lundi 23 février 2009

Dispersion (ICA, London)

Hito Steyerl, Lovely Andrea, 2007

Henrik Olesen, some gay-lesbian artists and/or artists relevant to homo-social culture V,VI,VII, 2007

Maria Eichhorn, 'Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices (Breast Licking)', 1999-2008

Anne Collier, Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Meisel), 2007

curated by Polly Staple:

Dispersion presents seven international artists working with photography, film, video and performance. All deconstruct and re-mix found images, investing them with personal narratives and using them to explore the contemporary landscape of information and image distribution. Today’s endless worldwide archive of found images, from art-historical icons to consumer ephemera, provides these artists with their raw material; while systems of economic exchange, from the art market to the internet, offer a constant reference point. Many of the works exhibited in Dispersion employ idiosyncratic ordering systems, revealing a subjective yet anthropological approach to their material. Exploring hierarchical codes of the visual lexicon, and informed by feminist and gender politics, several works foreground the psychological realm of sexuality or subcultural networks. How ‘ways of seeing’ both form and define subjectivities, shape memory and morality, and participate in the formation of new identities both within and beyond the dominant culture, are common themes. All of the artists in Dispersion explore how identities are constructed rather than given, and how—through investigating the politics of representation—it may be possible to achieve what could be called a ‘critical’ image.They highlight networks of dissemination, the relations between private life and the public sphere, and allude to the secret life of images and the order of things.

Maria Eichhorn’s work often performs an acute deconstruction of the system—economic-social-art historical—employed to construct an image or exhibition scenario. In Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices (1999-2008), exhibition visitors may request to view one of eleven 16mm films from Eichhorn’s developing archive of sexual activity. These three-minute films are influenced, however, by conceptual strategy rather than any pornographic code. A screen-printed wall text details an excerpt of the lexicon, accompanied by textual definitions, and each film presents a close-up view of one of the lexicon’s terms, including both sexual activities and body parts. The unemotional, minimal perspective renders the actions either abstract or clinical. Mouth or Eye, for example, conjure an evocative Surrealistic dream-world, whereas Breast Licking verges on the comical in its precision and Cunnilingus is almost medical. Shown in a neutrally lit room, with the projectionist always present to screen the films, the setting suggests a desire for transparency and a heightened awareness of both the content and conditions of representation, with the viewerimplicated in a contract of exchange through their choice of film and their interaction with the projectionist.

The way in which sexuality is organised within Western capitalist social systems, so that desire becomes categorised within the rule of law, is a constant theme for Henrik Olesen. some gay-lesbian artists and/or artists relevant to homo-social culture V, VI, VII (2007) consists of a set of wood and paper panels (three of which are shown here) carrying an encyclopaedic array of postcards and photocopies from art-historical sources. Olesen’s project presents a studyof the homosexual and homo-visual from the thirteenth to nineteenth centuries, his selective rationale in turnpedantic, intuitive and absurdly revealing, his editing highlighting historical vagaries and repetitious gestures. Olesen’s framing turns grand paintings and classical imagery into documentary evidence to be worked over, and the boards have the aura of both the school room and a crime-scene investigation. But the artist’s studied casualness—the low-budget display, cheap photocopies and crossing out—belies a forensic attention to detail. The viewer’s reading of the work replicates Olesen’s role as researcher and archivist, and echoes our own experience of information as montage. Olesen is ultimately interested in a critical investigation of the archive, suggesting potential strategies for the reinterpretation of images and social codes.

Seth Price’s Digital Video Effect: “Editions” (2006) consists of six of the artist’s previously editioned video works, re-edited for low-cost, unlimited distribution. Home-movie footage shot by the artist Joan Jonas in the early 1970s (of fellow artists Robert Smithson and Richard Serra and the dealer Joseph Hellman) is juxtaposed with fragments from a video by artist Martha Rosler (which itself lifts footage from TV advertisements); as well as reportage from the aftermath of Ronald Reagan’s shooting in the 1980s; stills frominternet death sites; and a digital animation clip of a rolling synthetic black ocean played on repeat. Price creates his own field of distribution: both through his reworking of his own films alongside those of others; and through the dispersal of the product itself as an unlimited edition. The production and reproduction of culture and value are shown to be infinitely malleable. Meaning is formed through the constant fluid connections between points—strategically reworking and updating material— and the artist’s manipulation of highly charged material demonstrates the collision of value systems caused by a surfeit of information. The title Dispersion is taken from an essay by Price, reproduced in the book accompanying the exhibition.

Anne Collier explores the recycling of images through acts of appropriation—photographing film posters, album and magazine covers and photographic test plates. The subsequent image groupings form a subjective lexicon of popular imagery, alternately suggesting biographical history and a nostalgic attraction to found material. Collier often chooses particular motifs such as the eye or the camera, or highlights the nuanced gender and power relations of the subjects presented, to emphasise how we look and see. Inherent to Collier’s practice is a sense of claustrophobia, the infinite referencing creating an arrested feedback loop, upsetting any easy consumption of image and instead emphasising a significant void or lack. The marks or folds of the posters and record sleeves evoke memories of lost time and intimate associations, the materiality of each photograph emphasising its status as an object with its own history. In one work, a photograph of a Steven Meisel Madonna poster, Collier revels in the insistent glamour of both the original art direction and its subject’s inscrutable iconicity. Madonna’s masquerade—with painted face and lowered eyes —encapsulates commodity fetishism as a projection screen for fantasy.

Hilary Lloyd’s Studio (2007) derives from the artist’s obsessive filming of paint marks on the floor of her studio—tracking the trace of its previous occupant, a painter. Two video projections play simultaneously, but with shifting combinations of image sequences. Lloyd’s filming activelyconstructs a way of looking at her subject, one that is further exaggerated by the prominence of the projection and playback technology that occupies the exhibition space. The originally intuitive is processed through a series of levels of documentation and display; Lloyd’s exhaustive, repetitive gaze articulating both a personal relationship with her subject, and the mechanical processes of reconstructing the act of looking through the act of image-making. There is a strange sensation of being simultaneously above and within the image, and a tension to the skewed perspective—between intellectual and phenomenological experience, content and form, surface and depth, forensic attention to detail and art-historical inflection. An economyof production is revealed through tightly choreographed gestures of surveillance, while a psychological dimension creates a clinical but highly charged perspective on image-making.

