Page 1

N o. 1 D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 6

dÄą van l

A Journal of Accounts Art | Culture | Theory

Stephanie Bailey | Anthony Downey | Paul Gladston | Chari Larsson | Vali Mahlouji Djon Mundine | Martin Suryajaya | Erman Ata Uncu | Souchou Yao | Ala Younis


CONTEMPORARY: 1x1 Gallery, Dubai · Ab/Anbar, Tehran · Ag Galerie, Tehran · Agial Art Gallery, Beirut · Aicon Gallery, New York · Albareh Art Gallery, Manama · Sabrina Amrani, Madrid · Artside Gallery, Seoul · Artwin Gallery, Moscow / Baku · Piero Atchugarry Gallery, Pueblo Garzón · Athr, Jeddah · Ayyam Gallery, Dubai / Beirut · Bäckerstrasse 4, Vienna · Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York · Galleri Brandstrup, Oslo · Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney · Carbon 12, Dubai · Carlier | Gebauer, Berlin · Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai · Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / Habana · D21 Proyectos de Arte, Santiago · Dastan's Basement, Tehran · East Wing, Dubai · Experimenter, Kolkata · Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai · Galerie Imane Farès, Paris · Selma Feriani Gallery, Tunis / London · MLF | MarieLaure Fleisch, Rome / Brussels · GAGProjects, Adelaide · Galerist, Istanbul · Green Art Gallery, Dubai · Grosvenor Gallery, London · GVCC, Casablanca · Gypsum Gallery, Cairo · Leila Heller Gallery, New York / Dubai · Ikkan Art Gallery, Singapore · Inda Gallery, Budapest · Galerie Iragui, Moscow · Kalfayan Galleries, Athens / Thessaloniki · Khak Gallery, Tehran / Dubai · Galerie Dorothea van der Koelen, Mainz · Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna · Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai · In Situ - Fabienne Leclerc, Paris · Galerie Lelong, Paris / New York · Marlborough Gallery, New York / London / Barcelona / Madrid · Meem Gallery, Dubai · Kasia Michalski Gallery, Warsaw · Mind Set Art Center, Taipei · Victoria Miro, London · Mohsen Gallery, Tehran · NK Gallery, Antwerp · Galleria Franco Noero, Turin · O Gallery, Tehran · Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore · Pace Art + Technology, Menlo Park · Pechersky Gallery, Moscow · Giorgo Persano, Turin · Plutschow Gallery, Zurich · Project ArtBeat, Tbilisi · Revolver Galeria, Lima · The Rooster Gallery, Vilnius · Galerie Janine Rubeiz, Beirut · Sanatorium, Istanbul · Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamburg / Beirut · Galerie Michael Sturm, Stuttgart · Sundaram Tagore, New York / Singapore / Hong Kong · Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris / Brussels · The Third Line, Dubai · Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam · Vermelho, Sao Paulo · Vigo Gallery, London · Waddington Custot, London · Zawyeh Gallery, Ramallah · Zidoun-Bossuyt, Luxembourg · Galeri Zilberman, Istanbul / Berlin MODERN: Agial Art Gallery (Beirut, Mustafa Al Hallaj) · ArtTalks | Egypt (Cairo, Mamdouh Ammar) · DAG Modern (New Delhi / Mumbai / New York, Biren De / GR Santosh) · Elmarsa (Tunis / Dubai, Abdelkader Guermaz / Aly Ben Salem) · Grosvenor Gallery (London, Sayed Haider Raza) · Hafez Gallery (Jeddah, Abdulhadi ElWeshahi / Mohammed Ghaleb Khater) · Jhaveri Contemporary (Mumbai, Zahoor ul Akhlaq / Anwar Jalal Shemza) · Françoise Livinec (Paris, Georges Hanna Sabbagh) · Gallery One (Ramallah, Sliman Mansour) · Perve Galeria (Lisbon, Manuel Figueira / Ernesto Shikhani) · Shahrivar Gallery (Tehran, Masoud Arabshahi / Abolghasem Saidi) · Shirin Gallery (Tehran / New York, Hadi Hazavei / Hooshang Pezeshknia) · Tafeta (London, Ben Osawe / Muraina Oyelami) · Le Violon Bleu (Tunis, Ammar Farhat / Zoubeir Turki) · Wadi Finan Art Gallery (Amman, Ahmad Nawash / Wijdan)


GLOBAL ART FORUM 11 TRADING PLACES

January 13-14, 2017 Dubai/Sharjah March 15-17, 2017 Dubai “Trade is at the heart of humankind. Trade connects people to one another in a myriad of ways, seen and unseen. Trade can fuel civilizations and empires. It can dictate time itself. The end of trade turns somewhere suddenly into nowhere.” Convening the most compelling minds from the fields of art, history, economics, philosophy, urbanism, literature and more, to tell untold histories and stories on the trade of goods and ideas that shape – and reshape – the world.

Art Dubai partners with the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), and Dubai Design District (d3) to present the Forum.


dı van l

A Journal of Accounts Art | Culture | Theory

Editor Alan Cruickshank Publisher DIVAN JOURNAL | University of NSW Art & Design Design Alan Cruickshank ISSN 2207-1563 © Copyright 2016 Alan Cruickshank in conjunction with the University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney, the authors and artists. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts is published biannually by DIVAN JOURNAL and University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney. 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 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. 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.

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD PAUL GLADSTON United Kingdom Professor, Contemporary Visual Cultures and Critical Theory; Director Centre for Contemporary East-Asian Cultural Studies, University of Nottingham VALI MAHLOUJI United Kingdom Curator, writer, critic, author, London GUY MANNES-ABBOTT United Kingdom Writer, essayist and critic, London NAT MULLER The Netherlands Independent curator and critic, Amsterdam THOMAS BERGHUIS The Netherlands/Australia Fellow, Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden University Principal Fellow (Honorary), School of Culture and Communication, The University of Melbourne RAY LANGENBACH Finland Research Fellow, Finnish Academy of Fine Art, Helsinki MURTAZA VALI USA/UAE Writer, art historian, and curator, New York/Sharjah FULYA ERDEMCI Turkey/The Netherlands Curator and writer, Istanbul/Amsterdam VASIF KORTUN Turkey Director of Research and Programs at SALT, Istanbul ALA YOUNIS Jordan Curator and artist, Amman NANCY ADAJANIA India Cultural theorist, editor, writer and curator, Mumbai SUSIE LINGHAM Singapore Creative Director 2016 Singapore Biennale JOHN BATTEN Hong Kong Writer and art, culture, and urban planning critic PATRICK FLORES The Philippines Professor of Art Studies, University of the Philippines, Manila PHIL TINARI China Director, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing ROBIN PECKHAM China Editor-in-Chief, LEAP magazine, Beijing SIMON REES New Zealand Director, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth ALEXIE GLASS-KANTOR Australia Executive Director, Artspace, Sydney BLAIR FRENCH Australia Director, Curatorial & Digital, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney ADAM GECZY Australia Senior Lecturer, Sculpture and Art Theory, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney; art critic, author, artist

Cover: Kaveh Golestan, from the Untitled (Az Div o Dad Polaroid series 1975-77) Photo courtesy the Kaveh Golestan Estate

dı van l

A Journal

l

dı van

of

Accounts

IAN McLEAN Australia Research Professor of Contemporary Art, University of Wollongong NIKOS PAPASTERGIADIS Australia Professor, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne REX BUTLER Australia Professor, Department Theory of Art and Design, Monash University REUBEN KEEHAN Australia Curator, Contemporary Asian Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Modern Art, Brisbane

2 — december / 2016


Contents 12 Of Roaches and Men An Urban Pastoral

78 Monuments, (by) Architects, (for) Governments

STEPHANIE BAILEY

ALA YOUNIS

22 The Grey Zone: Censorship Disguised

88 An Assertion of Continued Presence

ERMAN ATA UNCU

DJON MUNDINE

30 The Political Art of Ai

98 Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-66

SOUCHOU YAO

40 Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

MARTIN SURYAJAYA

110 Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East

PAUL GLADSTON

ANTHONY DOWNEY

52 From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan

120 Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’

VALI MAHLOUJI

CHARI LARSSON

130

IMAGE NOTATIONS

3 — december / 2016


Contributors Stephanie Bailey is Senior Editor of Ibraaz, a contributing editor for Art Papers and LEAP, Editor-atLarge Ocula.com, and a member of the Naked Punch Editorial Committee. She also writes regularly for Artforum International, and Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, and is the curator of the Conversations and Salon Program, Art Basel in Hong Kong, where she was born and raised. Anthony Downey is Professor of Visual Culture in the Middle East and North Africa, Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, Birmingham City University and Editor-in-Chief of Ibraaz; recent and upcoming publications include Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (2015); Slavs and Tatars: Mirrors for Princes (2015); Art and Politics Now (2014); Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practice in North Africa and the Middle East (2014); and The Future of a Promise: Contemporary Art from the Arab World (2011); member of the Advisory Board of Third Text. 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. He 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.

l

dı van

Chari Larsson has recently completed her PhD at the University of Queensland; her research area is the historiography, theory and philosophy of images. She is currently working towards a monograph on Georges DidiHuberman. 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 re-circulates 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, Perspectives on the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis is due in 2016. Djon Mundine OAM is a curator, writer, artist and activist. He worked as Art Advisor at Milingimbi, Maningrida and Ramingining in the Northern Territory 1979-95; was Senior Consultant and Curator of Indigenous Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; has held curatorial positions at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. He was the concept artist of the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia, 1988. In 1995 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his services to the visual arts.

4 — december / 2016

Martin Suryajaya is a Jakartabased philosophy writer and an editor of Jurnal Indoprogress; author of Alain Badiou and the Future of Marxism (2011), a biannual journal on social and political theories. His most recently published book is History of Aesthetics, Gang Kabel and Indie Book Corner, (2016). Erman Ata Uncu is an Istanbulbased art writer and researcher; graduated from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University’s sociology department; has a Masters Degree Film Studies, University of Amsterdam; in-house editor and correspondent Radikal (Turkish daily) 2004-14; contributed to Istanbul Art News, Art Unlimited and Milliyet Sanat; researcher for the SALT exhibition How Did We Get Here, focusing on the 1980s Turkey political and cultural climate and its recent past through accumulating and displaying visual and written materials regarding popular culture and social movements of the post-1980 military coup. Souchou Yao is a cultural anthropologist and writer based in Sydney and Port Dickson, Malaysia. His work deals with the anthropology of Chinese diaspora, and the relation between aesthetics and social and political theory. His most recent book is The Malayan Emergency: Essays on a Small, Distant War (2016). Ala Younis is an artist, and trained as an architect in Amman. Research forms a major element of her practice, as does curating, collaboration, film and publishing projects. Her exhibitions include Home Works 5 (2010), Istanbul Biennial (2011), Gwangju Biennial (2012) and Plan for Greater Baghdad, 56th Venice Biennale All the World’s Futures (2015). Younis curated Kuwait’s first national pavilion at 55th Venice Biennale (2013), and is a contributing editor at Ibraaz.


RESIDENCIES

2016

THE EXHIBITION HALL presents influential contemporary artists challenging what art can be and can do.

Joan Jonas: They Come to Us without a Word

THE SINGLE SCREEN features moving image, film programmes and presentations.

Exhibition de(Tours), Stagings, Screenings, Symposia, Summits represent the core formats of the exhibition and research public programmes.

THE LAB serves as a platform presenting researchin-progress.

Interrogative Pattern – Text(ile) Weave a research project by Regina (Maria) Möller, Visiting Professor at NTU ADM investigates the relation between textiles and identities.

THE VITRINE triggers spontaneous encounters between objects and a transient viewer.

Multi-layered Garments are works produced in the context of the research project Interrogative Pattern – Text(ile) Weave.

THE SEMINAR ROOM is dedicated to educational programmes that directly engage with audiences.

Workshops for Teachers and Educators focus on the exhibitions in preparation for school visits.

THE OFFICE & PUBLIC RESOURCE CENTRE accommodates the team, research fellows, the Artist Resource Platform, academic seminars and educational events.

Contemporary Art Magazines: A Critical Writing Reading Group generate conversations on the practice of publishing and writing about art.

THE STUDIOS host artists from Singapore and abroad fostering cultural and artistic exchange.

Artists-in-Residence Guo Liang Tan, Singapore Zul Mahmod, Singapore Dennis Tan, Singapore Zac Langdon Pole, New Zealand Kray Chen, Singapore Julian Abraham Togar, Indonesia Sareth Svay, Cambodia Tan Pin Pin, Singapore Duto Hardono, Indonesia Xu Tan, China

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

Charles Lim Yi Yong: SEA STATE

Amar Kanwar: The Sovereign Forest In collaboration with Sudhir Pattnaik/ Samadrusti and Sherna Dastur

Artist Resource Platform: activate!, Four Practices instigate responses to NTU CCA Singapore’s Artist Resource Platform, a collection of resource materials from local and international artists, independent art spaces and NTU CCA Singapore’s Artists-in-Residence.

Incomplete Urbanism: attempts of critical spatial practice

The Haze: an Inquiry, explores Amar Kanwar’s working method and the potential of artistic language to engage in current challenges of local and regional relevance.

The Expanded Field of Art Writing Workshops address writing as a form of art practice.

Loo Zihan, Singapore Bo Wang, China/United States Antariksa, Indonesia Atokena Malinga, Kenya/ The Netherlands Ho Rui An, Singapore Heman Chong, Singapore Jason Wee, Singapore Arin Rungjang, Thailand Tamara Weber, United States Nguyen UuDam, Vietnam SHIMURAbros, Germany Siren Jung, South Korea Alice Miceli, Brazil

Curators, Writers, Researchers-in-Residence T.K. Sabapathy, Singapore Marc Glöde, Germany Anna Daneri, Italy Filipa Ramos, United Kingdom Corinne Diserens, France Pelin Tan, Turkey Maria Lind, Sweden Osei Bonsu, United Kingdom Joselina Cruz, The Philippines Martin Germann, Germany/Belgium Anne Szeferkarlsen, Norway Hildegund Amanshauser, Austria Binna Choi, The Netherlands/Korea Mechtild Widrich, Germany

Located at:

Amar Kanwar, The Scene of Crime (2011), Installation view of The Sovereign Forest, dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012). Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

R E S E A R C H & E D U C AT I O N

EXHIBITIONS

S PA C E S O F T H E C U R AT O R I A L


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


Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph A unique exploration of the art of cameraless photography, this expansive book offers an authoritative and lavishly illustrated history of photographs made without a camera, along with a critical discussion of the practice. Emanations reveals the myriad approaches artists have used to create photographic images using just paper or film and a source of radiation. Inspired by the cameraless work of Len Lye, it explores a range of practices, some of which have been in use since the dawn of photography, while others are entirely contemporary. This book has more than 170 exquisitely reproduced works and a 25,000 word essay by Geoffrey Batchen, curator of the exhibition by the same name and same theme at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (29 Apr – 14 Aug 2016). This major publication is co-published by the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and DelMonico Books • Prestel (Munich/New York). prestel.com

Also available: international edition with alternate cover RRP NZ$89.00

govettbrewster.com

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/ Len Lye Centre

42 Queen Street New Plymouth 4310 Aotearoa New Zealand


STEPHANIE BAILEY

Of Roaches and Men An Urban Pastoral

l

dı van

12 — december / 2016


We are on the move, as individuals and groups. A distant observer will have the image of an ant colony that has been disturbed by a transcendental foot. Vilem Flusser1 During the tail-end of an unusually warm winter in Greece, a cockroach society flourished in the dank kitchen of a first-floor flat in one of the most densely-populated urban areas in the world: Kypseli, one of the oldest and most multi-cultural neighbourhoods in Athens, where the streets are named after Greek islands, and a whole mix of people—from Greeks, to Africans, South Asians, Chinese, and whoever else—live. (Before that, it was a bourgeois kind of place, and even before that, a rural retreat for wealthy Athenians living in the historic centre, apparently.) The population boom was the result of a variety of factors, ranging from the demolition of an apartment block just down the street, and the winter in question, warm by Greece’s standards. The explosion was unprecedented; at least to the tenants of the flat in which these cockroaches had staked their territorial claim. The urban pastoral that unfolded during this period is slotted into a strange period in Greece—between 2001, when the country converted from the drachma to the euro, and its current state. Two years earlier, the same year the 2004 Olympic Games were held in Athens, a New Democracy government was elected into power, led by a man with a powerful name: Kostas Karamanlis, nephew of the party’s founder, also named Kostantinos. The senior man had been, prior to the founding of the ND Party, an aggressive supporter of Greece’s entry to the European Union; he signed the Accession Treaty with the European Economic Community in 1979, was elected President of the Republic following his premiership in 1980, and in 1981 presided over Greece’s formal entry to the EU; the same year Andreas Papandreou, the founder of PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, today the mainstream social democratic party) ended what was a near half-century dominance of the conservative right within Greek politics, when he brought his party to power by a landslide. (The 2004 election, in turn, ended PASOK’s eleven-year run.) By 2006, Greece was led by the centre right New Democracy, branded as it was by the sheen of the 2004 Olympic Games, the royal blue of the European flag and the symbolically designed coins of the Eurozone’s currency. Things remained (relatively?) calm until December 2008—when a policeman shot dead fifteen-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in a popular neighbourhood with a revolutionary history: Exarchia, bordered by the Athens Polytechnic University, where the violent suppression of a student uprising on 17 November 1973 catalysed the end of George Papadopoulos’ military dictatorship (which seized power in 1967, and ended in 1974, the same year Turkey invaded Cyprus). The date of that state offence became the name of a terrorist network that would continue to violently agitate within Greece from 1975 until 2002, when the network’s leader, Dimitris Koufoundinas, surrendered after hiding out near a nudist beach on the island of Angistri. (The same beach the humans in this story had been camping on that very summer.)

13 — december / 2016


STEPHANIE BAILEY

Weeks of rioting followed the death of Grigoropoulos. Then in 2009, another political heir, George Papandreou—the grandson of the founder of PASOK—came to power after Kostas Karamanlis dramatically resigned halfway into his term. Shortly after, Papandreou announced the true state of the Greek economy, thus triggering the Eurozone crisis. In 2011, he would call a referendum on whether or not to accept the conditions with which the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank—otherwise known as “The Troika”—would write off fifty percent of Greek debt, and offer further aid packages. The vote was quickly abandoned. (The image of Papandreou stepping out of his car after having been summoned to Cannes on the French Riviera in order to defend his referendum during the G20 Summit that year recalled—in some way—Margaret Thatcher tripping down stairs in China in 1982.) Meanwhile, angry protests and strikes raged relentlessly throughout Greece. The 2011 Indignant movement occupied Syntagma Square, modelled after the Spanish Indignandos and the occupations of city squares occurring throughout the Arab world. The subsequent clearing of the square resulted in a dispersal of the Indignant movement throughout Athens and Greece, in which networks of solidarity and action were formed to offer services to those in need, from volunteer-run medical clinics, to soup kitchens. But in 2006, none of this had yet happened. For the humans, still in a comparative state of blissful ignorance, their crisis was still confined to the kitchen. It is important to note that the cockroaches in this story were German, which are smaller, wispier, and far less threatening than the big, fat American variety. Over time, the humans developed a begrudging kind of respect for them. Research—both personal and scientific—had shown them to be highly social and intelligent insects that display notable character traits, and exist within established familial bonds that expand outwards to form a larger societal whole. Research by Dr Mathieu Lihoreau and colleagues of the French National Centre of Scientific Research in Rennes, has shown these societies to be “closely-bonded” and “egalitarian”—organised on social structures and rules designed with collective interests in mind. They even suffer ill health if left alone.2 In short: collective survival is their labour, all of which brings us to the bees. *** In Virgil’s 29BC pastoral poem, The Georgics, the Roman poet includes a final, fourth book that looks at bees as a natural diagram for a “pigmy commonwealth”3, the interpretation of which enabled a reading on the laws of nature and man’s place within it, and by association, common society. Bees were, in a sense, the epitome of the collective mass—a society bound by a system of pure production. As Professor Christine Perkell outlined in 1978, bees were considered in Virgil’s time as “paradigms of social activity” and “models of cooperative effort” with a “reputation for chastity, arising from their presumably asexual means of reproduction… a central feature of the lore concerning them in antiquity.”4 According to Professor William Batstone, bees were indeed regarded as a model for—and reflection of—traditional Roman values, predicated as they were on concepts of home, fatherland, ancestral gods, law and country; their lives were perceived as both impersonal and collective, and motivated purely by the necessity for honey-making.5

l

dı van

14 — december / 2016


Of Roaches and Men: An Urban Pastoral

But there is another aspect to this story, according to Batstone. Bees also carried negative connotations; namely in their mindless devotion to a monarch, which the republican Romans equated not only with what they perceived to be the immoral and effeminate East, “but with the very cause of civil destruction”.6 Indeed, at one point in Georgics IV, Virgil discusses the fighting swarms—rival bee colonies that battle against one another—and makes note of what a beekeeper might learn from witnessing such an event: “immediately you may know in advance the will of the masses and, from far off, how their hearts are stirred by war”.7 All it takes, according to Virgil, is a handful of dust to stop the fray; what Batstone suggests may be “a poignant reminder that human battles, too, end in a handful of dust”.8 Yet, where in the real world, the bees have both their monarch and a human keeper, in the Georgics IV, it is the son of the god Apollo, Aristaeus, who is not only held responsible for their wellbeing, but also for the death of Eurydice, the beloved of the legendary bard Orpheus. As the story goes, Aristaeus finds Eurydice dancing in a field and attempts to rape her, which causes the terrified woman to run to her death. (She steps on a snake.) In his grief, Orpheus goes down to the underworld to retrieve his lost bride, only to lose her when he fails to meet the condition of her return: to not look back until she has fully reached the upper world. In Virgil’s telling, Aristaeus’ bees die as a direct result of Orpheus’s rage and remorse. When Aristaeus learns of this, he atones and resurrects his lost hive with the help of his nymph mother Cyrene, who reveals the ritual of bougonia to him, in which bees might be summoned out of a bull’s carcass. On the rape of Eurydice, Perkell considers why Virgil chose to portray Aristaeus as guilty of such a crime in an essay devoted purely to book four of the Georgics. She identifies “a thematic leitmotif… that agricultural productivity or progress absolutely requires the destruction or domination of natural things.”9 And yet, in Aristaeus’ atonement, this savagery is replaced with a sense of divine responsibility and purpose, since Aristaeus experiences a revelation upon acknowledging his wrongdoing and the impact it has on the world he is responsible for (symbolised in the teaching of the bougonia, which resurrects the lost bees). “In his labour, then, in his striving for honour, in his aggression against natural forces, in his need to atone, Aristaeus is the paradigm of human existence”, writes Perkell. Similarly, Professor Gary Miles considers Aristaeus a representation of the process through which a vision of the human condition might develop fully.10 A figure who “represents the aspirations of all men”11 he is, as Miles describes him, “a hero of the traditional epic mould”—at once human and divine.12 The same could be said of Orpheus, who in Georgics IV ends up being torn limb from limb by the Bacchants—worshippers of Dionysus (or Bacchus, as he was known in Roman culture). His head was thrown into a river, where it floated towards Lesbos screaming Eurydice’s name. As author of Ariadne’s Clue Anthony Stevens writes, Orpheus’ death recalls the dismemberment of the Egyptian god Osiris by his brother Set, and his resurrection by his sister-wife, Isis. In both narratives, Stevens asserts, Orpheus and Osiris achieve “eternal life” in their symbolic deaths and subsequent resurrections, thus offering preconfigurations of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ: a story of an individual who sacrifices himself for the sake of the collective.13 Interestingly, in Virgil’s story, the bees experience a symbolic death and resurrection, too. Yet, when it comes to dismemberment, this is something they embody as a permanent state—they are, after all, a collective body of individual components essentially programmed to form a working whole.

15 — december / 2016


STEPHANIE BAILEY

The story of the bees in Virgil’s fourth Georgic, in this regard, offers an ambiguous leviathan, in which human actions have natural effects that translate into the wellbeing of society as a whole. As Batstone observes, the bees are “a multiple allegory: of what to be, of what not to be, of what we cannot be… they continually resonate with all the ramifications of their potential, including their contradictory allegorical potential”, at once “a model, a bad model, a failed model, a hilarious example, a problem, and a model for how models fail us.”14 At the same time, they are a reminder of what duties a leader has to society, and what can happen when a leader fails these responsibilities. This symbolism offers a way of understanding the context for which The Georgics was written: shortly after the end of a civil war, led on one side by Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, and by Marc Antony and Cleopatra on the other, that would mark the death of the Roman Republic, and the birth of an Empire founded on the ashes of a century of internal Roman violence. Virgil published his pastoral in 29BC, just a few years after the decisive battle of Actium in 31BC when Octavian conclusively defeated Marc Antony, marking the start of a new era in Roman history. It is said that Virgil recited the poem to Octavian in person just two years before Caesar’s heir was given the title of princeps (first citizen) and renamed Augustus (the venerated) by the senate in 27BC—a name that depicted Augustus as the guardian of Roman traditions and religious beliefs (he was bestowed the role of pontifex maximus, or chief priest, too) and, by association, the keeper of the new Roman Empire. The success of publically “restoring” the Roman Republic after a century of instability while covertly establishing himself as a monarch cannot be understated: Augustus provided “both order and an illusion of political freedom that nonetheless contained elements of true individual liberty”.15 There are parallels between this history and the trajectory of Aristaeus’ narrative arc in Georgics IV. On one hand, we have Octavian’s transition from war general to religious leader, predicated —as with Aristaeus—on the concept of atonement based on a crime. (On the events that led to Augustus’ post-war consolidation of power, historian Ronald Syme noted: “When a party has triumphed in violence and seized control of the state, it would be plain folly to regard the new government as a collection of amiable and virtuous characters.”16) On the other, we have Orpheus, a dead ringer for Marc Antony, who himself was weakened by his love for the Alexandrian queen Cleopatra (he was often represented as “Oriental” in the most derogatory sense), which would lead to both their suicides. Between Aristaeus and Orpheus, the bees signify a population caught in a crossfire—a social body whose existence is contingent on the actions of immortal men (read: divine rulers), which is why the lesson Aristaeus learns is so crucial. It forms the trajectory by which a ruler takes on the qualities of a good farmer: someone who understands his position as both maker and destroyer within the material —and transcendental—cycle of life and death. In political terms, this was translated into the construction of a personality cult Augustus built on a platform of piety, in which he constructed an identity of a new ruler forged from civil war, and composed of two historical archetypes: a god and a hero. In the fourth Georgics, the seeds for such a figure might be located somewhere between the two identities in focus: Aristaeus, who appears to embody an Iron Age king “interested in exchange value and the future” and Orpheus, who represents a golden age hero that “values the individual, the irreplaceable and the past”.17 The result was the establishment of a new future order, as presided over by a “chosen” leader who portrayed himself as a divine yet human king tending to his flock (read: bees). ***

l

dı van

16 — december / 2016


Of Roaches and Men: An Urban Pastoral

Over time, the humans came to see the cockroaches as a kind of bee society: a model for a modern fourth Georgics unfolding somewhere in the heart of Athens in the twenty-first century. But where Virgil’s bees existed in an Arcadian pastoral presided over by immortals, today’s cockroaches exist in the heaving mass that is the urban organism, itself presided over by men. (Or so the humans thought.) When winter passed, a short spring gave way to a hot summer, by which time a village had become a nation. A careless few nights—a result of a few roach-free weeks—created a population boom, catalysed by the heat and humidity, which the badly maintained apartment block soaked in like a sponge. Without exaggeration, there were enough roaches to carpet the floor of a ten metre square room and then some. Wispy, light brown vegetarian roaches evolved into a burlier, heavier, juicer kind of pedigree. The humans were in shock at first. They would come home from work, flip on the kitchen switch, and find them everywhere. Two to three big roaches watched over three to four groups of roughly ten little ones, barely the size of a letter on this page, gathered around whatever spills the humans forgot to wipe up that morning. Between these groups—the number always depended on the number of spills that occurred that day—were one or two larger roaches that stood watch. As soon as the light was flipped on, a clear evacuation plan went into effect; the little ones would flee in a line, flanked by the adults who had been supervising the feed, who were in turn flanked by the bigger roaches who had been standing by watching over everyone. It was fitting this all happened in Kypseli, which means “beehive” in Greek; as said, one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. The neighbourhood is sandwiched between Patissia and Exarchia, the latter often described as an anarchist stronghold by foreign media, especially during the 2008 riots. Beyond Exharchia is Kolonaki —the posh part of town—and beyond that, Syntagma Square, the site where the Greeks rose up and demanded a constitution from their foreign King in 1843; and where the Greek Indignants set up camp in May 2011, before they were eventually expelled with tear gas and stun grenades. One night, the humans walked into the kitchen and found a floor covered in over eighty cockroaches, gathered in a roach version of Kypseli’s main square; a central meeting place for the entire neighbourhood. Everyone froze. For an instant, the humans felt like they had rudely interrupted a community event. The roaches implemented their emergency strategy; children were herded up and shooed along to safety by the adult supervisors. Meanwhile, lookouts perched besides openings in the wall on both the ground and the ceiling frantically paced at their posts, preparing to receive the fleeing herd and take them into the safety of the building’s piping. The only bodies to remain on what was now no-man’s land—the kitchen floor—were the adults, who seemed more focused on protecting the next generation. In a state of shock, the humans couldn’t help but admire their bravery as reality sank in: drastic measures would have to be taken. As with all battles, the hardest part about living with the roaches was killing them. Every time they entered the kitchen brandishing sprays and heavy shoes, it felt like a holocaust. Roach spray was the worst visual metaphor for it. Histories of genocide seemed to materialise amidst the gas as the hissing commenced and deadly droplets fell upon futile escape attempts. The scenes were always tragic; the social bonds among the roaches were clear to see, even without the crux of science to prove the fact that these must have been intensely traumatic experiences for them, as adults perished watching their young flee in vain, knowing that they too would die. Meanwhile, the roaches standing watch at various entry points into the building’s walls looked on in sheer, antenna-frenzied panic.

17 — december / 2016


STEPHANIE BAILEY

After a visit from pest control, a fragile lockdown came into effect, and the roaches spent their time behind the walls. On quiet nights, guards would move slowly and deliberately along their patrol route along the kitchen ceiling, whilst others remained frozen at their posts—holes in the wall where piping pushed through. On one occasion, the humans observed two ‘soldiers’ crossing paths along the ceiling’s perimeter, mid-route, pausing to exchange words, antennae moving purposefully in the direction of the imposters (or occupiers), assessing the severity of the human breach. The truce lasted until mid-autumn. Then, they started invading the other spaces of the apartment—in books, behind canvases; in paints; on the living room floor: scurrying up a sleeping human’s leg with furious, kamikaze intent at 7am. To this day, the humans shudder when they walk past that apartment, gazing at its narrow balcony from the street, and thinking back to the world that lay beyond the doors: a building so rotten that a new society had already started its flourishing ascent. They would think back to the roach nation they lived with, too, as they joined the Greek protests against austerity in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. When the tear gas rained down, they would recall the scene from the film The Third Man, when Orson Welles gazes down from a Ferris wheel carriage at the crowd mingling in the square below, and asks his estranged friend Holly Martins if he’d “care if each of those dots died” if he knew they were worth twenty thousand pounds apiece. When Syntagma Square was cleared, and the movement scattered, the humans thought about those cockroaches again, especially when they looked at the diagrams of arrows moving through city blocks by Stephen Willats, installed in a public gallery on Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul as part of the 2013 Istanbul Biennial, staged after the Gezi protests in 2013. As the post-9/11 world continued to unfold, they recalled—almost fondly—those quiet nights in the kitchen, as humans and insects observed each other under the silver, kitchen light in a shared space where there could really only be one (dominant) tenant. When the roaches developed wings, the humans upped and left. They were not interested in sticking around to see what this technological evolution might bring to the fray. Cockroaches will outlive us all, they conceded, as they moved into a newer apartment in the same neighbourhood, where they found themselves living with an ant colony. You have to love the symmetry. *** “What characterises the West” writes Vilem Flusser, “is its capacity for an objectifying transcendence” that in turn allows for “the transformation of all phenomena, including human perception, into an object of knowledge and manipulation”—or in other words, “an objectifying manipulation of mankind.”18 The way Virgil used bees in the fourth Georgics is one such objectifying manipulation in which society is crafted into an imperfectly mediated pure organ, or model, of collective production—as symbolised by an insect that produces a golden nectar that may well be equated to black gold. This projection of society and its complexity through the bees, governed as they are by divine and anointed men, also points to the patriarchal orders that have defined human politics throughout history, and a savage conception of nature driven by the need to control, subjugate and profit from it. Thus, if we were to take into account the codified world Virgil depicts in the story of Aristaeus’ bees, then what does the fate of the cockroaches in this twenty-first century tale say about the societal models we live in?

l

dı van

18 — december / 2016


Of Roaches and Men: An Urban Pastoral

In his 2013 book Post-History, Vilem Flusser describes the position of the common individual in three states of society: agrarian, industrial and post-industrial, as embodied by the farmer, the worker, and the functionary, respectively. On the ontological effects of a transition from one society to another, Flusser sums up the difference between an agrarian and industrial society by describing agriculture as “the patient manipulation of animate nature” and industry as “the violent manipulation of inanimate nature” for which nature is forced “to reformulate itself according to models”.19 This offers one way of thinking about Virgil’s bees through an industrial lens. As Flusser notes, “the Other is a worker that must be molded according to preconceived models, as a type of mass.”20 For Flusser, the functionary is the worker in a post-industrial world hinged on a “totalitarianism of apparatus”—a figure incomparable to “farmers and factory owners of preceding societies, but to the serfs and workers”.21 The functionary is a desk worker that “receives symbols, stores symbols, produces symbols and emits symbols” mostly through “manual methods and partially via cybernetic apparatus”. The praxis of such an individual occurs within the context of a “codified world” that is mediated today in large part by the totalitarian apparatuses of smart technology and the Internet.22 As Flusser predicted, we are living in the age of the program, in which society is run on models and apparatuses that engineer, maintain, and uphold a certain way of living.23

19 — december / 2016


STEPHANIE BAILEY

In this society, Flusser wrote, we will think that the dominant class will be the programmers of the apparatus, “though attentive analysis will reveal that they too are specialised functionaries”.24 The apparatus itself will become “the real dominant class”, which is why it will make “no sense to distinguish between conservatism and revolution, between right and left”.25 In this future, politics will lose all meaning and society will become inhuman: a prescient vision that fits well with the label Muammar Gaddafi applied to the protestors on Libya’s streets during the uprisings that swept across the Arab world in 2011: “rats”. By likening society to vermin in a time when the ruling classes have seemingly abandoned all sense of social responsibility, Gaddafi offered both an admission, and a revelation. The metaphor exposes the way the masses are perceived from above: as functionary data points within a model predicated on productive exploitation, and, when necessary, elimination. It also reveals how politicians have become the programmers Flusser foresaw: functionaries who maintain apparatuses of power without realising that they, too, are being ruled by some invisible hand. Then we have the people, who have become a mass formed out of a post-industrial world in which survival, and not production, has become the ultimate labour. This new zeitgeist has seen the rise of movements reacting against current political and societal regimes the world, and their subsequent suppression by state governments and security forces, almost always by violent means. We have seen it everywhere, from the revolution in Egypt, the Gezi Park protests in Turkey and later its coup attempt, to the so-called Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, the Kurdish struggle in Rojava, #BlackLivesMatter in America; not to mention Syria where the people of Aleppo—the centre of the Syrian revolution in 2011—have (at the time of writing) resorted to burning tyres in a desperate attempt at preventing Russian and pro-Assad airstrikes over the city.26 In these cases, people have been left to fight for themselves, often against the state rather than with it, as a way to re-establish a common ground upon which a better society, or simply, a better world, might push forth. It is fitting, then, that society’s critical mass has been likened to a vermin not dissimilar to cockroaches in this brave new world. Both are gutter creatures that are highly sociable, live within collectivised societies, and show a remarkable resilience to the effects of modernity. As creatures, they exist outside the program of “civilisation”, rejected by the human world as nothing more than a nuisance, unlike the bees, whose production (honey) is coveted. Like so many other kinds of vermin, both rats and roaches can also live with or without humans—one of the most telling aspects of the comparison Gaddafi made in 2011. Thinking about the demands made by the protests that characterised the Arab uprisings and the subsequent movements that emerged after throughout the world, it is certain that Gaddafi had no idea how accurate his comparison of protestors to rats actually was when he deployed the term. After all, when it comes to the bees of Virgil’s Georgics, and the roaches in this twenty-first century urban pastoral, there is one glaring difference. Unlike the bees of ancient Rome, today’s vermin have no keeper.

