Category Archives: Art

Book review: Delirium and Resistance. Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism

Delirium and Resistance. Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism, by artist, critic and curator Gregory Scholette. With an introduction by Kim Charnley and foreword by Lucy R. Lippard.

On amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Pluto Press and distributor University of Chicago Press write: In the aftermath of the 2016 US election, Brexit, and a global upsurge of nationalist populism, it is evident that the delirium and the crisis of neoliberal capitalism is now the delirium and crisis of liberal democracy and its culture. And though capitalist crisis does not begin within art, art can reflect and amplify its effects to positive and negative ends.

In this follow-up to his influential 2010 book, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, Sholette engages in critical dialogue with artists’ collectives, counter-institutions, and activist groups to offer an insightful firsthand account of the relationship between politics and art in neoliberal society. Sholette lays out clear examples of art’s deep involvement in capitalism: the dizzying prices achieved by artists who pander to the financial elite, the proliferation of museums that contribute to global competition between cities in order to attract capital, and the strange relationship between art and rampant gentrification that restructures the urban landscape.


Art Workers Coalition, circa 1971. Photo: Mehdi Khonsari

Art claims to be critical, free, idealistic and autonomous. Yet, its role in neoliberal capitalism is so obvious that many see in the art world the primary symptom of the 1% economy.

How do you reconcile the fight for social justice and democratic values with ‘trophy’ museums, inflated art market prices, aggressive gentrification, culture of the spectacle, un-remunerated cultural labor and other signs of allegiance to capitalistic models of maximum growth? Is it even possible? And how do you ensure that the most socially-engaged forms of culture don’t end up being assimilated by the art establishment?


The Illuminator and Global Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF) confronts the Guggenheim’s planned future museum in the autocratic kingdom of Abu Dhabi, UAE, where migrant labour exploitation has been condemned by human rights groups. Photo via Pluto Press

In this book, Gregory Scholette analyzes the complicity between the cultural sector and neoliberal capitalism and explores the active role that some artists take in confronting corrupt social, political and economic realities.

The essays had me hovering between despair and hope. One the one hand, there’s our merciless climate of rabid realtors, police brutality, white supremacy, theft of the commons and other social abuses. On the other, the inspiration that the author draws from oppositional responses that blend art and civic action (Liberate Tate, Decolonize This Place, 1990’s tactical media, among many) prove that now is not the time to surrender.


As the collective BFAMFAPhD note in their report, Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists, the high fees students pay to graduate with arts degrees are often matched with incredibly low prospects for earning a living as artists

BFAMFAPhD, Artists Report Back, Animated, 2014

There are 3 sections in the book: Art World examines the tensions between the art market and the invisible army of struggling cultural producers. Cities Without Souls covers the cities where gentrification and other forms of urban capitalism run amok. Resistance discusses how truly subversive art can disentangle itself from capitalism and avoid serving the interests of the ever-adapting consumer culture.

Delirium and Resistance. Activist Art and the Crisis of Capitalism is almost exclusively focused on the U.S.A. but most of the themes explored in the essays will resonate with readers from other parts of the world. In particular the way major art events, galleries and museums exploit the pool of precarious workers and artists ready to work in exchange for ‘exposure’. Or the responsibility and failures of art education. Or the lack of demographic diversity, especially at its highest levels of institutional governance. Or that abomination called artwashing. No matter where you live today, Scholette’s plea for a more engaged level of artistic intervention feels more urgent than ever.

Previously: Book review: The Gulf. High Culture/Hard Labor.

How To Live Together. Part 2: the good news


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Outside Arabeska wedding hall), 2014

Since last week’s review about the exhibition How To Live Together at Kunsthalle Wien was all doom and gloom, i had to come back with another post and a more encouraging viewpoint.

This time i will thus focus on the artworks that show what makes coexistence possible in times of rapid societal changes, growing economic inequality, forced migrations and a widespread loss of trust in politics.

Intuitively, we already know that the key to more unified societies lies in a mix of resistance, remembrance, borrowing from other cultures, dreams and empathy. Many of the artists in the show illustrate what happens when these abstract notions are turned into real life stories:


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Laili wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Niagara wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Evropa wedding hall), 2014


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, Makhachkala, 14.09.2014

Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, Russia. Dagestan is famous for its dozens of ethnic groups, none of them forming a majority. Which explains why the country has 13 official languages.

Dagestani weddings are as serious as they are expensive and i’m glad no one has ever invited me to one because traditional celebrations can last for 3 days. Makhachkala counts more than 60 wedding halls. Each of them booked out during peak season (late spring to early autumn.)

With the complicity of local wedding photographer Shamil Gadzhidadaev, Taus Makhacheva spent a whole day crashing as many weddings as possible. At the end of the day, she managed to attend 19 marriage celebrations.

The performance was documented in postcards (each of them available for Kunsthalle Wien visitors to take away.) You see her adopting all the clichéd poses: congratulating the newlyweds, dancing, eating among the other guests, standing proudly next to the wedding gifts, etc. She’s the perfect uninvited guest!

Because of the coexistence of so many cultures into one city, the images of the festivities show a fabulous mix of brides wearing a hijab and a Western ‘princess’ dress, female guests whose style icons are clearly one or all the Kardashian sisters, people taking photos using an iPad, ladies in very conservative outfits, etc. Somehow this blend of oriental/occidental, pop/traditional attires works fabulously and suggests a society that is borrowing from several cultures in order to define its own identity.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Willem de Rooij, Bouquet V, 2010

Bouquet V is made of ninety-five species of fresh flowers. The arrangement gives equal importance and visibility to each flower, no mater its colour, size, or provenance. The bouquet symbolises the beauty of diversity, the appeal of mixing individuals of various origins to obtain a stunning foral composition. The same logic should apply to society. Yet, celebration of diversity is still undervalued in many parts of the world. Unless you live in Dagestan of course.

Willen de Rooij‘s floral compositions are also a reference to the Netherlands’ role as a key hub in the international flower trade.


Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (video still), 2010

Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (extract), 2010

The latest Mercer Cost of Living Survey calculated that Angola’s capital Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats. While living costs for foreigners who often work for the oil industry are slightly higher than New York and San Francisco, the average wage for the local population in Angola is just under $2 a day.

The most moving work in the show is a video by Binelde Hyrcan. The film shows four little boys playing on the beach in Angola. Sitting in the sand, they pretend they are driving around the world in a limousine. In only 2 min 30, the children’s playful chitchat reveals an existence plagued by social inequalities, poverty and families split by migration. “I’m going to America and live in a building; you’re going to stay here and live in a shantytown!”

But the film also talks of hope and dreams as a way to escape the trauma of social suffering.


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016

Kader Attia is also interested in exploring trauma and social anxieties. He believes that the world, too focused on the present to remember the past, is suffering from amnesia.

His film essay Reflecting Memory deals with the idea of trauma and “reparation”. Surgeons, historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts and traumatised people discuss the phenomenon of phantom pain, which amputees feel for their missing body part. The video draws parallels between this neurological condition and the trauma caused by psychological wounds, such as those brought about by war, slavery, colonialism, genocide and terror. They can spread over several generations as an unexpressed sensation of pain. This pain can in turn divide communities and create social tensions.

According to the interviewees, a confrontation with the past and an acceptance that it is part of our genealogy are necessary steps towards “repairing” the pain.

Attia’s film is shown in the screening room next to the space occupied by Sven Augustijnen’s Le Réduit which explores an episode in Belgium’s ruthless exploitation of Congo (i mentioned the work in my previous story). Congo, now The Democratic Republic of the Congo, typifies the fate of an ex-European colony which has experienced much trauma but has never been offered any healing experience.


Johan Grimonprez, Kiss-o-drome (fragment from Shadow World, story written and read by Eduardo Galeano), 2016

In 1980, Judge Manuel Morales ruled that ‘the cinemateographic kiss, in which salivas mix to simply swell the sensuality’ should be banned from the city of Sorocaba in Brazil.

In reaction to the ludicrous edict, almost 2,000 young people marched through the streets and organized a huge ‘kiss-in’ protest. “Never had people kissed so much,” writes in his book Eduardo Galeano in Children of the Days.