Hito Steyerl’s video projection Lovely Andrea (2007) focuses on the artist’s search for an image of herself performing as a bondage model in Tokyo in the 1980s. Trawling a network of S&M pornography, Steyerl explores the commodification of her own image and uses visual metaphors of bondage to explore the interconnections of sexuality, power and social and labour relations. Steyerl is seen visiting archives and studios, interviewing ‘rope masters’, photographers and editors. Her narrativeis edited together with extracts ranging from Spiderman cartoons to still images of bound Guantanamo Bay detainees. Linked by emphatic inter-titles and a frenetic post-punk soundtrack, the film has all the dramatic tension of investigative journalism but the aesthetic of Quicktime video edits. Lovely Andrea throws into question the ethics of the document when Steyerl—herself tracked by a film crew—is requested to retake certain ‘documentary’ scenes. Ultimately the artist is on a mission to re-appropriate her own image, but initially she is unable to even recognise herself in the original photographic document—memory is shown to be as mutable as the archive of images circulating on the web.

Mark Leckey operates through a multiplicity of media, exploring the relationship between popular culture and high art, commodity fetishism and the economies of exchange. All these themes are tackled in his live performance Mark Leckey in the Long Tail (2009), the latest in a series of ‘lectures’ given by the artist, and one which will be performed in the ICA theatre. Leckey’s lectures have roamed across television history, taking in the role of the BBC, the cartoon icon Felix the Cat and the ‘long tail’ theory of internet-based economics. Investigating the mythology of the internet, the artistexplores its unregulated flow of images and information, identifying a new economics of distribution manifest in the libidinally-charged ‘prosumer’—part producer, part consumer. The first of these lectures (Cinema-in-the-Round (2006)) detailed how flat images can seem to take on weight and mass—how images existing in virtual space can be almost physically experienced—and Leckey’s latest performance occurs within a theatrical installation that explores the relationship of object to image; as well as that of heavy industry to intangible software; the vertical to the horizontal; sculpture to animation; and the secret life of things to the fantasy life of images.

review by Ossian Ward:
Critics grumbled that the Turner Prize was wilfully opaque last year – too clever by half. The ICA is often accused of losing its way whenever it stages similarly tricky and liminal group shows, of the kind that should be the very lifeblood of the institution. ‘Dispersion’ presents the latest in a long line of hard-to-fathom artistic positions, which shouldn’t be ignored just because they’re hard to categorise. Bluntly speaking all the artists here deal in appropriation, but isn’t (almost) all art appropriation, now that there’s nothing new under the sun? This seems to be the real message: it’s all out there, you just have to know where to look. Let’s say you’re into kinky food sex, someone must cater for that, right? Maria Eichhorn is, appropriately enough for her name, building up a library of erotic film and porn standards, so far including ‘Auto-eroticism’ and ‘Cunnilingus’, which you request from the projectionist standing by. Eichhorn (employing professional actors) had yet to complete her mini-treatise on ‘Food Sex’, so like asking for second choice at the video store, I had to be satisfied with ‘Breast Licking’. Or rather unsatisfied, because we’re just as disassociated with the material as she is. Her ‘Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices’ is simply an archive (it could be of sewing techniques) and therefore not titillating, but informative. What else do we learn in ‘Dispersion’? Henrik Olesen goes on an art-historical trawl for homoeroticism and Seth Price gives the game away (and not just by giving his art away for free, ironically for his name) by cutting and pasting bits of his work with that of others to create a skittish, looping video of short circuits and non-sequiturs that brilliantly captures the YouTubeification of culture. Anne Collier treads on similar ground but her works are lost in the fateful ICA corridor, so it’s left to Hilary Lloyd’s filming of her paint-splattered studio floor, left by a previous occupant, to reveal the confused inner monologue of the artist – perhaps wondering why she doesn’t paint, or why she’s so interested in the image and residue of others? Yes, it’s navel gazing, but only because our interconnectedness means that we’re never more than six degrees of separation from one another or from a pre-existing idea. Whether borrowed or recycled, it’s all the same – yet somehow delightfully different every time.

R.H. Quaytman (Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York)

Chapter 12: iamb
This series use the motif of a painting lit by a lamp as the foundational image around which the other works coalesce. With the context in mind -
a commercial gallery -, the subject turns back to painting itself and, specifically, its relationship to the blind spot. Like actual vision, Quaytman’s paintings have a blind spot, whether it be from a light source in the picture, an optical illusion, a trompe l’œil effect, the absence of color in a black and white photograph, or the picture in plan. This recurring ‘absence’ enables the works to activate one another, yet it also often shifts the axis of legibility between neighboring paintings. While the paintings can suggest an alternate position for the viewer’s body moving by the picture, or, further, literally repel vision through optical static, they ultimately affirm their own autonomy. While it can be said that they are made to influence flow from one picture to the next, no single painting suggests what the next will be. Each work allows the viewer to look at and into it, to focus from near and far, to see it as part of a group or in isolation. In the end, the picture always actively refers back to the painting itself, and then out to all that surrounds it.
For a period of three years – until May 2008 – R.H. Quaytman acted as the director of Orchard, a collaborative artist run gallery in New York's Lower East Side reconciling the divergent narratives of movements such as institutional critique, Kontext Kunst, and the legacies of Latin American and Eastern European vanguard practices of the sixties and seventies. It is perhaps then fitting that her artistic practice reconsiders critiques of the autonomous art object wherein the idea of painting serves as a model for the larger discursive meanings of art. Her use of wood panel as material support and her frequent grounding of the picture plane in photo-based silk screening, underscore the perceptual, perspectival and durational experience of painting as an assessment of the larger social, historical, personal and architectural contexts in which her work appears.