*** Make of that what you will.

l

dı van

20 — december / 2016


Of Roaches and Men: An Urban Pastoral

Notes 1 Vilem Flusser, ‘Our Dwelling’, in Post-History, translated from the Portuguese by Rodrigo Maltes Novaes, Siegfried Zielinski and Norval Baitello Junior eds, Minneapolis: Univocal Press, 2013, p. 67 2 Matt Walker, ‘Why Cockroaches Need Their Friends’, BBC.com Nature, published 2 May 2012; http://www.bbc.co.uk/ nature/17839642 3

Virgil, Georgics, Book IV. Viewed on The Internet Classics Archive: http://classics.mit.edu/Virgil/georgics.4.iv.html

4

Christine Perkell, ‘A Reading of Virgil’s Fourth Georgic’, Phoenix Vol. 32, No. 3, 1978, pp. 211-221

5

William Batstone, ‘Virgilian didaxis: value and meaning in The Georgics’, The Cambridge Companion to Virgil, Charles Martindale (ed.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 140 6

Ibid.

7

Virgil, Georgics, Book IV, pp. 67-102, ‘The Fighting Swarms’, accessed from Poetry in Translation; http://www. poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/VirgilGeorgicsIV.htm#anchor_Toc534524376 8

Ibid.

9

Ibid.

10

Gary Miles, Virgil’s Georgics: A New Interpretation, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980, p. 257

11

Christine Perkell, op cit.

12

Gary Miles, op cit.

13

Anthony Stevens, Ariadne’s Clue: A Guide to the Symbols of Humankind, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 51

14

William Batstone, op cit.

15

Michael Auslin, ‘Augustus & the birth of the West’, The New Criterion, Vol. 33 No. 4, p. 43. Viewed online at; https://www. newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Augustus---the-birth-of-the-West-8025

16

As quoted by Michael Auslin, ibid.

17

See Batstone and Perkell, op cit.

18

Vilem Flusser, ‘The Ground We Tread’, Post-History, op cit., pp. 3-10

19

Vilem Flusser, ‘Our Work’, in Post-History, op cit., pp. 27-34

20

Ibid.

21

Ibid.

22

Ibid.

23

See Vilem Flusser, ‘The Codified World’, originally published in 1978, in Writings, Andreas Ströhl trans., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002, pp. 35-41

24

Flusser, ‘Our Work’, op cit.

25

Ibid.

26

Erika Solomon and Kathrin Hille, ‘Rebel-held Aleppo takes cover from air strikes under tyre smoke’, The Guardian, 1 August, 2016; https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2016/aug/01/tyres-burn-in-aleppo-as-rebels-try-to-to-hinderairstrikes-video

21 — december / 2016


ERMAN ATA UNCU

The Grey Zone: Censorship Disguised l

dı van

22 — december / 2016


“It is not obligatory for art or the artist to seek for acceptance from anyone. Nor we have the right to label any artist under the categories of honoured or dishonoured”. Taken from the statement issued in September 2016 by Municipality of Çanakkale concerning the cancellation of the 5th Çanakkale Biennial, this inference, more or less demonstrates the current line of thought that provokes and underscores current instances of censorship in Turkey. The gravity of this particular event could be considered a litmus test in order to understand how censorship operates, through Machiavellian methods such as social media outrage, public condemnation and alienation, and institutional targeting. The events concluding in the cancellation of the 2016 Çanakkale Biennial began with a statement issued by AKP’s (the ruling Justice and Development Party) Vice-Chairman and MP Bülent Turan, in which he condemned the Çanakkale Municipality’s support of the Biennial because of Beral Madra’s assignment as the Artistic Director. In his statement, Bülent Turan claimed that Beral Madra’s “support of ” the HDP (People’s Democratic Party), which is at odds with the AKP on the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, and her previous social media posts rendered her unsuitable for the position. Calling upon the Municipality, under the direction of CHP (Republican People’s Party), to withdraw their support of the Biennial, Turan went on to accuse Madra of being an ally of the failed coup attempt of 15 July, 2016: Beral Madra, who is appointed as the artistic director of the Biennial, had posted pro-coup statements via her social media accounts, since the coup attempt happened in 15 July. She blatantly compared the Yenikapı meeting, a first in Turkish political history as it was attended by both the ruling and the opponent political parties, with Nazis’ Nürnberg meeting in 1937. What would CHP supporters, whose leader was also present in that meeting, say about this? Would they preserve their silence on the presence of this disgrace, and hide behind the excuse of right to free speech? Or would they engage in joint cause to dismiss this person, who had insulted their own leader, from the Biennial?1 In response, Beral Madra, who had been the Artistic Director since the Biennial’s inception in 2008, announced that she had resigned for the sake of the security of the event. She wrote; In order to fix the problems that were caused by the distortion of my thoughts, I have declared via my social media accounts under my right to free speech—which is still relevant in Turkey to a certain degree—to maintain that the Biennial survives and to prevent any pressure inflicted on the Biennial team, I hereby declare that I have submitted my resignation to authorities.2 Even though Madra declared that she wished the Biennial, which was to have opened in 24 September, 2016 would commence as planned, the Çanakkale Biennial Initiative (CABININ) decided upon cancellation. Thus, the Çanakkale Biennial was cancelled for the first time in its history, the gravitas of such an outcome becoming a common occurrence when other recent cases are taken into account, through pressure inflicted in a way which does not exactly fit into the definition of censorship, as the state chooses not to be seen to be directly involved, but maintains its presence through such nebulous concepts as public indignance and offence. Of course, it should be noted that the state of emergency announced after the July 2016 coup attempt has the capacity to change the course of all events, considering the state’s increasingly direct pressure over freedom of expression. The subsequent detention of novelist Aslı Erdogan and linguist/ writer Necmiye Alpay on the basis of their advisory work for the daily newspaper Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda), known for its extensive reporting on the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, provides us with a definite perspective on the future of freedom of speech in Turkey. Additionally, at the time of writing, it was announced by Turkey’s Ministry of Education that more than eleven thousand teachers working in

23 — december / 2016


ERMAN ATA UNCU

the heavily Kurdish populated southeast of Turkey—including artists Şener Özmen, Cengiz Tekin, Servet Üstün Akbaba, writers Kemal Varol, İlhami Sidar, Murat Özyaşar and poet Lal Laleş—had been suspended due to their alleged ties to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). However, the nature of measures taken to regulate the public presentation of artworks prior to the coup attempt suggests a relation with the aftermath of those events, as well. It would be fair to say that tension has long been a part of Turkey’s art scene, no matter the source. And as the source each time becomes harder to determine, the fight against restrictions to the right of free speech and freedom of artistic expression have as a result become a problematic and compelling burden. It has become critical to determine if the case at stake is an issue of direct censorship or not. What occurred in Akbank Sanat, an arts centre located in central Istanbul and financed by one of Turkey’s major banks, Akbank, at the beginning of 2016 exemplifies this dilemma. “I intend to stay in the grey zone.” This is how art critic and internationally recognised curator Başak Şenova responded when asked about the unexpected cancellation of the exhibition Post-Peace, scheduled to open in March 2016.3 Post-Peace, as a response to “how war and peace appear today”, was the winning project of the International Curator Competition of Akbank Sanat, and curated by Russian curator Katia Krupennikova, who stated that the title was “a term that is a possible name for our difficult and confusing present”. However, the hosting venue cancelled the exhibition due to “the delicate situation in Turkey” after terrorist attacks in Ankara in October 2015, Sultanahmet in Istanbul and again in Ankara, 17 February 2016.4 Surprisingly, the ensuing discussion among the participants was whether this was an act of censorship or not. Krupennikova posted the news of cancellation on her Facebook account, claiming the event to be “a case of censorship”. The exhibition contributors and artists followed Krupennikova with a statement protesting about the short notice of cancellation (the announcement was emailed to Krupennikova and the jury members of the competition four days prior to the opening on 1 March), in which they also drew attention to the growing “climate of fear and paranoia” in Turkey. The artistic director of Akbank Sanat, Derya Bigalı, had pointed out the freshness of the memories of “tragic incidents in Ankara” as one of the main reasons for the cancellation. Akbank Sanat had described the decision to cancel the event as a result of the institution’s “responsibility in the Turkish contemporary art scene” in their statement. Finally Şenova, the founder and director of the competition, announced that she rejected taking the matter into account in a “black and white” manner. We are going through a phase where we are forced to take a stance as if everything is either black or white. Throughout the period I have preserved my silence on the matter, observing such an understanding gaining prominence was as hurtful as witnessing the cancellation of the exhibition for me. I intend to stay in the grey zone in order to reach a productive conclusion concerning the matter at hand and I will not hurry while doing so.5

Given the unclear nature of recent instances of artistic suppression, it would be fair to present

Şenova’s concept of “grey zone” as a key consideration regarding current freedom of expression.

Hence as Siyah Bant, an initiative that aims to document and investigate instances of censorship in art, demonstrates on their website, in a majority of cases, interference is implemented by agents other than the government. Siyah Bant (Black Belt) is a platform established in 2011 to research and document cases of censorship in the arts in Turkey and to defend artistic freedom of expression.6 In doing so, they gather claims from a variety of sources in order to render them visible through their web page. In twenty-six cases that the initiative has documented dating back to 2000, two exhibitions have been closed down, l

dı van

24 — december / 2016


The Grey Zone: Censorship Disguised

and one artwork has been removed from an exhibition due to the potential damage to the reputation of the organising institutions. In four cases, complaints of attacks on “moral values” were effective in the cancellation of, or attempts to cancel, events. Where the state is concerned, more intricate methods, such as threats to withdraw financial aid or approaching the issue as a marketing or image management matter, supersede direct intervention. In several additional cases, unexpected pretexts, such as supposed violations of environmental regulations have provided the justification for suppression. There have also been several instances where the source of intervention remains unclear, due to multiple conflicts amongst the parties concerned. Throughout the 2000s, the aggregate of censorship cases in Turkey has proven to be a complicated development, which justifies Şenova’s intent upon staying within a “grey zone” of impartiality. Given that institutions which provide artists with exhibition spaces act upon status quo values, and their viewing publics exert pressure upon art and artists through complaints for whatever reason, the wheels of the greater censorship mechanism have become increasingly difficult to discern and evaluate. As the cases documented by Siyah Bant’s reveal, freedom of speech remains a disputed concept due to the constant shift within political stances and the idea of public space. For example, the earliest case in Siyah Bant’s documentation is the removal of Canan’s (then Canan Şenol)7 and Vahit Tuna’s outdoor signs, a striking example of how the indefiniteness of the concept of public space is reflected in issues related to contemporary art. These (billboard) signs were exhibited as part of the Istanbul New Art Museum’s outdoor exhibition Outdoor Signs. Canan’s sign proclaimed the dialogical statement, “Finally, you are inside me” (even though the sexual connotation was hard to miss, Şenol was addressing her unborn daughter), while Vahit Tuna’s sign, with the words “Don’t forget to buy bread before coming home”, were removed, following an official complaint—filed by a resident of the apartment building that hosted the project—addressed to Istanbul’s Provincial Directorate of Environment and Urbanisation. Another case in point was the blackout of YAMA screen, a public art site located on the roof of the Marmara Pera Hotel, in May, 2016. Işil Eğrikavuk’s video, Time to sing a new song (2016), was shut down by the Municipality on the basis that it caused “visual pollution”. However, the determination behind this cancellation proved to obscure much more complex issues. The artist claimed that she was informed by the hotel management about threatening phone-calls, given the work’s satirical take on a religious myth, of Eve eating an apple.8 However, several days after the incident, the official decision was revealed to be a requirement of the measures the Istanbul Municipality takes regarding outdoor signs in order to prevent so-called visual pollution. As a further complication, YAMA screen’s status as a public art site also became part of the controversy. The non-profit YAMA initiative, founded by Kağan Gürsel, then the chairman of the Marmara Hotels group, and curator Sylvia Kouvalis in 2006, was a venue for providing contemporary artists with a public site to exhibit their art. As a giant screen located on top of the Marmara Pera Hotel in Istanbul’s famous Beyoğlu district, YAMA screen hosted videos developed as a part of ongoing art projects by artists. After a three-year hiatus caused by Kouvalis leaving Istanbul for London, the project was relaunched under the administration of curator Övül Durmuşoğlu in 2015. YAMA screen had previously been subject to several interventions, mainly due to its location in one of the most densely populated sites in the Beyoğlu district. In 2006, Ahmet Öğüt’s video Light Armoured (2006) was shown during a time when Turkey’s military support to the war in Lebanon between the Israelis and Hezbollah was being heavily debated in parliament, and was subsequently shut down following the police’s warning the hotel management that its imagery might “prompt terrorist acts”.

25 — december / 2016


ERMAN ATA UNCU

Durmuşoğlu drew attention to the hotel management intentionally not having any say in the content of the works being exhibited. Management’s absence in the decision process was crucial, as most artists had used the venue’s accessibility in their attempts to highlight or subvert concealed conflicts within Turkish society. Eğrikavuk’s Time to sing a new song was a rallying cry for women at a time when the patriarchal nature of society had become increasingly more dismissive. A previous artwork, Pilvi Takala’s Workers’ Forum (2015), presented various imaginary employee chatroom conversations which were apropos given the countless cellular phone users in the immediate area of Beyoğlu. However, in spite of its relative freedom from the hotel site, the YAMA case reveals that the increase in the art world’s ties with private industry makes new censorial procedures possible, if not inevitable. Susceptible to intervention and repercussion from multiple sources, the private sector easily turns towards self-censorship to avoid any conflict with either government or the public. When the institution’s business principles and sustainability are at risk, self-censorship conveniently becomes a matter of public relations demarcation. For example, as Özge Ersoy demonstrated in Siyah Bant’s meeting on freedom of speech in the art world in May, 2016, one of the problems with Akbank’s situation with Post-Peace was the excessive involvement of public relations professionals in the overall process. Analysis of censorship outcomes initiated as matters of ‘public relations’ or marketing is undoubtedly a result of the inconsistencies within the concept itself. In her article ‘The Myth of Familiarity’, where she discusses the aftermath of the attack on the cartoonists and the editorial team of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Banu Karaca defines freedom of speech as a field of struggle: …rather than presupposing that free speech is a clearly defined “thing in itself ”, a determinable endpoint, it might be helpful to see it as a terrain of struggle in which freedom of expression is in constant need of discussion in terms of power, place and history. It is in this struggle, in creating the conditions for debate along these parameters, that freedom of expression is located.9 If one investigates deeper into the background of this context, it is inevitable that the gamechanging coup in Turkey of 12 September, 1980 emerges as the point of departure for the shift in politics of the art world, which is no surprise for anyone who has studied the dynamics of contemporary Turkey. Clearing the way for neoliberal economic policies to prosper by suppressing all dissent and political opposition, including unions, the decade after the 1980 coup was the most effective factor in determining the direction of Turkey’s political climate, from which derived a paradigm shift in the 1990s art landscape. The emergence of identity politics as a response to the eradication of any possibility of organised political opposition in 1980s became the driving force behind contemporary art practices’ response to the core values of 1990s state ideology, such as ‘nation’ and ‘borders’. Being an arena, where since the beginning of the Republic ideology was both contested and developed concurrently, the art landscape witnessed this new impetus, with the emergence of artworks and artists engaging with concepts of nation, secularity and religion in a challenging way, along with new modes of censorship and suppression. An example of such censorship modus operandi during this period was the presentation of Hale Tenger’s artwork I Know People Like This II (1992) for the 3rd Istanbul Biennial in 1992. Her installation purportedly referenced the Turkish flag, composed of brass statuettes of Priapus, the Greek god of fertility (with an oversized phallus), forming a crescent in a background of multiple statuettes of the ‘three wise monkeys’, generally attributed to such concepts as indifference and detachment, imputing current political realities of Turkey. Tenger was prosecuted by the authorities, prompted by columnist l

dı van

26 — december / 2016


The Grey Zone: Censorship Disguised

27 — december / 2016


ERMAN ATA UNCU

Beşir Ayvazoğlu’s mention of the artwork in his column in the right-wing daily newspaper Türkiye. Ayvazoğlu stated that such a work’s creator should “suffer the consequences” and a criminal complaint filed by an anonymous citizen from Çanakkale ensued. Tenger stood trial for violating the penal code and “insulting the Turkish flag”, the latter of which is a serious crime. Having been acquitted one year later she claimed that her work did not target the Turkish flag; rather it drew attention to universal violence against women. Even though Tenger was exonerated of these Kafkaesque charges, she refused to exhibit her work in the following years, due to the impact of the lengthy trial process upon her. It is no coincidence that most of the censorship cases in the 1990s and 2000s were attempts to prevent perceived insults to “Turkishness”. As art critic and writer Erden Kosova pointed out, this became a period where the core ideology of Turkey, Kemalism, was being challenged as its intrinsic fault-lines became more evident. Thus the notion of nation as an institutional element was placed into question and contemporary art provided the viewer with the terrain where the cracks and conflicts within official history were rendered visible. Even though it was not an episode of censorship, prominent art critic Sezer Tansug’s infamous article on Turkish-Armenian artist Sarkis, published in the art magazine Sanat Çevresi in 1991—where he criticised him on the basis of his ethnicity —is an exemplary case of the problematic reception contemporary art practices incited in this period. In his article titled ‘About the Meatball Seller…’, Tansug accused Sarkis of participating in Armenian propaganda for his own benefit. A petition condemning Tansug’s article followed, which was signed by many writers, artists and academics. Some years later, Sarkis was again at the centre of controversy. On this occasion indirect censorship became the issue because of the catalogue text accompanying his

l

dı van

28 — december / 2016


The Grey Zone: Censorship Disguised

work in the Turkish Pavilion for the 56th Venice Biennial. Exhibited during the centenary of the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottomans, Sarkis’ work Respiro (2015) featured rainbows as a symbol of transition and shared human experience. However, as the catalogue text—written by Rakel Dink, widow of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink (who was assassinated in 2007)—featured the word “genocide”, the Turkish Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs, who were both supporters of the Pavilion, blocked the distribution of the catalogue. Nevertheless, Sarkis and the Turkish Pavilion curator Defne Ayas found a solution to overcome this ‘undefined’ act of censorship by placing a full coffin of undistributed catalogues in the exhibition space. Is it possible to detect a direct link between new methods of censorship and the constant crisis of concepts such as national identity and public space in Turkey? As the state’s interference relies upon more intricate methods, the operational platform beneath artists has become slipperier, which in effect makes functioning in the grey zone continually precarious. Notes 1 Anonymous, ‘MP of AKP responds to Çanakkale Biennial’s Artistic Director Beral Madra, 3 September, 2016; https://haber. 140journos.com/ak-parti-milletvekili-çanakkale-bienali-sanat-yönetmeni-beral-madraya-tepki-gösterdi-afaa080c2083#. r18gs7aqv 2 Anonymous, ‘Beral Madra: The cancellation of Çanakkale Biennial is alarming’, 5 September, 2016; http://kulturservisi. com/p/beral-madra-canakkale-bienalinin-iptal-edilmesi-kaygi-verici 3 The project was selected by an international jury consisting of Bassam El Baroni (independent curator and theory tutor at Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem), Paul O’Neill (curator, writer and Director of the Graduate Program at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York), Iris Dressler and Hans D. Christ (directors of the Württembergisch Kunstverein Stuttgart). Developed and coordinated by Basak Senova, the competition is intended to provide support for emerging curators, reinforce interest in curatorial practices, and encourage new projects in the field of contemporary art; https://art-leaks. org/2016/02/29/post-peace-exhibition-cancelled-in-istanbul/ 4 According to Katia Krupennikova the official explanation letter stated the following reasons: “…over the course of our preparations, Turkey went through a very troubled time. In particular, the tragic incidents in Ankara are very fresh in people’s memories. Turkey is still reeling from their emotional aftershocks and remains in a period of mourning. Therefore, many events, including—but not limited to—exhibitions, concerts, and performances, are being cancelled every day.” Krupennikova continued in her post; “I, along with the artists in the show, believe this to be a case of political censorship. I fully recognise the tense political atmosphere in Turkey right now, and the reasons why Akbank Sanat may not wish to be associated with the exhibition. But this is also why it is essential to have open discussions and a place for people to engage with different perspectives on issues relevant in the Turkish context and beyond. This situation is a very complicated one, and that is why I am currently in discussion with several institutions in Istanbul to host conversations about the ethics and responsibilities of art professionals working in tense political and social environments”; https://art-leaks.org/2016/02/29/ post-peace-exhibition-cancelled-in-istanbul/ 5

Basak Senova, ‘After The Cancellation of Akbank Sanat’s International Curator Competition’; http://basaksenova.com/ postpeace_tr.html

6

http://www.siyahbant.org

7

The artist had refused to use her family name after getting divorced, on the basis that the law enforcing women to change their surnames was a patriarchal imposition 8 The video animation projected the slogan, “Eve, finish up your apple!”; http://hyperallergic.com/297665/turkishgovernment-censors-video-projection-and-youth-biennial-artworks/works/. An anonymous complaint was made about the work insulting “religious sensibilities”; http://isilegrikavuk.net/press-news/ 9

http://www.internationaleonline.org/research/real_democracy/19_the_myth_of_unfamiliarity

29 — december / 2016


SOUCHOU YAO

The Political Art of Ai

l

dı van

30 — december / 2016


I am writing this in tropical Malaysia, but my head is filled with thoughts of China from where I have just returned after visiting my eldest brother’s family. The mind is a wilful master, and it takes me where it wants me to go. Faced with the mind’s obstinacy, the writerly task is a constantly shifting terrain. The China I know and remember, and the China that causes so much censuring grief on the artist Ai Weiwei, enter and exit like unwanted guests, each trying to take up domicile in my head. Linfen, a city of some four million people, is located in Shanxi Province in central China. Though an ancient city, Linfen has not been blessed with archaeological ruins and ancient monuments, so there is not much to see. Free from the tourist routine most of my time is with my brother’s widow. Through polite coaxing, I prompt her to talk about the Revolutionary China to which she and her husband committed their lives. They had met in the medical school in Taiyuan, the provincial capital, he a young doctor made lecturer in infectious diseases, she a nurse from a village clinic. They fell in love and were married, and for their honeymoon went to the coalmines around Taiyuan to ‘serve the workers’ ravaged by Pneumoconiosis, the dreaded Black Lung disease. She told me of their experiences at the mines, joining the Communist Party and political education in joining the masses to ‘forge a new Socialist China’. Now the narrative of their revolutionary romance is made real by this woman, her appearance wrinkled by age and attrition, but with the robust spirit of one who has truly lived and achieved ‘great things’. During the Cultural Revolution she and her husband had been dragged through ‘struggle sessions’ because of their foreign connections. Kin sentiment—and their loyalty to us in Malaysia—had brought them towards the precipice of torture and public humiliation, and caused the early death of my brother. Nonetheless, old age and the passage of time has made her remarkably sanguine about the terrible happenings of Maoist China; like many people she sees them as painful necessities that have brought about the peace and prosperity of today. I was driven to yet another banquet hosted by one of her party-official kinsmen. Snug in the leather seats of the Audi sedan, I mull over the consequences of post-Deng China: the consumerism, the money fetishism, the vapid worship of things Western, the pollution, and corrupt officialdom. I begin to tell her my thoughts, instantly regretting my ranting. I am tired and not a little angry with myself. As the Audi is speeding through the streets my mind begins to settle on a thought. With contemporary China, as you stroll along the pathway to meet its true aspects, you find yourself considering two choices—a China that has woken from the long winter sleep of Maoist absolutism, or a China that has turned its velvety face and re-sharpened the tools of brutal repression. Either way, you would, almost without fail, meet a dead end.

31 — december / 2016


SOUCHOU YAO

Ai Weiwei is globally known as a prominent Chinese artist, political activist, human rights advocate and an interrogator of Chinese government corruption. Given the difficulty in disconnecting these labels, curators and critics have settled for “political artist”, or a maker of “political art”. The “Chinese” in Chinese artist too, sits unhappily with him. For Ai is a global phenomenon; his works are trophy buys in the international art market as much as he is heavily courted globally by museums and galleries. In all this his Chinese-ness is but a minor reminder of some not insignificant facts—his country of origin; his now place of residence (Beijing) after the decade long sojourn in the USA from 1981 to 1993; his various scuffles with the Chinese state that together with his baroquely engaging works have brought him worldwide fame. In a sense, it is not altogether incorrect to think about Ai as essentially a “Chinese artist”, one who takes his unhappy relationship with the country of his birth as the subject of engagement. It is debatable Chinese contemporary art is at the peak of creativity—robust, young and aggressively innovative. Yet, having spent the last decades avenging the pain of the Cultural Revolution and its Maoist legacy, it is showing signs of exhaustion that often lead to a peddling of soft conceptualisation and popularism. The narrative of Chinese contemporary art begins in the year after the rise of Deng Xiaoping (as paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China) in 1978 when his social and economic reforms opened the way for a ‘revolution’ in the arts. The Scar artists, survivors of the Cultural Revolution, engaged and resolved the issue of national trauma. Coming into prominence at the same time were the Stars Group of artists, the key figures of which included Ma Desheng, Li Shuang, Wang Keping and Ai Weiwei. The Stars Group faced significant criticism and after a major skirmish with the state in 1983, many left the country to began their fruitful sojourn in the West. Living and working in Paris, Wang Keping produced wooden sculptures of Buddha-like Mao figures, juxtaposing emotional reticence with a barely disguised pricking at the Chinese leader’s supine lasciviousness. Wang, like others of the Scar and Star artists, remodelled himself to join the Political Pop and New Wave Movements of the mid-1980s. Bold and brash, New Wave and Political Pop erased whatever lingering nostalgia there was for Maoist idealism from the previous generations of artists. There was no more the playful reconfigurations of socialist realism; rather its burial. Wang’s eventual ‘arrival’ as a great artist was signalled by his Great Criticism series: Microsoft, Gucci, Coca-Cola, and Chanel, all the new gods of cultural adoration. The awkward sibling of Political Pop was Cynical Realism, which reached its peak in 1995, six years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Their works widely extolled in Western art circles, the Cynical Realists outdid the Popists: they were gaudy, loud, and yet captivating. I see Cynical Realism as a sign of the end transformation of what stands for ‘the political’ in Chinese art. Zeng Fanzhi, Yue Minjun and Lui Wei: they marked their works with a pained disenchantment with the politics that had been for many defined by Maoism. Cool and reserved, when they turned their critical eye towards popular consumption, their works possessed the power to express one’s anxiety at the easy indulgence of global consumption, including that of art. The rise of Ai Weiwei claims a niche in this chronology of movements and schools—as a Stars pioneering figure he has dramatically moved on. His politics can be understood as the final arrival of Chinese art’s journey from the Stars Group to Cynical Realism. The transfiguration of schools and fashions had their victors and vanquished, with Ai perhaps their most spectacular successor. The Artsy website lists one hundred and five of Ai’s works, in media ranging from sculpture and photography to prints and design. One of his earliest works is Suzhou River in Shanghai (1976), a wistful watery scene executed in ink on rice paper. The 1981-93 years in America produced works including Mao (facing

l

dı van

32 — december / 2016


The Political Art of Ai

forward) (1986), an oil painting of the Communist leader lacerated by shadow lines across the face and torso, and Last Cigarette of the Smoking Generation (1986), a framed cigarette mounted on board. These are not works of great subtlety or critical edge. It’s the Way (c. 1987) is a Polaroid of the naked artist framed by a cut-out crucifix, a crude layering of motifs we come to recognise as Ai’s brand, like the ‘up yours’ finger at symbols of the establishment. (We in Australia were mystified when the Sydney Opera House got the treatment). These works carry traces of the conceptual heat of the Chinese avant-garde of the 1980s, but they have a potpourri or pastiche feel, of Ai experimenting in the use of motifs and medium. Ai’s return to China in 1993 initiated a set of works that has since made him famous. He photographed his wife Lu Qing flashing her underwear in Tiananmen Square in June 1994 (1994). Perhaps this upskirting took place for just a second or so, the indifferent public and security men assuming it a mere prankish act rather than one of political protest. The same year he made Han Jar Overpainted with Coca-Cola Logo, of a pot from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) emblazoned with the most famous brand name of global consumption, followed by the infamous (performance and phototriptych) Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995), the video loop of the artist’s destruction of a (supposedly) two thousand-year-old Chinese ceramic vase—an act of iconoclast import that only a Western audience witnessing the burning, as a performance, of Michelangelo’s Mona Lisa (real or faked) would appreciate. The early 2000s was a phase of consolidation for Ai. Between 2004 and 2006 he produced a series of work both laconic and drivingly subversive, with the rehash of an old theme. Coloured Vases (2006) again unleashed the new on the old, in this case a ‘destruction’, by industrial paint, of a Chinese antique—a vase from the Neolithic period (5,000-3,000 BC). There was the teasing, almost absurd resurrection of traditional aesthetics in Wave (2005), a mocking demolition of form and its meaning—a cultural critique that tears down the pretensions of Chinese civilisation. From Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn to Coloured Vases, his work pokes a wet finger onto the paper lantern; the fragile vulnerability is at once revealed and exposed. Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn finds a positive reception in the West partly because, I believe, of its exuberant telling of the hegemony of traditional icons and their ideological power generally. It is a distinct modernist gesture; its power lies in the easy extension of contexts and concerns beyond China. The audience needs not know the time or the Chinese system of period classification of the object Ai is returning to the dusty ground; it is enough to know it is extremely valuable and an archaeological treasure. Coloured Vases and Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn keep company with other his projects of ‘cultural demolition’. It is difficult to forget them—they are dramatic, boldly executed and brazenly sensational. Our viewing pleasure is biased towards an appetite for vandalism, the trashing of tired old things, like putting to flame the love letters from a neurotic affair of one’s youth. More engaging for me are the wooden sculptures produced during the same period; they show Ai can be conceptually perceptive without resorting to hype or cant. Each of these works has its origin in the domestic function, but the ‘a desk is a desk’ certainty is made ambivalent by the misshaping or contortion of the original form. Table and Pillar (2002) is a polished antique table ‘stabbed’ by a tall wooden pillar—a phallic entry, one is tempted to say, into the womb of a piece of domestic furniture from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Table with Two Legs (2004) on the other hand, is full of Surrealist vivacity that is almost homage to Méret Oppenheim’s Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure) (1936). Simply, a desk that cannot be used to write or eat on is pure form without substance, an empty signifier. In 2007, Ai produced the wooden sculpture Stool, another playful conceit, a piece of furniture that cannot be. It might be said that “stool” is another name for shit, a semantic link that would achieve even more effectively ‘cultural destruction’.

