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16.23 Mîrkan Deniz
95th Anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne at the Château d’Ouchy

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16.23 Mîrkan Deniz
95th Anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne at the Château d’Ouchy
15.9.–14.11.23
Mîrkan Deniz feels their way blindfolded through a hotel room, the historical significance of which is not immediately clear. They move carefully with arms outstretched so as not to bump into or trip over the furnishings distributed throughout the space. More
During the nearly ten-minute performance, the individual seems to immerse themselves in the interior, meticulously creating a three-dimensional mental image. Deniz pays close attention to almost every piece of furniture, as if engaging in an imaginary dialogue with each one.

The camera’s final shot lingers on a stained-glass window depicting a historical event. Throughout the performance, the artist is filmed exploring this space in a single, continuous, uninterrupted take. Not a single word is uttered; instead, the original sound becomes a presence in its own right. The act of touching and stroking different surfaces and textures is made audible, allowing the viewer to experience tactility with their ears as opposed to their fingers: the surface feel of the freshly made bedspread, ornamentation on the wooden wall paneling, the texture of the sofa’s woven upholstery.

As a viewer, one initially feels a sense of puzzlement. Several questions spring to mind: Why are they blindfolded? What is Deniz remembering in these quiet moments? What is the particular significance of this hotel room, and where is it located? What references or connections are deliberately not being made? Why the absence of spoken words throughout the performance? Why the lack of additional, contextual information about the Treaty of Lausanne? Where exactly is this castle located, and how does Switzerland figure into this on a political level?

After the First World War and the collapse of four global empires, Europe was plagued by violence and instability. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne brought an end to World War I hostilities and established the borders of Turkey. But it also had profound consequences for minorities in Turkey who were unable to secure their rights. The treaty included, among other provisions, extensive (forced) resettlement as part of a process referred to as a “population exchange” between Greece and Turkey. Armenian and Kurdish populations were unable to realize their aspirations for autonomy and a separate state through the treaty. As a result, Kurdistan was divided geographically and politically into four states: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Mîrkan Deniz puts a spotlight on the location of historical occurrences and examines the extent to which spaces, artifacts, and everyday objects – as (silent) witnesses to these events – also carry history(ies) within them. Their artistic investigation questions architectures and spaces through reconstruction and intervention to draw attention to past events, their historiography, and collective memory. The approach makes it possible to revisit political negotiations such as the Lausanne Peace Treaty, the effects of which are still being felt today, and opens a space for dialogue.

With this and other works, Deniz sets out on a quest for historical traces, which they then reconstruct or quote to create conceptual works in various media, including video, installation, and sculpture. Their fascination lies in the interplay between material and immaterial effects – trauma, unspoken experiences, and memories. How can an object, such as a sculpture, uphold this tension while simultaneously examining the relationship between the past, violence, and subjectivity? To illustrate this, they use, for example, replicas of objects with historical ties to or that represent specific events. In the case of Masa 2015/16, a replica of the table used for the signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty was created. The original was presented to Turkey as a gift by Swiss President Pascal Roger Couchepin in 2008. In response, Deniz staged two different artistic actions: the first in 2015 in front of the Palais de Rumine in Lausanne, where the treaty was signed, and a year later, a repeat action in front of the Federal Palace in Bern. The “gift” continues to be rejected. The table is currently on view in the frontières exhibition at Musée Historique Lausanne.

Another recent installation, On the fringes, 2022, also draws inspiration from the events of 1923. An oriental carpet with extra-long fringes, intricately woven with the date “1923,” takes its place alongside various everyday objects. Recent years have seen demonstrators in Palestine, Kurdistan, and Lebanon lay similar carpets in the streets to mark their own areas of protest and sanctuary in the public sphere. The extended fringes of the carpet point symbolically to the fact that the protests and history are ongoing, never truly concluded. These works, along with the video piece on view, are a testament to the ways in which Deniz’s precise exploration of a historical event skillfully links past and present, and in doing so opens a varied, multi-vocal space for memory and dialogue.

Mîrkan Deniz (stateless, born in 1990) lives and works in Zurich. The artist was recently awarded the Young Academy prize of the Akademie der Künste Berlin (2017), a Swiss Art Award (2019), and the Art Award of the City of Zurich (2020). Recent solo exhibitions include frontières at Musée Historique Lausanne (2023) and the public art action and performance performing in a room with history, Lausanne (2023), and at Akademie der Künste Berlin (2017). Deniz’s work has also featured in various group exhibitions, including those at Aargauer Kunsthaus (2020/2021), Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich (2021), and Helmhaus Zurich (2020).

Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton 

Mîrkan Deniz
95th Anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne at the Château d’Ouchy, 2018
HD video, color with sound
10:00 min.
Courtesy of Mîrkan Deniz 

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15.23 Lili Reynaud-Dewar
TEETH GUMS MACHINES FUTURE SOCIETY

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15.23 Lili Reynaud-Dewar
TEETH GUMS MACHINES FUTURE SOCIETY
15.7.–14.9.23
The video begins with a long tracking shot from a car that takes us through the streets of Memphis. The streets and buildings on screen embody the quintessential American aesthetic, reminiscent of scenes from movies or music videos. Located in the state of Tennessee, Memphis straddles the border between the affluent Midwest and the less prosperous South of the United States. The artist deliberately chose this city as a backdrop because of its rich historical background: More
Memphis was not only an epicenter of the American slave trade, but it also played a significant role in the later civil rights movement. One of the most notable events in this regard was the sanitation strike of 1968, which was further intensified by the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Memphis is also known as a hub of American music history, particularly celebrated for its blues music. It serves as the final resting place of Elvis Presley and has emerged as a vibrant hotspot for the rap and hip-hop music scene.

The video highlights Black music culture as well, specifically in its reference to a cult object known as a “grill” – a gleaming piece of precious metal jewelry worn over the teeth. The grill is regarded not only as a status symbol but also as a relic of rap and hip-hop culture, with its earliest iterations appearing in the early 1980s. The video finds Reynaud-Dewar collaborating with four local comedians, representing both white and people of color, to engage in a provocative discussion on the contentious topic of cultural appropriation surrounding grillz. As a white, European artist, she acknowledges the act of cultural appropriation and deliberately stimulates the pertinent questions and ongoing debates of our time. Close-up shots show the insertion of grillz into the mouth, with both the artist and the comedians sporting a custom-made golden grill. Reynaud-Dewar perceives teeth as an interface, a threshold that bridges the gap between public and private realms of appearance. 

A further recurring motif in the video is the presence of trash, which appears in various situations. There are multiple scenes depicting people explicitly throwing garbage on the street, crumpling paper, and animated trash (cans, paper, wrappers, etc.) flying through the city. The motif is a reference to the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, where predominantly Black garbage workers went on strike due to extremely low wages and hazardous working conditions. On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech in support of the strike – tragically, just one day later, King was assassinated in Memphis. Reflecting on this, one interviewee in the video aptly states, “What Memphis has that is unique is failure.” This double metaphor of waste – encompassing both squandered political potential and tangible garbage – symbolically unifies the themes explored in this artwork.

The video culminates in a meticulously staged performance on a shell-shaped concrete stage that, historically, has served as a concert venue for numerous local musicians who later achieved fame. The scattered furniture on the stage bears a strong resemblance to Sol LeWitt’s conceptual abstract sculptures (e.g. Standing Open Structure Black, 1964). Seated on one of these high chairs, a white individual who reads as female recites Donna Haraway’s 1985 socialist-feminist manifesto, “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Simultaneously, four stand-up comedians provide commentary and engage in improvisation, while the polyphonic chorus is accompanied by a sound DJ. The manifesto not only serves as a source of textual material but also as the conceptual framework for the performance and the video itself. In her essay, the author explores the emergence of a new entity she terms a “cyborg,” a fusion of human and machine. Haraway argues that traditional notions of gender, race, and identity are becoming increasingly obsolete as technological progress and scientific advancements blur the boundaries of these categories.

Haraway’s vision considers the cyborg not as a threat but rather as a symbol of hope for a new social order that transcends rejection and exclusion. The artist skillfully intertwines the manifesto in various ways, establishing a connection to the present, also in the year 2023. Firstly, the text serves as a source and is selectively recited during the performance. Secondly, the fundamental ideas of the manifesto permeate the conversations and discussions between the artist and the comedians, delving into the root causes of minority exclusion and other related topics. Lastly, the grillz themselves evoke a futuristic form of body modification, aligning with the tradition of (aesthetic) bodily prosthetics that aim to compensate for and enhance the capabilities of the human body.