Johan Grimonprez‘s short video celebrates the protest with images of a dancing couple and the voice of Eduardo Galeano narrating the Kiss-o-drome demonstration.


Herlinde Koelbl, Italy Catania-Messina (from the series: Refugees), 2016

Herlinde Koelbl’s Refugees photo series highlights under-represented aspects of the life of refugees after they’ve arrived in Europe: their days inside the camps, the most treasured possessions they brought with them, etc. But also the generosity they encounter in the countries of arrival.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Ieva Epnere, Riga Circus, 2004–08/2017


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Armin Linke, CNR, National Research Council, Fermi conference hall, on the wall the Globe made by Fra’ Mauro in 1460, 2007

How To Live Together also attempts to be more than yet another art exhibition for the usual cultural aficionados. The curators set up a “Community College” offering workshops, tours, brunches, courses and lectures until the end of the show. You can find the programme inside the exhibition booklet.

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Previously: How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news.

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

How To Live Together. Part 2: the good news


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Outside Arabeska wedding hall), 2014

Since last week’s review about the exhibition How To Live Together at Kunsthalle Wien was all doom and gloom, i had to come back with another post and a more encouraging viewpoint.

This time i will thus focus on the artworks that show what makes coexistence possible in times of rapid societal changes, growing economic inequality, forced migrations and a widespread loss of trust in politics.

Intuitively, we already know that the key to more unified societies lies in a mix of resistance, remembrance, borrowing from other cultures, dreams and empathy. Many of the artists in the show illustrate what happens when these abstract notions are turned into real life stories:


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Laili wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Niagara wedding hall), 2014


Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day (Evropa wedding hall), 2014


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Taus Makhacheva, 19 a Day, Makhachkala, 14.09.2014

Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, Russia. Dagestan is famous for its dozens of ethnic groups, none of them forming a majority. Which explains why the country has 13 official languages.

Dagestani weddings are as serious as they are expensive and i’m glad no one has ever invited me to one because traditional celebrations can last for 3 days. Makhachkala counts more than 60 wedding halls. Each of them booked out during peak season (late spring to early autumn.)

With the complicity of local wedding photographer Shamil Gadzhidadaev, Taus Makhacheva spent a whole day crashing as many weddings as possible. At the end of the day, she managed to attend 19 marriage celebrations.

The performance was documented in postcards (each of them available for Kunsthalle Wien visitors to take away.) You see her adopting all the clichéd poses: congratulating the newlyweds, dancing, eating among the other guests, standing proudly next to the wedding gifts, etc. She’s the perfect uninvited guest!

Because of the coexistence of so many cultures into one city, the images of the festivities show a fabulous mix of brides wearing a hijab and a Western ‘princess’ dress, female guests whose style icons are clearly one or all the Kardashian sisters, people taking photos using an iPad, ladies in very conservative outfits, etc. Somehow this blend of oriental/occidental, pop/traditional attires works fabulously and suggests a society that is borrowing from several cultures in order to define its own identity.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Willem de Rooij, Bouquet V, 2010

Bouquet V is made of ninety-five species of fresh flowers. The arrangement gives equal importance and visibility to each flower, no mater its colour, size, or provenance. The bouquet symbolises the beauty of diversity, the appeal of mixing individuals of various origins to obtain a stunning foral composition. The same logic should apply to society. Yet, celebration of diversity is still undervalued in many parts of the world. Unless you live in Dagestan of course.

Willen de Rooij‘s floral compositions are also a reference to the Netherlands’ role as a key hub in the international flower trade.


Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (video still), 2010

Binelde Hyrcan, Cambeck (extract), 2010

The latest Mercer Cost of Living Survey calculated that Angola’s capital Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for expats. While living costs for foreigners who often work for the oil industry are slightly higher than New York and San Francisco, the average wage for the local population in Angola is just under $2 a day.

The most moving work in the show is a video by Binelde Hyrcan. The film shows four little boys playing on the beach in Angola. Sitting in the sand, they pretend they are driving around the world in a limousine. In only 2 min 30, the children’s playful chitchat reveals an existence plagued by social inequalities, poverty and families split by migration. “I’m going to America and live in a building; you’re going to stay here and live in a shantytown!”

But the film also talks of hope and dreams as a way to escape the trauma of social suffering.


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016


Kader Attia, Reflecting Memory (Video Still), 2016

Kader Attia is also interested in exploring trauma and social anxieties. He believes that the world, too focused on the present to remember the past, is suffering from amnesia.

His film essay Reflecting Memory deals with the idea of trauma and “reparation”. Surgeons, historians, philosophers, psychoanalysts and traumatised people discuss the phenomenon of phantom pain, which amputees feel for their missing body part. The video draws parallels between this neurological condition and the trauma caused by psychological wounds, such as those brought about by war, slavery, colonialism, genocide and terror. They can spread over several generations as an unexpressed sensation of pain. This pain can in turn divide communities and create social tensions.

According to the interviewees, a confrontation with the past and an acceptance that it is part of our genealogy are necessary steps towards “repairing” the pain.

Attia’s film is shown in the screening room next to the space occupied by Sven Augustijnen’s Le Réduit which explores an episode in Belgium’s ruthless exploitation of Congo (i mentioned the work in my previous story). Congo, now The Democratic Republic of the Congo, typifies the fate of an ex-European colony which has experienced much trauma but has never been offered any healing experience.


Johan Grimonprez, Kiss-o-drome (fragment from Shadow World, story written and read by Eduardo Galeano), 2016

In 1980, Judge Manuel Morales ruled that ‘the cinemateographic kiss, in which salivas mix to simply swell the sensuality’ should be banned from the city of Sorocaba in Brazil.

In reaction to the ludicrous edict, almost 2,000 young people marched through the streets and organized a huge ‘kiss-in’ protest. “Never had people kissed so much,” writes in his book Eduardo Galeano in Children of the Days.

Johan Grimonprez‘s short video celebrates the protest with images of a dancing couple and the voice of Eduardo Galeano narrating the Kiss-o-drome demonstration.


Herlinde Koelbl, Italy Catania-Messina (from the series: Refugees), 2016

Herlinde Koelbl’s Refugees photo series highlights under-represented aspects of the life of refugees after they’ve arrived in Europe: their days inside the camps, the most treasured possessions they brought with them, etc. But also the generosity they encounter in the countries of arrival.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Wolfgang Tillmans, Anti-Brexit Campaign, 2016


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Ieva Epnere, Riga Circus, 2004–08/2017


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust: Armin Linke, CNR, National Research Council, Fermi conference hall, on the wall the Globe made by Fra’ Mauro in 1460, 2007

How To Live Together also attempts to be more than yet another art exhibition for the usual cultural aficionados. The curators set up a “Community College” offering workshops, tours, brunches, courses and lectures until the end of the show. You can find the programme inside the exhibition booklet.

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Previously: How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news.

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

How To Live Together. Part 1: the bad news

How To Live Together, an exhibition currently on view at Kunsthalle Wien, aims to looks that the conditions and prospects of living together in terms of individual and social dimensions.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Stephan Wyckoff: Goshka Macuga, To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll, 2016


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8

This is a brave, laudable and rather ambitious objective at a time characterized by tightening borders, stigmatizing discourses, political debates inside filter bubbles, and other suggestions that the world is not only melting under our feet but also intent on cultivating divisions.

The exhibition is located over two floors. It is huge and it can feel as overwhelming as the theme it purports to explore: Tina Barney’s photos of the European one per cent are hung in uncomfortable proximity of the ones Mohamed Bourouissa made of the deserted youth in the Paris suburbs; Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij‘s videos of drug addicts trying to stare at the camera in exchange for a beer make for an almost unbearable watch and Paul Graham‘s photos of everyday life at the (un)employment offices in the 1980s are too close to home 30 years later.

Fortunately, the curators of How To Live Together didn’t just summon grim visions, they also searched for glimpses of hope, signs of change, and lessons from other cultures. Wolfgang Tillmans’ poignant Anti-Brexit campaign reminds us why artists need to take an active role in civil society; Ayzit Bostan‘s Imagine Peace written in arabic on t-shirts challenges society’s prejudices; Johan Grimonprez‘s Kiss-o-drome illustrates how humour and love can challenge censorship. Speaking of humour… the main image of the exhibition with its Merkel diamond gesture is an amusing echo to Herlinde Koelbl‘s portraits of Angela Merkel over decades. Those portraits were probably the most scrutinised works in the whole Kunsthalle, by the way.


