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#Hashtags: The Political Biennale

#nationalism #institutions #power #access #globalization #protest #labor #capital

The 56th Venice Biennale, “All the World’s Futures,” has been hailed as the “political” Biennale both by its curator Okwui Enwezor and by the international art press. That designation has come in for significant criticism from some who feel that contemporary art either can not or should not address political concerns, given the commodity status of art objects within a capitalist framework. The Biennale is supported by a consortium of state, corporate, and individual interests, none of which can be assumed to represent progressive values or the rights of the disenfranchised. Rather, it functions as a bazaar in which established and emerging national interests jockey for influence, applying “soft” cultural power as well as “hard” economic power. How, then, to reconcile the Biennale’s nature with the “deeply reflective, deeply political”[1] objectives that Enwezor has laid out?

Padiglione Centrale  Giardini, Venezia  2015. 56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures. Photo: Alessandra Chemollo. Courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia.

56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia, All the World’s Futures, Padiglione Centrale, Giardini, Venezia, 2015. Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia. Photo: Alessandra Chemollo.

Enwezor declares that his exhibition, the centerpiece of an international festival presenting pavilions from eighty-seven nations,[2] addresses “the ruptures that surround and abound around every corner of the global landscape today.” He draws legitimacy for the geopolitical framework of his project from history, describing how “One hundred years after the first shots of the First World War were fired in 1914, and seventy-five years after the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, the global landscape again lies shattered and in disarray, scarred by violent turmoil, panicked by specters of economic crisis and viral pandemonium, secessionist politics, and a humanitarian catastrophe on the high seas, deserts, and borderlands, as immigrants, refugees, and desperate peoples seek refuge in seemingly calmer and prosperous lands.”[3]

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Shotgun Reviews

FOCUS: Mario García Torres at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. For the next five Sundays, our Shotgun Reviews will come from the finalists for the Daily Serving/Kadist Art Foundation Writing Fellowship in Mexico City. In today’s edition, author Leslie Moody Castro reviews the work of Mexico City–based artist Mario García Torres at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas.

Mario García Torres. The Schlieren Plot,n.d.; HD video and sound, 29 minutes. Courtesy of the Artist and Proyectos Monclova, Mexico.

Mario García Torres. The Schlieren Plot,n.d.; HD video and sound, 29 minutes. Courtesy of the Artist and Proyectos Monclova, Mexico.

There is an effect in simple physics that explains how invisible atmospheric gases become visible to the eye when they are confronted with similar mediums of differing densities. This effect is called the Schlieren Effect, and in his solo exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Mario García Torres metaphorically appropriates this theory to suspend histories, mythologies, and realities.

The Schlieren Plot (n.d.) is the central work around which the exhibition revolves. García Torres weaves together a narrative exploring artist Robert Smithson’s trajectory in the state of Texas, and of artistic mythologizing of the state itself. García Torres plays with possible histories and mythologies that were on the cusp of becoming realities; he suspends time to provoke a feeling of nostalgia for events that never actually occurred.

The video follows the story of a fictional gardener and expert on Robert Smithson‘s land work in Texas. Initially, the audience watches the gardner go about his day, but somewhere along a Texas highway the camera angle shifts and the audience is no longer watching the garner but has joined in on his pilgrimage to view the sites of Smithson’s would-have-been projects in Dallas/Fort Worth; and to view Amarillo Ramp (1974), Smithson’s only completed project in Texas, finished posthumously. The ephemerality of Amarillo Ramp is obvious in its erosion from the harsh Texas landscape. As a finished work it really lives in the plans and drawings made by Smithson, which are also part of the exhibition.

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San Francisco

Eleanor Oakes at Tyler Wood Gallery

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of Eleanor Oakes’ solo exhibition at Tyler Wood Gallery in San Francisco. Author Anton Stuebner notes: “In aestheticizing the random distortions effected onto this film stock, Oakes shows how time marks material substances with a distinctive presence.” This article was originally published on May 14, 2015.