As the title TEETH GUMS MACHINES FUTURE SOCIETY suggests, the work presents guidelines for a near future shaped significantly by (AI) machines and new social orders for our globalized world. Through historical references and cultural appropriation of a cult object, the artist establishes a connection to social issues of racism, the exclusion of minorities, and their contemporary implications. Rather than taking a definitive, didactic stance, she examines these phenomena with a touch of humor, creating a sense of detachment that, in turn, challenges viewers take their own position. The artist skillfully composes a constellation of concepts, objects, quotations, and historical references that transcends mere chance. Rather than seek to untangle these intricacies, her intention is to dissolve them through the polyphonic chorus she assembles. Reynaud-Dewar aims to explore points of intersection and create interfaces, tracing the intricate interplay of ideas. In a time where the future seems less utopian than ever, her work encourages critical reflection.

Lili Reynaud-Dewar has developed a complex body of work in recent years that consistently explores concepts of cultural, social, and emotional identity. Through the creation of objects, video installations, films, and magazines (Pétunia), either individually or in collaboration with friends or students, she evokes the spirit of such transgressive figures of twentieth-century cultural production as Josephine Baker, Guillaume Dustan, Bjarne Melgaard, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Rather than centering her work around any one subject or debate, Reynaud-Dewar aims to translate social and political questions into the realm of aesthetics, revealing inherent contradictions. Deliberately breaking with conventions and traditions, she examines and challenges them, ultimately fostering a space for contemplation where viewers are compelled to form their own perspectives and interpretations.

Lili Reynaud-Dewar (born in 1975 in La Rochelle, France; currently living and working in Paris and Grenoble) initially studied public law and ballet before pursuing her art education at the École Régionale des Beaux-Arts in Nantes. She completed her Master of Fine Arts degree at the Glasgow School of Art in 2003. It was during this period that she began writing critical texts as well. Reynaud-Dewar’s solo exhibitions and projects have been shown at various prominent venues including Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2023), Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal in Canada (2023), Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna (2023), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2018), Monash University Museum of Art in Melbourne (2017), Artpace in San Antonio, Texas (2017), Vleeshal in Middelburg, the Netherlands (2017), Museion in Bolzano, Italy (2017), Kunstverein in Hamburg (2016), and Bielefelder Kunstverein (2011). Her works have featured in numerous group exhibitions, including significant biennials such as the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), the Marrakech Biennial (2014), Lyon Biennials (2007/2013), La Triennale at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012), and the 5th Berlin Biennale (2008). Together with Dorothée Dupuis and Valérie Chartrain, Reynaud-Dewar is a co-founder and editor of the magazine Pétunia.

Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton

TEETH GUMS MACHINES FUTURE SOCIETY, 2016
HD video, color, sound
35:59 min.
Courtesy of the artist and Layr, Vienna.

Fotodocumentation Felix Hüffelmann

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14.23 Julien Creuzet
Assidule

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14.23 Julien Creuzet
Assidule
15.5.–14.7.23
Born in 1986 in the suburbs of Paris, Julien Creuzet is a French artist whose work is heavily influenced by his upbringing in Martinique. Raised on the Caribbean island at the intersection of diverse cultures, his practice reflects the region’s fusion of African, indigenous, and European traditions. His often expansive installations, which encompass sculptures, image displays, sound and video works, are strongly influenced by his biography and cultural background; More
he frequently incorporates found objects and culturally coded everyday objects into his work. At the same time, his practice also points beyond his personal experiences to reflect the collective social realities of the Caribbean diaspora. Creuzet pays close attention to the problematic interface between Caribbean history and European modernity. Visual and acoustic idioms converge, move, and transform in his installations, undergoing a process of creolization. They enter into a dialogue with themes of emancipation, the spirit of Black self-assertion, and the artist’s own diasporic experience. Creuzet’s work interacts with viewers on a poetic, sensory, and emotional level, inviting them to question their own cultural assumptions, privileges, and codes.

Assidule, 2019, is a hypnotic video work that interprets and depicts the collision of encounters as contagion. 3D objects resembling gold tokens or coins travel through a cavernous living artery, crossing paths with a knife, the French national flag, and a ship loaded with stacked cargo containers. What follows are high-contrast, at times surreal and whimsical visual landscapes: a black, infinite universe with unfamiliar objects swirling; bananas twitching and spitting out colorful pills; a glitchy, heavily pixelated red-and-black dance scene with dancers highly distorted, their movements accompanied by lines of text; pulsating banana trees in an evergreen banana palm tree forest; animated male and female reproductive organs swirling as airplanes circle around them. The visual impressions evoke a wide range of associations, recalling educational science films, 1990s music videos, surreal dream sequences, or fantastical computer game landscapes. They also defy rational classification, resulting in an open and opaque (narrative) space that generates its own unique emotions and memories.