Herlinde Koelbl, Angela Merkel, 1991–2006, from the cycle: Spuren der Macht (Traces of Power) at Kunsthalle Wien

Because it’s almost 40 degrees this week in Turin and i’m in a murderous mood, i’m going to split my review of the show into two parts. Today, you get the depressing bits and as soon as temperatures have cooled off a little, i’ll be back with the works that speak of solidarity, optimism and compassion.

It’s not all bad though because 1. i loved that show so much i visited it twice and 2. i’m going to open the quick gallery tour with one of my favourite artists:


Mohamed Bourouissa, Carré rouge (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Mohamed Bourouissa, La République (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Mohamed Bourouissa, Le miroir (from the series Périphérique), 2005


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust

“I wanted to represent the guys from the banlieues, who are generally only portrayed by news reporters, and to lift this type of imagery into the field of aesthetics,” explained Mohamed Bourouissa in an interview with Elephant.

Made in 2005, in the context of the riots in the French banlieues, the series has as its main protagonists the young Africans and Arabs living in the suburbs of Paris.

Because we are used to seeing them portrayed by news reporters, most of us would probably take our cue from their outfits and surrounding and automatically assume that we are looking at scenes of trouble. But Bourouissa’s photos are carefully staged and lit as if they were tableaux vivants. The subtle aesthetics strategy challenges our own prejudices as well as the over-simplification of photojournalism that often fails to convey more complex socio-political contexts. His photos also seems to invite us to face uncomfortable issues head on.


Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012–2013


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012–2013

L’Utopie d’August Sander, another Bourouissa work in the show, refers to August Sander‘s magnum opus Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts (People of the 20th Century, also on view at Kunsthalle Wien.) This photographic atlas was intended to be a “contemporary portrait of the German man”.


August Sander, Jobless, 1928/1993

Sander’s portraits were grouped into seven portfolios, each dedicated to a specific social and occupational group. He portrayed craftsmen, industrialists, farmers but also elements of German society that were regarded as less ‘respectable’: traveling people, beggars, the disabled, the unemployed. Their inclusion in the work is probably what raised the ire of the Nazi who, in 1936, confiscated the first published version of the project and destroyed all the printing plates.

Bourouissa’s work limits his portrayal of society to the unemployed but he anchors it into the 21st century by using 3D printing. His studio was located inside a “fab-lab mobile”. He parked his truck outside a Pôle emploi (French national unemployment agency) in Marseille and asked people in search of work if he could 3D scan them and turn them into figurines, which some likened to the santon tradition in the South East of France.

By being at the crossroads of integration and social exclusion, unemployment offices remind us how much we are defined by our social status. The polyester resin statuettes are anti-monuments to this uneasy position. The figurines respect the anonymity of the job-seeker but because they are different from each other, they also mirror the singular identities of the people who aspire to play the role that modern society expects from them.


Mohamed Bourouissa, L’Utopie d’August Sander, 2012. Image via exponaute

As a nod to the economy of precariousness and resourcefulness that surrounds unemployment, Bourouissa sold the statuettes on the street for 1 Euro.

For the artist, the work process was far more important than the statuettes. His documentation of the work includes a ‘livre des refus’ (book of refusals) in which he chronicles the reactions of people who said ‘no’ to his requests and accused him of using his artistic privileges to exploit people.


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8


Paul Graham, Beyond Caring (Waiting room, Highgate DHSS, North London), 1984/8


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Paul Graham, Beyond Caring, 1984/8

In 1984, Paul Graham was commissioned to present his view of “Britain in 1984”. He chose to document the inside of English unemployment offices which, at the time, struggled to accommodate 10 million people out of work. Graham wasn’t allowed to take these images, meaning that he had to hide his camera under his coat or put it on the chair beside him. He thus had to shoot instinctively, often unable to look through the viewfinder. Yet, the images seem imbued with empathy.

The images of people sitting dejectedly in run-down waiting rooms under hostile neon lights attest to the breakdown of the welfare benefits system across the country. The series also holds a bitter mirror to contemporary economic systems that cultivate social inequality and political discourses that blame the poor for their own circumstances.

Over time the work acquired “this strange double life: as both a political work of social reportage handed out at lefty political conferences, and as a fine art photography book”.


Aslan Gaisumov, stills from the video People of No Consequence, Chechnya, 2016


Aslan Gaisumov, stills from the video People of No Consequence, Chechnya, 2016


Aslan Gaisumov, Production photo for People of No Consequence, 2016

From 23 February to 9 March 1944 the entire Chechen and Ingush nations, about half a million people, were deported to Central Asia by the Soviet authorities. They had been declared guilty of cooperation with Nazi occupants. Almost half of all Chechens died or were killed during the round-ups and transportation, and during their early years in exile.

The expulsion was part of a forced settlement program and population transfer that affected several million members of non-Russian Soviet ethnic minorities between the 1930s and the 1950s.

Survivors were allowed to return to their native land only in 1957. Many in Chechnya and Ingushetia classify it as an act of genocide, as did the European Parliament in 2004.

Aslan Gaisumov traveled across Chechnya searching for survivors of the deportation. He managed to gather 119 of them in Grozny. 60 years after they had lost their home. People of No Consequence is a quiet, hypnotizing single shot of these people entering an official looking room and sitting down facing the camera. First, the men. Then the women who go and sit at the back. On the wall at the back of the room, a poster depicts Grozny as a city that has erased all traces of recent wars in favour of pompous, alienating architecture. People of No Consequence is an incredibly moving work. The frail people in the film are the last witnesses of an injustice that hasn’t been given a place in official historical accounts.

Aslan Gaisumov had two video pieces in the shows. Both amazing in strength and simplicity. He approaches the darkest and understudied pages in the history of his country without sensationalism, bitterness nor unnecessary pathos.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit (Aerial views of Kamina Base), 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016


Sven Augustijnen, Le Réduit, 2016

Now for a bit of that famous Belgian surrealism:

While doing some research about Belgium’s colonial history in the Congo (now DRC), Sven Augustijnen found out that, during the 1950s, his country had planned to build a huge refuge for the Belgian elite in Kamina, located in the rich mining region of Katanga in what was then the Belgian Congo.

Augustijnen analysed the thousands of photos, negatives, carbon copies, maps and architectural plans he had discovered at Belgium’s Centre de Documentation historique des Forces armées. They had never been studied before.

The documents show that the Belgian government had planned to create a huge military base and a haven for the royal family and their entourage. The exclusive hideaway would have served as a second Belgian capital and refuge in case of a communist invasion in Europe. Which is pretty ironic when you think that many of these people were happy to exploit the African territory from a distance but had probably never set a foot on it.

Using the archival materials as well as a short trip he made to Kamina last year, the artist wrote a story that balances historical facts and fiction to explain the Belgian government’s absurd and ambitious secret plan.


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust. Jeremy Shaw, Quickeners, 2014

That’s it for today! I’ll see you at the other end of the heat wave!


Installation view: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Photo: Jorit Aust

If you want to know more about the show, have a look at HTLT’s playlist or download the PDF of the exhibition booklet.

How To Live Together is at Kunsthalle Wien until 15 October 2017. The show was curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen, with curatorial assistant Juliane Bischoff

Also on view at Kunsthalle Wien (Karlsplatz location): Work it, Feel it! New mechanisms of body discipline.

The scars left by electronic culture on indigenous lands


Linda Persson, It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag for Momentum9


Lightning Ridge mine. Photo courtesy of Linda Persson

The latest edition of the MOMENTUM, the Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art explores the increasing unease and sense of alienation we feel when confronted with a world increasingly governed by technological, ecological and social shifts. I’ve already reviewed the event in previous stories but today i’d like to take a closer look at Linda Persson‘s contribution to the biennial because it uses several lenses and strategies to investigate aspects of our electronic culture that often remain under-scrutinized.

