Critical writing from the expanded field of contemporary art.

Ben Eastham

Patrick Langley
Francesca Wade

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Novuyo Moyo

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              Shilpa Gupta
              Paul Stephens
              Recent New York Times headlines point to American perceptions of India’s increasingly prominent role in global affairs. “Can India Challenge China for Leadership of the ‘Global South’?” “Will This Be the ‘Indian Century’?” “The Illusion of a US-India Partnership.” “US Seeks Closer Ties With India as Tension With China and Russia Builds.” “US Says Indian Official Directed Assassination Plot in New York.” “An Indian Artist Questions Borders and the Limits on Free Speech.” The last headline refers to Mumbai-based Shilpa Gupta, whose work obliquely explores the emergent global polycrisis (a term popularized by Adam Tooze) in which India plays a central part. Although Gupta’s art is deeply engaged with contemporary political events, it is not headline-driven. It resists didacticism, in part, through being polyvocal, as exemplified in her standout installation Listening Air (2019–23). Defying simple description and rewarding patient immersion, Listening Air consists of multiple microphones-turned-speakers that play songs of labor and resistance from around the world. As the songs fade in and out, listener-viewers in the dimly lit room slowly begin to perceive themselves as members of a temporary community. The effect is ethereal and meditative. Gupta’s two concurrent New York exhibitions, at Amant and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, accord …
              Degrees of separation
              The Editors
              In their recent open letter, curators Manuel J. Borja-Villel and Vasıf Kortun protested that “culture and cultural institutions have become a battleground, which the illiberal forces are ready to conquer.” The removal of the bulwarks protecting culture from political interference means, they continued, that “what was once a site for experimentation and autonomy is becoming a site of control.” Recent weeks have provided ample evidence that the erasure of those lines separating a society’s culture from its economic and political systems leaves it vulnerable to them. Art’s function as a “liminal space,” in Victor Turner’s formulation, depends on it being partly if never wholly insulated from those expressions of power. It is instead an arena in which conventions are temporarily suspended so that citizens are free to dispute the terms of the social contract without fear of reprisal. New ideas are tested and marginal or suppressed subject positions given a platform. If culture is to change a society’s hierarchies rather than merely reproduce them, then it must act from a position external to them. It follows that collapsing that separation can serve the status quo, whether or not that was the intention. We are faced today with the spectacle of …
              Robert Glück’s About Ed
              John Douglas Millar
              How to convey the power of this book? The achievement of its language is such that it resists easy translation into criticism as practiced in any conventional mode. Narratively it recounts Glück’s life with the artist Ed Aulerich-Sugai in the 1970s, and the time he has lived since Ed’s death from AIDS in 1994. It is organized concentrically so that the death takes place at the precise center of the book, where there is an extraordinary description of the performing of a last rite, the washing of Ed’s corpse by Glück and Daniel, Ed’s final lover: “We hurry as though Ed might be impatient. Here is the dusky skin, here the straight back, the slightly bowed legs, the narrow waist, the flat ass. AIDS has restored the body I lived with long ago, so thin that I watched his heart beating against his chest till my senses bled in marvelling tenderness.” And right at the center of this description there is a single drop of blood: “Daniel pulls down Ed’s underwear and milks one bright red drop from Ed’s cock. The drop of blood is the only indication of the pandemonium that occurred within this body … Ed’s murderous blood.” …
              Lisa Brice’s “LIVES and WORKS”
              Louise Darblay
              “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at,” goes John Berger in his classic BBC show Ways of Seeing (1972), his big blue eyes staring intently at the viewer while he demonstrates the impact of centuries of male gaze—from canonical paintings to contemporary advertising—on the way women perceive themselves. “The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed is female. Thus she turns herself into an object of vision: a sight.” In Lisa Brice’s paintings, which wander the corridors of western art history, women look at themselves, but no longer through this mediated perspective: the muses, models, and mistresses come to life, turning from passive objects into active subjects, becoming the authors and surveyors of their own image. This new series by the South African artist, presented on the ground floor of Ropac’s Marais space, bristles with punkish energy. Two large, cinematic canvases mirror each other on opposite walls, their horizontal compositions drawn from Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882). In the most obvious riff on his work, Untitled (after Manet & Degas) (all works mentioned 2023), the Folies-Bergère has turned into a women-only cabaret, populated by sexy and brazen dancers (including Manet’s sad-looking barmaid, …
              12th Seoul Mediacity Biennale, “THIS TOO, IS A MAP”
              Jason Waite
              “THIS TOO, IS A MAP” questions the conventional relationship of map to territory, looking “to model multi-spatial and multi-subjective histories and knowledge.” Directed by Rachael Rakes with associate curator Sofia Dourron, the show features works by sixty-five artists chosen not as representatives of particular nations but for their embrace of transnational approaches. The diasporic bent of this list reflects an expansion of (and alternative approach to) cartography to articulate myriad overlapping personal roots and routes. One example is Tibetan-American artist Tenzin Phuntsog, whose video Pure Land (2022) attempts to trace landscapes across the American West that look similar to images of a homeland he’s never visited. In the film, he messages these images to his mother to comment on or verify their similitude. In the construction of these unknown nostalgic landscapes, the images Phuntsog takes are uncannily similar to their Tibetan counterparts. The comparison highlights the possibility that any space can be made into a home. At the same time, it floats subtle questions of what defines any given place. What lies underneath a landscape was the focus of one of the more unique venues of the biennale: an emergency bunker built for the former military dictator Park Chung …
              “Indian Theater: Native Performance, Art, and Self-Determination since 1969”
              Alan Gilbert
              In November 1969, a group of Native activists sailed across San Francisco Bay and occupied Alcatraz Island, home to the infamous prison that had closed in 1963. The occupation lasted until the summer of 1971, when federal authorities besieged the island by cutting off the electricity and water supply before government agents and local police removed the dozen or so remaining inhabitants. The year 1969 also saw the publication of the pamphlet “Indian Theatre: An Artistic Experiment in Process,” written collaboratively by Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee), Rolland Meinholtz (Cherokee), and students at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It called for the combination of contemporary theater practices with performative and ritual aspects of Native societies in an effort to bring marginalized Native stories and cultural forms to a reimagined stage. The large survey exhibition “Indian Theater: Native Performance, Art, and Self-Determination since 1969,” curated by Candice Hopkins (Carcross / Tagish First Nation) at the Hessel Museum of Art, opens with archival documents in vitrines highlighting these two historical moments. Pages of “Indian Theatre: An Artistic Experiment in Process” are given pride of place at the entrance next to undated, grainy black-and-white videos of Native performances …
              Neïla Czermak Ichti’s “J’adore vous faire rire”
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              A diminutive and oddly classical homage to the eponymous character in Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic horror film Alien, entitled Bolaji resting between two takes (2023), is tucked into one corner of the front room of Anne Barrault’s gallery in Paris. The painting is small, the facture thick, with a palette in shades of white. The composition’s contrast is rendered in a warm maroon tone that reminds me of blood coagulating at the edges of a flesh wound. Despite this latent suggestion of violence, Franco-Tunisian artist Neïla Czermak Ichti’s portrait of the infamous being eschews the sexualized viciousness of its on-screen presence. Seated on a cheap plywood block, visibly marked by use, with its massive head resting on long, thin forearms, the alien just looks tired, like a construction worker on a fifteen-minute break. Czermak Ichti became obsessed with Bolaji Badejo, the twenty-five-year-old Nigerian art student inside Ridley’s oppressive latex costume. She based the painting on one of only a handful of production photographs of the costumed actor between shots. Badejo was born in Lagos in 1953, immigrated to Ethiopia with his family in the aftermath of the Nigerian civil war (1967–70) and then to the UK. The one-time movie star …
              Jessica Segall’s “Human Energy”
              Cassie Packard
              Jessica Segall’s transgressive exploration of desire and petroleum unfolds to the beat of a mechanical soundtrack. The work of Berghain resident DJ Steffi, building on Segall’s own recordings of active oil fields, the piston-like pulsations fuse petro-extraction and the nightclub. Desire—for dominion, capital, commodities, relations—has always powered industry; here, industry clearly powers desire, too. Petroleum’s libidinal imaginary encompasses everything from imagery of women virtually fornicating with automobiles to the more abstract seductions of movement, convenience, ease, and accumulation. In Human Energy (2023), a dispersed four-channel video installation with sculptural elements (titled after Chevron’s slogan), Segall renders these fetishizations with erotic effect. On one channel, the scantily clad, gloved artist climbs and mounts a pumpjack. She rides it as if it were a mechanical bull, moving her hands back and forth to steady herself while the machine repeatedly plunges into the earth. The video was shot in Kern County, California, which is responsible for the vast majority of the state’s oil and fracked gas production and boasts some of the worst air pollution in the country, a burden disproportionately borne by the region’s most vulnerable communities. Panoramic open sky, mountain range, sunset: our petro-cowgirl deploys the tropes that have characterized fantasies …
              Ali Cherri’s “Dreamless Night”
              Cathryn Drake
              Ali Cherri’s The Watchman [Nöbetçi] (all works 2023) follows a young Turkish Cypriot officer stationed at a watchtower in Akincilar, a district encircled by the meandering border drawn across Cyprus after the Turkish invasion of 1974. Adjacent to the closely patrolled United Nations Buffer Zone, it is a desolate, transitory place where nothing really happens. On the horizon are the crumbling ruins of a village abandoned by Greek Cypriots. When the loudspeaker announces the end of his shift, Sergeant Bulut doesn’t move, his bloodshot eyes staring into the camera as if hypnotized by the drone of cicadas. The soldier’s routine is occasionally interrupted by a robin crashing into the dusty glass, leaving a splotch of blood and feathers; Bulut dutifully retrieves each body and records the collateral casualty with another tick on the wall. This film is not about a particular place: Cyprus, a geopolitically strategic territory that has passed from empire to empire since antiquity, here stands for the postcolonial state of the world and, with much of its population exiled within their own country, the existential condition of so many in contemporary society. On the southern coast lies the British Overseas Territory, a legacy of colonial rule. Turkish …
              Lisa Tan’s “Dodge and/or Burn”
              James Taylor-Foster
              Slicing through subterranean exhibition halls that were previously university laboratories for research in accelerator physics, Lisa Tan’s first institutional show in Sweden tenders its own spatial logic through the metaphor of neurological disorders. Visitors are received by an ink-drawn diagram based on Oliver Sacks’s 1970 sketch of “migraine and neighboring disorders” (from a book said to have been written over just nine days, aided by an undisclosed psychoactive substance). Here, the diagram is superimposed on a detailed schematic of the galleries: I enter the exhibition through “protracted vegetative reactions.” Tan treats Sacks’s diagram as a tool, scaling it up to a dizzying and dysfunctional domestic space by way of partial walls which operate as spatial dividers, passages, atmospheric zones, and display environments. Rhythmic and austere, this site-specific installation of previous works lays bare the delicate negotiation between control and collapse on which our lives depend. As an organizing principle, Promise or Threat (2023) reveals how rooms are diagrams that shape the ways in which we interface with the world. We move like ghosts, seen and unseen, between spaces that give form to the inner self: the anxiety of a family dinner, the pressure of a deadline, the monotony of a …
              22nd Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, “Memory is an Editing Station”
              Oliver Basciano
              If the Global South is itself an imagined community then, this edition of Videobrasil suggests, therein might lie its emancipatory power. Exhibitions focused on the Global South are in welcome vogue, from the current Bienal de São Paulo to next year’s Venice Biennale, but Videobrasil has been ploughing the furrow for thirty of its forty years now. While curators Raphael Fonseca and Renée Akitelek Mboya took a line by poet Waly Salomão as their guide to select sixty artists from thirty-eight countries out of 2,300 open submissions, this edition is most effective as a snapshot of the conscious and unconscious preoccupations of a constructed region. One that, for the curators, stretches from South and Central America, to Africa, Asia, and former Soviet states (as well as Indigenous artists from any continent). This region, the curators suggest, is “a plural and fertile accumulation of visions.” What binds this imagined community together? On a series of plinths, Ali Cherri has placed what seem like stone monuments of antiquity—which they are, in part. The scrunched, snarling face and neat mane of Lion (2022) is a historic architectural fragment that the Lebanese artist found in a Beirut antique shop. The bulky clay body, however, …
              Meredith Monk’s “Calling”
              Patrick Langley
              Oude Kerk is a fittingly resonant venue for Meredith Monk’s first—long overdue—retrospective in Europe. This massive thirteenth-century church houses highlights from a polymathic six-decade career that respond to (and echo in) its cavernous nave, with its vaulted wooden ceilings and looming pulpits, its high choir and chapels. To visitors (such as myself) who have only previously encountered Monk’s work via recordings, “Calling,” curated by Beatrix Ruf of the Hartwig Art Foundation, is a revelation. It brings together hypnotic video installations, sculptures, and archival material, yet the result is cohesive, not cacophonous. Each work has space to breathe. Together, they form a harmonious whole. Several pieces have been revised or reimagined for this show. Amsterdam Archaeology (2023), an iteration of a work first shown in 1998 and the first viewers see upon entering, is one example: a red ziggurat for the display of objects donated by city residents and dipped in beeswax (or “Beuys wax,” as it risks being known in art contexts). These yellowish, translucent cauls point to the union, evident across this exhibition, of industrious and protective instincts. Monk has for decades sought the holistic union of art and healing. Installations housed in freestanding (and judiciously soundproofed) rooms extend …
              Lutz Bacher’s “AYE!”
