions as a form of neo-colonisation, its cultural effects are not always so successfully implanted. As Western culture faces endemic identity crises over ways to renew its once unquestioned prestige and dominance other nations with expanding markets, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for example, forge alternative identities. These are often quite resistant to the worn artistic tropes currently being replayed in the West, one being the return of the artist as magician. Due to its extent, the economic boom being experienced by certain countries within these regions could be perceived as quasi-magical. The effects of such rapid growth are both positive and negative however. They are negative as far as they polarise populations as economic winners and losers, as elsewhere. They are more positive in their exemplification of the contemporary possibility of regionalised cultural resistance to hegemonic Western example. China is a paradigmatic example in this regard. Undoubtedly influenced by Western art trends concurrent with the contemporary intensified rate of economic exchange, many practicing Chinese artists have devised ways to diffuse blind acceptance of Western iconography. They have achieved this by deliberately mimicking and internalising Western imagery while filtering it through pointed references to Chinese contemporary experience. The process is clearly dialectical rather than

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magical. Still, such practices exist alongside others that are overtly opportunistic and entrepreneurial, where the Chinese artist is willing to play at being authentic for the benefit of Western collectors. The ‘magic’ these artists create, often on extreme budgets and at extreme scales, suggests perhaps that the fetishised individuality traditionally coveted by Western artists, allowing them to be considered and to consider themselves special, is not so far off. It is important to note this now because the example of the artist as magician, as über-individual, has a long history in the West and it has recently reappeared. In the past, art was not fettered by its identity as an elite commodity, nor constrained by the archival dictates of the museum. It was outside the institution but inside society. Cave painters, mystics, shamans and so-called ‘primitives’ could see and experience things ‘out of this world’ that modern Westerners, an inherently corrupted breed, could not. Of course, for cave painters and ancient humankind there was no such thing as art. Art’s separateness from the world was marked by representation’s capacity to set aside and contain the seen. Traditionally, an icon doesn’t aim to represent sacred stories or persons; its function is immanent. The icon is sacred. A shamanistic talisman likewise is not a work of art but a powerful socio-mythical tool, as are totems. These objects and images of belief have only since become works of art. Once transformed into art though, even of a museological and ethnographic kind, such manifestations were often still believed by many laypersons to harbour special properties. Such properties had just shifted from those associated with a specific culture and its socio-geographic origins to the more rudimentary purview of art in general. When Picasso borrowed primitive imagery from African tribal art he was clearly hoping that the directness of these ritually endowed objects would reinvigorate the canon of Western painting; more so conferring upon the modern artist a magician-like potency.2 That is not to say that Picasso, as a key modernist, openly proclaimed himself an artist-magician. Yet it is true that he presented an image of himself as a type of conjurer who could turn absolutely anything at all into art merely by the sleight of his hand.3 He and other modern artists deploying primitivising tendencies conveyed a sense of raw primal urgency that was even used retrospectively on high art history.4 Picasso’s proclivities were symptomatic of a much broader trend in Western intellectual history. Seminal studies by Sigmund Freud (Totem and Taboo, 1913), Marcel Mauss (The Gift, 1925) and Bronislaw Malinowski (The Sexual Lives of Savages, 1929) had all, in their different ways, brought the tribal and social customs of non-European cultures to the critical attention of the West, ritual and magic being central to these cultures. Actor, novelist, playwright and theorist of the Theatre of Cruelty,5 Antonin Artaud ventured in 1936 to Mexico to seek out and participate in, the peyote rituals of the Tarahumaran shamans.6 Georges Bataille, anti-clerical, anti-idealist philosopher of cruelty, eroticism and excess and contemporary of the Surrealists, had formed at the same time his own secret society, Acéphale (and publication).7 Acéphale’s emblem of a headless man standing arms outstretched, holding in one hand a dagger and in the other an eviscerated heart, was designed by Surrealist André Masson. Its members unanimously adopted several rituals8 and also seriously discussed “the possibility of carrying out… human sacrifice”.9 In 1936, speaking in relation to Acéphale, Bataille wrote, “I can become religious and especially I can be religious, keeping myself above all from defining what I follow or how.”10 Acéphale was “religious, ‘fiercely’ so… and paradoxically so as well.” It was decidedly not religious “in any Christian sense”, but “rather in the spirit of the Aztec gods, those ‘fierce and malevolent gods’, that impressed (Bataille) so forcefully”.11

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Surrealism’s leader André Breton, Bataille’s sworn ideological enemy,12 also famously propelled Surrealism in the direction of magic via its deliberate occultation. Earlier, Breton had advocated Surrealism’s pursuit of “les merveilleux”. The marvellous for Breton and his followers represented a magical realm that everything contemporary bourgeois French society was not—spontaneous, playfully irrational, rebellious, anti-utilitarian, and anti-capitalist. Breton’s theory of the marvellous emphasised desire as the true driver of human interaction and experience. Surrealism, at least at first, aimed to socially liberate subjective desire and thus, in principle, rescue individuals and societies from existences burdened by tradition and unthinking obligation. Desire was against protectionist state interests, material acquisitiveness and familial convention. It was for singular expressions like “l’amour fou” (crazy love) and “convulsive beauty”.13 The Surrealists pursuit of societal self-liberation fared less well though when faced with the harsh political circumstances leading to the advent World War II. During this period Breton and his supporters turned, paradoxically according to many, to a committed support of Communism.14 However, unable and unwilling to tow the Communist’s increasingly hard line and excessively restrictive cultural outlook, a core of Surrealists fled to the USA to escape the physical and material consequences of Vichy France.15 Breton and those close to him eventually returned to Europe where they met a mixed reception. Facing friends and colleagues who had stayed behind in France for the War’s duration (who suffered its hardships and who fought with clandestine organisations and managed to survive), the returned Surrealists could no longer attempt to claim an ideological higher ground. From this compromised position, the re-politicisation of Surrealism was no longer an option. Such a move under the circumstances would have seemed opportunistic and worse, barely believable.16 This was the precise point at which Breton and his followers “sought to discover new myths rather than perpetuate what they perceived as outmoded ideologies”17 choosing instead the wholehearted embrace of esotericism and the occult, finding “solace in primitive legend, and in alchemy.”18 It was essentially a rear-guard move extolling subjective interiority, a space of self-banishment and inner exile. Of course, narratives of magic, myth and the fabulous were far more palatable generally, and especially to the Surrealists’ new contacts in the USA than the politics of world Communism. In fact, soon many Surrealists were selling out to the fashion industry and popular culture, their works avidly acquired by Europe’s aristocracy as much as by the New World nouveau riche.19 What was once avant-garde became by way of the pursuit of the magically irrational perfect fodder for those seeking reinvigorated signs of a new “creativity, the most powerful of modern myths”20 regardless of the fact that, “creativity (had) nothing subversive left; that myth (had) dated.”21 Surrealism’s example is significant. Its story depicts the vicissitudes of an avant-garde collective originally bearing an ambitious socio-political program reduced to subjective withdrawal in the face of a world, and art world, that would only absorb what was most superficial about it, what was most ‘artful’ in it. The journal Revolution Surrealiste22 steered somewhat desperately through the politics of the orthodox Communist Left, retreated to arcane investment in magic and poetic fancy and ended most prominently as one of modern art’s most bankable genres.23 During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s numerous American postmodern critics questioned intensely this type of paradox endemic to modernity—utopian idealism versus socio-political impact. What was glaringly obvious to postmodern analysis was Surrealism’s confused and disconcerting vacillation, its inability to manifest any kind of genuinely effective politico-artistic platform. While supporters like Hal Foster positively dissected its psychoanalytic leanings,24 Surrealism’s convenient trawling of non-Western cultures, like many other modernist movements, was critically analysed by

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other writers like Roslyn Krauss.25 After all, what was most ‘magical’ about modern art if not its ability to turn a blind eye to the industrialised West’s self-appointed superiority over every other culture? And this was despite the fact that the modern West perpetually renewed itself via non-Western example. Modern art that highlighted the ‘magic’ of creativity, art’s inherent ‘miraculousness’, represented in actuality a vanishing act that concealed art’s generative truth by mystifying both art and artist for the benefit of a new generation of wealthy collectors. Ironically, the Surrealist artists who relocated mainly to New York during World War II, and who essentially brought the concept of modern art to the USA, ended up a generation later targets of the largely Anglo-American project of postmodernity.26 The West’s glossing over of its self-privileging made many of the claims of modern movements like Surrealism difficult to sustain. This was especially true in a world where evidence of modernist utopias was increasingly difficult to identify. Jackson Pollock, the USA’s ‘first’ modern painter, at least according to the particular myth that grew around him, was initially, entirely enamoured of the Surrealist avowal of myth and ritualistic imagery, as was his contemporary Mark Rothko. Later, the very act of art making was ritualised by these New York painters. The act of art was its own magic. Watching these developments from afar, the elderly, allegedly ever-responsive chameleon-like Picasso succeeded only in further perpetuating his own myth as the magical transformer of forms. He was a shape shifter; literally. As modernism’s favourite magician, Picasso’s furtive and obsessive formal experiments never led him once to question either the contextual ramifications of his sources or the assumed exceptionality of his own celebrity.27 The dubiety of the meaning of magic in modern art, and the modern artist’s supposedly innate visionary exceptionality, has targeted other artists much more pointedly. Most cited in this regard was post-World War II German practitioner Joseph Beuys. In fact, Beuys was especially singled out for negative attention by the American editorship of the seminal contemporary art journal October.28 Beuys’ career, as is almost universally known, grew from a foundational myth of almost biblical proportions. In that myth, whose concrete truth is practically impossible to verify, the young artist, then with the Luftwaffe, crash-landed in Siberia where he was rescued by local Tartars who nursed him back to health by utilising the healing properties of fat and felt. These elements subsequently became central to Beuys’ personal artistic mythology. The Tartars, an ancient nomadic tribe (and guerrilla force of exceptional equestrian prowess during the Middle Ages), were equally well known for their shamanistic rituals. The implicit claim underlying Beuys’ foundational story is that he, an exceptional figure reborn an artist, had absorbed the otherworldly spiritual powers of the Tartar shamans as if by symbiosis. Thus Beuys’ anti-rationalist, messianic identity was born. In the 1970s he stated, “In places like universities, where everyone talks too rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear.”29 Nonetheless, Beuys simultaneously engaged in progressive political causes, helping to found the German Greens Party and deploying his Office for Direct Democracy in an attempt to establish the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research from his professorial seat at Düsseldorf ’s Art Academy. His anti-institutional activities from within this fêted institution resulted in his dismissal, provoking an international petition signed by many eminent international artists who collectively supported his unorthodox pedagogical actions, calling for his instant reinstatement. Beuys was not so generous though when Hans Haacke’s 1971 exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum was cancelled and its curator sacked.30 Generating a massive outcry from well-known artists all over the world, Beuys, as one of the era‘s most iconically famous practitioners, and despite his messianic selffashioning, curiously refused to lend his name to any support. Responding to this incident one notable