Informed by several years of research in the Australian outback desert, It Was Like Experiencing a Fold in Time, She Said bridges the gap between, on the one hand, the landscapes, mythologies and life of outback and aboriginal communities and on the other hand, the brutal origins of our technological ‘progress.’ The work highlights how alienated we are from the geological physicality of our so-called immaterial digital technology. Many of us might not realize it but there would be no IT, no ‘green’ energy without rare earths, iron ore, cobalt and other minerals that are dug out of the ground at huge costs for the environment and local communities.


Linda working in Queenstown, Tasmania. Photo : Liam Sprod, courtesy of Linda Persson


Helicopter mine survey, Goldfields, Western Australia. Photo courtesy of Linda Persson

Over the course of her research across ghost towns, open mining sites and discussions with local communities, Persson has been uncovering the toxic traces left by the mining industry on indigenous lands and human lives. Some of these traces are palpable and highly visible. Others are far more insidious and concealed.


Linda Persson, It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag for Momentum9


Linda Persson, It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag for Momentum9

Burkholderia pseudomallei is of the insidious kind. When in contact with humans and animal through air or skin wounds, this microscopic bacterium can cause a deadly disease called Melioidosis that eats into the brain and spinal cord in a matter of days. The bacterium normally lives into the soil and its emergence is one of the unintended consequences of the increase in mining, oil and gas extraction in Australia.

Over the past few years, the country has seen a surge in the number of Melioidosis cases and the disease is expected to spread south with climate change.

Persson managed to render visible the presence of the microscopic bacteria in the most poetical and visually seducing way. She magnified them as beautiful organic patterns fossilized inside hand-blown glass sculptures.


Linda Persson, It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag for Momentum9

Another chapter in Persson’s exhibition at Momentum 9 is And Then We Ran Away, a video work that weaves together interviews with Aboriginal women talking about their many languages and culture, images of fauna and flora as well as helicopter rides over the scars that mining activities leave on the landscape. The film quietly conveys how indigenous land is heavily exploited for the raw materials that power the technology we use on a daily basis. Aboriginal peoples, hit by the industry while being often excluded from it, have a deep connection to their ancestral land. The loss, profiteering and poisoning of the territory has thus a devastating social and physical impact on them.


Opalised fossil. Photo courtesy of the artist


Linda Persson, It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, 2017. Photo : Liam Sprod, courtesy of Linda Persson<


Linda Persson, It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag for Momentum9

The final work in the show is SiO2.nH2O, a video installation that unfolds the various time frames of our mineral-mediated culture. SiO2.nH2O is the chemical formula of opal, the national gemstone of Australia. And the .n stands for the water molecules enclosed into tiny voids within the silicon structure, suggesting a dormant life inside the mineraloid.

SiO2.nH2O takes advantage of the internal structure of opal which is able to diffract light: Found 23-40 metres underground, surrounded by thousands of years in sandstone and clay, the opal acts as a time machine producing a light show that makes deep time visible here in the present. It portrays the potential of life, encapsulated dormant inside, ready to awaken in a future that the human species might never get to experience.

The ability of opal to act as a time travel agent doesn’t end there. It turns out that opal miners in Lightning Ridge, one of the towns in New South Wales where Persson worked on her research, have been digging up dinosaur fossils for years. Even more interestingly, the remains of the prehistoric reptiles are preserved as opal.

It Was Like Experiencing a Fold in Time, She Said is framed by an artificial landscape. The red sand used in the exhibition doesn’t come from the Australian outbacks, it simply imitates its colour of the burnt out desert area. As for the kaleidoscopic collages printed on the panels, they give a vertiginous top-down overview of the landscape around the mines, wounded by extraction processes.


Dead snake in Goldfields. Photo courtesy of Linda Persson


Old mining community, Goldfields. Photo courtesy of Linda Persson


Linda Person exploring the landscape. Photo courtesy of Linda Persson


Photo courtesy of Linda Persson


Linda Persson, It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag for Momentum9

Momentum 9, The Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art curated by Ulrika Flink, Ilari Laamanen, Jacob Lillemose, Gunhild Moe and Jón B.K Ransu remains open in various location in Moss, Norway, until 11 October 2017.

Previously: MOMENTUM9 – “Alienation is our contemporary condition”, MOMENTUM9. Maybe none of this is science fiction, The Museum of NonHumanity and MOMENTUM 9: A case for user-alienating design.

MOMENTUM9. Maybe none of this is science fiction

Previously: MOMENTUM9 – “Alienation is our contemporary condition”.


Trollkrem, Deep Down Below, 2017. Official opening of the exhibition. Photo by Ingeborg Øien Thorsland


Jone Kvie, Untitled (Carrier), 2006

Accelerated technological, ecological and social shifts have created a world we feel we can’t control nor even fully comprehend. This sense of estrangement seems to be inescapable, it is embedded into processes and entities that we encounter into most aspects of our everyday life. The latest edition of MOMENTUM, the Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art that opened a few days ago in Moss, explores this new sense of alienation and invites the visitors to look at it under a more receptive, even sympathetic gaze.

With alienation as its theme M9 will present diverse and conflicted ways of experiencing, explaining and imagining the world anew. Alienation represents a potential to expand the horizons of our current lives, to think and act progressively and usher in change. Thus M9 wants to welcome the alien, also the alien in us, without preconceptions of familiar and foreign. It wants to welcome the alien as a challenge to the present as well as a promise of better, extraordinary futures.

Several of the most interesting works are based on extensive research so each of them will get its full post and interview in the coming days.

Today, i’m going to mention a series of artworks that propel us into a decidedly parallel universe. A universe characterized by biological organisms that bypass human interventions and form new alliances with synthetic trash, by desks that perform obscure tasks, or by ancient civilizations that speak to us across time. Some of these works will remain science-fiction. Others, however, might not.

John Duncan, The Nazca Transmissions #2, 2005

“On Christmas Eve, 2004, John Duncan received a mysterious email from an archaeologist working at the site of the Nazca Lines in Peru. He claimed to have discovered, and over time recorded, a variety of sounds actually generated by the enigmatic lines themselves.” The enigmatic archaeologist, who called himself Anton Düder, asked Duncan if he’d be interested to use the files to compose new sound works.

Duncan created a 5-track piece with the material and sent it to the mysterious archaeologist. He never heard back from him. The musician claims that a hard disk crash erased all trace of the email correspondence between them.

The artist’s composition is broadcast inside an old museum theater in downtown Moss. It’s an uncanny experience. I doubt anyone believes Duncan’s story but what is certain is that the tracks are eerie, they left me slightly on edge, distressed and unsure the sounds were not playing with my brain. Which is a bit upsetting but also a sure sign that the artist has found his own way to translate the mystery of the ancient geoglyphs into equally perplexing auditory effects.


Pinar Yoldas, Ecosystem of Excess, 2017. Photo By Istvan Virag


Pinar Yoldas, Ecosystem of Excess, 2017. Photo By Istvan Virag

We are drowning in plastic. I read yesterday that the amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity. Today there isn’t a single cubic meter of sea water that is free of plastic particles. The situation is particularly dramatic in the central North Pacific Ocean where the famous Trash Vortex has been accumulating an obscene mass of plastic pollution as big as Texas since the 1980s. Pinar Yoldas, however, sees a possible redemption for this plastic garbage.

The project she exhibits at MOMENTUM, Ecosystem of Excess, explores the life forms, part organic-part synthetic, that might evolve from this dispiriting plastic monstrosity. The seeds have already been planted: plastic in the ocean is already decomposing into tiny pieces (the so-called mermaid tears) and sea creature eat it instead of plankton; or else it’s the algae on drifting plastic waste that gives off a sulfur compound which smells similar to the krill many marine birds feed on, etc.

Taking her cue from a species of bacteria that eats PET, Yoldas imagines that one day, however, other living things will be able to metabolize and thrive on plastic, forming a post-human ecosystem that merges nature and culture.

An Ecosystem of Excess is born at the intersection of ecological and feminist thinking; hence it negates the utilitarian, anthropomorphic approach which disregards the intrinsic value of any life forms regardless of its use value to human subjects. Therefore an ‘Umwelt’ for every single organism in the ecosystem is generated as a first step to the speculative design process.

For more details about the work, have a look at the video of the talk she gave about the work at Aksioma back in 2014.