Eleanor Oakes. Panchromatic 1, 2015; silver gelatin print; 8 x 10 in. (matted); edition of 5 + 1 AP. Courtesy of the Artist and Tyler Wood Gallery.

Eleanor Oakes. Panchromatic 1, 2015; silver gelatin print; 8 x 10 in. (matted); edition of 5 + 1 AP. Courtesy of the Artist and Tyler Wood Gallery.

Our bodies leave behind innumerable traces: dead skin, soil, loose follicles of hair. Most are invisible to the naked eye, but these traces can also become stains, markers of our physical encounters with material environments. We use solvents and solutions to hide these marks and make them invisible, and we try to eliminate proof that our bodies are capable of physically disrupting the world around us. But what happens when we encounter a stain that we cannot remove? How do we react when we realize that our bodies leave behind traces that we cannot control? And how do we feel when confronted with bodily marks that will inexorably continue to exist long after we are gone?

Eleanor Oakes’ solo exhibition at Tyler Wood Gallery raises critical questions about how we “trace” presence by examining the material substances that we leave behind. The two photo series on display, conversely, investigate the correlation between bodily encounters and their stains. The series Expired [1927] (2015), on view in the rear gallery, features eleven panochromatic silver gelatin prints arranged in a grid. At first glance, the prints on display seem like nebulous experiments in abstraction, with streaks of white cloudlike shapes against a gray paper stock. Initially, it’s unclear what is being photographed here, and some of the images depicted resemble bodily organs. The flocked, oval-shaped objects in Panochromatic 1 (2015), for instance, could be mistaken for an X-ray image of a lung. Other images in the series are more ethereal. It would be difficult to discern any remotely figurative shape, for example, in the whiteout wash of Panochromatic 11 (2015), which amorphously bleeds from the center out toward the edge of the frame.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Jered Sprecher

For artist Jered Sprecher, painting is a medium for conveying the tensions between the abstract and the concrete. His works are balanced between the painterly and the conceptual; in the catalog for his 2014 exhibition Stacking Stones at Gallery 16 in San Francisco, Sprecher wrote: “When I work I want to create paintings that surprise, paintings that can hold competing ideas but not contain them.”

Jered Sprecher. Water & Logic, 2014; oil on jute; 56 x 46 inches. Courtesy of Gallery 16.

Jered Sprecher. Water & Logic, 2014; oil on jute; 56 x 46 in. Courtesy of Gallery 16.

His works combine recognizable motifs with expressive, abstract gestures that offer intricacies of line, color, and shape. Over the past decade Sprecher has created an impressive array of large-scale and small-scale paintings, all of which challenge central ideas about painting and representation: How can an artist describe objects in a new way? How does one map what we know of the world? With a fluidly shifting yet recognizable visual language, Sprecher’s paintings often explore and juxtapose motifs from landscapes, natural and human-made objects, and imagery taken from photographs that linger in the artist’s mind—a desert vista from a residency in Marfa, Texas; a collection of stones; an aging photograph of three doves from an old family photo album.

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New York

Wael Shawky: Cabaret Crusades at MoMA PS1

MoMA PS1 presents Wael Shawky’s video trilogy, Cabaret Crusades, which comprises The Horror Show Files (2010), The Path to Cairo (2012), and The Secrets of the Karbala (2015).[1] With three casts of elaborate marionettes and sets, the videos present an Islamic perspective on selected episodes between the First and Fourth Crusades (1096–1204). While the history and individual characters may be difficult for many Western viewers to follow, Shawky’s gorgeous cinematography, sets, and marionettes fuse childlike play with the horrors and complications of war and history. Moreover, Shawky’s work speaks to the tradition of marionettes and the current conflicts within the Arab region.

Wael Shawky. Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo, 2012 (video still); high-definition video; 58:19. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Michael H. Dunn Memorial Fund.

Wael Shawky. Cabaret Crusades: The Path to Cairo, 2012 (video still); high-definition video; 58:19. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Michael H. Dunn Memorial Fund.