Roberta Smith:
The paintings in R. H. Quaytman’s exhibition are cerebral, physically thought out and resolutely optical. They engage painting on every level in a restrained way; they also engage one another. Most involve silk-screened motifs that refer to some combination of light, lamps and subtly Op Art patterns of superfine concentric circles, quietly pulsing grids or tiny black and white checks. Some paintings depict other paintings in the exhibition. Some depict light sources that actually seem to obstruct vision. Everything seems once removed, seen through something else: the addition of a layer of sparkling diamond dust; a graduated shift in pale colors; trompe l’oeil strips of wood grain. The viewing experience is deliberately destabilized. For example, it takes some time to determine if the yellow shading across the surface of a checked painting is inherent or a reflection from the yellow painting next to it. Ms. Quaytman’s work combines the photographic procedures and recycled motifs of appropriation art with the physical eccentricities of formalist paintings or, perhaps more accurately, specific objects. Although her paintings aren’t especially small, they have the careful precision and delicacy of miniatures. It is as if they are trying reduce the processes of both making and looking at painting to the smallest unit of measure and experience possible, a place where atoms of light and matter merge.

David Lewis:
In 1939, R.H. Quaytman’s grandfather and great-grandfather were driving back from the New York World’s Fair when they were suddenly crushed to death by an oncoming train. The accident was caused by a malfunctioning railway light. Much later, Quaytman tracked down the story in New York newspaper The Sun and used it as the basis for her 2001 exhibition at Spencer Brownstone Gallery, ‘Chapter 1: The Sun’. The reaction is characteristic: hers is a deliberate practice with a strong sense of the past (all four of her parents were artists) and of community (she was the director of the collaborative artist-run gallery Orchard for three years). Likewise, the tragedy, with its flickering lights in darkness, attests to the nature of Quaytman’s metaphorical systems, in which vision and disappearance, or blindness and insight, are inevitably intertwined. These elements - the complications of tradition, an intimate and opulent solar weave - are significantly elaborated in ‘Chapter 12: iamb’ at Miguel Abreu. The paintings, all silkscreen on wood, derive from a very simple motif: a painting lit by a lamp, from which comes the idea of the blind-spot. Sometimes the theme is fairly literal - four are titled Chapter 12: iamb (2008), each depicting a painting and a lamp - but there are also formal variations on the theme: sometimes the bulb yields a fuzzy circular glow; sometimes a halo, from which soft light falls; and in one case the verticality of the lamp and painting is dramatized by a tall acidic streak against the otherwise subtle palette. In paintings like Chapter 12: iamb, (lateral inhibitions in the perceptual field) (2008), no lamp is depicted, just a shimmering grid: the blind-spot here is optical - the viewer is unable to bring the grid into focus, not without flickering and ghosts. On the other hand, Chapter 12: iamb (Fresnell lens) (2008) does not emphasize the disruption or inconsistency of vision so much as the sparkle of revelation, achieved with a sprinkling of real diamond dust. The more one looks, the more intricate and self-referential Quaytman’s theme becomes. Motifs, even whole paintings, reappear: Chapter 12: iamb, (lateral inhibitions in the perceptual field) (2008), for example, is vertical. In another painting, however, one sees that first painting again, only rotated 90 degrees and framed by a white border. In Chapter 12: iamb (blind smile), it is again rotated, marked by lamplight in the upper right corner, and held aloft, or at least cryptically pointed to, by a shirtless bearded man (Dan Graham, actually). The addition of two smaller, hand-painted oils from another, earlier series increases the complication. The first, Chapter 2: Lødz Poem—Caption b (2002), literally points towards the paintings that follow; Limbo of Vanity (2003) reiterates the solar metaphor with its concentric circles above a black field, painted with spinel black, an ultra-absorbent pigment invented for the stealth bomber. The big blind-spot here is painting - a question, or void, that one can only circle around: painting as (absent) father and bright and blinding sun. Quaytman has emphasized the absolute centrality of painting to her development as an artist, her desire to ‘maintain and simultaneously disrupt painting’s absolute presence’, as well as the medium’s ‘arrogance’ and ‘ego’, its foundational and even prophetic efficacy. Even when working as a photographer, Quaytman had painting on her mind - or, more precisely, she picked up the camera as a path towards painting, to better ‘understand the symbolic space of painting.’ It is therefore fitting to evoke an image from the history of painting: Quaytman’s motif - the painting lit by the lamp - recalls Georges de la Tour, who attained, with candlelight, and especially the effects of a hidden or obscured candle, an art of occasionally elfin abstract delicacy, as well as a reverential quality that is never histrionic. With ‘Chapter 12: iamb’, Quaytman could be said to achieve much the same thing.