33 — december / 2016


SOUCHOU YAO

l

dı van

34 — december / 2016


The Political Art of Ai

One is dazzled by the virulent ‘fuck Chinese civilisation’ or ‘shit on Chinese civilisation’ denigration that lurches towards cynicism or personal abnegation: why does Ai hate China so much? Or does he? With Fairytale Chairs produced in the same year, his critical angst is much muted, even though it presents the same strategy, the manufacturing of fakery as artistic protest against the fetishism of antiquity. Seven years later, Grapes (2014) duplicates the theme—forty Qing Dynasty stools glued and dowelled together into a circular cluster of wooden legs—that suggests a gathering crowd of fans having just discovered their object of adoration is a void; The Wizard of Oz in Zen mode. The ‘Furniture Series’, as I shall call it, is quite distinctive in Ai’s repertoire—there is something in these works that reinforces the inner heartbeat of Ai’s political project. A work like Grapes (2010) bears an uncertainty of feeling that somehow emanates from the artist’s global preening. The ‘Furniture Series’ does not so much ask questions as positing a nagging doubt on the sheer monumentalism of Chinese antiquity. They are remarkably deconstructive works. Yet, one feels something is amiss—Ai is like a football coach who believes he has all the strategic moves covered, but is blind to the fact that some players are not following the game plan. In both the ‘Furniture Series’ and Dropping the Ming Vase, each object’s origin lacks the pointed quotation marks: it is Qing Dynasty or Ming Dynasty, not “Qing Dynasty” and “Ming Dynasty”. If Table and Pillar (2002) were tagged “Wooden Pillar and Table from the ‘Qing Dynasty’ (1644–1911)”, the whole currency of the work would have radically changed. The destruction of fakes simply does not have the credibility, as does that of objects of genuine antiquity. Of course, the desks, chairs and the Ming vase could just as well be genuine—Ai has sufficient prestige to muster funding for their purchase; in which case it raises some problematic issues. As cultural critique, the ‘Furniture Series’ has to resurrect the protocol of form in order to execute the devastating put down. Contemporary Chinese artists are proud of the craftsmanship that go into the making of their work. From Ai’s furniture items, Shen Shaomin’s Bonsai Series (2007-09) to Xu Bing’s Tian Shu (1987-91), the ‘heavenly book’ of faked Chinese calligraphy—assert the near perfection with which they have brought alive traditional aesthetic form. Those Chinese artists who are internationally successful keep studios in China and call upon the craftsmen, and craftswomen, to assist in production; the exact people who made possible Ai’s epic Sunflower Seeds (2010), at Tate Modern where one hundred million porcelain ‘seeds’, hand-painted by 1,600 Chinese artisans, were installed on the gallery floors. This may have been a commentary on mass consumption and the loss of individuality, but it might also be a critique about the Chinese political economy where relative wages and subcontracting are the norm. So is Sunflower Seeds a critique of the Chinese political economy or its validation? I tend to settle for the latter. For all his critical anger, one detects in Ai a notable innocence regarding the flaky separation of form and content. For form itself can be the message. Jean-Luc Godard imprinted in his films this critical insight; “To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body—both go together, they can’t be separated”.1 With Ai, when ancient objects are reproduced in such immaculate perfection, one might wonder at the artist’s inner desire. From the resurrection of the ancient aesthetics, cultural consent is but centimetres away. Of course, the ‘Furniture Series’ is a work of a significant double act: the validation of form is preparation for its rude dismissal. Yet, its final gesture feels remarkably tame. It is as though form and message are like lovers locked in a coy embrace; each won’t let go of the other. Ai may want to figuratively fuck Mother China, but the Oedipal pull is strong and something stands in the way of its final execution.

35 — december / 2016


SOUCHOU YAO

If I call Ai a Chinese cultural nationalist, this is not to suggest he abides to the narrative of the Communist state and its agendas. I have no idea whether he loves China more than he hates it. Nonetheless, “fuck China”, taken literally, is also an act of carnal love. Cultural nationalism seems to disclose a significant sense of pulling back, of softening the critical edge of his work. This is especially so when he shuns austerity of execution when austerity is called for, when he gives over to the allure of the Chinese aesthetic form. As with my brother’s wife, one’s adoration of China, in the secret heart of hearts, has not diminished the Communist state its many faults. For an artist, this may well be the most glaring bestowal of cultural nationalism: to lovingly, luxuriantly, reproduce the traditional aesthetics is also to bring back alive the devil. For modern Chinese thinkers, the devil is as much the political system as China’s culture and civilisation; the dilemma being it is harder to revolutionise culture and civilisation than the political system. As China’s nineteenth century reformers realised, to reject Chinese culture is also to reject something of themselves. China’s civilisation is a bastard, but it is our bastard, a refined and sophisticated one at that. You can’t say, “fuck you, China” without a some regret and love too. For those making ‘political art’ now, there are simply so many wars and victims of state violence that engage their ideological affinities. At times Ai seems to be lost in ‘the land of opportunity’, so to speak. His brilliance is often suppressed by his tendency for rash judgement and rendering the social and political life of China in black and white terms. He has now expanded his horizons beyond China. His recreation of the image of the drowned Syrian infant on a pebbled beach on the Greek Island of Lesbos captured world media attention, but it was sensationalist and exploitative. In this and other works, his capacity for headline grabbing and geeky self-promotion has made it difficult to question what is the nature of Ai’s ‘political art’? Does it ultimately matter, and to whom? Political art means so many things to so many people. Since artists make works in their own time and social milieu, all artforms are in a sense social and political. Artists can, in varying degrees of urgency and opacity, bring to public attention important issues of power or oppression that affect people’s lives. But that already covers so broad a domain as to be meaningless. It is not only cynicism that makes one say that after Freud, and Derridian post-structuralism, few would take an artist’s declared intention and the politics of his/her art as given. For the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, the greater issue is not ‘making political art’ but ‘doing art politically’, a rephrasing of Godard’s “It is a matter of making films politically; it is not a matter of making political films”.2 From Godard to Hirschhorn —and Walter Benjamin and linguistic anthropology—are employed the same concerns about the mutual entanglement of message and form. Hirschhorn’s position is worthy of meditation by anyone making ‘political art’: Doing art politically means giving form. Making a form—but giving form. A form which comes from me, from myself only, which can only come from me because I see the form that way, I understand it that way and because I am the only one to know that form. To give form—as opposed to making a form—means to be one with it. I must stand alone with this form. It means raising the form, asserting this form and defending it—against everything and against everyone. It means to ask the question of form for myself and try to answer—through giving form. I want to try to confront the great artistic challenge: How can I give a form which takes a position? How can I give a form that resists facts? I want to understand the question of form as the most important question for an artist.3

l

dı van

36 — december / 2016


The Political Art of Ai

This is a position that moves away from the noisy agenda setting and righting the wrongs of the world, simply because this risks turning art into a ‘functional thing’, an instrument of sorts. The most polemical one can be is to take a firm position. In the giving of form, Hirschhorn never forgets the importance of individual vision that drives all art practices: “I am, artistically and intellectually, responsible for I do.”4 This is how I would read Hirschhorn: ‘doing art politically’ requires one to be existentially authentic, and that means ‘asserting’ and ‘defending’ one’s position, and at the same time, opening oneself to scrutiny. And certainly, the process of ‘doing art’ and the very act of making form offers a platform upon which to examine the artist’s desire and ideological pretensions. My mind keeps returning to Godard’s Sympathy For the Devil (1968) and La Chinoise (1967), both a self-conscious enactment of a film-in-the-making, less the end product. Like Godard’s films, perhaps ‘political art’ too should be works of auto-critique.

37 — december / 2016


SOUCHOU YAO

This suggests several things. For one, we have to resist the tyranny of facts so beloved of empiricism. The Chinese state is indeed so oppressive, the Syrian infant did indeed drown off the Turkish coast, but the meanings we attach to them and the manner with which we express our ‘positions’—they are everything. Hirschhorn has asked, “How do I give form that resists fact?” For facts can be the seed of absolutism in political art because they fuel the conviction of one’s unshaken rightness. The Chinese state can hold up its benign face when it needs to, such as during the rescue effort after the Sichuan earthquake in 2013: government incompetence is the main feature of the disaster, along with residents being moved to tears by President Xi Jinping’s promise of century-old state benevolence, “The central authorities will look after you”. The death of the Syrian child was indeed profoundly tragic, but Ai’s cause was not served by his poor taste and injudiciousness that earned him the public derision—“crude, thoughtless and egotistical”5 and “Ai Weiwei the artist died in—and with—that fake death.”6 For an artist of such global celebrity status and political cache, we have the expectation that Ai does more than talk the talk. He has undoubtedly achieved a great deal—in voicing his protest against the oppression of the Chinese state and global human rights abuses. Yet the nagging feeling never dissipates that he might have done these better, with greater subtlety and, dare one say, artistic integrity. Ai is gifted with great skill and imagination, but his work rarely elevates itself to the universalising narrative of human suffering and endurance as, for example, Picasso’s Guernica (1937), in protest of the German Luftwaffe terror bombing during the Spanish Civil War. We are humbled by the heroism of Spanish people as much as by Picasso’s clarity of vision and a selfless homage to his subject(s). Much of Ai’s art, even his ‘Furniture Series’, is burdened by his geeky call for attention and barely conscious stratagem of desire. His mission to expose human misery in one form or another advocates the argument of what not to do if ‘political art’ is to avoid mercy fatigue. If the artist pursues an exposé of the ills of a nation-state competing for world hegemony, it is essential that such critique is astute in its reproach of all its main targets. Ai may not be immoral in his attitude, yet whether he likes it or not he has aggrandised postCold War rhetoric about a rising global power refusing to abide by international standards of multilateral cooperation. China has rightly earned Ai’s critical rage, but the province of international relations is a web of ever shifting alliances and diplomatic intrigue. Every state power is self-focused, inevitably no greater or lesser evil than the other. But it is tempting to contend that the autocracy of the Chinese state is such a betrayal of the modernist faith in the march to social betterment, to make an attack on China as historically myopic. The bigger villain is progressivism or any one of our modern, capitalist yearnings; a work that meditates upon the fact that all human projects can go wrong would be one of tragic wisdom and philosophic depth. At the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, for its 2015 exhibition Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei, I viewed with cringing unease Ai’s Letgo Room (2015) with names of Australian human rights activists and their comments sculpted on the wall from Lego blocks. It was naïve and artless, like some NGO celebrity’s rush to judgment of the country of Others. If cultural nationalism stifles the cultural demolition of earlier work, now his success and the near reverence he enjoys among the world’s museums and galleries similarly imprints upon his work an intellectual insouciance that borders on carelessness. But celebrity status and wealth does not necessarily unhinge one’s critical vigilance. The deceit, for the artist as much as for the viewer, is to not give over to the allure of fame and success—if art is to have significance beyond providing the bread-and-circus spectacle for the insatiable appetite of popular consumption.

l

dı van

38 — december / 2016


The Political Art of Ai

Notes 1

Quoted in Richard Roud, Godard, London: British Film Institute, 2010

2

Quoted in Phillip Drummond, ‘Jean Luc-Goddard’, The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Howell-Smith (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 753 3 Thomas Hirschhorn, ‘Doing political art: What does this mean?’, http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v3n1/fullap01.html; accessed 4 August, 2016 4

Ibid.

5

Niru Ratnam, ‘Ai Weiwei’s Aylan Kurdi image is crude, thoughtless and egotistical’, The Spectator, 1 February, 2016; http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/02/ai-weiweis-aylan-kurdi-image-is-crude-thoughtless-and-egotistical/; accessed 4 August, 2016 6 Hamid Dabashi, ‘A portrait of the artist as a dead boy; Al Jazeera, 4 April, 2016; http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/ opinion/2016/02/portrait-artist-dead-boy-ai-weiwei-aylan-kurdi-refugees-160204095701479.html; accessed 4 August, 2016

39 — december / 2016


PAUL GLADSTON

Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

l

dı van

40 — december / 2016


This essay reflects critically on President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping’s four day state visit to the United Kingdom from 19-23 October, 2015—the first by a head of state from the PRC in a decade—and two attendant myths: first, of traditional Chinese culture and society as essentially harmonious; and second, of the artist and denizen of social media Ai Weiwei as an exemplary political dissident. It also reflects critically with regard to the first of those myths on the para-myth of international ‘brotherhood’ underlying the stated aims of the European Union to achieve “ever closer union” amongst its peoples and member states. In each case myth-making is understood to dissemble more problematic contradictions in actual socio-economic and cultural relations. The essay concludes with some observations on the role of contemporary art as a locus of critical divergence in relation to currently prevailing socio-economic and cultural conditions. I began this text as Xi’s state visit to the UK came to an end and the initial media storm surrounding Ai Weiwei’s major retrospective exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts—which coincided with Xi’s visit—had begun to wane.1 I am completing it in the immediate aftermath of the UK’s referendum on whether to stay within or leave the EU. Since beginning this text it has become timely in the wake of the UK’s EU membership referendum to explore tensions between cultural mythmaking and socio-economic and cultural relations not only with regard to China’s rise as an increasingly global economic and cultural power but also an apparently significant faltering of post-War European unity. The significance of Xi’s state visit and Ai’s Royal Academy of Arts exhibition were widely contested in the media. For some, the UK government’s reception of Xi was little short of a neoliberal kowtowing to growing Chinese geo-political influence that sought to promote economic collaboration at the expense of any direct criticism of China’s human rights record while also glossing over the negative impact of China’s economic policies on the UK. At the time of Xi’s visit there were well-publicised concerns over job losses in the UK’s steel industry brought about by China’s dumping of underpriced steel on international markets. These concerns added to worries over the long-term relocation of manufacturing from the UK to China as a result of rapid industrialisation brought about by the latter’s post-socialist policy of so-called Opening and Reform and the relatively low cost of Chinese labour. For others—including then Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and the leading architect of New Labour, Peter Mandelson—Xi’s reception was a necessary acknowledgement of ineluctable tectonic shifts in East-West power relations conducive to progressive economic collaboration and political dialogue. Xi himself stated that his visit would lift UK-China relations to a “new height” and promote a “community of shared interests”.2 To give confirmation to this raising of UK-China relations Xi was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth during a ceremony held at Horse Guards Parade accompanied by a forty-one gun salute in nearby Green Park, and a state banquet held in his honour at Buckingham Palace. Xi also made a state visit to the Houses of Parliament. Against this spectacular history laden backdrop Chinese and UK government spokespersons were equally at pains to present Xi’s visit as the start of a new “golden age” of transnational cooperation.

41 — december / 2016


PAUL GLADSTON

The first surviving text as part of the Western literary-intellectual tradition to present the concept of a golden age is Hesiod’s epic didactic poem Works and Days (written c.700 BCE). Among other things, Works and Days narrates the classical Greek myth of the five ages of mankind, the first of which, after an initial state of chaos, is a harmonious ‘golden age’ of plenty and peace to which humanity continually strives to return. Works and Days takes the form of a farmer’s almanac giving instruction in the agricultural arts. It was written at a time of agrarian crisis in Greece that resulted in attempts to establish greater food security through colonialist expansion. This historical context resonates with that surrounding present-day assertion of a ‘golden age’ of UK-China relations given that China’s current economic expansion is itself predicated in part on a need to secure resources unavailable domestically. Within present-day China the Chinese imperial Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) is widely upheld as a historical golden age of cosmopolitanism, peace and prosperity to which post-socialist reform should ultimately aspire. Predictably, Ai Weiwei’s Royal Academy exhibition became a focus for renewed public debate on human rights in China. While China’s authorities insist that established policies and enforcement measures within the country are sufficient to curb human rights abuses, other governments and nongovernmental organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch disagree, citing numerous examples of extra-judicial detention and acts of suppressive state violence. Among these is Ai’s own detention by the Chinese authorities in 2011 purportedly on grounds of illegal non-payment of taxes. As a consequence of the suppression of public protests against Xi’s visit, that debate was extended to human rights issues in the UK. Reports in the media identify instances in which local uniformed and plainclothes police intervened during Xi’s visit to stop public protests about China’s treatment of minorities and political dissidents—interventions helped along by hordes of flag-waving ‘rent-a-crowd’ Chinese nationals all too eager to block those same protests and the suppressive actions of the UK police from the view of television news cameras.3 In the view of some mainstream art critics, including Mark Hudson writing in The Telegraph, Ai’s Royal Academy exhibition provided a vital locus of cultural resistance to political authoritarianism not just in China but elsewhere4—an interpretation also supported, understandably, by the RA’s public relations machine, which, among other things, posted filmed conversations between Ai and the cultural commentator Tim Marlow on the artist’s influences as well as the supposedly dissident status of his work and activities on social media. For others, such as Matthew Collings writing in The Evening Standard, there are significant doubts about the technical/aesthetic quality and critical efficacy of art works produced by Ai.5 In Collings’ view, the critical significances attached to art works included in Ai’s RA exhibition are not performed convincingly by the works themselves, but have become attached in post hoc fashion as part of wider art world and public discourses—an argument that could be levelled convincingly at a great deal of post-Duchampian contemporary art. Colling’s comments resonate with prior concerns about the artistic quality and critical efficacy of Ai’s work put forward by a number of writers, including Jed Perl6 and myself. At the centre and on the fringes of Xi’s visit there were repeated reassertions of the Chinese government’s stated neo-Confucian desire to promote social harmony, not only within the PRC but also internationally through the projection of ‘soft power’. With the increasing ideological vacuum brought about by China’s adoption of post-socialist Opening and Reform at the end of the 1970s, from the mid-

l

dı van

42 — december / 2016


Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

1990s onwards the Chinese government has sought to promulgate neo-Confucian values of familial and state piety as a means of upholding social cohesion in the face of the disruptive impact of modernisation. Promotion of these values was very much to the fore at a China-Britain culture dialogue forum held at Trinity College, Oxford on 23 October as part of a wider 2015 UK-China Year of Cultural exchange7; to which the present author was an invited speaker. At the Oxford forum, Qi Ming-Qiu of the Soong Ching Ling Foundation, for example, argued that Daoist thinking and practice—which is a formative constituent of Confucianism—supports the notion that social harmony is an outcome of reciprocity between relative differences rather than absolute uniformity. Such assertions, which resonate strongly prima facie with contemporary Western notions of difference and multi-culturalism, are clearly intended to present an essentially non-threatening view of contemporary China whilst also asserting the values associated with Chinese civilisation-specific identity. Assertions of this sort not only strike the postcritical turn (deconstructively-minded) consciousness as unjustifiably idealistic, but may also be seen as being very much at odds with the facticity of China’s increasingly assertive presence on the world stage: to whit its growing military standing in the Asia-Pacific region (not least the heavily contested area of the South China Sea8), arguably neo-colonialist excursions into Africa and—in spite of official protestations to the contrary—continuing subordination of minorities to majority Han domination within China itself. Similar criticisms of the promotion of dissembling soft power could, of course, be launched at the UK and the USA, not least in relation to allied military action in the Middle East since the turn of the millennium. With regard to China, however, differences between assertions of the inherently harmony-seeking nature of traditional Chinese culture as part of the projection of soft power and the realité of a rather more fractured, unequal and outwardly confrontational Chinese society are thrown into particularly sharp relief by the Chinese government’s persistent inward suppression of political free speech and public debate: a situation significantly heightened by the tightening of Xi’s grip on political power since his installation as China’s President in 2013. Seen in this light, official assertions of China’s traditional tendencies towards harmony are open to interpretation as little more than an ideological means of upholding the continuity of state power in the face of persistent social divisions and conflicts. Xi’s assertion as part of his address to the UK parliament that China has a much longer, several-thousand-year history of putting political power at the service of the people than that claimed by the United Kingdom—as the notional ‘home of democracy’ —does little to detract from the expansionist as well as internalised violence of current Chinese realpolitik, nor indeed does the recent awarding of China’s Confucian Peace Prize to Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe. Assertions of China’s supposed tendencies towards social and cultural harmony are thus open to interpretation as being passive-aggressive rather than non-threatening. Indicative of tensions pervading the purportedly smooth progress of China-UK ‘golden age’ relations is a leaked video of a conversation at a Buckingham Palace garden party between Queen Elizabeth and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lucy D’Orsi, in which the former registers her displeasure at the UK Ambassador to China, Barbara Woodward’s reportedly rude treatment by Chinese officials as part of the planning for Xi’s visit. Government spokespersons in China and the UK were swift to uphold the current state of UK-China ‘golden age’ relations in response to the leak. Nevertheless, the mythical status of those relations had been pushed back to reveal a far less harmonious state of affairs than that claimed by both governments.

43 — december / 2016


PAUL GLADSTON

As I completed final revisions to this text a post-Brexit vote, Conservative government lead by new Prime Minister Theresa May has raised further questions over the gilded status of UK-China relations by delaying the signing of an international agreement on the construction of new nuclear reactors in the UK, including one at Hinkley Point in Somerset, in which the Chinese government has a significant financial as well as technical investment. The UK government’s unexpected decision to review the agreement has been seen by some as something of a rowing back on its previously stated position that post-Brexit Britain is very much open to global business and inward investment, not least from China. Ai’s interventions on the fringes of Xi’s visit to the UK, while arguably effective as a focus for media debates about human rights, are neither an index of successful resistance to authority nor wholly representative of the wider landscape of artistic criticality within China. As I have argued in a series of articles from 2011 onwards9, the projection of Ai’s media image as a political dissident is more of a sop to liberal conscience outside China than an indicator of any significant critical impact on society and governmental authority within. Ai’s often bombastic and simplistic oppositional view of artistic-critical intervention—which has always been projected far more vehemently in ‘safe’ conditions outside China —is embraced enthusiastically within Western(ised) discursive contexts nostalgic for abstract Romantic (pre-critical turn) notions of heroic critical-artistic agency. As such, Ai’s projected media image as a dissident non plus ultra has been used to buttress an abstract dialectic pitting authoritarian China against a supposedly free West in a manner that resonates strongly with the assertively oppositional politics of the Cold War. l

dı van

44 — december / 2016


Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

Some of Ai’s interventions prior to his arrest and indictment for “tax evasion” by the Chinese government in 2011—such as the lists of names of victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake posted at the offices of FAKE Design in Beijing in 2009—have been interpreted beyond the great Chinese Internet firewall as having a direct critical impact on the authorities in China. However, that impact as a matter of singular cause and effect is far from being conclusively proven beyond assertions by the artist and his supporters backed up by a body of largely circumstantial evidence. An article by Katherine Grube for Art AsiaPacific typically asserts the critical impact of Ai’s work as an artist on the Chinese government while failing to provide any substantive evidence in this regard. Grube also qualifies her assertion by listing other more likely sources of critical pressure on the actions of the Chinese government.10 In addition to which, Ai’s media presence has of late been characterised by a string of highly embarrassing attention grabbing stunts—such as postings of ‘selfies’ with Paris Hilton and the restaging of a photograph of a drowned Syrian child refugee on the shores of Greece, with Ai taking the place of the child11—that have significantly devalued his international reputation. Moreover, recent comments by the painter Sean Scully have cast doubts over the veracity of Ai’s account of his detention by Chinese authorities.12 And yet, many in the West—both on the left and right—continue to uphold Ai unequivocally as a beacon of resistance in the struggle between freedom and authoritarianism.

45 — december / 2016


PAUL GLADSTON

l

dı van

46 — december / 2016


Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

Within China, Ai is viewed in a markedly contrasting light to that internationally. For the vast majority of Chinese, with little or no interest in high culture, he is either invisible or an irrelevance. Many, if not most, culturally informed others repudiate Ai’s critical stance towards the Chinese government as a co-opting of Western values against China’s collective national interests. Ai has stoked such internal criticisms by disingenuously upbraiding curators and fellow artists working within China for what he claims is their craven supplication to state power—an accusation that could just as easily be levelled at Ai himself, given that in the wake of his detention and indictment by the Chinese authorities Ai’s critical attacks on state power within China have become noticeably less frequent and more oblique. Indeed, Ai’s projected media image as a dissident outside China may well be considered a useful one by the Chinese government, adding as it does to an externally supported sense of antagonism around which the Chinese people have been made to coalesce in resistance to what is seen as continuing Western imperialism (a Chinese ‘project fear’, if you will). Positive Chinese government support for such a resistant nationalistic stance in the contemporary cultural sphere can be found in relation to the Chinese Communist Your League’s promotion of the rap group CD Rev, whose lyrics and media interviews seek to instil foreign wariness of the now re-awakening Chinese dragon.13 While Ai’s detention and indictment in 2011 is perhaps evidence of governmental displeasure with the artist’s previously relatively open criticism of the Chinese state, he is certainly not among those democracy activists, journalists and lawyers considered a direct threat to China’s established political and legal structures; some of whom, including the writer and former university professor Liu Xiaobo, have been subjected to repeated detentions. Ai himself is now no longer subject to state detention and is free to travel outside China, making it possible for him to take up a professorship in Berlin. The production and exhibition of post-Duchampian art of indeterminate significance alongside social-media rantings against power in the context of a still predominantly culturally conservative and economically focused Chinese society is, given Ai’s undoubtedly unsympathetic domestic profile, far from being an immanent and effective intervention on the socio-political status quo in China. In this regard one might look instead to a younger generation of artists, including Chen Tianzhou, Peng Yun, Tan Lijie and the duo Birdhead (Song Tao and Ji Weiyu), whose ostensibly politically disengaged, but cosmopolitan and new technology-savvy outlook arguably contributes far more, and in a distinctly subversive rather than oppositional way, to progressive social changes in China only partially subject to the auspices of the state. Birdhead’s work as photographers, video makers and installation artists, for example, addresses itself primarily to a localised Shanghai cultural scene, referred to by the artists as ‘Birdworld’, that is neither wholly consensual in its identity nor explicitly antagonistic towards authority. Like other contemporary Chinese art collectives, including avant-garde groups active during the 1980s such as Chi She (the Pond Association), Birdworld is a loosely configured and shifting social network constituted not by explicitly shared aims and goals but by an implicit (high-context) desire to interact socially in a manner only nominally anchored by the representational cultural practices of Birdhead themselves. In doing so, it can be interpreted as a performative nonconforming intervention that simultaneously remains immersed within wider Chinese society and its limiting-enabling discursive conditions.14 Work by this younger generation of artists is integral to major shifts in socio-cultural positioning, taking place particularly within China’s major urbanised centres, that significantly problematise authoritarian notions of a homogenous Chinese neo-Confucian culture by

47 — december / 2016


PAUL GLADSTON

asserting regionally inflected and culturally pluralistic sub-cultural identities. Ai’s now well-nigh mythical media presence as an oppositional dissident does little to foster discussion of the critical impact of such a counter-authoritarian sub-cultural approach. If we wish to support contemporary critical-artistic culture then we should, of course, adopt a position of basic solidarity with Ai’s sceptical stance towards authority. However, on multiple counts the supposed social relevance and critical impact of Ai’s art must be heavily qualified. It is almost certainly one of symbolic rather than directly engaged resistance. Attendant upon Xi’s visit to the UK are thus two mythical abstractions: first, China’s desire to promote harmonious social relations at home and abroad supposedly rooted in long-standing Chinese cultural tradition; and second, the perceived status of Ai Weiwei as an exemplary, socially-engaged political dissident. Both are misleading and serve to obscure far more complex, less clearly delineated and comforting discursive practical inter-relationships between culture, politics and society within and outside China. In the context of the outcome of the UK’s recent referendum on whether to leave or remain within the European Union such observations of the tensions between political myth-making and the pervasive heterogeneity of actual socio-economic and cultural relations can be readily extended. After decades of being ignored and condescended to by successive ruling parties dedicated to the progress of the neoliberal project, the English working classes (such as they can still be described) have helped to deliver a (deconstructively) seismic shock to the UK’s and Europe’s political hegemony by tipping the result of the referendum to leave. Like the financial crisis of 2008, that shock has cracked open—if only momentarily—the mythically smooth carapace of triumphant post-Cold War international capitalism to reveal, yet again, a durably pervasive economic and social inequality as well as related political antagonisms. As I write, the Conservative Party has established a new Brexit-oriented cabinet under the leadership of Theresa May, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has lost a vote of no confidence among his parliamentary colleagues and is now embroiled in a leadership contest with challenger Owen Smith, increased acts of deplorable racist violence and abuse are being widely reported in the media and sizeable activist gatherings in support of Corbyn and against Brexit have taken place outside the Houses of Parliament, all against the backdrop of thinly veiled threats from other EU governments that the process of Brexit will not be made easy. As part of and running ideologically counter to these ruptures in the socio-political fabric is continuing, highly vocal support for the UK’s continued membership of the EU. It is ironic, however, to see on social media and elsewhere that many of those previously critical of neoliberalism have registered their horror and indignation at the result of the referendum. Instead of solidarity with a justifiably disaffected proletariat theirs seems to be with an institution, the EU, demonstrably dedicated, in the final analysis, to the interests of international capital over those of actual people and their communities—viz. the imposition of unbearable austerity as a remedy for continuing financial instability in Greece. Such solidarity with the EU is informed by yet another myth: that of inevitable progress towards ever greater union—as signified by the EU’s choice of the music to the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony of 1823, Ode to Joy as its anthem: originally a musical setting of Friedrich von Schiller’s idealistic poetical vision of human ‘brotherhood’ An die Freude of 1785. This post-Enlightenment European myth of international sister/brotherhood is arguably a paramyth to that of Chinese-Confucian projections of social and cultural harmony. Both are Romantically appealing but ultimately vacuous in their respective gross abstractions and glossing over of persistent social and cultural antagonisms. Both provide the malleable substrate against which bourgeois interests are able to roam this way and that while asserting moral and political correctness. Institutionalised l

dı van

48 — december / 2016


Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

postmodernist indeterminacy—not least in relation to glib managerialist conceptions of difference and the politics of identity—has come to legitimise the former, while the latter appeals—after the cultural iconoclasm of the Maoist revolutionary era—to resurgent notions of civilisation-specific identity. The politically suppressive as well as collectively comforting effects of both are arguably much the same. This is not to deny the pragmatics of transnational-community as a notional focus for sociopolitical cohesion. Rather, it is to acknowledge that such notions of community are bought—like others—at the price of the suppression (or more accurately, under current conditions, the political management) of inevitable differences and antagonisms, and moreover, that the upholding of myths in support of particular socio-politically invested notions of transnational-community is not based on a universal conceptual abstraction but is ultimately a matter of cultural parallax (that is to say, how they have been constructed and subsequently viewed from a particular historical-cultural perspective). As John Roberts—a durable Marxian critic of the abstractions of institutionalised postmodernism—has observed, historically the bourgeoisie has been more than happy to sing paeans to notions of unity in difference while continuing to serve and replicate their own class interests15—for example France’s juste milieu of the nineteenth century. That observation seems to be borne out by the fallout from the UK referendum with many on the bourgeois left and right continuing to side with the safety of neoliberal economic consensus under the guise of Romantic international collectivism over the particularities of class antagonism. While social justice may remain an ultimate political goal for those on the Left and Centre Right (as made clear by Theresa May’s conciliatory Downing Street accession speech as Prime Minister), a post-referendum recourse to the notional sanctuary of the EU in the face of supposedly proletarian ‘irrationality’ would seem—particularly for those of agonistic pluralist political tendencies—to be a thoroughly uncompelling dogleg towards its realisation.

49 — december / 2016


PAUL GLADSTON

With regard to all of which, it becomes necessary to speculate on the international Western(ised) art world’s widespread espousal of Claire Bishop’s critical identification of a confirmatory relationship between the inherent communitarianism of relational aesthetics and a suppressive consensus-seeking neoliberalism.16 While Bishop’s critique is openly aligned with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s post-Marxist conception of a radical (antagonistic pluralist) democratic politics17 (a significant intellectual contribution to now established Western[ised] discourses on the value and importance of a pluralistic multi-culturalism in the negotiation of hegemonic power), it is by no means clear how that alignment can be squared entirely satisfactorily with the widespread desire within the liberal international art world, as made evident on social media, to support the UK’s continuing membership of the EU along with the abstraction of its foundational myth of international brother/ sisterhood and promotion of an undifferentiated neoliberal economic agenda. Contemporary art in Europe is largely in thrall to dominant discourses that inform the conduct of the EU, whose cultural policy after the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 promotes and requires of projects that it funds conformity to the enshrined values of the EU. Although the EU’s Strategic Framework for Culture expressly acknowledges the possibility of and need to address conflict within cultural difference, that acknowledgement is effectively trumped by its commitment to Romantic notions of brother/sisterhood in the service of neoliberal goals. To gain art world acceptance and funding artists are compelled—as a matter of political correctness—not to adopt positions fundamentally opposed to that notional unity for fear of being dubbed prejudicial or worse. While these institutionalised values may be admirable in an abstract (‘motherhood and apple pie’) sense, cultural policy dedicated to their promotion and its direct ties to the funding of cultural activity have an inevitably disciplining effect on the arts—one that limits their critical range. What has emerged is not an uncritical culture per se—many artists openly and actively criticise historical and contemporary social inequality and the perfidious nature of global neoliberalism—but one supported, sponsored and consequently defused by a political union that itself ultimately seeks to gloss over certain kinds of antagonism in pursuit of its economic goals. The outcomes are in their own way no less coercive than the Chinese government’s promotion of neo-Confucian harmony. The European Union has, like the global socio-economic mainstream in general, effectively recuperated the possibility of a critical art to itself—and arguably in a much more effective manner than in China, where crude forms of suppressive political violence still abound. How artists—already up to their necks in this multi-mythical mire, as Ai Weiwei’s bathetic progress shows—might respond critically to the seismic shock inflicted by Brexit remains to be seen. The example of a younger generation of critically immersed artists in China may prove instructive.

l

dı van

50 — december / 2016


Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

Notes 1 This article revises and expands an editorial by the present author published in the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art 2 (2+3), 2016, ‘Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United Kingdom and attendant cultural myths’ 2

Anon, ‘Xi Jinping visit: UK-China ties “will be lifted to new height”’, BBC News online, 20 October, 2015, accessed 20 October, 2015; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34571436

3

Op cit.