              Michael Kurtz
              The first room of “AYE!” is carpeted with fine sand. Audio from Philip Kaufman’s 1988 film adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being fills the air. “Tomas,” a woman asks between kisses, “what are you thinking?” To which Tomas replies: “I’m thinking how happy I am.” The clip loops—the lovers locked in this tender moment, accompanied by piano music and the thrum of rain and windscreen wipers—and with every repeat becomes more cloying and meaningless. Four television screens in a row to one side emit a white glow which fades each time the loop ends, an electronic sunset on the beach. There is a formal resonance between the artificially uniform texture of the sand, the blank monochrome screens, and the eternally recurring sweet nothings. In these elements—nature, entertainment, love—we seek comfort, but here find them in a state of entropy: metronomic, sterile, vacuous. A child in red dungarees arrives at the door and points at me. “There’s a big man in the sandpit,” she announces to her father, getting his reassurance before dancing freely across the room. She writes her name in the sand, and in doing so shares something that the pseudonymous Lutz Bacher, who died in 2019, never …
              New Red Order’s “The World’s UnFair”
              Stephanie Bailey
              Occupying a pocket of undeveloped land in Long Island City, “The World’s UnFair” is a principled riot. Created by New Red Order (NRO), a “public secret society” facilitated by artists Jackson Polys, Zack Khalil, and Adam Khalil, this carnivalesque fairground, supported by Creative Time, is presided over by Ash and Bruno, a sixteen-foot animatronic tree with LED screens nestled in cellular tower branches and a furry five-foot tall beaver, respectively. The pair talk about the legacies of settler colonialism on the land where they stand, Lenapehoking—a forest, they say, the last time they met. America’s original multi-millionaire John Astor is mentioned: he made his fortune in the fur trade that all but decimated beaver populations, before acquiring land in Manahatta and making “a killing off renting to incoming settlers.” The politics of land is at the heart of this roadshow. Staked into the earth is New Red Right to Return (2023), a wooden post with directional markers naming Lenape diasporic nations displaced by settlers due to the fundamental difference between the colonial European treatment of land as a commodity and the Indigenous American understanding of it as a communal resource. That discrepancy complicates the narrative that the Lenape sold Manahatta …
              Jo Ractliffe’s “Landscaping”
              Sean O’Toole
              Jo Ractliffe has for decades been photographing the charged and ravaged landscapes of her native South Africa. For nearly as long, she has bristled at the insufficiency of the art-historical term “landscape” in encapsulating her interest in terrains where histories of occupation, use, conflict, and violence do not obviously declare themselves. Sometimes, and only partly in jest, she has used the term “blandscape” to characterize her abstruse images of nothing much in particular, be it a locked gate to an Apartheid-era torture site or desert landscape linked to a forgotten Cold War battleground. Last year, when Ractliffe was shortlisted for the 2022 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize, she repeated this dislike, describing landscape as a “difficult term,” more descriptive of an outlook or prospect than a space or place. “I think of [landscape] less as a ‘subject’, or genre,” she adds, “than the medium through which I can explore questions of violence, conflict, and memory.” Ractliffe’s new exhibition “Landscaping,” her first major statement since her 2020 survey exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, extends her interest in land as tangible fact and immanent subject. It is a remarkable career statement. Her thirty-four black-and-white photos, the majority taken over the …
              Forking paths
              The Editors
              At the end of September, e-flux Criticism hosted a talk with writer Jörg Heiser entitled “Crisis, what Crisis?! On the Uncertain Future of Art Criticism.” Drawing attention to the shared root of crisis and criticism—on which we have recently had too many reasons to reflect—Heiser began with the question of how we might readjust our frameworks of judgement to reflect the increasingly parlous state of the world. There have in the intervening time been further reminders that “for art critics to make these readjustments, they need to exist in the first place.” Criticism in the widest sense is threatened by factors ranging from the triumph of neoliberal economic and populist political thinking to a culture of partisanship that makes impossible the expression of almost any opinion that is not perfectly consistent with an established position. To resist that process requires what Heiser called “some extremely non-sexy sounding stuff” that might be boiled down to the reinforcement of existing—and foundation of new—institutions capable of protecting increasingly vulnerable writers from the above pressures and encouraging open debate. The most basic principle on which debate rests is not that any opinion expressed must be right (what kind of “debate” would that be?). Any …
              Candice Lin’s “Lithium Sex Demons in the Factory”
              Jonathan Griffin
              The story, as literary theorist Peter Brooks has observed, is today’s dominant cultural form. To Brooks, this “overabundance” of narrative is worrying: he criticizes the deference of virtually all strands of culture (not only literature, TV, and movies but art, museology, and—especially—news media) to the persuasive rhetorical power of the story. I share many of his concerns. “The universe is not our stories about the universe,” he writes, “even if those stories are all we have.” In the artwork of Candice Lin, however—an artist who nests stories inside stories, who researches, remembers, speculates, and concocts in equal measure, all at once, without hope or intent to persuade—the story becomes a lubricative medium that enables the destabilizing of sense, the de-centering of singular subjectivities, and the unpicking of neatly tied conclusions. “Lithium Sex Demons in the Factory,” the Los Angeles-based artist’s multimedia exhibition at the non-profit Canal Projects in New York, is near-impossible to summarize, except by telling stories. Let me start with one. In the 1970s, female workers at Japanese-operated factories in rural Malaysia experienced demonic possessions and spirit attacks. Workers at these factories hailed not just from Malaysia but China and India too, so bomohs (Malay shamans) and healers …
              Mexico City Roundup
              Gaby Cepeda
              Mexico City’s cycle of exhibitions often feels like a hamster wheel that never stops turning. This fall’s openings, however, set a more introspective and meditative—and perhaps not as obviously market-driven—pace. Yes, there was a lot of painting. But much of it felt quite unexpected in its deviation from recent attachments to the colorful and the figurative, and notably more mature than the pop-culture fixations that have crowded the city’s galleries of late. This approach to painting could even be broadly described as a form of disengagement or retreat: a movement inwards, embracing dreams and memories. One such example was José Eduardo Barajas’s “Saliva,” his debut solo show at PEANA. Barajas’s practice to date has dabbled in post-internet aesthetics, creating loosely rendered CGI images of diamonds and currency falling from the sky. Earlier this year, however, for “Mnemósine” at Proyectos Multipropósito, Barajas replaced the ceiling tiles in a massive office space with tile-sized, loosely landscape paintings showing clouds, sunsets, dice, car rims, and hair (among other things) in reconfigurations of his earlier, CGI-oriented work. That show was a preparatory sketch, of sorts, for “Saliva.” In this tighter—and more impressive—body of work, Barajas magnified his experiments with landscape painting, and turned them …
              Coco Fusco’s “Tomorrow, I Will Become an Island”
              JS Tennant
              It comes as no surprise that “Tomorrow, I Will Become an Island” opens with documentation of Coco Fusco’s Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West (1992–94): her justly famous performance with Guillermo Gómez-Peña, staged at the moment the world was tussling over how best to commemorate, or denigrate, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s so-called “discovery” of the Americas. A prime benefit of the Cuban-American artist’s first major retrospective—curated by Léon Kruijswijk and Anna Gritz—is to be able to trace the arc of suggestive continuities within her impressive thirty-year body of work. In Two Undiscovered Amerindians, Fusco and Gómez-Peña toured the world in a cage where they were displayed as “natives” of a recently discovered Caribbean island. A subsequent film, The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey (1993), captures this performance and reactions from the public, its footage intercut with a montage of real-life circus sideshows, world fairs, and racist “ethnographic” dioramas. Attendants, acting as ringmasters, invite passersby to interact with the couple, who speak no English. Bananas are fed to them through the bars; the “female” can be made to dance; five dollars grants a titillating fondle of the “male specimen’s” genitalia. The island’s name, Guatinau, would be pronounced, in …
              London Roundup
              Chris Fite-Wassilak
              “Celebrating 20 years,” ran the bus and magazine ads for Frieze London, keen to capitalize on having reached a milestone. In 2003, the first fair was welcomed as a galvanizing and creative force—a Studio International review from the time breathlessly described it as the “the real thing […] the apotheosis of swing […] the Stargate.” Such enthusiasm seems cute now, after the artist projects that supposedly set the fair apart from other trade events (Mike Nelson earning a Turner Prize nomination in part for his 2006 installation at the fair) have been scaled back almost to invisibility, and the “Focus” section for younger galleries, introduced in 2013, effectively assimilated parallel smaller fairs such as Zoo and Sunday. Of the 164 stand-holders at this year’s Frieze London, only 30 of them (predominantly, of course, the larger multi-venue galleries) were at the first 2003 fair. Through all this, the fair has long presented itself as an annual temporary institution, masquerading as such among the long-term underfunding of the city’s public museums. This hoarding of resources has a distorting effect on coinciding and parallel events that would otherwise register as an alternative, both to the fair and other art spaces around London. Several …
              Contextures: Art and the Politics of Abstraction, Representation, and Identity (Part Two)
              Andrew Stefan Weiner
              This is the second installment in a two-part essay exploring the aesthetics and politics of the representation/abstraction dyad. For part one, which considered the history of New York’s Just Above Midtown gallery, among other spaces, curators, and artists who rejected received ideas about how abstraction and representation should operate, please click here. Given the intense pressures facing many artists who identify and/or are marked as being in some sense “Other,” it isn’t hard to understand why the radical aesthetic and political world of spaces like Just Above Midtown might seem so compelling and so contemporary, despite nearly fifty years of historical distance. Figures like Linda Goode Bryant, Senga Nengudi, David Hammons, Howardena Pindell, and Randy Williams confronted something approaching a double bind, in which loyalty to an emergent Black nation seemingly meant sacrificing artistic complexity, and yet managed to repurpose this contradiction as a source of creative, critical dynamism. Over and against the long-facile valorization of abstraction or more recent dogmas surrounding representation, such artists instead grounded their practices in the rejection of false oppositions and in attempts to trace the imbrication of aesthetics and politics in the hybrid, conceptual-material forms that Bryant memorably framed as contextures. That said, …
              Contextures: Art and the Politics of Abstraction, Representation, and Identity (Part One)
              Andrew Stefan Weiner
              This is the first installment in a two-part essay exploring the aesthetics and politics of the representation/abstraction dyad, with the second half to appear later this week. In late 2022, The New York Review of Books published an essay entitled “Between Abstraction and Representation,” by the veteran art critic Jed Perl. Framed as a strangely nostalgic jeremiad, Perl’s text laments the decay of a once-robust opposition between abstraction and representation in visual art. Once, it claims, in the heyday of mid-century Manhattan, a tight-knit cadre of artists and critics agreed to fiercely disagree in a “war of ideas,” where artistic positions amounted to all-in personal, aesthetic, and political commitments; from this battle royale the strongest emerged victorious, thereby enabling a collective evolution of artistic forms. However, Perl argues, in subsequent decades the advent of new hybrid strategies and modes––a grouping loosely termed “postmodernism”––led art to become dangerously complacent and vacuous. Citing a heterogeneous group of artists including Julie Mehretu, Gerhard Richter, and Simone Leigh, Perl claims that more recent efforts to recombine abstraction and representation have robbed these forms of their autonomy and authority, producing a “muddleheaded eclecticism.” Opposing this process of decline, Perl calls for a return to the …
              Lin May Saeed’s “The Snow Falls Slowly in Paradise”
              Jesi Khadivi
              In What is Philosophy? (1991), Deleuze and Guattari write that “art is continually haunted by the animal.” Looking back through millennia of artistic production, we see representations of our beastly counterparts everywhere: as companions, deities, workers, or raw material. Likewise, John Berger has argued that “the parallelism of their similar/dissimilar lives allowed animals to provoke some of the first questions and offer answers.” Yet a life in common, and the reciprocal gaze that humans and animals once shared, was lost in the West with the development of nineteenth-century capitalism. The practice of German-Iraqi artist Lin May Saeed brings the image of the animal from the periphery back to the center. Saeed devoted her life, sadly cut short by brain cancer at the age of fifty last month, to the cause of animal liberation. Her work avoids agit-prop depictions of animal suffering and instead draws on myths, stories, and fables so that we might “imagine a kind of time travel with a focus on the human-animal relationship” and “think about our common future” by looking at the past. “The Snow Falls Slowly in Paradise,” in which Styrofoam sculptures and reliefs, figurative wall works, drawings, and videos are shown alongside animal sculptures …