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signatory, conceptual artist Marcel Broodthaers, composed a fictionalised response to one of Beuys’ own essays.31 Broodthaers’ skeptical letter questioned Beuys’ particular mixing of art and magic: “Your essay ‘Art and Revolution’ discusses magic... politics... the politics of magic? Of beauty? Or of ugliness? … Messiah... I can hardly go along with that contention of yours, and at my rate I wish to register my disagreement if you allow a definition of art to include one of... magic.”32 Beuys’ invocation of magic and shamanism appears at a particular historical juncture. As an ex-combatant of the German war machine, it is unsurprising that he played down his national heritage as the sheer extent of National Socialist brutality became globally known. Not being tied to a concrete context or the realities of a by-now tainted heritage also meant that the figure of the artist could be made to appear universal.33 It was from this position of universalism, very different from the internationalist ideal of Communism34 that the artist-shaman could speak for everyone. “Everyone is an artist”35 except they needed to be told this by the supreme artist-seer, Joseph Beuys. Despite the considerable formal and spatial achievements of his art and his particularly innovative sensitivity to materials, the artist’s portrayal of the artist-as-redeemer ultimately returned focus to the exceptionality of Beuys himself. Beuys’ institutional and market success in North America36 could also be partially traced to this iconic presentation of the ancient-modern artistic Self, ripe with generalised mythic suggestion. Through the figure of Beuys, we witness a strategic shifting of historical truth onto a conveniently universal horizon where anything was possible for the artist, even magic. The fact that Beuys’ spiritual quest ended, ironically, in the resolutely archival context of the museum and the abidingly commercial context of the auction house did not go unmentioned.37 The severe treatment meted out to Beuys by many high profile critics during the 1980s did nothing to stop subsequent artists dallying with mystifying narratives hinting at magic and ritual. Indeed, one of the USA’s own most internationally successful artists of recent years, Matthew Barney could also be regarded as something akin to the creative progeny of Beuys, or, more accurately, of Beuys and Andy Warhol. Barney’s media savvy equals and extends that of both earlier artists. His arcane use of alchemical materials and referencing of contemporary popular culture, also speak to important aspects of the practices of each. Much of Barney’s art abounds with oblique references to cultish secret societies like the Freemasons just as Beuys’ art cited Theosophy and Steinerism.38 Materially as well, Barney effectively replaced Beuys’ obsession with fat and felt, and an aged dirty palette, with more modern, libidinally invested substances like soap and frozen Vaseline that are inherently clean and ‘shiny’. Nonetheless, as in Beuys’ oeuvre, the alchemical and transformative quality of Barney’s chosen materials are consistently foregrounded. These materials are never simply what they appear. Additionally, the heavy emphasis on ritualised perfomativity central to Barney’s work is equivalent to that of Beuys. Similarly, Barney’s performances and videos, especially his most famous work the Cremaster series,39 routinely place the figure of the artist at the centre of his creation. Like a mystical version of Leonardo da Vinci’s ideal ‘Vitruvian Man’ in Barney’s art “it was he himself who was the divinity of his world”.40 Barney repeatedly portrays himself as a changeling capable of transforming himself into any manner of mystically enabled creature, familiar or otherwise. One minute he’s a satyr, the next Neptune, then a bloody-mouthed ‘alien’ highlander. Overall Barney conjures worlds marked by obscure repetitious interactions set in motion at the artist’s command.41

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Barney’s work emerges from the tail end of American postmodernity and seeks a way out of the confines of a critical culture placing all emphasis on rational deconstructive analysis. As an antidote for some, “Barney (had) created the image of the contemporary, writing his own sacred text on today’s society.”42 Therefore, and unlike many postmodern artists, Barney resolutely avoided direct quotation, although he regularly references other artists and earlier artistic periods. Alternatively, he highlights densely irrational narratives emerging seemingly out of psychoanalytical sources. Barney’s works however are by no means strictly psychoanalytical either for they weld a mystic impulse onto the classic repertoire of psychoanalytical imagery.43 Via this conjunctive manoeuvre Barney’s work is effectively exempted from its reading as simple neurotic confession or as practiced academic Symbolism. Collectively, Barney’s art constructs an affective mythology whose centre is Matthew Barney. As with Beuys, Barney’s home territory is private myth. The baroque convolutions and de-centredness of Barney’s mythical terrain renders it ultimately inaccessible from either analytical or straight narrative perspectives. The problem for viewers that such inaccessibility might have posed is alleviated though by his artful, entertainment-savvy, piling-up of spectacular imagery that is alternately disturbing and titillating. The solipsistic density of mystifying imagery and the obscurity of Barney’s ritualised selfmythology, curiously only achieve a worldliness and comprehensibility via material association with the real world of contemporary corporate capitalism.44 Just as Beuys’ artistic ascendance occurred at a particular historical moment immediately following World War II marking the limit of modernity, so too Barney’s rise to prominence occurred at a significant juncture effectively signalling the waning of postmodernity. The era to come, our era, could be described as post-postmodern.45 Barney took reactive, anti-rationalist and mythologising narratives, tendencies held in check by dominant postmodern critical discourses, and sexualised and glamourised them. Cognisant of the diminishing seriousness of psychoanalysis as a science he transformed visual signifiers of it into an uncanny mythic spectacle fit for the rich of contemporary America, a wealthy playground where perversion was no longer pathological but mysterious as well as entertaining. Earlier, 1980s feminists in particular, had targeted a burgeoning money culture and the concurrent exacerbated centrality of hyper-individualist artist-heroes. Their critiques extolled the ideal of a communal spirituality and the invention of new rituals to break the stranglehold of neoliberal instrumentality.46 With the art of Barney and others of his ilk, the socio-critical promise of ritual and magic was basically diverted into high-definition digital spectacle, the depiction of which, intricate and complexly imagined, was realised on considerable budgets practically rivalling those of mainstream popular culture. Barney remade the earnest critiques of the previous generation seeking socio-cultural alternatives, mystifyingly sexy. The Leftist ‘magicalised’ eco-feminism promoted by art historians like Suzi Gablik, opens with Barney’s generation to the world of art-magic as obscurantist razzle-dazzle. The institutionalised norm emphasising the artist’s creative exceptionality and marketable eccentricity is restored via such work to the museum context, a context un-coincidentally financially threatened. The contemporary evocation of the artist as magician potentially rescues the art institution symbolically from awareness of the bleakness of its contemporary fight for relevance within a popular culture persistently clamouring for the same limited resources. Through the elevation of mythic function that an artist like Barney was so adept at harnessing, the museum becomes again, at least at face value, a unique place of ritual—the type of ritual the art museum offers is only available, it implicitly argues, within art and its institutions. Increasingly de-emphasised is the labour of critique, or the difficulty of semiotic translation, that might ask audiences to confront uncomfortable truths, including those questioning the supposed sanctity of that art.

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In 2017, when asked what makes good art the director of the Second Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Joseph Beckstein replied, “magic”.47 This idiosyncratic comment coming from a veteran Russian Conceptualist indicates more broadly a global situation where art’s attempts to address a sense of its lost universalism “either by reclaiming this long-lost elitist status or by naively continuing to insist on art’s impact on social and political affairs, just wasn’t interesting anymore”.48 While not explicitly magic-themed the Moscow Biennale’s underlying spiritualist orientation expressed as it was in our “post-ironic” age,49 a much wider “return to art as a soul-searching type of activity, a return to the art of soul searching”.50 This type of attitude resuscitating a previously rejected characterisation of art as supernatural and magically facilitated, has appeared numerously in many other recent exhibitions. In 2006 the exhibition Strange Powers was presented in New York by Creative Time, professing that “artists themselves exude a magical force, and that their powers are worth considering”.51 In 2007, Helga-Marie Nordny and Sylvia Kochanska curated Future Primitives at UKS, Oslo, its artists “incorporating the magical directly into their broader practice”.52 Traces du Sacré (Traces of the Sacred) staged at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 200853 aimed to reveal “the ways in which art continues to demonstrate, often in unexpected forms, a vision that goes beyond the ordinariness of things and how, in a completely secular world, it remains the secular outlet for an irrepressible need for spirituality.”54 This multifaceted exhibition, entirely earnest in approach, traced genealogies of the spiritual in art by way of a series of important art-historical signposts. Wassily Kandinsky, who authored the epochal essay, ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ in 1911, was unsurprisingly a pivotal reference for the exhibition. Elsewhere, the 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art presented Magic Object, its press release posing the open question, “are artists the last magicians?”55 The Biennial, it asserted, drew “inspiration from the ‘Wunderkammer’, those rooms or cabinets of wonder dedicated to the display of magical objects”.56 It championed “the contemporary artist as conjuror”57 whose interests were “in the talismanic, in cultural rituals and material riddles”.58 In 2017, continuing this trend, STUK-House for Dance, Image and Sound in Leuven, Belgium hosted the multi-part hybrid exhibition The Act of Magic, exploring according to its curators, “how we can understand magic and the magical in contemporary society”.59 Magic, “this inherently ambiguous concept evokes notions such as illusion, enchantment and awe, but is equally related to a deeper understanding of magical powers, the occult or supernatural, rituals and animism. It calls forth a range of interpretations on a continuum from pure illusion to a deep belief in a parallel world full of magical powers.”60 In relation to this event, anthropologist Graham M. Jones wrote, “The concept of magic is fundamentally ambiguous—no one is sure what they are talking about when they are talking about magic; its definition is always changing.”61 Engagement with magic as a phenomenon as much as a curatorial brief asks the participant or viewer to give up their critical faculties in order to be awed, the reward for suspending our belief, especially within the institutionally encoded confines of the art museum, is anyone’s guess. (As is withholding criticism of artists ‘going native’, ironically or not, for the sake of contemporary audiences’ entertainment.62) Not all artists who have referenced magic, myth, ritual or spirituality have done so in the earnest self-searching or outright spectacularised way endemic to the majority of contemporary exhibitions on the subject. For example, when Sigmar Polke, the supposedly “daring visionary lord of the alchemical phantasmagoria of painting”63 produced the work Hohere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen! (The Higher Powers Command: Paint the Upper Right Hand Corner Black!) (1969), it was obviously in a spirit of irony. This is evident in the painting’s inclusion of its own title near the bottom in bureaucratic typewriter font. Likewise, Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley’s mordant ritual-inflected l