4

Mark Hudson, ‘Ai Weiwei, Royal Academy, review: “immensely impressive”’, The Telegraph, 15 September, 2015, accessed 15 October, 2015; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/ai-weiwei-royal-academy-review/ 5 Matthew Collings, ‘Ai Weiwei, exhibition review: High on spectacle but light on substance’, Evening Standard, 15 September, 2015, accessed 15 October, 2015; http://www.standard.co.uk/author/matthew-collings 6 Jed Perl, ‘Noble and Ignoble – Ai Weiwei: wonderful dissident terrible artist’, New Republic, 1 February, 2013, accessed 20 October, 2015; http://newrepublic.com/article/112218/ai-wei-wei 7 See ‘2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange’, British Council website, accessed 12 July, 2016; https://www.britishcouncil. cn/en/programmes/arts/2015YOCE; and ‘2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange’, Gov.UK website, accessed 12 July, 2016; https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/2015-uk-china-year-of-cultural-exchange 8 See Anon, ‘Why is the South China Sea contentious?’, BBC News online, 12 July, 2016, accessed 20 July, 2016; http://www. bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13748349 9 Paul Gladston, ‘The Double Way: contemporary Chinese art and the waning of criticality’, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet, 40.3, 2011, pp. 175-77 ____, ‘Silence and Recuperation: the pitiable sacrifice of the artist Ai Weiwei’, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet, 40.3, 2011, pp. 178-81 ____, ‘The Cult of Ai: a critical response to Ai Weiwei’s comments on the exhibition Art of Change: New directions from China’, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet, 42.1, 2013, pp. 241-49 ____, ‘The (Continuing) story of Ai–from tragedy to farce’, Randian-online, accessed 15 October, 2015; http://www.randianonline.com/np_feature/the-continuing-story-of-ai-from-tragedy-to-farce/ 10

Katherine Grube, ‘Ai Weiwei Challenges China’s Government over Earthquake’, Art Asia Pacific 84, accessed 20 October, 2015; http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/64/AiWeiweiChall

11

Sarah Malm, ‘“Lazy, Cheap and Crass”: Ai Weiwei is condemned for “disrespecting” the memory of Syrian migrant Alan Kurdi by recreating haunting photograph of his washed up body’, Mail Online, 1 February, 2016, updated 4 February, 2016, accessed 1 March, 2016; http://www.daliymail.co.uk/news/article-3426557/Chi

12

See Laurence Mackin, ‘Sean Scully: “I don’t lie on a chaise longue with a cigarette holder and a glass of champagne”’, The Irish Times, 11 April, 2015, accessed 20 July, 2016; http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/sean-scully-idon-t-lie-on-a-chaise-longue-with-a-cigarette-holder-and-a-glass-of-champagne-1.2171867; and Mark Lawson, ‘Sean Scully: “My therapist sent me away”’, The Guardian, 7 January, 2015, accessed 20 July, 2016; https://www.theguardian.com/ artanddesign/2015/jan/07/sean-scully-painter-interview

13

See Anon, ‘Meet China’s patriotic Rap Group CD Rev’, BBC News online, 2 August, 2016, accessed 3 August, 2016; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-36924071

14

For a more detailed discussion of Birdhead’s work in this regard, see Paul Gladston, ‘“Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao”: Cultural Translation and the Spectral Condition(s) of Artistic Criticality in Contemporary China’, Modern China Studies 23:1, 2016, pp. 95-119

15

See John Roberts, Art has no History!: the making and unmaking of modern art, London: Verso, 1994

16

See Claire Bishop, Installation art: a critical history, London: Tate, 2005, pp. 120-122

17

See Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics, London: Verso, 1985

51 — december / 2016


VALI MAHLOUJI

From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan Kaveh Golestan (1950-2003) was an influential and prolific pioneer of documentary photography within Iran. Celebrated for his coverage of many major historical events, including conflict reportage in Northern Ireland, the Iranian Islamic Revolution, the Iran-Iraq and the Gulf Wars, his photographs were featured in publications such as Time; also the BBC and Tehran e Mosavvar. Beyond photojournalism, Golestan produced a vast body of street photography. His approach here frequently borders on the ethnographic, perhaps nowhere more so than in his deep engagement with the inhabitants of Shahr-e No, the vibrant red light district of pre-revolutionary Iran. The resulting photo-series, simply entitled Prostitute, presents an especially nuanced and aesthetically accomplished example of Golestan’s work as both documentarist and artist. This historically poignant example of his drive to social engagement is here presented alongside a second photo-series which constitutes a more private photographic exploration, of an imaginary world parcelled into surrealist Polaroid collages, grouped under the title Az Div o Dad. While both series are in their own ways politically subversive, or work to redress imbalances of power in society, the second series is more explicitly experimental. It forms a unique and unexpected component within a vast archive of work (including a quarter of a million negatives) that, overall, arguably constitutes the most significant visual document of the social, cultural and political history of Iran during the second half of the twentieth century. Yet until recently, these particular photo-series have remained obscure, especially to an international audience, buried by the troubled history of the revolutionary rupture and post-revolutionary Iran. Given recent historical developments and the apparent rapprochement between Iran and the outside world, works such as these demand sensitive attention. Not only did both of these series emerge within a defined context of pre-revolutionary Iran, but also their re-emergence today sheds light on the particularly cosmopolitan intellectual milieu which constituted that era. Furthermore, each in their own way embodies the scars of subsequent cultural revolution, trauma and erasure. It is precisely because of those multiple and compounded layers that a revisiting of these works is so vital. Each series remains problematic in its own way in the face of contemporary conservative cultural impositions which colour and control every aspect of Iranian society. It is crucial to acknowledge that the new relative normalisation of diplomatic and business links following the 2015 ‘Iran nuclear deal’ between Iran and Western nations will do little to aid a serious critical evaluation of these works, let alone their emergence within an international context. l

dı van

52 — december / 2016


53 — december / 2016


VALI MAHLOUJI

As a curator and agent of the Kaveh Golestan Estate, itself owned by Golestan’s widow Hengameh Golestan, the re-circulation, digitalisation and conservation of this archive has become a personal mission—a core facet of my own curatorial research platform, the Archaeology of the Final Decade. The latter amounts to a curatorial think tank which engages with accounts of culture which have been lost through material destruction, acts of erasure, and other political, economic or human contingencies. Revolving as it does around histories of nations condemned by social displacement, cultural annihilation or deliberate disappearance, the crux of this research is an archaeological methodology. However, archaeology here does not imply merely a vertical excavation into the origin of things. Integral to our understanding of the term is an equally extensive horizontal, genealogical investigation in the Foucauldian sense, relating laterally across interconnected realities. These range from the aesthetic and socio-political to the geographic, anthropological, ethnographic, linguistic and spiritual. By attending to the condition and discourses surrounding the emergence of the object, or archive, new research questions and discursive relationships are liberated. Retrieving and withdrawing the object from the hubbub, reintroducing it into the public domain and reincorporating it into cultural discourse arguably serves as an act of healthy historical reconciliation, redressing gaps in historical and art historical knowledge for a local, as well as, an international audience. Whilst the retracing and reclaiming of the object is a reconstructive process directed primarily towards an act of intra-cultural assimilation, we strive to enact and promote curatorial research, exhibition and re-circulation of the works in the global public domain. The prescribed resolution, the façade of closure enforced upon sites of cultural erasure, contestation or trauma is thus destabilised and deconstructed. This displacement of the object, or archive, through time and space, and its consequent revitalisation in new local and international contexts activates latent knowledge embedded within the object itself, potentially liberating a rearticulation of multiple discourses. This leads to the generation of new narratives, new value production and new meanings symbolically and materially: these new systems of statements accumulate through sequential instantiations of this ‘horizontal’ archaeological method, in an open-ended and historically radical manner, which demands a break with accepted truths. Golestan’s Prostitute series (1975-77) constitutes the last extant photographic document of the Citadel of Shahr-e No—the notoriously squalid and vibrant red light district of Tehran—before it was burnt down (with an undisclosed number of residents trapped inside) during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. After scorching, the remnants of the quarters were destroyed and the entire neighbourhood was bulldozed flat and out of sight by official decree. The formation of the district dated back to the 1920s and it was a thriving red light quarter by the 1940s. The area came to be called the Citadel after the erection of a wall in 1953 that enshrined it as an inner city ghetto. The exclusion of the neighbourhood from the open city landscape was an initiative of the post-1953 CIA-aided coup d’etat that deposed the government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed General Zahedi as prime minister. The Citadel of Shahr-e No became also known as the Zahedi Citadel.

l

dı van

54 — december / 2016


From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan

55 — december / 2016


VALI MAHLOUJI

l

dı van

56 — december / 2016


From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan

The walled ghetto was accessed through a gate and was structured internally around two main avenues, broadly dividing living and business quarters, with a grid-like plethora of smaller crossroads. One of the avenues consisted mainly of houses where the women lived and raised their children, some of whom were born into and lived their entire lives inside the neighbourhood. The other avenue was mainly a business quarter where they received clients through madames and pimps cutting pathetic deals and trading in addictive substances that usually spiralled them further into debt.1 The area housed a tapestry of populist culture, rich with drinking taverns, cabarets and other socialising hangouts catering mainly for urban groups of lower economic means. It aroused the curiosity of artists and writers, including foreign film and theatre directors, such as Bernardo Bertolucci2 and Peter Brook.3 By the mid1960s it had its own health clinic, police station and a small but very active social services department.4 In the few years just prior to the Iranian Islamic Revolution, Golestan completed a very personal mission—he had no official permit—of penetrating the Citadel of Shahr-e No with his camera, and subsequently publicly exposing its interior, in three consecutive photo-essays in the Iranian daily Ayandegan in 1977. Golestan spent a year and half between 1975 and 1977 carefully composing the sixtyone portraits, edited from a substantially larger pool of negatives. The process involved several years of extensive study and research, long visits to the district and the befriending of residents. His meticulous observation and empathetic sensitivity to the individual subjectivities of the women of the Citadel has produced one of the most remarkable bodies of portraits. Golestan used his photographs with the intention and understanding that photography is a civic refuge at the disposal of those robbed of citizenship. Here, this condition was exemplified by the segregation of the persons from the mainstream of society, not just by their abject poverty or illegal profession, but physically and geographically by enclosure within the confines of a walled ghetto. Permeating the walls, Golestan’s transgressive lens operated against a tripartite set of conventions, always focused on the human condition. Firstly, it sought to expose the forbidden physical space, kept out of sight behind the walls. Secondly, it sought to explore the functions attributed to that space of exclusion and thirdly to draw attention to the outcasts who navigated or negotiated through that space. Golestan consciously identified with the excluded and assumed an active role as intercessor in the dispute that he articulated. His lens played the conduit for the marginalised to interact with the mainstream, to overcome public denial about the truth of their experiences. He constructed a relational dialectic between the image of the impoverished, forgotten, forbidden from sight and mainstream metropolitan citizenry. This anti-dream was presented against the arcadian lights of the capitalist city in advancement.5 In his calls for action, Golestan positioned himself not only as the harbinger of the truth of the oppressed but also a radical activist, dialectically opposed to the idleness of the chattering metropolitan intellectual. Golestan intended to summon us to action, to move, radicalise and politicise his audience. Indeed, when he showed them at Tehran University in 1978, his exhibition was shut down prematurely after fourteen days and the works remained unseen to date. The project was originally conceived as a triptych—Prostitute, Worker, Asylum. It included parallel exposés of low-income labourers and mentally handicapped children who had been abandoned to the care of an asylum. The triptych symbolised a ‘dysfunctional’ archetypal family unit—Man, Woman, Child. Focusing on those robbed of citizenship, his engagement with the marginalised and socially excluded was in line with a distinct prevalent trajectory that had artistically manifested itself, especially in films by, amongst others, Ahmad Faroughi, Ebrahim Golestan, Forough Farrokhzad and Kamran Shirdel.6 Arguably, ambivalent and contradictory state sensitivities and harsh censorship measures played a role in transposing “the spirit of unmasking, of rebellion against authority”7 into a far more limited sphere of calling for democratic civic practice. To a lesser or greater degree these works investigated

57 — december / 2016


VALI MAHLOUJI

the radical implications of the discourse of natural rights as defined by the plights of women, the poor, labourers, abandoned children, the mentally ill and inmates. They designed opportunities for the invisible to be seen and heard, although arguably such focused designs contrapuntally perpetuate marginalisation.8 Importantly, Golestan focused attention on the sitters’ subjectivities by emphasising that we must look at the photographs formally as portraits: I consider this an exhibition of portrait photography. This is the context within which I framed the work. Naturally, in order to portray the reality, I have ensured that some of the sitters are portrayed within their [individual] setting. This was possible in the context of the Prostitute and Worker series but not when I photographed the children. There, I literally had only ten minutes.9 The scene, the situation of dispossessed citizenship, is supplanted by the centrality of the person. Golestan consciously attempts to avoid turning the prostitute into a sign whilst creating the Shahr-e No series. He sensitively negotiates the photographic contract to de-anonymise. As a result, these images are mostly consciously constructed intimate portrayals of individual subjectivities. Young and not so apparently young women gaze directly at the spectator, quietly enduring their various predicaments. The gaze of the photographed subjects is varied: frank, sharp, probing, passive, exhausted, furious, introverted, defensive, warning, aggressive, hate-filled, pleading, unbalanced, sceptical, cynical, indifferent, anticipating or demanding. To avoid fetishism, Golestan’s own photographic gaze must sublimate sexual drives and mitigate patriarchal marks of masculine ownership. Nevertheless, here—in this spatial opening for people within society to see each other—notions of beauty, femininity, desire, erotic sensibility and the politics of sexuality are often openly projected through the technologies of the gaze. Despite the power relations implicated in his relationship to these women as male photographer armed with a camera and lens, he ardently works through and counteracts the potentially problematic dis-balances. Golestan’s meticulous observation, his humane gaze and his empathetic sensitivity attend to the individual lives and subjectivities of the women, their own particular and private sensibilities. The dynamic field of power relations through which the photographic situation creates the Shahr-e No series misses not an intimate detail of costume, a jewel if there is one, not a gesture, or a crack in the wall, a fold in the cloth. Whether ravishing beauties or distressingly abused individuals, these historically compounded portraits of trauma constitute one of the strongest topographies of femaleness produced photographically in Iran. In 1976, two years before he was to begin documenting the overthrowing of the monarchy, the celebrated Iranian documentary photographer Kaveh Golestan produced a hitherto underexposed, intensely personal and profoundly experimental series of photographic collages. This unique body of work, Az Div o Dad, references in its title an oft-cited verse of the classical Persian poet Rumi10, in which the poet yearns for the humane—nowhere to be found—in the face of the hypocritical, demonic (div) and the beastly (dad). As such, and despite the surrealistic collage aesthetic, perhaps this mysterious archive of Polaroids can be comfortably placed alongside the socially engaged modus operandi of Golestan’s broader oeuvre, primarily consisting of black and white, ostensibly straight documentary photography. Certainly, the work has overtones of political subversion and engagement. Yet, exploring the photographs, one is struck by the fearless ambiguity of the images, which splice official royal, military and political portraits and architectural backgrounds with snake tails, vulture and bat heads, unidentifiable and often grotesque animal fragments, anonymous body parts and graphic female nudes. These monstrous constructions and grotesquely theatrical mis-en-scene happenings present evidence of a period of aesthetic and creative freedom far surpassing that found in the artist’s other works. l

dı van

58 — december / 2016


From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan

59 — december / 2016


VALI MAHLOUJI

The instantaneous nature of the Polaroid as medium certainly facilitated and perhaps even encouraged the radically experimental nature of these images. The innovative working method developed by Golestan involved the temporary insertion, alteration and removal of various fragmentary cutouts over these found photographs, under the Polaroid lens. Specifically, Golestan used the first available Polaroid camera which allowed for manual control of exposure length, the SX-70. This approach to superimposition allowed for the creation of a private, virtual theatrical space below the lens, the images alternatively flooded with shifting levels of brightness and shadow. Golestan further embellishes the images by applying a range of hues through the use of different filters, an experimental—even playful—approach to photography that is antithetical to the pre-conceived aims of the photojournalist. Furthermore, the long and incremental exposure of components inserted and superimposed enabled an aesthetics of metamorphosis more literal and perhaps more potent than one relying solely on juxtaposition. Peering into these minute Polaroid squares we might discover the ghostly partial transformation and eerie slippage of a regal bust into that of a bat, or a vulture. The macabre and even visceral horror of these particular images evokes a sense of the Bataillian informe, the uncanny dissolution of boundaries within photographs. The images in some cases appear to transition sequentially, akin to a series of film stills; for example, the sequential montage whereby the young Qajar monarch Ahmad Shah gains a pair of butterfly wings, before his face morphs into an eagle’s head before flickering back between human and bat—alongside a variety of tonal and colour gradations. The construction and exploration of this mysterious, other wordly and ambiguous aesthetic, through this iterative series of rearranged elements, is anchored into (in a productive rather than reductive sense) an Iranian context by fragments of the real, identifiable in the appropriated nineteenth and twentieth century Qajar-era photographs. The small size and frequently dark, rather obscure images that draw in the viewer are suggestive of the secretive (or rather, private or individual), of the exposure of Golestan’s interior world. This aspect of the images’ materiality also gives a sense of physical compression—both of images-within-images, as well as the flickering of figure-ground reversals—which produce a material potency alongside the attraction and repulsion we feel towards the strange mystical human-animal hybrids displayed. The consciously composed and recomposed series of iterations of colour and hue, of light and dark, heighten the sense of a shifting, intangible representation, which abides by the logic of dreams, the compression of time and memory in dream-like fiction. Beyond the uncanniness of the photographic double we have here a multiplication of photographic layers, which compels the viewer to read into and through the varied figurative, social and symbolic references nestled within. As such, metaphors of social violence are melded with a bodily vulnerability, a radical hybridity. European surrealists frequently expressed a profound anxiety with regards the machinisation and technologisation of everyday life. In Golestan’s series, the mechanical or technological appears as part of an ambiguous metaphor of social violence, whereby the cheeks of an open mouth cast in a deep red-orange hue are punctured with what appears to be a large, machinistic screw. Golestan was aware of other photographers who presented social violence through the rupturing or deformation of the body, such as the Polaroid works of the Greek photographer Lucas Samaras, whom he admired. However, Golestan’s approach remains distinctly and persistently disengaged from the performative use of the body as medium or as site of spectacle. The body is distinctly not self-referential and its presence remains primarily anonymous, the figure remains generic outside the iconographic political figureheads in the found Qajar photographs. In one image, a bright, colour-saturated curvaceous female nude appears outstretched before a crowd of Qajar dignitaries, l

dı van

60 — december / 2016


From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan

their authority subdued and rendered somewhat banal by comparison and in the arresting presence of her eroticism. As the eye wanders North, the image is recast from the male perspective, whereby the absurdly monstrous female ‘prey’ lying before them adds a touch of humour to an otherwise bizarre and startling (though beautiful) image. In another, the same female body is axially rotated and appears to slide out of the mouth of an unidentifiable, monstrous amphibian, adjacent to another flesh-devouring monster, apparently guarded by a regal figure whose head has morphed into that of an eagle, against a backdrop of ancient ruins of the Citadel of Bam, all tinged with a warm, fleshy hue. Here, the humour often accompanying surrealistic renderings of the absurd is somewhat present—the monstrous and macabre flavour of these compositions provides a potent mode of deconstructing the iconographic images appropriated. Instead, they are anchored within a personal artistic lexicon of tropes, of stock archetypes used repeatedly throughout the Polaroid series: the royal portrait, the vulture, the bat, the screw, the snake, the female body. As such, a fantastically diverse array of images is tied together by an element of repetition. Another core motif of these collages is the human-animal hybrid, which perhaps more than any of Golestan’s other tropes yokes the context to vaster expanses of human time and history, given anthropomorphism’s inter-cultural and temporal ubiquity. Whilst the hybridising of regal portraits through the superimposition of a vulture over a royal face certainly alludes towards subversive acts of defacement, we are never left with a simple void, instead we are presented with an array of anthropomorphic figures which resist overtly specific or contextual exegesis. Displacement onto the found Qajar images of figureheads and political men is a unifying thread. This makes a subversive gesture towards certain loci of power—regal or military—safely displaced onto the historical. Interestingly, and coincidentally, their year of creation is the same year in which Andy

61 — december / 2016


VALI MAHLOUJI

Warhol recorded on Polaroid the Iranian royals of the time—Mohammad Reza Shah, the empress Farah Diba and the Shah’s sister, Princess Ashraf—and later immortalised them as silkscreen prints in his pantheon of glorified celebrities. By comparison, Golestan’s sensibility is clearly deeply personal, subversive, imaginary and it actively refuses to engage with the already iconographic, the celebrated. In Golestan’s case he obsessively conjures the demonic, the beastly. A parallel is more meaningfully found in the private sensibilities of the Iranian creative genius Bahman Mohassess, whose independent and individual artistic investigations in paint and bronze embodied a peculiarly dark Iranian existentialism, cynical and deeply suspicious of the human being, bent on portraying—lamenting—the condition of man. Golestan had close contact with Mohassess. The latter was a frequent guest and a close friend of Golestan’s father, the celebrated filmmaker, writer and translator Ebrahim Golestan. The young Golestan found in Mohassess an astute intellectualism, a sharp wit and an inspiring sensibility, a language close to his own. The animal-human hybrid creatures frequently occupy the latter’s work. The minotaur for example, that ancient mythological hybrid who dwelt at the heart of Pan’s labyrinth, and was significantly appropriated as an icon by the European surrealists, links Mohassess’ approach to perhaps a more univeralist interest in the archaic, the timeless slippage between human and non-human categories. Golestan’s use of the Polaroid captures his own elaborate feats of the imagination and as a series they embody a most powerful and relentless period of artistic, aesthetic experimentation. Produced within a single year, this artistic project seems to have possessed Golestan, as he himself repossessed found images and thrust them into a multi-faceted macabre maze of political and personal associations. Notes 1

Sattareh Farman Farmaian, founder and director of the School of Social Work, in interview with Kaveh Golestan, 1976

2

The film director Kamran Shirdel recalls taking a stroll with fellow film director Bernardo Bertolucci in the neighbourhood of the Citadel, in reminiscing upon his time spent filming there. Interview with author, 2014 3 Arby Ovanessian, stage and screen director, tells of an account of Peter Brook’s visit to the theatre inside the Citadel. Interview with the author, 2011 4 See Mahmoud Zand Moghaddam and Nasser Zeraati, Shahr-e No, Bokartus, Gothenburg/Kitab-i Arzan, Stockholm, 2012, for an account of the Citadel with many references to its services, shops and activities 5

Walter Benjamin, The Arcade Project, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2002

6

See Kamran Shirdel’s Qaleh (The Women’s Quarter), a seminal documentary film about the Citadel dating from 1967. Qaleh was commissioned by the newly founded NGO The Women’s Organisation in 1967 and subsequently censored and banned by the Ministry of Culture. After the Islamic Revolution, Shirdel rescued what was intact of his original rushes, most of which had already been destroyed. He completed his documentary by animating a number of Golestan’s stills into the film. Shirdel later documented the torching of the Citadel

7 Morris Dickstein, cited in Susie Linfield, The Cruel Radiance. Photography and Political Violence, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, p. 234 8 Gary Gutting, ‘Crime and Punishment’, Foucault: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, chapter 8; in reference to Groupe Informations sur les Prisons founded by Michel Foucault and Daniel Defer in the early 1970s 9

Kaveh Golestan, quoted by Kaveh Parham in Kayhan newspaper, 10 May, 1978

10

The original verse is “Ke az div o dad maloulam o ensan-am arezoust”, which translates loosely as “Weary of the demonic and beastly, I yearn for the human.”

l

dı van

62 — december / 2016


From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan

63 — december / 2016


From Studio to Street: The Intimate Gaze of Kaveh Golestan Right: The Grey Zone: Censorship Disguised l

dı van

64 — december / 2016


The Political Art of Ai l

dı van

66 — december / 2016


The Political Art of Ai

67 — december / 2016


Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths l

dı van

68 — december / 2016


Problematising the Politics of Transnational Community: Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United Kingdom, the European Union and Attendant Cultural Myths

69 — december / 2016


An Assertion of Continued Presence l

dı van

70 — december / 2016


71 — december / 2016


Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-66 l

dÄą van

72 — december / 2016


73 — december / 2016


Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East l

dı van

74 — december / 2016


Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East

75 — december / 2016


Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’ l

dı van

76 — december / 2016


Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’

77 — december / 2016


Monuments, (by) Architects, (for) Governments l

dÄą van

78 — december / 2016


ALA YOUNIS

Monuments, (by) Architects, (for) Governments A stamp issued in 1962 celebrated the passage of 1200 years since the founding of Baghdad. The city was designed as a kilometre-wide circle, with rings of functional structures situated along the inside of its walls. It was not built until two astrologers advised on the most auspicious date and time for its construction: 30 July 762 at 1:57 pm. In its recent history, numerous political powers have seized control of Baghdad, each proposing its own promise of an ideal future that materialised in plans for constructing new or destroying old monuments. Every handover of power was, in certain instances, called “a revolution”, and every revolution demanded its own monuments, reassigned names to existing structures, and appointed as interlocutors the laymen who designed, raised, or justified these changes. Figures and statues from prerevolutionary times were not well received by their successors. On 12 July 1958, a confident Le Corbusier was pleased but not surprised to receive a telegram informing him that his design for Baghdad’s Stadium and Sports Centre had been approved. Two days later, on 14 July, a military coup overthrew Iraq’s monarchy and announced the formation of the Republic. Ongoing correspondence with Le Corbusier would confirm that the new government would not give up on the commission, but reshape it based on the subsequent political, economical and diplomatic conditions. The lives of almost all the people who appear in this history would end shortly after their involvement, except for one—the architect Rifat Chadirji, whose role would continuously re-adapt, interplay and develop. The narratives presented in this text are related to my art project Plan for Greater Baghdad which takes the Saddam Hussein Gymnasium, designed by Le Corbusier, as a guide to an archive of governmental commissions, architectural inventions, mediation, construction, defiance, documentation, analysis and abandonment of monuments, particularly in the context of the recent history of Baghdad.1 Following the 1958 coup, the Republic of Iraq’s first Prime Minister, Brigadier Abdel Karim Kassem, called Rifat Chadirji to his office to request immediate designs for three monuments, of which only two were built: the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and the Liberty Monument, the latter with artist Jewad Selim, who realised its bronze sculptures. A Philips lighting expert advised how to illuminate the Liberty Monument with yellow light to give it an Assyrian appearance, while the former was illuminated with blue light to give it a contemporary ambience.

79 — december / 2016


ALA YOUNIS

In Ferdous Square, The Monument to the Unknown Soldier was built quickly according to an organised production plan. It looked like the ancient Arch of Ctesiphon—as understood from a sketch published by Chadirji—with the figure of a woman’s body bending forward to embrace her martyred son lying on the ground. The arch, completed in 1959, was made of concrete and was featured on stamps and postcards alongside other historical and modern monuments. Chadirji wrote of its completion; “…when the concrete casting was completed in its assigned moulds, and the scaffolds started to disappear, the monument became visible. I noticed that there was a slight difference between the half circular tip of the arch and its side that extends to the ground. How I aspired to find the final work free from impurities.”2 He assumed the responsibility for such a defect, “so visible in a beautiful perfect body. I console myself by telling her that if those who will come after think this monument deserves to stay, they will have the time to fix its imperfection.”3 There would soon be people to emerge who would decide that this monument would have to be destroyed, and when they themselves were to disappear, there would be yet others who would propose this monument be built again. Le Corbusier returned to Baghdad in 1959, this time with one hundred and twenty new plans, adapted to the new location assigned to the sports centre. The change in site was due to new master plans proposed for the city, including one from urbanist Constantinos Doxiadis. A small drawing in Le Corbusier’s archive shows the shift in the Stadium’s location between the English Minoprio, Spencely & P.W Macfarlane city planner’s orientation and that of Doxiadis. Additionally, there is an Iraqi report on answers given by Le Corbusier to questions he received while in Baghdad on the Stadium project and the suitability of the new location. (To exit Iraq, Le Corbusier needed a permit from its Military Governor.) In the same year, opposing members of the Ba’ath Party including Saddam Hussein unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Abdel Karim Kassem in Baghdad. Chadirji took a four-metre illustration of the Baghdad Master Plan to Kassem in the hospital, to convince him to not change the Stadium’s location. Kassem inquired about a blue line that he could see in the master plan. Since he has just survived the failed assassination attempt, he needed to appear soon after to greet and comfort the public as to his condition. There he announced a “future water canal that will link the Tigris to the Diyala Rivers.” The assassination attempt appears in a later state-produced film written by Saddam Hussein, televised widely in 1980s. In The Long Days4, the protagonist is a young Saddam Hussein dreaming of a public realm where “people dream and work in freedom”.5 The lead actor was Saddam’s cousin, guard and future son-in-law. The film depicts women taking to the streets calling Baghdad to revolt, to overthrow ‘the tyrant’ like it had done once before (the Prime Minister at the time of the monarchy toppled in 1958). Chadirji referred to those demonstrations in Baghdad around and after the events of the Revolution of July 1958, and how they inspired the base for The Liberty Monument.6 He visualised the banners people carried as a fifty-two metre wide concrete base lifted off the ground on two wedges. He called Jewad Selim to collaborate by envisioning the artistic inscriptions upon it. Selim illustrated the pre- and post-Revolution eras in a long mural of expressive bronze figures. Critic Jabra Ibrahim Jabra writes on eleven figurate concepts in the monument,7 beginning from the far right with a galloping horse that invokes incidents on the morning of the 14 July 1958 when people began tearing down two statues of men on horses, being the British General Frederick Stanley Maude and the Iraqi monarch King Faisal, both responsible for the establishment of the post-First World War “State of Iraq”.8 In the mural, Jewad leaves the horse without a knight, as Jabra describes—the people toppled the rider, his icon was destroyed, and the horse, or Iraq, reclaims its freedom and authenticity.

l

dı van

80 — december / 2016


Monuments, (by) Architects, (for) Governments

Jabra also mentions how the Prime Minister somewhat incautiously implied that he should be depicted in the mural. In Chadirji’s accounts, he names specifically a fellow artist as the one who mentions to Kassem that his image is not in the preparatory drawings or sample figures Selim has prepared prior to casting them in bronze. Chadirji speaks of the distress he and artist Jewad Selim felt over ‘implied’ demands by Prime Minister Kassem including a depiction of him in the commissioned Liberty Monument. News travelled faster to Selim in his workshop than Chadirji—by the time the latter arrived to visit Selim in Florence, the artist was already affected by worry and stress. To protect their monuments for posterity, they envisaged it necessary for them to be free from any depiction of a ruler, as any future revolution would bring about their destruction. Jabra’s mention of a second feature towards the far left of the mural was the portrayal of revolutionaries with raised arms and clenched fists, banners flying above their heads, with a bearing of facing towards the future. They are passing a child and a weeping woman who looks toward the direction of the rebellion, a mother embracing her child, a fallen martyr; and then an intellectual prisoner. Then there is an eighth feature, ‘The Soldier’, a strongly built man with a helmet, also with a similar forwards-facing appearance; he “jumps, his muscles tense, and his fists destroy all prison rods from every side. His body emerges from that of the people as if it’s an explosion, and his hand carries a machinegun that will give a hand to those of the people.”9 In the centre of the mural a sun disc adorns this soldier, and the shadows of all the three-dimensional figures rotate around the clock under the bright sun of Baghdad. ‘Liberty’ stands behind the bars that are about to broken by the hand of ‘The Soldier’, with ‘Peace’ and ‘Prosperity’ to follow, accompanied by Mesopotamia’s two rivers with their associated agricultural and industrial projects.

81 — december / 2016


ALA YOUNIS

l

dı van

82 — december / 2016


Monuments, (by) Architects, (for) Governments

Jabra writes, For an artist to have completed this enormous complex monument (which he cast in Florence) in less than eighteen months was indeed a spectacular achievement. Spread out in fourteen eight-metre high groups over a fifty-metre long frieze, it stands in the heart of the capital, dominating Liberation Square. It embodies Jewad Selim’s peculiar combination of power and lyricism, of the Iraqi and the Universal, together with a mystical tragic love for his country. In style, it is the final result of twenty years of study, experimentation and heart-searching.10

Selim realised the monument’s bronze sculptures, returned with them to Baghdad, but didn’t live to install them. He died in 1961. Up until the inauguration day, Chadirji notes, the installed parts of the monument’s mural were covered with gypsum so as to prevent artist Khaled Rahhal from reporting them to Kassem. Chadirji left Baghdad the day before the inauguration, and the monument survives until today. Rahhal did produce a statue of Kassem. Perhaps it was the statue that was dragged through Baghdad’s streets following another military coup in 1963, or the one that was cut in half and stored in the National Museum’s backyard, only to be rediscovered in the aftermath of the events of the USA-led invasion of 2003. The same year, and in the same square where Chadirji had once installed his Kassemcommissioned, Saddam-demolished, and Rahhal-replaced Monument to the Unknown Soldier, a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down at the Fall of Baghdad in 2003. Chadirji was in prison serving a life sentence for declining to work on a government-financed11 British project during the Ahmad Hassan Al-Bakr presidency12, when Al Bakr’s deputy Saddam Hussein became President in 1979, and when Le Corbusier’s gymnasium was being built. Saddam released Chadirji to participate in a grand project of face-lifting of Baghdad, in preparation to host the NonAligned Movement Summit in 1983. Some time later Chadiriji rushed to the site of The Monument to the Unknown Soldier upon hearing a presidential order for it to be demolished. He took a photo of himself near the rubble of the monument he designed and built in 1959. Chadirji says Saddam “was very well read, and very, very clever—but not as a politician, because you can’t be both dictator and clever.”13 As a young president, Saddam attended full day conferences on architecture organised in Baghdad. He had a preference for some arches and architectural styles but not others. Military officers rushed in and out of one of these conferences with papers for him to sign. These documents related to the IraqIran war that erupted later in 1980. He cancelled the Summit project. Saddam continued to commission statues and monuments around Iraq, including those by Rahhal—a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Swords of Qadisiyah or Baghdad’s Victory Arches, and other public works. One of Rahhal’s monuments was torn down in 2006. Did Saddam desire to have his image on the Liberty Monument, or his name to mark the end of the battles fought to build the Gymnasium? In answer to Saddam’s inquiries to whom Babylon’s historical sites had belonged, archaeologists showed him the king’s stamp on its bricks. Accordingly, he ordered the phrase, “To King Nebuchadnezzar in the reign of Saddam Hussein” to be inscribed on bricks inserted into the walls of the ancient city of Babylon during its reconstruction project. There was also a mural depicting Saddam Hussein, in military garb, humbly receiving a palm tree from the mighty Nebuchadnezzar. Blue skies lay behind them, and below are scenes of desert battles from different epochs.