Julien Creuzet’s poetic meditations on racialized corporeality take us on a mesmerizing journey through a dynamic visual landscape, accompanied by a soundtrack that underscores the artist’s African heritage. Lyrics heard in the song double as the title of a sculpture that was created simultaneously with the animated video shown here: Mon corps, carcasse, se casse casse casse / Mon corps canne à sucre flèche flèche flèche / Mon corps banane est en larme larme larme / Mon corps peau noire, au coucher du soleil, / ne trouve le sommeil / Mon corps plantation poison / Mon corps plantation poison / Mon corps plantation / Demande la rançon / La pluie n’est plus la pluie / La pluie goutte aiguille / La pluie acide pesticide / La pluie infanticide / Mon père vivait près de la rivière / La rivière était à la lisière / Du champ de banane pour panam / Banane rouge poudrière / Sous les tropiques du Cancer, 2019.¹ The lyrics were written specifically for the piece and are accompanied by a dynamic, lively Afro-pop soundtrack referencing the musical cultures of the Caribbean, where joy and sorrow intermingle. At the same time, the song’s lyrics also convey a checkered history with specific allusions to a real-life environmental disaster in Martinique and Guadeloupe: From 1972 to 1993, the pesticide chlordecone was used to combat a banana pest. This resulted in the contamination of soil, rivers, and groundwater, with serious health- and environmental consequences for the local population.

Woven into Assidule are a number of themes and references that reoccur throughout Creuzet’s work. The artist emphasizes, for instance, the positive and creative potential of creolization, a term that refers to the process by which elements of different cultures are blended together to create something new. He frequently references Édouard Glissant (1928–2011), a Caribbean-born writer and cultural philosopher whose work is widely recognized as a touchstone of postcolonial identity and cultural theory. As Creuzet himself notes, “I prefer the term ‘creolization.’ It is much more appropriate because it reflects the meeting of different cultures and how cultural encounters can generate new things rather than consume them, like in the historically demonstrated relationship of settler colonialism. Creolization, for me, is based on an understanding of positioning the body as a contact point in constructing experiential agency and self-determination.”² The video presented here similarly reflects the artist’s approach of merging visual and sonic landscapes, as well as the materiality of elements from diverse cultures, with the aim of producing “images of encounters, improbable images” that stimulate the imagination. His convinced that even “a container, a flag, and a machete inside a cave tells you a lot of things. It is important for me not to reduce the interpretative part of each element. Contextualizing creolization as contagion gives latitude to the complexity and parameters of being, especially for those familiar with being shipped and surveilled.”³ The processes of cultural blending, identities, and narratives described here are often not part of the biographies of viewers socialized in Western cultures, and consequently cannot be fully understood through their own horizons of experience. This makes it all the more important for artists from the Global South to offer their point of view, thereby facilitating the change of perspective that is so urgently needed to counter the cultural dominance of the West.

Julien Creuzet’s artistic practice is also significantly defined by the process of poetization, which he describes as follows: “It goes back to the same reason I privilege the poetic format of my titles: poetry offers the opportunity to utilize another voice. The multitude of forms and materials create this breathing space, without which art has no meaning. It also offers me the chance to resist the constant tendency to explain what I’m doing, how I’m doing, or who I’m doing this for, and lean more toward the liberatory aspects of imagination, play, form, and feeling.”⁴ To explore Creuzet’s visual realms is to encounter a realm of possibility, to become involved in the emergence of novel narratives and spaces that broaden one’s horizons of perception and experience.

Julien Creuzet (b. 1986, Le Blanc-Mesnil, France) currently lives and works in Paris. He studied at the École supérieure d’arts et médias de Caen/Cherbourg, completed postgraduate studies in fine arts at the École nationale supérieurre des beaux-arts de Lyon and at Le Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains. Recent solo exhibitions include those at LUMA Arles (2022); Camden Art Centre, London (2022); Centre Pompidou (for the Prix Marcel Duchamp), Paris (2021); Document, Chicago (2021); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2019); CAN Centre d’art Neuchâtel, Switzerland (2019); and Fondation d’entreprise Pernod Ricard, Paris (2018). His work has featured in numerous group exhibitions and biennials, including presentations at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2022); Museum Tinguely, Basel (2022); KAI10, Düsseldorf (2021); SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin (2021); WIELS centre d’art contemporain, Brussels (2021); Manifesta 13, Marseille (2020); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main (2020), Kampala Biennale, Uganda (2018), and the 12th Gwangju Biennal, South Korea (2018).

www.juliencreuzet.com

Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton

Video credits
Assidule, 2019
HD video, color, sound
07:43 min.
Courtesy of the artist; DOCUMENT Gallery, Chicago; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and High Art, Paris/Arles.