H.R. GIGER, Chair for Giger Bar Tokyo, 1991-96. Photo by Istvan Virag. Courtesy H.R. Giger Estate


H.R. GIGER, Harkonnen-Capo chair, 1983. Photo by Istvan Virag. Courtesy H.R. Giger Estate


H.R. GIGER. Photo by Istvan Virag. Courtesy H.R. Giger Estate

The name of Hans Ruedi Giger will always be associated with one of movie history’s most iconic creatures, Alien but he also applied his ‘biomechanical’ Alien style to furniture and decorative objects.

One of the chairs exhibited at Momentum was originally intended as a Harkonnen throne for an abandoned Dune film project. Others came from a short-lived Giger bar that opened in Tokyo in the late 1980s.


Levi Van Veluw, Workspace II, 2016. Photo by Istvan Virag. Courtesy Galerie Ron Mandos


Levi Van Veluw, A Grid with Purpose, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag. Courtesy Galerie Ron Mandos


Levi Van Veluw, Workspace II, 2016. Photo by Istvan Virag. Courtesy Galerie Ron Mandos

I was much more attracted to Van Veluw’s vision of sci-fi furniture piece. His desk, however, is far from inviting. Angular, dark, full of geometrical little alcoves containing unknown minerals, it points to a future ruled by supreme bureaucracy, aloof, all-knowing and intractable.


Rana Hamadeh, The Big Board or ‘And Before It Falls It Is Only Reasonable To Enjoy Life A Little’, 2013. Photo by Istvan Virag


Rana Hamadeh, The Big Board or ‘And Before It Falls It Is Only Reasonable To Enjoy Life A Little’, 2013. Photo by Istvan Virag


Rana Hamadeh, The Big Board or ‘And Before It Falls It Is Only Reasonable To Enjoy Life A Little’, 2013. Photo by Istvan Virag

Rana Hamadeh‘s The Big Board evokes a war-room map, it weaves together uncanny figures such as Paulus Fürst’s 1656 engraving of Doctor Schnabel of Rome, tokens from far-flung places and stories of hygiene and quarantine. The work is part of Alien Encounters, a larger project that looks at the notion of ‘alienness’, where the alien is seen both as an extraterrestrial but also an outcast with regard to the law which leaves him or her at the mercy of state-sponsored forms of violence.


Patrick Jackson, Pig Paradise, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag


Patrick Jackson, Pig Paradise, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag


Patrick Jackson, Pig Paradise, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag


Patrick Jackson, Pig Paradise, 2017

Patrick Jackson photographed portions of 1 kilometer long mural surrounding the Farmer John’s Meat Packing Plant in Vernon, California. The work portrays happy pigs and humans frolicking gaily in the countryside.

The mural makes an appearance in Brian De Palma’s movie Carrie. Which is quite appropriate if you think that this is in fact a pork-processing plant and that the animals brought there don’t enjoy the cheerful fate of their painted cousins.

Gathered under the title Pig Paradise, shot in black and white and shown under the impassive light of a gallery space, Patrick Jackson’s photos are completely estranged from their original and distasteful context.

Can we fantasize a future in which people realize that eating pigs, those smart and scorned sentient beings, is no less revolting than eating dogs? Or would that be too alienating?

More images from the show:


Ragnar Þórisson, Untitled, 2015


Serina Erfjord, Among Stars, 2009-2004. Photo by Istvan Virag


Wael Shawky, The Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo, 2012. Photo by Istvan Virag


Sonja Baümel, Being Encounter, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag


Johannes Heldén, New New Hampshire, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag


Búi Adalsteinsson, Posters. Photo by Istvan Virag


Rolf Nowotny, Ravaged House, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag


Jone Kvie, Untitled (Carrier), 2006. Photo by Istvan Virag


Jenna Sutela, Sporulating paragraph, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag

Momentum 9, The Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art, is curated by Ulrika Flink, Ilari Laamanen, Jacob Lillemose, Gunhild Moe and Jón B.K Ransu. The exhibitions remain open in various location in Moss, Norway, until 11 October 2017

Previously: MOMENTUM9 – “Alienation is our contemporary condition”.

MOMENTUM9 – “Alienation is our contemporary condition”


MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group, Honeybee hives monitoring in the Synthetic Apiary Environment. Image: Markus Kayser, Sunanda Sharma and Jorge Duro


Jenna Sutela, Let’s Play: Life, 2015-2017. Opening of Momentum 9. Photo: Ingeborg Øien Thorsland

Momentum 9, The Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art, opened a few days ago in Moss, Norway. Its focus is Alienation, a pertinent theme for a time characterized by deep social and economic inequalities, new forms of rabid colonialism, atmospheric turmoil, transhumanism, closing borders and relentless questioning of democracy.


Trailer for Momentum 9

As Momentum 9 demonstrates, alienation is a daunting condition but it also provides us with an opportunity to reevaluate our long-established values and dogmas. If our world is being changed beyond recognition, then maybe we should engage directly with the alien, embrace its many challenges and start envisioning a ‘differently humane’ future.

All of the above means that there is a lot to unpack, discover and mull over in Moss. I’ve got notes, photos, research materials and ongoing interviews all over my laptop so i’ll definitely get back to you with more stories. In the meantime, here’s a first group of artworks that explore ongoing ecological and human alienation:


Jussi Kivi, Moon Woods, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag

Jussi Kivi’s Moon Woods is very familiar but also strangely alien. It is both a piece of sublime Northern landscape and a formidable scene that suggest night creatures, secrets and danger.

The work is shown inside a completely dark room. You need to tentatively make your way across the space and allow your eyes to adjust before you can see the work. The forest is shown behind a glass window, suggesting perhaps a fragile fragment of nature, one that mankind might not have spoilt yet. A relic enshrined in a museum display that clinically abstracts it from a context probably made of highways, mining industry, toxic liquids seeping into the ground and polluted rivers.

With this work, Kivi explores the concept of solastalgia (a portmanteau of the words ‘solace’ and ‘nostalgia’), a new form of distress caused by environmental change close to your home.


The Moss Meteorite (Impact 10;20 A. M., 14 July 2006)


The Moss Meteorite (Impact 10;20 A. M., 14 July 2006)


The Moss Meteorite (Impact 10;20 A. M., 14 July 2006). Opening of Momentum 9. Photo: Ingeborg Øien Thorsland

Right in the middle of the list of participating artists is ‘Meteorite.’ And Meteorite, it turns out, is not a pop band or a performance group as i had expected but a real piece of meteorite fallen on the area in 2006. This particular fragment of the Moss Meteorite, a loan from the Natural History Museum in Oslo, is a rare specimen of Carbonaceous chondrites, a class of outer space debris which makes for less than 5% of all meteorite falls. This rubble from the cosmos deserves a place in the biennial because it comes with a chunk of a rooftop isolation material that had melted when the fireball fragment hit a house in Moss. Unassuming and as black as a Malevich black square, the object perfectly encapsulates a concrete encounter between the man-made world and the extra-terrestrial one.


Búi Adalsteinsson, Insect bar

Anyone eager to travel long distance and experience first-hand this extra-terrestrial world might end up snacking their way to Planet Mars with a pile of Búi Adalsteinsson‘s insect bars.


Búi Adalsteinsson, Fly Factory, 2014. Photo by Istvan Virag


Búi Adalsteinsson, Fly Factory, 2014. Photo by Istvan Virag


Búi Adalsteinsson, Fly Factory, 2014. Photo by Istvan Virag

A few years ago, the designer started looking into the possibility of creating self-sustainable food systems that would use insects as their main component and feed our overpopulated world. He believes that insects can provide us with a nutritious and -crucially- very sustainable source of food if only we would let go of prejudices and knee-jerk reactions to the idea of consuming larvae and creepy-crawlies.

Insects might indeed look terribly unappetizing but no one has ever accused them of producing too much greenhouse gas.

We were offered some very crunchy and very delicious insect bars during the press view and we also got to see Adalsteinsson’s Fly Factory, a piece of furniture that might grace our kitchen in the future. This breeding tank was designed so that it uses leftovers and produces no waste.

Check out this very entertaining and informative talk Adalsteinsson gave in 2015 to try and convince the audience that eating insects makes perfect sense.