              Steirischer Herbst ’23, “Humans and Demons”
              Joshua Simon
              In the opening speech for “Humans and Demons,” her sixth edition as curator of Europe’s longest-standing annual contemporary art festival, Ekaterina Degot stated that the exhibition “is not about good and evil” but “status quo and evil.” This distinction informs the four main exhibition sites and programs deployed through the city, organized according to the trajectories of three historical figures—and one object—to live or pass through Graz during or after World War II. These are represented in each venue by a curatorial research installation: a collection of records owned by Nazi officer and jazz enthusiast Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, alias Dr. Jazz (1912–99); the personal archive of physicist Stefan Marinov (1931–97); an AI rendering of the Zürich-born Brazilian artist Mira Schendel (1919–88); and a copy of a 1925 postcard showing pacifists holding a banner on which the word “Friede” (Peace) was later changed to “Frieda” to avoid Nazi persecution. This year’s Steirischer herbst takes place against the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, among the many lessons of which is that we never really left the twentieth century. In that context, and in such a historically saturated exhibition, the above installations are a brilliant move. They free participating artists from archival …
              Jota Mombaça’s “A CERTAIN DEATH/THE SWAMP”
              Harry Burke
              In the final chapter of her 2016 book In the Wake, Christina Sharpe meditates on the weather, which for her signifies the “pervasive climate” of antiblackness in the modern world. Her argument is shaped by the insight that “new modes of writing, new modes of making-sensible” are needed to account for the quotidian violence of the colonial present. Jota Mombaça’s “A CERTAIN DEATH/THE SWAMP” builds on these contentions through a series of artworks that address the weather and, when viewed together, make up an atmosphere. While preparing for the show, Mombaça researched the disastrous flash floods that struck western Germany and neighboring countries in 2021, as well as Berlin’s origins as swampland, drained in the 1700s. What would it mean, the artist asked herself, for cities to turn back into swamps? until the last morning (2023), made in collaboration with Anti Ribeiro, Darwin Marinho, and Luana Peixe, is her oblique answer to this. The looping, fourteen-minute video studies the mangroves and marshlands of Pará in her native Brazil. Its long, pensive shots of clouds recall John Constable’s cloud studies of the 1820s. For the Romantic painter, clouds exteriorized emotions and symbolized modernity’s scientific advances. To today’s eye, they also refract …
              “Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism”
              Matt Shaw
              In March 1949, the cover of Popular Science magazine featured Ray Pioch’s brightly colored drawing of architect Eleanor Raymond’s Dover Sun House, a Massachusetts home developed with solar engineer Maria Telkes and heated exclusively by solar energy. Part Rockwell painting, part architectural section, and part science diagram, the illustration drew on Pioch’s experience drawing instruction manuals for the U.S. Navy during World War II. It shows an idyllic family in their well-tempered living room, kept warm by the energy captured through south-facing windows and stored in canisters of mirabilite, or Glauber’s salt, a mineral well suited to storing solar heat in the day and releasing it after dark. The cover represents the best image of post-war Pax Americana, but with a twist: a bright optimism that the sun was the future source of America’s energy needs, not oil. The cover serves as a lively introduction to “Emerging Ecologies: Architecture and the Rise of Environmentalism,” the inaugural presentation by the Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and Natural Environment. Curated by Carson Chan, the show attempts to draw lines in the sand about what “ecology” and “the environment” mean in architecture from the 1930s to the …
              Michael Rakowitz’s “The Monument, the Monster, and the Maquette”
              Rachel Valinsky
              The exhibition’s title, alliteration and all, has the ring of an Aesopian fable. The Latin etymology of monument, Michael Rakowitz spells out on the edges of a sculpture, are trifold: caution (to remind, to advise, to warn), protest (demonstrate, remonstrate), monstrosity (monster). And indeed, around the gallery, the monstrous is everywhere in sight. Its forms are many: to the right, Behemoth (all works 2022), a colossal black plastic tarp obscuring the suggestion of an equestrian figure below rises tall only to fall to the ground as the fan powering its ascent clocks out. At the center, American Golem, poised on a decorative white wooden tabletop, an assemblage of found antiques and papier mâché sculptures (a strategy the artist has previously used for reproducing objects looted from Iraqi museums, highlighting the calls for their repatriation). The central figure, which stands on a stack of marble slabs, greets the viewer from the top of its bell-mold body and fired-clay mask—a copy of the Babylonian monster Humbaba. Gazing out at the viewer, its composite arms outstretched, it recalls Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus (1920), but even more grotesque. It doesn’t just stand on the wreckage of the past, propelled toward the future: it is …
              “Everything else”
              The Editors
              A number of pieces scheduled for publication this month are addressed to the tension between Ad Reinhardt’s insistence that “art is art [and] everything else is everything else” and variations on the more fashionable dictum that everyone is an artist and everything at least potentially a work of art. The former position is conventionally, if lazily, understood to insulate the aesthetic tradition from its contamination by politics and to ensure that it cannot bear upon society; that art might be coextensive with the world, by contrast, seems to promise it can serve as an agent of change within it. A purportedly conservative impulse is opposed to a progressive one, and artists and their audiences are invited to pick sides. The increased scrutiny of that opposition might reflect a gathering awareness that the collapse of art into the world does not always support a progressive program. As some artists have been pointing out for years, the assertion that a work of art cannot be disentangled from its contexts can sometimes shade into the assumption that it is little more than a mechanical product of them. The risk is that the individual labor of the artist is effaced, their subjectivity equated with …
              Valerie Werder’s Thieves
              Wendy Vogel
              In Valerie Werder’s debut novel Thieves, Valerie—an autofictional alter ego—chronicles her slide from disgruntled gallery copywriter to brazen shoplifter. At first she steals for the rebellious thrill of inhabiting other identities; eventually, and more abstractly, she steals to reclaim her time, words, and sense of self. Thieves centers on the New York blue-chip commercial art world, with its fussy idiosyncrasies and particular flavor of exploitation. But it is equally a novel about the fungibility of female identity—and a shrewd indictment of how language operates under capitalism. Werder’s decision to write in a self-reflexive mode—a contemporary novel in the lineage of Semiotext(e)’s influential “Native Agents” series, edited by Chris Kraus and featuring authors such as Kathy Acker, Lynne Tillman, and Kraus herself—speaks to a desire to expose and explore the conditions under which Thieves was produced. Yet Werder is critical of how language is strategically deployed in the name of “authenticity,” both within the art world and literature. In Thieves, words bolster value, then drain themselves of meaning. People become expendable, while material things reinforce their self-worth. Over the course of the novel, Valerie becomes both a precious object and a voracious acquisitor. She enables, and is enabled by, a mysterious …
              40th EVA International, “The Gleaners Society”
              Ben Eastham
              In Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), a lost tourist complains that the maps are much better in his homeland. So advanced are the cartographers there, he boasts, that they long since moved beyond puny pocket-maps to execute a map of the country “on the scale of a mile to the mile.” It hasn’t yet been spread out, he concedes, because “the farmers objected.” Yet on realizing that this perfect map very closely resembled the territory, his compatriots instead learned to navigate “using the country itself.” So now they have no need of maps. This parable is used to support Stephen Wright’s proposal, cited by Sebastian Cichocki in his curatorial statement for an exhibition program scattered across Limerick, that art should also operate “on a 1:1 scale.” By a logic that might seem strained even to Alice, Wright suggests that artists take their cues from Carroll’s cartographers and make art that is coextensive with reality. This seems spectacularly to miss the point of the joke: if you don’t need maps, then you don’t need cartographers; if reality is its own representation, then you don’t need artists. If you want to intervene directly in the existing systems, you need …
              Billy Bultheel and James Richards’s “Workers in Song”
              Kirsty Bell
              “Workers in Song” inverts the current artworld logic of exhibitions augmented by performance programs, and instead positions the live event as the centerpiece and the exhibition its supplement (some of the performance elements, along with a soundtrack, remain on show at WIELS until October 8.) Borrowing their title from a Leonard Cohen song, Belgian composer Billy Bultheel and Welsh artist James Richards staged a collaboration that examines the elasticity of such live events, questioning the relations of appropriated artifacts (poems, films, artworks) to newly constructed material (collaborative videos, sound, banners), of spoken word to music or imagery, and of live performance to pre-recording, thus the very nature of liveness itself. It takes place in an exhibition room sparsely adorned with banners, rudimentary props (folding chairs, desk, piano), and two large screens hanging opposite each other. Four angled bleachers sit the audience “in-the-round.” A reperformance of Ian White’s Ibiza (2010) is the first of a nine-part program that is dense, heady, jarring, tender, anxiety-inducing, and shot through with moments of beauty and pathos. Liveness was central to the late artist and curator White’s thinking: he saw the rehearsed gesture and performer’s presence as a “false promise” of the live, finding liveness …
              “The Weight of Words”
              Caleb Klaces
              Here are some of the phrases the visitor will encounter at “The Weight of Words,” a group show featuring eighteen living artists and writers working across sculpture and poetry: “WHAT IF NOT EVERY WORD IN YOUR SENTENCE;” “Traducing Ruddle;” “as you wlak [sic] the distance changes; ” “stilllife;” “EFEND DIGNITY COPY AND ORIGINAL.” Out of context, these formulations sound more like material gathered by a lexicographer or anthropologist than lines composed by a poet. Yet the works that feature them are poetic in the best of senses: distilled and suggestive, affecting in ways I can’t quite explain and yet will remember. The curators, Clare O’Dowd and Nick Thurston, argue that the works on display represent the meeting of two traditions that have been artificially separated and codified. Sculpture and poetry are taught and interpreted as distinct disciplines, when they are in fact intimately connected by purpose and technique. Several of the artists here point to literature in their work: Joo Yeon Park’s kit-like engraved aluminum is a fragment of potentially infinite architecture such as that imagined in Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Library of Babel” (1941); a commissioned text by poet Anthony (Vahni) Capildeo, swimming amongst fish in a blue vinyl …
              35th Bienal de São Paulo, “choreographies of the impossible”
              Kevin McGarry
              The Oscar Niemeyer building that houses “choreographies of the impossible,” the 35th edition of the Global South’s oldest biennial, is as much protagonist as background. Located in the bustling urban park of Ibirapuera, the art inside this architectural leviathan is only separated from the city’s greenery by glass walls, and its entrances are open six days a week. There is no charge to enter, monetary or otherwise: visitors needn’t reserve, wait, or check in with personal data like email addresses or postal codes, but can glide in and out as if the show were an extension of public space. This allows for viewing at a leisurely pace—important, given that there’s no quick way to tour 270,000 square feet of impossible choreographies. A short wall text jointly attributed to the curators (Diane Lima, Grada Kilomba, Hélio Menezes, and Manuel Borja-Villel) touches on the subversion of temporal structures in a selection of works “based on cosmologies and models of governance where time is conceived as a spiral, without the rigidity of established structures and chronologies”—although a spiral is a type of structure, too. Perhaps it would be more precise to say that the curators attempted to eschew linearity. While they have successfully …
              Barcelona Gallery Weekend
              Patrick Langley
              Enric Farrés Duran’s show at Bombon Projects was among the most on-the-nose exhibitions at this year’s Barcelona Gallery Weekend (BGW)—and not just because of the glasses. That technologies that purport to measure the world are not reliably accurate is less troubling, his work proposes, than the tendency to act as if they are. These stark and satirical pieces reference optometry (pairs of dysfunctional glasses, such as one with two holes in its lenses, on freestanding plinths), museum display practices (a canvas turned to face the wall, another with nothing on it but a few tips for cleaning glass), and shooting (a wall papered with rifle targets). One work—a glass-fronted frame containing smashed museum glass—reduces the theme to the point of absurdity: not the “cracked looking glass” of Joycean modernism but an art that flaunts its own shattered illusions. The spectacles are broken, but they haven’t yet been replaced. BGW’s ninth edition, which featured works by more than sixty artists exhibited in twenty-seven galleries across the city, showcased the robustness and vitality of Barcelona’s gallery scene. As such, it set an ironic context for a shared concern of several exhibitions: fragility. This manifested in the use of delicate materials—glass featured prominently …
              “Elusive Edge: Philippine Abstract Forms”
              Carlos Quijon, Jr.
