Paris

Kapwani Kiwanga: Ujamaa

In a major solo exhibition, Ujamaa, at La Ferme du Buisson in the Parisian suburb of Noisiel, Kapwani Kiwanga addresses Tanzania’s uprisings. Known for using methodologies from the social sciences without being didactic, the artist draws on two significant moments in the history of the eastern African country to remember and question the ideals of pan-Africanism. The first is the 1905 revolt of Kinjeketile Ngwale, who—believing in the magic powers of a herbal potion of his creation called maji-maji, meaning “water of life and immortality”—led the first revolt against colonial rule, known as the Maji Maji Rebellion. The second is Julius Nyerere’s post-independence introduction of a socialist program of collective farming, called ujamaa (a Swahili term for familyhood, extended family, brotherhood).

Kapwani Kiwanga. White Gold: Morogoro, 2016; installation; 236 x 196 x 157 in. Courtesy of La Ferme du Buisson. Photo: Emile Ouroumov.

Kapwani Kiwanga. White Gold: Morogoro, 2016; installation; 236 x 196 x 157 in. Courtesy of La Ferme du Buisson. Photo: Emile Ouroumov.

A monumental installation, White Gold: Morogoro (2016), welcomes the viewer and acts as the show’s contextual and museological heart. The evocative work is composed of a generous amount of sisal suspended from steel strings. Originating from southeast Mexico, the resistant fiber has been successfully cultivated since the late 19th century in the region of present-day Tanzania, once part of the colony of German East Africa.[1] Its production has played a major role in the country’s economy, from the colonial era through independence.

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Singapore

Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia Since the 19th Century at the National Gallery Singapore

In Kevin Kwan’s deliciously trashy best-selling novel, China Rich Girlfriend, a wealthy Singaporean heiress outmaneuvers Chinese billionaires at auction to acquire works for the soon-to-open National Gallery. The real National Gallery Singapore opened to the public in November 2015, and as Kwan’s novel suggests, the museum was strategic in its acquisitions. By choosing to direct its considerable resources toward the relatively undervalued field of Southeast Asian art, the National Gallery Singapore has created an encyclopedic collection that will define the region’s art history for generations to come, as MoMA did for modernism or the Whitney Museum for American Art.

Atrium of National Gallery Singapore. Courtesy of National Gallery Singapore.

Atrium of National Gallery Singapore. Courtesy of National Gallery Singapore.

Housed in Singapore’s beautifully restored City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, and connected through a network of bridges spanning an open atrium, the National Gallery’s two permanent exhibitions reveal its epistemic ambitions. Siapa Nama Kamu?: Art in Singapore Since the 19th Century establishes the city–state’s official art history, while Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia Since the 19th Century seeks not only to define a regional narrative, but also to insert that narrative into a global art history that is currently dominated by the West.

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Canberra

Zhang Peili: From Painting to Video at the Australian Centre on China in the World

Zhang Peili: From Painting to Video is curated around a work gifted to the Australian Centre on China in the World at Australian National University. In 2014, Zhang’s friend and fellow artist Lois Conner donated one of the artist’s final paintings, Flying Machine (1994). The exhibition of this newly restored work provided an opportunity to explore Zhang’s transition from painting to video, and to reflect on the development of new media art in China toward the end of the 20th century. The exhibition also presents eight of Zhang Peili’s pioneering video works dating from 1988 to 2012, starting with 30 x 30 (1988), generally considered to be the first video work in the history of contemporary Chinese art.

Zhang Peili. Uncertain Pleasures, 1996; six-channel video, twelve CRT monitors; 5:04. Courtesy of the Artist and Australian Centre on China in the World.

Zhang Peili. Uncertain Pleasures, 1996; six-channel video, twelve CRT monitors; 5:04. Courtesy of the Artist and Australian Centre on China in the World.

30 x 30 (1988) was later followed by Zhang’s experiments with performative, durational, and text-based installations. In the piece, Zhang films his own hands in surgical gloves, breaking a thirty-by-thirty-centimeter mirror, painstakingly gluing the shards together, and then breaking and gluing it again and again against the terrazzo-tiled floor of an empty office. The video was filmed over three hours (the longest VHS tape available at the time); Zhang’s intention was to lock viewers into the exhibition space for the entirety of the piece. This absurdist representation of a banal and incomprehensible action reflected the artist’s determination to avoid political imagery and easy narratives. He intended it to be excruciating to watch: After a series of fruitless meetings planning a retrospective of the avant-garde ’85 New Wave Movement that had surged across China in the mid-1980s, Zhang wanted to make a video that would be as boring and pointless as these meetings.

