Monday, December 27, 2010

Figland Housing

Figland Housing
Drawing by Sarcoptiform, 2010

Focus on Hunger: Interview with Vandana Shiva

Everything about world hunger is unfair. The fact that there are nearly 1 billion people starving in the world right now speaks to the vast amounts of injustice that our global system is built on. That 1 out of 6 human beings goes to bed hungry every night while there is more than enough food to feed everyone generously, seems to me the very definition of unfair. When I began my first exploration of world hunger last May, the endless stream of inequality and injustice was enough to make me want to scream. But out of all of the rage inducing facts and statistics, the one that haunts me the most, that makes me lose sleep at night, that I still find hard to believe, is that the people who grow the world’s food, our farmers, are some of the most likely to experience hunger.

In our world, farmer means woman. 80% of the developing world’s food supply, and 60% of the world’s food in total, is grown by women’s hands. Women plant, nurture, and harvest the food we all need to survive, yet they own less than 1% of all farmland, and are generally the last to eat. 70% of those suffering from chronic poverty and hunger are women and girls. They feed us, and while we eat they starve. The industrialization of our food system has led us to a place where we are now so removed from the food we eat that most of us barely know what’s in it, let alone where it came from or who grew it. What kind of life did she live? Was she well fed, able to enjoy the literal fruits of her labor? Or was she drowning in debt, a slave to the chemical and agricultural companies that have quickly devoured our world? Was she able to protect her land and grow her food in the way her mother and grandmothers did for centuries before her? Or has she been forced to pollute her land and her body with the genetically engineered seeds that promise so much, while yielding so very, very little? How much do we know about our food and the people who grow it? Why are they always the last to eat?

In India, 75% of people make their living by farming, and 60% of those farmers are women. These women plow the fields and raise our food, and yet their harvest is being stolen. In 1994, the completion of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) legitimized corporate growth based on harvests stolen from nature and people. The WTO’s agricultural agreements and ‘free’ trade policies allow transnational corporations that do not grow the food or work the land to make super profits off of the small farmers and their back breaking labor. The WTO’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement made seed-saving and seed-sharing a criminal act, disrupting millennia old traditions practiced in agricultural communities throughout the world. Corporations are now allowed to monopolize the right to a seed, the basic building block of our food security, by claiming it as their exclusive private property. The Agreement on Agriculture legalized the dumping of genetically engineered foods on countries, and criminalized actions taken to protect the biological and cultural diversity on which indigenous food systems are based.

Under World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment mandated reforms, India was forced to radically alter the way food had been grown in the country for centuries. Flashy advertising campaigns assaulted the country and images of gods, goddesses, and saints were used to sell new, hybrid seeds directly to small farmers, even as their land was being devalued, redrawn, and sold out from under them. Once the farmers began to purchase these new corporately ‘owned’ seeds they discovered they were highly vulnerable to pests, fungi, and weeds. Encouraged by their government and the corporations, the farmers bought the necessary corporate owned pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides on credit, comforted with the knowledge that these new seeds would produce yields so large they could repay their debts and have money to spare. Unfortunately, the new seeds were a dismal, drastic failure and crops failed throughout the country. Farmers were left with barren fields, polluted waterways, sky high debts, and empty bellies. Since 1997 200,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves, many by drinking the toxic pesticides that were supposed to save their crops. This cycle of debt and loss and more debt and more loss has been termed the ‘suicide economy’ and has created millions of chronically hungry and debt enslaved people throughout India.

Not only does this suicide economy lead to debt and impoverishment created hunger, it also destroys a region’s ancient biodiversity by creating huge swathes of lifeless monocrops in its place. The promises of ‘life science’ corporations like Monsanto are that they will feed the world through their genetically engineered seeds and the resulting higher crop yields. However, the opposite has been true. They have, in fact, created hunger on an unimaginable scale. Whatever higher yields they have been able to display are offset by the fact that they require massively higher inputs. Traditional farming practices have always been highly productive as they utilize a close looped cycle of animal integrated perennial and annual polycultures. When resource use is taken into account, the ‘advancements’ of the Green Revolution is obviously counterproductive and grossly inefficient. More and more land is needed to create adequate harvests under the new methods, along with more water, more money, more time, more effort, all of it for slightly more food, and far more hunger.

“However, this phenomenon of the stolen harvest is not unique to India. It is being experienced in every society, as small farms and small farmers are pushed to extinction, as monocultures replace biodiverse crops, as farming is transformed from the production of nourishing and diverse foods into the creation of markets for genetically engineered seeds, herbicides, and pesticides. As farmers are transformed from producers into consumers of corporate-patented agricultural products, as markets are destroyed locally and nationally but expanded globally, the myth of ‘free-trade’ and the global economy becomes a means for the rich to rob the poor of their right to food and even their right to life.” Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest

It was in this environment, to fight these wrongs, that world renowned global south activist, physicist, and eco-feminist Vandana Shiva created Navdanya. Founded in 1984, Navdanya is providing an alternative to the modern global food system by promoting biodiversity conservation, farmer’s rights, and organic farming methods, with an emphasis on seed saving. Navdanya means nine crops, in reference to the nine crops that represent India’s collective source of food security, and it is this self-sufficient food security that it hopes to preserve. Over the past 26 years, Navdanya has created an ever expanding alternative to the culture of death and debt pushed by the transnational corporations. Dedicated to the preservation of nature and the people’s right to knowledge, water, and food, Navdanya promotes global peace and justice through the conservation, renewal, and rejuvenation of the gifts of biodiversity. Navdanya has helped to create 54 community seed banks throughout India with the intent to rescue and conserve crops that are being pushed to extinction by monoculture farming practices. 3,000 varieties of native rice, 12 genera of cereals and millets, 16 genera of legumes, and 50 genera of vegetables have so far been saved due to their efforts. More than 500,000 farmers have been trained in organic and sustainable farming methods and more than 50 international courses have been offered on biodiversity, food, biopiracy, water, globalization, business ethics and more. Navdanya focuses on empowering local farmers to resist patents on seeds, and struggles to keep India free from GMO crops by recognizing humanity’s inherent right to food, water, and seed sovereignty.

One of Navdanya’s specific goals is to empower women and to keep food security in their hands through a network of women’s producer groups (Mahila Anna Swaraj). Navdanya views women as the caretakers of biodiversity, the providers of food security, and the conservationists of the cultural diversity of food traditions. By keeping women’s food knowledge and expertise alive they hope to guarantee food security for generations to come. Navdanya’s gender program, Diverse Women for Diversity, works on a local, national, and international level as a global campaign for women to resist monoculture monopolies and celebrate food security and biodiversity. Leaders in the food justice movement around the world recognize that it is women who hold the key to fighting the global hunger crisis, and it is this topic that I wanted to focus on in my interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Burge: In 1998, India was forced to open up its seed and farming sector to global corporations like Cargill, Monsanto, and Syngenta by the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies. Can you explain how it is not natural disasters like drought and famine that cause the majority of hunger, but man-made economic policies like these? Why must a resistance to globalization form such a necessary part of food security and bio-diversity?

Shiva: The main causes for hunger are industrial agriculture and globalised trade in food. Industrial agriculture creates hunger both by destroying the natural capital for producing food and locking farmers into debt because of its high cost of production. Globalised trade creates hunger by diverting fertile land for exports, promoting dumping and unleashing speculative forces. In industrial agriculture and globalisation also contribute 40% to green house gas emissions that are leading to climate change which in turn is destroying agriculture and food security. The rules of globalisation both in the structural adjustment programmes of the world bank and the free trade rules of WTO promote industrialisation and trade liberalisation. Resisting such corporate globalisation is necessary for food security and biodiversity.

Burge: Since 1997, 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide after being forced into inescapable debt by pesticide and seed companies, in what has been termed a ‘suicide economy’. Do you think this kind of unending debt is a political tool consciously designed to keep the people powerless and desperate, or is it simply an unintended tragic consequence of misguided economic policies?

Shiva: The corporations and governments that are designing high costs agriculture systems to maximise corporate profits are simultaneously designing the debt trap for small farmers. This debt trap is what is leading to farmers suicides. Pushing small farmers to extinction is very much part of the corporate design of industrial farmer. It is not merely an unintended consequence. As a US agriculture policy person said: “farmers must be squeezed of the land like the last bit of toothpaste is squeezed out of the toothpaste tube”.

Burge: What do you say to critics who claim that with the global population nearing 7 billion people we need industrial agriculture and genetically modified foods to feed everyone?

Shiva: Industrial agriculture actually reduces nutrition per acre since it destroys the biodiversity which maximises nutrition per acre. Industrial agriculture is artificially projected as being productive through the monoculture of the mind and a focus on the monoculture yield of handful of globally traded commodities. That is why hunger and malnutrition has grown in direct proportion to the spread of industrial agriculture. As far as genetic engineering is concerned, it is a not a yield increasing technology. It has only put Bt. toxin genes into plant or genes for resisting toxic herbicide. This has increased the yield of toxins not of food. The Union of Concerned Scientist report “Failure to Yield” and Navdanya’s reports “Seeds of Suicide” and “Biodiversity Based Productivity : A New Paradigm for Food Security” have the data that shows that genetic engineering has not contributed to increase in production.