              While framed as a non-survey exhibition, “Elusive Edge: Philippine Abstract Forms” presents a compelling cross-section of geometric abstraction in the Philippines, from its postwar formation to postmedia experiments that extend its legacies. Featuring the Cubist impulses of Vicente Manansala’s 1960 still life featuring the titular mango and papaya, the linear flourishes of Fernando Zobel’s Castilla XXII (1957), Leo Valledor’s color field appropriation of the Philippine flag (1981), and more contemporary brick paintings by Maria Taniguchi (2018), the exhibition makes a worthwhile attempt to revisit this particular visual idiom and to renew the stakes for thinking about it both in and beyond its art-historical, stylistic, and disciplinary contexts. The exhibition, curated by Patrick D. Flores, accomplishes this by a broadening of categorical parameters: “abstract forms,” rather than “abstraction”—as evidenced in this show, the former is less burdened by modernist influence than in fleshing out these forms’ own tendencies. True to its title, “Elusive Edge” emphasizes how gestures of abstraction overlap with forms and disciplines beyond visual art, such as architecture and design. The dense hang of “Elusive Edge,” which features more than sixty artists and eighty works, foregrounds differences in the works’ stylistic intentions while allowing points of commonality to emerge. …
              Liverpool Biennial, “uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things”
              Novuyo Moyo
              Given Liverpool’s role as a major hub for the slave trade during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it’s surprising that past editions of the city’s biennial have not engaged more directly with this subject. The legacy of slavery haunts the port city: it can be seen in the many warehouses by the docks, the streets named after slave traders, and the monuments addressing it. This year’s biennial dives fully into that history, guided by Cape Town-based curator Khanyisile Mbongwa’s approach, rooted in remembrance but also in the seeking of potential avenues to healing. “uMoya: The Sacred Return of Lost Things” featured over thirty artists finding ways to engage with a city whose links to slavery and its legacies are inextricable, in a way that manages to look to the future as well as the past. In the Tobacco Warehouse, Albert Ibokwe Khoza’s multimedia installation and performance piece The Black Circus of the Republic of Bantu (2022) goes back to questions of bodily autonomy, mining the histories of human zoos and exhibitions by examining their performance practice. As a South African artist whose work is sometimes staged in the west, they question the relationship between themselves and their audience, …
              Niklas Taleb’s “Solo Yolo”
              Marcus Verhagen
              The photographs in the first UK show of the Essen-based artist Niklas Taleb describe intervals and cadences rather than people or events. In particular, they outline the rhythms of the home: most of them show the artist’s apartment, where, it would seem, time passes slowly. Arranged in a spare hang across the gallery’s two small-ish spaces, these are reserved images in which rooms feature more prominently than the family inhabiting them. Often untitled yet all dated 2023, they are populated by toys and crockery, computer screens, flowers, and mementos. The remains of a snack sit on a carpet, multicolored building blocks are balanced on the rim of a drawer, snapshots of relatives are tucked in the gilt frame of an old print. In their reticence, these glimpses into the day-to-day life of a household leave viewers to establish what narrative and thematic continuities they can. The family itself is largely offstage. The shadow above the building blocks may be the artist in silhouette. Elsewhere, a woman, his partner perhaps, files an infant’s fingernails, but only their hands are visible. Social life makes a marginal appearance in two pictures of visitors absorbed in their own thoughts. In the liveliest scene here, …
              Hiroshi Yoshimura’s “Ambience of Sound, Sound of Ambience”
              Sam Thorne
              While the artist and pioneering ambient composer Hiroshi Yoshimura was recording his debut album, in 1982, he visited the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, which had opened a few years before. Struck by how this curving Art Deco building framed a series of views onto tree-lined gardens, he approached a curator about the possibility of playing his record in the galleries. They agreed, and so Yoshimura’s first album—titled Music for Nine Post Cards—also became his first public commission. Made in a home studio on a Fender Rhodes electric piano, this collection of glistening vignettes is one of my favorite albums, nine sketches of a museum informed not by its artworks but by glimpses through its windows. The track titles—“Clouds,” “Blink,” “Dream”—read like a list of the motifs and compositional approaches that would preoccupy Yoshimura for the rest of his life. Over the course of the next three decades, he produced dozens of acoustic soundscapes, meditative site-specific compositions for locations all over Japan: shopping malls; a subway line; even a funicular, the written score climbing at the same twenty-two-degree incline as the actual mountainside. Yoshimura’s was an unusual mode of public art. Small-scale but also spacious, it had nothing in …
              Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s “Radiant Remembrance”
              Murtaza Vali
              In Ken McMullen’s experimental film Ghost Dance (1983), Jacques Derrida proclaims that “Cinema is the art of ghosts, a battle of phantoms. It’s the art of allowing ghosts to come back.” This assertion of film’s proximity to the spectral plays out across Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s video installations, three of which anchor “Radiant Remembrance.” Blending animist beliefs held by Indigenous communities across Southeast Asia with the importance given to reincarnation within Buddhist theology, Nguyen uses film as a medium, not just as the material form of his art practice but as a channel through which to conjure forgotten pasts, narrate counter-memories, and confront historical violence and ecological destruction. After all, what are ghosts, if not simply our ancestors, and our memories of them, continuing to radiate their presence to us? What is remembrance if not simply a form of reincarnation? These capacities are most clearly articulated in The Specter of Ancestors Becoming (2019), an immersive four-channel video installation about the descendants of the tirailleurs sénégalais—Senegalese soldiers conscripted to fight for the colonial French army in the First Indochina War who fathered children with Vietnamese women. That conflict ended a year before the 1955 Bandung Conference, which sought to build cooperation …
              Progression from the mean
              The Editors
              Writing recently in the New Left Review, Hito Steyerl identified the tendency of machine learning networks such as Stable Diffusion to produce what she calls “mean images.” The word “mean” here carries several connotations, the most literal of which describes the process by which such networks aggregate existing images and out of them construct an average. Like statistical means, they do not bear upon reality except by analogy (that the average household in South Korea contains 2.4 people, for example, does not correlate to the actual number of people in any of them). This implies another way in which these images are “mean,” because they establish standards that are in reality unachievable: an AI-generated image of an “American citizen” describes no possible American citizen, but it does establish a visual ideal to which no living person can conform. Moreover, these technologies depend upon categories that must always be contested (what is a household, after all, or a citizen?), and so the images they produce are “mean” in the sense of exclusionary. Steyerl goes on. We might speak in much the same way of “mean texts.” The ideas, if they can be so-called, produced by such language models as ChatGPT are …
              Ethan Philbrick’s Group Works
              Laura Nelson
              There are many ways to move through and think alongside Ethan Philbrick’s Group Works. At first glance, it’s a book of academic theory coming out of performance studies. Following a “desire for collectivity,” Philbrick takes the small-scale formation of “the group” as the locus of inquiry. He enters the text with a tentativeness toward groups, recognizing the ways that they are frequently viewed with healthy suspicion or uncritical celebration. He asks: What kind of good-bad thing is a group to do? When do we do things in groups, and why? How do we group, and how does that matter? Moving with these questions, the book turns to artists experimenting with novel group formations in dance, literature, film, and music in the 1960s and ’70s. Each chapter pairs a “group work”—Simone Forti’s 1961 performance Huddle, Samuel Delany’s 1979 memoir Heavenly Breakfast: An Essay on the Winter of Love, Lizzie Borden’s 1976 film Regrouping, and Julius Eastman’s 1979 musical piece Gay Guerrilla—with contemporary works that re-imagine, re-perform, or dialogue with these experiments. Taken together, each pairing amplifies and extends the book’s central impulses to consider how groups assemble and disassemble. Along the way, Philbrick introduces a chorus of thinkers—theorists of community, theorists of in-operative community, theorists …
              Interview with P. Staff
              Francis Whorrall-Campbell
              I was first introduced to P. Staff’s work via a pamphlet by Isabel Waidner, produced for their show “The Prince of Homburg” at Dundee Contemporary Arts in 2019. Recently out as trans, and isolated because of the pandemic, I became obsessed with the film at the center of the exhibition—a fraught dream sequence as experienced by the eponymous prince (taken from Heinrich von Kleist​’s play) interspersed with interviews with contemporary trans scholars, activists, and artists—and how Staff’s disoriented, exhausted prince, sleepwalking his way to political martyrdom, could make sense of my own fear and exhaustion as reasonable responses to structural oppression. Having missed the show, I pieced it together from the commissioned texts and a few small images, and only later watched the film, when a friend gave me a bootleg copy on a USB alongside two works by Terre Thaemlitz. I remembered how I’d felt when I first encountered the work’s archive, but now I could also see its more hopeful proposition of dreaming as resistance. Born in 1987, Staff’s work spans sculpture, performance, installation, and film: On Venus, shown at their 2019 show at the Serpentine, juxtaposed archival footage of industrial animal farming with a poem imagining
              Christopher Kulendran Thomas’s “FOR REAL”
              Ann Mbuti
              If history is written by the victors, asks Christopher Kulendran Thomas’s exhibition, is reality a construct of the dominant narrative? What then does it mean to write a history of the defeated? The artist’s work starts from the struggle for Tamil independence during the 1983–2009 civil war and its aftermath, and moves onto the larger questions that arise from its failure. Reflecting on the ethnic oppression that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and forced his family to flee the country, Kulendran Thomas’s collaborations with Annika Kuhlmann suggest that art can influence our perception of not only history but reality itself. Mixing historical facts, storytelling, fiction, and deepfakes, his work offers a glimpse into a reality that exposes the dominant one as just one well-told version of many. The two previous iterations of this exhibition—at London’s ICA and Berlin’s KW—opened with the struggle for utopia before moving on to contemporary art: at Kunsthalle Zürich, the order is reversed. The looping twenty-four-minute video Being Human (2019), installed within a plywood construction, is the first video to encounter when visiting the exhibition and it reflects on the relationship between the end of the war and the flourishing of contemporary art in Sri Lanka. …
              “Everybody Talks About the Weather” and “Thus waves come in pairs”
              Laura McLean-Ferris
              One of the most remarkable things about living through a permacrisis is how much seems to go on as normal. Art exhibitions, for example, continue to get organized amid deranging heat, the lurid smoke of forest fires, and the wet wreckage of floods. In Venice, the precarious lagoon city now heavily reliant on a high-tech flood barrier system, two shows are currently on view that propose methods for curating art in this atmosphere of environmental collapse and change. Weather as metaphor, weather as context, weather as catalyst and catastrophe. There are a lot of exhibition-making strategies being tested in Dieter Roelstraete’s rangy “Everybody Talks About the Weather” at Fondazione Prada, but the show bears some relationship to the “report.” An LED screen with a grid of television weather forecasts from around the world is installed in the foyer, where a collection of glossy professionals with blow-dried hair gesture in front of colorful maps. This motif—newsy, mediatic, even a little silly—is echoed in the exhibition’s information panels, which resemble newspaper front pages with headlines, data, and “stories” about the artworks on show. This is the third in a series of major exhibitions across Prada’s venues that have marked a turn towards …
              Eliel Jones
              In light of the ongoing conservative backlash against legislative advances for trans rights in Spain, the UK, and Germany, trans visibility remains paradoxically both a requirement for survival and the greatest threat to trans people’s safety. In a first for the artist-run space W139, which for its forty-four years has focused on the production and presentation of new work, a recent exhibition combined historical and contemporary artworks to create a dialogue between past and present experiences of bodily and gender autonomy. “Substitutes” brought together artists who have subjected their bodies to abstractions, disguises, and transformations to find ways to be both present and absent, visible and invisible. At stake is a desire to refuse the logics that demand proof or validity of one’s existence, and to fight back against requirements that are deemed necessary for the recognizing of unruly bodies as legitimate. Johannes Büttner’s sculptures of loaves of bread pierced with flesh-tunnel holes were hung on the wall and propped on shelves at the entrance and in the gallery’s reading room. Recalling the literal and symbolic body of Christ, the works invoke St. Thomas the Apostle’s insistence on probing Christ’s flesh—not satisfied with seeing and smelling his wounds—to satisfy his …
              Martine Syms’s “Loser Back Home”

              Juliana Halpert
              In an early scene of The African Desperate (2022), Martine Syms’s first feature film, her protagonist, a Master of Fine Arts candidate named Palace, hosts four professors in her studio for a final review. In turn, each teacher performs their own version of art pedagogy in Palace’s general direction, lobbing vague questions and cloudy critiques her way. “It’s all just so figurative,” comments Rose, the snidest, and most overtly racist, of the bunch (played perfectly by Syms’s longtime gallerist, Bridget Donahue). She gestures at the work: “It’s just a family, right?” Palace, skeptical and evasive up until this point, finally shoots back: “Haven’t you read Saidiya Hartman? Of course I’m responding to the African desperate. Staking my claim to opacity.” Opacity is the name of Syms’s game in “Loser Back Home,” the artist’s first exhibition with Sprüth Magers, in her native Los Angeles. That scene was at the front of my mind as I toured the two floors, attempting to parse the show’s manifold logics, feeling a bit rebuffed at every turn. Opacity—and the right to stake one’s claim to it—was a concept crafted by Édouard Glissant in his Poetics of Relation (1990) as a means of protecting and preserving …
              Cathryn Drake
              To the extent that repetition signifies a failure to progress, it is anathema to our industrious modern society. Yet the word embodies a paradox: in every iteration there is a difference, if only because it occurs in a different moment, a movement forward in time and space. Repetition gives us another chance. The group show “Repetitions”—featuring artworks by Nikos Alexiou, Beppe Caturegli, Panos Charalambous, Thalia Chioti, Maria Ikonomopoulou, Alekos Kyrarinis, Christina Mitrentse, Nina Papaconstantinou, Nikos Podias, Efi Spyrou, and Myrto Xanthopoulou—presents meditations on the theme. The repetetive manual processes involved in the making of some of these works seem to express transformations more spiritual than physical, detected visually, if at all, in barely perceptible marks on the surfaces or slight irregularities in form. Nikos Podias’s Fragment (2022) is a delicate lattice constructed of fragile found papers such as teabags, with stains derived from rose petals and black tea evoking the “blood, sweat, and tears” commonly attributed to acts of painstaking creation. The even more ephemeral Black Curtain (2007–8), a delicate structure of reeds, paper, and string by the late Nikos Alexiou suspended on the wall nearby, is a tense yet tenuous membrane that seems to hover on the thresholds of …
              Aziz Hazara’s “No Dress Code”
              Edwin Nasr
              “How then can we clean centuries’ worth of waste?” asks Françoise Vergès, reflecting on the devastation wrought by imperial conquests in the Global South. The question hangs over “No Dress Code,” artist Aziz Hazara’s affronting solo exhibition at Berlin’s PSM Gallery, which reflects upon the US military occupation of his native Afghanistan through the prism of trash. Speakers housed in four modified, bright yellow–plastic jerrycans play soundscapes recorded by the artist over the past decade across Kabul. The title of this sound installation, Bushka Bazi (2023), is the Afghani name for these containers; together with the soundscapes, they conjure a distinct sense of place, but also of context. Introduced to the country through international aid cargos, they have been put to numerous uses since—from water carriers in peri-urban areas suffering from poor infrastructure to petrol-filled explosive devices used by the Taliban. I am looking for you like a drone, my love (2021–22) is a large-scale photograph of colossal heaps of discarded material, sweepingly installed in a panoramic layout so as to cover the walls of the gallery’s central space. At first glance indistinguishable from the type of imagery disseminated by climate advocates to draw attention to environmental degradation, the …
              “O Quilombismo”
              Jesi Khadivi