Based on Amin Maalouf’s book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes (1984), each of Shawky’s videos is constructed of short vignettes that depict Frankish and Islamic military and religious figures squabbling for power and land, committing murder, and forcing individuals to convert to their respective beliefs. As Shawky’s marionettes enact the scenes, voice-over actors narrate the story in Arabic while English subtitles appear on the screen. Additionally, texts in both languages indicate the date, location, and names of the figures. Shawky has lived and traveled throughout the Arab region, was educated in the United States, and exhibits in Europe; his hybrid experience is evident in the videos’ bilingual presentation. Moreover, in contrast to a Western-centric perspective, Shawky’s art suggests that the stories are not native to the English-speaking world but are global in scale. While I struggled to keep track of the characters and historical episodes, Shawky’s videos heightened my awareness as an outsider to the languages and events in global politics.

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Los Angeles

Tom LaDuke: Candles and Lasers at Kohn Gallery

Tom LaDuke’s paintings are messy, exuberant, indulgent affairs, cramming multiple techniques and representational modes onto each canvas. These range from total abstraction to meticulous rendering, as paint is smeared, dripped, and airbrushed across the surface, built up into textured accretions, and covered in glitter. Trompe l’oeil competes with pure paint for authenticity. The result is a frenetic, often garish exploration of representation and perception, offering many possibilities with no hope of resolution.

Tom LaDuke. French Cemetery, 2015; acrylic and glitter on canvas over panel; 41 x 71 ½ x in. Courtesy the artist and Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles.

Tom LaDuke. French Cemetery, 2015; acrylic and glitter on canvas over panel; 41 x 71 ½ x in. Courtesy of the Artist and Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles.

Each work in the show begins with an airbrushed rendering of a painting by an Old Master—Vermeer, Bosch, Velásquez, etc—although you wouldn’t know this by looking at them, and you don’t need to know it to “get” them. On top of this background, LaDuke layers a hodgepodge of images and marks, many autobiographical, although here too the provenance is less important than the effect. Realistically painted disco balls, candles, kitschy animals, and candy-colored geometric shapes float alongside smears, drips, blobs, and crudely rendered abstract forms. The most successful paintings are the larger ones (some over ten feet long), where the breadth of visual and tactile variation can spread out. LaDuke creates a shallow pictorial depth, as all of these elements press up against or sit atop the picture plane, threatening to tumble into real space. It makes sense that one of his source images is Manet’s Dead Toreador (1864), whose titular subject similarly seems to emerge from the canvas, jutting toward the viewer. Polyrhythmic Looping (2014) provides one of the only indications of depth behind the canvas, as a trompe l’oeil fissure, reminiscent of the fake tear in Duchamp’s Tu m’ (1918), reveals painterly swirls beneath the serene, airbrushed surface.

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Vancouver

Ron Tran: The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store at 221A

Collapsing the geographic distance between Vancouver and China, performance and installation artist Ron Tran prowled Vancouver’s Chinatown—the largest in Canada—and selected intriguing objects to display in his latest solo exhibition at 221A. He assembled a number of seemingly banal products, modifying and combining them to create a space that considers local and global exchange. Tran’s practice is defined by the use of artifacts found in passed-over places and in this exhibition he inventively recombines common utilitarian objects to make them decorative and strange.

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

In The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, the viewer is transported to a landscape filled with objects made unfamiliar. A parasol protrudes from a wall, spinning with a hypnotic rhythm; a single blonde hair extension is attached to a tensor bandage held by a white mannequin hand; a room divider has been outfitted with pungent dried fish that hang from the screen’s top rung; a basket is retrofitted as a lamp. Adding to this dynamic effect, reams of colorful wrapping paper are pasted from floor to ceiling on the gallery’s east wall, and the west wall is covered in garish tablecloths. Throughout the gallery, sagging cardboard boxes that read “Product of China” act as supports for many bizarre and beautiful things.

221A is primarily concerned with the impact of design on lived experience. This exhibition highlights the high cost of low prices by showcasing products that make the trip from China to Chinatowns all over the world. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store addresses the way in which low-cost production strategies are enjoyed by the West and endured by the East, and the impact on laborers that is often obscured by the abundance of cheap items available in trinket shops in the city’s east end.[1]

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