The Mediated Matter Group, Synthetic Apiary, 2016. Photo: Istvan Virag. Courtesy The Mediated Matter Group


The Mediated Matter Group, Synthetic Apiary, 2016

The Mediated Matter’s Synthetic Apiary provides an artificial perpetual spring environment in which seasonal honeybees can live and work year-round. The designers hope that by controlling precisely the bee environment, we will have a better understanding of their fabrication capabilities and health.

The long-term goal is to integrate biology into a new kind of architectural environment, and thereby the city, for the benefit of humans and eusocial organisms.

This is certainly a praiseworthy aspiration. Beekeepers and scientists are registering massive decline in bees worldwide. The suggested causes for the crisis include climate change, pollution, loss of habitat, pesticides, stress due to transportation to multiple locations for providing pollination services, malnutrition, etc. Or a toxic combination of several factors. The situation is alarming because a third of the food we eat depends on pollinators -especially bees- for a successful harvest. Which means that the decline of bees and other pollinating insects might compromise biodiversity and agricultural yields.

Minute 2:33 in the video documents the first birth in a synthetic environment: the only life this bee knows is of an existence in the Synthetic Apiary,” says the project page.

This Synthetic Apiary made me feel deeply uncomfortable. I can’t help but feel sad at the idea that these bees are living in an entirely manufactured environment, feeding on artificial nectar and artificial pollen, experiencing only a bright white world with a few humans who come to monitor their health at regular intervals. Besides, i’m always suspicious of solutions that consist in throwing artificial habitats, unyielding control and even more technology at environmental problems.

On the other hand, the project makes for lovely photos:


Honeybee hive installation and monitoring in the Synthetic Apiary environment. Image: The Mediated Matter Group


Stathis Tsemberlidis, Transmutations of Human Bodies and Flora, 2017. Photo by Istvan Virag


Stathis Tsemberlidis, Transmutations of Human Bodies, Drawing, 2015. Courtesy the artist

With his Transmutations of Human Bodies and Flora drawings, Stathis Tsemberlidis explores transmutations of the human body and how it can be modified by floral and fungal growths to the point of becoming a grotesque, yet highly seducing, new hybrid entity.


A performance by Trollkrem at Alby Beach

Trollkrem treated us to a performance in relation to Deep Down Below, the work they are showing in the Momentum Kunsthall. They kindly offered to paint our faces in unnatural shades and served whale steak as part of the ‘refreshments.’

I’m going to mention briefly Patricia Piccinini’s Atlas sculpture. Everyone i talked to during the press trip loved it. As for me, I’d rather eat one of Aðalsteinsson’s larvae pâtés than spend 2 minutes in the company of her creepy creatures. But i know i’m in a minority here. Hence the photo:


Patricia Piccinini, Atlas, 2012. Photo by Istvan Virag. Courtesy the artist

I need to add that i really REALLY liked Moss. Not so much the city center. It is basically one street with a few shops that make a pathetic attempt at distracting you from the spectacularly beautiful surroundings: the wooden houses, the landscape, the sea, etc. Bonus! It’s a mere one hour drive from Oslo.

Here’s some random photos i took while i was there:

Momentum 9, The Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art, is curated by Ulrika Flink, Ilari Laamanen, Jacob Lillemose, Gunhild Moe and Jón B.K Ransu. The exhibitions remain open in various location in Moss, Norway, until 11 October 2017

La Movida. Or the need for countercultural movements


Alejandría Cinque, from the The Disposable Generation series


Clara Casian, House on the Borderland, 2017

La Movida was a countercultural movement that emerged in Madrid after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Suddenly liberated from the stern restrictions imposed the State and the Church, musicians, film directors (notably Pedro Almodóvar), artists and anyone involved in the capital alternative nightlife collectively shaped one of Spain’s most exuberant movements it’s ever seen. A movement characterized by new forms of expression, clubbing, recreational drugs and more visibility for the LGBT communities.

La Movida is also the name of the exhibition that opened at HOME in Manchester a few weeks ago. The show goes beyond the La Movida Madrileña of the 1980s to explore the traces and echos the movement has left in contemporary cultural life in Spain, in England and by extension in the rest of Europe.

First, the trailer:

Trailer for the exhibition La Movida at HOME in Manchester

Anyone else wondering what the music in the trailer is? It’s Extraños Juegos by Los Zombies. I’m listening to it in loop this week!

Los Zombies, Extraños Juegos, 1980

But back to business…

The exhibition at HOME shows that the Movida Madrileña might be almost 40 years old but much of what made it so explosive and scandalous at the time is still provoking ire and horror today. Which is why, in this age of Brexit and shortsighted nationalism, of austerity and politicians pinning for the crucifixion of abortion, same-sex marriage and freedom of movement, an exhibition that breathes hedonism and transgression is not just engaging, it is also necessary. It compels us to reflect on the fights we fought, won and lost again. On the values and rights we should never take for granted.

A short and very subjective tour of some of the artworks:


Alejandría Cinque, from the The Disposable Generation series


Alejandría Cinque, from the The Disposable Generation series

Alejandría Cinque is a young artist who uses disposable cameras to portray the ‘disposable generation,’ the young people who live in Madrid, a city driven by capitalism but they have no money, so feeling angry and abandoned, they seek a temporary escape in drink, drugs and dance. Cinque sees the camera as a tool that enables her meet people. Most of them ended up becoming friends or lovers, she explained in an interview with i-D.

She started sharing her photos of Madrid’s counter-cultural nightlife on tumblr but she now also collects and publish the images in a fanzine called WE ARE.


La JohnJoseph, 182cm Queenie, 2017 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


La JohnJoseph, 182cm Queenie, 2017 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME

La JohnJoseph, 182cm Queenie (excerpt), 2017

In 182cm Queenie, novelist and performer La JohnJoseph is King Juan-Carlos I of Spain announcing the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Only in his version the Spanish king is cast as a working-class woman called 2D Joan. Because La JohnJoseph is interested in exploring the convergence of social class, gender identity, and religious faith in the matrices of social power, the discrepancies do not end there.

First of all, 2D Joan speaks with a thick Scouse accent, a provocative reference to Basque and Catalan nationalism (Liverpool being often see as a fierce europhile city lost in a sea of Brexiters.) 2D Joan’s portrayal of democracy is also far more nuanced and iconoclastic than the one we would expect from someone belonging to the royal family. Hers come with holiday resorts, promises of a sensual integration into the European Economic Community but also with sharp comments about the machinations of political power, and those who wield it. Despite the outrageous make-up and biting appraisal of power and monarchy, the balance between critique, humour and analysis of reality is so spot on, i doubt anyone could genuinely feel offended by the video (plus, there’s the Liverpool accent which i’ve always found so charming.)


Bruce LaBruce, from the series Obscenity


Bruce LaBruce, from the series Obscenity


Bruce LaBruce, from the series Obscenity


Bruce LaBruce, Obscenity, 2012 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


Bruce LaBruce, Obscenity, 2012 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter

On the other hand, it’s difficult to predict how people might react to artworks.

Take Bruce LaBruce‘s Obscenity portraits, for example. The prints depict Spanish cultural figures dressed as saints, nuns and angels and appearing to perform all kinds of fetishes and erotic fantasies. You might think that fashion magazines ads from the 1990s and 2000s have made us immune to glossy titillation. Or that Madonna had exhausted public indignation over the use of catholic figures in (mild) erotic context. But it turns out that visitors of the HOME exhibition were upset with this close encounter between sex and religions. Some of them even sent hand-written letters to complain about the images.

Their reactions however was nowhere near as ferocious as the ones observed in Madrid where the mayor called for an exhibition of the photo series to be closed, religious groups protested outside the gallery and someone hurled a firebomb through the window.

In an interview that followed the failed attempt to destroy the show in the Spanish capital, LaBruce shared this amusing anecdote about how he got hold of hostias: That’s a good story, actually. We first bought a bag of them in the religious supplies shop where we got all the other props for the shoots. Then during the second shoot we ran out and sent one of the flamboyant gay stylists to get some more. They wouldn’t sell them to him. In the end we got one of the girl assistants to go with a shawl on her head.