              The reopening of Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt was marked by three days of performances, concerts, lectures, readings, rituals, and blessings under the banner “Acts of Opening Again: A Choreography of Conviviality. Those familiar with incoming director Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung’s program at Savvy Contemporary, which he founded in 2009 and quickly established as a forum for deliberation, experimentation, and sociability, will recognize a continuation of its ethos of conviviality and hospitality as an integral aspect of institution-building. Yet how might such values transition to the larger scale of a bureaucratic German institution, which operates according to different metrics than more fluidly structured art spaces? How does a curatorial stance of cultivating intimate spaces within institutions ultimately expand the channels through which we can engage with art and with each other? How does an invisible curatorial material like intimacy manifest itself within an exhibition? And finally, how might such a politics of conviviality be enacted within what Ndikung has referred to as “the belly of the beast”? These questions pervaded my thinking about “O Quilombismo,” a show whose concept and content are entirely entangled with the act of thinking how to “institute.” The inaugural exhibition in HKW’s new program …
              Gelare Khoshgozaran’s “To Be The Author of One’s Own Travels”
              Dylan Huw
              Gelare Khoshgozaran describes herself as an “undisciplinary artist and writer.” Across her work, she harnesses the capaciousness and flexibility of the essay form to articulate the possibilities inherent in exile. Her 2022 essay “The Too Many and No Homes of Exile,” for example, articulates the “limbo” of a life marked by latency and anticipation. While it draws on the artist’s personal memories, its emphasis—as in much of her work—is on forming associations and fostering solidarity across contexts of displacement. “You look at the map of Los Angeles,” she writes of the city in which she now lives, “and identify a map of exile.” Her first solo exhibition in Europe, curated by Eliel Jones at Delfina Foundation’s cavernous central London space, features three moving-image works that reflect the lyricism and political intentionality of her written work. Born in Tehran in 1986, during the Iran-Iraq War, Khoshgozaran is particularly invested in making way for alternative, affirmative practices of living. She channels this wide-ranging understanding of exile into a methodology—and something approaching a narrative—in The Retreat (2023), the exhibition’s longest, loosest work. Described in the press materials as “visual expansion” of Khoshgozaran’s 2022 essay, the film stems from an “exile retreat” organized by …
              Momentum 12, “Together as to gather”
              Novuyo Moyo
              The twelfth edition of Momentum, held on Jeløya island in the coastal town of Moss, is an experiment in non-hierarchical models for curating biennials, with Tenthaus at the helm. As part of its open, participatory process with an emphasis on local contexts, members of the collective invited an artist or collective each and worked in reverse from there to find points of intersection and connecting threads between the participants. Most of the works are contained in Gallery F 15’s main space, a few spilling out onto the farm grounds outside. Inside, the educational platform and art collective Gudskul—formed of the three Jakarta-based collectives Grafis Huru Hara, ruangrupa, and Serrum—have expanded on the collaborative vision of the curators with Stitching Ecosystems: GUDHAUS (all works 2023). The “work” functions as a space where visitors are invited to engage in knowledge-sharing and communal processes. It’s also a semi-archive of the collective’s interventions and projects driven by these same notions. Outside, an extension of a project staged also in ruangrupa’s Documenta 15, Stitching Ecosystems: Gudkitchen-Tentskul, was only partially activated at the opening as the kitchen wasn’t yet functional. Placed for now under a banner by Nayara Leite that reads “I AM GLAD WE …
              “Schema: World as Diagram”
              Paul Stephens
              This exhibition of diagrammatic works juggles some of the most contested categories in contemporary art—and manages to keep all its curatorial balls in the air. Despite the broad sweep of its title, the show is tightly curated and requires multiple viewings for its full scope to set in. With an emphasis on painting, this meticulous grouping of fifty-plus artists undermines simplistic, outmoded art-historical binaries that oppose figuration and abstraction, conceptualism and expressionism, scientism and humanism. To call it expansive feels like an understatement. The show takes its title from Thomas Hirschhorn’s Schema: Art and Public Space (2016–22), an exuberant multimedia collage-manifesto. Rudimentary and improvisational, Hirschhorn’s patchwork of ideas and contexts places the works in the show under a utopian-communitarian umbrella—exemplifying David Joselit’s claim in his 2005 essay “Dada’s Diagrams” that “the diagram constitutes an embodied utopianism.” Hirschhorn’s Schema might usefully be juxtaposed with Dan Graham’s 1966 work of the same name—sometimes taken to represent the apex of early informatic anti-figural conceptualism. (A show devoted to Graham’s Schema at 3A Gallery closed, coincidentally, several weeks before this exhibition opened.) Graham intended his work to be “completely self-referential” and meant to define “itself in place only as information.” Simply a text without …
              Jes Fan’s “Sites of Wounding: Chapter 1”
              Wong Binghao
              In one corner of Jes Fan’s latest exhibition is a glass globe that fits snugly into a receptacle resembling a half-opened, upright clam’s shell. Titled Left and right knee, grafted (all works 2023) and installed on a ledge in the curve of the staircase that leads down into the gallery, the sculpture’s treasure is only visible from above; from below, only its undulating, opal façade can be seen. The body parts and procedure referenced in the artwork’s title are hardly, if at all, discernible in the artwork’s form; an obtuseness compounded by its relatively inaccessible position in the exhibition space. Like the “pearl” it protects, this artwork reveals its meaning only in glimpses. Indeed, even the exhibition’s figurative sources are hidden in plain sight: all of these seemingly abstract sculptures are cast from knees, chests, and torsos. Arranged in a vertical line, Left and right knees, three times is composed of six wall-mounted aqua resin basins, each approximately the same size and shape and spaced evenly apart. Despite the mathematical connotations of its title, the sculpture resembles an outlandish cascading fountain adorned with esoteric insignia. Fan mimicked an oyster shell’s palette by sanding various pigments—yellows, pinks, browns, and blues—onto aqua …
              Jacqueline Humbert and David Rosenboom’s Daytime Viewing
              Thea Ballard
              In a videotaped recording of a 1980 performance of Jacqueline Humbert and David Rosenboom’s song cycle Daytime Viewing, a woman wanders across a dim stage. She wears a bright green printed housedress—the shapeless body-concealing kind—and large fluffy slippers; she nervously settles into her spotlit destination, a chair set in profile close to a TV set. Her reflection is briefly visible on the blank screen as she fiddles with a knob to turn the set on, then, screen illuminated, she pulls up a channel displaying a nested image of another woman in profile watching TV. The tableau is soundtracked by uneasy synthesizer melody, and a voice narrating: “She was all she had, and it was more than enough for now. She was a survivor, addressing the struggle without by living within. She gathered momentum by living within, contained by a fascination with the view: this trance, this private daytime viewing where any world awaited her arrival.” Both Humbert and Rosenboom are part of a cohort of musical avant-gardists who play with song as a form that can, often in just a few short minutes, bridge the popular inner core and absolute outer limits of American aesthetics and consciousness. Humbert designed costumes …
              “Other worlds”
              The Editors
              In an essay to be published this month, Thea Ballard interrogates the curatorial and critical cliche that works of art help us to “imagine other worlds” to “presumably utopian social effect.” Not only did this force the editors to skim through past editorials to check whether we had succumbed to the same truism (no comment), but it set us to thinking again about the relationship between the “worlds” constructed through art and those in which we live. One implication of the critique is that allowing art the freedom to imagine new realities might relieve it of the duty to engage with the existing ones. That curators (and critics) unthinkingly encourage an attitude towards “high” cultural production that is essentially one of wish fulfilment: art as imaginative escape from the very real structural injustices, climate catastrophes, and rising authoritarianism that are shaping our societies. The danger is that art comes to serve a blander version of the cathartic function that Aristotle ascribed to theater: we go to the museum to participate in a symbolic world in which justice is served, only to return to our daily lives purged of any revolutionary feeling. The obvious rejoinder is that we must first imagine …
              The Letters of Rosemary and Bernadette Mayer, 1976-1980
              Daniel Muzyczuk
              The poet Bernadette Mayer and her artist sister Rosemary began to write to each other when the former moved with her family from New York to Lenox, being deterred from phone calls by the expense. Over the four years covered by this anthology of their letters, Bernadette gave birth to two children, collaborated with her husband Lewis Walsh on the 1976 collection Piece of Cake, and worked towards her book-length poem Midwinter Day; Rosemary introduced the ephemeral installations involving snow or balloons that she called “Temporary Monuments.” Their correspondence—which complements Rosemary’s recent touring exhibition “Ways of Attaching”—both illuminates and substantiates the recent growth of interest in the sisters’ work: anecdotes of daily life mix with candid confessions of loneliness, worries about money, and, above all, attentive criticism of each other’s work and methods during these formative years in their practices. A large number of these letters end with reading (and watching) lists: Braudel, Fassbinder, Genet, Stein… Rosemary visits the cinema in New York and recommends new movies to her sister (notwithstanding the fact that these were probably hard to find in rural Massachusetts). But when she begins to examine new trends in psychoanalysis, it’s Bernadette who offers advice on where …
              London Gallery Weekend
              Orit Gat
              This year’s edition of London Gallery Weekend suggested something that initially surprised me: that the joy of seeing multiple shows in one weekend can be less in new discoveries than in meaningful re-encounters. Looking at Jadé Fadojutimi’s three-by-five-meter painting And willingly imprinting the memory of my mistakes (2023)—included in “To Bend the Ear of the Outer World,” an exhibition of contemporary abstraction curated by Gary Garrels at Gagosian—I thought, I still love this. I first encountered Fadojutimi’s work as part of the 2021 Liverpool Biennial; in this more formalist context I can see how the things I loved then—its blending of oil, pastel, and acrylic in one canvas, its massive presence—are in dialogue with painters I’ve been following for years. The invention and freshness of Laura Owens’s approach to painting is confirmed by every re-encounter; I continue to be amazed by how Charline von Heyl’s Circus (2022) evokes its colorful subject through abstract patterns of gray, black, and white. Many galleries chose to dedicate their London Gallery Weekend shows to painting, and I loved many of the paintings on view. I was impressed with Shaan Syed’s four works at Sundy, which depict forms from the natural world—like the rubber plant—as …
              María Magdalena Campos-Pons’s “Liminal Circularity”
              Kimberly Bradley
              According to Yoruba myth, only one of the seventeen deities sent by the supreme being Olodumare to populate the earth could do so. After her sixteen male co-divinities failed, Oshun, the goddess of water, fertility, love, and protection, used her sweet waters to revive Earth and create its creatures. At Galerie Barbara Thumm, María Magdalena Campos-Pons pays homage to Oshun with the vibrant gouache triptych Untitled (2021). The artist was born in Cuba in 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution succeeded; Oshun is an important figure in Santeria practices, integrated into Latin American and Caribbean belief systems via the slave trade. Here, a female figure’s outstretched arms cradle a burst of dark-brown blooms, framed by yellow petals—a stylized sunflower spilling over three framed pieces. The sunflower is a symbol of Oshun, and the piece, an invocation of sorts, exudes generosity, abundance, and hope. Campos-Pons—whose ancestry is Yoruba and Chinese as well as Cuban—is experiencing her own burst of recognition. She’s been known, shown, and studied since the 1980s, but institutional exhibitions in both the Global North and Global South have since 2020 arrived in a rush like the flowing waters she often depicts in her multimedia work. While this reflects …
              Aria Dean’s “Figuer Sucia”
              Katherine C. M. Adams
              One enters Aria Dean’s exhibition “Figuer Sucia” through Pink Saloon Doors (all works 2023) that open onto a vaguely neo-Western mise-en-scène. An ambiguous gray sculpture—heavily textured, with densely packed contours that evoke layers of folded skin and the crushed musculature of a horse—sits on a wooden pallet at the center of the room. This mildly cubic, contorted sculptural figure (FIGURE A, Friesian Mare) appears to be cowering, its subject’s equine body nearly unrecognizable. Dean’s recent exhibition at the Renaissance Society, “Abattoir, U.S.A.!,” took the slaughterhouse as a way to examine the limits of subjecthood. Its central film work walked the viewer through the environments of factory farming. While Abattoir, U.S.A.!’s featured architecture was outfitted for the killing of animals, the rooms it showed remained empty, painting a backdrop of violent and eerie subjectification. Like that project, “Figuer Sucia” is implicitly connected to Dean’s longstanding reflections on how Blackness is conditioned for and as social material. The contorted not-quite-object, not-quite-subject of FIGURE A might seem to show the implied, absent victim of that prior project. Yet “Figuer Sucia” calls the source of such brutality into question. It examines a violence that is not only in the scene we are witnessing, but …
              Keely Shinners
              Just 300 meters away from A4 Arts Foundation is the Castle of Good Hope. Built by the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century, the oldest surviving colonial building in Cape Town stands today as a symbol for a set of interwoven colonial relations: land expropriation, capitalist accumulation, racial subjugation, environmental degradation. Its very architecture—the pentagonal bastions, the high stone wall, the garrison, the prison—epitomizes the strategies at the heart of these formations: to dominate and exploit the commons. In South Africa, these strategies were articulated during colonialism, elaborated by Apartheid and endure, structurally and systemically, to this day. Curated by Khanya Mashabela, “Common” asks how artists and activists, past and present, negotiate this destruction of the commons and its commensurate social relations. The first artwork one encounters upon ascending the stairs at A4 is a telling example of what is at stake in this exercise. Sue Williamson’s twelve photographs document Naz and Hari Ebrahim’s final weeks in a home marked for demolition in Cape Town’s District Six. Declared a whites-only area by the Apartheid state, the family was evicted and their home bulldozed in 1981. In those final days, amidst cups of tea and cigarettes …
              “The Casablanca Art School”
              Oliver Basciano
              In the early 1960s, Mohamed Melehi was “an immigrant, a lost person” in Minneapolis. Later there would be a move to New York and friendship with the likes of Jim Dine and Frank Stella, but at that time the Moroccan artist was a junior teaching assistant at the College of Art and Design and felt like an outsider in the American Midwest. There’s a heaviness to the 1963 acrylic painting that he titled after the city, which opens this exhibition. A block of pitch black pushes down on the monochrome red of the canvas’s bottom half. The colors, included in Marcus Garvey’s pan-African flag and other motifs of left-wing liberatory struggle, hint at Melehi’s politics. He could be hoisting a flag over American territory. Then again, he was never the kind of artist to take make his point so didactically. Ultimately the work remains a painting not a banner: sandwiched in between the red and black is a narrow strip of yellow and grey. At Tate St. Ives, Minneapolis hangs next to two of the very few figurative works in this survey of the Casablanca Art School, a post-independence generation of teachers and students from the Moroccan institution, where Melehi …
              The World(end) of Yesterday
              Xin Wang
              When the HBO adaptation of the video game The Last of Us came out at the start of 2023, it already felt nostalgic for an earlier cultural moment of imagined future apocalypses. The game premiered a decade earlier among a “cohort” that included the TV series The Walking Dead (in its third season), the game Resident Evil (in its sixth), the Hollywood blockbuster World War Z, and Cao Fei’s morbidly humorous Haze and Fog, a zombie film that offered incisive observations of middle-class ennui and environmental ruin, inspired by Cao’s own fascination with eschatological imaginations in the broader culture. I remember being captivated by the zealousness of “world-building” efforts dedicated to sensationalizing its end. In The Last of Us we follow the journey of Joel, a middle-aged smuggler who lost his daughter at the start of a global fungal pandemic, and Ellie, a ferocious queer teenager who has never experienced the world before its collapse, across America on a mission to facilitate the creation of a cure/vaccine. Many beloved zombie games at the time featured stereotypical characters or cliched trash-talk (which can become its own campy genre), but The Last of Us built indelible characters enlivened by high-quality acting. Joel’s …
              Paige K.B.’s “Of Course, You Realize, This Means War”
              Travis Diehl
              At the opening, the red and white helium balloons were in everyone’s face. Now, at the show’s close, they’re at your feet, like a deflated Great Pacific Garbage Patch, pressing visitors closer to Paige K.B.’s intricate collages on wood panels, pastiches of art-historical material, and political sound-bites; closer to the web of found objects and deadpan references supplementing the paintings, to the sour red walls they hang on. The balloons make it hard to take in the show from a safe, not to say critical, distance. No measured overview allowed, only deep diving, unpacking, conspiring. The balloons suggest a constellation so dense and rubbery it’s a blob, the trampled ribbons like the red yarn in the disgraced detective’s storage unit—their significance all wadded up and too close to see. Maybe that’s too much weight to attach to party decorations that never got cleaned up. But why weren’t they cleaned up? Why are they on the checklist, inaccurately, as 99 Red Balloons of Diplomacy (all works 2023 unless otherwise stated): “Thirty-one red balloons,” when some are white? A checklist on a PDF dated May 17—two weeks after the opening? But the balloons fit the vibe. They insinuate themselves into a scenography …