Burge: Women grow the majority of the world’s food and 60% of India’s farmers are women. Women also make up 70% of the world’s chronically hungry people. Why is it that women, the people who grow the majority of the world’s food, are the last to eat?

Shiva: Just as farmers who grow the food are the largest number of hungry people in the world, women who produce and process food constitute the majority of malnourished people. The denial of food to the producers of food is a result of the injustice built into industrial food systems and social discrimination.

Burge: Navdanya calls itself a ‘women centered movement’, holds female heritage learning and preservation classes known as Grandmothers’ University, and has a gender program, Diverse Women for Diversity, that is a global campaign of women advocating for bio-diversity and food security. Could you tell us why it was so important for Navdanya to focus on the empowerment of women? Why do you consider the partnership of ecology and feminism to be a partnership of liberation?

Shiva: The dominant model of agriculture has come out of capitalist patriarchy and is based on war. These wars begin as wars in the mind, become wars against the earth, and result in wars against our body. Women need to lead the movement for a non-violent food system because they have not been part of the war economy. Grandmothers hold the heritage of non-violent knowledge which protects the earth and our health.

Burge: In your book Stolen Harvest you describe a ‘hijacking of the global food supply’, as corporations that do not grow the food or work the land reap the obscene profits of the farmers’ labor. When people are kept so poor they can barely feed themselves, and the multinational corporations are unimaginably powerful and wealthy, how can the common people find the resources to stand up to this injustice?

Shiva: Since each of us eats everyday food can become the site of a revolution for justice. If we say no to GM foods, if we commit ourselves to eating organic, we build another food system which is controlled by people and not by giant corporations.

Burge: In describing the implementation of ‘free-trade’ policies upon an unwilling population, you have said that the moment the will of the people is ignored it becomes a dictatorship. In light of the unfathomable levels of violence being perpetrated against an almost powerless population (and at a time when an agricultural company like Monsanto hires the services of the private army Blackwater), why do you and Navdanya remain committed to a non-violent resistance strategy?

Shiva: We in Navdanya stay committed to non-violent resistance strategy because it has more power and more resilience.

Burge: The women you work with through Navdanya’s various programs and Diverse Women for Diversity often have their lives profoundly changed when they are given the tools and resources for self-empowerment. Can you tell us of an instance when you saw a woman, a family, or a community transformed?

Shiva: Twenty years ago, a women called Bija came to me to find work as domestic help. Bija means the seed and I asked her if she would help me in Seed Saving and she immediately agreed. For two decades Bija has worked as Navdanya seed keeper. She holds classes for scientists on the conservation of biodiversity, she received the Slow Food Biodiversity Award on behalf of Navdanya in Porto Portugal in 2001. The potential Bija achieved is the potential in every peasant woman and it is this potential Navdanya seeks to unleash.

Burge: What kind of future is envisioned by the women of Diverse Women for Diversity? How will a world premised on food security, bio-diversity, and sustainability look?

Shiva: The future envisioned by Diverse Women for Diversity is a future in which every species and every person has space to evolve to their highest potential, live in mutuality with each other and create a world of peace, justice, and sustainability.

Burge: How can we in developed Western nations stand in solidarity with the women in India and throughout the world who are facing chronic hunger and poverty, and assist them in their struggle?

Shiva: There are three ways in which you can support our work. You can support our programs by making donations to Navdanya. You can attend our courses at Bija Vidyapeeth – The School of the Seed and visit our programs on seed saving and organic farming as solutions to hunger. You can spread the principles on which our work is based.

“Women were, really, in my view, the ones who domesticated plants, created agriculture. And as long as women were controlling agriculture, agriculture produced real food. Agriculture was based on [women's learned and passed on] knowledge. A Women’s centered agriculture never created scarcity. As long as women controlled the food system you did not have a billion people going without food and you didn’t have 2 billion going obese and w/diabetes. This is the magic of patriarchy having taken over the food system. Earlier, patriarchy left food to women, modern patriarchy wants to control food . . . women’s knowledge has been removed from agriculture . . .we can only have a secure food culture if women come back into agriculture.” Vandana Shiva

Text by Natasha Burge
Written on October 12, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dekinnoka 5, Robot Professional Wrestling, the 3rd fight, single match S...

Dekinnoka 5, Robot Professional Wrestling, the 3rd fight, single match Saga vs Garoo

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pionen – White mountain, Architecture of WikiLeaks

The project takes place in a former 1200 square meter anti-atomic shelter.
An amazing location 30 meters down under the granite rocks of the Vita Berg Park
in Stockholm. The client is Wikileaks and the rock shelter hosts server halls and offices.

Architects: Albert France-Lanord Architects
Location:Stockholm, Sweden
Construction: Albert France-Lanord Architects
Construction Area: 1,200 sqm
Project year: 2008
Photographs: Ake E:son Lindman

Monday, December 6, 2010

Capitalism and the Aesthetics of Knowledge in the 21st century

Capitalism and the Aesthetics of Knowledge in the 21st century:
Uses of the Social Document in Contemporary Visual Art

Renzo Martens, Episode III - Enjoy Poverty, 2008, film still

A series of four screenings and seminars led by Angela Dimitrakaki, art historian and writer (University of Edinburgh, UK)

Wednesday 8 December
Ursula Biemann, Black Sea Files, 2005, 43'
Courtesy of the artist

Thursday 9 December
Johan Grimonprez, Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, 1997, 68'
Courtesy of The Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens

Friday 10 December
Renzo Martens, Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, 2008, 88'
Courtesy of Wilkinson Gallery, London

Saturday 11 December
Allan Sekula, The Lottery of the Sea, 2006, 179' (3 hours)
Courtesy of Galerie Michel Rein, Paris

Allan Sekula, The Lottery of the Sea, 2006, film still

De Chirico Lecture Room, Athens School of Fine Arts (ASFA)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I imagine it Otherwise

Savvas Christodoulides, I imagine it Otherwise
Table base, bath towels, glass, plastic pot
200 x 130 x 126 cm

Omikron Gallery, 27 November - 31 December 2010
Nicosia, Cyprus

Revolution by Design

It’s a funny place, Cuba. It’s very, very Soviet. You can’t ask the wrong questions, you can’t talk to people about politics. That’s a big faux pas in Cuba. If you say to anyone, “What do you think of the revolution,” they’ll all say, “Oh, it’s great, it’s been fantastic, it’s been really interesting, who wouldn’t want a revolution,” that sort of thing. And then you hear from other people there’s this thing called the CDR, the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. It’s basically a spy on every block, a woman or a man who lives in a small apartment who has been awarded the title of CDR representative for that block. And it’s his or her job to snitch if you’re up to no good. So I was at Alfredo Rostgaard’s house and I said, “Are you a supporter of the revolution?” and he smiled and said, “Yeah, I love the revolution,” and that was that.

I met him a few years before he died, and I have to say he was a bit of a crazy old man. I’d asked the taxi driver — I had a taxi driver who seemed to know things, he was like my fixer — “Can you take me somewhere where I can buy Cuban posters?” Because there are no shops in Cuba; you just have to ask around. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, “I can take you somewhere.” So we bang on this door and it opens and there’s Alfredo Rostgaard. I was like, “Oh my God, I recognize this guy from photos, it’s Alfredo Rostgaard.” And he’s one of these sort of smiley, mischievous, cheeky old men who you just knew had been a bit of trouble in the past, good-looking, sort of a bit of a flirt. He told me a joke. He said in Spanish, “You know, I don’t speak English. But I do know a joke in English.” And he told me a joke — I don’t remember it, unfortunately, something about a small boy at school asking his teacher something about sex. He was a very amusing old geezer.

After I bought some posters and we chatted for a while in our broken Spanish and English, I said, “Shall we go for a drink?” So we went to the local bar and got really drunk. And the next day the guy who had taken me over there phoned me and said, “You didn’t take Alfredo out for a drink, did you? Oh God, he’s not supposed to be drinking.” So he was someone who I would describe as antiestablishment. Very antiestablishment. And antiestablishment in a funny way. I would say that if he was the art director of Tricontinental for all those years, he would be constantly trying to get away with stuff that he thought was a little bit wacky and slightly not quite what his bosses wanted from him. You know what I mean?

— Charles Moseley, proprietor,

One of the oddest chapters in the annals of the Cold War was its proxy war by magazine, and the oddest Cold War magazine was undoubtedly Tricontinental. Based in Havana and art-directed by legendary poster designer Alfredo Rostgaard, Tricontinental was the official publication of OSPAAAL, one of the many revolutionary acronyms liberated by Fidel’s triumph in 1959. OSPAAAL stood for Organization in Solidarity with the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and its magazine was available in each of the New World’s great colonial languages: English, French, and Spanish. Some issues were even available in Arabic and Italian.