Music Mo Laudi
Visuals Pierre Le Cann
With support from Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, Nuit Blanche 2019

¹ Artist’s translation: my carcass body cracks cracks cracks / my sugar cane body, pierce, pierce, pierce, / my banana body is in tears, tear, tear / my black skinned body / at the laying of the sun / can no longer sleep / my body plantation poison / my body plantation poison / demands ransom / rain is no longer rain / raining needles / pesticide acid rain / infanticide rain / my father lived near the river / the river was at the edge / of the banana field of panam / red banana powder keg / in the tropics of cancer

² Mark Pieterson, “REFRAMING OCEANIC TOPOLOGIES: Mark Pieterson in conversation with Julien Creuzet,” Texte zur Kunst, September 29, 2022, https://www.textezurkunst.de/de/articles/mark-pieterson-with-julien-creuzet-reframing-oceanic-topologies/.

³Ibid.

⁴Ibid.

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13.23 Sven Johne
A Sense of Warmth

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13.23 Sven Johne
A Sense of Warmth
15.3.–14.5.23
“I couldn’t really sleep anymore. For weeks on end. A million thoughts were running through my mind. Constant worry: job, money, relationships. Damn personal fulfilment. Doesn’t anyone in our modern Western world think of anything but their own imperfection?” Sven Johne’s A Sense of Warmth, 2015, begins with these words in a voice-over, the poignant utterances of a young woman struggling with self-doubt, gripped by fear of failure and a profound identity crisis. More
They also mark the start of a deeper exploration of the main protagonist’s conflict-ridden ego and sense of self. The character’s introspective thoughts are juxtaposed with almost meditative black and white images of nature: flocks of birds flying across the sky in changing formations, lush landscapes of trees and bushes, a long journey on a fishing boat (christened the “Mindy”) from the mainland to an unnamed island. The images bear witness to the speaker’s new beginning on the protected island and allow us to experience, from the narrator’s perspective, the simple beauty of nature as symbolic of the better, more sustainable life that awaits.

The apparently autobiographical narrative of the 33-year-old protagonist intensifies with the story of her arrival on the island. Melinda (known as “Mindy”) has a background in psychology and previously held a mind-numbing, even dehumanizing job in process optimization. After leaving her office job for the island, she finds herself at a ringing station on the reserve, where volunteers meticulously record migratory birds for scientific purposes. Mindy describes the island’s self-sufficient and sustainable community in great detail, highlighting its many benefits: “We live here without a supermarket, without noise, without television. We live here without internet, without social media. We live a very simple life.” Her voice brims with understandable enthusiasm for their reclusive lifestyle, as the volunteers seem forever shielded from the consumerist pressures, capitalist mechanisms, and self-optimization compulsions of the Western world. They live a life without fear. Nevertheless, one cannot help but suspect that there is no such thing as a perfect life in an isolated biotope, even on an unconscious level.

The narrator meticulously describes the process of documenting migratory bird movements at the ringing station: releasing birds from specially erected nets, examining, weighing and measuring them, tagging their legs with metal rings, entering all relevant data into the computer. Two years later, this paradise is shattered by the discovery of a problem that zoologists refer to as “invaders”— an invasive species of migratory bird has taken up residence on the island, disrupting the ecosystem and threatening the entire conservation project. The same birds appearing to be landing in the nets over and over, implying that the number of new migratory birds on the island is slipping. The pragmatic solution is to allow birds caught in the nets for a third time to simply “rest” there, thus “correcting” the database. It is a difficult decision, but a necessary one to preserve the island’s ecosystem.

The ambivalence and fragility of this good life on the island, despite its closeness to nature and remoteness, is palpable throughout the film. On the one hand, there are the manipulative human interventions in the island biome—actions that serve to legitimize the conservation project at the expense of nature, interventions applied with double standards. On the other hand, at a personal level, there is the change of heart on the part of the protagonist, who subordinates her own conscience to the dogma of the good life and supposed appropriate action. The movie culminates with the protagonist falling in love. As she removes dead birds from the fishing nets, Mindy’s mind is flooded with memories of the warmth she felt when she first came to the island, how it felt when “life returned.” This feeling is paradoxical, as close to the fullness of life as it is to silent death.