La Movida installation shot. Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


Linder, Pretty Girls, 1977-2007 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxter for HOME


Linder, Pretty Girls, 1977-2007 (La Movida installation shot). Photo credit Lee Baxterv for HOME


Linder, from the Pretty Girls series, 1977-2007

A figure in the Manchester punk and post-punk music scenes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Linder made posters and fliers for rock bands. Her Pretty Girls collages feature naked women found in erotic magazines with kitchen appliances in lieu of head. The series denounced how domestic technologies, instead of aiding the liberation of women, contributed to their enslavement and objectification.

It might seem like pretty standard imagery nowadays but at the time the Pretty Girls caused outrage and was rejected by Manchester’s left-wing bookshops as too extreme.


Clara Casian, House on the Borderland, 2017

Speaking of bookshops, censorship and indignation….

Clara Casian’s film House on the Borderland explores alternative publishing and censorship in Manchester via the history of Savoy Books. Heavily persecuted in the 1970s and 80s for their alternative publications, Savoy’s office and bookshops were raided by the Manchester Obscene Publications Squad more than sixty times. The attempts to restrict the activities of Savoy was part of a moral crusade orchestrated by conservative police commissioner James Anderton, nicknamed ‘God’s Cop’ because of his belief that God was guiding his defense of moral issues.

These attempts to ban boundary-pushing literature echo the fate of HOME’s Dark Habits, a publication that accompanies the exhibition La Movida. Sarah Perks and Bren O’Callaghan, curators at HOME, invited 19 contributors to explore freedom and indulgence, hedonism, transgression, sex and moral conventions for the book. They sent the texts to their usual printer who declared that the content of the book was too offensive to be printed. HOME had to find a more open-minded printer. The book was released a few days ago. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive in Turin and i’m obviously very curious about what i’m going to find inside the book.

And i’ll leave you with 3 more images. One is a touching portrait of Saint Batman, a queered, broken Batman, a folk saint of a lesser pantheon. The other two were taken while i was walking through Manchester, one of the most relentlessly exciting and energetic cities in the whole universe:


Jesse Darling, Don’t hurt Batman !!!, 2016

La Movida was curated by Sarah Perks. The show remains open at HOME in Manchester until Mon 17 Jul 2017. The guide of the exhibition is available as a PDF.

Socle du Monde Biennale 2017 – To challenge the Earth, the Moon, the Sun & the Stars

Previously: Breeding a Planetary Community Chicken and Socle du Monde Biennale – The geometries.


Wim Delvoye, Slobodan, 2004. Photo courtesy of the artist


Exhibition view. Photo: Jens Wolter


Piero Manzoni, Socle du Monde, 1961. Photo: Ole Bagger. Courtesy of HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art

Socle Du Monde – To challenge the Earth, the Moon, the Sun & the Stars, the biennale that opened a few weeks ago in Herning (Denmark), celebrates artists who have taken up “the challenge of turning the world upside down”. The event is named after a famous work by Piero Manzoni, the upside-down plinth that invites viewers to look at their surrounding from a new perspective and see the world as the ultimate artwork. Some of the pieces exhibited in the biennale are by Piero Manzoni and fellow artists who were part of ZERO, a movement in the 1950s and 1960s that looked for a ‘fresh start’ in art by eschewing color, emotion and individual expression. Visually, it might be a bit beige and tedious but a closer look reveals ingenious experiments with light, forms, space, materials and time.

Most of the biennale, however, is inhabited by contemporary robots, musical insects, animals, tattoos, African masks and tree trunks wrapped up in fabric. Just like what happened (to me) with the ZERO works, it’s tempting to stop at the first visual impression and skip from one artwork to another. However, it pays to read the description of each work and understand the ideas and beliefs behind each installation. That’s how you realize that even the most garish fairground signs have the power to make you ponder upon civic values. Or that a few farm animals can teach you a lesson about our relationship to non-human creatures. That’s also how you’re going to spend almost 6 hours visiting the biennale, instead of the 2 hours suggested by the event online guide. Also by the time you’ve visited all the exhibitions and the huge sculpture park, you might not have much strength left to skip and hop anyway. Slow and serene is the way to do it.

The city of Herning is probably not an obvious Summer destination but if ever you find yourself in the area, do check out the biennale, it is one of the most consistently surprising, intelligent and visually compelling art events i’ve seen this year. Here’s a short and very subjective list of some of the works you can discover at Socle du Monde:


Tomás Saraceno, The Aerocene Explorer. Photo: Jens Wolter


Tomás Saraceno, The Aerocene Explorer backpack. © Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2016


Tomás Saraceno, The Aerocene Explorer backpack. © Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2016


Tomás Saraceno, The Aerocene Explorer. Image HEART museum

Tomás Saraceno is embracing “the Earth, the Moon, the Sun & the Stars” rather than challenging them. The artist has spent the past few years designing for the Aerocene era, a speculative CO2-free future in which humans will live in floating habitats, clustering together and peacefully defining new forms of social structures and citizenship.

The artist created a beta version of the Aerocene Explorer backpacks to help us reclaim collective ownership of the atmosphere. The floating sculpture doubles as kit for solar-powered atmospheric exploration. It is open source and you can DIY yours should you wish to explore the skies too.


Cameron Robbins, Wind Drawing Machine, 1990-2016


Cameron Robbins, Wind Drawing Machine, 1990-2016

Cameron Robbins‘s Wind Drawing Machine also harnesses weather energy. Only it translates it into abstract ink drawings. Wind speed and direction orients a swiveling drawing board connected to a wind vane, while the wind speed drives a pen on a wire arm around in a cyclical motion.

For many years Robbins has been crafting elegant drawings machines that are guided by the wind. Some of these machines draw with light. Others participate to sonic performances.

“I had found a way of working with the world,” he explained in an interview, “that reflected my observations and was my own thing. For me it also offered a nice sidestep over vexing issues like self-consciousness in art making.”


Cleaning up Wim Delvoye’s Super Cloaca


Wim Delvoye, Cloaca Faeces. Photo: Jens Wolter

One of the chapters of the biennale is tastefully titled Wim Delvoye: Shit on Piero Manzoni. It’s a little horror show orchestrated by the famous provocateur: anus prints, a video that zooms in on blackhead extraction, and a shit machine complete with its smelly production. Wim Delvoye has made several versions of Cloaca. There’s one you can squeeze in a suitcase, another that is hanging on the ceiling of a museum in Tasmania, another looks like a washing machine, etc. The one on show at the HEART museum is Super Cloaca, a huge technological simulation of the human digestion. On one side, you feed the machine and a few hours later a long sausage made of faeces is extruded. I arrived at the museum at the worst possible moment: the shit had been delivered a couple of night earlier and the staff was cleaning up the machine. The smell was awful.

The artist’s declared objective was to build an expensive, sophisticated apparatus that would have no other purpose than producing shit. Yet, the work does invite numerous questions about the value of artistic efforts, taste-based judgments, human hierarchies and even the mechanisms that support the art market. You can’t buy any of these machines but you can buy what they expel. Delvoye’s team will vacuum-pack it and seal it in a small jar of resin for you.


Wim Delvoye, Tattooed Pigs


Wim Delvoye, Tattooed Pigs

Delvoye also brought some of the tattoed pigs from his controversial Art Farm. Their taxidermied bodies are covered in hearts, leggy ladies, wings, skulls, Disney characters, Louis Vuitton monograms and religious symbols.

As an insightful article in the brooklyn rail notes: The images in this case fleetingly bolstered the physical worth of the animals while concurrently exposing the contradictions in our value system. For example, the tattooing required a special veterinary anesthesiologist because while we have procedures developed for the sedation of dogs, cats, and giraffes, pigs are not worth enough to fix if something goes wrong. But imbued with the aura of their artist decorator, the skins in which the pigs lived conferred upon them an elusive fetishized value. This value did not extend to the flesh, as the animals were skinned and their meat sold at market price.


Wim Delvoye, Tim, 2006-2008


Wim Delvoye, Tim, 2006-2008. Photo courtesy of the artist


Piero Manzoni, Living Sculpture. Photo: Ole Bagger

And finally, there was Tim! Tim is “a living sculpture”. Delvoye tattooed his back and has since sold it to a German art collector. When Tim dies, his skin will be framed. In the meantime, he’s paid to sit, with a straight back and legs dangling off on a plinth. Fortunately for him, he is allowed to keep his headphones on…

Tim echoes Manzoni’s ‘living sculptures’, models whom the young artist signed with ink that could be washed off, making them temporary artworks.