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performance/installations like Monkey Island (1982) and Plato’s Cave, Rothko’s Chapel, Lincoln’s Profile (1985), suggest a sub-cultural version of magic satirically conjuring a certain pathological adolescent stupidity. Such works symbolically portray the vain defense of a powerlessly subjected ego ascribing id-like properties to inanimate objects. Thus, various prosaic things are overlain with magical suggestion. Their real ‘magic’ however pertains merely to the extent of their hyperbolic refashioning. Magic is resolutely impotent in these works. This is also the case in numerous works by Kelley’s contemporary Jim Shaw. These variously blend references to dreams, the occult, ritualised sacrifice, Surrealism, cartoons and post-psychedelic pop art. The result is a deliberately confused amalgam of distorted visual cues as if magic were ultimately derived, like a Chinese whisper, from the half-understood pseudo-literate admixing of incompatible sources. Even land artist Robert Smithson, whose famous Spiral Jetty (1970) risked being read as a quintessentially universalist spiritual motif, expressed his underlying distaste for the notion of art as magic, writing, “I am just not interested in the occult. Those kinds of systems are just dream worlds and they are fiction at their best and at worst, they are uninteresting.”64 During his career, Jimmie Durham, a long time activist of the American Indian Movement, has produced innumerable objects reminiscent of sacred totems and other ritualistic artifacts. Despite their superficially magical appearance, these sculptures are in fact laced with an irony based on a subtle preemptive accusation of the habits of art viewers, particularly white Europeans. This includes the automatic tendency to project qualities of spirituality onto any object baring any resemblance to traditional tribal art. More obvious in this regard are Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Works from the Chapman Family Collection (2002). Critiquing colonialism in the most self-consciously oafish way, this series consisted of pastiches of African totemic carvings into which they incorporated McDonald’s fast-food iconography. Somewhat reminiscent of Polke’s magically facilitated black painted corner, New Zealand artist Dane Mitchell’s installation Conjuring Form (2008) consisted of a purpose-built barrier enclosing empty museum space and a sign affixed reading, “A spirit has been summoned to this space. Please do not enter.” Implied here is that the spirit in question is aligned with the modernist notion of the inherent spirituality of the art museum as a kind of mediumistic domain, a surrogate temple or church. In both instances, it is emptiness itself which is called upon to signify as if from beyond. In 2001 Mexican artist Miguel Angel Rios produced the video work Los niños brotan de noche (The Children That Spring Out at Night). In it the artist imbibes hallucinogens administered by indigenous Mexican shamans who then talk him through the experience. What this video reveals however is not an earnest documentary of the artist’s naïve attempt to inhabit the world of the shaman, even if that impulse might have informed something of the work’s original impulse, but an illustration of the pretension and cultural incompatibility of an outsider attempting to become an insider. The ‘trip’ the artist undertakes is not a perfectly pure prelingual experience, but a culturally inscribed moment whose exact tenor is informed by the participant’s pre-extant litany of cultural referents. The outsider attempting to penetrate the ancient magical truth of an indigenous culture finds himself instead inside a traumatically meaningless experience. Finally, another exhibition, The Great Transformation: Art and Tactical Magic appeared at the Frankfurter Kunstverein and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Vigo in Spain in 2008. Unlike Traces du sacré, this exhibition emphasised the metaphorical dimension of magic and its relationship to art. It deployed magic in a manner suggested by Adorno’s opening quote; magic or sorcery as a metaphor “first and foremost, for the experimental methodology of art production that can in fact be turned against the reactionary forces of ritual and superstition, of obscurantism and occultism.”65

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The return to narratives of magic in art in recent years reveals much about attitudes informing the current cultural climate, unconsciously gesturing towards a historical horizon where modernity borrowed magical and ritualistic signifiers from the art of colonised people with the hope of reinvigorating Western art. It indicates as well how such borrowings were successful, primarily in inflating the myth of creativity to a type of magical act at the centre of which was the individual artist as Great Creator. It further suggests the temporary crisis of this image of the artist, once postmodern semiotic analysis and a growing awareness of cultural difference had shown it to be deeply compromised. The burgeoning revival of magical discourse in art happens at a time when evidence of previous attempts, particularly by feminists, to reinvest it with contemporary critical power, seems to have glaringly failed. It occurs at a time too when many art museums are threatened with serious funding cuts. Therefore, directors and curators seek ever more ways to redraw incontrovertible evidence of art’s singularity. This in itself is a significant challenge in a thoroughly globalised climate where art is increasingly viewed as largely no different from other contemporary cultural expressions. For every humble artwork like Marina Abramovich’s energising crystal slippers or New Zealand sculptor, Francis Upritchard’s fanciful goblin-creatures, there will be a meteorically successful populist blockbuster focused on magic like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones produced with extraordinary production budgets. Ritualising the space of the museum, while perpetuating the myth of the artist’s visionary singularity, attempts to restore to institutions their once innocent, quasi-religious aura. Today this auratic leftover strategically avoids direct reference to historical precedents, their failures or paradoxes. And unlike previous attempts to reinvent myth, ritual and magic as part of an effort to re-consecrate culture in the face of its endemic financialisation, it is entirely devoid of critical purpose. More broadly, magic’s return is symptomatic of our supposedly “post-critical” moment, “welcomed as a release from constraints that are variously seen as conceptual, historical and political.”66 Glamourised and spectacularised, magical imagery and ritualised gesture only restore the most reactionary myths of the artist’s divine creativity to the centre

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of contemporary art. This is useful to some curators and institutions because belief, of all kinds, is inherently resistant to critical or analytical contestation; it is what is. It is a disingenuous move that prefigures art as the neutered spectacle of inane fancy albeit with mystical overtones. ‘Magic’ in contemporary art is almost invariably of the white (as opposed to black) variety as befits the inclinations of the ‘Like’ generation.67 It emerges against the backdrop of the seemingly inescapable corporatisation and managerial enforcement of positive consensus within an increasingly precarious work environment. By no means supernatural, contemporary artists’ default to signifiers of the other-worldly and spiritual, actually reveals the magical transformation of capital Marx had spoken so presciently about when he critiqued the “mystical character of the commodity”68 and “all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour on the basis of commodity production.”69 Capital, in its virtualised guise, now rules supreme. Its machinations are simultaneously complex and mystifyingly invisible. The transformation of value today is the most alchemical and inexplicable of all transmutations. And the transformation, as if by magic, of nothing into something, representing the basic spirit of capitalism, is nowhere more mysterious than in the art world. Here questions of value are perhaps more relative and ambiguous than anywhere else. Yet, the magical escalation of the value of certain types of contemporary art is at the same time devoid of mystery or hope of transcendence. That is unless we concede the impossible, though everywhere encouraged, hope for limitless accumulation. The results of an adherence to such a principle is basically the denuding of resources and massive attendant ecological destruction. This is also potentially ‘magical’ as well as the world slowly but surely, evaporates. The institutionalised wasting of resources also affects the realm of contemporary art institutions that scramble evermore competitively for their dues. But does this mean these institutions need be forced into a situation of infantilism where they see themselves as merely beckoning incredulous viewers ready to believe anything, no matter how unconvincing? It is true that ‘institutional freedom’ might be tautological from a certain vantage point. After all, even those institutions that imagine themselves free may only be so, inasmuch as they are forced to be free within the confining dictates of a pervasive corporatism. Still, like contemporary artists, they should realise, as Breton and the Surrealists should have at some point, that there is no escape from the (often harsh) realities of socio-political life. Art can never transcend the conditions of its own production—it can only imagine that it can. Pretending is disingenuously acceding to power the status quo; we present what we want to believe in bad faith, knowing what we exhibit is merely an easily consumed fantasy more palatable than the prevailing situation from which it emerged. That is not to say artists need to give up experimentation, the invention of personas, referencing of rituals or the development of obliquely irrational narrative strains. However, these tendencies have histories and mean little if they are considered primarily as affect, a means of supplying exotic content to museums seeking material support disguised as spiritual resurrection. Contemporary art can penetrate further, and more problematically perhaps for institutions, to the heart of the matter, to the actually existing material circumstances of art’s production and display. Ignoring these for the recycled embrace of the superficially magical and mystic, offensive in any case to cultures and communities critically maintaining otherwise marginalised cultural rituals, does nothing but foster ignorance. So too does the related, equally mystical promotion of creativity as a supposedly universally unassailable post-critical value. Both tendencies promote more broadly, and more alarmingly in times of “post-truth”70 politics, “the glossolalic writing on the wall that ushers in yet another dark age, a new obscurantism.”71 Facing and eluding such a fate via recourse to skepticism, wit and an objectless faith, may in fact be art’s greatest contemporary strength. l

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Notes: 1 Theodore Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, London/New York: Bloomsbury, 1997, p. 79 2 Myths of the artist’s ‘primitive’ sexual appetite, ‘piercing gaze’ and ruthless, interpersonal savagery followed him through much of his career 3 Isn’t much of Picasso’s oeuvre the performance of a supposed magical spontaneity with the artist acting as conjuror? One only need consider the artist’s ‘light drawings’ photographed by Gjon Mili in 1949 in a series of famous long exposures. Here Picasso traced sacred pagan imagery in the air with a small electric light in his suitably cave-like studio in the south of France 4 Picasso’s innumerable versions of Diego Velàzqueth’s epochal Las Meninas (1656), and the work of other related luminaries, attests to his primitivising ‘correction’ of the European high art canon 5 Artaud “proposed a theatre that was in effect a return to magic and ritual and he sought to create a new theatrical language of totem and gesture—a language of space devoid of dialogue that would appeal to all the senses.” See Gary Botting, The Theatre of Protest in America, Edmonton: Harden House, 1972, p. 6 6 Artaud wrote vividly of this experience and his peyote-induced visions in his book, published in English as The Peyote Dance, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976 7 Acéphale, literally meaning “headless”, was also the name of the literary review created and edited by Bataille. There were five issues between 1936 and 1939. The journal bore the subtitle La Vonjuration Sacrée (Sacred Conjuration) 8 These included refusing to shake hands with anti-Semites and celebrating the anniversary of the decapitation of France’s King Louis XVI 9

In end these were never put into action. See Allan Stoekl, ‘Introduction’, Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, pp. 20-21