Joan Waltemath:
The two characteristics that according to grammarians define the meaning of the pronoun, ostension and relation, deixis and anaphora, have to be completely rethought here. The mode in which these characteristics have been understood has determined the theory of being, that is, first philosophy, since its origins. —Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community. It’s been a number of years since a solo exhibition by R H Quaytman has appeared in New York. It has been well worth the wait, however, to have the opportunity to view Quaytman’s work at the Miguel Abreu Gallery, a small space on the Lower East Side in an area that has been relatively recently colonized by art galleries. Quaytman’s show, Chapter 12: iamb, which presents work from an ongoing series, has a fresh and austere edge in sync with these new times that signals a clear path to follow. Quaytman makes reference in the title to both the seat of seeing (i am), and the classical meter of poetry, among other things. The manifold nature of these works indicates their significance can neither be pinned down nor limited to one approach. They serve rather as a vehicle for many. One could venture to say the works have been installed to follow the rhythm of an iambic pentameter, the “metrical foot of one unaccented followed by one accented syllable,” but any attempt to prove the point would become lost in the complexities of all that these works touch upon. The photo-silkscreened image of Dan Graham in “Chapter 12: iamb (blind smile),” (2008), looking ever so much like one of the Ancients in front of a Hermann grid, # 6 of “Chapter 12: iamb,” underscores both the classical reference and the tendency to double back. At the entrance, two panels, a cobalt blue silkscreened image of a light bulb shining on a screened panel of a pixelated field, and an oil painting of what feels like pure, yellow light, set the tone for the exhibition. With the simple metaphor of a light shining on a surface, Quaytman has engaged in an investigation of the grammar of mediation using the syntactic elements of visual apprehension. It’s all new ground, albeit a ground that has been constantly shifting since the undermining of painting’s supremacy in the last century and the subsequent proliferation of the means of reproduction. Quaytman’s shifting, cross-referenced world shows one way to marshal the vastness of the terrain. In both an acknowledgement and a clarification of the fact that we have stepped beyond Greenbergian questions, Quaytman playfully determines the image in #5 and #10 of “Chapter 12: iamb” (both 2008) by painting a profile of the wooden support structure on the surface of the panel in a quasi-minimalist gesture. Quaytman’s project reframes the question and in doing so, also eschews Barthes’ declaration in “Is painting a language?” that it is not. In this expanded context, painting is but one language that operates to elucidate the complex relationship between what we see and what we know. Surface takes precedent as a location upon which the imaginings of minds engage in actions, and visual means are relegated to their role as such. Yet it is the means that Quaytman takes hold of to reveal their extremes. In #7 of “Chapter 12: iamb” (2008), a tilted grid of vertical rectangles (each approximately 1/8" by 3/16") that fill the surface reads pictorially as an allover field even as it references the pixel. Floating in an indeterminate space somewhere in relation to this gridded field, three vertical bands of red, yellow and blue fade into one another; visible at a specific distance as you enter the small back room of Abreu’s gallery, they vanish as you approach the panel and the shimmering pixel grid asserts its dominance. At a distance of one foot, the colored bands are completely invisible, but new optical effects, color halos at the edges of the black and white rectangles emerge. Turning to the left to view what at that moment hovers at the edge of your peripheral vision, you can catch the RGB spectrum in the interstice of #4 of the gridded field in “Chapter 12: iamb,” an effect that shimmers only momentarily and disappears when one moves laterally in relation to its surface. In #8 the rectangles are pixelated in a way that reveals the surface grain of the plywood support, an image which also mysteriously vanishes as you move towards the panel and realize that a dot matrix has been layered into the pixilation, bringing into the picture yet another reference to the mediation of what is being seen. The grid and circles in #6 of “Chapter 12: iamb, (lateral inhibitions in the perceptual field)” (2008), provides the most spectacular optical effect, with the white circles at the grid’s every intersection turning grey and/or black in concert. Some might even get a headache from looking too long at the Hermann grid’s dazzling surface. Discovered in the 19th century and modified in more recent times, there is nowhere to rest in a Hermann grid, whose explanation is still being debated. Yet seen through a camera lens in #13 of “Chapter 12: iamb,” which is oriented horizontally in the gallery’s front room, it is devoid of optical effects. Turned on its side also in “(blind smile)” the Herman grid appears in three guises in this exhibition. Such effects, together with the concentric circles of sparkling diamond dust in “Chapter 12: iamb (Fresnell lens)” (2008) at the gallery’s entrance, might indicate that Quaytman’s subject is an interest in optics. I would propose rather that it is an interest that touches on the phenomenology of perception, and the investigation remains within the realm of the means, elucidating the conflicting and overlapping body of rules that govern different media and work in concert to determine how we interpret what we see. Light, the vehicle that both enables and determines sight, appears, if anything, to be the subject; painting stands alone in its directness. Quaytman’s sophisticated dissection of the complexities of seeing and the manifold aspects that inform perception is evident not only in individual works, but also in the relationship between specific works installed in the exhibition, and in the cumulative effect of the whole. In a room saturated with investigations into the mysterious nature of seeing and its mediation in our time, the autonomy of the singular is never in doubt. Individual works that can be read wholly within the context of the history of painting are at the same time open to formally interact with pieces like #8 “Chapter 12: iamb,” which brings to the fore the relationship between the dot screen and the pixel. On the left side of the gallery, the shift from the oil on wood “Chapter 2: Lødz Poem – Caption b” (2002), to a pixelated double-screened panel, to a yellow field of concentric circles, could be read as a position statement. The movement from painting to a screened computer generated digital image and then across the room to screened photographic imagery is seamless; the intent which connects them supersedes the media that contextualizes them, each slightly differently. In addressing a transitory period in which the crosspollination of media has rendered the visual a complex field to decode, Quaytman has foregrounded abstraction as a fundamental to the ongoing evolution of visual language. Quaytman’s fluency across diverse media is apparent in the mixing of the hand painted with the mechanically reproduced, photographic imagery with the language of non-objective painting. In creating a series of seductive wood panel surfaces that draw attention to the plane as the location to be read, Quaytman has clearly moved beyond questions of the viability of any specific media, yet it is in the ambiguities of her project that the shift has become visible.

lundi 16 février 2009

The Space of the Work and the Place of the Object (SculptureCenter, New York)

Blake Rayne, Gareth James, Bicycle Grinder, 2009.
Bicycle grinder, balloons, wood, acrylic lacquer, napkins from SculptureCenter gala, 2 cans of spraypaint, plastic drop cloth, inkjet print

Karin Schneider, Tubular, 2009

Melanie Gilligan, Prison for Objects, 2008/2009. Performance/Installation

Melanie Gilligan, Prison for Objects, 2008/2009. Performance/Installation, featuring actor Francis J Exell

A group exhibition that considers the status of the art object within the context of its production. The featured artists build on the ideas and critical positions of Process Art and employ methods that range from documentary to literary, but the emphasis is on a direct engagement with the materiality of the object. The artists in this exhibition all make objects that reflect the facts and fissures of their production. Each artwork is concerned with the conditions in which art and meaning are made and circulated, turning them to their own advantage, or sometimes ignoring or disrupting them. Accident presides alongside necessity as determining factors for this work, which further highlights the central concepts of systems of production, display, and distribution.
Walead Beshty's Federal Express works are made by shipping a glass box made to fit precisely inside the cardboard Federal Express boxes. The boxes are shipped via Federal Express and displayed together with the shipping box in any configuration. The work is "made" and "re-made" through its circulation and display. Beshty will also exhibit new works created with film exposed to X-rays in airport scanners and then drum-scanned and printed. These abstract and visually sumptuous images act as echoes of the artist's movements from city to city. Silver Particle/Bronze (after Henry Moore) (2008) by Simon Starling brings up questions of documentation and materiality. The work comprises a vintage gelatin silver print of a Moore sculpture and a bronze sculpture made by enlarging a particle from the print's emulsion. Michael Rakowitz has created RETURN (offshoots for SculptureCenter) (2009), an installation that documents his attempt to import one ton of dates from Iraq in 2006.
Gabriel Kuri's That Runs Through (2009) is a visual poem that links everyday objects to historical events and simultaneously isolates and creates a context for them. With her Disclaimer Series, Carey Young destabilizes the relationship between artwork, viewer and presenter. Three text panels deny claims to their own status as works of art. Blake Rayne's Knife Sharpener (2009) exists as manifestations of a series of choices that are made subtly transparent. His crates are exhibited as objects that reference transport but also function as partitions, support, and perhaps sculpture.
Prison for Objects (2009), a performance and installation by Melanie Gilligan, dramatizes our experience of commodities in the past and present. The installation includes images of objects from the Renaissance to the 18th century, which depict their contents as both intensely abstract and material all at once. An actress and actor perform the roles of an art writer and artist respectively, their characters playing out various clichés and contradictions of art production and reception.
Karin Schneider's Tubular (2009) is an architectural intervention with a painting and a video projection. The reception desk is expanded and relocated into the gallery space with transparent Plexiglas partitions. SculptureCenter's Visitor Services Manager, Nickolas Roudané, who normally sits at the reception desk and is an artist himself, has been invited to produce an ongoing piece during the show while still performing his usual duties greeting and providing information to museum visitors. Schneider allows the administrative function of the museum to intrude into the gallery while subsuming aspects of the institution into the work.