The magazine did its share of party-line thumping: inspiring tales of 100 percent literacy rates and vaulting social and technological progress, with occasional missives from communist luminaries like North Korea’s Kim Il-sung. But the bulk of Tricontinental’s editorial content was aimed at Third World militants, practicing or potential, for whom it served as bulletin board, guidebook, and lifestyle magazine.

self-criticisms of counterrevolutionary coup plotters in Guinea, describing the exact make and model of the Mercedes they accepted from the imperialists in exchange for betraying the intractable destiny of the people. There were unreadably long lists of tiny victories by innumerable guerrilla organizations: trucks full of ammunition or wheat or concentrated fruit juice liberated from the imperialists; city squares and government buildings gloriously defaced by revolutionary slogans; hopelessly obscure silos, checkpoints, bridges, pipelines, roads, radio towers, and police stations, exploding forgettably in the subtropical night. There were first-person accounts of police corruption and genuinely tender evocations of fallen comrades. In March 1970, a special issue presented the full text of Brazilian Marxist Carlos Marighella’s Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, a pragmatic and hair-raisingly detailed program for revolution in the cities of the industrialized world. (The chapter on “The Bank Assault as Popular Mission” detailed “important innovations in the tactics of assaulting banks,” including “the shooting of tires of cars to prevent pursuit, locking people in the bank bathroom, forcing someone to open the safe or the strong box, and using disguises.”)

What made all of this truly strange, however, was Tricontinental’s design. Compared to dismally drab Soviet attempts at cultural propaganda — or the comically guileless efforts of the Chinese — the Cubans had something uncontrivable going for them: it looked like they were having fun. Tricontinental resembled an underground zine from San Francisco more than an information vehicle for Third World liberation, and that juxtaposition had an effect comparable to that moment in Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil when a gang of black nationalists in a municipal junkyard read from a stilted manifesto while necking with white women in abandoned cars. Tricontinental’s covers were deliriously poppy, with bright, eyecatching graphics, making it just the sort of thing Marighella’s urban guerrillas should never be seen carrying in public.

At the height of its fame, the magazine boasted more than 30,000 subscribers in some eighty-seven countries. Most issues featured a poster insert demonstrating Cuban solidarity with one or another righteous global political struggle. Those posters found their way to college dorm rooms and kiosks across the globe, with young people from Berkeley to Beirut lining up to join OSPAAAL’s solidarity-of-themonth club.

The spare, colorful style of the OSPAAAL poster — like those of the ICAIC (Cuban Film Institute) and a number of other revolutionary cultural ministries — became the unofficial design language of graphic agitation the world over. That language was largely dictated by necessity; the posters, like the earliest covers of the magazine, were printed by hand on a silkscreen press. The inside of the magazine displayed a similar economy. In a technique Rostgaard called “Origami,” a single photo could be used to accompany any number of pages of text. Over the course of a six-page article, an image of Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier appeared, only to be torn into four neat pieces and tossed into a garbage can.

But it was the introduction of four-color printing for the front and inside covers that occasioned Tricontinental’s signature graphic development, the “Cartel Maqueta,” or model poster. Cartel Maqueta is an allegorical and highly composed style of photography in which objects and people are graphically arranged to tell a story or illustrate an idea. (A similar style was popular in record album art of the late 1960s and is currently enjoying something of a revival.) What made Tricontinental’s photography unique was that it operated under the same constraints that had led to Origami. The third dimension was attacked with characteristic gusto, using an idiom Rostgaard called “the anti-ad” — similar to the Situationist strategy of détournement, in which the modes and methods of the spectacle are used against it. In Tricontinental’s case, this meant ironically adopting the language of capitalist publicity to further revolutionary ideals. But photography carried its own problems, particularly in regard to costs.

The solution developed by the Cubans that proved so elusive to the propagandists of the rest of the Red world was a sense of humor. The photographic medium occasioned a sort of self-conscious humor to lighten the hand of ideological imperative and steer the ridiculous toward the satirical. Hence an image meant to evoke solidarity with Palestine features a Palestinian youth (an unshaved and fatigued Cuban with a sheet wrapped around his head) with his foot planted on the head of an Israeli soldier (a mannequin head wearing an army helmet bearing a freshly painted Star of David), buried up to his neck in the sand of the desert he had stolen (a white sand beach — the whole scene was shot from a ladder to keep the sparkling blue Caribbean out of the frame).

In another singularly hilarious image, this one meant to expose the contradictions of American domestic priorities, an astronaut (a man in a white cotton one-piece, with a futuristic-looking pilot’s helmet) reaches for the moon (a cardboard crescent wrapped in tinfoil) while standing on the backs of three rather confused-looking black children (three confused-looking black children).

Although their quality varies considerably, all the images in Tricontinental succeed in giving concrete expression to a means of production that was itself political, analogous to guerrilla warfare — making the most of limited technology and/or arms by dint of manpower, charisma, and ingenuity. This ethos of finding opportunity in necessity also defined the American counterculture and the peace movement, which also shared the Cuban affection for the silkscreen, and for radical politics (up to a point).

While the young Cuban artists at OSPAAAL were ambivalent about the aesthetic influence of their enormous neighbor to the north — Rostgaard was purportedly bemused to learn from an American magazine that he was practicing “pop art.” But the remarkable thing is that their publication never looked as if it were co-opting trippy Yanqui graphics and far-out motifs to repurpose them for the party line. On the contrary, in the pages of Tricontinental, communist revolution through armed struggle emerged as the farthest-out trip of all.

It’s worth remembering that the magazine took its name from the Tricontinental Congress of January 1966, a convocation of revolutionary states and organizations at the Chaplin Theatre in Havana, chaired by Castro. If you spend enough time reading neoconservative Web sites, you will eventually find the contention that the congress was the primal scene of late-twentieth-century terrorism, as Soviet agents and their Cuban henchlings began cultivating a network of operatives who would go on to sow decades of terror across the globe, culminating in 9/11. That’s quite a stretch, even if the attendees at the conference did, in fact, include a seventeen-year-old named Illich Ramirez Sanchez, later known for his “work” with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as Carlos the Jackal.

In 1975 Alfredo Rostgaard left the magazine to work for UNIAC, the Union of Cuban Artists. But the magazine continued to be published, even as the prospects for the inevitable triumph of the revolution came to seem more and more remote. Tricontinental only stopped printing around the turn of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Cuba literally ran out of ink. Whatever one thinks of the Cuban revolution and its contradictions and failures, Tricontinental’s demise seems like the noblest conclusion that any magazine could aspire to. This one included.

Text by Babak Radboy
Source:Bidoun Magazine 22, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Love the White Middle Class

Anton Kannemeyer, I Love the White Middle Class . . . , 2008, acrylic on canvas, 47 x 47”.

It’s time to stand up for courage and conviction

There has been considerable discussion in recent years about the lack of public engagement in civic and political life. But this discussion suffers from the fact that it’s conducted from the perspective of a political elite that is itself socially isolated. This elite therefore has a perception of the public as an object with which one engages. That itself tells me straightaway that when we use the word ‘public’, we’re almost invariably not talking about the public in the way that it’s been historically understood.

In many respects, the public has become a project, a project of inclusion. New Labour loved having these projects. So every museum would start saying ‘we’re showing fine art, but we’re also spending millions of pounds on including the public’. The moment the public becomes a project that you seek to include artificially, it acquires a fantasy-like character. Hence, virtually everything we say about public engagement – counting the numbers, checking whether the voter turnout has gone up by two per cent since last time and so on – all represent this kind of fantasy of trying to create a link that really isn’t there. Just because you vote at a particular time, just because you come to a meeting, this does not involve or imply the reality of a public.

Historically, a public referred to a group of people with an idea of themselves as distinct and independent, as having something in common, and a sense that it had some power and influence. So therefore the idea of empowering the public is a contradiction in terms: power is gained, not granted. When you ‘empower’ people, you’re not empowering them, you’re enfeebling them.

Today, it seems that almost every form of public engagement – of public relations – is a kind of impression management. People make a lot of money out of it, but it really doesn’t bear upon everyday life. I think the problem is a cultural one and that’s the domain we should be addressing.

The cultural problem that we have today is something that Machiavelli identified over 500 years ago. He grasped that the strength of a body politic is determined by the extent to which it was infused by public spirit. As far as Machiavelli was concerned, a real public spirit accounted for the strength of the Roman Empire – the Roman republic specifically – and also the incredible things that were going on in Florence, Sienna and so on during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And Machiavelli made the point that public spirit presupposes a set of virtues, forms of behaviour that you expect people to have as part and parcel of everyday life. These virtues would include devotion, courage, patriotic conviction, risk-taking and so on. (That all this seems so terribly old-fashioned now is part of the problem.)