83 — december / 2016


ALA YOUNIS

Le Corbusier’s building was eventually completed after metamorphosing over twenty-five years of military coups, master plans, changes in state departments, and through local and international interventions. It became the Saddam Hussein Gymnasium with stamps, posters and brochures issued bearing his name and/or his image. A 1980 brochure states that the project cost 6.5 million Iraqi Dinars, its total built area 8,980 square metres, and seating 3,000 spectators between its indoor and outdoor viewing platforms, 1,800 of them indoors. The building has its own gardens, fountain, pedestrian walkways and parking, and was equipped with radio and colour television broadcast facilities. That this structure, and its history, is perceived as a monument for ‘the Revolution’ and for its sportspeople is confirmed in the 1980 brochure introduction: Here is why such a gymnasium is an essential need for our youth: this gymnasium is one of the most essential outcomes of the Revolution, for Iraq’s young people and for supporting and developing its sportsmanship… Of the most special characteristics of this gymnasium is its novelty in Iraq. Together with the Al-Shaab Stadium and the Olympic Pool, which will be built next to the Gymnasium, the complex will mark the beginning of a Sport Centre. The State Commission for Buildings is proud to present this Gymnasium to our sportsmen.14 The long delays in the commissioning process were alleviated by the minimal time spent on its construction. “Finished in record time”, exactly twenty-two months from March 1978 to January 1980, “the Gymnasium’s utmost architectural distinction is considered a great example of the contemporary architectural arts in Iraq. We wish for our sportsmen’s efforts to succeed, and here is an initiative that furthers our support and giving.”15 The Gymnasium site is in close proximity to another stadium. In his second visit to Baghdad, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing asked Le Corbusier, “What do you think about the creation of a second stadium in Baghdad?” He answered; “In principle it appears to me to be quite useless as it minimises the one or the other by a sterile competition between them.”16 Was Le Corbusier aware the stadium was also being fought over by a Portuguese team of experts? The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation had offered to sponsor the building of a stadium, but not before it was removed from the scope of Le Corbusier’s Sport Centre project. In 1958, the Foundation had a conversation with the Iraqi Minister of Development regarding sponsorship of the building of a stadium in Baghdad with their Portuguese expertise, following which the Foundation’s president wrote to the Portuguese Ambassador in London; “There is no doubt that Le Corbusier is an exceptional architect, but his services will certainly be expensive, since they are greatly sought after by central and local governments all around the world. Furthermore, there is no certainty that he is an expert in the building of stadia… However we address the question, my dear Friend, you will certainly agree that there are great advantages that the task of erecting such a building should be trusted to one of our compatriots. Moreover, it would create a current between the two countries that should be improved. We might be able to arrange a meeting to exchange views… we would then be able to supplant Mr. Le Corbusier and make progress in gaining acceptance for our bid.”17 Chadirji was named the “representative of the government” in this agreement, and the first stone was symbolically placed on 14 July, 1962 to celebrate the fourth year of the Revolution.18 The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s winning stadium was named “Malaab Al Shaab” (The People’s Stadium).

l

dı van

84 — december / 2016


Monuments, (by) Architects, (for) Governments

85 — december / 2016


ALA YOUNIS

There is no equivalent word for “gymnasium” in Arabic, therefore terms like “indoor sports hall” and “sports hall” are given to this facility. Between 1980 and the present, the Gymnasium’s functions involved more than just sports: in addition to organising competitions and training, it hosted concerts, meetings and rallies for political parties. In 1990, the public danced at a concert for the first time. In 2014, The Sadrist Movement covered the walls and floors of the building with orange banners that read “Electors for Construction” for its parliamentary election campaign. Posted online there is a photo of a blacked out cover of the Saddam Hussein Gymnasium pamphlet published by the Iraqi Tourism Board in the 1980s. Similarly a Wikipedia page originally created in 2008 was altered in 2014, when a user succeeded in renaming the page on the project as “Baghdad Gymnasium”. As with Selim’s monument, on the walls of the gymnasium are Le Corbusier’s iconic modulors and another sun. There is also a clear Arabic inscription that reads, “Order is the key to life”. Chadirji left Iraq in 1982, carrying with him the manuscript of his seminal book on Iraq’s modern architecture, Al Ukhaider and the Crystal Palace—which he wrote and edited, with material smuggled into Abu Ghraib Prison by his wife as he served several months of his life sentence—in which one could read many of the processes of monument construction in Iraq. In another book, A Wall Between Two Darknesses, Chadirji wrote on repeated interrogations in the first phase of his detention, and an eventual unspoken understanding with his two interrogators; he once tried to ask them to grant permission to photograph monuments in Iraq upon his release. Whether through permission or not, in Chadirji’s multi-thousand collection of his own photography is a set of 35mm photographs of the Saddam Hussein Gymnasium taken in 1982. Discovering these photographs in 2010 activated my research for Plan for Greater Baghdad, which is heavily based on archival and found material, and the stories of its protagonists. The project examines the protection of monuments for posterity and executing plans for Baghdad as an expression of absolute power. As many of those documents that record such expressions of absolutism are missing, I pieced together fragments of images and records, and narratives by local artists (such as Jewad Selim). In the project they are digitally sculpted, printed and displayed next to a model of the Gymnasium on a sloping base. Laid over the sculpted bodies of three-dimensional prints of historical characters are two-dimensional printouts, which in essence resemble the found narratives. The project gives shape to non-existing documents pertaining to the men who appear in the Plan for Greater Baghdad, and interposes l

dı van

86 — december / 2016


Monuments, (by) Architects, (for) Governments

existing documents culled from various archives, manipulating them to produce a multi-layered timeline that pits the developments in the Gymnasium story against those of other monuments, artistic and architectural practices, and the changes in the political and urban map of Baghdad. The project premiered at La Biennale di Venezia in 2015, and has continued to develop since. The faithfulness to the architectural design, the name that was bestowed on the structure, the short interrupted lives of those who were involved in and around the Gymnasium, the strategies utilised in fighting battles of architectural and artistic processes in times of shifting politics, and the monuments that were raised and destroyed inspire this research. It collects these appearances and rematerialises them into timelines or performed moments, or a complex map of repercussions, looking at where monuments, (by) architects, and (for) governments, could illustrate processes utilised in times of shifting states. Notes 1 The research for Plan for Greater Baghdad began in 2010, and was shown in All the World’s Futures, the main exhibition of the 56th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, 2015 curated by Okwui Enwezor. See http://alayounis.com/PFGB/ 2

Rifat Chadirji, Al Ukhaidir and the Crystal Palace, Beirut: Riad El-Rayyes Books Ltd, 1991, p. 99

3

Ibid.

4

Directed by Egyptian filmmaker Tewfic Saleh in 1980

5

Quote from The Long Days uttered by the main protagonist

6

In a talk he presented to an Arab speaking audience, at an unidentified location. Posted on YouTube; https://youtu. be/0rIQdmC8CjE 7 Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Jewad Selim wa Nassab al Hurriya (Jewad Selim and the Liberty Monument), Baghdad: Ministry of Information, 1974, pp. 136-158 8 After the 1920 rebellion led by Iraqi nationalists the British installed Prince Faisal, Arab leader of the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during the First World War, as King of Iraq 9

Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, Jewad Selim wa Nassab al Hurriya, op cit., p. 150

10

Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, The Grass Roots of Iraqi Art, St. Hellier Jersey: Wasit, 1983, p. 22

11

’Contributors – Rifat Chadirji’, Banipal (UK) Magazine of Modern Arab Literature, 2016, accessed 1 August, 2016; http:// www.banipal.co.uk/contributors/1021/rifat-chadirji/

12

He was arrested in October 1978 and jailed for twenty months. Balqis Sharara and Rifat Chadirji, Jidar Bayn Dhulmatain (A Wall Between Two Darknesses), Beirut/London: Dar al-Saqi, 2004

13

‘Rifat Chadirji’, BROWNBOOK, May 2015, accessed 30 July, 2016; http://brownbook.me/rifat-chadirji/

14

George A. George and Ghaleb Mousa Al Ameen, The Indoor Sports Hall, Baghdad: State Commission for Buildings – Ministry of Housing and Constructions, 1980

15

Ibid.

16

Report by Director General, Technical Section 2, Ministry of Development of Iraq, Baghdad, titled ‘Baghdad Stadium, Notes: From Mr. Le Corbusier, Architect’, 4 May, 1959. Found in the Fondation Le Corbusier archives

17

From letter by José de Azeredo Perdigão, Chairman of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, to the Portuguese Ambassador in London, 4 July, 1958. Nuno Grande, ’The Baghdad Affair. How Diplomacy Supplanted One of the Last Major Projects by Le Corbusier’, Le Corbusier, 50 years later. Conference proceedings, 2015, p. 7. Accessed 30 July, 2016; http://ocs.editorial.upv.es/index.php/LC2015/LC2015/paper/viewFile/645/1272

18

Ibid., pp. 10-11

87 — december / 2016


DJON MUNDINE

An Assertion of Continued Presence

l

dı van

88 — december / 2016


I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies whose frown, And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that the sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed, And on the pedestal these words appear: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.1 When I first went to work in a Methodist mission in northern Australia in 1979, a missionary cautioned me that even if one worked there for a lifetime, it was under the assumption that your ‘career monument’ could be obliterated within twenty-four hours of your departure. Wikipedia claims that there are around 28,000 monuments across Australia. It is a given that in every country town there is a sandstone obelisk with a list of names of those who died or served outside Australia defending the British Empire in two world wars, and other conflicts. Given the selective vision and focus in the writing of Australia’s history, monuments to Aboriginal people killed (in the colonial Black War2 for example) are practically non-existent. At the 2016 National Indigenous Music Awards in Darwin it was pointed out to me that an award with the name of a now-deceased prominent rock singer had been discontinued. I was told his family had requested that the usage of his name be terminated. Historically, Aboriginal people commemorate past relatives and the memories of others through social ritual. When people die their names aren’t spoken, and other people with the same name use the term “no-name”, or existing in name only (yakumirr)—that name isn’t spoken or used again for around four generations. This practice is changing in current times. Many Aboriginal people’s names are totemic names and in fact either directly or obliquely names of antecedents and spirit beings. Still, a large number of Aboriginal people, performing or in some form of action, in human form, exist physically etched in silhouette outline into the Hawkesbury sandstone of the Sydney Basin, memorialising creative spirits, ancestors and contemporaries. They are lines cut into the rock, and like petroglyphs, pictographs and other painted images, were created with the expectance to remain for some time, in memoriam. In the case of the Sydney rock figures they are dated back 5,000 years, being reworked or re-grooved periodically in successive rituals. In Virginia Woolf ’s A Room of My Own, in laying out the setting to her novel the writer refers to a number of poets, both male and female, but throughout there is a constant narrative of before the war, and after the war. The war it appears, is a dividing wall—a swinging gate—in the imagination and emotions of all her social circle of Western intelligentsia. It would appear there is no Aboriginal word for “massacre” or “holocaust” other than saying something is “finished”. Words in English suggesting the annihilation of a race also come in and out of fashion. I wondered if there could be a similarly constructed word from an Aboriginal language(s)? Why don’t we (or do we Aboriginal people) talk

89 — december / 2016


DJON MUNDINE

of “before the plague” or “after the plague”, of the arrival of the British with the First Fleet in 1788? There is of course the continuous debate within Australia on the use of the word “invasion”. Until the more recent work of Henry Reynolds3 and others that prompted the “Culture Wars”4, there has been a continuous denial of massacres of Aboriginal people and the devaluation of such research statistics to diminish the overall colonial crime. In the 1988 Australian Bicentenary year (recognising two hundred years British colonisation), I conceived of and negotiated with Aboriginal artists to create the two hundred burial poles of the Aboriginal Memorial 5 (one pole for each year of white occupation) in order to make an active, positive statement from an Aboriginal perspective on the Australian Bicentennial celebrations. It was exhibited in the Biennale of Sydney that year and purchased by the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra. After completing the Aboriginal Memorial project I thought that, in a continuation of pre-(colonial) contact practice, any monument cannot stand alone—there needed to be a ‘talking to the dead’ through a periodic ritual. For the second project I conceived an attempt to bring into being a public artwork for Bennelong6 at Bennelong Point7 and after many proposal iterations over twenty-five years it has now developed into the Song of Barangaroo, Bennelong and Pemulwuy. In both the Aboriginal Memorial and my Song of…, my action was directed by an assertion of existence and continuity of Aboriginal presence within contemporary Australian society. *** In 1990 after the Australian Bicentenary had washed over the nation I began working at the newly opened Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney, from where I looked out from my window across Circular Quay to what was then a bare rock wall, the old buildings at Bennelong Point blocking this view having been knocked down. This was when I thought about making that ‘assertion of continued presence’ rather than a memorial. In this context I knew there were three known individuals (Bennelong, Barangaroo and Pemulwuy8), about whom we now had enough knowledge to create a character for each person. In colonial times such people had a very short known history; but now we seem to know more about them as people—from researching historical documents and records of the time—they have become more three dimensional personalities. My concept therefore was for an assertion of continued Aboriginal presence in Australia, and in Sydney at this particular location, the project being a reclaiming of the site, in a sense. At this time we were preparing for the 1992 exhibition Tyerabarrbowaryaou (I Shall Never Become A White Man)9 for the MCA, and through Director Leon Paroissien it was later shown at the 5th Havana Biennial in 1994. The rationale for this title was that these were the words spoken by the young Aboriginal woman Patyegarang, who had a close relationship with Lieutenant William Dawes (the astronomer of the First Fleet and the colony’s engineer and surveyor, who studied the local Eora people, their culture and languages), who when watching her take a bath one particular occasion said “if you scrub hard enough you’ll get the black off you”. Her response was “I shall never become a white man.”10 As this occurred quite close to where the MCA is located we took Patyegarang’s retort for our title. Prior to this, during the 1980s I was working for the Art Gallery of New South Wales as a curator-in-the-field and lived in the Northern Territory, researching and adding information for their bark painting collection that came from this particular area I lived in. During this period I found a book on rock art sites in Sydney produced in 1898 by the (state of) New South Wales Department of Mines. l

dı van

90 — december / 2016


An Assertion of Continued Presence

I was intrigued by this book and its information, and wanted to make an interpretation of this with two Aboriginal figures. I wanted to etch these figures into the rock which faces the Sydney Harbour Bridge (rather than facing the Sydney Opera House), directly across Circular Quay from the MCA and my window, with outline drawings or silhouettes of two men, as a binary, of good and evil, Caine and Abel, war and peace, of engagement and resistance; of Bennelong and Pemulwuy. This vertical rock face was originally cut from the rocky escarpment between 1818 and 1821 to allow for a road to be built around the point from Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay) to Farm Cove (east of the Sydney Opera House). As a public artwork I thought it better that it be on this rock face rather than in the ground—usually rock art is engraved or etched into ground-based rock. As this time I began to call the work The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy rather than just Bennelong and Pemulwuy. Calling it a song means that it’s alive, it has another dimension as an artwork but I didn’t quite know then how to bring that song into being. Following the Australian Bicentenary celebrations, the City of Sydney (Council) encouraged artists to create permanent artworks in the city, the majority of Bicentenary public artworks having been ephemeral; for example, dance festivals and performances—very few indigenous and non-indigenous public artworks were permanent. But at this time the policy for public artwork was that they be incidental to place or site, discreetly rather than overtly situated in the landscape, such as small designs and plaques inserted into footpaths and paved areas. The presentation of my proposal therefore was something of a

91 — december / 2016


DJON MUNDINE

l

dı van

92 — december / 2016


An Assertion of Continued Presence

shock perhaps; its overt scale was met with disinclination. Subsequently, the momentum of the proposal came to a halt as it was recognised as being too monumental, conceivably too much of an affront or provocation, that there could be such a large Aboriginal public artwork in the city landscape. But as a monumental Aboriginal public art concept it was not alone; there was another proposal at the time to have a large Aboriginal warrior bronze statue in Circular Quay as a memorial. As an example of the gradual developmental changes in thinking at that time there were other projects being advanced in the city landscape. In 1995 the Museum of Sydney was established on the ruins of Australia’s first Government House, built in 1788 by the first Governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip. Non-indigenous artist Janet Laurence in collaboration with indigenous artist Fiona Foley proposed the site-specific artwork titled The Edge of Trees—an overt “forest” of twenty-nine large vertical sandstone, wood and steel pillars evoking natural and cultural histories—located in the forecourt of the Museum.11 It was here, at this place in 1788 that the local Aborigines observed the British, from ‘the edge of the trees’, as they first came ashore. This was an outcome of forward thinking by the Museum Director at the time, and won an award in 1995 from the Australian Institute of Architects. The proposal for the Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy has been recycled and represented over the years. Its monumentalism and physicality have seemingly been problematic from its first conception; it has been seen perhaps as too permanent a marker with its bold engraving into the rock wall. Some responses have even suggested that its intended location is a historic site, which seems dubious given that it was carved from the original landscape by the early colonists to create a road. The figures in the proposal are up to six metres tall, their scale adding to the power of the figures, so it would be quite conspicuous. To the northern end of this rock face there are several plaques commemorating the departure of soldiers for the Boer War, First World War and Korean War, and also towards the southern end there can still be seen the “Stop the Vietnam War’ graffiti. As a public site—opposite the Sydney Opera House, one of the most iconic buildings in the world and a cultural tourism attraction for international visitors with the Sydney Harbour Bridge adjacent—it presents some interesting correlations with these visual markers for wars, over centuries—in the context of my proposal, referencing a war of annihilation. In 2010 the work was proposed to the Biennale of Sydney’s Artistic Director David Elliott, it’s participation flagged in the Biennale Free Guide. The Song of Bennelong and Pemulwuy (2010)… signifies two great themes of Aboriginal History since 1788—resistance and engagement—and is based on enlarged figures of men from traditional rock art, which will be carved into the tall rock face on Tarpeian Way, a part of the Royal Botanic Gardens opposite the Sydney Opera House. The project will stand as the first permanent Aboriginal memorial in Sydney and refers to the freedom fighter Pemulwuy (c. 1750-1802) who fell in battle, and Bennelong (c. 1764-1813) who first taught the English colonists about Aboriginal culture.12 There was an asterisk caveat at the bottom, “This project is in the process of being realised.” It wasn’t. The Biennale Board Chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis was quoted at the time in the local print media saying that Sydney did not have “one significant site of Aboriginal tribute—not one… it’s a damning indictment on our respect for the original custodians that we have nothing.”13 Over this lengthy period of re-conceptualising and re-proposing the project it has sustained the support of the greater Sydney Aboriginal community (elders from La Perouse and the Darug people from Blacktown), and given that the Royal Botanic Gardens is responsible for the wall, it had received their support as well. The project was canvassed widely amongst all possible interested parties but still it has failed to materialise.

93 — december / 2016


DJON MUNDINE

In its latest propositional incarnation (Song of Barangaroo, Bennelong and Pemulwuy) I’ve endeavoured to orchestrate this work as a song cycle, with a set of songs which go through their seasonal year, of when birds, fish, animals appear—this is the time you eat kangaroo, this is the time you eat oysters, and so on. More recently I was researching again this particular book on Sydney rock art and discovered that there are hundreds of examples of eels in the rock art galleries around the greater Sydney region. The eels migrate from Sydney to New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean, give birth and return to Parramatta at the far eastern end of Sydney Harbour, and the ponds in suburban Centennial Park.14 So I’ve now added into the design what can be called a “river of eels”.15 *** I have spent quite a lot of my life living in a traditional lifestyle with the Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory. I was very deeply involved in that community, about who they were, about why they were, which part of the land they related to, and so on. When I came back to Sydney I wanted to have the memory that all this land (of Australia) is Aboriginal land, as there is a great Australian silence of no Aboriginal people written into histories up until that time. In 1968 the Australian anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner presented two Boyer lectures (commissioned by the then Australia Broadcasting l

dı van

94 — december / 2016


An Assertion of Continued Presence

Commission), titled ‘After the Dreaming’, the second of which was titled ‘The Great Australian silence’. In this he proposed that major areas of indigenous and non-indigenous history—invasion, frontier violence, land theft and massacres—had been ignored by Australian historians as a “cult of forgetfulness practiced on a national scale” that emerged in the late nineteenth century as the country experienced a growth in nationalism and a desire for Australian Federation, up until the 1960s.16 Several decades later the Danish historian Robert Ørsted-Jensen came to Australia to write about fellow countryman Carl Feilberg, a late nineteenth century newspaper journalist, editor, political commentator and activist who wrote about human rights abuses towards indigenous people in Queensland, and was the author of the policy-influencing The Way We Civilise; Black and White; The Native Police, published in 1880. Ørsted-Jensen also researched and wrote about the number of Aboriginal frontier casualties perpetrated by the Queensland Native Police Force (1848-1905) who were notorious for conducting a war of annihilation upon the indigenous inhabitants and to remove them from the landscape, for over thirty years. Ørsted-Jensen was intrigued by the history that was not written, this veil of silence, ultimately proposing that more aboriginal people were killed in Queensland over this period by the Queensland Native Police Force than Australian soldiers killed in the First World War.

95 — december / 2016


DJON MUNDINE

With all this in mind I wanted to bring Aboriginal people back into memory, into the memory of things passed, and bring the city of Sydney into that context, as Australian society then thought of Aboriginal people being ‘out in the desert’, in the tropical north, somewhere else, but not in Sydney. There are a great number of statues of European people in the city, but there are no statues or monuments to Aboriginal people. In making this public artwork it would be about bringing the presence of Aboriginal people back into the middle of the city, asserting that memory, and the truth of that through art. And if this point could be made, then a greater historical conversation had begun. I realised further that what would be needed is a periodic event, either a performance or ritual of some form at this site, where the Aboriginal voice could be heard. It might be as straightforward, for example, as an annual Anzac Day Service17 when the public stand before a memorial in a minute’s silence and then recite the ode to the fallen: we will remember them. It can become a simple gesture, and it should be moved by the Aboriginal people themselves; perhaps on Bennelong’s or Pemulwuy’s death date.

*** Monuments are for dead things. I wanted to assert that Aboriginal people are still alive and active, not dead. Monuments are erected when a society is in recovery and growing, not in decay or retreat. Memorials are about remembering—but shouldn’t be about remembering dictators, despots and murderers. The fact that we Aboriginal people exist in any form in the Australian historical-public record is an astonishing actuality. How do the deaths of Aboriginal ‘common folk’ be named and remembered in Western terms? I’m an Australian Aboriginal, to date invisible, anonymous; all I can do is speak and make my people and me visible. In the 1980s in Arnhem Land, I would travel annually with large groups of near naked, painted Aboriginal males often hundreds of kilometres to attend religious gatherings. We carried spears, and guns in case we saw game, and may have appeared threatening to some unsophisticated people. In the official historical records and personal diaries of colonists are two interesting writings of incidents in their meeting with Aboriginals—apparently a regular monthly if not weekly killing of Aboriginal people (most often un-named). In these accounts there appears a regular sighting by the colonists of large numbers of Aboriginal people in groups, often described, for no apparent reason other than fear, as “war parties”. My own experience is that Aboriginal people only gather in large numbers for two reasons —for hunting particular seasonal game, and for religious ceremonies. At Risdon Cove in Tasmania18, and what is called “The Battle of Parramatta”19 we find colonists firing upon gatherings of Aboriginal people; in the former case definitely a religious ritual, and in the latter more than possibly the case. In Australia’s history there is never any thought of a memorial to such incidents, hence my endeavour to establish a form of memory—monuments to known, named Aboriginal individuals. Notes 1 I’d like to thank Professor Emeritus John Clark for his contribution through numerous conversations, towards writing this text. Ozymandias quote: Thomas Hutchinson (ed.), Shelley: Poetical Works, London: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 550 2

The Black War was the period of hostilities between mid-1820s and 1832 between Aborigines and British soldiers and settlers in Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land), which resulted in the virtual extermination of the original Aboriginal population of the island

3 Australian historian whose writing has focused on the violent conflict between colonising European settlers and indigenous Australians

l

dı van

96 — december / 2016


An Assertion of Continued Presence

4 During the conservative government of John Howard (1996-2007) an adversarial political debate, referred to as the “Culture Wars”, concerned varying interpretations of Aboriginal and white Australian history and its presentation, especially in the National Museum of Australia and high school history curricula 5 Commemorating Aboriginal Australians who died as a result of European settlement, the work comprises two hundred painted traditional hollow log coffins made by artists from Ramingining and neighbouring communities of Central Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory 6 Woollarawarre Bennelong (c. 1764–3 January 1813) was a senior Eora man who served as an interlocutor between the Aboriginal people of the Sydney area and the British. When married to Barangaroo he was captured by Governor Phillip as part of his plan to learn the language and customs of the local people. He later travelled to England with Governor Phillip and returning to Australia to a prominent position in Eora political and cultural life 7

The site of the Sydney Opera House, named after Bennelong

8

Barangaroo was the second wife of Bennelong. The East Darling Harbour area of Sydney (currently being developed into residential, commercial and civic buildings) was renamed Barangaroo in her honour in 2007. Pemulwuy (c.1750–1802) was an Aboriginal warrior who began a twelve-year guerilla war of resistance against the British, which continued until his death in 1802 9 This exhibition was the first of contemporary Aboriginal art at the MCA. The title’s words signified a contemporary act of resistance by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in continuing their artistic practice in the face of historical and ongoing oppression. The title was used again in a ‘sequel’ to this exhibition, Tyerabarrbowaryaou II, which was curated by Fiona Foley and Djon Mundine for the 5th Havana Biennial. The exhibition sought to redress the dismissive attitude of European and white Australian galleries and collectors towards Aboriginal art. It provided an opportunity to engage with and inform the wider public about the inherent social and cultural importance of these works. Each of the artists represented in this exhibition was concerned with the history of the white invasion of Australia, its personal, political and historical impacts. Tyerabarrbowaryaou aimed to present a new voice of Aboriginal culture, one which embraced new media and ancient tradition, to give voice to a wounded history and speak with pride of an enduring relationship with land and culture; see https://www.mca.com.au/collection/exhibition/644-tyerabarrbowaryaou-i-shall-never-become-a-whiteman/ 10

According to his notebook entry, this was the exact exchange; “Tyera barr bowar yaou I shall not become white. This was said by Patyegarang after I [Dawes] told her if she would wash herself often, she would become white... William Dawes”; http://www.doryanthes.info/pdf/Dawes%20Language.pdf

11

See http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/exhibitions/edge-trees and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edge_of_the_Trees

12

See https://www.scribd.com/document/124409305/2010-Biennale-Sydney-Free-Guide

13

Andrew Taylor, ‘Between a rock and an arts place’; http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/between-arock-and-an-arts-place-20100605-xlu6.html 14 In Sydney’s Centennial Park, adult eels make their way from the ponds to Botany Bay, either using the stormwater drains that link the ponds or leaving the water to slither overland to the next water body, compelled by instinct and nature to journey to the warm waters of the Pacific to reproduce their species; see http://www.centennialparklands.com.au/about/ environment/animals/long-finned_eel 15

The Parramatta rugby football team has been known as the “Eels” since the late 1970s, the rationale being that the name Parramatta, anglicised from the Aboriginal dialect “Barramattagal” meant the “place where the Eels dwell”, Alan Whiticker & Ian Collis, The History of Rugby League Clubs, Sydney: New Holland Publishers, 2004

16

W.E.H. Stanner, ‘After the dreaming: black and white Australians–an anthropologist’s view’, Boyer Lecture Series, Australian Broadscasting Commission, 1969

17

A national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand on 25 April, originally to honour those armed forces who served in Gallipoli, Turkey during World War I, then to include both World wars, subsequent conflicts and peacekeeping roles

18

On 3 May 1804 there was a violent clash between British troops and a large group of aboriginals on a kangaroo hunt at Risdon Cove near Hobart

19

In March 1797, Pemulwuy led a large group of aboriginal warriors in an attack on a government farm, following which government troops and settlers followed them to Parramatta, twenty-three kilometres to the west of the Sydney settlement. A number of aboriginal warriors were killed in the ensuing and uneven fight, now referred to as the Battle of Parramatta

97 — december / 2016


MARTIN SURYAJAYA

Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-661

l

dı van

98 — december / 2016


The massacre of communists and ethnic Chinese that followed the failed military coup in 1965 radically changed Indonesia. According to conservative estimates no less than half a million people were killed, from October 1965 until the early months of 1966. As stated in the documentary film The Act of Killing (2012), directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, the figure may even be somewhere between one and two million lives. In addition, around 1.5 million people were detained without trial, becoming the subjects of socio-political discrimination. This violent purge was decisive in the development of the political transition to General Suharto’s “New Order”, leading to the downfall of President Sukarno and the eradication of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as a political force. In March 1966, associated civil organisations were dismantled, among them the Institute for People’s Culture (Lekra), a populistleaning arts and cultural organisation that had more that one hundred thousand members throughout Indonesia. With such a high number of victims there were, of course, drastic changes in Indonesian society, as well as in its artistic expressions. In Indonesia the killings of 1965-66 remain a sensitive topic, glossed over in the public memory by three decades of the Suharto regime, and a further two since his fall in 1998. In public attempts to confront this history in 2015, the fiftieth ‘anniversary’ of what is also referred to as the ‘Indonesian Massacres’, or simply ‘1965’, there were demands for an “official public reckoning” from the government and especially the President Joko Widodo, who expressed, while running for election, a commitment to resolving past human rights violations, including the 1965-66 mass killings. In September 2015, with the expectation that he would make such a profound gesture, he refused to apologise for what had occurred. For Indonesian artist, FX Harsono, this impasse has become his artistic catalyst. *** Art academic Bambang Bujono wrote that the dissolution of Lekra was the most important event in Indonesian art since the formation of the Draughtsman’s Association of Indonesia (Persagi) in 1938, which ushered modern art practices into Indonesia. With the murder of communists after the events of 1965, the aesthetic tradition of painting related to explicit socio-political concepts and approaches ended. The rise of the New Order also necessitated an aesthetic regime that valorised vagueness and ambiguity on political issues; this imperative was largely fulfilled by abstract painting. Of course, the traditions of abstract painting, or at least abstraction, did not begin in Indonesia during the New Order, but could already be found in the work of But Muchtar, Mochtar Apin and Srihadi Sudarsono, whose paintings moved from cubism to geometric abstraction in the 1950s. However, in abstract painting, we still find figures, representative illusions and hence, subject matter. This was not the case with pure abstraction, such as in the work Komposisi Abu-Abu (Composition in Ash), (1966) by G. Sidharta or Komposisi Dengan Emas (Composition with Gold), (1967) by Sadali. Along with the growth of abstract painting styles in Indonesia in the 1960s and 1970s, there emanated an aesthetic tradition art critic Sanento Yuliman called “lyricism”. All abstract paintings in which this lyrical style appeared, wrote Sanento, “constituted expressive fields, a place where the painter could ‘project’ emotion and the vibe of his feelings, recording the life of his soul.” Painting itself was seen as a “world of imagination with its own nature”.2 In this, we must differentiate between lyricism in the kinds of abstract paintings Sanento identified with expressionism, that were generated by the early modern painters in Indonesia, like Sudjojono and Hendra Gunawan. The foundation of the thinking behind the expressionist style, as Sudjono stated, was that painting should express the soul, a “visible soul” (jiwa ketok). In spite of that, this “soul” would only be visible once it was faced with reality.