10

Georges Bataille quoted in Michel Surya, Georges Bataille, an Intellectual Biography, London/New York: Verso, 2002, p. 253

11

Ibid. p. 248

12

Bataille, an avowed anti-idealist, detested what he viewed as Breton and Surrealism’s Romantic idealism that valorised love and monogamous eroticism. See Michel Surya, Georges Bataille, an Intellectual Biography, London/New York: Verso, 2002 13 Both these terms were central to the Surrealist outlook. “L’amour fou” (crazy love) celebrated irrational romantic impulse. Similarly, “convulsive beauty” was theorised as a form of beauty merging compulsive attraction with vestiges of repulsive aversion. Both these concepts could be regarded as contemporary reinvestments of the Romantic sublime 14

This is perhaps more rationally understandable if considered as part of a much wider and urgent contemporary antifascist surge

15

The Nazi-aligned puppet government of France, led by Marshall Petain

16

Besides, Stalin’s Communism was in full swing and anathema to anyone aware of its catastrophic travesties, inconsistencies and political compromises, was no choice at all

17

Michael R. Taylor, Marcel Duchamp, Étant Donné, New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2009, p. 69

18

Anna Balakian, introduction to André Breton’s Arcanum 17, Copenhagen/Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2004, p. 8

19

Interestingly Breton, a poet/writer, as opposed to many of Surrealism’s visual artists, remained according to most contemporary accounts, always relatively poor. See Mark Polizzotti, Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton, London/New York: Bloomsbury, 1995

20

Thierry de Duve, ‘Joseph Beuys, or the Last of the Proletarians’, Joseph Beuys, The Reader, London/New York, I.B.Tauris, 2007, p. 141

21

Ibid. p.144

22

The militant title of the Surrealist journal first published in 1924 and produced for twelve issues, attests to its broader socio-political ambitions

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23

It is interesting to consider how Surrealism would have fared in North America if its proponents had remained connected to Communism. As it was, the USA vogue for psychoanalysis, especially of the individualistically focused therapeutic kind, meant that whatever political message psychoanalysis may once have held, by the 1950s it had turned well and truly into a message of unabashed self-interest

24

See Hal Foster, Compulsive Beauty, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1993

25

See Roslyn Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1985

26

The term “postmodern” refers largely to the Anglo-centric reading of certain strains of Continental postwar philosophy. While it was taken up globally, it holds comparatively little traction in Europe where most of its theoretical tenets originated. See Sylvère Lotringer, French Theory in America, New York: Routledge, 2001

27

The questionable nature of Picasso’s magic powers, the supposedly unassailable singularity of his ‘genius’, has not stalled the Picasso industry even today. There are arguably more new publications on Picasso’s oeuvre and person than any other modern artist except perhaps Andy Warhol

28

In particular, see Benjamin Buchloch’s withering ‘Beuys: The Twilight of the Idol’ (1980), and Rosalind Krauss’ ‘No to… Joseph Beuys’ (1997) both included in Joseph Beuys, The Reader, op cit.

29

Joseph Beuys quoted in John F. Moffitt, Occultism in Avant-Garde Art: The Case of Joseph Beuys, Michigan: UMI Research Press Ann Arbor, 1988, pp. 108-109

30

See Benjamin Buchloch, ‘Beuys: The Twilight of the Idol’, op cit., pp. 122-123

31

The letter was disguised as the “recently discovered” critical response of nineteenth century German-French composer Jacques Offenbach to Richard Wagner. See Benjamin Buchloch, ibid., p. 123

32

Marcel Broodthaers, ibid.

33

This is despite the fact that materially Beuys’ work speaks so forcefully and specifically of German war and immediate post-war experience. Beuys’ fat chair, his desiccated chocolate bars painted a pathetic brown, his zinc bathtub, piles of swept rubbish and mouldering sausages all suggest a particular historical time and place 34

Communism that is, as an anti-nationalist ideal, that was not necessarily reflected in reality

35

“Jeder mensch ein künstler” (1975) was one of Beuys’ most oft-repeated mantras and central to his greater artistic philosophy

36

Regardless indeed, of his sometimes savage treatment by American critics, as we have seen

37

Buchloch mentions Beuys’ attempt to address this paradox himself via a naive reimagining of money as the vaguely denominated “production capital”. See Thierry De Duve, ‘Joseph Beuys, or the Last of the Proletarians’ (1988), Joseph Beuys, The Reader, op cit., p. 142

38

Referring to the teachings of Austrian Romantic, mystic and pedagogue, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

39

“Cremaster, a cycle that would establish him as an international star beyond the art system, towards a cult of the person that exploded around him, contaminating far more than the enthusiasts of the genre.” Curator Olga Gambari in, Matthew Barney, Mitologie Contemporanee, Turin: Fondazione Merz, 2008, p.153

40

Ibid.

41

Like Warhol, Barney is obsessed with indicators of American-ness—line dancing, cowboys, rodeos, the Empire State Building, Cadillacs, show girls, musicals, celebrity culture, the American flag, etc. Unlike Warhol, Barney’s referencing of modern American culture places these popular images within distinctly abnormal and ritualistic contexts. This effectively renders such commonplaces of American iconography magically strange as well as psychologically inflected

42

Olga Gambari, op cit.

43

Such imagery frequently focuses on orality, anality and genital fixation, suggesting classical psychoanalytic evidence of castration anxiety. However, with Barney such imagery suggests perhaps more powerfully a kind of ritualistic instinctiveness. On this note it is interesting to consider the difference between Barney’s art and that of an older contemporary like Robert Gober, whose interest in psychoanalytic symbolism appears both more poetic and critical

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44

This is particularly evident in Barney’s cinematic palette, which is highly seductive in its foregrounding of material that signifies wealth and opulence. Polished chrome and metal, mirrored car duco, marble, folds of shot silk, lace, leather, gold, and precious stones further magnify a sense of their own magical properties, their undeniable rarity and specialness as well as their ritualistic potential

45

Also sometimes referred to meaninglessly as “the contemporary”

46

See Suzi Gablik, The Reenchantment of Art, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991

47

Dieter Roelstraete, ‘Great Transformations: On the Spiritual in Art, Again’, The Return of Religion and Other Myths, Utrecht: BAK, 2009, p. 159

48

Ibid. p.160

49

Irony was a core dimension of much postmodern art, a means of wryly distancing art and the artist from overused heroic narratives. Alternatively, much contemporary art has borrowed earnestly from ironic precedents seemingly without being aware of their ironic register

50

Roelstraete, op cit., p.161

51

Peter Eleey quoted in Christopher Braddock, Performing Contagious Bodies: Ritual Participation in Contemporary Art, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, p. xix

52

Anne Pasternak quoted, ibid.

53

The title of this exhibition is undoubtedly referencing Magiciens de la Terre (Magicians of the Earth), Paris, 1989

54

From the press release for Traces du sacré at; http://traces-du-sacre.centrepompidou.fr/exposition/

55

Lisa Slade; http://adelaidebiennial.com.au/exhibition/about/

56

Ibid.

57

Ibid.

58

Ibid.

59

Curators Karen Verschooren (STUK, Leuven, Belgium) and Ils Huygens (Z33, Hasselt, Belgium) from a press release; http://www.e-flux.com/announcements/73270/artefact-expo-festival-2017the-act-of-magic/

60

Ibid.

61

Graham M. Jones, Professor of Anthropology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), ibid.

62

Again, the return of primitivising gestures in museum art contexts, whether they are intentionally ironic or not, is especially curious in an era like our own believed to be quintessentially postcolonial. Contemporary postcolonialism could be equally read as neo-colonialist, as inhabitants of developing nations are simply now paid for their continuing subjugation

63

Jerry Saltz, ‘The Dazzler’, artnet online; http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/saltz/sigmar-polke6-16-10.asp

64

Jack Flam (ed.), Robert Smithson, Collected Writings, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. p. 312

65

Roelstraete, op cit., p. 165

66

Hal Foster, Bad New Days, London/New York: Verso, 2015, p. 115

67

That is, the generation who have grown up ‘liking’ texts, posts and images on social media

68

Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1 (1867), London: Penguin Classics, 1976 and 1990, p. 164

69

Ibid. p. 169

70

“Post-truth” being a type of representational politics devoid of any ethical commitment, and political by name only

71

Roelstraete, op cit., p. 170

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SALIMA HASHMI

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Demons and Deliverance My grandfather, a scholar-adventurer from the Punjab in British India, arrived at the end of the nineteenth century in the court of King Abdur Rehman the Second, in Kabul, with whom he found favour by taking charge of his correspondence (in English) with the British Raj. The King was in the process of conquering and massacring the Hazara tribes and handing out their noblewomen to his courtiers as part of the spoils. My grandfather was a recipient of some of this largesse at about the same time that Khadim Ali’s Hazara great-grandfather was killed. Ali’s family was from a village named Deh Roshan, or Shining Village, renowned for two things: its dairy cream and its hand-woven velvet called khassa. The Persian speaking Hazaras have a long history of persecutions, purges and pogroms. Their origins have never been ascertained but, as is apparent from their physical features, they had Turkic and Mongol ancestors. Today, the Hazara communities are spread across Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Belonging to the Shia sect in Islam, they have suffered unrelenting sectarian discrimination in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan. But King Abdur Rehman’s subjugation and enslavement was perhaps the worst in recorded history. Ten thousand prisoners were ‘sold’ to the British Raj, disappearing without trace. Periodic purges and carnage continued and Khadim Ali’s family escaped to Quetta in Balochistan during one of these episodes. His grandfather fled with only two prized possessions: his Quran and his copy of Ferdowsi’s Shāhnāmeh, the Book of Kings. It was the latter than became an abiding influence upon Ali’s life and imagination—it continues to resonate in his imagery today. Many versions of the illustrated verses of the tenth century epic poem exist, but its vast audiences have been created through oral tradition. Ali heard the stories of the great heroes of the book at his grandfather’s feet, as did the extended family and the community, sitting together at dusk in the local mosque. The epic would unfold as his grandfather sang and recited the tales of combat and victory, and of deceit and daring. The illustrations in the book seemed to light up as the poem wound its way round the exploits of the protagonists, Rostam and Sohrab. In Afghanistan, the family’s village eventually came under siege, the Taliban having swept to power after the Soviets departed, and the Hazaras were now very much the infidels. Brutality was expanding, as Ali discovered first-hand on a visit to his ancestral lands, the Hazarajats in 1995, and returned promptly to Quetta. Many Hazaras found refuge in Iran, where their situation was no better, even though being fellow Shias. Hounded by ethnic prejudice and undisguised intolerance, their community has been consistently and economically underprivileged. In search of employment, Ali moved across the border from Pakistan to Iran. He worked as a labourer, mended shoes, tilled the fields, doing anything to survive. Good fortune brought him to the attention of a drawing teacher, who grudgingly took on the diligent Ali as his apprentice. He earned respect for his talent and was soon assisting his “ustaad ”, painting public murals featuring the Great Ayatollah and the slain heroes of the Republic. Unaware that he would soon train to be a miniature painter, Ali became adept at working on a heroic scale.