I would argue that almost every single virtue that makes for public spirit is stigmatised by our society. Having recently been listening to people’s recollections at the inquiry into the 7/7 bombings about what happened that terrible day in London in 2005, what really struck me was that you had stories of people wanting to do things for the hurt and injured but who were being told by fire officers that for health and safety reasons they could not go anywhere near these people.

Just imagine: here are all these people, they’re trying to help others, they’re trying to do the right thing, but to do so they have to adhere to a very clear process. All these processes, all these procedures, serve to displace public interaction. They make public virtue dependent on adhering to different codes of conduct.

This displacement of public virtue happens in all sorts of ways. Just this morning, for instance, I heard yet another plea for volunteering – I almost felt like throwing up, I’ve heard it so many times. Now call me old-fashioned, but when I was young you volunteered because you believed in something. You wanted to help people; you wanted, for instance, to give blood. You didn’t do volunteering because it looked good on your CV. So, while volunteering certainly has a virtuous potential, it has been turned into a process that you adhere to much in the way that you clock on to a job.

An example of this stigmatisation of virtue relates to something I feel strongly about, namely, devotion and care. During the course of writing a book a few years ago called Therapy Culture, I noticed that aspects of devotion and care had become increasingly stigmatised, often being expressed and defined as a marker of a disease. In fact, any manifestation of love, friendship, loyalty or altruism was potentially labelled as a form of addictive behaviour. Altruistic behaviour – which hardly seems a bad thing – is actually diagnosed as compulsive helping. According to this definition, compulsive helpers disregard their own needs and feelings and focus on helping another person. That kind of sums up our current situation with regards to public virtue: in a different era, in a different society, this so-called disease would be seen as a positive thing.

Rhetorically, responsibility and loyalty are still upheld as public virtues, of course. But in practice these are undermined, time and time again. Something happened to me recently that made me think about this in a way that I hadn’t before. Last year, my mother died. While she was in hospital, I used to go to visit her all the time. And the very first time I went to visit her, I introduced myself to the nurse: ‘I’m Frank Furedi, I’m Clara’s son.’ The woman looked up at me and said, ‘You mean you’re her “carer”’. ‘No, her son’, I responded. But she was insistent: ‘No, you are her carer.’

It was very interesting that she used the word carer. This kind of terminology displaces the idea that there’s some kind of spontaneous and informal relationship with a bureaucratic typology. It reminds me of the way in which very elementary forms of compassion, of human interaction, have been pretty much blocked out altogether.

For that reason, the public can never have the virtues we want the public to have because we’ve done such a brilliant job at undermining those virtues. It is worth recalling that Machiavelli and other humanists feared the professionalisation of public duty. If you look at their writings, time and again they point to the danger of their city states relying on mercenaries instead of the services provided by citizens. From their perspective, the employment of mercenaries absolved the people from taking responsibility for the future of their community and served as instruments of the corrosion of public duty. That’s more or less what the bureaucratisation of public life has achieved today. It leads to a world where even family responsibility can become outsourced to ‘carers’. In such circumstances the public can’t do anything until a bureaucrat ticks the right box.

So we need a change in cultural attitudes towards the public.

When I was in Australia this summer during the election, the prime minister, Julia Gillard – who I don’t particularly like, but who has her strengths – decided that she would set up a citizens’ assembly to discuss climate change. ‘Why not?’, I thought, ‘this is a good thing’. After all, it affects the citizens, so why shouldn’t they get to discuss it?

But climate change experts opposed to the idea were saying ‘these are citizens, they are not experts on climate change’. The environmentalists were even worse. They were saying, ‘we don’t want citizens because ordinary folk are selfish, they only care about guzzling gas, they want to have big carbon footprints. So we want a proper committee of experts.’ And in the end, when the assembly was set up, Gillard had basically got rid of the idea of an assembly of normal people and had stuffed it with the experts instead.

In a press release she explained that instead of a committee of people, we have a group of experts who have a greater understanding of the challenge of climate change. ‘While the commission will set up a website’, she continued, ‘there are no plans for a major advertising campaign’. The committee concluded that the proposal for a citizens’ assembly should not be implemented and that there would be other ways of harnessing public dialogue and engagement in the science of climate change and engagement in questioning the price of carbon.

This illustrates how the language of public engagement, public dialogue, public inclusion are self-consciously used as a means to push people away. And I don’t blame Gillard or any other politician. I think politicians are in a very difficult situation. It’s not their fault.

What I do have a problem with is the fact we don’t recognise that ordinary people have been silenced, that we’ve forced people to censor themselves in terms of what they actually believe and what they think. And most importantly, instead of culturally validating people’s active, positive side – all the good things about human beings – what we’ve done is subjugate them to the most boring, flattened out form of bureaucratic rule. As long as that’s the case, any form of public engagement will simply be a caricature of itself.

Text by Frank Furedi

Part of a series of articles based on talks given at the Battle of Ideas festival, which took place on 30 and 31 October at the Royal College of Art in London. Here, Frank Furedi argues that whilst there is an obsession with ‘public engagement’ today, the very virtues necessary for a public spirit - risk-taking, devotion, courage - are stigmatised

First published by spiked, 10 November 2010

Ανθρώπινη μανία κατακόρυφης γλυπτικής


Η πλατφόρμα είναι δεμένη κάπου στον ανοιχτό ωκεανό όπου και απαγορεύονται οι δημόσιες προβολές DVD στις ομάδες εργατών. Η συνολική δομή της πλατφόρμας ζυγίζει χιλιάδες τόνους. Η πρόσδεσή της στο βυθό της θάλασσας γίνεται με πύργους από ατσάλι και αλυσιδωτές γέφυρες ύψους δύο χιλιάδες μέτρων. Η θέση της είναι σταθερή και βρίσκεται σε κατακόρυφη αντιστοιχία με πλούσιο υποθαλάσσιο κοίτασμα πετρελαίου. Το αντίβαρο της πλατφόρμας που την δένει στην τελική της θέση γίνεται με τόνους τσιμέντου και χαλικιού. Στο έρμα, κοινώς «σαβούρα», συνήθως εσωκλείονται και οι δεξαμενές αποθήκευσης του ανεπεξέργαστου πετρελαίου που αντλείται. Απόληξη της υποθαλάσσιας κατασκευής στην επιφάνεια του νερού είναι μια τεχνητή νησίδα τσιμέντου, η ίδια η πλατφόρμα. Το σχήμα της νησίδας διαγράφει ένα δεκαεξάκτινο αστέρι με μορφοποιημένα άκρα κυματοθραύστη. Πάνω στη νησίδα υψώνονται κυκλικά πυλώνες που στηρίζουν τα καταστρώματα εργασίας. Οι ομάδες εργατών δουλεύουν από το ύψος των καταστρωμάτων με απόκριση στο κατακόρυφο βάθος του εντοπισμένου κοιτάσματος. Αιωρούμενοι βραχίονες με προσαρμοσμένα μέλη γεωτρυπάνων εφαρμόζονται στα στόμια αγωγών. Οι αγωγοί διασχίζουν όλο το βάθος μέχρι το κοίτασμα, και η στήριξή τους έχει γίνει με τη βοήθεια αλυσιδωτών υποστυλωμάτων μέχρι το βυθό. Η διάνοιξη του ορύγματος γίνεται με περιστροφική γεώτρηση. Χρησιμοποιείται γεωτρύπανο που φέρει κεφαλή οδοντωτών τροχών με αδαμάντινες προσμείξεις. Αφού το τρυπάνι κουμπώσει στο στόμιο, πρέπει να βυθιστεί σταδιακά μέσα στον αγωγό μέχρι το τελικό βάθος. Οι χειριστές εφαρμόζουν κυλινδρικά πρόσθετα στελέχη στην ουρά της κεφαλής για να την επιμηκύνουν. Στόχος είναι η διάνοιξη φρεατίου που καταλήγει στο κοίτασμα. Στη διάτρηση αρχικά αφαιρούνται κομμάτια υποθαλάσσιου εδάφους με σχήμα αντίστοιχο του τρυπανιού. Τα «καρότα» από λάσπη διαλύονται μέσα στο νερό και το τρυπάνι εκτρέπεται σταδιακά παρασύροντας μαζί του στο κοίτασμα τον αγωγό άντλησης. Η κεφαλή τότε ανασύρεται κι επιστρέφει στην επιφάνεια διαμέσω του αγωγού. Διαβιβάζονται στη συνέχεια, από παράπλευρες οπές των αγωγών, αέρια υπό πίεση που θα περιορίσουν τον αυθόρμητο πίδακα του πετρελαίου σε μετριασμένη ανάβλυση και τελικώς στην άντληση του ακατέργαστου πετρελαίου.