Nathan Coley, The Same for Everyone (detail), 2017. Photo: Jens Wolter


Nathan Coley, The Same for Everyone, 2017. Photo: Jens Wolter

Artist Nathan Coley was traveling through Central Jutland, when he saw an old sign reading ‘Same for all’. Hence his collection of signs, THE SAME FOR EVERYONE, which have been erected ten locations around Jutland. One of them is just outside one of the locations of the biennale.

I love that work. Because of the old school bulbs and scaffolding aesthetics. But also because of the text. First, you think you get the meaning immediately. But the more you think about it, the more complex its possible meaning seems to get. Or maybe i like to complicate things?


Conrad Shawcross, The ADA Project. Photo: Ole Jørgensen

Conrad Shawcross’s The ADA Project is an industrial robot, its choreographed movements inspired the composition of musical scores written by composers. The performances look quite different from what the official images of the work suggest. The machine moves far too slowly for its arms to draw those stunning patterns of light. If you’re used to media art festivals, you’re not going to be very impressed. However, i think that the value of The ADA Project lies in the development process of the work. The artist commissioned female musicians to spend a week with the robot and write a piece of music inspired by its movements. “I’m trying a new way of commissioning with new constraints,” Shawcross told The Guardian. “The key tenet was that instead of the machine being subservient to the music, the machine was the primary inspiration.

The title of the work is an homage to mathematician Ada Lovelace, who played a key role in the development of computer programming.


Charles Fréger, Wilder Mann (Tschäggättä, Switzerland), 2010-2011


Charles Fréger, Wilder Mann (Krampus, Germany), 2010-2011


Charles Fréger, Wilder Mann, 2010-2011. Exhibition view. Photo: Jens Wolter


Charles Fréger, Wilder Mann (Sos Colongànos, Sardinia), 2010-2011


Charles Fréger (Pelzmärtle, Bad Herrenalb, Germany), Wilder Mann, 2010-2011


Charles Fréger, Wilder Mann (Caretos, Lazarim, Portugal), 2010-2011

One of the chapters of the biennale, The Eye in the Mask, brings side by side ethnographic masks with works of art by the CoBrA avant-garde and by contemporary artists. Putting a mask on alters your identity. You can become an animal, a monster, a deity or another, more powerful, more secretive being.

A whole room was filled with the engrossing photo series that Charles Fréger realized throughout Europe in search of the mythological figure of the Wild Man.


Asger Jorn, Smile Cold Street, 1962


Asger Jorn, Big Kiss for the American Cardinal, 1962


Céleste Boursier-Mougenot


Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. Photo: Ole Jørgensen

There were chicken inside and outside the Herning Højskole, one of the main venues of the biennale. There were also bees in the adjacent garden. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has installed burned-wood beehives and turned their activity into music. The sound is transmitted from the hives out into the landscape. By moving around the installation, you can modulate the composition.


Mahza Karimizadeh, Rhizome. Photo: Jens Wolter


Hans Haacke, Kondensationswürfel (Condensation Cube), 1964. Reconstruction by ZERO foundation, 2017

Hans Haacke‘s transparent acrylic cube contains a small amount of water. Condensation begins to form and droplets run down the walls of the box, changing according to the ambient light and temperature. The work’s appearance therefore depends upon the environment in which it is placed. As Haacke explained in 1965: “The conditions are comparable to a living organism which reacts in a flexible manner to its surroundings. The image of condensation cannot be precisely predicted. It is changing freely, bound only by statistical limits. I like this freedom.”


Spencer Tunick, Socle du Monde (Herning, Denmark) 2016, Courtesy of the artist


Spencer Tunick, Socle du Monde (Herning, Denmark) 2016. Photo: Jens Wolter


Hesselholdt & Mejlvang, The Invisible Territory, 2017, Socle du Monde Biennale. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Hesselholdt & Mejlvang, The Invisible Territory, 2017, Socle du Monde Biennale. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Hesselholdt & Mejlvang, The Invisible Territory, 2017, Socle du Monde Biennale. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Hesselholdt & Mejlvang, The Invisible Territory, 2017, Socle du Monde Biennale. Photo: Ole Jørgensen

When you enter the rooms dedicated to Hesselholdt & Mejlvang‘s installation, you see a white floor, white walls, white furniture, white objects, etc. The space immediately evokes one of those ZERO experiments. But as soon as black light fills the room, heinous sentences cover all surfaces. “Go back to your pig land!” “They came to invade. PERIOD!” “Kill all you faggots now”, etc. The artists found these racist and bigoted sentences on online message boards and comment sections. The duo then copied them using luminous fluorescent paint. The effect is upsetting. You’re tempted to stay so that you can read everything but you are also compelled to get out of the room as quickly as possible such is the unpleasant effect that these words have on you.

The 2017 Socle du Monde Biennale – to challenge the Earth, the Moon, the Sun & the Stars remains open until 27 August 2017 at HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Herning Højskole, Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelt’s Museum, The Geometric Gardens and HEART’s Sculpture Park. In Herning, Denmark.

My photos of the biennale are on flickr.

Socle du Monde Biennale – The geometries


Piero Manzoni (portrait.) Photo: Helene Bagger

In 1961 Piero Manzoni, the enfant terrible of the avantgarde in the mid 20th century, created 90 small cans, signed them and famously labelled them Artist’s Shit (Merda d’Artista). Each was priced by weight based on the value of gold at the time. The cans have since traveled to art collections all over the world and sold for spectacular sums at auctions houses. Still in 1961, the young artist made Socle du Monde (Base Of The World), a bronze plinth he placed upside down in a field in Herning, Denmark. The piece suggests that the whole world is a work of art. Manzoni created some of his masterpieces in the Danish city when he was the host of local shirt manufacturer and art enthusiast Aage Damgaard. The Herning Museum of Contemporary Art now houses what is probably the biggest collection of artworks by the brilliant iconoclast.

Socle du Monde gives its name to the oldest Danish biennale focusing on contemporary art. The ongoing edition has opened a few weeks ago (i wrote about Breeding a Planetary Community Chicken at the time and then lost control over my days.) I think it’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing art events i’ve attended over the past few years. But because the event is inspired by the masterpiece of a renowned exponent of conceptual art, it is also a biennale that conveys ideas, provocations and moments for reflection. I’ll get back next week with a post discussing these ideas and provocations but right now, here are some visual impressions of the biennale:


Hans Haacke and Yayoi Kusama, Socle du Monde Biennale 2017


Hans Haacke and Yayoi Kusama (detail), Socle du Monde Biennale 2017


Wim Delvoye, Super Cloaca (detail), 2007. Socle du Monde Biennale 2017


Entrance lobby at the Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelts Museum. Photo and Courtesy: Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelts Museum


I loved the faucets in the bathroom of the Carl-Henning Pedersen & Else Alfelts Museum


Detail of an ex-school complex designed by Jørn Utzon in 1969. Photo: Jens Wolter


Hesselholdt & Mejlvang, The Invisible Territory (detail), 2017. Socle du Monde Biennale 2017


Hesselholdt & Mejlvang, The Invisible Territory (detail), 2017. Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Chapter 2: Painting with Time and Space: From Zero to the 60’s Avantgarde (exhibition view), Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Jens Wolter


Günther Uecker, Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Socle du Monde Biennale


Inside the lift of the Herning Højskole, Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Jens Wolter


Tower of the Herning Højskole, Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Jens Wolter


Mischa Kuball, Translocating ELEVHØJHUS, inside the Herning Højskole, Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Hesselholdt & Mejlvang, The Invisible Territory (detail), 2017. Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Christian Megert, Socle du Monde Biennale 2017


Antony Gormley, The Allotment, 1997 – 1998. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Terrasse outside the HEART – Herning Museum of Contemporary Art


Heinz Mack. Socle du Monde Biennale 2017. Photo: Ole Jørgensen


Ingvar Cronhammar, Elia, 2001. Photo: Ole Jørgensen.

Previously: Breeding a Planetary Community Chicken.

The 2017 Socle du Monde Biennale – to challenge the Earth, the Moon, the Sun & the Stars remains open until 27 August 2017 in Herning, Denmark.