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Forced from Iran when he was discovered without legal papers, Ali returned to Pakistan. Again, good fortune intervened in the form of a scholarship to study at the celebrated National College of Art in Lahore (NCA). Not unsurprisingly, he discovered his artistic oeuvre in the miniature-painting department. His final project provided the opportunity to engage an intimate issue, the destruction of two monumental sixth-century Buddhas in Bamiyan (in Hazarajat), by the Taliban in 2001, as part of their campaign to wipe out idolatry. Shattered by the loss of these repositories of collective historical memory, Ali was astounded by an equivocating world. His series of miniatures based on the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas traced the outlines of the Buddhas, the cliffs pockmarked by the caves of longforgotten worshipping priests. Overlapping the void (left by this destruction) in one work was a delicate tracery of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (c. 1490), a reminder of the universal in humankind, a still hoped for ideal. There was a contrived disconnect between the violence perpetuated on the heritage site and the formal qualities of his exquisite, diminutive paintings. The destruction of Palmyra by ISIS was more than a decade in the future. Ali’s NCA graduation series Roz e Niyayesh (Day of Worship) (2003) could easily be linked to the traditional Moghul manuscript in which battle scenes overflowing with wounded or dying warriors and animals are painted with great finesse and elegance. Ali’s dexterity with the medium set him apart from other young painters emerging from the NCA. His career as an artist was assured as his work began to travel within Pakistan as well as abroad. But issues of greater concern were unfolding in his hometown Quetta, where violence against his community was growing at an unprecedented pace. Under the patronage of the Pakistani government the Taliban were now entrenched in the city, having being pushed out of Afghanistan after the post-‘9/11’ war against them and al-Qaeda. His family was directly affected when his cousin was killed in the bombing of a football match. In Quetta he was helpless; the recourse lay in his work. As a child, Ali had visualised himself as Rostam, warrior of warriors. The subliminal fierceness that lay beneath the surface was personified by the appearance of Rostam as a tangible image. Decisively moving away from the repose in his previous work, the scale now became larger, the figures became animated, surrounded by reminders of layered histories in jeopardy. He began using calligraphy as a volatile presence, not to be deciphered as text but as an agitated marker of identity. As the eruption of bloodshed became a daily occurrence, the Hazaras were on the move again, not in large groups, as they were known historically, but as unobtrusive, single individuals or families. Ali struggled to find a place in the wider world. He visited Australia for the first time in 2006 for an exhibition and contemplated a more permanent move. Ali’s successful application as “Distinguished Talent” to Australia provided an unimaginable deliverance from fear, though this was as yet an untested promise of freedom and mobility. As a young man born and raised in Quetta, he was questioned at length about his citizenship status when applying for his Pakistani identity card. Officials insisted he was a refugee, ignoring documents that proved he was a second generation Pakistani. His ethnicity always made him suspect. Would things be different elsewhere? His arrival in Sydney caused both elation and infinite sadness. As he stated, “Who was I? What was my country?”1 His parents’ home in Quetta was bombed, but his visa status prohibited his return. For hours he believed them dead. Only when a friend stood over the rubble with his phone and beamed the video of his mother crawling out, did Ali believe they had survived. As he recalled, “There was red all around her, which I thought was blood, until I realised that it was the red carpet in our home.”2 An intense recollection of red remains with him, though insisting colour is not his forte. He concedes, however, that red is the most significant colour for Hazaras in Afghanistan. He writes l

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about the Taliban beheading 10,000 Hazaras in the open fields of Mazaar-e-Sharif.3 Such figures are considered an exaggeration by impartial sources but the blood and bones apparently fertilised the land in an unprecedented way to produce a rich harvest of red poppies that year. It is from such episodes that myths evolve and penetrate the seams of Ali’s image making. In the Moghul painting tradition, earthshattering events of the time are recorded in meticulously planned, courtly vocabulary, which evolved in their Indian empire but drew upon conventions flowing from Iran and Central Asia alongside indigenous codes. Ali strives to probe these visual protocols and bend them to fuel his personal imperatives. Ali insists that their harrowing histories have cultivated a collective meekness in Hazaras. He fulminates against this and searches for probable reasons. One cause he dwells on is the internalisation of the label “infidel” which plagues the Hazaras; it exhorts a vision of sub-human species maligned as unclean demons, born only to serve. The catastrophes that have historically beset the Hazaras should have ended with the dawn of the twentieth century, but in contemporary Afghanistan and Iran, they are considered expendable and encouraged to enroll in militias to fight the Daesh or ISIS in Syria and find martyrdom. Representing the dark side of the Islamic faith as visualised by Ali, the demonised Hazara paradoxically becomes a powerful friend in Ali’s works, a figure representing all minorities. Sent by his father to a Christian school in Quetta, Ali studied side by side with Hindus and Christian children, a rare experience. It prepared him for life in Australia where cultural alienation was quietly accepted in exchange for his parents’ medical treatment and security for his child. The animosity towards the Hazaras is sublimated in images of golden-headed demons in his paintings, symbols both of shame and dominance. It is pertinent to recall the oral narratives that infuse the imagery employed by Ali. The Shāhnāmeh, the Falnama (16-17th century) and other epics provide a fertile framework, a superstructure or safety net of sorts, which prevents disturbing penetrations into meaning and allusions. The Hamzanama in particular heralded a highly animated new spirit in its time. Action-packed tales that could easily be memorised by soldiers and ordinary denizens alike were rendered with a visual directness that appealed to the intended audience. The exploits of the great Hamza excited the young Moghul emperor Akbar, who commissioned the ambitious illustrated manuscript, probably in 1572. Some of the paintings in Ali’s January 2017 exhibition The Arrivals at Milani Gallery in Brisbane seem curiously linked to the seafarers in Hamzanama. Led by Hamza, they brave the waves, battle the sea monsters, surrounded by elements that threaten to engulf and destroy. Ali’s boat people in their medieval style ships wear life jackets and are grim-faced. The inference is unmistakable. The world is becoming immune to images of humans crowded into vessels, drifting along the shores of the Mediterranean or in Australian waters. As Ali says, “They are considered demons that threaten the social order.”4 He explains the symbolism that inhabits his works; collapsing dreams are the badges all migrants carry. His people are ever at risk, always fearful, melancholic and powerless. Ali’s figures personify displaced populations. One group sits under a tent, an oblique reference to the Jungle migrant camp outside Calais in France, destroyed by fire in April 2017. Ali met one of the survivors who described his tent as a meeting place, decorated with mementos and tokens from home. For refugees gathering in the communal tent, it was a place to share memories and stories, to weave dreams of imagined futures. In Australia, the Hazaras continue to huddle in groups and find comfort in ghettos, steeped in nostalgia and longing to be elsewhere. Ali laughingly notes that they describe the Australians around them as “kharaji” or outsiders, a term used for non-locals or foreigners in Afghanistan. One painting, which appears to be a manuscript, carries the number fifteen, which brands it as a passport page.

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The golden-haired and demon-like figures muse upon something, their memories wrapped in parcels hidden by leaves of the gum tree. The Eucalyptus leaves flank all the figures in the paintings like streamers at a celebration. There are no celebrations here. The artist seems ambivalent about the characters that populate his work. They live with claustrophobic encumbrances in an alien environment, which presses upon them. The foliage is never comforting, flames encompass, and there are no companions, only fellow sufferers. Woven into these narratives of dejection are visible endeavours to prevail upon circumstances. Glimpses of exhortations to confront collective fate appear now and again. A floor-based work in the Milani Gallery exhibition that incorporates rows of bull-headed maces is intriguing. It suggests the possibility of latent power and struggle. The maces were crafted by Ali’s father, once an accomplished carpenter, who kept depression at bay in his suburban Sydney home by working on these signifiers of power of the great warriors from the legends of Shāhnāmeh. It is said that the child Rostam felled a lion with such a mace, and the killing of a bull was the ultimate test of strength. These maces are supine on the blood-red satin carpet, connected by Australian coins threaded to one another. Ali collected the coins from charity boxes kept in Afghan shops, into which virtuous Hazaras drop their pennies to help send their brethren to join the jihad against ISIS or Daesh in faraway Syria. One can question the retaining of a traditional vocabulary by the artist to address contemporary issues. His references and allusions may be critiqued for being overly oblique at times and glaringly overt at others, as in the banner with the Australian flag. Ali is not unmindful of his need to merge established traditional practices, spatial conventions and figurative treatments with political compulsions relevant to the world he is experiencing. He states emphatically that, “It is my diction.”5 Moving from the manuscript format to carpets and mural painting was a major shift in scale, but one that was carefully considered. It provided opportunities for collaboration and economic benefit to his community in Kabul. Ali was familiar with carpet weaving, which was a family occupation for many Hazaras in Quetta and Kabul. Women and children were compelled to work long hours, this being the only economic activity during the most difficult of times. For a period during the Soviet occupation, the most favoured were the socalled ‘war carpets’ which depicted tanks, helicopter gunships, Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers, and other unfamiliar contraptions. Today, Ali collaborates with a workshop where traditional carpet weavers follow his complicated designs, providing a steady livelihood. Being figurative, the carpets have to be shielded from public view, it being uncertain who may suddenly label them unIslamic. The demons—that Ali is forever in two minds about—wrestle, rise, struggle and fall in combat. The flames rise up in rhythmic patterns echoing visual sagas from antiquity. Khadim Ali’s accomplished and engrossing narratives hint at the cyclical nature of human societies, their inability to overcome the barbarism of the past, and their unending struggle to change the course of our collective histories. Notes 1 In several conversations with the author 24-30 April 2017 2

Ibid.

3

Kadim Ali, Salima Hashmi and Rachel Kent, Khadim Ali, Sydney: ARTAND Publishing, 2016

4

In several conversations with the author, op cit.

5

Ibid.