Επιβεβαιώνω. Το θαλασσινό αλάτι καίει τα πάντα στο πέρασμά του. Διεισδύει καταστρέφοντας ολοσχερώς ιστούς και όργανα και κυρίως τον εγκέφαλο. Επιβεβαιώνω επίσης ότι αυτό είναι κάτι συνηθισμένο.1

Η τσιμεντένια νησίδα φωσφορίζει κίτρινη σαν σανίδα σωτηρίας που εκπέμπει κάλεσμα για να την αρπάξει ο χαμένος χρυσοθήρας. Αυτό το ακραίο μοντέλο απομονωμένης εντατικής ανθρώπινης δραστηριότητας μπορεί να σου στρέψει το πρόσωπο στο σκληρά και βαθιά κρυμμένο πετρέλαιο κάτω από τον πάτο του ωκεανού. Στη χαρά σου μέσα θα ανέβεις με σάλτο επάνω της σαν έποικος μόλις σε ρυμουλκήσουν. Το χτισμένο πηγάδι άντλησης που επιπλέει πάνω στο νερό και σηκώνει τους γερανούς του, για να τραβήξει ανθρώπους και βαρέλια, θα προεκτείνει αμέσως τα πόδια σου συμπαγή τούβλα μέχρι το βυθό. Εσύ θα κοιτάξεις ψηλά τον πύργο που σηκώνεται στον ουρανό και με τα μάτια θα ακολουθήσεις, μέσα στο βάθος του ορίζοντα, το ελικόπτερο που μεταφέρει βάρδιες εργατών από τη στεριά στην πλατφόρμα, να επιστρέφει πίσω στην ξηρά. Έμπορος, θαλασσοπόρος και γεωγράφος. Ο Πυθέας ο Μασσαλιώτης τον 4ο αιώνα π.Χ. ξεκίνησε μέσω στεριάς και έπλευσε βόρεια προς τη Βρετανία, και στη συνέχεια βορειότερα προς την Ισλανδία, ψηλά στον ήλιο του μεσονυχτίου. Διαγώνια απέναντι από τη Νέα Γη του Καναδά, σε νοητή γραμμή από το μέσο της Ιρλανδίας, βρίσκεται το κοίτασμα πετρελαίου της Hibernia. Εκεί επάνω εδράζεται η σύγχρονη επαρχία του υποθαλάσσιου βόμβου που σταδιακά μεταμφιέζει τα τσιμέντα της σε φυσικό ύφαλο και θαλάσσιο βιότοπο για ψάρια και μικροοργανισμούς.

1. Enki Bilal ANIMAL’Z, Casterman 2009. [↩]

κειμ. Αναστασία Δούκα, Kaput.09

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Labor Craft above the Clouds

Labor Craft above the Clouds (The Intermediaries of a Time that Governs People to Raise a Barrier to the Comfortable Urban Condition)
263 x 30 x 13 cm
wood, acrylic, varnish, felt


Eπιμελεια : Θανάσης Μουτσόπουλος
Καλλιτέχνες: Όπυ Ζούνη, Βλάσης Κανιάρης , Χρύσα Ρωμανού, Βασίλης Σκυλάκος , Άγγελος Αντωνόπουλος , Λάζαρος Ζήκος, Νίκος Τρανός , Κωστής Τριανταφύλλου, Γιώργος Τσακίρης, Πάνος Χαραλάμπους , Γιώργος Χαρβαλιάς, Νίκος Κρυωνίδης, Αντώνης Μιχαηλίδης, Κωστής Βελώνης, Κalos & Κlio, Κατερίνα Παπαζήση

Δημοτική Πινακοθήκη Καλαμάτας
Δεκ.2010 - 31 Μαρτίου 2011


Thierry de Cordier

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Writers Cottage

Architects: Jarmund / Vigsn?s AS Architects MNAL
Location: Asker, Norway
Client: Cecilie Enger
Project year: 2007 – 2008
Photographs: Nils Petter Dale

Unbounded Enthusiasms

Bojan Šarčević, World Corner, 1999, bricks, plaster, wallpaper, wood. Installation view, Carlier/Gebauer, Berlin.

“TO WHAT EXTENT SHOULD AN ARTIST understand the implications of his or her findings?” This is the cryptic question that Bojan Šarčević posed to a panel of artists, critics, and curators he’d convened on the occasion of his 2006 two-venue exhibition in Ireland, at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, and the Model Arts and Niland Gallery, Sligo. The show debuted a group of works—miniature geometries of brass threads dangling almost imperceptibly against an expanse of elegantly distressed wallpaper—that appeared far from the kind of research-based production his query would seem to address. Yet the seminar, held at the Dublin venue, was no mere discursive supplement. If Šarčević broached the broader topic of meaning in art—as was borne out by the ensuing expansive and open-ended discussion, which took the outcome out of the artist’s hands and offered no easily summarized “findings”—he also answered its own question. And this response was articulated via the creation of a defined structure (in this case, the colloquium form) that serves as an engine of relatively unbounded knowledge production. It’s precisely this kind of generative and multiplicitous rubric that has unified Šarčević’s stylistic shape-shifts, over the past decade or so, through roughhousing architectural interventions, films and videos, delicately filigreed sculptures, and a diversity of photo-based work.

The problem was that, thanks to the presiding doxa of reception, readings of Šarčević’s work had tended to overlook this central strategy. There are understandable reasons for this. Consider, for example, one of Šarčević’s earliest pieces, World Corner, 1999, for which he physically extracted the corner of a room in a condemned apartment building in Amsterdam, cut an equivalent-size corner from a room in Berlin’s Carlier|Gebauer gallery, and fitted the Dutch corner into the German gap. While the new addition sat more or less flush with the venue’s walls and floor, a suture of splattered plasterwork around it made plain that a transplanting process had occurred. And in this sense, World Corner would seem to map onto Šarčević’s peripatetic background: Born in Belgrade, he lived with his family in North Africa for some years, then moved to Sarajevo as a teenager. At the age of seventeen, at the outset of the Bosnian war, he left that city and has since sojourned in Montreal, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin (where he now lives). So far, so tidy: World Corner’s suggestions of migration and adaptation chime with Šarčević’s Eastern European name and far-flung, war-torn background, offering, in a highly respectable post-Minimal idiom, an allegory of geopolitical instability, nomadic drift, and contingent identity. But while Šarčević is not unconcerned with these issues, this isn’t how his art communicates, where it originates, or how it is internally organized.

Šarčević’s interest, in the case of World Corner (which was shown on two further occasions, in Watou, Belgium and Paris), lay in upending and refocusing the experience of a given space, in creating something at once incongruous and assimilated, in making a collage in three dimensions. He was, he says, inspired by a memory of Jean Eustache’s film Une Sale Histoire (A Dirty Story, 1977), in which a man describes discovering a peephole in a Paris café’s bathroom and fantasizing that this aperture predates the whole city, which grew up around it. When World Corner was plugged into a gallery space, it too seemed paradoxically both a foundation and an empty center. It was evidently older than what surrounded it; figuratively speaking, it might have been the cornerstone on which each structure was built.

Glimmering here is the idea that the conceptual ambit of Šarčević’s art might be disproportionate to its apparent physical restraint. Though his work always seems to be shifting gears in terms of medium and appearance, it consistently demonstrates what multitudes a particle of reality can contain when it is unmoored from its context, and how that untethering might modulate experience on the visual—as opposed to critical or conceptual—plane. We can see this dynamic in other early works—for example, Favorite Clothes Worn While S/He Worked, 2000, for which Šarčević persuaded members of various uniformed professions (including maids and car mechanics) to spend two weeks working in their “best” clothes and then exhibited the stained results in a pseudo-museological display. Here, carried over from World Corner, is an impulse to simultaneously emphasize and normalize incongruities. Favorite Clothes . . . engages other issues as well, e.g., labor’s indignities and its insidious colonizing of the self. But at the same time, these works are rooted in a notion of the material trace as suggestive origin; both prompt viewers to build outward—into a hemisphere of delimited signification—from what is effectively abstract mark-making, as invested in texture and facture as Dieter Roth’s grease stains or Lee Bontecou’s soiled, cut-up conveyor belts.

Bojan Šarčević, Favorite Clothes Worn While S/He Worked, 2000, twenty-seven wardrobe items, MDF tables. Installation view, Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst Bremen, Germany, 2000

Rather than viewing them as determinative, a stable platform on which interpretation can be built, one might see the external references that Šarčević offers in such works as something like the fragments of an old, decaying scroll: They at once serve as points of orientation and imply, materially, the vast expanse of everything that isn’t there to be read. They thus take an audience accustomed to reading works of art, unlocking predetermined content, and treating reception as a form of mastery and set them afloat in endlessly bifurcating realms of signification, inviting them to fill in the blanks themselves. This is especially clear in two works whose references are loaded indeed: Spirit of Versatility and Spirit of Inclusiveness, both 2002, are corner-hugging mimicries of decorative detailing from holy places. The former is a painted-wood, silvery-gray, sci-fi-looking spread of interlocking geometric forms based on muqarnas, the richly niched corbels found in mosques; the latter is a life-size replica, in glowing plates of steel, zinc, brass, and copper, of one of the curved, vaulted corners of Cologne Cathedral. Particularly in the wake of 9/11, this overt counterposing of Christianity and Islam might conjure a nimbus of sociopolitical import and rhetorical intent. But in fact, via its mismatching of aesthetic regimes, the work undoes the kind of neat conceptual symmetry (e.g., Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order [1996]) that would enable such a reading. What both works offer is undeniable and estranged material presence: Here, Šarčević makes Islamic architecture feel startlingly futuristic and allies Christianity with the textures of Minimalism. To the extent that Spirit of Versatility and Spirit of Inclusiveness do contain a political or topical argument, it may consist in the notion that failure of imagination—the kind that posits two religions as a simple binary—is itself an ethical transgression.