              Rirkrit Tiravanija’s “We Don’t Recognise What We Don’t See”
              Christine Han 
              The formally diverse series of works that anchor Rirkrit Tiravanija’s new solo exhibition each highlight the accelerating inequity among living beings and propose tentative frameworks for their reconciliation. On entering the exhibition, the visitor is greeted by framed prints of five Old Master paintings which have been appropriated and adapted by Tiravanija. In twinned reproductions of Pietro Longhi’s Il rinoceronte (1751), for instance, Tiravanija has altered or partly obscured the original image of Clara—the first rhinoceros brought into Europe from Asia—as depicted in a Venetian carnival. The implication of the title (untitled, 2020 [we are not your pet], 2023) seems clear: to disrupt the idea that nature as distinct from humanity is something to be tamed and subordinated. Then there are the mysterious, seemingly empty spaces in Jan Brueghel the Elder’s The Temptation in the Garden of Eden (ca. 1600). Where are the horses, swans, tigers, antelopes, and hares? I did as the gallery told me and shone a UV flashlight onto its surface, where now I could discern the peculiar, enigmatic shadows of departed birds (screen-printed onto the image with solar dust ink by the artist) perched on trees. They appear morbid, gentle, and undefined. Should we be thinking …
              Nasreen Mohamedi’s “The Vastness, Again & Again”
              Stephanie Bailey
              In 1964, Nasreen Mohamedi, who moved to Mumbai from Karachi three years before Partition, wrote about the experience of continuous conflict. “I sit here and try and find a unity,” she wrote in her diary, “not between religions but between people and people.” The artist had returned to India the previous year from Paris, where she studied lithography following her first solo show at Gallery 59 in Mumbai’s Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute. A black-and-white photograph showing Mohamedi in her studio is displayed among others in “The Vastness, Again & Again,” curated by Puja Vaish at Mumbai’s Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation. In the image, dated ca. 1959–1961, Mohamedi sits among abstract paintings resembling those she made in the 1960s (she rarely dated or titled her work). One such composition in “The Vastness” is an abstract blue-scale oil on canvas impression of what resembles a hazy waterside structure and its reflection, recalling the palette knife and roller compositions of V.S. Gaitonde, with whom Mohamedi shared an affinity for abstraction, Zen Buddhism, and Paul Klee. An untitled 1966 canvas by Gaitonde, of grey-scale marks on a blue horizon, is among the few pieces by Mohamedi’s contemporaries curated into this multi-dimensional reflection on the …
              Trinh T. Minh-ha’s The Twofold Commitment
              Patrick J. Reed
              The Twofold Commitment revisits Trinh T. Minh-ha’s time-dipping Forgetting Vietnam (2015), a documentary feature about the mythical origins of Vietnam. Which is to say, it’s a book about a film which reflects on what the name of a country evokes of the history, people, and cultures associated with it. Seven interviews conducted between Trinh and eight media scholars and critics compose half of the book. Each approaches the filmmaker and writer’s work from a different tack, focusing on aspects of Forgetting Vietnam that are representative of her multi-hyphenate career. Irit Rogoff, for example, homes in on what it means to make a film for the feminist viewer, while Stefan Östersjö concentrates on the multi-sonic soundscapes within it. And Lucie Kim-Chi Mercier’s discussion, “Wartime: The Forces of Remembering in Forgetting,” provides important historical background about the country in question. As a filmmaker and theorist, Trinh strives to disavow classification and impress upon her audience the necessity of the extra- and non-categorical. Thus certain terminology, like some already employed in this review, requires inverted commas more often than not. “Documentary” refers to a moving-image essay composed of Hi8 footage from 1995 and HD footage from 2012, which Trinh gathered on separate visits …
              Juliana Huxtable and Tongue in the Mind
              Harry Burke
              As a teenage indie fan, I spent countless hours on peer-to-peer file sharing platforms like LimeWire and Kazaa, and later blogs and MySpace pages, on which I discovered bands like the Velvet Underground, Boredoms, and Gang Gang Dance. Each products of art scenes, these acts not only soundtracked my adolescence but, by showing me alternative ways of listening and living, sparked my curiosity for contemporary art. In their New York City debut at National Sawdust early last month, Tongue in the Mind forged a novel branch in the art-rock lineage. The project follows almost ten years of collaborations between artist Juliana Huxtable and multi-instrumentalist Joe Heffernan, also known as Jealous Orgasm, who are joined by DJ and producer Via App on electronics. Huxtable’s art practice spans creative registers, and muses on themes including furry fandom and the psychedelic edges of queer desire. An acclaimed DJ, her inventive sets defy genre and expectations, whether she’s playing Berghain or the basement of a bar. Tongue in the Mind synthesizes these pursuits, and evidences the trio’s musical and artistic maturation. The performance was the finale of “Archive of Desire,” a week-long ode to the Alexandrian poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863–1933), programmed by the …
              Trevor Paglen’s unstable truths
              ​R.H. Lossin
              Trevor Paglen’s early work was made while George W. Bush was marching the United States and its allies into a war justified by an image that was neither real nor fake. Despite the convenient, racist confusion of Middle Eastern countries in the minds of many Americans, it was widely known that Iraq had no relationship to the attack on Wall Street in 2001. And so the pageantry of legitimate aggression was obliged to produce another justification for Operation Iraqi Freedom: proof that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. When Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council in a bid to secure international sanction for the invasion, what he presented was a set of blurry, ambiguous satellite images of what appeared to be buildings. The official reason for invading Iraq was a specific, actively enforced interpretation of some grainy shapes. Before Powell’s UN speech transformed the grainy shapes into sites for nuclear weapons production, the tapestry of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937/55), which depicts civilian death by aerial bombardment and hangs at the entrance to the Security Council chambers, was covered up. Wars are always fought with propaganda, but this one began with an image whose facticity …
              “El Dorado. Un territorio”
              Sylvie Fortin
              For days, I couldn’t get Charles’s gold supertunica off my Instagram feed. The newly minted king had leveraged gold’s hallucinatory power: he could count on Meta’s algorithm, designed to mine attention. The word “hallucination” was coined by Thomas Browne, to whom the English language owes more than 750 others, including “computer,” “coexistence,” “exhaustion,” and “indigenous.” These disparate expressions of power, currency, and representation coalesce in “El Dorado. Un territorio,” on view at the waterfront Fundación Proa in La Boca, where the Spanish landed in 1536, as the Matanza River—South America’s most polluted waterway—meanders past the art institution. Developed collaboratively by Fundación Proa, the Americas Society (New York) and Museo Amparo (Pueblo, Mexico) to explore the myth of El Dorado, its multivalence, and its contemporary resonances through the work of Latin American artists, the project comprises three distinct exhibitions. This serial form reflects, according to the organizers, the concept’s core elusiveness and its diverse manifestations around Latin America since 1492. It also refutes the very idea of Latin America—a geopolitics imagined by colonial capitalism and sustained by neoliberalism—by presenting three locally-specific approaches to the myth. In Buenos Aires, the project’s first iteration brings together works by twenty-seven contemporary and several anonymous …
              “Solid sources”
              The Editors
              The collapse of faith in political institutions that shapes the present might be traced back to a bad faith reading of an image twenty years ago. “Every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” insisted US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN Security Council. These “solid sources” included a set of blurred satellite images that represented—he claimed—a facility producing the weapons of mass destruction that would justify the US-led invasion of Iraq. As R. H. Lossin points out in an essay on the work of Trevor Paglen that we’ll publish this month, the war that fatally undermined both the rules-based international order and the presumption that its leaders should be accountable to truths was predicated on “a specific, actively enforced interpretation of some grainy shapes.” What is at stake when images are used to construct realities conducive to power? How, as political subjects with our own biases, can we make informed judgements of images that support multiple interpretations, or are of uncertain provenance, or refuse altogether to be read? And how do we respond to the tendency to build dangerous conspiracies out of images that are, like the grainy shapes in Powell’s PowerPoint presentation, …
              Sophia Giovannitti’s Working Girl: On Selling Art and Selling Sex
              Wendy Vogel
              In the opening pages of Working Girl, Sophia Giovannitti—artist, writer, sex worker—makes a case for her choice of “pleasure work” over the drudgery of a day job. “When I say make pleasure work, I mean to sell sex and art,” she writes, “not because doing what you love makes work more bearable, but because the particular economic conditions in these industries facilitate maneuvers and scams that allow people to work less and do what you love more.” Given this fiery beginning, I expected a full Marxist takedown of the art market, or perhaps an angry manifesto à la Virginie Despentes’s King Kong Theory (2006). Giovannitti borrows elements from both, at a cooler temperature, as she argues for working the system to one’s advantage. Threading together memoir and criticism, her volume charts a journey through contemporary art addressing prostitution and pornography, the blind spots of movements like MeToo, the politicized actions of sex workers, and finding a way to live beyond labor. The bulk of Giovannitti’s text toggles between a discussion of erotically charged art and her own experiences navigating sex work. Drawing from scholarship by art historians such as Julia Bryan-Wilson, Giovannitti revisits a handful of now-historical works. She considers …
              “A Posthumous Journey into the Future”
              Natasha Marie Llorens
              I fell into a Star Trek hole during the pandemic. That period was saturated with the overwhelming nausea I felt watching people with power respond disastrously to the crisis, both at the micro level of small art institutions and the macro level of national politics. By comparison, the people responsible in the Star Trek universe—Worf, Dax, B’Elanna Torres, Jean-Luc Picard (maybe not Riker, he always struck me as a bit lecherous)—seemed principled and empathetic. It was like Pepto-Bismol for the mind, a thick, bubble-gum pink pharmaceutical relief to an on-going shitshow. The series’ version of reality included an intact concept of the future and clear protocols for every kind of existential crisis. I found that, given the circumstances, I could ignore the Federation’s institutional resemblance to the United Nations and its problematic and unexamined investment in rationality. Everyone deals with future-dysphoria differently, but a recent group exhibition at the Uppsala Art Museum, “A Posthumous Journey Into the Future,” struck me as a rich study of the alternatives to escapism. It presents the work of nine artists whose works consider the intractability of the future. Curator Rebecka Wigh Abrahamsson justifies the ensemble as an example of archipelagic thinking, a notion proposed …
              69th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
              Ben Eastham
              Styling itself as the “oldest short film festival in the world” as well as, rather less memorably, the “largest festival in North-Rhine Westphalia,” the annual gathering of filmmakers and producers at Oberhausen offers the latest opportunity to reconsider questions that have shadowed the festival almost since its inception: what do we mean by short film, and how does it relate to the wider fields of cinema and contemporary art? As the classification has been subsumed into “moving image” and migrated online and into the gallery, should we now think of it as a testing ground for approaches that might percolate into mainstream film-making, another channel through which artists might express ideas not confined to a single medium, or a discrete art form with its own histories and non-transferable stylistic characteristics? In proposing rather vaguely that it might be “the experimental field on which future film languages are formed,” the festival’s own literature betrays some of the anxieties arising from the attempt to corral proliferating styles, formats, and economic networks into an overextended category. First impressions of the International Competition were that its curators were perhaps too eager to accommodate all these possible interpretations, and several more besides. Entries were divided …
              18th Venice Architecture Biennale, “The Laboratory of the Future”
              George Kafka
              In a recent interview with the New York Times, Norman Foster questioned why “we shouldn’t be converting seawater into jet fuel and decarbonizing the ocean at the same time.” Meanwhile, the 10,200sq mile Neom mega-project planned for the Saudi Arabian desert comes with claims of a “new benchmark for combining prosperity, liveability and environmental preservation.” As the architecture profession contends with the ingrained relationship between climate emergencies and built environments, both statements exemplify a tendency towards techno-solutionism in vocal sections of the industry—and betray an approach to design that overlooks material extraction and environmental destruction to justify extravagant capitalist projects behind weak masks of sustainability. For all its challenges—the unmanageable volume of content, the density of text, the opacity of curatorial approaches—the 18th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale offers a firm and timely challenge to this trend. Typically understood as a global state of the union for the profession and broader spatial practices, this edition (titled “The Laboratory of the Future” and curated by Ghanaian-Scottish architect and academic Lesley Lokko) is largely unflinching and rigorous in its selection of projects which reject techno-solutionist sustainability, opting instead for a showcase of architecture for “decolonization and decarbonization.” These themes run through …
              Prismatic Ground 2023
              Leo Goldsmith
              “The situation now is quite different,” the critic Fred Camper wrote in 1986. Camper, in his much-debated essay of the same name, was marking what he termed the “end of the avant-garde” in film: a transition away from an earlier conception of artists’ cinema, from the 1940s to the 1960s, as a more or less unified aesthetic movement, one premised on an “original sharpness and uniqueness” under whose banner the avant-garde filmmaker marched as a kind of aesthetic shock-trooper, and toward a more uncertain future, “dissolving in a kind of indistinct haze, in which the degree of difference from the commercial mainstream […] seems to be lessening.” In his essay, Camper mounts his arguments in largely formal terms, suggesting that the drift of experimental filmmakers into academia since the mid 1960s, the routinization of films into avant-garde “sub-genres,” and a postmodern distaste for the language of “masterworks” and grand statements, signaled the terminus of the avant-garde’s distinctive and urgent project. But surely other factors, including the rise of video and the partial dispersal of the New York avant-garde scene—which increased access to the means of media production and widened the often narrow coterie of its adherents—led to the impression that …
              “Retrotopia: Design for Socialist Spaces”
              Sierra Komar
              To turn left upon entering the darkened exhibition hall of “Retrotopia: Design for Socialist Spaces” is to encounter a motley, utterly heterogeneous collection of objects ranging from the decorative to the domestic to the medical. Nestled against one wall is Cosmic Fantasy (1965): an experimental public sculpture work by Lithuanian artist Algimantas Stoškus consisting of luminescent slabs of stained glass arranged, Tetris-like, on a series of suspended geometrical forms. Adjacent to this is a mint condition Saturnas vacuum cleaner—the ultimate kitschy fusion of lofty, celestial aspirations and household banality—complete with orbiting moon wheels and ring. In a vitrine just opposite the Saturnas is the least recognizable item of the group: a tubular, vaguely biomorphic form that appears to be woven out of some sort of textile. This, it turns out, is one of the first vascular prostheses ever made: a specific model of artificial aorta manufactured in 1960s Lithuania using re-engineered German ribbon-weaving machines. Selected by Lithuanian curator Karolina Jakaitė, this eclectic assemblage of objects and artworks (along with contributions from other Lithuanian creators like sculptor Teodoras Kazimieras Valaitis and architect Vytautas Edmundas Čekanauskas) is one of eleven unique “capsules” that comprise the collaboratively curated “Retrotopia.” In its simultaneous diversity …
              “Heavy Rotation Infra-habibi-technics”
              Najrin Islam
              Unassuming objects—such as grocery cartons, essential supplies, orange peels, shopping carriers, polythene bags, suitcases, a towel, and a lighter—occupy a large hall of Kunsthalle Bern. Elsewhere in the space, a discarded scratch card lies on the floor beside stacked chairs and potted foliage on wheels. Assembled by artist duo Valentina Ornaghi and Claudio Prestinari, these tableaux stage a material sensorium of the ubiquitous. Fragments of Campo del Cielo meteorite are dispersed across the walls in various permutations as well: a cosmic extension of the morsels that constitute the ordinary. In “Heavy Rotation Infra-habibi-technics,” makeshift infrastructures such as these evoke motion and traffic as well as incidents and happenings that are furtive, off-ledger, or premised on informal networks. These unmoored objects—available to touch and vulnerable to pilfering—are presented in ways that resist easy attribution to the contributing artists, attesting to a different logic of exhibition-making. This reluctance to discretize the works further manifests in the illustration of weather patterns that substitutes for a labelled floor plan, indicating a merging of indistinct “atmospheres.” The orange peels, for instance, refer to a film shown in an enclosed space on the floor below. In Cow Heaven Brawl Cloud (2023), the artist Laura Nitsch films …