Kenneth Johnson:
Aesthetic Withdrawal in the Quest for Ideas
Art objects are in crisis. Conceptualists and theorists say that there are too many of them and that we don’t need them any more. Also, people buy and sell them like commodities, which devalues them as vehicles of thought and feeling. If you are one of those who still believe in the object, you may be annoyed by SculptureCenter’s confusing and misleadingly titled current exhibition. Organized by Mary Ceruti, the center’s executive director, the eight-artist show “The Space of the Work and the Place of the Object” is meant, according to a news release, to address “the status of the art object within the context of its production.” But there is almost nothing in the exhibition that you would call an art object in the traditional sense of the term — something made by an artist, more or less skillfully, that is uncommonly interesting to look at because of its formal or representational properties. The exhibition is a disconnected assortment of primarily conceptual works, none of which say anything very illuminating about the status of the object or its context of production. Consider an arrangement of partly broken glass boxes and the cardboard FedEx cartons in which the glass boxes evidently were sent through the mail. This piece by Walead Beshty is briefly amusing, but unless you read philosophical and political ideas into it, how different is it, really, from David Letterman throwing a watermelon off the roof? At least with Mr. Letterman you get to see the object bursting. The most interesting piece is an installation by Michael Rakowitz documenting a project in which he opened a storefront in Brooklyn to sell food products from Iraq. It is almost impossible to find anything for sale in the United States labeled “Made in Iraq,” Mr. Rakowitz said, because customs agencies here and abroad make it so difficult. So Iraqi merchants ship their goods to countries like Syria and Lebanon and have them labeled as made in those other places. Mr. Rakowitz decided to try to import a ton of Iraqi dates in boxes labeled “Product of Iraq” to sell in his store. After many complications, he succeeded, much to the delight of his Iraqi customers. It is an excellent and affecting lesson in geopolitics. Less edifying is Gabriel Kuri’s “That Runs Through,” a presentation of objects on a sheet of white backdrop paper, including a bag of charcoal, a stone on a stack of Financial Times, a bag of kitty litter and a wastebasket with a mop head in it. A poor man’s Robert Gober? Also remarkably derivative are signs by Carey Young announcing various self-reflexive disclaimers, like “The artist does not guarantee that this piece can be sold as a work of art” and “The artist does not represent this to be a work of art.” Ms. Young should know about Robert Morris’s 1963 “Statement of Aesthetic Withdrawal.” Another sort of aesthetic withdrawal is an installation by Blake Rayne and Gareth James consisting of big black wooden crates, a set of empty painting frames and a sheet of plastic and some balloons spray-painted green and gold — the color of money. Perhaps the most entertaining work — at least during the exhibition’s first two weeks, when it was performed by live actors — is a short play by Melanie Gilligan. An art critic tells of a dream she had about wildly multiplying objects, and an artist in his studio gets all riled up about the obsolescence of the traditional art object. The piece is now being presented as a video. A less exciting performance has been orchestrated by Karin Schneider. She built a second reception and ticket-selling booth of wood-framed transparent plastic and has the gallery’s receptionist shuttle between it and the permanent booth, which serves as a studio where he makes paintings when not attending to visitors. Institutional critique feebly lives on. One work that does resemble a fine-art object is a squiggly, multi-lobed bronze sculpture by Simon Starling (winner of the 2005 Turner Prize). A wall label mystifyingly explains that it represents “a single silver particle from a vintage gelatin silver photographic print of ‘Reclining Figure No. 4, 1955’ by Henry Moore” enlarged 300,000 times. So it seems that here, too, the idea is the real object.

