Multiple venues, London, 16 January – 13 February 2016
‘Artists’ Clothes’, installation view, Carlos Ishikawa, 2016. Image courtesy the gallery.
Some readers might have seen the recent film The Big Short, the Oscar-nominated semi-post-modern comedy that attempts to explain the exploits of a few profiteers from the 2008 housing market crash in the US. Spoiler alert: these guys saw a collapse coming, and decided to profit on it, and then it happens. It’s only after you’ve left the cinema and the jaunty tone of the film wears off that it becomes clearer: they weren’t underdogs, or crusaders or visionaries, as the film attempts to portray them, just hedge funders finding a way to profit from a situation. Sure, there’s a bit of hand wringing, which is perhaps the most remarkable part: we’re supposed to empathise with these guys. The moral of the tale is much darker, a sort of Russian doll abyss that might be handily summed up by a blog title from Dallas’s International Risk Management Institute: ‘Taking Risks to Create Value – It’s What Capitalism’s All About!’ Continue reading →
You would think the more we disappear into screens, the more we would forget about our bodies. Judging by the shows on this summer in London, the opposite seems to be the case. Whether it is the right sort of attention is another question, but it was filled with floating heads, phantom limbs and more 3D-printed objects than you can shake your e-cigarette at. Artist Will Benedict’s ‘Nuclear War: What’s in it for you?’ at Vilma Gold began with bodies on the streets of Berlin. Encountering the figurative, heavily allegorical public sculptures of Czech artist Ludmilla Seefried-Matějková from 1984-85 found in places like the facade of the criminal court, it’s as if Benedict gathered these six artists to retrospectively recreate the laden Cold War atmosphere which led to their creation. The title comes from a 1982 book informing readers about the facts of the impending fallout, and a bomb alarm echoes from a bunker built in the middle of the gallery. Inside, Seefried-Matějková’s On the Edge (1976-77) is a full-size polyester sculpture of a half-naked woman sitting on a bed, looking dejectedly into infinity. The sound comes from a small television in the corner playing KP Brehmer’s short black-and-white video Madame Butterfly (1969) reimagining Puccini’s opera as a raucous essay on transgression: at its close, we see a bottle of Coca-Cola on the ground and a communist star flashing intermittently on the screen. A naked woman walks over the bottle, squats, and begins moving up and down on top of it. This desolate bunker is surrounded by four of Brehmer’s large matter-of-fact statistic-based geographic paintings. Geography 3 Colours Localisation of Yellow/Red (1970) is a simplified map of South America with countries coloured pink, red, yellow and orange under the typeface heading ‘Investment Climate’. An adjacent key explains that Brazil in pink means ‘uncertain’, while Chile in red is ‘troubled’; Argentina and Colombia in orange, it seems, are ‘best’.
‘Nuclear War: What’s In It For You?’, installation view, image courtesy Vilma Gold.
The gauntlet was thrown down early in the day. In a talk titled Parasites Like Us: Studies of the Possible in Impossible Times, educator and researcher Janna Graham described most exhibition models as following what Paulo Freire had described in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968, as the ‘banking model’: the audience is an empty vessel filled up with culture, which is handed down from above by the artist via a curator. Graham, a member of collective Ultra-Red and curator at the Serpentine’s offsite Centre for Possible Studies on Edgeware Road, proposed a series of other possible bottom-up and lateral models where these roles could be shifted, shared or dispersed.
Her critical and claustrophobic talk was a keynote presentation as part of ‘Exhibition as Medium: End Symposium’, a day of presentations at The Showroom capping off a year-long programme at Margate’s Crate Studio and Project Space curated by Toby Huddlestone. Huddlestone had sought over six ‘experimental’ exhibitions and various events to explore process over product, ‘alternate modes of exhibition format via the presentation of research through production’. Much of the day consisted of talks describing the six exhibitions, and though each proposed a slightly different approach – such as a group of artists collaborating in reaction to Fischli & Weiss’s The Way Things Go, 1987, or six curators creating works based on instructions from Scottish artist Desmond Church – each time the constrictions of the framework imposed were raised as an issue. It seems that Freire’s hierarchical model ran through much of the project and by the end of the day was still standing.