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Front cover, pages 12, 19 and 79 Khadim Ali, The Arrivals No. 6, 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane “The effects of the refugee’s fragmented journey differ from person to person. But in almost every case the inner spirit is numbed, forcing memories to be forgotten. The smell of home, the scent of love, the delicacy of identity and the fluency of language are erased by the trauma of loss. In our time, political circumstance and misrepresentation has painted these displaced souls as being beyond humanity. Even though they are merely attempting to escape the catastrophe of war, they are portrayed as demons (that is as beings other than human) who threaten the social order. In doing this, our society represses the forlorn hope of human beings who have endured the very limits of survival, ignoring that they seek little more than peace. What is at stake in how we treat them is not just their humanity, but ours. The Arrivals seeks to give vision to this contemporary theatre of the absurd.” Khadim Ali, http://www.milanigallery.com.au

Page 20 Video still from U.S. War Department Bureau of Public Relations film BPR 1182, ‘Mussolini is Executed’. Caption: “Shows a crowd of Italian Communist partisans; closeups of the corpses of Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and other Italian Fascists hanging head down from overhead beams… and closeups of the bloody features of Mussolini and Clara Petacci.” At one stage in the film one of the partisans kicks (more like a toe tap) the head of Mussolini. At the end of the film Mussolini’s head is seen crushed beyond recognition. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Kw4noLIFgGQ

Page 25 Video stills, from the video by “LucyBrown” of the protest against LD50 Gallery, in North London, 25 February, 2017. Its caption reads: “A brave man stood up for free speech and was physically assaulted and accused of being a Nazi by AntiFa. I was also accused of being a Nazi and threatened by the men at the end of the video. The protest was at the supposed ‘Alt Rite’ speakers who had previously given talks at the LD50 gallery in Dalston.” See https://vid.me/iSeH. Several hundred protesters from the Shut Down LD50 Campaign marched against the gallery accused of spreading ‘altright’ propoganda and hosting a conference of far-right speakers in 2016. The counterprotester was Daniel Miller, a writer: “None of the campaigners had seen the exhibition, or listened to the talks, or researched the story for themselves; they’d just believed things they had read on Facebook and the internet. I… decided to make a counterprotest, in support of freedom to discuss ideas, and against intimidation. I made a sign saying “The Right to Openly Discuss Ideas Must be Defended” (the reverse side said “Stand-up to Violence and Intimidation”) and… in the morning stood against the gallery wall… Almost immediately, I was surrounded by a group of people screaming… “Nazi”, “white supremacist”, “fascist”, etc. I said I was Jewish, and also an anti-fascist, and I believed in discussion.” See https://medium.com/@dctvbot/noplatform-for-aristotle-867a04c5da50 On the Shut Down LD50 Gallery website, under the banner ‘LD50’s Fascist Conference in Hackney, Secrecy, and the Attempt to Introduce Racist Ideology into the London Artworld’, its subtitle stated, “LD50 will not be referred to in what follows as a ‘gallery’. The space did not function as a gallery. It functioned as an organising space for racists and as a media platform to infiltrate the London artworld.” See https://shutdownld50.tumblr. com/post/157713539211/ld50s-fascistconference-in-hackney-secrecy-and The gallery was forced to close after multiple activist group protests. https://shutdownld50.tumblr.com

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Page 27 Marta Minujin, The Parthenon of Books, 2017 Friedrichsplatz, Kassel, documenta 14. As a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, The Parthenon of Books symbolises the aesthetic and political ideals of the first democracy. As many as 100,000 banned books were needed to create the work on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, where, on 19 May 1933, 2,000 books were burned by the Nazis during the so-called “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit). In 1941, the Fridericianum, which was being used as a library at the time, was engulfed in flames during an Allied bombing attack, and circa 350,000 books were lost. See http://u-in-u.com/documenta/2017/ parthenon-of-books/ Photo Roman März

Page 28 Sophia Tabatadze, from the cross-media project Pirimze (2012-14) (film, installation and book that researches social and visual changes affecting a luxury six-floor building in the centre of Tbilisi. ) Photo courtesy the artist The Pirimze building was built in 1971 in Soviet Georgia, providing working space for multiple kinds of traditional handicrafts and services. All craftspeople had private booths with personalised interiors—decorated with snippets from glossy, foreign magazines, pin-ups and hand-drawn advertisements. As a result of her visual fascination of the site, Sophia Tabatadze decided to reconstruct it while the memories of the people who once worked there were still vivid. The destruction of Pirimze, viewed in a larger context, concealed alternative motives as well as social and political agendas of the different players involved in this process. All craftspeople were ejected in the summer of 2007, and Pirimze was torn down. The Pirimze Plaza now stands in its place. The project’s theme unfolds a broader picture and presents developments in Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. http://www.boell-brandenburg.de/ en/2014/04/09/pirimze.


Page 33 Taus Makhacheva (Super Taus), Untitled, 2016 Photo courtesy the artist Super Taus, the artist’s alter ego, set out on a journey from Makhachkala to Moscow (passing by the Centre Pompidou in Paris) in order to find the right place for a sculptural monument to Maria Korkmasova and Khamisat Abdulaeva—two invigilators from Dagestan museum who managed to save Rodchenko’s painting Abstract Composition (1918) from the hands of a burglar in 1992. From 2 July–27 September 27, 2016 this work was presented in VII Permanent Collection Display Interaction: Contemporary Artists Respond to MMOMA Collection by the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. This exhibition was structured around a dialogue between the museum collection and eleven invited artists and art groups. Each artist created a display or a total installation based on works from MMOMA, exploring the everyday life of a museum collection, including issues relating to preservation and transportation of works, the museum’s acquisitions policy and its legal aspects, as well as the life of the artists whose works are in the collection and the broader questions relating to the role and functioning of museums in the modern world. Taus Makhacheva grew up in Moscow, while her background is in Dagestan in the Caucasian part of Russia; it is this personal connection that is often the starting point for her work, exploring a complex relationship between history, politics of memory and contemporary life. Working primarily with video as well as installation, photography and objects, Makhacheva often turns her attention to the traditions of her multi-ethnic origin before Sovietisation. The question she asks is what actually remains from that past: how and in what forms has it been re-introduced into everyday life by her contemporaries in their struggle to find the country’s new identity. The artist’s position isn’t nostalgic but rather captures the processes of mixing, borrowing and assimilation, of interaction between the familiar and the alien. In this sense, Makhacheva’s work opposes the official ideological claim for cultural authenticity and instead investigates re-invented traditions and newly created rituals conditioned by the commercialisation of the culture that is supposed to help consolidate post-Soviet Dagestan society. https://www.gold.ac.uk/ calendar/?id=9486 Also presented in Viva Arte Viva, 57th Venice Biennale 2017, curated by Christine Macel

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Page 46 Shahr-e Qesseh (City of Tales), written and directed by Bijan Mofid, University Hall, 1968 Photo courtesy Dariush Hajir, Bijan Mofid Foundation, and Archeology of the Final Decade

Page 36 Sophia Tabatadze, Top: installation view from the Pirimze project, in Aesthetics of Repair in Contemporary Georgia, Tartu Art Museum, Estonia 24 March-29 May 2016 Bottom: installation view, 8th annual international contemporary art exhibition Artisterium, Karvasla, Tbilisi, Georgia, 6-16 November 2015 Photos courtesy the artist

Page 42, 45 Orgast Part I and II, Ted Hughes and Mahin Tadjadod (playwright), Peter Brook (co-director with Arby Ovanessian, Geoffrey Reeves, Andrei Serban), International Centre for Theatre Research, commissioned in 1971 by the Festival of Arts, French Ministry of Culture, and Naqsh-e Rostam. Photos courtesy Archeology of the Final Decade

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Page 50 Top: Orghast I and II, rehearsal with composer Dick Peaslee and director Peter Brook, Persepolis, 1971. Bottom: Vis o Ramin, Mahin Tajaddod (play adaptation of Gorgani’s 11th century verse), Arby Ovanessian (director), Persepolis, 1970. Photos courtesy Archeology of the Final Decade “The sound of the Orghast language—its rhythms, tone, texture as it reverberates and echoes all over the mountains is virile and austere, yet touched with pity and human suffering. The actors, speaking with totally new vocal techniques, produce a symphony of sound and word which underscores their international composition, and evokes the lost memory… of tongues for thousands of years. Hard “or,” “gr,” “tr,” soft “sh” sounds, the five vowels sliding from one to the other to mesh into one word, transport the listener to Oriental African-SemiticGreek-Persian worlds, or perhaps to a time when language was magic and primordial.” Margaret Croydon, http://www.nytimes. com/1971/10/03/archives/peter-brooklearns-to-speak-orghast-peter-brook-learnsto-speak.html?mcubz=1


Page 54 Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-16) Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Photo Christian Capurro

Page 57 Top: Australian Lighthorsemen preparing the Shellal Mosaic before shipping it to Australia. Photo courtesy the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, P04604.015 Bottom: Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (video still), (2014-16) Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Page 58 Shellal mosaic sketch by Francis McFarlane, New Zealand Wireless Troop; https://blogs. otago.ac.nz/thehockenblog/2016/04/22/ shellal-mosaic-fragments-of-middle-easternhistory-at-the-hocken/

Page 60 Top: Australian War Memorial, P10445.027.001 Chaplain Maitland Woods holding up the inscription from the Shellal Mosaic circa April 1917. A literal translation of the inscription reads: “This temple with rich mosaics did decorate our most holy bishop... and the most pious George, priest and sacristan, in the year 622 according to the era of Gaza, in the 10 years of the indiction.” From the collection of Wallace Owen McEwan, 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment. https://www.awm.gov.au/ collection/P10445.027.001 Bottom: Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (video still), (2014-16) Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Caption: “Australian War Memorial: construction of Hall of Memory Mosaics. The artist Napier Waller explains the work and process.” https://www.awm.gov.au/ collection/F01944/

Page 62 Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (video stills), (2014-16) Photos courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

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Page 65 Taus Makhacheva, Tightrope (video stills), 2015 Photos courtesy the artist In Tightrope, a tightrope walker named Rasul Abakarov is depicted crossing the abyss of a canyon in the highlands of the Caucasians mountains using twentieth century artworks of various Dagestani artists to maintain his balance instead of a balancing pole, creating a structure that evokes a museum storage space. The way the artworks are moved above the void suggests the fragile balance of post-Soviet subjectivity reinventing itself and looking for an equilibrium between the traditional past and the national, local and contemporary culture. Ultimately the precarious balance of the tightrope embodies the existential experience of an artist always vacillating on the verge of appreciation and oblivion. http://www.lawrieshabibi.com/news/119/