99 — december / 2016


MARTIN SURYAJAYA

The soul, in the understanding of expressionist artists, was a lens through which to read reality. That is why Sudjojono could still speak of truth in painting. It was a different consideration in abstract painting from the 1960s and 1970s. In the lyrical tradition, what is important is not the intuitive truth of reality, but rather the wealth of the universe of the imagination, which is self-sufficient. ----------- Thus, it was not surprising that Sudjojono vehemently opposed abstract painting. In one of his articles which appeared in a magazine published by the Indonesian Institute of Art in 1985, Sudjojono called abstract painting “hypocritical”, “sanctimonious” and “the more difficult it is to understand, the prouder it is”.3 His article declared that this kind of abstract lyricism was intended to erase the link between art and reality, turning painting into a self-referential and self-sufficient two-dimensional field with no connection to external realities. He saw abstract painting as an escape into a private world, ignoring the context that assisted the birth of Indonesian modern painting, namely the experience of colonisation and the struggle against it. This context was strongly characteristic of the expressionistic paintings of Sudjojono’s generation, and differentiated it from the individualistic tendencies of abstract painting at the beginning of the New Order. Sudjojono constantly questioned this aesthetic framework for abstract painting—the aesthetic framework of Modernist art. This tendency to aesthetic formalism also existed in the art public’s responses; for instance, in the criticisms of painting exhibitions held at the beginning of the New Order. Popo Iskandar, for instance, wrote about an exhibition by Sadali in a daily newspaper owned by the armed forces, Berita Yudha, in December 1972: “Sadali’s art has lost the element of narrative, so the artworks are an encounter between the artist’s contemplation and the material seeks its form on the canvas, so it is a sensation for the eye which arouses a sense of physical beauty. Sadali’s paintings are beautiful, pleasantly decorative, which alone requires a working process that is concentrated, patient and observational.”4 The New Order’s victory over the previous regime also meant the victory of aesthetic formalism over other aesthetic understandings that had developed in Sukarno’s era (social realism, didacticism and functionalism). The aesthetic formalism reflected in abstract painting was quickly seen as conforming to the political project of the New Order. In his book titled Strategi Kebudayaan, Ali Moertopo wrote that the “New Order is a cultural process”.5 The consolidation of capitalism and state during the New Order strengthened national culture. In the context of art, the New Order required artistic practice that was not critical of the government or involving itself in political issues —rather, concerned with itself. Formalist aesthetics answered this need precisely. By occupying artists with “medium specificity” itself, formalism legitimises the alienation of the world of art from the political universe. Meanwhile, communist and nationalist art studios were dissolved, artists were arrested and forced underground, and other artists outside that school were directed to engage themselves with the mysticism of formal beauty. From here, abstract painting quickly came to be identified as “development painting”: painting that conformed to the developmental spirit of the New Order, which immediately filled the homes of the middle class, government offices and private businesses. However, Modernism was not the only valid aesthetic mode for painting at the beginning of the New Order. There was also a mix of aesthetic tendencies that in the terminology of European aesthetic history, is called “expressivisim” (which differs from “expressionism”). When Oesman Effendi defined modern painting in his controversial paper of 1969 that triggered a debate about the existence of “Indonesian painting”, he interpreted it within that framework, known in Europe as “expressivism”. He defined it as, “painting that results from an individual person’s expressions, full of desire to express the impulse of the heart, the desire for declarations or manifestations of an ego that exists in the midst of society, without the influence of any will other than his own.”6 l

dı van

100 — december / 2016


Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-66

In the annals of Indonesian painting, the definition that Oesman gave was not rooted in Sudjojono’s legendary statement as Persagi’s spokesperson. This formula is often quoted: “If an artist makes an art object, then that artwork is actually nothing less than the visible soul of the artist. Art is the visible soul. So art is the soul.”7 However, Oesman’s formulation is not just a fragment of Sudjojono’s statement; Oesman deflects his definition. If Sudjojono rooted his “expressive credo” in the perspective of the anti-colonial world, thus containing the political impetus (so that he can speak of “truth” in painting), Oesman isolated that “expressive credo” by sidelining its political dimension and emphasising the individual importance. If for Sudjojono the battle was between painter-and-activist, for the colonised nation versus storming its cultural citadel, for Oesman the battle was narrowed to being just between I-the-artist versus society. In the same paper, he criticised the political tendencies of painting in the lead up to the New Order. Indonesian painting has begun from the wrong direction. If thus far—separate from its value—it began with the impulses of the heart, from the movements of the feelings of the soul, recently external factors have often determined its direction... The first test of painting… is how it resolves itself in the constellation of an art that has come to be coloured by politics... Because he must portray particular motifs and must even resolve them in particular styles, consciously or unconsciously, the painter has betrayed his own impulse to declare his egoism as a product of his times.8 Sudjojono didn’t speak of “egoism”. In one of his classic essays, he revealed the close connection between the “soul” and “nationaliteit”, or more generally the aspect of the artist’s self and socio-political horizons. He didn’t distinguish art from politics; he knew no distinction between the “aesthetic attitude” and the “political attitude”. Oesman, on the other hand, emphasised that separation. In Oesman’s position we discover an expressivism that, on the surface, more closely resembles the perspectives of the post-Romantic European aestheticians: an expressivism that is nurtured in the individualist world-view. Oesman’s individualist expressivism can be traced back to its roots in Romantic thinking about the artist as a sublime genius who cannot be understood by society. Thus, this kind of expressivism relies on the preconception of the figure of the artist as a fundamentally different entity to the layperson, or ‘ordinary’ person. This is a tendency that has long existed in the history of Indonesian painting. In his article in the Budaya Jaya magazine in 1975, Sudjoko problematised the issue, which he called “romantic individualism”. He quoted the work of Dutch poet Herman Goter to describe the credo adopted by many Indonesian painters; “Art is an individual expression of the individual’s emotions.”9 This kind of expressivist mode fits with the existentialist pathos that beset Indonesian intellectuals and artists during the 1960s and 1970s. The result is a moralist perspective on art, namely that art is honesty to one’s self and thus demands distance from politics, that politics is contaminating, that artists who are involved in politics or who take up political issues are not honest with themselves. From this perspective the expressivist mode is in line with the formalist aesthetics explained earlier. Here emerges a synergy between “egoism”, “composition” and “development”. Images of establishment were cultivated through harmonic relations between painting at the beginning of the New Order and the “developmentalism” that was quickly embraced by the Suharto regime. So much so that at the beginning of the 1970s all painting practices produced politically muted abstract or decorative painting (based on traditional decorative forms). Discussions around art—no longer monopolised by issues of painting—were filled with endless debates about colour, texture, form and other formal-compositional aspects. There was no space to discuss the relationship between art and

101 — december / 2016


MARTIN SURYAJAYA

society, much less political issues. In the 1970s, Indonesia participated in the twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations of the United Nations in New York, exhibiting a number of artworks chosen by a government appointed jury. Their decision generated disappointment, as many of those chosen were older rather than new works. This demonstrated the dissolution that had emerged as a result of the stagnant establishment suffered by Indonesian art. Embarrassment over this listless atmosphere exploded in the controversy surrounding the Pameran Besar Seni Lukis Indonesia (Grand Exhibition of Indonesian Painting) in 1974, which was held by the Jakarta Arts Board. All the works selected as winners for that event were by senior painters practicing the same style, namely A.D Pirous, Aming Prayitno, Widayat, Irsam and Abas Alibasyah. This decision was criticised in the Black December Statement signed by fourteen artists, mostly students from the Indonesian Academy of Fine Arts (ASRI) and the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ). This statement declared that the theoretical framework embraced by the jury, which represented the existing art regime, was obsolete; further emphasising the importance that artists should reflect a range of social, cultural, political and economic issues. This was a declaration of resistance to the aesthetic regime of the New Order, rejecting the formalistic theoretical framework by reinstating art in the sociopolitical reality. This unexpected resistance provoked a harsh reaction at ASRI. All students who were involved in signing the statement were suspended. ASRI director Abas Alibasyah, a decorative painter who had also been a winner in the exhibition, declared that such an orientation to socio-political issues in the Black December manifesto should be expressed by students in the socio-political department, and not by art students. He further stated that the students’ actions were in opposition to “national development” and could endanger “national unity, integrity and stability”.10 Rumours also circulated that the Black December statement contained “latent communist dangers”, with the Commander of the Java-Madura Detention Area acknowledging he was concerned about the developments at ASRI. Eight months after the Black December controversy, the New (Indonesian) Art Movement (GSRB) was declared, with membership including Jim Supangkat, FX Harsono and Muryoto Hartoyo, with support from pre-eminent Indonesian art critic Sanento Yuliman. Here began what Supangkat would call the “art of rebellion”.11 The controversy that GSRB created had a crucial impact on the development of Indonesian art, in that the realm of art was no longer alienated from the political. Artists no longer positioned themselves as morally external to the political sphere, like holy recluses removed from the clamour of worldly life, inwardly focused on aesthetic contemplation of pure form. Artists began to actively interrogate the reality of their surroundings. In this mood a further controversy emerged around the exhibition Kepribadian Apa? (What Individuality?) in Yogyakarta, in 1977. Involving young artists from Black December and GSRB, it critiqued the ideological constructions of the New Order around “national identity”. On the first day, the police immediately closed the exhibition on the basis of reports of it containing pornographic work; the next day they indicated there were two “dangerous” works: Hotel Tower of Asia by Bonyong Munny Ardhi and Kartu Remi Indonesia by Slamet Ryadhi. This first was an installation that took issue with the gap in the economy by showing a vagrant sleeping on the porch of a four star hotel, while the second depicted a deck of playing cards featuring President Suharto’s face.

l

dı van

102 — december / 2016


Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-66

In 1979, Jim Supangkat listed five main principles declared by the exponents of GSRB, presenting a new world perspective that renounced the writing and work of painters at the beginning of the New Order. These five principles can be summarised as 1.) Rejecting the specificity of art as painting, sculpture and printmaking, and any opposing constrictions on the crossover of medium; 2.) Rejecting avant-gardism that positions the artist as profound genius who “cannot be understood by society”, while “believing that actual social problems are more important subjects of discussion that personal sentiments”; 3.) Rejecting patronage and the subjugation of young artists to older artists (cantrikism), while opening up the “possibilities of making” as far-reaching as possible; 4.) Rejecting the dictum that stated, “art is universal” by re-engaging an investigation into Indonesian art history and its specific historical context that cannot be understood through the classifications of Western art theory; and 5.) Defending art that exists at the heart, or core, of society.12 These five points articulate a fundamental paradigmatic change. The first point is nothing less than a severe blow to the formalist faith that was a pillar of Modernist art. Thus, GSRB rejected the puritanical doctrine of “medium specificity” proposed in formalist and modernist aesthetics, and implemented by abstract and decorative painters. The second point is the rejection of expressivism that underpinned modern Indonesian art after Sudjojono. In this, GSRB positioned itself in opposition to the “romantic individualism” which, among other aspects, was prominent in Oesman Effendi’s constructions. The first two points already represent a fundamental about-face thinking on art in Indonesia. This was exacerbated further with the emphasis on experimentation (point three), on rereading Indonesian art history (point four), and the involvement of art in the socio-political realm (point five). With this last point, GSRB became a ‘nightmare’ for the New Order’s regime of aesthetics. GSRB dissolved itself in 1979, due to differences in the visions of its exponents; primarily the struggle for the position of spokesperson between Supangkat and Hardi. In spite of this, GSRB opened new horizons in the artistic imagination of Indonesian artists, especially amongst youth. It opened the door for new aesthetic awareness; for instance, a consciousness of painting not being the central arts paradigm, and the notion that artists are not a different entity to society in general. And although a radical new consciousness had developed among young artists, campus bureaucracy still clung to the old aesthetic conventions. Conflict between these two and the absence of spaces for young artists to show their works propelled the emergence of alternative galleries like Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, in 1988. Among the proponents of GSRB were two artists who were able to systematically establish their opinions into written form—Jim Supangkat and FX Harsono, though both had differing aesthetic perspectives. This difference in opinion appeared at various points, including in the lead up the New Art Project Exhibition 2 in 1989, when Harsono stated that he wouldn’t be involved in the exhibition that Supangkat was organising. If the latter emphasised intrinsically formal dimensions when looking at contemporary art, Harsono preferred to emphasise socio-political elements. Harsono maintained a commitment to the rejection of high art and an alignment with the people, while Supangkat foregrounded explorations of form and set aside the relationship with socio-political issues. Harsono’s political attitude is consistently reflected in his artistic practice from the beginning of his involvement in GSRB, and since.

103 — december / 2016


MARTIN SURYAJAYA

A second consequence of the 1974 Black December event was a statement that Harsono signed; “That for development that guarantees the continuation of our culture, we painters are called on to provide spiritual guidance based on humanist values and oriented to the reality of our social, cultural, political and economic existence.” In GSRB’s initial exhibition in 1975, Harsono exhibited Paling Top’75 (Most Popular ’75), an installation using a toy M-16 gun placed in a box with a white cloth background and enclosed with simple chicken wire, taking issue with the seemingly popularisation of a culture of violence and militarism. Also in the same exhibition, Rantai yang Santai (The Relaxed Chains), an installation of mattresses, pillows and cushions tied up with chains, seemed to criticise the repressive apparatus of power, while even touching on the most private of realms (mattresses, cushions and pillows). In particular, Harsono seemed to want to deconstruct the ideological apparatus that operates in every recess of society’s existence. He achieved this without any reference to Marxist doctrine, usually found in the politically styled artistic approaches of his predecessors, the Lekra artists.13 Political disposition and environmental awareness are also reflected in Harsono’s subsequent works. His installation Power and the Oppressed, presented at ARX 3 in Perth (1992), further engaged the working logic of power. This work comprised symbolic objects that depicted power, such as a throne surrounded by barbed wire against a background that portrayed ceremonials daggers and fireballs like those in the traditional shadow puppet narratives, facing a row of twigs placed on a white cloth spattered with red. Through this work, Harsono took issue with Suharto’s mobilisation of Javanese metaphors for feudalist power, with all their supernatural mystification, positioning the people as if they were no more l

dı van

104 — december / 2016


Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-66

than frail and bloody twigs. In the installation Suara yang tak Bersuara (Voices That Make No Sound) (1994), Harsono foregrounded the same issue from the perspective of the victims. This work was made from nine 1.2 x 1.8 metre panels on which images of hands formed letters in sign language, mutely spelling out the word “d-e-m-o-k-r-a-s-i”, an allegory for the atmosphere of oppression of the ordinary person whose voice was silenced by the New Order regime. This voice motif continues in the work Suara Dari Dasar Bendungan (Voices From the Bottom of the Dam) (1994), an installation that involved found objects —Madurese clothing, a chilli plant, a pot and pottery utensils each facing a microphone and accompanied by recordings of Harsono’s interviews with villagers from Sampang, in Madura, who were evicted from their land by government plans to develop a dam. The May 1998 riots targeting ethnic Chinese (known as ‘The 1998 Tragedy’, which also led to the fall of Suharto and his New Order government) left a deep mark on Harsono, following which he begun to re-examine his own identity as an Indonesian of Chinese descent. Themes of alienation began to appear in his work, especially in his exhibition Displaced at Cemeti Art House, in 2003.14 Harsono presented the uncertainty of ambiguous identity through a series of images depicting violence and relations between power, history and humanity. These themes are also present in his most recent works, especially the Proyek nDudah (Excavation Project) (2013), a reconstruction of the massacre of ethnic Chinese around 1946-49, working with photographs of the exhumation of victims his father took in the 1950s. In Memelihara Hidup, Menghentikan Hidup (Maintaining Life, Ending Life) (2009), Harsono juxtaposes paintings of scenes from his family history (wedding and family photos) with those from the photographs of the exhumation of massacre victims. What emerges here is a “manual reproduction” of the aura of history15—Harsono has never forsaken his aesthetic commitment to issues around power, history and humanity. For him, artistic practice has never been, and must never be, alienated from the socio-political universe. Before Reformasi (the post-Suharto era), Harsono did not make any work with a direct thematic connection to the mass killings of 1965-66 perpetrated by the anti-communist military and civilians. In an interview, he said that it was too risky to talk about the mass killings, let alone exhibit a work with expressed intent of protest or outcry.16 Consequently, Harsono chose to deal with other pressing sociopolitical issues. But with the fall of Suharto’s regime, he began to plan a series of works concentrating on the issues of 1965-66 mass murders. There are three of Harsono’s works of the past decade that directly relate to ‘1965’. In 2006, Harsono presented an installation entitled Yang Berkorban Tak Menikmati (They Who Made Sacrifice Do Not Enjoy) (2006), a series of potraits and biographical texts printed digitally at the surface of a dozen cakes. The portraits are those of the six generals allegedly killed in the coup by the PKI in 1965, which became the pretext for the subsequent mass murder of the members of PKIrelated organisations and suspected members. The biographical texts are those of several human right activists whose murders remains unsolved to this day. This work was exhibited at Cemeti Art House, 2006, where the audiences were invited to eat the cakes. Harsono said in an interview; “The work is about sacrifice, or people sacrificed in a power struggle and about those who achieve political power at the expense of other people’s lives.”17 In this work, the victims were presented as delicacies to be enjoyed by the victors (Suharto and his accomplices) or, in this instance, the audience. Thus, Harsono invited the audience to partake in the very process described in the work: of transformation from victim to the object of enjoyment. The audience was given an ambiguous status, that is, both as (presumably sad) witnesses of national tragedy and as (presumably happy) consumer of cruel history. By inviting the audience to eat the cakes, Harsono in a sense invited them to recognise their historical burden to deal with this past massacre.

105 — december / 2016


MARTIN SURYAJAYA

A second work is the video performance Rewriting The Past (2009), in which Harsono, seated in front of a table, writes his Chinese name—Oh Hong Boen—in Chinese characters on a piece of paper, which he then places on the floor. He does this one hundred times. In this work, Harsono directly challenges the impact of the mass killings of 1965-66. Suharto and his state apparatus saw the Chinese Indonesians as disguised communists, partly because since the early 1960s the PKI had a close connection to the Communist Party of China. This suspicion became one of the motives for the mass killings and subsequent policies to suppress any suspected communist activities. The Chinese language press was prohibited in the aftermath of Suharto’s rise to power. Chinese schools and organisations were disbanded. All Chinese Indonesians were forced to give up their Chinese names and assume an Indonesian name in accordance with the local custom. Thus Harsono, on his eighteenth birthday, was forced to abandon the name Oh Hong Boen and adopt a Catholic and Javanese name: Fransiskus Xaverius Harsono. In performing Rewriting The Past, Harsono presents this dilemma faced by Chinese Indonesians in the aftermath of ‘1965’, having a split identity as both Indonesian and Chinese Indonesian, and as a survivor of the 1965-66 political upheaval. His third work, related to the second, is another video performance Writing in The Rain (2011) in which Harsono writes his Chinese name in Chinese characters with brush and black ink on a sheet of glass. At a certain point in the performance, water flows down the glass, erasing his name. In the midst of this symbolic ‘rain’, Harsono repeatedly writes his name, which is constantly erased by the flow of water, as an attempt to capture the fragility of Chinese Indonesian identity in post-1965 Indonesia. This ‘rain’ can be read as historical allegory—it erases everything, blurring every character, or identity and, in the specific Indonesian context, captures the inundation of society in this history of violence. The mass killings of 1965-66 remains one of the underlying motives of Harsono’s works throughout the post-Reformasi era. Its interweaving with the motive of identity (especially ChineseIndonesian) and political violence is marked in several of his recent works. His practice therefore, is an artistic challenge to the Indonesian government’s reluctance to revisit the past and make amends with its historical crimes. Harsono is undeniably a pioneer in rehabilitating the political dimension of Indonesian art after 1965, closely bound to civil movements formed between NGOs, human rights activists and pro-democracy political movements during the New Order authoritarian regime, and community-oriented practices initiated by the post-GSRB generation of artists, eg. Moelyono, Semsar Siahaan and Dadang Christanto. Harsono’s contribution to contemporary Indonesian art is further validated by his successful formulation of a balance between formal experimentation and socio-political dimensions. In an essay presented during Pameran Binal Eksperimental (Wild Experimental Exhibition, Yogyakarta, 1992) it became apparent that Harsono was quite conscious of the aesthetic consequences of his and other contemporary artists’ practices conducted post-GSRB, commenting upon a number of primary understandings, including the rejection of lyricism and of perspectives that prioritise form over the work’s social aspects. He emphasised that, “aesthetic values are not the only important values when creating an artwork. There are still other values that are more important, for instance humanist values or social values.”18 This aesthetic concept relied on participatory working methods, involving dialogue between artists and society, such a those implemented by Moelyono in East Javanese villages; exemplified by Harsono with his ‘live-in’ at Sampang village in Madura when he made his installation Suara dari Dasar Bendungan in 1994. Like the Lekra artists who tapped into real problems and issues of the community as the impetus for their creative process, Harsono concurred that “political, social, economic and cultural problems are a legitimate orientation when seeking ideas” and that “creativity is conceptual”.19 l

dı van

106 — december / 2016


Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-66

107 — december / 2016


MARTIN SURYAJAYA

Harsono is one of the first artists to restore a political dimension to Indonesian art after the events of 1965-66. In focusing on the politics of the people, he has pursued visual forms that evince the increasingly complicated reality of everyday exploitation and individual struggle. In this sense, he can be located as an important figure in the dialectical conflict between art and politics—an approach that was opened up by Sudjojono in the 1940s and beginning to be abandoned as the Suharto’s New Order was established. Harsono’s pioneering role in creating a political and participatory work ethic for contemporary art, along with Moelyono and several other community art activists post-GSRB, is indisputable. However, the art historical reference points have shifted. If Moelyono’s generation often referred to a framework of social awareness rooted in the aesthetics of Augusto Boal and the pedagogy of critic Paulo Freire, the new generation of participatory art these days refers more often to the “relational aesthetics” that Nicolas Bourriaud speaks of. Today, the political aesthetic is quite common among contemporary Indonesian artists, both in spontaneous and relational collective performance works, and in the paintings that sell for over ten billion rupiah. An inclination towards the political is no longer seen as a betrayal of the ‘purity’ of art, nor as a violation of art’s ‘natural formalism’; rather, its restoration to the realm of aesthetic contingency. There is an additional aspect that has been on the rise in Indonesian art over the last decade, being the focus on the participatory dimension—ie. “relational aesthetics”—that artist-run-initiatives like ruangrupa, Forum Lenteng and Jatiwangi Art Factory (JaF) have been experimenting with. The two principles to have emerged within this development are that the artist no longer functions as the creator but as an organiser of social relationships; and the artwork is no longer the main object or artefact, but rather its social relationships. Ultimately, the biggest challenge for participatory art is then to consider and experiment with truly fundamental, rather than the merely superficial, practices of social change. This is such that it is not just social relations that change on the surface, but rather the basic social relations that structure other social relations in a society. What those social relations are, how to change them and in what aesthetic form that change will be articulated, are three challenges faced by participatory artists in Indonesia today. From the beginning of his art practice, FX Harsono’s socio-political imperatives were never realised as a member of an institution or organisation, but rather through interacting with communities, NGOs and other activists. With the positive shift in politics and society after the fall of the Suharto regime, his association with both the social and political developed through researching archives and collections, and meeting with witnesses to, and victims of, political persecution. Subsequently, the focus of his art practice is motivated by the historical misfortunes suffered by the Chinese living in Indonesia, and the discrimination exacted upon them by the New Order regime and anti-Chinese communities. Translated from the Indonesian text by Elly Kent.

l

dı van

108 — december / 2016


Aesthetics and Politics in Indonesian Art: And the Interconnection Between the Artwork of FX Harsono and the Mass Killings of 1965-66

Notes 1 Sections of this text were presented as a discussion paper for the OK Video Symposium titled ‘The New Order’ which was held by ruangrupa at the National Gallery of Indonesia on 15 June, 2015. Some sections have also been published on the Indoprogress website, 16 March, 2016: http://indoprogress.com/2016/03/estetika-orde-baru/ 2

Sanento Yuliman, Seni Lukis Indonesia Baru: Sebuah Pengantar, Jakarta: Dewan Kesenian Jakarta, 1976, p. 40

3

For the West, which has already mastered this material, then become bored and fed up with it and run it to abstraction and so on, that I understand. But then why does Indonesia, which has just emerged from 350 years of violence, join in this run to abstraction, what could the reason be? When we have just got this material, why are we already bored with it? I more often see and read of those who are greedy for material… In practice, I have rarely ever seen those who are fed up with [the] material, but in painting, the sense of being fed up with the material is what is hardest to bear. So, if there is a theory that art is a picture of its age, then the only conclusion can be that painting in Indonesia now reflects a hypocritical existence… Sometimes I even hear painters talking themselves up: “I’m modern, I’m contemporary.” S. Sudjojono, ‘Seni Rupa yang Menjawab Tantangan Masa Kini’, Dalam majalah SANI, 28 June, 1985, pp. 35-38 4 Popo Iskandar, ‘Seni melalui virtuositas: suatu potret tentang Ahmad Sadali’, in Bambang Bujono and Wicaksono Adi eds, Seni Rupa Indonesia dalam Kritik dan Esai, Jakarta: Dewan Kesenian Jakarta, 2012, p. 203 5 Ali Moertopo, Strategi Kebudayaan (Cultural Strategy), Yayasan Proklemasi, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta, 1978 6 Effendi Oesman, ‘Seni Lukis in Indonesia: Dulu dan Sekarang’, in Ugeng T. Moetidjo dan Hafiz (ed.), Seni Lukis Indonesia Tidak Ada, Jakarta: Dewan Kesenian Jakarta, 2007, p. 9 7

S. Sudjojono, Seni Loekis, Kesenian dan Seniman, Yogyakarta: Indonesia Sekarang, 1946, p. 69

8

Effendi Oesman, op cit., pp. 11-14

9

Sudjoko, ‘Kita Juga Punya “Romantic Agony”’, in Bambang Bujono and Wicaksono Adi eds, Seni Rupa Indonesia dalam Kritik dan Esai, Jakarta: Dewan Kesenian, 2012, p. 217 10

Sumartono, ‘The role of power in contemporary Yogyakarta art’, in Outlet: Yogyakarta within the Contemporary Indonesian Art Scene, Yogyakarta: Cemeti Art Foundation, 2001, p. 24

11

Jim Supangkat, ‘Seni rupa era “80”’, Dalam Katalog Bienniale Seni Rupa Jakarta IX 1993, 1993, p. 13

12

Jim Supangkat, ‘Lima jurus gebrakan Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru Indonesia’, in Ugeng T. Moetidjo and Hafiz eds, Seni Lukis Indonesia Tidak Ada, op cit., pp. 125-26

13

Harsono admitted that during his time as an artist with GSRB, he had yet to encounter Marxism; or even the NGO’s that had just begun to emerge in Indonesia in the 1980s. Interview with FX Harsono, 11 July, 2016.

14

“After Suharto’s regime fell, a culture of violence became more apparent in our society… In the time afterwards, I felt I had lost my foundations and felt alienated in my own society. Previously I had felt that this society was one that I should fight on behalf of through art.” FX Harsono, ‘Transisi: Pernyataan Seniman’, in Displaced (exhib. cat.), Galeri Nasional Indonesia & Cemeti Art House, 2003, pp. 19-20

15

Harsono defined his recent inclination to return to painting as the result of the contemplation of “mechanical reproduction” triggered by Walter Benjamin’s text ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1936), in which mechanical reproduction engenders the absence of the aura or singularity of the artwork. Departing from this consciousness, Harsono actually seemed to want to re-attach an aura to his artwork by entering into manual reproduction (painting) of mechanical reproduction (photo). In this, the aura that emerges is from the history of massacres of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. Interview with FX Harsono, 11 July, 2016

16

Interview with FX Harsono, ibid.

17

Interview with FX Harsono, 15 August, 2016

18

FX Harsono, ‘Perkembangan Seni Rupa Kontemporer di Indonesia: Tinjauan Problematik’, in Seni Rupa, Perubahan, Politik: Himpunan Tulisan, Magelang: Galeri Langgeng, 2009, p. 76

19

Ibid. p. 78

109 — december / 2016


ANTHONY DOWNEY

Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East

l

dı van

110 — december / 2016


ALAN CRUICKSHANK: Ibraaz launched its inaugural Platform 001 in June 2011, in response to regional developments across North Africa and the Middle East, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ and its effects upon the visual culture of the region. In your Ibraaz 5th year anniversary editorial, ‘Return to the Former Middle East’,1 you stated that this was premised by a “relatively straightforward question: what do we need to know about the MENA region today?” The objective was to understand what was happening to art practices under certain political, social, economic, and cultural conditions and how this relates to global developments. And given that these conditions of unrest, as real economic, social, historical and political facts of life, you further considered what the politics of contemporary cultural production in the Middle East can tell us about the politics of global cultural production. Over five years, Platforms 001 to 010 have solidified into specific research collections with a number resulting in conferences and published books, including the recently published Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (Sternberg, 2016), which stemmed from platform 007 and the Future Imperfect: Cultural Propositions and Global Perspectives conference held at Tate Modern, London, in late 2013; and Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Art and Contested Narratives in the Middle East, published in 2015, from Platform 006; Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practice in North Africa and the Middle East, published in 2014, which began its development in Platform 004, the latter having been initiated in 2012. Your current Platform 010, ‘Where to Now? Shifting Regional Dynamics and Cultural Production in North Africa and the Middle East’ was imminent in a panel discussion held at the National Museum of Carthage, Tunis, in 2012, and revisits elements from all previous platforms, while also looking forward to future concerns. In ‘Return to the Former Middle East’ you state that your latest publication, Future Imperfect, focuses on the condition and future of current cultural institutions in North Africa and the Middle East, with the ominous caveat that “something fundamental has occurred across the Middle East and North Africa, and it may not be entirely obvious what that is precisely, especially given the attention focused on ongoing conflicts and the legacy of the so-called Arab Spring. That something, and I will call it out for what it is, involves a de facto war on culture; an ongoing, prolonged, self-interested, and, in large part, fully intentional and yet incoherent assault on the very fabric of cultural institutions and those who support and work in them.” Similarly, in your introduction to Future Imperfect, you assert that “there is a stealthy erosion of certain rights around cultural production and freedom of expression that is having a significant impact on cultural producers and institutions. (This could also be attributed to some Western societies, if not the majority of Southeast Asia and its neighbours.) These appraisals, and a subsequent comment, “Cultural production… under the conditions of historical conflict and autocracy has always attracted… repression and suppression” (a number of texts in this issue attest to this condition) invoke clarification upon this “de facto war” on culture across North Africa and the Middle East.

111 — december / 2016


ANTHONY DOWNEY

ANTHONY DOWNEY: It may seem dramatic to suggest that there is a campaign being fought against culture across such a diverse region, perhaps it is; nevertheless, as I explore throughout Future Imperfect, the erosion of certain rights—around press freedom, institutional independence, cultural production and freedom of expression—is not only having a significant impact on cultural producers and institutions but it also reveals a number of recurring anxieties about the historical development of cultural institutions and their current condition. It is the recurrence of these issues, in all their sociopolitical specificities and historically relative contexts, that informs this volume and its enquiry into a singular, but far from straightforward, question: if we consider cultural institutions as barometers of sorts for acknowledging and registering, if not forecasting, prevailing social, political, historical and cultural conventions, then to what extent does their current state, and the pressures placed upon them, give cause for concern when it comes to considering the status of visual culture and cultural production across the region? In order to more fully understand these issues, I commissioned, over an eighteenmonth period, a number of writers, emerging and well established, to write alongside representatives from various institutions and other practitioners. Given that events were changing so rapidly on the ground, we also commissioned writers to publish online material so we could map as much of the region as possible and keep it as up-to-date. These will be published simultaneously with the book. The thing that became apparent through this research and commissioning was the precarious state of institutions with many, such as Townhouse in Cairo and Sada in Baghdad closing over the period in question; while the 5th Çanakkale Biennial in Turkey was cancelled three weeks before it was due to open. These are some of the more obvious elements at work here, and while it is not unusual for institutions to disband, there would appear to be a concerted attack on them in cities as diverse as Cairo, Baghdad and Istanbul. You could extend this and further ask what is happening in Baghdad, for example, which is still bereft of any meaningful support for cultural endeavour. Or what is happening in Alexandria, Tunis, or Beirut, where culture may not be overtly under attack, but it is underfunded, under-represented and undermined on a regular basis. These forms of attack take many different forms, however, from overt political pressure, to covert threats, to a general lack of funding, or the withdrawal of funding, to outright political interference. Over the course of the last five years or so, which have witnessed unprecedented turmoil in the region, it is all the more notable, moreover, how state agencies have become more emboldened in their outright distrust of cultural producers and the institutions they represent. The political pressure placed upon, and simultaneous neglect of, cultural production has been all the more acerbated by the relative absence of private sector funding and the presence of cultural policies that reveal a disconcerting lack of legislation fit for the purpose of ensuring models of institutional engagement, stability and sustainability. Where funding does exist, in the United Arab Emirates for example, it is arguable that these projects seem less concerned with supporting cultural production—or indeed forms of communitybased activities that involve education and participation—and more preoccupied with statist forms of centralised cultural management, which have largely resulted in the building of sepulchral testaments to the expansionist policies of Western institutions. These elements, operating in tangent with political indifference (not to mention interference, no one is really consistent here) and social disaffection, creates a perfect storm of sorts that sees cultural production and the institutions that support and represent it entering into a period of outright danger and precarity. What also seemed to be at stake, as I was researching this book and its directions, was the very viability and sustainability of institutions associated with post-revolutionary or autocratic states.

l

dı van

112 — december / 2016


Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East

In this respect, Future Imperfect seeks to highlight a degree of urgency that requires critical attention and a coherent response if we are to rethink the efficacy and function of cultural institutions during a time of local upheaval and global uncertainty. What, I also wanted to ask, would an alliance of cultural producers and institutions—capable of navigating these treacherous waters—look like and do such models already exist? It is within these frames of reference that the volume sought to propose a variety of potential survival mechanisms and suggestions for how institutions could reinvent their operational dialectics and formal function in a time when they are increasingly viewed as part of an endemic, if not systemic, crisis in the way in which art is produced, viewed, disseminated and exchanged. More specifically, the first section of Future Imperfect looked at regional contexts, alongside the historical forms of antagonism that exist between cultural institutions and political repression, and the second section examines how institutions can learn, through both informal methods and formal critique, from cultural producers and critical art practices. This is to recall how art practices, from the mid-1960s onwards, have consistently challenged traditional institutional systems of archiving, curation, display and dissemination. I found this to be a very productive approach: how can practice inform the development and long-term sustainability of institutions? The forms of “institutional critique” evident throughout the volume therefore refer to the specific circumstances of cultural institutions in the region, and, perhaps more importantly, how such practices can present methods for articulating speculative institutional futures. What potential, we asked, is there in critical art practices when it comes to engaging with these processes, and how can they propose a degree of resistance, if not radical, constructive forms of critique, to global cultural economies that would have, in turn, a degree of relevance to the long-term sustainability and short-term functioning of cultural institutions in the Middle East? Apart from the imminent need to consider the historical contexts out of which this current state of affairs has emerged, and how cultural production has engaged with these frames of reference, the instrumentalisation of cultural production so that it answers to a global cultural economy was likewise a key element here. Globalisation, in conjunction with the neoliberal policies that enable its predominance, not only produces rampant forms of “uneven development” but also co-opts cultural economies into the realm of a privatised, overtly politicised ethic of production, exchange and consumption. It was with these points in mind that the final section of Future Imperfect enquires into how the emphasis being placed on so-called “mega-museums” and forms of “soft power”, in the GCC states (Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) in particular, have affected the future evolution of cultural institutions in the region. While these processes are particularly notable in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, they are also, as we will see, a substantial feature of cultural developments in Istanbul and other Middle Eastern cities. AC: In ‘Return to the Former Middle East’ and other texts, you queried the institutional and critical legitimacy of the rhetoric of conflict and the spectacle of revolution and challenged the “profound level of cynicism… made manifest in the forms of curatorial opportunism… Revolution, uprisings, internecine warfare, civil conflict, and human rights, all of these points of reference have been deployed in an intensification of interest in the region and the coextensive demand that culture either condemns or defends such notions. Within these contexts, institutions often co-opt the radicality of practice…”, with the condemnation, “where better to start a career than to show art from a conflict zone—and the avid marketisation of artists from the region?”