In Hygiene No. 3 (1990), another work inflected by a Dada-esque sense of anarchic humor, Zhang responds sardonically to a hygiene campaign imposed by the Shanghai government in which officials inspected people’s homes. In the video, Zhang washes a live chicken for two and a half hours, again wearing surgical gloves, which lends the video a disturbingly forensic ambience and recalls his early photorealist paintings of latex gloves.

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Hashtags

#Hashtags: Water Water Everywhere

#environment #conservation #access #resources #water #public art #civic art #biennials

Los Angeles is a metropolis built on a delusion: that engineering can overcome a basic lack of sufficient resources to meet the popular need. Five years into a severe drought, one would think conservation would be on everyone’s mind, but the clean cars and green lawns all around town suggest otherwise. To increase discussion of water and its scarcity, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs developed CURRENT LA: Water, LA’s first public-art biennial. Four LA-based curators invited thirteen local and international artists to create temporary public artworks, on view for one month in the summer at locations dispersed across the city’s fifteen council districts. Like the water from which it draws its central metaphor, CURRENT LA was an example of the tension between abundance and scarcity.

Gala Porras-Kim. Supplement to Ballona Discovery Park Informative Signs, 2016; mixed media; variable dimensions. Artwork commissioned by City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) for CURRENT:LA Water. Photo by Panic Studio LA.

Gala Porras-Kim. Supplement to Ballona Discovery Park Informative Signs, 2016; mixed media; variable dimensions. Artwork commissioned by City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) for CURRENT LA: Water. Photo by Panic Studio LA.

Water and art are both fraught with questions about equitable access to resources. DCA General Manager Danielle Brazell likened the CURRENT LA: Water concept to the flow of water: at times a trickle, at other times a gushing flow. This poetic analogy overlooks the structural inequality that determines water usage in drought. Rain may fall everywhere, but once water meets the ground, access to it is not evenly distributed. Conservation is encouraged through punitive pricing, which has the effect of enabling wealthy scofflaws while asking the poor to do more with less. LA’s aquifers, which represent the city’s water supply for future generations, have already been severely compromised by unregulated industrial activity. Once again, those who can pay are rewarded with abundance now; those who cannot have to plan for a future without resources. Discussions around revitalizing the long-suffering LA River often come up against similar concerns, as ecological renewal seems to come about only when property values reach a point of unaffordability for local communities. The fact that CURRENT LA was underwritten by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a private foundation whose Public Art Challenge seeks to “celebrate creativity, enhance urban identity, encourage public–private partnerships, and drive economic development,” only increases the anxiety around fair and equitable distribution of resources.

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New York

A Perfect Storm

From our friends at REORIENT, today we bring you author Nur Shkembi’s thoughts on subversive practices in the Guggenheim’s exhibition of Contemporary Middle Eastern and North African Art, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise. Shkembi states, “This notion of art as a subversive practice is not new; however, redefining the material itself as the place from which ideas are ‘smuggled in’ is certainly compelling.” But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise is on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through October 15, 2016. This article was originally published on August 30, 2016.

Rokni Haerizadeh. But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise. Photo: Ramin Haerizadeh. (© the artist; courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum)

Rokni Haerizadeh. But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise. © the Artist. Courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Photo: Ramin Haerizadeh.

It was an uncomfortably hot and typical Brisbane afternoon as I made my way across the concrete courtyard from the Gallery of Modern Art to its big sister, the Queensland Art Gallery. There is something rather exciting about the potential of Middle Eastern art in Australasia, although its relative invisibility has been something problematic; the Asia Pacific Triennial is one of the few large-scale exhibitions in the southern hemisphere featuring artists from the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, and Southeast Asia. Entering the gallery, I was still slightly agitated from the humidity, and as I moved forward through the much cooler interior and the sparse, slowly moving crowd, my senses suddenly awakened. It was an unexpectedly frantic space, every single inch of it: The floors, walls, and ceiling were smothered in a full-scale re-creation of Rokni Haerizadeh’s studio in Dubai, which he shares with his brother, Ramin, and their friend Hesam Rahmanian. The entire first gallery, in fact, was dedicated to their collaborative installation, All the Rivers Run into the Sea. Over./Copy. Yet, the Sea Is not Full. Over.