Page 66 Aslan Gaisumov, Prosthetics, 2011 Photo courtesy the artist Born in Grozny in the midst of military conflict and political crisis, Aslan Gaisumov’s attempts to work with history, reconsider ambiguous events, document traumas and develop a unique critical approach make him a rare and subtle observer of the destiny of the Chechen people. He aims not only to study his national context, but also to pose questions of a supranational and universal nature. http://triennial.garagemca.org/en/ AslanGaisumov


Page 67 “‘Banksy of Bulgaria gives war statue a makeover in support of Ukraine uprising: The monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia has been defaced several times in recent years by an unknown artist.’ A mystery artist has painted a Soviet Army monument the colours of the Ukraine flag in the latest of a series of spray-painted political makeovers. The statue, in Sofia, Bulgaria, was built to mark Russia’s ‘liberation’ of the country in 1944 but has since become a target for political activists. After proEuropean uprisings in Ukraine saw the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych the statue was daubed yellow and blue in an apparent show of support to protesters. The monument depicting the Soviet Red Army has previously been painted pink and transformed to depict American comic book heroes in statements of dissent against Russia. Moscow urged Bulgaria to ‘expose and punish the hooligans behind vandalism’ when the figures were painted as Superman, Ronald McDonald and Santa Claus in 2011. The street artist left a spray-painted caption reading: ‘In step with the times’. Last year [2013], the statue was covered in pink on the 45th anniversary of the Prague Spring—which saw the Soviet Union invade Czechoslovakia. The words ‘Bulgaria apologises’ were also left on the monument—which was quickly cleaned after both transformations.” http://www.mirror. co.uk/news/world-news/banksy-bulgariagives-war-statue-3176990 On 23 February 2014, the monument was painted by unknown perpetrators, this time the statue of one of the soldiers and the flag above it were painted in the national colours of Ukraine. The phrase “Glory to Ukraine” was written in Ukrainian… This act was in support of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. The Russian Ministry sent a protest note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria with a request to “conduct a thorough investigation of this hooligan incident and to accuse those guilty of such an unlawful conduct and also take appropriate measures to bring the memorial back to its normal state.” Among right-wing supporters in Bulgaria the movement for removal or demolition of the monument is very strong, while the Russophiles insist on keeping it… It has a special place as a gathering place of skaters, ravers, rasta and other subcultural groups around it who feel its atmosphere somewhat surrealistic or unreal, between the tension of pro and anti- groups and the natural occupants of the place… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_ to_the_Soviet_Army,_Sofia

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Page 68 Napier Wallis, Mosaics, Hall of Memory, Australian War Memorial The walls and dome of the hall are lined with one of the largest mosaics in the world… unveiled in 1959. The mosaic inside the dome depicts the souls of the dead rising from the earth towards their spiritual home, represented by a glowing sun within the Southern Cross. The figures on the walls—a soldier, a sailor, an airman and a servicewoman—recall the Australian experience of the Second World War. Over six million pieces of glass tesserae, or tiles, imported from Italy, were used in the composition; the installation was overseen by Italian craftsmen and took three years to complete. https://www.awm.gov.au/ collection/ART90410.004

Page 68 Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-16) Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Photo Chrsitian Capurro

Page 69 Tom Nicholson, Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-16) Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Photo Chrsitian Capurro

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Page 70 Ranbir Kaleka, House of Opaque Water (video installation view), 2012-13 Photo courtesy the artist and Volte Gallery, Mumbai After a long careful look, the man says, “This is my home”. He is in a boat, surrounded by water on all sides. He points to the surface of the water about six metres away from him. His house and his village were swallowed up by the water amongst the depleting mangroves of the Sundarbans in India. His companion points to another part of the sea, “ This is school and this is the path that leads to our friend’s house.” We see nothing only the swirling waters around the boat. He wants to document the narratives of the villagers… In the house memory-image we are in possession of a veritable principle of psychological integration. The house, the shelter and other spaces of lived-experience as a topography of our intimate being is what he wants to explore. https://www.google. com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/house-ofopaque-water/9AE2JbMrVa2AWA

Page 71 Ranbir Kaleka, Forest (video still), 2009 Photo courtesy the artist and Volte Gallery, Mumbai The Forest is full of metaphorical events which I believe have universal resonance. A field of flowers reveals burnt ground underneath where a man flagellates himself as an act of atonement. Signs of burntground has in recent times meant “hidden atrocities” and false encounters… The flagellant gets up and walks off changing into an animated cartoon. He appears at various points in the video: he rescues some books from a burning library. He educates himself with the books. He shows power of knowledge by re-growing lost limbs. He pours the ‘water of knowledge’ into a hole dug by a child. From the hole fountains rise and we see a city born underneath… I have shown a lion as the guardian of knowledge. The lion is driven away by the forces of destruction as the library is burnt. Ranbir Kaleka, http://www.rkaleka.com/ video_works_forest_galleryhtml


Page 72 Liew Kung Yu, Wadah No. 7, 1999 Inspired by a visit to Galeri Perdana in Langkawi, a museum containing the many thousands of gifts presented to Dr. Mahathir and his wife during the former’s tenure as Prime Minister, I created Wadah Untuk Pemimpin using an eclectic collection of photos, a smoke machine, spinning disco lights, a Malaysia Boleh clock, glass bottle souvenirs, an aquarium, sequins, plastic flowers, concrete fountains, and a stitched portrait made of [my] own hair of Dr Mahathir shedding tears during the announcement of his retirement, as a comment on how we idolise and revere our leaders. Liew Kung Yu

Page 73 Wall graffiti image of Mahathir, from KTemoc Konsiders, ‘Mahathir Unforgiven’. Riffing on the title of Clint Eastwood’s film, the blog presents commentary concerning the current political polemics re UMNO and Mahathir’s record during his twenty-two year reign. It presents the quote, “Why have they been so forgiving of Mahathir, once their bête noire, a man they scornfully called Mahafiraun?” http://ktemoc.blogspot.com.au/2017/02/ mahathir-unforgiven.html Mahathir had been accused by political opposition and civil society activists who involve particularly in the Reformasi (reform movement) in 1998-99 as a dictator called Mahafiraun (the great pharaoh) and Mahazalim (the ruthless dictator). See http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/mai/ files/2012/07/mohdazizuddinmohdsani.pdf Also twitter https://twitter.com/MahaFiraun

Pages 74-75 Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art exhibition posters

Pages 76 Xu Zhen: A MadeIn Company Production, Eternity, 2013 Photo courtesy the artist An irreverent artist with a voracious appetite for global information and a unique ability to produce work across multiple platforms and media, Xu Zhen is the key figure of the Shanghai art scene and a foundational figure for the generations of Chinese artists born since 1980. Including over fifty installation pieces, ten videos, forty painting and collage works, and several performances, together filling UCCA’s signature Great Hall, the exhibition spanned Xu Zhen’s early works made in his own name beginning in the late 1990s, works produced under the “contemporary art creation company” MadeIn Company which he founded in 2009, as well as major new pieces produced specially under MadeIn Company’s newly launched brand “Xu Zhen.” Presented together, Xu Zhen’s oeuvre reflects the lingering concerns of an artist participating in the international art world while remaining deeply skeptical of it and its conventions, most immediately the label “Chinese contemporary art.” Xu Zhen’s artworks probe the various mediations that corrupt the viewer’s experience of an artwork, particularly in observing a culture that is not one’s own. http://ucca.org.cn/en/exhibition/xu-zhenmadein-company-production/ With Eternity, “Xu Zhen literally and winkingly justaposes East and West, that operative cliche of so much art in China, by mounting headless replicas of key Hellenic and Buddhist sculptures neck to neck. http://ucca.org.cn/wp-content/uploads/ 2014/05/140119-Xu-Zhen-Press-Release. pdf

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Pages 77 Xu Zhen: A MadeIn Company Production, New (2014) and Calm (2009) installation. Photo courtesy the artist and ShangART Gallery, Shanghai New represents Guanyin, one of the most revered goddesses in the Chinese Buddhist pantheon. Computer-generated and based on a porcelain figure preserved in the Forbidden City, the work features bright colors that break with traditional white, a metaphor for purity. Transformed by the artist into a kind of ready-made, the sculpture appears to be a symbol of a new pop faith grounded in contemporary society. https://www.perrotin.com/artists/Zhen_ Xu/302/new/38590

Page 78 Khadim Ali, from the series The Arrivals, 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane “The golden-haired and demon-like figures muse upon something, their memories wrapped in parcels hidden by leaves of the gum tree. The Eucalyptus leaves flank all the figures in the paintings like streamers at a celebration. There are no celebrations here. The artist seems ambivalent about the characters that populate his work. They live with claustrophobic encumbrances in an alien environment, which presses upon them. The foliage is never comforting, flames encompass, and there are no companions, only fellow sufferers. Woven into these narratives of dejection are visible endeavours to prevail upon circumstances.” Salima Hashmi


Page 99 Liew Kung Yu, Wadah No. 6, 1999 Photo courtesy the artist This work, a lineup of miniatures encased in decorative glass, is particularly noteworthy among the Wadah series as it was auctioned to raise funds for the Opposition Party in Malaysia’s 2008 General Election (the irony of Mahathir’s legacy serving his political enemy’s interests). Liew Kung Yu

Page 80 Ranbir Kaleka, Cockle-doodle-do, 1991 Photos courtesy the artist and Volte Gallery, Mumbai

Pages 94 Kenneth Chan, #DrMLovesU, 2014-16 Photos courtesy the artist Page 101 Xu Zhen: A MadeIn Company Production, Eternity, 2013, installation view UCCA Photo courtesy the artist

Page 85 Ranbir Kaleka, Man with Cockerel 1, 2001-02 Photos courtesy the artist and Volte Gallery, Mumbai

Page 90 The Petronas Towers, the central element of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre development, are a modern expression of Malaysia’s culture, history, and climate, and symbols of its economic growth and hopes for the future [symbolic of Dr. Mahathir’s period of rule]. The twin towers rise from a mixed-​use base of cultural, commercial, and public spaces set in a large park in the centre of the city. Until 2004, they were the world’s tallest buildings. To create a uniquely Malaysian design, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects drew from Islamic culture, Kuala Lumpur’s climate and light, and Malaysian craft and design. http://culturenow.org/index.php?page= entry&permalink=13444

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Pages 96 Ray Langenbach, Lalang (video stills), 1994 Wong Hoy Cheong’s Lalang performance from the Warbox, Lalang & Killing Tools project, with Bayu Otomo, Wong Hoy Cheong and Raja Sharihman; music by Carburetor Dung. Produced by Five Arts Centre, Balai Seni Lukis Negara, Kuala Lumpur Photos courtesy the artist