113 — december / 2016


ANTHONY DOWNEY

In 2012 I presented in Australia the symposium Shifting Sands, (coincidentally, many of its ten visitors are contributors to Ibraaz as well as Future Imperfect), its prevailing context being the comparison it sought to present of the then collective socio-cultural, historical and political issues affecting art and artists from North Africa and the Middle East, with the ‘Australian condition’. Though geographically removed Australia has tangible connectivity with the region, predominantly through its military and immigration histories—Australia’s then military participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, following that of Egypt, Libya, Turkey, Palestine, Jordan and Syria in both World Wars; the exodus of Lebanese citizens due to the 1975-1991 civil war and the “30,000 Australian citizens” stranded in Lebanon during the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel; refugees from post-1991 regional conflicts; and the then Gillard government’s 2012 abstention from voting for Palestinian territories being granted observer status at the United Nations, Australia having been elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Whereas artists in general in Australia can be seen to be essentially market/career focused in an established safety-net infrastructure of extensive government and private cultural sponsorship (unencumbered by the anxieties and turmoil experienced in countries mentioned here), artists from the MENA region operate within an environment charged by multiple layers of historical and contemporary concerns that on the surface, and from a removed perspective (Australia for example), would seem to deny or query the pursuit of art making, having one would presume personal, family and community security and futures utmost in mind. Yet within this cataclysm of regional turmoil artists continue to make art and organisations continue to present it, without (mostly) those multiple levels of support enjoyed in Australia. During the life of this project I was very circumspect about what I had identified as international “curatorial opportunism” of “the rhetoric of conflict and the spectacle of revolution”. Given that there is, as you note throughout your Introduction to Future Imperfect, the danger that visual culture from the region being legitimised through the media-friendly symbolism of conflict and a globally-inclined market-driven interest in artistic production, the role that art criticism might play in producing a more rigorous system of analysing, critiquing and archiving cultural production across the MENA region could here be examined, as could the notion of a neutral position for critique. AD: This is indeed complex, both in terms of the question and the response. To begin with, the “rhetoric of conflict and the spectacle of revolution” that I refer to is part of a larger paradigm in contemporary visual culture where misery and conflict sells and there’s money to be made in poverty (especially images of it). But let us begin with the specificity of the region: if artists are going to respond to the immediacy of events, and who is to say they should not, we need to remain alert to how the rhetoric of conflict and the spectacle of revolution is deployed as a benchmark for discussing, if not determining, the institutional and critical legitimacy of these practices. Revolution, uprisings, internecine warfare, civil conflict and human rights, all of these points of reference have been deployed in an intensification of interest in the region and the coextensive demand that culture either condemns or defends such events and notions. Again, this is an international rather than provincial concern, inasmuch as there remains the ever-present interpretive danger that visual culture from the region is legitimised through the media-friendly symbolism of conflict—the latter rubric being redolent of colonial ambitions to prescribe the culture of the Middle East to a set of problems that revolve around conflict and extremist ideology. Such concerns, voiced in the wake of uprisings across the region, remind us that colonial paradigms are not only far from defunct, but easily resuscitated through an evolving neo-colonial preoccupation with topics such as an (apparently) irresolvable form of atavistic conflict brought about by an equally irredeemable strain of dogmatic and sectarian extremism. l

dı van

114 — december / 2016


Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East

115 — december / 2016


ANTHONY DOWNEY

What interests me here is what the politics of critical analysis, in relation to regional cultural production, tells us about the global politics of cultural production and criticism. There are a number of key areas to explore here: globalisation and the forces of neoliberalism, capital accrual, financial and curatorial speculation, and how these three areas intersect with critical discourse. A significant number of artists make work about the detrimental effects of globalisation, for example, and these works inevitably find their way into one or other of the key institutional agents of globalisation. By agents of globalisation, I am referring here to the biennial or the triennial. We could also include here the next museum show about “borders”, “revolution”, “civil unrest”, “refugees”, or “migration”; or the next residency in (or from) a so-called Third World country—all are institutionally defined practices that are associated with the global spread of contemporary art. In this context, contemporary art practices (especially when they take on the politics of globalisation) have arguably become indivisible from the very forces of globalisation that they ostensibly set out to critique—this is a potent contradiction, nowhere more so than in the Middle East. If we were to map the development of such processes over the last two decades or so, in geopolitical terms, we could likewise map globalisation and its sinuous channels of transnational territorialisation, with the Middle East having a prominent role to play (and perform) in this conceptual and, in some cases, literal land grab. Curators, critics and artists figure here as quasi-anthropologists—the privileged agents who map and legitimise this brave new globalised world; while the biennial or newly built museum (consider what is happening in Gulf States presently), becomes one of the key nodal points around which the imperatives of global capital coagulates. Secondly, contemporary art as an asset class has also become a key commodity in the circulation of capital. Apart from base capital accrual, art as an alternative asset class is evident in the nomenclature surrounding emerging markets (emerging in relation to what exactly?) and the spectre of cultural gentrification as a form of property-based speculation. Consider this: a third of hedge funds, the shock troops of neoliberal speculation, are now investing in art as a so-called diversified asset. The very ideal of the speculative aspect of contemporary art, and its tendency to reimagine potential forms of engagement, has been co-opted (willingly it seems) into the scope of territorialising capital —this is a continued and imminent danger when we consider art from the Middle East and how it is co-opted, curatorially and materially, into a global cultural economy. Art as a form of speculative visual narrative here becomes a form of speculative transaction, whereby the financial element of its exchange is not extraneous to the value of art but embedded in the very apparatus that validates its institutional, critical and conceptual meanings. It may be a tad simplistic to say that the speculative nature of art—its tendency to rethink horizons of potential engagement—has segued into a form of financial speculation, but we arrive here at a fundamental question: who actually benefits from the work of art? A further perhaps more important question is thereafter all the more clear-cut: can art work to benefit the object of its speculation? Can the refugee, dispossessed, disenfranchised, or the revolutionary, or the social activist, benefit from the work of art? Which brings us, finally, to art criticism. Forget about the failure of art criticism, a hoary chestnut if there ever was one, and let us consider the wholesale co-option of art criticism into an ethos that can be only understood as secular, neoliberal fantasy that often works in tangent with the processes just outlined. The language of criticism—marginalisation, globality, transnationalism, biopolitics, refugees, statelessness, precarity—contains terms that are valid in their own right, as critical paradigms, but such terms, when used uncritically as props for so-called “engaged” criticism, often merely re-enforce a linguistic economy of neoliberal thought that adheres to sketchy notions of democracy, freedom, morality, liberty, equality, human rights, ethics, Western humanism and secularism. l

dı van

116 — december / 2016


Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East

We see this again and again in critiques of cultural production in the Middle East and we need to ask simple questions here: What is this liberal secularism we all seem to abide by, whose interests are being served in the advocation of human rights, democracy, freedom, and liberty; and whose ethics are we talking about? What passes for Western humanism and democratic secularism, in these debates, largely betrays an often ill-concealed contempt for those who refuse the ascendant logic of neoliberalism. The broader concern here is all the more evident: what has happened to visual culture—its reception, dissemination and management—in the aftermath of global financial upheaval, regional conflict, civil war, and revolution and how has it been co-opted (and neutralised) by institutional, financial, critical, political, and apparently well-meaning organisations looking to ‘support’ culture in the region. Has culture become increasingly sidelined or, conversely, all the more instrumentalised by political and economic forces across the Middle East? Moreover, if cultural production has become complicit in the accumulation of capital—be it cultural, private, economic or social—as a result of neoliberalism, global forms of gentrification and the relative absence of state and private funding, how might we explore the potential for productive cultural alliances that can effectively address these concerns? A central tenet to this enquiry is a reflexive consideration of what art criticism’s role is in these processes: is there, I would ask, a neutral position for critique and how do we rethink the institutionalisation, instrumentalisation, and commercialisation of cultural production while also critiquing our own complicity, as cultural producers, in this process? Finally, when we apply critical thinking, in these contexts, we must ask what assumptions are being considered when critical paradigms that foreground conflict and revolution become the prism through which we view cultural production. Whose interests are being served by a global cultural economy that thrives on such images and hermeneutic methodologies? When it comes to discussing cultural production in the early part of the twenty-first century, are alternative forms of knowledge production available to cultural practitioners and artists alike? That is key for me in my research: are there different ways of thinking about these issues; different heuristic forms and different pedagogical approaches? Apart from epistemological questions on the subject of knowledge production I am interested here in who is producing this knowledge, how is it utilised, and to what end. Whose interests, in sum, are being served in the moment of producing knowledge about the Middle East? And if we, as cultural producers, neglect—for whatever reason (be it short-sightedness or self-interest)—to at least pose these issues and questions in advance of our critical engagement with forms of cultural production from across the Middle East then we are, at best, ill-advised and careless, and, at worse, complicit with the very forces we assume we are critiquing—be it neocolonial attitudes towards the region, or the inequities wrought by neoliberal doctrine and globalisation—and thereafter, invariably, we are part of the problem and need to admit as much. AC: In your essay ‘Beyond the Former Middle East: Aesthetics, Civil Society and the Politics of Representation’ for the first Ibraaz Platform in 2001, in the hopeful context that a new order, an ‘Arab Spring’, might emerge in the coming years from events at the time, you paraphrased Stephen Dedalus’ musings in Ulysses that history may yet turn out to be the nightmare from which we are trying to awake, a caution extended in your Future Imperfect Introduction that the future, as Louis Althusser once observed, lasts a long time. You’ve revealed that the essence of the idea for Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East originated in a conference held in London in late 2013, where it became apparent that the very ideal of “the future” in the Middle East as a concept was problematic. This query was already present in ‘Beyond the Former Middle East…’,

117 — december / 2016


ANTHONY DOWNEY

l

dı van

118 — december / 2016


Future Imperfect: Focus on Visual Culture in the Middle East

whether the world was then looking at the emergence of, through the prism of visual culture, a ‘former’ Middle East, and if new geographical, social, political, economic, religious and historical frames of reference necessitated the rejection of the very term. Given these considerations, it’s worth noting that 2016 is the centenary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and 2017 the Balfour Declaration, both cataclysmic assertions that crudely carved up the region into colonial subplots. Colonialism, for want of a better distinction, more or less kept post-WW1 demarcations in check until the Cold War incised additional fault lines, a disunion that remained apparent until the rise of Islamic fundamentalism through the Iranian Revolution and its consequences. Now both Dedalus’ musings and Althusser’s observations would seem to be in play. The premise that art and artists emerged in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring is a conceit not wholly acknowledged by the West. Its visual culture, similar to that of Chinese contemporary art since the 1980s, has been mediated principally by Western paradigms of presentation, collection, marketing and critical discourse, if not more (conditions to which you’ve just referred to at length). The Middle East’s futures it would seem are proliferate with both real and projected dangers. AD: The events of 2010 and their complex unfolding are still being played out across the region and, with the advent of the so-called migrant crisis, within Europe and beyond. Revolution, uprisings and unrest, in our globalised age, can only ever have an extended geopolitical reach and the shock waves are still resounding and will do for some time. One of the more positive elements to emerge from this period, albeit one that needs qualification, was an unprecedented upsurge in cultural activity. There has been, and continues to be, an exuberant degree of activity around cultural production that has seen cultural practitioners expanding on the notion of art as a practice and its relationship to the realm of the public and the political. These activities continue to make a significant impact on political and social debates within and beyond the region and need, if not institutional support (given the often compromised state of institutional support and the contingent forms of co-option associated with them), then critical acknowledgment and provisions made for sustaining such activities, be they individual or collective in their practice. We are, of course, still in the very early stages of what has been a seismic historical shift in terms of cultural production within the region but the one element that is recurrent and central to these discussions has been the role of cultural practices and their engagement with issues around historical consciousness, artistic movements, political and social debates, cultural narratives, new media, digital archiving, activism, civil society, public space, globalisation and institution building. Underwriting these considerations, there lies an attendant concern with how North Africa and the Middle East, as a diverse political, social and cultural entity, can be potentially more fully understood in terms of its relationships to the Global South rather than the often opaque prism of an East/West dichotomy. This has led me to consider other research questions for future volumes of our Visual Culture in the Middle East series—not least an enquiry into how a globalised cultural economy has affected the production of contemporary visual culture in North Africa and the Middle East—and how they could be developed more fully. Again, this is a decisive consideration if we are to blast open historically ossified and interpretively reductive paradigms of interpretive analysis and further re-consider how we might productively map the historical and contemporary relationships that exist between North Africa, the Middle East and the Global South. Note 1 I would like to acknowledge the collective writings of Anthony Downey informing my observations and queries; see the full text at http://www.ibraaz.org/essays/159/; for Future Imperfect see http://www.ibraaz.org/publications/73

119 — december / 2016


CHARI LARSSON

Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’

l

dı van

120 — december / 2016


Multitude, solitude: equal and interchangeable terms for the active and fertile poet.1 In considering how to approach Khaled Sabsabi’s recent work, it seemed appropriate to explore its engagement with crowds and people. From the very beginning, Sabsabi’s practice has been deeply invested in the multiracial and religious diversity characterising the suburbs of Western Sydney. In recent years, Sabsabi has turned his gaze to documenting sporting communities, in particular the Western Sydney Wanderers’ fan club, the Red and Black Bloc. These works raise important questions pertaining to representation: how to portray the diversity and plurality of the crowd without homogenising or flattening complexity? This essay will argue that Sabsabi’s recent work functions as a breach in the normative economy of representation, disrupting the construction of national sporting narratives, and the ideological frameworks sustaining them. Drawing on recent arguments by Judith Butler and Georges Didi-Huberman pertaining to representing “the people”, it will proceed in two parts. Firstly, it will frame Sabsabi’s video works Wonderland and Organised Chaos against an art-historical background, examining the uneasy relationship between artistic representation and crowds. And secondly, it will examine how Sabsabi leverages this historical anxiety as a critical tool for intervention. The beautiful game of football (soccer) is often referred to in quasi-religious terms. Football stadiums provide a shared space for communities to regularly come together with a common goal of supporting their team. Sabsabi has taken these dual impulses as his departure point for recent video works, Wonderland (2014) and Organised Confusion (2015). Comprising two screens, Wonderland shows the Western Sydney Wanderers’ supporters, the Red and Black Bloc. Shot frontally in a single take, the camera’s gaze is relentless in its scrutiny of the crowd. The genre of sports photography conventionally treats the crowd as as foil, as the camera focuses on the drama being played out on the field. Sabsabi inverts this logic, by documenting the ritualised performance of the crowd enacted on the sidelines. Sabsabi’s investigation into crowd dynamics is continued in Organised Confusion, which was commissioned for Sydney’s Carriageworks 2015 exhibition, 24 Frames Per Second. Two enormous floor to ceiling screens faced each other, showing footage of the Red and Black Bloc. Positioned in the entrance of the cavernous foyer of Carriageworks, these images were asynchronous, each revealing different temporal points in the game. Unlike the single frontal shot of the previous work, Organised Confusion is comprised of oblique camera angles. In both works, the football supporters follow a roughly choreographed routine led by muscular, athletic men using loud speakers to lead the collective chants, arm gestures and clapping. Sound is an important component to both works, as chants envelop the spectator as they roll in waves through the space of the installation. Like Wonderland, the crowd is tightly framed by the camera, allowing the visitor to concentrate on the individual movements and actions of the fans.

121 — december / 2016


CHARI LARSSON

While both works focus on the behaviour and movement of the crowd, Organised Confusion included crucial additional elements: a series of monitors and an Indonesian mask were installed to create a square, or enclosure, for the spectator. The monitors showed a dance performed by Javanese dancer, Agung Gunawan wearing a wooden mask. The spectator is forced to oscillate between two poles, as Sabsabi creates a cross-cultural dialogue through juxtaposition. The first is the collective, secular clamour of the Wanderers’ supporters, assembling in the stadium to support their team. The second is a singular, spiritual dance undertaken by Agung Gunawan. His movements are carefully choreographed, evoking a highly spiritual, ethereal trance-like state. Sabsabi creates a series of strong dichotomies: public and private, collective and individual, secular and religious. The power of multiple voices chanting and singing is in stark contrast to the quiet, delicate stillness of the Javanese dancer. The past decade has firmly established Sabsabi’s reputation as a political artist, with his works concentrating on documenting life in Sydney’s western suburbs. Sabsabi came with his family to Australia in 1978 to escape the civil war in Lebanon. Winner of the 2011 Blake Prize with the work Naqshbandi Greenacre Engagement (2011), Sabsabi examined the religious ritual of the Naqshbandi Sufi Muslim community in the suburb of Greenacre. The three channel video work was a portrayal of spirituality and religion grounded in everyday life. It is therefore, perhaps, only a matter of time before Sabsabi was to turn his gaze towards the theme of sport to explore his ongoing interest in migration, cultural displacement and the diverse range of communities that constitute Sydney’s west.

l

dı van

122 — december / 2016


Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’

The power of Wonderland and Organised Confusion resides in Sabsabi’s unapologetic rendering of the sporting crowd. Sport has always played a significant role in the history of the construction of Australian national identity.2 In this narrative, however, soccer has occupied a marginal position compared to the other football codes. Soccer in Australia has long been associated as a game played by immigrants. To trace this history uncovers a rich story of exclusion from Anglo-Australian communities. Closely entwined with post-Second World War migration, soccer, or “football” as it has now been rebranded by Football Federation Australia, has been underrepresented by mainstream media, further entrenching its marginalised position. Since 2003, football in Australia has witnessed enormous structural changes, with its careful reorganisation and rebranding. If football has historically been stigmatised as a migrant game, the need to ‘de-ethnicise’ soccer, expand its fan base and move progressively into the mainstream were the motivations driving the creation of the A-League.3 A-League clubs are now distributed across Australia, organised along geographical, rather than ethnic lines.4 Hence, the birth of the Western Sydney Wanderers and its supporter group, the Red and Black Bloc. Sabsabi seeks to navigate this fault line of competing constructions of identity. By focusing on the historically marginalised football code of soccer and portraying its supporters, he simultaneously undermines conventional images of Australian sporting identity, as well as delivering a timely reminder that the people of Western Sydney continue to remain visibly absent. Sabsabi’s title, Wonderland, is an ironic rebuke to Western Sydney’s invisibility. As Director of Sydney’s Carriageworks Lisa Havilah has forcefully argued, this “is the face of the potential future of Australia and what we will all become within the next decade.”5 Sabsabi’s project gains urgency as a growing Islamophobia has grown in Australia in the wake of global events, such as ‘9/11’, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the growth of and violence perpetuated by Islamic State. Locally, there have occurred the 2005 Cronulla (suburban Sydney) race riots between Lebanese and white populations, the December 2014 ‘Sydney siege’ (viewed at the time as a terrorist attack by a lone gunman radicalised by Islamic State), and a bipartisan party political hard-line approach to the offshore detention of asylum seekers, contributing to rising xenophobia that is threatening to undermine a multicultural discourse committed to inclusivity and diversity. By taking the subject of sport as a loaded symbol of Anglo-Australian national identity, Sabsabi subverts identity constructions that remain doggedly white, as well as gives representation to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious plurality that characterises the geographic imaginary “Other” of Sydney’s west. The scale of Wonderland and Organised Confusion evoke European history painting. One of the defining characteristics of history painting is that it calls its public into existence, making claims on its behalf to represent it.6 This also signals Sabsabi’s revisionist intent. By electing to represent people, ‘regular’ people, Sabsabi highlights the direct challenge crowds present for art’s history. As Jacques Rancière describes it; “Long ago, in the days of history painting, people painted images of the great and their deeds. Of course the hordes and humble people could be in the picture, too. It would be hard to conceive of a general without troops or a king without subjects. Occasionally, the hero would address them.”7 Images influence what can be seen, and what is visible. American author Judith Butler has described these normative processes in terms of frames of recognition. Butler pointedly asks, “What new norms are possible, and how are they wrought? What might be done to produce a more egalitarian set of conditions for recognisability?”8 Images are made possible through frameworks of recognition, according to which, images of football crowds sit outside the normalised framework of intelligibility.

123 — december / 2016


CHARI LARSSON

Images of crowds, particularly football crowds, traditionally sit outside normative media frameworks, usually only receiving the occasional cursory nod in Australian mainstream media in response to “poor behaviour”. Champion Australian footballer Johnny Warren argued in 2002, “…the rare moment that there is any sort of crowd disturbance the cameras are there to capture the action and lead the news for that night.”9 Against football crowds’ historical absence in the Australian media, the Red and Black Bloc has achieved notoriety in recent years, as tension with Football Federation Australia (FFA) has steadily increased. This was exacerbated by local print media to “name and shame” one hundred and ninety eight supporters who received stadium bans in 2015, as well as notorious radio ‘shock jock’ commentators making comparisons with the then recent Bataclan Theatre, Paris terrorist attacks in 2015.10 Wonderland and Organised Confusion were created before relations between FFA and the Red and Black Bloc deteriorated in 2015. Nevertheless, it is impossible to decouple the works from these events. Despite its enormous population base and its multi-racial diversity, the geographical area of Western Sydney is often portrayed as a geographical abstraction by mainstream media. Sabsabi’s installations are designed to rub against the grain of the normative, homogenising frameworks Butler speaks of. Contrary to the hooliganism assigned by the media to the Red and Black Bloc, Sabsabi explores the shared, ritualised experience of the community. “The people” and “representation” are two concepts that do necessarily cohabit easily. In recent years, French philosopher and art historian, Georges Didi-Huberman has extended Butler’s notion of normative framing, by bringing representations of “the people” firmly into his line of enquiry into the nature and behaviour of images. In his recent book Peuples exposés, peuples figurants (2012), Didi-Huberman examines the paradox at the heart of contemporary media culture: despite the unprecedented saturation and penetration of the media, people, ‘regular’ people, have disappeared. He argues, “The people are always exposed to disappear.”11 Far from enjoying increasing visibility, images of ‘regular’ people do not exist, rendered invisible by the media’s rigid perpetuation of stereotypes. Images of “the people” are strongly policed; plurality and diversity erased. Didi-Huberman writes, “In only showing only celebrities, our media effectively censors all legitimate representation and all visibility of the people. In using the word image to speak for ‘brand image’ and ‘self-image’ our contemporaries effectively succeed in emptying the word of its fundamental significance.”12 What’s at stake here is the systematic erasure of the image of the Other. Didi-Huberman’s contribution to this area of scholarship draws deeply on a Marxist strain of aesthetic theory, especially in relation to Walter Benjamin, and establishes its ongoing relevance for discussing the relation between images, history and politics. Throughout his writing, Benjamin exhibited an intense interest in the marginal. In ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, Benjamin poignantly wrote, “In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.”13 Benjamin sets two modes of history in dialectical opposition. The first is a cumulative history narrated by history’s “victors”. The second is oppositional and disruptive. “The past”, Benjamin writes, “can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant.”14 Didi-Huberman’s concern with effacement is anticipated by Benjamin: “For every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.”15 History becomes readable and therefore knowable when singularities appear, not engulfed in the homogenising structures of the vast universalism of orthodox materialism. Didi-Huberman seeks to restore immanence to the people, refusing, as Benjamin did before him, to reduce the people to an abstraction. Against the totalising tendencies of orthodox Marxism, he writes, “That is why we can say the people, quite l

dı van

124 — december / 2016


Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’

simply—‘the people’ as a unity, identity, totality, or generality—that it quite simply does not exist.”16 It is therefore necessary to disrupt. A representation of the peoples becomes possible, Didi-Huberman argues, when the visible is dialecticised, and the past can be grasped as a fragment. In his two works, Sabsabi is documenting the secular ritualised practice of a diverse community group coming together in opposition to the homogenising practices of mainstream media practices. To do this, Sabsabi demands a complex viewing position from the spectator. Conventional images of crowds tend to be blurred due to the camera’s rapid sweeping movement across long distances. In contrast to this, the steady gaze of the camera is unwavering, and the spectator is unable to passively observe and seek refuge in the game. Instead, Sabsabi forces the spectator to engage, and take an active, participatory role. The camera is located close enough to the crowd so the movements of individual fans can be followed by the spectator. Akin to Didi-Huberman’s resistance to neutralising the people through homogenisation, it is impossible to reduce the Wanderers’ fans to an abstraction. Sabsabi’s images reveal the crowd in all of its heterogeneous complexity. Far from a faceless, nameless collective, Sabsabi carves out space for the individual, reminding us how certain strains of multiculturalism are privileged and represented, at the expense of others. The notion of “the crowd” has a long and pejorative history. The term has tended to denote an urban collective whose participants are united through violence. Early attempts to theorise crowd behaviour were typically unflattering in the face of bourgeois dissolution of power. A survey of late nineteenth century crowd theory reveals a deep distrust and suspicion. For French social psychologist, Gustave Le Bon, crowds were irrational, unconscious and primal. In The Crowd, Le Bon defined modernity as the “era of crowds”, arguing, “While all our ancient beliefs are tottering and disappearing, while the old pillars of society are giving way one by one, the power of the crowd is the only force that nothing menaces”.17 Writing in 1896, in the aftermath of the Paris Commune and the upheavals of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, Le Bon’s crowds were understood in pathological terms. His central thesis posited that, “In the collective mind the intellectual aptitudes of the individuals, and in consequence their individuality, are weakened. The heterogenesous is swamped by the homogeneous, and the unconscious qualities obtain the upper hand.”18 This loss of individualism was framed in overwhelmingly negative terms. Le Bon continued, “Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian —that is, a creature acting by instinct.”19 Le Bon’s description of the crowd was elitist and hierarchical and based on the premise that individual intelligence was reduced in the collective. Today, the idea of “the crowd” is frequently dismissed as belonging to a previous era, a redundant anachronism no longer relevant for understanding the contemporary. In his discussion of Andy Warhol’s Crowd (1963), American academic Jeffrey Schnapp writes, “Warhol was only a decade away from what may perhaps rightly be viewed as the beginning of the end of Le Bon’s era of crowds.”20 Warhol’s silkscreen is a reproduction of a newspaper image, repeated four times. Rendered from a distance, in aerial perspective, the crowd is portrayed as a singular homogenised entity, made up of indistinct individuals that constitute the mass. Closely cropped and extracted from its original context, Warhol’s image supports Le Bon’s argument that individuals become anonymous within the crowd. Or else consider Chicago academic William Mazzerella’s historical distinction between the crowd and contemporary preference for the multitude: “It is as if, even now, speaking of crowds means speaking of something crude and stupid.”21 Le Bon’s crowd has been replaced by the Deleuzian multitude. Working in opposition to this sentiment, Sabsabi draws on the crowd’s rich historical legacy, with its stereotypes and anxieties, and leverages it as a critical tool against the normative framing practices of Australian cultural and racial identity.

125 — december / 2016


CHARI LARSSON

Images of crowds present specific challenges for representation. To reach back in art’s history reveals a caesura in representation of “the people”. By making the crowd his subject, Sabsabi mines a long history of deep ambivalence and even fear directed towards them. Edouard Manet’s La musique aux Tuileries (1862) is helpful here. As one of the canonical images for modernist art history, the painting is paradoxically “unmodern”. If one of the hallmark symbols of modernity was the nefarious intermingling of gender and class, Manet’s great crowd scene is one of the upper class engaged in a ritualised study of manners. It is a homogenised and sanitised portrayal of bourgeois recreation. The figures are carefully organised in strong horizontal bands in the fore and middle ground. As British art historian T.J. Clark puts it, “it is hardly a picture of modernity at all”, but indeed a description of “society’s resilience in the face of empire”.22 Painted on the precipice of the enormous social changes driven by industrialisation, rapid urbanisation and the rise of the new petits bourgeois, La musique remained safely within the confines of acceptable encoded class structures, and posed no particular threat to the spectator. Fast-forward fifty years, and a very different image of “the crowd” has begun to emerge. Crowds were significant in the Futurists’ embrace of modernity. As Italian academic Christine Poggi has shown, the Futurists’ fascination with the crowd was deeply contradictory.23 Simultaneously seductive and degenerate, utterly modern, yet somehow primitive, Futurist crowds were no longer akin to Manet’s well mannered and ordered rendering of the upper classes. In Umberto Boccioni’s painting, Riot in the Galleria (1910), the crowd is contextualised in its very modern environment, Milan’s famous arcade, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Boccioni has sought to capture the energy created by a mass of people assembled together. Manet’s considered study of mid-century Parisian social hierarchies has given way to a swirling vortex of energy, descending into an angry mob, degenerate and dangerous. This slippage from crowd to mob marked a deeply incongruous attitude. If the crowd was a symbol of Italian nationalism, Boccioni’s crowd is paradoxically faceless, anonymous, and violent. Unlike Manet’s painting of his contemporaries, it is impossible to clearly identify the individuals, as they have been abstracted to the most rudimentary of gestures on the canvas. The spatial segregation of Sydney’s west that Sabsabi seeks to represent has an important cinematic precedent in the 1990s cinéma de banlieue. The term was coined by French film critics as a way of defining a genre of independent, low budget films set in the housing estates on the peripheries of France’s major cities. One of the most important films, Mattieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (The Hate, 1995) is acknowledged as a crucial study of the multi-ethnic violence between the young residents of the banlieue and the police. La Haine commences in the wake of riot. A youth has been injured, and the residents have rioted throughout the night, protesting against police brutality and causing widespread property damage. The opening sequence commences with a montage of archival news footage of crowds protesting. The tension increases, as a calm demonstration escalates to a violent and uneven encounter with the police. Ironically, while generally considered a sympathetic portrayal of the problems facing the disenfranchised youth of the banlieue, Kassovitz’s rioting crowd is rendered unpredictable and irrational in the scene’s temporal shift from day to night. If Le Bon was one of the first psychologists to formulate a theory of crowds, contradictory attitudes directed towards the crowd, however, may be detected much earlier, in Charles Baudelaire’s writings of the 1850s. As is well known, crowds formed the backdrop of modern Parisian life for Baudelaire’s flâneur. In his essay, ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, Baudelaire famously described the flâneur’s relationship to the crowd: “The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes.”24 The crowd was a neutral, homogeneous backdrop against the individualism of the flâneur. Baudelaire stood both together and apart from the masses. As flâneur, his role was to interpret l

dı van

126 — december / 2016


Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’

and observe, without succumbing to the crowd’s collectivism. In a short prose poem ‘Crowds’, Charles Baudelaire describes the experience of participating in a crowd from the perspective of the poet. He observes, “Not everyone is capable of taking a bath of multitude: enjoying crowds is an art.”25 For Baudelaire, participation in a crowd was a carefully cultivated skill, an art form perfected by the flâneur as he moved alone throughout the streets of modern Paris: “Multitude, solitude: equal and interchangeable terms for the active and fertile poet. He who does not know how to populate his solitude, does not know either how to be alone in a busy crowd.”26 Baudelaire maintains a paradoxical distance from the crowd; the flâneur simultaneously mimics the crowd, as well as maintaining a careful solitary distance. Baudelaire’s flâneur is both part of, and separate to the crowd. He “enjoys the incomparable privilege of being able, at will, to be himself and another.”27 Baudelaire slips between the poles of the multiple of the crowd and the solitude of the flâneur who has perfected his skills of moving in an out of the crowd. This oscillation points to a deeper ambivalence in his writing concerning the crowd, which is rendered as an anonymous mass, the ideal backdrop or foil to the poet’s individualism. Later, Walter Benjamin continued Baudelaire’s rendering of ‘the crowd’ as an invisible foil. In his essay ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’, Benjamin writes, “The masses had become so much a part of Baudelaire that it is rare to find a description of them in his works. His most important subjects are hardly ever encountered in descriptive form.”28 The crowd, despite being crucially important in modernity’s imaginary, remains neutralised by its invisibility. On Baudelaire’s so-called love of crowds, Jean-Paul Sartre acutely observed a deep tension in his writing, arguing, “Baudelaire, the man of crowds, was also the man who had the greatest fear of crowds.” Sartre acutely observed that Baudelaire’s

127 — december / 2016


CHARI LARSSON

quintessentially visual mode of crowd participation was unidirectional and scopophilic: “The pleasure which he did find in the spectacle of a great throng of people was merely the pleasure of looking.”29 Sartre’s emphasis on the scopophilic pleasure of looking resonates with internationally recognised Australian photographer Bill Henson’s series of crowds from the early 1980s. If Warhol’s crowds are distant and anonymous, Henson’s images of pedestrians are intimate studies of individual subjectivity. The photographs are tightly framed close-ups, allowing the spectator to linger in the details. Unlike the collective solidarity enjoyed by the Red and Black Bloc, Henson’s people are isolated and alone. Closer in spirit to Baudelaire than Le Bon, Henson moves like a flâneur through the urban environment, both separate and apart to the crowds he is documenting. Henson’s images of crowds are unapologetically voyeuristic. Despite his physical proximity to his subject, Henson remains unobserved, quietly eliding detection. Sartre, however, acknowledged that the gaze can shift, becoming bi-directional, arguing, “And the person who looks, as we all know from experience, forgets that people may look at him.”30 Sartre’s description of the threat of the bi-directional gaze is pertinent in considering Sabsabi’s images of sporting crowds. Sabsabi does not allow the spectator to assume a scopophilic or voyeuristic viewing position, for fear of being seen. Elias Canetti, writing in the early 1960s described this conflicting attitude of aversion and attraction in haptic terms: “There is nothing than man fears more than the touch of the unknown… All the distances which men create round themselves are dictated by this fear.”31 Canetti describes an isolated individual, separated from the crowd for fear of being touched. This fear, however, is paradoxically placated by total immersion into the crowd. Canetti continues, “It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched.”32 It is this critical ambivalence that traverses the history of crowd representation and discourse that Sabsabi explores. The scale of the installation deliberately envelopes the spectator into its logic. Enfolded between the two large-scale projections, the spectator is confronted with the dual threat of being seen and touched, conjoined with the desire to be assimilated in the density of the crowd. I have contended that Khaled Sabsabi’s images of football crowds undermine narrative frameworks perpetuating homogenised notions of national and cultural identity. Sabsabi’s communities reveal the structures of exclusion that are carefully managed by mainstream media. Far from being an outmoded relic of modernity, he demonstrates that crowds still count as a powerful disruptive force. As both Wonderland and Organised Confusion reveal, crowds mark a breach or rupture in the economy of normative representation. Sabsabi forces the spectator to confront the ongoing construction and stereotyping of Australian identity, and the role sport plays in supporting this process. Sabsabi harnesses the deep sense of unease that crowds have the ability to generate, and turns this into a strategic intervention. He does this with care, so as to not abstract or reify the communities he seeks to represent. Notes 1 Charles Baudelaire, ‘Crowds’, in The Parisian Prowler: Le Spleen de Paris, Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1989, p. 21 2 For a history of sport and its role in Australian identity construction, see Tony Ward, Sport in Australian National Identity, London: Routledge, 2010 3

Daniel Lock, ‘Fan perspectives of change in the A-League’, Soccer & Society 10:1, 2009

4

For accounts of soccer’s marginalisation in Australian sporting history, see James Skinner, Dwight H. Zakus and Allan Edwards, ‘Coming in from the margins: ethnicity, community support and the rebranding of Australian soccer’, Soccer & Society 9:3, 2008

l

dı van

128 — december / 2016


Multitude, Solitude: Khaled Sabsabi’s ‘Crowds’

5

Lisa Havilah, ‘The true life of Khaled Sabsabi’, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet 38.3, 2009, p. 188

6

Thomas Crow, Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth Century Paris, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985

7

Jacques Rancière, Figures of History, Julie Rose trans., Cambridge: Polity, 2014, pp. 10-11

8

Judith Butler, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?, London and New York: Verso, 2009, p. 6

9

Johnny Warren, Sheilas, Wogs & Poofters: an incomplete biography of Johnny Warren and soccer in Australia, Sydney: Random House, 2002, xiv 10

For an overview, see Dominic Bossi, ‘FFA to introduce appeals process for banned fans in face of supporter fury’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 November, 2015

11

Georges Didi-Huberman, Peuples exposés, peuples figurants, L’Œil de l’histoire 4, Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 2012, p. 11. My translation

12

Ibid., p. 20. My translation

13

Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History,’ in Illuminations, Hannah Arendt (ed.), New York: Schocken Books, 2007, p. 255

14

Ibid.