In later works, the referential quality becomes ever more oblique, while the work itself seems to move toward formal transparency—as if to delineate a kind of ether in which viewers’ projections of meaning could remain suspended. Keep Illusion for the End, 2005, for instance, is a large, freestanding geometric framework of overlapping and crisscrossing three-dimensional outlines—zigzagging lengths of brass, copper, wood, and concrete recede like afterimages behind an irregular polygon made of slender wooden strips—which, seen from one angle, snap into focus to suggest the flattened silhouette of a house. The airy, diagrammatic whole, an elegant study in form and line and (absence of) volume, has a refined neomodernist feel. But the overly elaborated zigzags, reminiscent of Art Moderne moldings, also suggest decor details such as coving. Like the Spirit of . . . sculptures, this work puts ornament center stage. In a doubly wry inversion, modernism is remade out of what it repressed, and abstraction is made to do the bidding of its former nemesis, figuration.

Yet while all of this usefully lends itself to talking about the work, these projects could perhaps also be recouped as simply the sediment of the artist’s daily life, rather than as Šarčević’s attempt to insert his art into a history of ideas. His creative method, he says, frequently finds him trying to reconstruct and amplify some splinter of the real. While World Corner sprang from his walking the streets of Amsterdam, Šarčević was living in Berlin, surrounded and fascinated by early-modern architecture, when he made Keep Illusion for the End and related pieces, such as the sleek copper stack of inwardly curving, loosely enclosing banister-like forms Wanting Without Needing, Loving Without Leaning, 2005, or “1954,” his 2004 series of black-and-white collages that upend the regimented spatial logic of modernist interiors. And describing these latter works’ ostensible thematics doesn’t, in any case, fully account for their physical or material fundamentality, which is elegant and anorexic, old and new, and suggests that the work doesn’t primarily require interpretation (although it can take it). If we tend to apprehend and remember the world in glancing, indelible details, Šarčević’s approach suggests, then an art that harvests and compounds such fragments ought to be a model of, and a cue for, an upgraded state of awareness, of being in the world—a model that invites surrender to the comparative aphasia of an underinscribed encounter, one that doesn’t come with a predetermined meaning.

An untitled 2006 series—of which Šarčević’s inconspicuous sculptures for Dublin were an outrider—found him bending and welding slender lengths of brass and stringing them with threads, like alien harps or sextants, before fixing them to walls that had been partly painted or wallpapered and partly stripped. The linear elements form a set of emphatic, specific, yet opaque formal decisions for the viewer to navigate, mitigated by what has increasingly become a hallmark of Šarčević’s art: a rare, abstract beauty. Once again implying a kind of three-dimensional collage, this procedure morphed across parallel groups of works created the same year. The brass geometries were strung with patterned silk scarves from a Berlin market, in a sensuous conversation between textures. They then found themselves standing like forlorn miniature pylons on complexly planed white cardboard plinths. And this tableau form was adapted (with the brass threads going with it) for Šarčević’s 16-mm film series “Only After Dark,” 2007, and “The Breath Taker Is the Breath Giver,” 2009.

View of Bojan Šarčević, “Only After Dark,” 2007, Centre d’Art Contemporain d'Ivry—le Crédac, Ivry-sur-Seine, France. Photo: André Morin.

The five films that compose the former series are all less than three minutes long, screened within specially made chambers that underline their quality of rapt hermeticism, and accompanied by downbeat and dilatory improvisations for piano, percussion, guitar, and kora. In each, the camera racks up static views of precise arrangements of shardlike Perspex uprights (L-shaped, like corners); groupings of ragged wood, brass, and curved paper; and origami-like card constructions, miniature stone obelisks, and a hunk of red meat that, at the end of the final film, appears to pulse like a beating heart. The accumulation of different angles on coordinate-free scenarios—expanded, in the four-part “The Breath Taker Is the Breath Giver,” to include miniature wooden architectures festooned with strings and nestling in sand; alien-looking, hair-covered objects resembling Chinese scholars’ rocks; and ravishingly lit alignments of crumpled colored tissue, cardboard, and a hank of blond hair—turns Šarčević’s camera into a proxy for the perplexed but entranced viewer, able neither to fully understand nor to look away.

The editing style, which involves restless cutting among the tableaux, meanwhile imparts to Šarčević’s subjects a quality bordering on animism. (The artist has said that he wanted the sculptural elements to be almost like protagonists, desiring to communicate with one another.) They hover, poised between sentience and dumb objecthood. The film’s liminal objects are echoed in a series of sculptures of surpassing delicacy (“Involuntary Twitch,” 2010), in which horizontal brass plates are held precariously within a system of notched, willowy steel poles. Though they’re composed of hard metals, these assemblies are inestimably fragile—a paradox that conveys itself unnervingly as viewers realize that these scaffolds are literally quivering in the gallery’s air currents. And though they resemble modular shelving systems, they’re resolutely nonfunctional (unless one has, say, a selection of feathers to display). These are near-abstract works haloed by panoplies of cloudy reference—their modernist aspect, for example, is at once present and hard to pin down.

This isn’t mystification for its own sake. For an artist to assign specific meaning to his or her own work—to seek to control “the implications of his or her findings”—is, by Šarčević’s lights, a kind of legislation or moralizing. It’s also deeply limiting, foreclosing the possibility of art’s accessing its profounder registers: where the viewer, rather than decrypting a piety, has a journeying encounter. On that voyage, Šarčević is still a guide but not an autocrat. It is here, one would say, that the tactical élan of Šarčević’s programmatic use of fragments and details might be seen. A sliver of the real, particularly when coaxed into the kind of exquisite obliqueness that he specializes in, is a starting point, asking to be followed through—refusing openness but allowing the viewer to do the completing. The rich specificity of Šarčević’s fragments, their near-Romantic keying to particular places and historical moments, creates spheres of interpretative potentialities, from the aesthetic to the sociopolitical. The artist refutes “meaninglessness,” the perilous obverse of opening up signification—but doesn’t turn the artwork into a cipher.

In 2007, Šarčević produced an artist’s book that juxtaposed images from the whole of his career with texts extracted from a 2004 paper on the transitioning Western Balkans, commissioned by the European Union Institute for Security Studies; he titled the volume Kissing the Back of Your Hand Makes a Sound like a Wounded Bird, densely alloying specific political realities and expansive poetic polysemy. One might consider this a distillation of what Šarčević is asking for: not an outright rejection of the content-driven approach that has dominated the art of recent decades or a wholehearted return to the modernist formalism that preceded it, but a realization that the two models were artificially cleaved all along. Vouchsafed here is a synthetic practice that does not displace experience—looking, feeling—in favor of decoding and that still acknowledges the existence of the outside world. This is an old modernist problem, but one that stalks us still. What we need is neither an erotics nor a hermeneutics of art, Šarčević wordlessly affirms. We need an art that calls for both at once.

Text by Martin Herbert
Source:Artforum , Nov.2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Claire-Fontaine, "Passe-Partout" (Paris 10eme)

"Consumption", Helena Papadopoulos Gallery, Athens
11 November 2010-15 January 2011

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bearing the Light

Rain-diamonds, this winter morning, embellish the tangle of unpruned pear-tree twigs; each solitaire, placed, it appearrs, with considered judgement, bears the light beneath the rifted clouds -- the indivisible shared out in endless abundance.

Denise Levertov

Rotterdam Dialogues: Morality

Witte de With presents a two-day symposium structured around lectures, dialogues and a masterclass by Wendelien van Oldenborgh.

Since the Fall of 2009, the team at Witte de With has been developing a series of exhibitions and events that make visible the gray zones of contemporary morality. This was motivated by our perception that an exponential number of moral attitudes are emerging in the public sphere that reinforce rigid, binary frameworks for thought and action. With this in mind, our aim has been to shed some light on the workings of morality from a range of different perspectives, focusing on the areas where its application is elusive and unstable, culturally specific and politically ambivalent. Our sense is that the question of morality must remain in play but open and undefined.
The purpose of Rotterdam Dialogues: Morality is to forge a constructive discussion around this increasingly ubiquitous but elusive term, transferring the explorations and speculations developed throughout this past year’s exhibitions and events to the discursive field.