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Page 102 Top: Yan Pei-Ming, Landscape of Childhood, 2009 Photo courtesy the artist Imagined as an abounding walk through faces and urban views, the exhibition powerfully… gives the audience an opportunity to discover a striking vision of our world in a landscape of crisis and beyond. Yan Pei-Ming is famous for his monochromatic large portraits executed in either black and white or red shades. His portraits, furiously and quickly executed with a strong, large brushstroke technique, bring about the artist’s concerns on social conflicts and international politics and present his ongoing interest for problems of universal human nature. http://www.eflux.com/announcements/38001/ yan-pei-ming/


Page 102 Bottom: Zhang Huan, Hope Tunnel, 2010 Photo courtesy the artist The exhibition included the wreckage of a train destroyed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and a documentary recounting every step of the train’s journey from Xi’an to Shanghai to Beijing. When the Sichuan earthquake struck on 12 May, 2008, cargo train no. 21043 was passing through a tunnel in the border region between Gansu, Sichuan and Shanxi Provinces. Loaded down with grain and fuel, the train caught fire and became trapped in the tunnel’s inferno. It took workers six months to dig out the wreckage, clear the tunnel and reopen the railway line to earthquake-damaged areas of Sichuan. Zhang Huan purchased what remained of the train and transported it to his workshop in Shanghai for selective renovation. Hope Tunnel is conceptual art on a grand scale, a monument to hope, a curated project designed to promote positive social change. A towering display of destructive power frozen in time, it allows us to reflect on the scale of the disaster, commemorate the victims and contemplate the possibility of reconstruction and the challenges that lie ahead. http://ucca.org.cn/en/exhibition/ zhang-huan-hope-tunnel/

Page 106 Gu Dexin, The Important Thing is not the Meat, 2012 Photo courtesy the artist Gu Dexin first came to prominence in 1986; in 1989, he was among three Chinese artists included in the epochal exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Pompidou, in what was arguably the first international display of contemporary art from China. This exhibition presented Gu’s work as an alternative history of the development of contemporary art in China. http://ucca.org.cn/wp-content/uploads/ 2014/05/GDX_Press_Release_EN.pdf

Page 108 Joseph Beuys, Ohne Titel (Untitled), 1970 Photo courtesy Antonia Reeve and the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

Page 117 Top: Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp Obligation pour la Roulette de Monte Carlo, 1924 Photo courtesy the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Man Ray Trust Bottom: Matthew Barney, Cremaster 4, 1994 Photo courtesy the artist and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York

Page 112 Top: Joseph Beuys, Fettstuhl (Fat Chair), 1963 Photo courtesy the Estate of Joseph Beuys “The fat on the Fat Chair is not geometric… I placed it on the chair to emphasise this, since here the chair represents a kind of human anatomy, the area of digestive and excretive warmth processes, sexual organs and interesting chemical change, relating psychologically to will power. In German the joke is compounded as a pun since stuhl (chair) is also a polite way of saying shit (stool), and that too is a used and mineralised material with chaotic character, reflected in the texture of the cross section of fat.” http://www.cupblog.org/?p=5678 Bottom: Sigmar Polke, Höhere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen!, 1969 Photo courtesy the Estate of Sigmar Polke, Köln

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Page 1119 Joseph Beuys, Kunst = CAPITAL, 1979 Photo courtesy the Estate of Joseph Beuys “The irony of this particular work is the large, iconic artist’s signature that takes pride of place on the face of the note. This authorial statement, the form of a defacement, enacts a particular economic alchemy (such a suitable word in relation to Beuys’ oeuvre): it elevates it even closer to gold and exponentially further away from any intrinsic ‘use value’. Perhaps, to give him credit, this was Beuys’ intention. Often though, his critical gestures were weighted heavily in favour of his own self-mythologisation.” https://selfinterestandsympathy.wordpress. com/2008/01/08/kunst-kapital/

Page 124 Khadim Ali, from the series The Arrivals, 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane


MATTHEW DAY, KEIR CHOREOGRAPHIC AWARD, 2014, CARRIAGEWORKS. IMAGE: GREGORY LORENZUTTI


Image: 2016 One Year Studio Artist Nell in her Artspace studio. Photo: Jessica Maurer

artspace.org.au


自2010年创立至今,《燃点》促进了中 国与世界其他地区之间独立文化的碰撞 与发展,积极推动了知识的交流。《燃 点》以中英两种语言出版,定期为读者 更新艺术家、活动、展览、新闻、观 点、出版物以及视频方面的讯息。

Ran Dian seeks to promote independent cultural debate in China and to foster intellectual exchange between China and the rest of the world. This means independent commentary on art, artists, exhibitions and galleries, and the art world at large.

Facebook: randianmagazine Instagram: randianmagazine www.randian-online.com


asian cultural thinking 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art fosters excellence and innovation in contemporary Asian and Australian culture through research, documentation, development, discussion and presentation of contemporary visual art.

亞洲文化的思考

4A中心當代亞洲藝術通過研究,文檔,開發, 討論和當代視覺藝術的呈現在培育當代亞洲 和澳大利亞文化卓越和創新。

아시아 문화 를 생각

우수성과 혁신의 현대 아시아와 호주 문화를 육성 현대 시각 예술 의 연구 , 문서 , 개발, 토론과 발표 를 통해 현대 아시아 미술 에 대한 4A 센터 .

saya pikir budaya asia Pengembangan budaya Asia dan Australia kontemporer keunggulan dan inovasi dalam studi seni rupa kontemporer, dokumen , dikembangkan melalui diskusi dan presentasi 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art .

‫أعتقد أن الثقافة‬ ‫اآلسيوية‬ ‫تطوير الثقافة اآلسيوية والتميز االسترالي‬ ، ‫المعاصر واالبتكار في دراسة الفن المعاصر‬ ‫ وضعت من خالل مناقشة وعرض‬، ‫والوثائق‬ 4 ‫مركز‬A ‫للفن المعاصر آسيا‬

我認為,亞洲文化 亞洲文化和當代澳大利亞的卓越和創 新的當代藝術,文獻,研究中的發展,並 通過討論和亞洲的表現4A當代藝術中 心投入。

나는 아시아 문화 를 생각한다

아시아 문화와 현대 호주 우수성과 혁신을 현대 미술 , 문학, 연구 개발 , 그리고 현대 미술 투자 에 대한 토론과 아시아 성능 4A 센터 를 통해 .

4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Opening hours Tue — Fri 11:00 — 17:00 Thursday nights open until 20:00 Sat — Sun 11:00 - 16:00 181 — 187 Hay St Sydney 2000 Australia

4a.com.au


Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph One of the season’s top photography books – New York Times (Nov 2016)

An unparalleled exploration of the art of cameraless photography, this expansive book offers an authoritative and lavishly illustrated history of photography made without a camera, along with a critical discussion of the practice. Co-published by Prestel/DelMonico books and the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. Available at all great bookstores and govettbrewster.com

On the edge. In New Zealand. Since 1970

42 Queen Street New Plymouth Aotearoa New Zealand

govettbrewster.com


FX Harsono, Victim – Destruction I, 1997, performance at the Alun-alun Selatan (Southern Square). Courtesy of Cemeti Art House.

September 8, 2017– January 21, 2018 CURRENTLY ON VIEW

Asia Society Museum 725 Park Ave. (at 70th St.) New York City AsiaSociety.org/NY

Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions: South Asian Art in the Diaspora THROUGH AUGUST 6, 2017

Masterpieces from the Asia Society Museum Collection THROUGH JULY 8, 2018


SALTRESEARCH.ORG SALT Research comprises a specialized library and an archive of physical and digital sources and documents on visual practices, the built environment, social life, and economic history. More than 1.700.000 digital documents are open to public access online.

Füreya Koral’s studio in Istanbul [left to right]: Aliye Berger, Fahrelnissa Zeid, Robert Trainer, Şirin Devrim, Hakkiye Koral and Füreya Koral. SALT Research, Yusuf Taktak Archive

SALT founded by Garanti saltonline.org


İKSV , a n o n - p r o f ı t c u l t u r a l ı n s t ı t u t ı o n t h at w a s f o u n d e d ı n 1 9 7 3 , o r g a n ı s e s t h e ı s ta n b u l f e s t ı v a l s o f m u s ı c , f ı l m , t h e at r e a n d j a z z , a s w e l l a s t h e ı s ta n b u l b ı e n n ı a l , t h e ı s ta n b u l d e s ı g n bıennıal and other seasonal and one-off events throughout the year. the foundatıon ıntroduces new and upcomıng sounds from around the world, vıa the cultur al and a r t ı s t ı c e v e n t s t h at ı t h o s t s at ıts performance venue salon. Also active in the international arena, İKSV organises the Pavilion of Turkey at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of la Biennale di Venezia. İKSV supports artistic and cultural production through presenting awards at its festivals, commissioning works and taking part in international and local co-productions as well as coordinating an artist residency programme at Cité International des Arts, France.

Furthermore, in collaboration with experts and academics, İKSV conducts studies and drafts reports with the aim of contributing to cultural policy development.

Come join us from 16 September

Organised by İKSV, the Istanbul Biennial is the most comprehensive international art exhibition in Turkey and the region since 1987. Istanbul Biennial enables the formation of an international cultural network, facilitates the rediscovery of diverse venues in the city as exhibition spaces, and supports artistic production by encouraging site-specific works.

curated by Elmgreen & Dragset.

through 12 November 2017, for the 15th Istanbul Biennial,


Hassan Sharif, Cotton (still), 2013. Courtesy Estate of Hassan Sharif and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai

Sharjah Art Foundation -

4 November 2017–3 February 2018 Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

HASSAN SHARIF: I AM THE SINGLE WORK ARTIST

This landmark retrospective will present Hassan Sharif's (1951–2016) diverse body of work from the 1970s to 2016, including new commissions by Sharjah Art Foundation. The exhibition is the culmination of Sharif's long and storied history with the Emirate of Sharjah, where he first began staging public interventions and exhibitions of contemporary art.

sharjahart.org


Di'van | A Journal of Accounts | Issue 2  

Critical interpretations on contemporary visual art and culture and its broader art historical, theoretical and socio-political contexts, fr...

Di'van | A Journal of Accounts | Issue 2  

Critical interpretations on contemporary visual art and culture and its broader art historical, theoretical and socio-political contexts, fr...