15

Ibid.

16

Georges Didi-Huberman, ‘To Render Sensible,’ in What is a People?, A. Badiou (ed.) et al., New York: Columbia University Press, 2016, p. 66

17

Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popual Mind, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1896, p. 15

18

Ibid., p. 32

19

Ibid., p. 36

20

Jeffrey Schnapp, ‘Mob Porn’, in Crowds, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006, p. 42

21

William Mazzarella, ‘The Myth of the Multitude, or, Who’s Afraid of the Crowd?’, Critical Inquiry 36:4, 2010, p. 697

22

T. J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers, London: Thames and Hudson, 1999, p. 64

23

Christine Poggi, ‘Folla/Follia: Futurism and the Crowd’, Critical Inquiry 28:3, 2002

24

Charles Baudelaire, ‘The Painter of Modern Life ‘ in The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, London: Phaidon, 1964, p. 9

25

Charles Baudelaire, ‘Crowds’, op cit, p. 21

26

Ibid.

27

Ibid.

28

Benjamin, ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’, in Illuminations, op cit., p. 167

29

Jean-Paul Sartre, Baudelaire, trans. Martin Turnell, New York: New Directions Publishing, 1950, p. 149

30

Ibid.

31

Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, London: Gollancz, 1962, p. 15

32

Ibid.

129— december / 2016


IMAGE NOTATIONS

Page 27 Top: Pilvi Takala, Workers’ Forum, 2015 Bottom: Hale Tenger, I Know People Like This II (installaton detail), 1992 Photos courtesy the artists Page 28 Canan, Finally you are in me (Nihayet Içimdesin), 2000 Photo courtesy the artist

Page 12 Cover design graphic for 13th Istanbul Biennial: Mom am I Barbarian? catalogue, 2013 Page 19 Stephen Willats, Homeostat Drawing #1, 1968 Wall drawing from 13th Istanbul Biennial: Mom am I Barbarian?, 2013 Photos courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London

Page 22 Map of Cennet/Cinnet (Paradise/Possessed Island). Zişan, 1915-1917 from İz Öztat’s A Selection from the Utopie Folder (Zişan, 19171919) Photo courtesy the artist The work shown in the exhibition Here Together Now, at Matadero Madrid, Spain 2014, was part of an ongoing process in which the artist imagined ways to conjure a suppressed past. Since 2010, İz Öztat had been engaged in an “untimely collaboration” with Zişan (1894-1970), who is a recently discovered historical figure, a channeled spirit and an alter ego. By inventing an anarchic lineage with a marginalised Ottoman woman, Öztat tried to recognise a haunting past and rework it to be able to imagine otherwise. The exhibition was supported by Turkish Airlines and the Turkish Embassy in Madrid. In the exhibition booklet, the explanatory notes were censored upon the request of the latter, and the expressions “Armenian genocide” and the date “1915” were removed.

l

dı van

Page 30 Ai Weiwei riding a Grass Mud Horse, being a Chinese Internet meme widely used as a form of symbolic defiance of widespread Internet censorship in China, and a word play on the Mandarin “cào nǐ mā” (肏你妈) literally, “fuck your mother”. The meme has been a recurring theme for Ai, who typically uses it to challenge the Chinese Communist Party. Some China-watchers conjectured that a naked self-portrait photo covering his genitals with a Grass Mud Horse titled 草泥马挡中央 (“grass mud horse covering the middle”) sounds almost the same in Chinese as 肏你妈党中央, “Fuck your mother, the Communist Party Central Committee”, perceived as a direct and obscene insult to senior party officials and may have played a role in his 2011 arrest.

Page 39 Ai Weiwei’s traditional Chinese paper cutting cover for Time Magazine 17 June, 2013. According to Managing Editor Rick Stengel, “The image represents Ai’s acknowledgment of the country’s centrality in the world, while at the same time challenging China’s leaders to make the future a freer and more democratic one.”

Page 34 Top: Ai Weiwei, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 1995 Bottom: Ai Weiwei, Sydney Opera House, Australia, 2006 Both images from the Study of Perspectives series, 1995-2011 Photos courtesy the artist and Ai Weiwei Studio, Beijing Page 40 Ai Weiwei, I. O. U. Wallpaper, 2011-13 Photo courtesy the artist and Ai Weiwei Studio, Beijing After his arrest Ai Weiwei was charged by the Chinese authorities with tax evasion, fining him £1 million that had to be paid in fifteen days. Thousands of people donated money. Ai wrote an I.O.U. for every individual who helped him raise the money to pay this fine. The notes were displayed as a section of wallpaper at his Royal Academy exhibition, 19 September–13 December 2015.

Page 37 Ai Weiwei, Single-Panel Portrait of Ai Weiwei, 2015 Photo courtesy the artist, FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco and Ai Weiwei Studio, Beijing Donate #legosforweiwei and support free speech”; http://artmatters.ca/wp/2015/10/ agolego/

130 — december / 2016

Page 44 “Paris Hilton posts selfies with new pal Ai Weiwei. Worlds collided when the celebrated Chinese artist met Paris, in Paris. Recently, the ex-political prisoner launched an Instagram account—one that’s presently getting a lot of love after Weiwei uploaded a series of selfies with Hilton. The two met… at the Paris opening of his Er Xi, Air de Jeux exhibition… at the Bon Marché luxury department store… Paris captioning her post ‘#SelfieTime in #Paris with my friend @AiWW’”; https://i-d.vice.com/en_us/ article/paris-hilton-posts-selfies-with-newpal-ai-weiwei


Page 45 Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei re-enacts on the beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, the famous image of the three year old Syrian child Alan Kurdi who drowned near the Turkish town of Bodrum in 2015. The photo was created in collaboration with Ai for the India Art Fair in Delhi, who’s co-owner told the Washington Post, “The image is haunting and represents the whole immigration crisis and the hopelessness of the people who have tried to escape their pasts for a better future”, whereas The Guardian editor David Batty called the stunt “lazy, cheap, crass”. Photograph by Rohit Chawla/India Today

Page 46 Birdhead, Welcome to the World of Birdhead – For Passion, 2010 Photo courtesy the artists Birdhead has been constructing a continuous, expanding, and incessantly reimagined pictorial world of its own since its establishment in 2004. Birdhead began because of their shared passion for collecting (film) cameras and taking photos in the street. Born in Shanghai in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Song Tao and Ji Weiyu are part of a generation of artists who grew up in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, and connected with each other via BBS and online blogs, which also became sites for the publication of their works… early Birdhead was influenced by Japanese photography, especially the photo avant-garde from the 1960s and 1970s, and the use of shashin shu (Japanese photobook). By the beginning of the 2000s, this generation of grassroots practices had come to be called ‘Chinese New Photography’, a photographic expression that is very close to urban photography and shi-shashin (personal photography) in Japan. During that period… Song Tao’s and Ji Weiyu’s work comprised records of their private lives, close friends and the urban landscape in which they lived… Back in those days, they were practising guerrilla photography, attacking their world with aggressive shoots and provocative flashlighting, and by producing a massive quantity of photographs; https://artreview.com/home/ara_ winter_16_feature_birdhead/

Page 46 Birdhead Photo courtesy the artists

Page 49 Chen Tianzhou, Picnic (video still), 2014 Photo courtesy the artist

Pages 53, 55-56 Kaveh Golestan, Untitled, from the Prostitute series, 1975-77 Photos courtesy the Kaveh Golestan Estate The Prostitute series focuses on multivalent intersections of art, society, law and religion during 1960-80s Iran… Golestan highlights the uncomfortable relationship between the state and the Citadel of Shahr-e No… [aiming] to rupture metropolitan complacency and to confront his audience with the darker face of their society; http://valimahlouji.com/ archaeologyofthefinaldecade/recreatingshahr-e-no/

131 — december / 2016

Pages 59, 61, 63-64 Kaveh Golestan, Untitled, from the Az Div o Dad series, 1975-77 Photos courtesy the Kaveh Golestan Estate In 1976, Golestan created a series of innovative and striking Polaroids by moving collaged fragments in front of an open shutter over long exposures. The process created fantastical and surrealistic works that blend fairy tale and history, appropriating found photographs and images from the 19th and 20th centuries. The collages depict visions of anthropomorphic, beast-headed uniformed and nude figures set against natural and architectural backgrounds with references to modern and Qajar era histories. These works open a window onto an experimental side of Golestan’s practice, which has received little critical exposure to date; http://valimahlouji.com/curatorial/ az-div-o-dad-fantastical-polaroids-of-kavehgolestan/


Page 65 Işil Eğrikavuk, Time to Sing a New Song (video stills), 2016 Photos courtesy the artist With her animation video Time to Sing a New Song, Işil Eğrikavuk highlights the new form of speech produced by 1980s and post-1980s generation. It is humorous, bold and imaginative on one side and realistic, and down to earth to reject any monumentality on the other. “Eve, Finish Up Your Apple!” imagines another kind of mother-daughter conversation, which tells of a different exchange between generations. The mother’s advice to the daughter not to take over the guilt that is imposed for centuries and wants to subvert the pretended responsibility that comes with the eaten apple. “For a long while I have been interested in how… we can produce new discourses in public space that say ‘no’ to the existing ones. This slogan says ‘no’ to… the current situation in Turkey where hundreds of women are killed by male violence every year”; http://hyperallergic. com/297665/turkish-government-censorsvideo-projection-and-youth-biennialartworks/

Page 66 Ai Weiwei, Golden Age, 2015 Photo courtesy the artist and Ai Weiwei Studio, Beijing Golden Age is a response to widespread government surveillance programs, the limitations imposed by censorship, and the proliferation of social media and free exchange of information despite such restrictions. This work belongs to the Maharam Serpentine Galleries Wallpaper collection, created by esteemed artists and architects under the curatorial direction of Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine Galleries in London. The specifications for the wallpaper are: Each roll 69cm W x 300cm L; Content: 65% Cellulose, 35% Latex; Finish: Washable Backing: None

l

dı van

Page 67 Ai Weiwei, Free Speech Puzzle, 2014 Photo courtesy the artist and Ai Weiwei Studio, Beijing The slogan ‘Free Speech’ decorates each of the individual porcelain ornaments that collectively form a map of China. Ai has produced numerous map works in disparate materials, such as wood, milk powder cans and cotton over the past twenty years. The components of Free Speech Puzzle are based on traditional pendants made of various materials such as wood, porcelain or jade, depending on the wealth of the individual that bore a family’s name and served as a marker of status and as a good luck charm for the wearer. Through the multiple pieces Ai creates a rallying cry that reflects the distinct geographic and ethnic regions that together form modern China; http://www.d-talks.com/2015/11/ ai-weiwei-at-the-royal-academy/

Page 68 Birdhead, Top: For a Bigger Photo – 2, 2015 Bottom: For a Bigger Photo – 1, 2015 Photos courtesy the artists and ShangART, Shanghai Birdhead is known for snapshot-like photographs of everyday life unfolding in Shanghai. “What is important are the links that are produced through the juxtaposition of the significance of the poetry and the significance of the photographs that we constantly take of people in our physical environments, and the atmospheres that they establish”; https://www.artsy.net/artist/ birdhead

132 — december / 2016

Page 69 Tianzhuo Chen, PICNIC (video still), 2014 Photo courtesy the artist Born in Beijing in 1985 and trained at London’s Central Saint Martins, Chen is one the most promising young artists in China. His art is a unique blend that combines elements of pop culture, religious symbolism, sacred rituals and self-deprecation. Chen’s repertoire is an encyclopedia of global subculture —everything from pot, drag queens, Eric Cartman, hip-hop culture, voguing, butoh (a Japanese avant-guarde form of dance from the 1960s) and a lot more is tapped in his striking artworks. Chen says of his practice, “Art transcends borders, we can’t talk about Chinese art and foreign art. As a young artist, I choose my palette from a globalised world—elements from everyday life I share with artists of my age all around the world”; http://www.coolhunting.com/ culture/chen-tianzhuo

Pages 70-71 Detail from the Djon Mundine and Sam Marshall proposal, ‘Eora Journey “Monument for the Eora”, The Song of Barangaroo, Bennelong and Pemulwuy’. Photo courtesy Djon Mundine “Bennelong was kidnapped from the Manly district along with Colbee by Governor Phillip and taken to Sydney Cove in 1789 to be an interpreter—a go-between for the two races. Also called Wolarawaree, his name in his guringai language means a type of ‘big fish’. Exceptionally intelligent, communicative and affable, after a period of imprisonment, involuntarily he became the first Aboriginal person to live with the invading colonists. He travelled to England with the young boy Yemmurrawannie Kebbarah to meet King George III and being successfully received socially. Governor Phillip had a brick hut built for him on this point in 1791 and many other Aboriginal people came to camp around it. However he became used to the European ways, and in adopting them became alienated from his own family and people as a result, to die alone, away from his land in 1813.”


Pages 76-77 Khaled Sabsabi, Wonderland (video stills), 2014 Photos courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Page 72 FX Harsono, Rewriting the Erased, 2009 Photo courtesy the artist Rewriting the Erased shows the artist writing his Chinese name repetitively at a desk with ink on paper. Directly referencing a traumatic personal experience, the artist also points at a national historical event. From 1967 to 2002, ethnic-Chinese weren’t allowed to use Chinese language orally or in writing, or to celebrate their culture, including Chinese New Year; and had to officially choose a Bahasa Indonesian name if they were to remain in the country. Both an act of commemoration and a coming to terms with the years he spent denied of his native name, FX repetitive writing and video-recording induce a peaceful rhythm —in contradiction with the inherent violence of genocide and cultural deletion—that seems to metaphorically attempt to fill the gaps in history with modest but persistent beautiful gestures; https://www.asia-europe. uni-heidelberg.de/fileadmin/Documents/ Summer_School/Summer_School_2015/ Essays/Cristina_Sanchez_FX-Harsono_ SummerSchool.pdf

Page 73 top FX Harsono, Voice without voice/sign, 1993 Photo courtesy the artist and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum Collection Voice without voice/sign comprises a row of panels, each imprinted with a gesturing hand… the various gestures spell out, in universal sign language d-e-m-o-k-r-a-s-i. The row of gesturing hands, and in particular the clenched fists that form the letters ‘e’, ‘a’ and ‘s’ bring to mind the actions that accompany public protests, which… lend this work much of its forcefulness and urgency. However, sign language is the recourse of the mute, and this work implies that the ‘voice’ of the people has been silenced… To make this painfully clear, the last hand which forms the letter ‘i’ is bound with rope. While the work spells out uncompromisingly the demand for democracy, it is also a sign of the futility of political action. Demokrasi (democracy) exists only as a series of empty gestures; it is represented purely as a sign, an abstraction, rather than concrete reality; http:// www.designboom.com/art/fx-harsonotestimonies-part-01/

Page 73 bottom FX Harsono, Writing in the Rain (Menulis dalam Hujan) (video stills), 2011 Photo courtesy the artist Over the course of recent decades that have seen enormous transformations in Indonesia, Harsono has remained deeply engaged with social and political issues, exploring the role of the artist in society, in particular his relationship to history. The position of minorities in Indonesia, especially his own Chinese Indonesian community, has been a major focus of his work as he investigates his own family history and the way it reflects broader issues in Indonesian society. Through looking into his own past, Harsono is able to touch on concerns that resonate globally, foregrounding fundamental issues that are central to the formation of group and personal identities… Writing in the Rain… is a powerful meditation on loss, remembrance, and the endurance of personal and cultural identity; http://www. artnet.com/galleries/tyler-rollins-fine-art/ fx-harsono-writing-in-the-rain/

Pages 74-75 Monira Al Qadiri, Myth Busters series, 2014 Photos courtesy the artist “In essence, the Gulf War highlighted many fallacies, false unions, and dispelled many myths. The Visibility Museums came to life because the survival of Gulf regimes became intertwined with the foreign policies of Western governments…The new museums strove to advertise the beauty of Islam, local culture and contemporary art practices so as to create the facade of a ‘benevolent government’… In Myth Busters, I superimpose the realised and unrealised mega-museum projects of the Gulf today onto images from the war in Kuwait in 1991; http://www.ibraaz.org/projects/74

133 — december / 2016

Page 78 Ala Younis, Plan For Greater Baghdad, 2015 “1959. Le Corbusier arrives in Baghdad with 120 new execution plans. To exit Iraq, he needs a permit from the Military Governor.” Photo courtesy the artist After the Iraqi Republican Revolution of 1958, the resultant government commissioned two parallel projects for two great Stadiums in Baghdad, with similar complementary features: one to the Swiss architect Le Corbusier—who had developed a previous project (1955-58) for the monarch Faisal II—continuously designed in his Paris studio until his death in 1965; another to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in Lisbon, entirely funded and supervised by this institution, and designed by two prominent Portuguese architects at the time: F. Keil do Amaral and Carlos M. Ramos. Facing a progressive administrative and financial chaos in the country, the Iraqi authorities opted for the Gulbenkian Foundation’s solution—built between 1962-65 and inaugurated in 1966, after an intriguing diplomatic process—postponing Le Corbusier’s proposals yet without breaking their contract with him; http://ocs.editorial.upv.es/index.php/ LC2015/LC2015/paper/view/645

Page 81 Ala Younis, Plan For Greater Baghdad, 2015 installation view, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2015. Photo courtesy the artist


Page 82 Ala Younis, Plan For Greater Baghdad, 2015 “1960. The location of the Stadium marked on the Baghdad Town-controlled mosaic constructed from air photographs taken in January 1951 by Hunting Aerosurveys Ltd, London. A small drawing shows the shift in the Stadium’s location between the English town planner’s orientation and that of Constantinos Doxiadis’. Excerpts from answers given by Le Corbusier to questions on the Stadium project.” Photo courtesy the artist After their agreement, Le Corbusier sent his first project proposal to Baghdad —delivered by Presenté himself in May 1958—which was then approved by the Iraqi authorities on 12 July, precisely two days before an unexpected Revolutionary coup that led to the overthrow and brutal assassination of King Faisal II by a unit of pro-republican militaries… “In the spring of 1959, Le Corbusier received a telegram inviting him to an urgent visit to Baghdad: the main motive was a change in the choice of the site. The British agency Minoprio, Spencely and MacFarlane had been fired after the revolution of 1958 and the Greek planner Konstantin Doxiadis, already present in Iraq for two years, was responsible for preparing the new master plan”; http:// ocs.editorial.upv.es/index.php/LC2015/ LC2015/paper/view/645

Page 85 Ala Younis, Plan For Greater Baghdad, 2015 “Kassem inquired about a blue line that he could see in the master plan. Since he has just survived the failed assassination attempt, he needed to appear soon after to greet and comfort the public as to his condition. There he announced a “future water canal that will link the Tigris to the Diyala Rivers.” Photo courtesy the artist

l

dı van

Page 86 Ala Younis, Plan For Greater Baghdad, 2015 installation view, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2015 Photo courtesy the artist Missing from the representations and citations contained in established archives, the images that document the performances of design, power, and designing power are pieced together from fragments of other images and from records of gestures retrieved from representations and narratives by local artists. Produced as a set of motions and signals enacted by characters frozen in the denouements of historical time, the three-dimensional depictions pertaining to the men who appear in the Plan for Greater Baghdad, and the interventions into existing documents culled from various archives, produce a dual-layered timeline that pits developments in the Gymnasium story against those in Baghdad; http://planforgreaterbaghdad.tumblr.com

Page 88 Detail from the Djon Mundine and Sam Marshall proposal, ‘Eora Journey “Monument for the Eora”, The Song of Barangaroo, Bennelong and Pemulwuy’. Photo courtesy Djon Mundine “Despite numerous plaques, artwork and storyboards referencing many colonialists and visitors in Sydney, none exists for Aboriginal people and their long cultural heritage. On Bennelong Point, regardless of its name, there is no explanation of Bennelong the man and who he was—the first indigenous man to communicate with the colonists… in 1791 and 1795 Sydney’s traditional landowners held initiation ceremonies at the head of Farm Cove—now the Botanical Gardens. Elders Bennelong and Pemulwuy took part in the ritual. These events were written about in some detail by Collins and visually in a series of sketches by the artist Wattling—most probably the first recorded dance performance in the history of the nation… in order to redress this absence it is proposed to create a large scale permanent work recognising Bennelong and Pemulwuy on the Tarpeian Way using the original indigenous art form of the Sydney area—rock engraving. The work will source existing representations of both Bennelong and Pemulwuy from rock engraving sites across Sydney.”

134 — december / 2016

Page 91 The point was originally a small tidal island that largely consisted of rocks with a small beach on the western side. In the early 1790s, the Aborigine Bennelong, employed as a cultural interlocutor by the British, persuaded New South Wales Governor Arthur Phillip to build a brick hut for him on the point, giving it its name. In the period from 1818 to 1821, the tidal area between Bennelong Island and the mainland was filled with rocks … The entire area was leveled to create a low platform and to provide suitable stone for the construction of Fort Macquarie. While the fort was being built, a large portion of the rocky escarpment at Bennelong Point was also cut away to allow a road to be built around the point from Sydney Cove to Farm Cove. This was known as Tarpeian Way. The existence of the original tidal island and its rubble fill were largely forgotten until the late 1950s when both were rediscovered during the excavations related to the construction of the Sydney Opera House; https://artblart.com/tag/the-tramshed-at-bennelong-point/

Page 92 Rock art, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney Photographer unknown

Pages 94-95 Detail from the Djon Mundine and Sam Marshall proposal, ‘Eora Journey “Monument for the Eora”, The Song of Barangaroo, Bennelong and Pemulwuy’. Photo courtesy Djon Mundine


Page 98 FX Harsono, Paling Top ’75, 1975 Photo courtesy the artist Paling Top ’75 is an example of the Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru’s employment of alternative media and new approaches to the theories and creation of art. Moving away from the hierarchy of painting and sculpture, Harsono started to explore the realm of Duchampian readymades. Ultimately what Harsono is presenting us is a deliberate masquerade of power shown in all its surreal connotations and paradoxical implications; http://arteri. search-art.asia/2010/06/14/a-call-to-action/

Page 110 An Egyptian man sits atop one of the lions at the entrance of Kasr El Nil Bridge, leading to Tahrir Square on 1 February, 2011 Photo Zeinab Mohamed “On 25 January, 2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets to demand an end to Hosni Mubarak’s thirty-year grip on power, as well as poverty, unemployment and police brutality. The revolution, propelled by the success of anti-government protests in Tunisia, lasted eighteen days, during which citizens of all walks of life demonstrated in several of Egypt’s cities. On 11 February, Mubarak ultimately acquiesced to the protesters’ demands and stepped down from his position as president and the military was mandated with temporarily handling the country’s affairs”; http://egyptianstreets. com/2016/01/24/25-photos-of-egyptsjanuary-25-revolution/

Page 118 Kir Khachaturov, Arab Spring Infographics showing the events taking place in North Africa in the spring of 2011, which became the starting point of the protests in the region. Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards 2013. Credits: Alexander Katin, Kir Khachaturov; http://www. informationisbeautifulawards.com/ showcase/113-arab-spring

Page 104 FX Harsono, Voice Without Voice/Sign, 1993-94 Photo courtesy the artist

Page 107 FX Harsono, Destruction, 1997 Photo courtesy the artist “The performance… saw Harsono assuming the role of the uncontrollably powerful demon King Ravana, prime antagonist of the epic Sanskrit poem The Ramayana. Dressed in a business suit, Harsono set fire to three wayang masks on chairs, which represented the only three political parties Suharto allowed to contest the elections… Harsono destroyed the burnt chairs, as a metaphor for Suharto’s brutal exercise of power over the electoral process”; http://www.designboom.com/ art/fx-harsono-testimonies-part-01/

Page 115 Promotional image used for the 10th edition of Art Dubai’s Global Art Forum, which explored the ways in which artists, writers, technologists, historians, musicians and thinkers have imagined—and are shaping —the future. Titled The Future Was, the Forum was conceived by Shumon Basar as Commissioner, with Amal Khalaf and Uzma Z. Rizvi as Co-directors. The Forum took place in Dubai and London in January 2016, and continued at its home at Art Dubai, 16-19 March, 2016. Photo © Abu Dhabi Media / Al Itihad Newspaper

135 — december / 2016

Pages 122, 124, 129 Khaled Sabsabi, Organised Confusion (video stills), 2015 Photos courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane “Sabsabi’s crowds are fascinating because they fall outside the normative framework of what is represented in mainstream media—they aren’t white, and middle class. Hence the rub and the work’s political potency… the power of the installation was created in part due to its scale, which engulfed the spectator, and opened up a sensorial, or phenomenological engagement with the crowd… If the work is looking forward to Australia’s future, then all the better.” Chari Larsson, emails to the editor, 1 and 11 April, 2016


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


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

4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Opening hours Tue — Sat 11:00 — 18:00

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。

181 — 187 Hay St Sydney 2000 Australia

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.com.au

나는 아시아 문화 를 생각한다


Image: Eve Fowler, we decide that there will be stars and perhaps thunder and perhaps rain and perhaps no moon (detail), 2015, installation view, the difference is spreading, Ideas Platform, Artspace, Sydney, courtesy the artist. Photo: Zan Wimberley

artspace.org.au


Initiated by the Kamel Lazaar Foundation in 2011, Ibraaz is the leading critical forum on visual culture in North Africa and the Middle East. We publish an annual online platform that focuses on research questions conceived through a network of editorial contributors based in the Middle East and beyond. Ibraaz Platform 010 marks our fifth year in production and considers the following question: ‘What can the regional politics of cultural production across North Africa and the Middle East tell us about the politics of global cultural production today?’ Ibraaz also publishes a series of books under the Visual Culture in the Middle East title. Edited by Ibraaz Editorin-Chief, Anthony Downey, Volume 3 in the series is Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (forthcoming, Sternberg Press, 2016). Future Imperfect contains essays, interviews and projects from contributors www.ibraaz.org

including Monira Al Qadiri, Hoor Al-Qasimi, Anahi Alviso-Marino, AMBS Architects, Stephanie Bailey, Eray Çaylı, Rachel Dedman, Elizabeth Derderian, Anthony Downey, Karen Exell, Reema Salha Fadda, Wafa Gabsi, Hadia Gana, Adalet R. Garmiany, Baha Jubeh, Suhair Jubeh, Amal Khalaf, Kamel Lazaar, Jens Maier-Rothe, Guy Mannes-Abbott, Doreen Mende, Lea Morin, Jack Persekian, Rijin Sahakian, Gregory Sholette, Tom Snow, Ania Szremski, Christine Tohme, Toleen Touq, William Wells, Ala Younis, Yasmine Zidane, and online projects by Monira Al Qadiri, Leila Al-Shami, Wided Rihana Khadraoui, Lois Stonock and Nile Sunset Annex. Other titles in the series include Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (IB Tauris, 2015); and Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (IB Tauris, 2014). www.kamellazaarfoundation.org


SAVE THE DATE

SHARJAH BIENNIAL 10 MARCH–12 JUNE 2017 13

Curated by Christine Tohmé • 10–14 March 2017 Opening Week Programme • The programme includes performances, film screenings and the annual March Meeting Organised by Sharjah Art Foundation • registersb13@sharjahart.org • sharjahart.org


Galleries | 10 Chancery Lane | 303 Gallery | A | Acquavella | Aike-Dellarco | Alisan | Andréhn-Schiptjenko | Antenna | Applicat-Prazan | Arario | Alfonso Artiaco | Atlas | Aye | B | Beijing Commune | Bergamin & Gomide | Bernier / Eliades | Blindspot | Blum & Poe | Boers-Li | Isabella Bortolozzi | Ben Brown | Buchholz | Buchmann | C | Gisela Capitain | Cardi | carlier gebauer | Casa Triângulo | Chambers | Chemould Prescott Road | Yumiko Chiba | Chi-Wen | Mehdi Chouakri | Sadie Coles HQ | Contemporary Fine Arts | Continua | Pilar Corrias | Alan Cristea | Chantal Crousel | D | Thomas Dane | Massimo De Carlo | de Sarthe | Dirimart | The Drawing Room | E | Eigen + Art | Eslite | Gallery Exit | Experimenter | F | Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel | G | Gagosian | Gajah | Galerie 1900-2000 | Gandhara-art | gb agency | Gerhardsen Gerner | Gladstone | Gmurzynska | Goodman Gallery | Marian Goodman | Richard Gray | Greene Naftali | Karsten Greve | Grotto | Kavi Gupta | H | Hakgojae | Hanart TZ | Hauser & Wirth | Herald St | Xavier Hufkens | I | Ibid | Ingleby | Taka Ishii | J | Bernard Jacobson | Jensen | Annely Juda | K | Kaikai Kiki | Kalfayan | Karma International | Paul Kasmin | Sean Kelly | Tina Keng | Kerlin | König Galerie | David Kordansky | Tomio Koyama | Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler | Krinzinger | Kukje / Tina Kim | kurimanzutto | L | Pearl Lam | Simon Lee | Lehmann Maupin | Lelong | Dominique Lévy | Liang | Lin & Lin | Lisson | Long March | Luxembourg & Dayan | M | Maggiore | Magician | Mai 36 | Edouard Malingue | Marlborough | Hans Mayer | Mazzoleni | Fergus McCaffrey | Meessen De Clercq | Urs Meile | Mendes Wood DM | kamel mennour | Metro Pictures | Meyer Riegger | Francesca Minini | Victoria Miro | Mitchell-Innes & Nash | Mizuma | Stuart Shave / Modern Art | mother’s tankstation | Mujin-to | N | nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder | Nadi | Nagel Draxler | Nanzuka | Taro Nasu | Nature Morte | neugerriemschneider | nichido | Anna Ning | Franco Noero | O | Nathalie Obadia | One and J. | Lorcan O’Neill | Ora-Ora | Ota | Roslyn Oxley9 | P | P.P.O.W | Pace | Pace Prints | Paragon | Peres Projects | Perrotin | Pi Artworks | PKM | Plan B | Platform China | Project Fulfill | R | Almine Rech | Nara Roesler | Tyler Rollins | Thaddaeus Ropac | Andrea Rosen | Rossi & Rossi | Lia Rumma | S | SCAI The Bathhouse | Esther Schipper | Rüdiger Schöttle | ShanghART | ShugoArts | Sies + Höke | Silverlens | Skarstedt | Soka | Sprüth Magers | Starkwhite | STPI | Sullivan+Strumpf | T | Take Ninagawa | Timothy Taylor | team | The Third Line | Thomas | TKG+ | Tokyo Gallery + BTAP | Tolarno | Tornabuoni | V | Vadehra | Van de Weghe | Susanne Vielmetter | Vitamin | W | Waddington Custot | Wentrup | Michael Werner | White Cube | White Space Beijing | Wilkinson | Jocelyn Wolff | X | Leo Xu | Y | Yamamoto Gendai | Yavuz | Z | Zeno X | David Zwirner | Insights | 1335Mabini | 313 Art Project | Aicon | Beijing Art Now | C-Space | du Monde | EM | Fost | Hive | imura | Ink Studio | iPreciation | Kwai Fung Hin | Lawrie Shabibi | Leeahn | MEM | Mind Set | Osage | Park Ryu Sook | Misa Shin | Sundaram Tagore | Tang | This Is No Fantasy + dianne tanzer | The Third Gallery Aya | Yamaki | Yang | Zilberman | Discoveries | a.m. space | A+ | Artinformal | Athena | Bank | Thomas Brambilla | Carlos / Ishikawa | Clearing | Dittrich & Schlechtriem | Selma Feriani | Ghebaly | High Art | Pippy Houldsworth | Jhaveri | Kadel Willborn | Darren Knight | mor charpentier | Project Native Informant | ROH Projects | Rokeby | Side 2 | SKE | Société | Urano | Various Small Fires

Di'van | A Journal of Accounts | Issue 1  

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 1  

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