              Nalini Malani’s “Crossing Boundaries”
              Jayne Wilkinson
              After more than fifty years as a pioneering video and installation artist, Nalini Malani maintains a rigor, criticality, and joy that transcends her work’s challenging subject matter. Given that this is the Karachi-born Indian artist’s first solo exhibition in Canada, it’s a curiously small sampling of projects, but nonetheless encompasses the conceptual approaches for which she is best known: strong feminist and activist perspectives on issues related to gender, race, bodily autonomy, and democratic rights; highly charged source material drawn from current or historic events; diverse literary references combined with shadowy, impressionistic figuration to produce immersive video environments; and an ongoing concern with erasure as both aesthetic device and political gesture. Can You Hear Me? (2018–20) is the centerpiece here, a nine-channel installation comprised of eighty-eight individual iPad animations projected across three walls. Each short segment repeats its own brief narrative in frenzied, arhythmic patterns, and is accompanied by a musical score that ranges from soaring and dramatic to cacophonous to (sometimes) barely audible. It’s a tumultuous and relentlessly dynamic experience, with no single focal point. Much like a painted or sculpted frieze, there is no distinguishing one vignette from the next, no firm contours to scenes that bleed across …
              14th Gwangju Biennale, “soft and weak like water”
              Jason Waite
              The cavernous exhibition hall of the Gwangju Biennale was built in 1994 and intended to host only one exhibition. Walking through the same structure—comprising four mega halls connected by ramps, and still in use by the biennale—feels like exploring an abandoned world expo site. These vast spaces have vexed curators from Okwui Enwezor to Maria Lind, yet this year’s artistic director, Sook-Kyung Lee, has embraced the rickety structure. Instead of constructing new white walls to conceal the building’s decline, Lee and her team have largely left the space as it stands, with the exception of a few partitions of uncut boards and natural-fiber panels. This sensitivity to exhibition environment carries through a thoughtful, slow-moving show that allows ample space for each work to be considered on its own terms. Reflecting Lee’s artist-centric approach, it’s a relatively intimate biennale: seventy artists, many presenting new commissions. A focus of these is textile installations, which demand a particular attention to their making. I-Lann Yee’s Tepo Putih Ikan Masin (Salted Fish White Mat, 2023) is a hanging composed of woven-together north-Malay mats, typically used for drying fish and in other domestic settings. A colorful, shimmering work, it brings disparate references to mind, including kintsugi
              New Rules of Immersion
              Chris Fite-Wassilak
              At the heart of Mike Nelson’s Hayward Gallery retrospective is a wooden workbench. Chained to it is a series of Halloween masks: Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, a few scary clowns. The bench is embedded in a dense web of steel mesh that sprawls through the gallery, the haze of mesh dotted at points with concrete heads on hooks that bear bugged-out eyelids and gurning teeth, evidently made using the masks as casts. Studio Apparatus for Kunsthalle Münster (2014) is the high concluding point of this exhibition of Nelson’s detailed and ominous theatrical installations, fully occupying its Brutalist surroundings, as well as providing a concise summation of his work. After wandering through the creepy maze of The Deliverance and The Patience (2001), banging open dozens of doors and dodging other visitors in order to inspect each cramped room lined with cryptic clues—a pantheistic altar in one, a worn-down travel office in another—the sense of being a detective, on the hunt for the whys and whats, is heavy in the dusty air. The masks feel like a tacit acknowledgement of the roles we’re meant to play here: we’re not just any detective, we’re a B-movie detective, pursuing these ready-to-wear cinematic monsters through …
              SofijaSilvia’s “Pendulum”
              Tom Jeffreys
              SofijaSilvia’s photography touches upon those tender, knotted moments when care for the more-than-human becomes almost inseparable from a politics of domination and control. She returns to loaded institutional sites—like zoos, cemeteries, botanic gardens, and museum storage units—but also places in which aesthetics are more subtly constructed—nature reserves, managed woodlands, and the private retreat of a Communist dictator. Employing various deft framing and display strategies to bring together work across a range of scales—from A6 to 1.5 meters across—made between 2001 and 2022, “Pendulum” addresses local and global catastrophes: earthquakes, forest fires, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Its very presence at the University of Zagreb’s botanical garden is a result of the 2020 earthquake that damaged almost 2,000 buildings across the city, including the Art Pavilion, which had commissioned the exhibition and which remains closed. “Pendulum” responds both conceptually and materially to this context. The garden opened in 1891, when Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It is a reminder of botany’s proximity to imperialism, and SofijaSilvia effectively unsettles the epistemic hierarchies upon which such institutions were founded. Most of the works are inside a high-ceilinged timber pavilion, built to exhibit wooden products made by prisoners at a forestry exhibition in …
              On Peter Hujar and Newspaper
              John Douglas Millar
              The critical literature on the photographer Peter Hujar’s work remains relatively slight, and that of value slighter still. One explanation for this is the limited primary material available; Hujar was coterie-famous in his lifetime, but never garnered the exposure that would generate a significant body of contemporary criticism. For reasons in part attributable to his difficult childhood—his father left before he was born, his mother was an irascible and sometimes abusive drinker who left him with his Ukrainian immigrant grandparents for the first years of his life—Hujar refused paternalism of any kind, either toward himself or his work, and he maintained an ascetic, almost Beckettian attitude toward speaking on behalf of either. He wrote almost nothing about his photography for publication. Many of his letters are lost. On the single occasion he was invited to speak before an audience he failed to prepare and froze at the lectern. He granted very few interviews, and in those he did allow he is a bristling, sprung, nervous subject, evasive to the point of embarrassment. In the only extensive interview he gave, conducted by his sometime lover and protégé David Wojnarowicz, almost the first thing he says is that he will not discuss …
              Counterpublic 2023
              Noah Simblist
              What is a public? According to the literary critic Michael Warner, it is a relation between strangers bound together by law, belief, or shared experience. But as he also points out, the public is a dominant community that excludes subaltern groups who must form “counterpublics” to create alternative forms of community and discourse to survive the onslaught of structural oppression that the public produces. This notion inspired the St. Louis–based triennial Counterpublic, founded in 2019. Its second iteration features thirty commissioned artworks spread throughout the city. Artistic director James McAnally, along with a curatorial ensemble that included Allison Glenn, Risa Puleo, Diya Vij, and the “public secret society” New Red Order, chose artworks in relation to a city that has faced both Indigenous displacement and racial violence, from the 1857 Dred Scott case to the 2014 murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson police. The resulting exhibition successfully calls attention to the ways in which these and other complex histories are embedded within the city’s urban fabric. Counterpublic 2023 feels like a combination of Documenta 15, centered on community and collaboration, and Prospect, a triennial that focuses on the social and political dimensions of New Orleans. Its deep …
              Bispo do Rosario’s “All Existing Materials on Earth”
              Elena Vogman
              A number of extravagant garments, marked by generous color schemes and complex embroidery, open the first of three luminous rooms in “All Existing Materials on Earth,” curated by Tie Jojima, Aimé Iglesias Lukin, Ricardo Resende, and Javier Téllez. Its central piece, Manto da apresentação [Annunciation Garment], catches the eye with a multiplicity of details, inscribed with colored threads against a light-brown ground: signs and drawings of objects, names, numbers, abbreviations, and streets of Brazilian cities, utensils, boats and a model of a large sailing ship. A photographic portrait of the artist wearing his magnum opus reveals not a fashion designer but a Brazilian psychiatric patient. The descendant of Black slaves, Arthur Bispo do Rosario (1909/11–1989) spent forty-one years of his life in mental health institutions while accomplishing his “mission.” On the side of the short exhibition text, another mugshot-like portrait of the artist is displayed on the patient card from Colônia Juliano Moreira, the hospital where Bispo was interned. He is described as “indigent,” a wandering Black beggar bearing no documents. The card repeats the police record from December 1938, when Bispo was arrested in Rio de Janeiro and diagnosed with “paranoid schizophrenia.” It was the month of Bispo’s revelation: …
              Mixed up and placed together
              The Editors
              In his forthcoming essay on Peter Hujar and Steve Lawrence’s Newspaper project, John Douglas Millar quotes the art historian Marcelo Gabriel Yáñez as saying that the purpose of that publication “was that images were brought together from disparate contexts, mixed up, and placed together in a way that forced meaning and correspondence beyond their apparent lack of connection and/or hierarchical distinctions.” Given that we will publish Millar’s text in close proximity to a piece on the Brazilian artist Arthur Bispo do Rosário, who used his time in a psychiatric institution to create a body of work that advanced his divine mission, and a review of the latest Gwangju Biennale, which promises to focus on responses to the political crises of the present, something similar might be said of e-flux Criticism’s program. And the purpose served by these juxtapositions might be the same: not to flatten different forms of cultural expression into the increasingly stretched and unstable category of contemporary art, but to generate new meanings through the friction that occurs when various forms rub up against each other. If contemporary art is an unstable typology, then a publication devoted to its criticism might attend to the points at which it …
              Claire Dederer’s Monsters
              Orit Gat
              I hate to admit that on my honeymoon in New York I watched Woody Allen play the clarinet at the Carlyle. My ex-husband was a huge Woody Allen fan and at the time (for the record, I was very young) I had a loose sense that Allen was bad but didn’t know the details. And I loved Annie Hall (1977): Diane Keaton, her outfits and personality, the joyfulness of it. I wanted to love it; to love it, I had to avoid difficult questions. Or just one question. “What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” This is the issue at the heart of Claire Dederer’s book, which tackles the dilemma of whether the artist’s biography can be separated from the work. In his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes argued that to look away from biography enables the “birth of the reader,” indicating that it’s on us—readers—to come to terms with the moral ends of looking at art. But what happens when the artist was also an abuser? Dederer, a film critic, opens with Roman Polanski, charged with drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl. The book goes on to discuss Allen, Michael Jackson, J. …
              Elizabeth Price’s “Sound of the Break”
              Lua Vollaard
              A tremble, a silence, and a piercing clatter: “Sound of the Break” derives its name from a sequence in Elizabeth Price’s video installation A RESTORATION (2016), which displays what a voiceover calls “a great hectic gathering” of archival images of vessels from Oxford’s Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums. A disembodied choir argues that these objects are made to be broken, so that their echoes can resound. When a Boscobel Oak wineglass falls and breaks off-screen, the choir declares it “a small sacrifice” of which “the great rumble resonates.” A RESTORATION brings together many of Price’s recurring motifs: choirs of synthetically generated voices; archives absent from the historic record; interwoven technological histories; architectural plans as conceptual metaphors; sardonic institutional critiques; and untold feminist cosmologies. It is one of four works in her solo exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (the building, fittingly, is also home to a music school). Two dark spaces, each displaying two video works shown consecutively on loop, connect to a central viewing room in which four screens show new video lectures, made in 2020 during lockdown in London. Other works here include FELT TIP (2018), on how information technologies transformed the workplace; UNDERFOOT (2022), on the sonic …
              Photography Report: Imaging Racial Capital
              KJ Abudu
              That photography has become one of the most banal visual interfaces in twenty-first-century life is no new observation. Every day, millions of people upload scores of images to privatized servers; encounter even more images on algorithmically governed online platforms; and craft their lives in accordance with the cohesive textures of branded imagery. With this, one might ask whether photography’s critical force and relevance has waned in our image-saturated present or, conversely, if its pertinence has been heightened by the unique burden it bears in reflecting on its ethical, political, and aesthetic relation to the accumulating heap of images. Three recent photography-led exhibitions in New York City forged unexpectedly generative dialogues, laying bare photography’s embodied contradictions. These exhibitions, by LaToya Ruby Frazier, Tina Barney, and Buck Ellison, suggest that the medium’s dissonant valences symptomize the wider social contradictions of racial capital and its attendant global crises. Installed at Gladstone Gallery is LaToya Ruby Frazier’s More Than Conquerors: A Monument for Community Health Workers of Baltimore, Maryland (2021–22)—after its first showing at the 58th Carnegie International, for which it won the Carnegie Prize. Eighteen metal IV poles are arranged into a minimal grid, their fluid-filled bags notably absent, evoking the spectral gravity …
              Travis Diehl
              Among a spring flush of screen-, code-, and tech-related museum shows, “Refigured” at the Whitney stands out for its concision. The exhibition’s frame may seem vague—the human figure vis-a-vis technology at times verges on a universalized body—but the five works by six artists pulled by in-house curator Christiane Paul from the Whitney’s holdings maintain a fairly tight focus on the physical possibilities of digital bodies, from statues to demigods to talking heads. In Auriea Harvey’s Ox (2020) and Ox v1-dv2 (apotheosis) (2021), for instance, a muscular, berobed humanoid called Ox—which the wall label describes as an avatar for the artist—appears three times over: a pigmented statuette around 20 cm tall, a 3D model presented on a monitor, and an AR version pinned nearby and visible through an iPad tethered to its plinth. The artist’s intentions notwithstanding, Ox exists in digital and psychic “space” as a concept, a potentiality, and these various renderings are all concessions to display in a physical room. In fact, as each new struggling trillion-dollar metaverse venture demonstrates, even state-of-the-art interfaces between the digital and physical “realms” remain pretty clunky (and the hardware here is not state of the art). The redundancy of Ox means there are …
              Jimmie Durham’s uncompleted project
              Elizabeth A. Povinelli
              In his 2022 book Il rovescio della nazione [The reverse of the nation], Carmine Conelli tells readers about a group of Jesuits who have just returned to the region around Naples in 1561 after years of evangelizing in the Americas. Having honed the skills of spiritual conversion across the Atlantic, they dedicate themselves to doing the same amongst the wild southern “India italiana.” Naples was not merely one moment in the terrifying spiral of European history, it was arguably ground zero. As Maria Thereza Alves has shown, the Spanish invasion of Aztec and Inca worlds carted shiploads of crated silver into the ports of Naples, kicking off price inflation throughout Europe and initiating an exploratory arms race among the major powers of western Europe to find new worlds to claim and sack. Courts heard testimony about the rights of Europeans to slaughter or enslave others on the basis of their wild nature. Soon the same was said of lands within Europe. Mad contortions of self and other ensued. “Let’s do to us what we did to them,” runs the idea, “because some of us are wild and primitive, and yet none of us will ever be like any of them, …
              Raqs Media Collective’s “1980 in Parallax”
              Patrick Langley
              Charles Jencks was a pioneer of postmodern architecture—or “bastard classicism,” as his American detractors put it. In 1979 the American-born polymath and his wife, the garden designer and historian Maggie Keswick Jencks, purchased a large townhouse in London’s Holland Park and extensively redesigned it over the next five years. At once a family home and a “built manifesto,” The Cosmic House nods to Ancient Egyptian, Baroque, and Hindu architecture, modern science and urban planning, the Zodiac, western philosophy, and much else besides. Jencks integrated his eclectic references into a rich (and kitsch) symbolic scheme that sought to reconcile micro- and macrocosms: domestic pleasures and cosmic immensities; private gags and philosophical traditions. A cantilevered spiral staircase at the center of the building, for example, doubles as a model of the solar year with fifty-two steps for each week; at its base is Eduardo Paolozzi’s circular mosaic Black Hole (1982). Leading off from this mosaic is the basement gallery, home to an elegant exhibition by New Delhi-based Raqs Media Collective. (Jencks was co-designing the gallery with his daughter Lily until his death in 2019; the museum opened to the public two years later.) Founded in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and …
              Bayo Alvaro’s “¡Suéltame!”