The exhibition arguably contained everything one would expect from the Haerizadehs and Rahmanian. After examining each piece, I was left wondering what the vastly Anglo-Saxon audience made of the highly political and otherworldly spectacle. My presence in the installation as a pseudo-Arab/Middle Eastern/you-must-be-somewhere-from-the-East person created a strange friction as passersby asked, ‘Can you read that?’, or, ‘Does that offend you?’ Standing in my hijab, I was a lone figure suddenly cast as a translator, oracle–miracle–in a physical space where everything surely meant something political, or was at least a push back against the fanatical or oppressive.

Read the full article here.

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Shotgun Reviews

Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at the Met Breuer

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Henry Rittenberg reviews Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at the Met Breuer in New York.

Diane Arbus. Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. , 1957; gelatin silver print; 14 x 11 in. Courtesy of The Met Breuer. © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC.

Diane Arbus. Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C., 1957; gelatin silver print; 14 x 11 in. Courtesy of the Met Breuer. © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC.

I was not even a full sentence into reading the online description for Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at the Met Breuer, an exhibition dedicated to the artist’s earliest works, before I had doubts. It was this tidbit that gave me pause: “Featuring more than 100 photographs that together will redefine one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century.” I’m not above hyperbole, but come on. The beginning of any photographer’s career might show development as an artist, but would this phase redefine a photographer’s image? I doubted that seeing her path to finding her voice would redefine how I perceived Arbus in any significant way.

The setup is perhaps the most sublime part of the exhibition. Each photograph is hung on its own two-foot-wide panel, with a three-foot gap between panels arranged in rows. The physical setup of the exhibition forces viewers to stop and contemplate each photograph on its own terms. The panels and the space in between create a rhythm: look, think, rest, restart. Arranged as such, the gallery becomes a room-size contact sheet of Arbus’ work. Much like on an actual contact sheet, a number of the photographs don’t feel worthy of display, much less in a major art museum. For instance, the exhibit had numerous pictures Arbus took of movie screens. Seeing one such image is informative; seeing three, some of which are blurry or out of focus, is two too many. However, the setup forces viewers to stop and contemplate the lesser works anyway.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Suchitra Mattai

Suchitra Mattai’s work turns about conceptual and material inversions. It thrives on site-specificity while rejecting its basic premise—that specificity necessarily connotes place-ness. Having been raised on two separate continents and with cultural heritages tracing back to a third, Mattai is familiar with incongruities between the illusory promise of place and her lived experiences. Her practice is disjointed and dreamlike, yet throughout her uneasy landscapes runs an undeniable materiality that constantly asserts: Wherever you may think you are, or are told you are, you are here.

Suchitra Mattai. Generally, I don’t think that way II, 2016; mixed media installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Wes Magyar.

Suchitra Mattai. Generally, I Don’t Think That Way II, 2016; mixed-media installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Wes Magyar.

This assertion of immediacy may be a defense mechanism against the double vision present in Mattai’s pieces. They offer a kind of boundlessness while declaring a border, leaving the viewer to wonder at their frame of reference. Generally, I Don’t Think That Way II (2016) expands and contracts, extending from a central mixed-media embroidery work, to a painted mountain range truncated by an imaginary frame, which in turn is extended further by colored thread and rope affixed to the gallery walls. The rope drawing expands outward from the traditional perimeter of the painting, pushing beyond strict boundaries. The eye trips across multiple borders, simultaneously drawn in by the sumptuousness of the embroidery or the evocative texture of the brushstrokes while being stopped short by their finitude. It is only at the haphazard knots and trailing ends of the rope and thread that one is cast back from these landscapes into the gallery space. By maintaining a distance—the viewer’s prerogative—one can pull out from the tensions of the piece, yet this figurative “stepping back” provides a kind of rootedness that Mattai’s works themselves reject.

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