With this symposium we wish to shed some light on the fraught encounter between the values that characterize the idea of an open, egalitarian society, and the intolerances articulated in the name of morality. As with previous Acts of the program, the symposium guests have not been asked to specify the meaning of morality, but rather to introduce case studies through which to think constructively about spaces and instances where binary distinctions – good and evil; right and wrong – fall apart. Each guest will share her or his intellectual experience to form a base for concrete discussion.

The participants represent a wide range of disciplines: philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, curating, criticism, art, anthropology and architecture.

Lars Bang Larsen (critic, Barcelona/Copenhagen), Clémentine Deliss (director, Museum de Weltkulturen, Frankfurt), Dessislava Dimova (art historian and freelance curator, Brussels), Felix Ensslin (Professor for Aesthetics and Art Mediation, State Academy of Fine Arts, Stuttgart), Joseph Grima (director, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York), Nikolaus Hirsch (director, Städelschule, Frankfurt), Candice Hopkins (curator, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), Koyo Kouoh (administrator, curator and critic, Dakar), Mian Mian (author, Shanghai), Matthias Mühling (Head of Department Collections /Exhibitions/ Research, Städtische Galerie im Lembachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich), Wendelien van Oldenborgh (artist, Rotterdam), Adriano Pedrosa (independent curator, editor and writer, Saõ Paulo), Tariq Ramadan (Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University), Aaron Schuster (philosopher, Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin), Tirdad Zolghadr (independent critic and curator, New York, teacher at Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College).
And with New-York-based artist, Rainar Ganahl, as a special respondent from the audience.

Witte de With symposium
19-20 November
Wendelien van Oldenborgh masterclass
21 November

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Marx in Arcadia

Kostis Velonis, Memorial to Collective Utopia, 2010, wood, acrylic, watercolour, 141 x 80 x 54 cm

"Marx in Arcadia",AD Gallery, Athens
Opening: Monday 15 November 2010, 8:00 p.m.
Exhibition duration: 15 November – 15 January 2011

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Athens Dialogues : Democracy & Politeia

Democracy & Politeia

Athens, where the conference will take place, more than any other city-state of ancient Greece made an acknowledged contribution to the notions of democratic governance. This was both idealistic and realistic, emphasizing the importance of the individual but also the collectivity. The notion of human dignity was repeatedly stressed as was that of equality even though the latter was also severely circumscribed by the different social attitudes of the ancient world towards slavery, women and the rights of semi-citizens or immigrants. The understanding of justice and what purpose it should serve also received nuanced and sophisticated treatment that still informs legal thinking. Similarly pioneering was the realization that in a democracy citizens have duties as well as rights, towards the state but also towards ëeternalí laws, touching the sensitive issue of the permissible limits of civil disobedience.

These ideas evolved in the forum and in the gymnasium, during private social gatherings, and through the medium of essays or theatrical dramas and even comedies. The different media used to give them birth themselves became sources of inspiration and imitation as other panels will examine. The ideas of good and bad government were thus to figure prominently in the arts of the Renaissance among others. In short, the notions of the ancient world spread and touched not only lawyers and politicians but also thinkers and creators from all disciplines.

To these eternal topics the ancient Greeks did not always provide the final answers. Indeed, most would agree that these “big questions” are incapable of single or conclusive responses. But the ancient Greek world invariably handled them in insightful but also in a contradictory way which makes the richness of the ancient legacy greater and the need to explore its relevance to today’s unstable and highly materialistic times even more urgent.

Chair: Professor Konstantinos Svolopoulos, Professor of Modern Greek history, President of the Academy of Athens and Professor Anastasios-Ioannis Metaxas (co-chair), Professor Emeritus of Political Science of the University of Athens and Director of the Political Communication Workshop

Main Speakers: Ryan Balot, Angelos Chaniotis, John Dunn, Pierre Delvolvé, John Dunn, Jean-Louis Ferrary, Ljubomir Maksimovic, Anastasios-Ioannis Metaxas (co-chair), Sarah Monoson, Josiah Ober, Claudia Rapp

Onasssis Cultural Centre, 26 Nov.

The Contemporary Artist as a Role Model in a Crisis of Competence

In a universe of increasing incompetence, in which amateurism flourishes, the contemporary artist offers an interesting role model. Society can learn much from the ways in which the contemporary artist makes his ignorance effective.

As a profession, contemporary art occupies a special position. Lacking a clear standard of craftsmanship, it is not a real métier: neither technical nor aesthetic criteria exist that can help identify a ‘competent work of art’. In this respect contemporary visual art differs from other art forms, such as music or dance, that still have solid minimum criteria for technique and skill.

Should artists be able to hold a hammer? In contemporary art even insiders rarely agree about criteria of artistic quality. A particular artist’s work may be judged as pathetic wreckage by some and at the same time as a revolutionary new aesthetic by others. This lack of consensus about quality and artistic merit will continue to provide material for Gerrit Komrij to write cynical newspaper columns. It is, however, actually a fascinating characteristic that makes the contemporary artist an unexpected role model in today’s society.

At the moment, we see around us a real, overall crisis of competence. The most distressing examples of this have shown up in the financial sector, with banks, investors and insurance companies (‘The incompetence is baffling,’ according to financial markets supervisor Hans Hoogervorst, last April). Major infrastructural projects that have stranded or failed completely also indicate a fundamental lack of expertise, in this case on the part of government authorities and project developers. ‘When the government stopped building bridges and roads, knowledge and expertise shifted to market players,’ according to the city of Almere's alderman, Adri Duivesteijn (NRC Handelsblad, 12 December 2009). But those market players themselves also seem to be failing. Contractors and subcontractors building the sheet piling for Amsterdam’s new metro line have made tremendous blunders, with well-publicized, disastrous consequences. From other sectors of society, including elementary education and forensic psychiatry, painful cases of incompetence are being reported as well.

Universities, colleges, government bodies and other organizations are meanwhile obsessed by the phantom of ‘excellence’. But the more they repeat this mantra, beating the drum of the knowledge economy, the clearer it becomes that society as a whole finds itself in a crisis of competence.

Incompetence is certainly a thing of every age. The current crisis may be due to the fact that technical, managerial and economic systems have become so complex and intertwined that minor incidents are more likely to have far-reaching consequences. Automation has in any case proven to be no remedy for the unreliable human factor. In fact, it only multiplies the consequences of human failure.

There is also a clear ideological component. Within the neoliberal network economy, knowledge tends to dissolve in a quick succession of temporary projects, causing a loss of focus and concentration. The durable institutional logic of the state, the school or the museum evaporates in an ever more rapid sequence of reorganizations and management trends. To control and innovate the organization itself has become an obsession that is making managers lose sight of more substantial tasks.

In this context, the contemporary artist is an interesting role model. In a universe of increasing incompetence, only artists know how to make their lack of expertise productive. Contemporary artists are professionals without a profession, craftspeople without a craft, dilettantes with infinite potential. Only artists routinely subject the professional content of their discipline to debate, as part of their everyday practice. With each new work they make, artists embrace the crisis of competence instead of shifting it to others, as is the case in most other domains. They accept complete responsibility, in defiance of the neoliberal tendency to delegate and outsource. By definition, the creation of a work of art entails a critical test of the criteria of creative competence and artistic skill. Thus visual art can be considered as a form of societal meta-production: any contemporary work of art is like a condensed re-enactment of the crisis of competence in a public context.

What are the implications for art schools? The ideal visual art curriculum neither denies nor conceals the lack of substance at the heart of the artistic profession, nor does it anxiously try to renew or reconstruct some lost craft. Instead it makes this fundamental condition the focal point of a permanently reflective practice. However paradoxically, the true competence of the artist is the ability to work with his or her own incompetence. Art students have to learn to face the indeterminate nature of their profession, without recourse to generally valid methods and techniques.

In the mundane reality of both politics and business, such critical capacity has been lost. Due to pressure from voters, shareholders, consumers and the media, the fear of making mistakes has overtaken all other concerns. Even if the contemporary artist is not able to come up with a general solution to this dilemma, the artistic attitude in dealing with (in)competence is well worth a closer look. Art education may be the only place where this particular type of ‘competency training’ exists.

Pascal Gielen teaches art sociology and cultural policy at the University of Groningen and is Professor of Arts in Society at the Fontys University of Fine and Performing Arts in Tilburg. Camiel van Winkel is Professor of Visual Art at AKV|St.Joost, Avans University in Den Bosch. They are currently doing a joint research project on the hybridization of contemporary artistic practice.

Translated from the Dutch by Mari Shields.

Source:Metropolis M, 2010 No5 October / November.

Folk Indian Cats

The Book "I Like Cats" emerges from the brushstrokes of the best-known tribal and folk artists of India. Silk screen-printed by hand, this book features an impressive gallery of irresistible felines across a variety of Indian tribal art traditions, and comes with a framable screenprint. Carrying on in the comic verse tradition, the witty and jubilant poetry-tales of Indian writer Anushka Ravishankar are internationally acclaimed, widely translated, and honoured with innumerable awards. Art by various artists from the finest tribal and folk traditions from across India.
Tara Books

Friday, November 5, 2010

Where Are the Great Women Pop Artists?