samedi 7 février 2009

Fin et suite

Quelques jours avant sa performance au FRAC PACA en 2005, assis à une terrasse du Panier, j’essayais de discuter avec John Bock sur le fait qu’il soit constamment associé à l’héritage des avant-gardes historiques (surtout le Cabaret Voltaire et dada). Serait-il une machine à recycler l’histoire de l’art ? Les questions semblaient se perdre dans son imparable flux de pensée, rebondissant en permanence, sans structure ni logique, un corps en éveil, absorbé par lui-même. Il s’arrête un peu, puis tire : « Quand on regarde un film d’Hollywood des années 1930, on croit voir des meubles des années 1930 et l’on oublie qu’ils utilisaient aussi des meubles vieux de trente ans. Ce n’est pas un pas après l’autre, pas une dialectique de progression mais un mixage ».
Il est loin d’être seul à vouloir se saisir de l’actualité du modernisme. De quoi hérite-on ? Plutôt que de « l’échec » des projets collectifs, des idéologies ou des mouvements artistiques, les artistes semblent hériter, plus bêtement, de ce discours des « fins », terriblement idéologique. Une rengaine qui voudrait clore une saison où la pensée s’autorisait à échafauder des outils pour la transformation des structures sociales (certes, nourrie parfois d’une « croyance »). Cette assertion, qui continue de dominer les discours sur l’art, se traduit dans des sous-thèmes : le passage des idéologies à des « micro-récits » (plus sympathiques), la fin des mouvements et groupes organisés d’artistes et l’avènement d’un paysage de l’art finalement apaisé, pluriel, dialoguant, démocratique, et dont, n’oublions pas, la position centrale est assumée par le spectateur, cette entité toujours autre.
Et bien, le contexte ou « milieu » de l’art n’a jamais, pas un seul moment, laissé d’être traversé par des conflits, tensions, oppositions vives et indistinctes, familles formelles, proximités idéologiques, guerres intellectuelles, refus radicaux et collaborations intenses. Et le défi, ne serait que pour ceux qui écrivent sur l’art, devrait être d’essayer d’identifier un débat, d’articuler en réflexion ce que n’est au départ qu’une lecture des pratiques distinctes et des correspondances entre des artistes dans un espace contradictoire, conflictuel et mouvant (y compris dans la tête de chacun).
Le travail et le rôle du critique d’art ont été profondément bouleversés, ces dernières années, concernant le rapport entre périphérie et centre dans la production et la circulation du débat critique, à travers la dynamique de réseau constituée par le web. Mais, d’un point de vue strictement personnel, la question me semble être restée la même : comment traduire la dynamique nerveuse, l’urgence, la fulgurance parfois, de la création artistique en interaction avec un contexte ? Comment cela agit-il sur ma perception de la ville ? Si l’espace virtuel du web permet la construction de communautés d’échange affranchies de la géographie urbaine, la ville résiste, les corps aussi. Le deuil à faire c’est sans doute celui de l’idée de « scène locale », surtout quand celle-ci est envisagée comme la mise en scène d’une identité. C’est suivant ce constat que j’essaie d’esquisser ici une lecture transversale de certaines pratiques artistiques, à partir d’un choix concernant une jeune génération d’artistes avec laquelle j’ai pu engager un dialogue en suivant leurs expositions à Marseille.

Bettina Samson, The World is yours, Cook’s tours, 2005 (Installation, peinture murale, calendrite aluminium) crédit photo: Magali Lefèbvre

L’un des traits identifiables de cette génération concerne leur façon d’enchevêtrer des références d’une façon plus complexe et contradictoire que la simple citation au vocabulaire de l’histoire de l’art ou que le renvoi à la vie « quotidienne » par l’utilisation du ready-made. Ils peuvent éventuellement s’appuyer sur ces deux dimensions mais créent des connexions à la façon d’une navigation très habile sur un moteur de recherche. Quand Bettina Samson s’intéresse à l’histoire de la technologie ou de la science – la découverte des rayonnements radioactifs par Henri Becquerel, l’ouverture de l’immense centrale électrique Klingerberg dans Berlin des années 20, les dispositifs optiques pré-cinématographiques des foires ou le piratage de la fréquence radio d’un aéroport –, ces recherches sont contextualisées dans un environnement culturel plus vaste, englobant la guerre froide, Kraftwerk, l’usage scientifique de la photo ou les roads movies de Monte Hellman. Ce désir à déterritorialiser l’art semble s’intéresser à la façon comme désormais nos cerveaux codifient l’information. Face à l’accélération, plutôt que la stratégie de « détournement » (le mot magique des années 90), Bettina Samson cherche, avec une intensité rare, à créer du sens avec les matériaux de connaissance du monde. A rebours des constats sur le bombardement d’images auxquelles on serait assujettis, théorie des vaches qui regardent les trains, l’enjeu reste celui d’envisager les possibilités pour une action et une pensée émancipatrices (soient-elles dans le contexte spécifique de l’exposition).

«ironie», envisagée en tant que stratégie subversive peut parfois accuser les symptômes d’une réponse conformiste et conforme, surtout au moment où l’histoire de l’art lui accorde une place incontournable. Le dynamitage des mythes, le sarcasme, la satire, le détournement d’inspiration situationniste, sont désormais bien plus qu’une branche de l’histoire de l’art, ils en constituent une racine, une « tradition » (même contrariée) des pratiques contemporaines. Dans la proximité de ce pôle, certains artistes y voient cependant un potentiel de résilience négative, au sens d’un refus radical à enjoindre la positive attitude, de surcroît « constructive ». Mais dans l’ironie, ils semblent préférer l’attitude minimale à la blague communautaire.

Alexandre Gérard, Quoi feuze ?, 2002 (Photographie couleur contrecollée sur aluminium Dibon, 30 x 20 cm)

Alexandre Gérard
s’intéresse au langage du corps quand il est confronté à ses réflexes conditionnés, ses répétitions involontaires (qu’il s’agisse des réactions des visiteurs d’une galerie, marchant dans le vide d’une fausse marche, ou des réponses électriques des passants à l’angle d’une rue où une barrière donne l’impression de les rejeter du champ magnétique). Le malentendu est ici le principe même de la communication, comprise comme un apprentissage forcément défaillant, où le langage et les corps sont en désajustement permanent.

Damien Berthier, Vaisselier/Simone, 2008, verres, saladiers, cadre bois et miroirs (1er plan).
Sans titre, 2008, chaises dimensions variables (2ème plan). Exposition Meublé à Louer à la galerie Espace à Vendre, Nice

Cette dimension performative se trouve aussi dans le travail de Damien Berthier, plus proche d’un burlesque sans emphase, laconique, en quête d’équilibre (vertigineux, soit-il), à travers des tentatives de rangement et classement, ou la construction de structures par l’empilement instable de chaises, seaux ou échelles. Plus déterminant que la stabilité c’est ici la captation d’un point d’équilibre, indissociable d’un attrait pour le désordre ou la chute.

John Deneuve, Catherine Deneuve (installation à la galerie Porte Avion, 2006)

L’humour chez John Deneuve est une stratégie plus classique d’exploration de l’absurde inhérent au langage, à travers des mises en scène (une salle d’attente, un salon où sont attablés deux couchons d’inde) interceptés par des virus sonores (un dialogue extrait d’un film, un bilan d’incompétences), s’aventurant dans les zones d’un non-sens salace, provocateur, si l’on évacue « l’automatisme » d’inspiration surréaliste. Mais le dynamitage par l’ironie se fait plus rare, après avoir quasiment dominé le tournant des années 90.