              Gaby Cepeda
              Bayo Alvaro’s recent sculptures—evocative of strange, alien flora—recall Karen Barad’s descriptions of a “queer performativity” of nature. In this conception of the natural world, nothing is ever exclusively male or female, animate and inanimate; nor is it simply good or evil. Rather, there is endless potential for change and intra-action. The pieces in Alvaro’s third solo show in Mexico City and his first with Deli—a recently opened branch of the New York gallery—appear laced together in symbiosis, reflecting the ways in which living beings continuously tend towards and transform one another. The young Mexican artist has previously worked across photography, collage, and installation. Here, the focus is on sculpture. The fifteen pieces lushly spread across Deli’s spacious, four-room gallery showcase Alvaro’s approach to sculpting forms that defy easy categorization, ambiguously poised between plants and animals, living creatures and inanimate objects. Alvaro’s objects are particularly lucid examples of a common trend in contemporary sculpture: his seductive treatment of materials sets him apart from more discursive, didactic attempts. Each room feels thoroughly articulated. Pieces are placed in proximity, as if engaged in intricate dialogue, while smaller works are arranged as if to form an intimate ecosystem. Such is the case in the …
              “Bruno Schulz: The Iron Capital of the Spirit”
              Ewa Borysiewicz
              In 1942, the Jewish-Polish artist and writer Bruno Schulz was murdered in the street by a Nazi officer. Though his weird and immersive short stories—many of which are set in his hometown Drohobych and in a dreamscape rendered after it—have lasted, most of his art perished with him. The small fragment of his visual oeuvre which survived the war has often been sensationalized, reduced to mere embodiments of the artist’s masochistic and fetishistic fantasies. Thankfully, here curator Jan Owczarek proposes a more nuanced take, setting Schulz’s work alongside that of contemporary artists who share his interest in forging personal, ambivalent mythologies. The title of the show is sourced from an interview with the artist in which he suggests that artists tend to explore a limited number of subjects across their creative lives. The exhibition charts the handful of visual themes towards which Schulz leaned—genre scenes against a city background, or conversations set in tiny rooms—but his overarching subject, returned to obsessively, was the depiction of gendered power dynamics. The opening work—a 1919 self-portrait in pencil on paper—serves as a good example. Here, we see the artist, his gaze fixed on the beholder, leaning in front of a drawing board. The …
              “Unschöne Museen”
              Aoife Rosenmeyer
              One institution considers another: in a pugilistic text that frames the dense exhibition “Unschöne Museen” [Unbeautiful Museums] at gta exhibitions—part of the ETH Zürich’s architecture department—curators Fredi Fischli, Niels Olsen and Geraldine Tedder mention that recent events at the Kunsthaus Zürich catalyzed this show. The latter behemoth is currently addressing questions of provenance and funding after unflattering investigations into its relationship with donor Emil Georg Bührle. In 2021 the Bührle collection, on long-term loan, went on show in a purpose-built Chipperfield-designed extension to the Kunsthaus. Bührle, who died in 1956, became rich selling arms to Germany under the Nazis; his businesses later cooperated with the government of South Africa under Apartheid. The Kunsthaus’s gestures towards openness in this regard—such as commissioning ongoing additional research on the provenance of works in the Bührle collection—feel overdue. Nonetheless, it’s staggering for anyone who arrived in Switzerland this millennium that Hans Haacke exhibited Buhrlesque at Kunsthalle Bern back in 1985. Recreated at gta, two shoes made by Bally (a Bührle subsidiary) double as candle-holders on an altar decorated with other Bührle references—all venerating a framed issue of Paratus magazine (the official periodical of the South African Defense Force) celebrating a South African military visit …
              “Cinema of Sensations: The Never-Ending Screen of Val del Omar”
              Herb Shellenberger
              A quick survey of a handful of my peers—among them several experimental filmmakers, curators, and academics—revealed that none of them recognized the name José Val del Omar (1904–82). This came as a surprise to me, given that Val del Omar is perhaps the most foundational filmmaker of Spanish avant-garde cinema. My peers’ responses were ample if anecdotal evidence that the Museum of the Moving Image’s “Cinema of Sensations: The Never-Ending Screen of Val del Omar” is not only much needed; it should also provide an eye-opening look at the work of a visionary artist who is too little-known outside his home country—even to those who are invested in the subject of experimental film. “Cinema of Sensations,” in the museum’s temporary exhibition gallery, demonstrates that Val del Omar was not just a filmmaker but a technician and inventor, cultural critic and theorist, and a trailblazing artist whose work and ideas spilled across many forms and media. This chronological exhibition opens with Val del Omar’s first films, made in rural towns that he visited during the early 1930s as part of the Misiones Pedagógicas (Pedagogical Missions) literacy campaign. It closes with the techno-futuristic experiments developed at his P.L.A.T. lab, a live-in studio space …
              Rose B. Simpson’s “Road Less Traveled”
              Alan Gilbert
              The new human may not be very human after all, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As Sylvia Wynter argues, the Western concept of the human—or, more specifically, the category of Man—was created at the dawn of the early modern period to establish distinctions between Europeans and non-Europeans that granted the former the right to enslave and exterminate Indigenous populations in what came to be called the Americas, before quickly pivoting this framework toward Africa. The movement away from divine, Christian authority to a secular and legalistic one rooted this constructed racialism in the developing discourse of humanism. And while the consequences resulting from the designations “human” and “not human” quickly spread throughout the economic networks of the era, they were also generated in the cultural sphere with its race- and gender-specific “overrepresentation of Man,” as Wynter terms it. What is the legacy of this European idea of the human when considering the proliferation of various modes of figuration in contemporary cultural production? Rose B. Simpson’s “Road Less Traveled” contains ceramic humanoid sculptures that look simultaneously ancient and futuristic. Do these works represent a human form that exists on either side of the five-hundred-plus-year history delineated by Wynter? In …
              73rd Berlin International Film Festival, “Forum Expanded”
              Asia Bazdyrieva
              The “Forum Expanded” section of the Berlinale, an assemblage of exhibitions distributed across three venues and any number of screens, charts the points at which cinema meets the visual arts. This year’s edition, titled “An Atypical Orbit,” aimed to set in motion “fluctuating proximities—political and personal legacies which often lie in shambles” and to “challenge the status quo through exhibiting works that redefine cinema.” In attempting to solve two problems—to host a platform for political articulation, and to critically engage with moving images and media as such—the Forum Expanded faced a conundrum: its archival and historiographic approach, as well as the aesthetic and political emphases in the overall selection of works and conversations, induced a certain lethargy: a sense of being unwilling or unable to respond to those current emergencies which do not yet have established narratives. In Betonhalle’s entrance corridor, Tenzin Phuntsog’s Dreams (2022) set up the exhibition’s dream-like ambience. The work portrays a sleeping couple— immigrants from Tibet to the US—floating in space against a quiet, blueish monochrome background. The pair reappear in a two-channel video, Pala Amala (2022), posing silently in nondescript settings. These large-screen, meditative works sat in contrast to the small, phone-like screens which …
              Only connect?
              The Editors
              “The problem of criticism,” wrote John Berger, “is fundamentally the problem of connection.” The celebrated autonomy of modern western art might have freed it from the old institutions, but this did not lead to the anticipated reconciliation of art and life. Instead they drifted away from each other, and so criticism emerged to bridge the gap by connecting artists to audiences who might have other things to do with their lives than keep up with an increasingly specialized discourse. Or that might be one function: Berger is careful to distinguish between “studio criticism” and “public criticism,” the former intended as feedback for the artist (the critic as intellectual advisor to the creative community) and the latter for a non-specialist spectator whose position in relation to the work the critic must assume. The first responsibility of the public critic is therefore to relate the production of artists to the issues shaping the world through which its audience is living (“it is criminally irresponsible,” wrote Berger in 1955, “for any intellectual today not to consider his and every subject in relation to the threat of the H bomb,” to which we might add some more recent catastrophes). The question of what …
              A. Laurie Palmer’s The Lichen Museum
              Brian Karl
              You’ve probably stepped on some quite recently. Or at least walked by, or even sat on a patch, though perhaps without registering what “they” were. Ordinary, near ubiquitous, seemingly static or at least glacially slow-growing, and not particularly cute or charismatic, lichen are seldom observed consciously at all, much less celebrated, related to, or clearly understood. Like a riddle straddling the edges of the living and the physical environment—faint dustings of powder or inert, wispy fronds—lichen occupies a subliminal place in most other creatures’ perceptions and consciousness. A. Laurie Palmer’s ongoing The Lichen Museum project, on which she has been working for more than a decade, resolves in a new book that endeavors to re-focus human attention as an act of aesthetic intervention—i.e., both conceptually as well as perceptually. A series of thematically oriented chapters (“Lichen Time,” “In Place,” and “More than One” among them) interleave excerpts from ecological texts and interviews with scientists with her own accounts of lichens and lichenology, and range from natural observation to philosophical abstraction. Reading this work thus feels like taking a series of walks with a particularly curious and sensitive companion, consistently attentive to otherwise neglected facets of the actual environment. Yet Palmer’s …
              “Anatomies of Languages Lost and Found”
              Mirene Arsanios / Dina Ramadan
              In her collection of essays and stories, The Autobiography of a Language (2022), Mirene Arsanios both yearns for the comfort of a mother-tongue and rejects the nationalistic confines of monolingualism. In doing so she develops some of the themes previously explored in Notes on Mother Tongues (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2020) and A City Outside the Sentence (2015), a chapbook produced by Ashkal Alwan. Raised in a number of languages, the New York-based Lebanese writer and founding editor of the Arabic/English literary magazine Makhzin floats through the spaces between them in search of an ever-elusive narrative. Spanning significant personal and political changes for Arsanios, The Autobiography of a Language is an exploration of the possibilities and limitations of the narrative form, the frailty of the human body, the pain of dislocation and the trauma of lost inheritance. Through experimentation with style and form, language is dissected, its innards turned inside out, its distortions and contradictions laid bare, messy, and tangled. Dina Ramadan: Perhaps we can begin by talking about the time frame of this book. These essays and stories come from very different moments, personally and politically, locally and globally. Mirene Arsanios: Yes, thanks for noticing the temporal arc of the …
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