It's clear that female artists of the '60s were pushed to the margins of art history. But a series of exhibitions showcasing their work reveals how un-Pop many of them were

Western art history has nearly always been constructed as a narrative in which women are viewed through male eyes—as subjects and as objects. From the Venus of Willendorf to Raphael's Madonnas, Rubens's raped Sabines, Picasso's jilted lovers, and de Kooning's man-eating females, the standard gaze was that of the male, and what it gazed upon was the objectified female body.

Suddenly art history (once again) finds itself being turned on its head as another aspect of the past gets unearthed and revised. This time the subject is the supposedly secondary—that is, the unacknowledged, neglected, subservient, auxiliary—role of the women Pop artists who were at work in the pre-Linda Nochlin days, when the textbook-writing ­Jansons and nearly everyone else thought that only men could create masterpieces.

Since the 1960s, when women artists started defining themselves and re-narrating the history, we have slowly become aware of their contributions. Lately museums have gotten into the act. It may be sheer coincidence, but exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum and the Kunsthalle Vienna this autumn both focus on the women artists who were identified with Pop art, while an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York tackles a related subject: painting and feminism (with a bit of Jewishness thrown into the mix). These shows complicate the categories of what's Pop and what's not, opening up a slew of new questions.

Curator Angela Stief, in her catalogue introduction to "Power Up: Female Pop Art," at the Kunsthalle Vienna (through February 20), points out that while female Pop artists resemble their male colleagues, oscillating between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, commodity cult and capitalist critique, they remain "militant, critical, and outstanding in their positions as feminist pioneers."

Martha Rosler's photomontage Vacuuming Pop Art, 1967–72, addresses politics and the male gaze.

If Pop art by women artists was hardly ever simply Pop, what was it? The female artists of those years were, willingly or unwittingly, involved in a major change in content, context, and medium. They were concerned with shifting both the objectifying male gaze and the objectified female gaze. As these exhibitions point out, the women whose art skirted around Pop—and can be somewhat misleadingly called Pop—complicate matters, which isn't a bad thing.

Pop art in the hands and minds of women artists is intricately linked to the rise of feminist art, political and sociological art, art that involves decoration and craft and female sexuality—and thus the subsequent future of 20th-century art. These artists weren't tangential: they were crucial. And what is most interesting about their work can be found in its disparities and divergences from Pop. What women were doing was another kind of art, and to call their work Pop does a disservice to it.

Pop art in the hands of male artists was cartoony, exaggerated, sometimes cynical. Involved with male sexuality, it had to violate something, blowing a cliché so far out of proportion that it could be reconstituted as an aspect of formalism. Pop art was about fast foods, fast babes, fast mechanically reproductive processes such as the silkscreen and the Benday dot, and blatant commercial images and ads. It was about all-American banality. And it was an almost exclusively male movement. Back in the days when Mel Ramos could paint Chiquita Banana pinups, Tom Wesselmann could sex up his still lifes by putting sunburned nudes with pubic hair into them, and Allen Jones could obnoxiously use a lifelike playmate on her knees as a coffee table, Marjorie Strider was making shaped canvases featuring 3-D breasts that were smartly violating the picture plane as if to one-up the men, who never noticed. And Elaine Sturtevant, a few months after Warhol created his first flower paintings in 1964, borrowed Warhol's silkscreens to replicate those paintings and inserted her renditions into group shows—along with her George Segal and Frank Stella look-alikes—to make Pop into something more conceptual, a decade or more before the word "appropriation" would emerge.

Unlike the previous macho AbEx generation, which also counted female artists like Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler, and Elaine de Kooning, the Pop movement, strictly speaking, did not have high-profile female participation. Marisol, Strider, and Sturtevant were sometimes included in Pop group shows in New York, but they never wholly fit. Pop art was about banality, disaffection, and detachment, and the ideas of the women artists diametrically opposed these themes. Philosophically liberated, they thought for themselves, radicalized their art, and imploded the meaning of Pop.

If Chryssa was Pop because she used neon, does that mean Dan Flavin was too? If Vija Celmins was Pop, wasn't she at the same time a budding photorealist? If Yayoi Kusama was Pop, what do we make of her phallic obsessions and cosmic polka dots? If Niki de Saint Phalle was Pop, where do her big folk-art mamas fit? And if Lee Lozano's pre-conceptual work and Faith Ringgold's pre-quilt paintings can be dragged into the orbit of Pop, we can only throw up our hands and conclude that we desperately need a more descriptive term.

Women's Pop-related art had its own intentions. It could be about obsession, cosmic design, or, in the case of Marisol, folk arts and crafts. Usually it opposed or dissected the male gaze. The male artists may have been content to flirt with post-industrial Minimalism, but back in the days when femininity equaled domesticity, Martha Rosler mailed out a series of narrative recipes. They involved, for example, the dislocations of a Mexican maid who didn't have a clue as to what a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was, and pieced together images of suburban kitchens invaded by the horrors of the Vietnam war. On the other hand, Warhol, whose latent political content went unremarked for years, didn't do decorative camouflage painting until the 1980s.

Now "Power Up: Female Pop Art" makes it quite clear that an idea can be about politics as well as about female sexuality. It ­narrows its scope to nine artists, some of whom—such as the Belgian Evelyne Axell—have remained seriously under-known in New York. The star of this exhibition is Sister Corita Kent, the nun who used signs, slogans, and packaging as a form of political protest.

Twenty-five female artists, including Axell and some other unfamiliar Europeans, are in the Brooklyn Museum's "Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968" (on view through January 9), and it's hard to resist an impertinent question: Would anyone ever dream of titling a show of male Pop artists "Subversive Seducers"? And in an exhibition that includes a number of arguably un-Pop artists, where is Yoko Ono, Lee Bontecou, Carolee Schneemann—or even Colette, who knowingly transformed herself into the objectified object of the male gaze?

The impact of feminist thought permeates works by 27 artists in the Jewish Museum's "Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism" (through January 30). Contributors range from Louise Nevelson, Rosalyn Drexler, and Eva Hesse to Nancy Spero, Hannah Wilke, and Nicole Eisenman. Rosler is oddly absent, but then, conceptual photomontage probably doesn't count as painting per se. But kudos to this exhibition for anointing three token males as honorary feminists: Leon Golub, who was always attuned to power, persecution, and victimhood; Robert Kushner, who made the most of feminized pattern and decoration; and Cary Leibowitz, with his self-deprecating gay Jewish humor.

Unacknowledged or under-­acknowledged at the time, relegated to the margins or forgotten by history, the profound female artists of their time inverted the male gaze and anticipated the future while male Pop artists were getting stuck in their own styles. The tenuous thread that ties them all together is linked to feminism and the contemporary art that was still to come. And now, in these exhibitions in which nearly everyone spills out of the arbitrary category of Pop, what at first may seem curatorial weakness becomes great strength. History is again being distorted, manipulated, and revised, for better and worse, but such are its innate fictions. And we have to conclude that the work by these woman artists doesn't seem nearly as dated as that of their male counterparts. Shifting the gaze, indeed.

Text by Kim Levin
Source: ARTnews, November 2010

Power Up

Dorothy Iannone. The Story of Bern, or Showing Colors, 1970.

"The next great moment in history is ours!" Dorothy Iannone

Rediscovering outstanding women Pop artists, POWER UP fulfills Dorothy Iannone’s combative promise after fifty years. The show aims at the reinterpretation of an art movement that until today has primarily been associated with male protagonists. Plastic, loud colors, reduced forms, and graphic contours – the nine women artists’ works on display resemble those of their male colleagues in many respects. Whereas their works appeal to the taste of the masses, these artists, as pioneers of Feminism, have remained belligerent and critical. They reveal the consumer culture’s superficiality, exposing the commodity myth as an empty shell like Christa Dichgans, ironically transforming everyday objects to oversized kitsch objects like Jann Haworth, or exploring mass media clichés and superstar constructions like Rosalyn Drexler. Like Sister Corita, a committed peace activist, they took a clear stand on the sixties’ social and political events such as the Vietnam

The exhibition pursues its political perspective in those instances where the era’s current notions of what a woman is are revised by different views: Kiki Kogelnik and Marisol describe the corset in which the representation of women by themselves and by others is caught, while Evelyne Axell or Dorothy Iannone provocatively display the nude body, love, and sexuality, and, like Niki de Saint Phalle, attract the viewer’s attention with sophisticated modes of self-presentation.

Evelyne Axell, Sister Corita, Christa Dichgans, Rosalyn Drexler, Jann Haworth, Dorothy Iannone, Kiki Kogelnik, Marisol, Niki de Saint Phalle

Curator: Angela Stief

POWER UP - Female Pop Art
November 05th, 2010 - February 20th, 2011