Face à dématérialisation progressive de certaines pratiques culturelles (le mp3 remplace le cd, le blog remplace le fanzine, le numérique remplace l’analogique), mais aussi face à l’essor de la vidéo et des technologies dans le champ de l’art, il est curieux d’analyser la vitalité actuelle de la sculpture. Mais, peut-être plus importante dans l’analyse de ce reflux, c’est l’exténuation de pratiques exploitant le filon interactif, « relationnel », dont le discours anti-formaliste, fortement politique au moment de la génération émergente des années 90 s’est vu progressivement remplacé par une vague intentionnalité d’inclusion des publics, aux relents très conformistes. Les « agents culturels » ayant compris l’intérêt de ces activités dans la vaste plaine de la médiation culturelle, l’art a ainsi été enjoint à participer au consensus de la confirmation des liens sociaux, plutôt que le choix de faire dissension, de risquer de couper la communication, d’être violemment incompréhensible, voire désagréable. A force de petites interventions bienveillantes à l’attention du public, de micro-événements modestes, certains artistes ont finit par leur préférer le terrorisme passionné, l’érotisme des matières, la débauche d’une serre électrique et d’un fer à souder. Et parfois, sans renier ce qui était définitivement aboli : le romantisme.

Yannick Papailhau, Projet improbable de lancement d’un socle dans un espace à déterminer, 2008, exposition Astérides à la Générale © Cédric Schönwald

Le bricolage fantasque de Yannick Papailhau s’élance dans la « conquête des arts plastiques de l’espace » avec des sculptures-catapultes dont l’ambition cosmique est contrariée par un bric-à-brac laissant apparentes les connexions aux circuits électriques terrestres, les ficelles d’un système chaotique. Les dessins « techniques » et surtout, les récits qui accompagnent ses projets, irriguent ses œuvres d’un nerf romantique, n’ayant pas peur des expéditions avortées, des explosions au vol, des épopées dérisoires, des mécanismes en boucle.

Sarah Tritz, vue générale de l'exposition à la Galerie de la Friche la Belle de Mai, Marseille, 2007 © Jean-Christophe Lett, courtesy Astérides

Les « meubles » et sculptures rocailleuses de Sarah Tritz, à la brutalité précieuse, cultivent une attirance par les déchets du formalisme : le lyrique, le décoratif, l’investissement affectif des matériaux. L’ensemble est néanmoins exposé au milieu d’un paysage bombardé, avec la beauté abstraite des ruines.

Emilie Perotto, Black sculpture, 2007 (bois aggloméré, mélaminé, 115 x 39 x 39 cm)

Tandis que maitrise formelle des sculptures d’Emilie Perotto ne s’oppose pas au désordre méticuleux de ses compositions, ni le «fait main» au design, dans un montage disruptif qui fait l’abstraction rentrer en collision avec des figures sculptées proches de l’image.
L’un des traits d’une certaine sculpture contemporaine consiste à composer par assemblage de matériaux, moins pour ses « qualités » esthétiques que par une lecture de leurs usages dans un champ élargi de la culture visuelle, allant du design industriel à l’architecture, des fluo kids aux fétichistes du cuir. Ce potentiel d’évocation des matériaux et des formes joue de notre capacité à exercer l’œil dans un environnement culturel forcément impur, complexe et luxueusement incohérent.

Yann Gerstberger et Sandro Della Noce, mister helicopter mathematic and the cheap & cheap three free freaky fruits, (détail) 2007. courtesy galerie Histoire de l'Oeil

Des plus jeunes artistes comme Sandro Della Noce ou Yann Gerstberger y naviguent avec l’aisance donnée par l’accès à des bibliothèques entières à la portée d’un click. La gourmandise formelle de leurs sculptures semble vouloir donner un coup fatal au programme de l’abstraction « autonome » : est-il encore possible de parler d’abstraction quand, aujourd’hui, tout signe visuel semble rentrer immédiatement dans une chaîne de significations ?

Julien Tiberi, Le Panthéon, 2008 (dessin mine de plomb, 50x70 cm)

La citation, le sampling formel, la référentialité, s’affranchissent de l’histoire de l’art pour investir d’autres matériaux culturels. Julien Tiberi peut emprunter le trait d’auteurs issus d’une histoire souterraine du dessin (des BD porno des années 30 ou des journaux illustrés du début du XX siècle), il les réinscrit dans un contexte actuel où cohabitent des systèmes de communication à plusieurs vitesses (le fax et la photocopie, la poste et internet).

Marion Mahu, The Flying Dutchman, 2007 (vidéo)

Si Marion Mahu redessine au mur une illustration de l’encyclopédie de Diderot, représentant l’invention d’une lampe à photons et la transforme ensuite en aspirateur de lumière, c’est pour mieux renverser l’idéologie du progrès issue des Lumières, tandis que les « effets spéciaux » d’une tornade maritime presque irréelle, sont accompagnés d’un lointain bruissement aux échos de sirène (en fait, il s’agit du grésillement d’un opéra, premier enregistrement sonore connu, réalisé par Edison sur cylindre en paraffine).

Anthony Duchêne, Why do things get in Phishing ?, 2008 (vitrine d'appeaux, cire caoutchouc, aluminium, verre, bois, 110 x 90 x 40 cm)
Photo: Jean-Christophe Lett, courtesy: Galerie Bonneau-Samames

Anthony Duchêne s’intéresse au potentiel sémantique du son, en transférant ses codes et modalités de fonctionnement dans d’autres systèmes de connaissance, qu’il s’agisse du monde sous-marin, d’instruments de mesure de séismes ou de l’étude de l’oreille interne. Les circuits d’information visuelle et sonore sont interceptés, sans qu’il soit possible de discerner l’exactitude de ses schémas à l’apparence scientifique, surtout lorsque son travail exploite souvent la figure du leurre sonore (appeaux, piratage des lignes téléphoniques).

Cet intérêt pour la science et l’histoire des technologies est souvent indissociable, dans leurs recherches, des représentations dérivées dans la musique, le cinéma ou la littérature de « genre », comme la science-fiction. Cependant, il s’agit moins d’un rapport à l’idée d’ « utopie » comme projection irréalisable (ce qui correspond aussi à une certaine lecture idéologique du mot) que de son potentiel à agir sur le réel par le biais des représentations fictionnelles. Pour ces artistes, la fiction participe à l’invention du réel.

Alexandra Pellissier, sans titre, 2006 (crayon sur papier, 108 x 80 cm), courtesy: Galerie Bonneau-Samames

Les dessins d’Alessandra Pellisier reprennent un mode «hyperréaliste » qui déstabilise le regard en quête d’échelle ou de mimétisme documentaire. Des énormes machines industrielles de l’époque soviétique sont posées comme des monuments oubliés au milieu d’un parc : à travers le motif de la ruine, l’artiste semble vouloir examiner les fictions du présent à la lumière des utopies passées.

Le politique n’est évidemment pas une réserve à l’extérieur de l’art, un « sujet » à traiter parmi d’autres, il dynamise et traverse l’ensemble des choix artistiques. Quelquefois, certains projets peuvent emprunter à sa dimension la plus explicite, associée aux modalités d’action collective.

Colin Champsaur, Monument, mai 2007 (vidéo)

Dans le cas de Colin Champsaur, manifester est un acte solitaire mais persistant : posée sur un transporteur, une étrange machine noire, encombrée d'appareils à l’apparence inutile, s’entête à émettre une version électronique de L’Internationale, toute en produisant un faisceau de lumière défaillant. Y-a-t’il un projet derrière ce sound-system, à la fois enfermé dans une boucle autiste et joyeusement décidé à continuer de fredonner son combat au détour d’une rue ? Monument a la beauté triste d’une solitude partagée, semblant faire écho à des voix dissidentes de la pensée contemporaine, tels Slavoj Zizek ou Alain Badiou, qui persistent à enquêter sur le potentiel d'action politique et esthétique de la modernité.

Mathieu Abonnenc, Le Monde Connu, 2008 (vue de l’exposition à la Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot)

Dans ses dessins tirés d’illustrations de missions coloniales du XIXe siècle, parsemés d’espaces vides, d’oublis, Matthieu K. Abonnenc semble intégrer l’apport des études post-coloniales, d’Edouard Glissant à Stuart Hall, pour explorer les rapports entre mémoire et représentations, signalant l’artifice d’une Histoire commune.

Olivier Bedu, Le Cabanon vertical (Ste Marthe, Marseille, 2002)

Olivier Bedu et sa plateforme d’action collective, le Cabanon Vertical, envisage l’architecture comme un territoire expérimental qu’il s’emploie à ouvrir aux usages, voire à l’appropriation, à partir des notions d’auto-construction et d’architecture autogéré (impliquée dans l’idée même de cabanon) ou en s’inscrivant très spécifiquement dans les contextes dans lesquels il expose (ou qu’il expose), comme c’était le cas de sa fausse agence immobilière à proximité des travaux de « rénovation » urbaine.

Rémi Bragard, midi dix, 2008 (parapluies, tubes cuivres, aluminium miro-silver)

Dans le travail de Rémi Bragard, le principe de construction, souvent à caractère éphémère, participe d’une idée de la sculpture plus liée au dispositif qu’au volume, modélisant le réel à la façon d’un jeu meccano. L’intérêt qu’il porte aux mécanismes techniques d’activation de ses œuvres est en contre-champ d’une économie radicale de moyens, vouant ses sculptures à la disparition progressive ou à l’explosion. A rebours de la métaphore, le pouvoir de signification de ses œuvres réside dans la littéralité de leur activation.

Marie Grégoire, Campanile, 2008

Les sculptures de Marie Grégoire, dont l’échelle imposante semble induire une distance froide, se trouvent paradoxalement chargées d’un défi très personnel, cherchant à démolir le stéréotype d’une sculpture de « genre », où les femmes seraient vouées aux matières souples plutôt qu’à l’acier ou à la charpenterie. S’intéressant de près à ces derniers métiers, à la construction navale, aux modèles de construction géodésique de Buckminster Fuller, ainsi qu’à l’art minimal, elle introduit une déstabilisation, quand ce n’est pas le désastre, dans l’ordre équilibré et rationnel de constructions évoquant l’optimisme technologique des expositions universelles.

Cette quête de ses propres limites, qui peut aussi se traduire dans un désir de désapprendre des gestes conditionnés, laisse percevoir une position romantique, qui semble avoir résistée à toutes les entreprises de déconstruction modernes. Dès le début de cette démolition, ses opposants les plus virulents, les guerriers du lyrisme, se trouvaient du coté de la peinture, donnée un temps pour morte. Si cette logique bipolaire continue quelquefois à faire office d’enjeu artistique, certains peintres se refusent alors à placer leurs tableaux en victimes.

Christophe Boursault, Pattern Painter (installation à la galerie Porte Avion, 2008)

Christophe Boursault joue de cette position jusqu’au burlesque (ou l’idiotie, dans la lecture qui fait Jean-Yves Jouannais du philosophe Clément Rosset), se mettant en scène dans le rôle du peintre qui ne s’interdit rien, ni viscéralité ni lyrisme. Le coté pulsionnel, expressionniste, « intuitif », de sa peinture déborde en permanence dans un excès autant régressif que lucide face à cette posture surjouée, ce qui ne semble pas contradictoire avec le fait de la vivre.

Bärd Kristiansen, Sans titre, pastels sur papier, 51x65 cm, 2006

Bard Kristiansen cherche à dépasser la relecture post-moderne des genres académiques de la peinture (paysage, nature morte, abstraction) en l’investissant d’un pouvoir à interroger les critères instituées par chaque époque dans la détermination de la notion de gout. Refusant le principe de série ou de cohérence, il est une exposition collective à lui-même. Et il assume le poids excessif de la culture picturale comme un terrain privilégié de la négativité, usant de la capacité de la peinture à douter d’elle-même, jusqu’à se faire violence.

Dans le paysage que j’ai essayé d’esquisser ici, sans aucune distance, comme cela se doit, faut-il encore intégrer l’ensemble de ses positions à un contexte précis, disons historique, où des pratiques un temps négligés renversent aussitôt des choix artistiques dominants, à l’intérieur d’un terrain de jeu où chacun joue à être minoritaire. Entre les dispositifs éphémères refusant la production d’objets et la sculpture d’assemblage, l’ironie et le romantisme, il y a des tensions mouvantes. Le risque, s’il y en a un, serait que le changement de paradigmes artistiques puisse étrangement ressembler au lien indiscernable qui s’établit entre l’histoire sociale et la mode.

Pedro Morais, texte publié dans revue IF, septembre 2008