And yet romantic love does not resolve the contradiction; instead, it only magnifies and obscures the human manipulation of other living creatures, the playing God. Johne captures this unsolvable dilemma as the camera mercilessly records the birds caught in the net, some of them still twitching. At first, the birds struggle with all their might to free themselves, but as they become more and more exhausted, they give up, only to raise their bodies one last time. These are provocative images; the sight of such human-inflicted cruelty may well provoke a loud cry of outrage or a feeling of powerlessness. They challenge us to take a stand, to consider whether we should maintain our objective distance or allow our emotions to be stirred.

What remains is a sense of unease about the contradictions of life that must be morally tolerated, an in-between of invented narrative and documentary, a balance between detachment and engagement. Sven Johne reflects the personal and social challenges of our time with almost unspectacular detachment, creating an unsettling space for reflecting on one’s own self-conception, thoughts, and actions. Yet the protagonist’s illogical, impotent isolation and her retreat into love soon become more disturbing than the human brutality we are made to contemplate.

In his photographs, text-image series, films, and videos, Sven Johne constructs complex narratives that ambivalently negotiate the relationship between fabrication and documentation. His work often consciously creates an uncertain state of limbo that addresses current challenges and questions of our time in connection with heroic, sometimes tragic, identifying figures and their stories, which are often anchored in a specific place or region. Since the early 2000s, the artist’s work has explored recurring motifs and themes such as East German history, the interaction of topography, history, and people, the analysis of human characters, and the interplay between fiction and documentation. Other works draw on and underscore current political events or global phenomena. The artist effectively combines archetypal elements with moving biographies, creating a strong sense of identification that places historical or regional events in a global context while making them relevant to the present.

Sven Johne (b. 1976 in Bergen, lives and works in Berlin) studied at the University of Leipzig, the HGB Leipzig and at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Kunstsammlung Jena (2022); Galerie Nagel Draxler, Colonge (2022); Kunstmuseum Kloster Unserer Lieben Frauen, Magdeburg (2021); MUDAM, Luxemburg (2021, with Falk Haberkorn); Galerie Klemm’s, Berlin (2019); HMKV / Hartware Medienkunstverein (“Video of the Month”), Dortmund (2019); and the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt (2019). His work has been included in a number of group exhibitions including the 12th Berlin Biennale, Berlin (2022) and presentations at Kunststiftung DZ Bank, Frankfurt am Main (2022); Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen (2022); the MAST Collection / Fondazione MAST, Bologna (2022); at the Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst, Bremen (2021); Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen (2020); the Philara Collection, Düsseldorf (2020); the Karachi Biennale, Pakistan (2019); Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA), Riga, Latvia (2018); and the Triennial of Photography, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg (2018).

Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton

A Sense of Warmth, 2015
HD video, b/w, sound
15:35 min.
Courtesy of the artist and Nagel Draxler Galerie, Berlin / Köln / München and Galerie Klemm’s, Berlin

Written and directed by Sven Johne
Narrator Laura Wilkinson
Camera Steve Kfoury
Edit Sven Voß, Sven Johne
Translation Dawn Michelle d’Atri

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12.23 Tiffany Sia
Scroll Figure #3, Scroll Figure #4

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12.23 Tiffany Sia
Scroll Figure #3, Scroll Figure #4
15.1.–14.3.23
Tiffany Sia is an artist, filmmaker, and writer with an art practice rooted in rigorous writing and research. She is interested in using multidisciplinary forms to challenge persistent, hard-wired notions of geography, genre and time. Her most recent output—a body of work spanning films, videos, photographs, and artist books—explores the politics and relations inherent to both media-circulated images and the histories of (port) cities. More
Many of her latest film works delve into recent developments in the city of her birth: one of these, an experimental short titled Never Rest/Unrest, 2020, looks at the unrelenting political activity in Hong Kong between early summer and the end of 2019. Shot on a hand-held mobile device, it depicts what Sia has called “ambiguous, anachronistic and often banal time.” Do Not Circulate, 2021, a short essay video, follows a single media- and image trail around a specific event from that same year, also in Hong Kong. Its voiceover weaves leaks, rumor, and occult superstition into a single timeline. A third film, titled A Road Movie is Impossible in Hong Kong, 2021, shows the artist’s attempt at a week-long, episodic, live-stream landscape film that reimagines the road movie genre in Hong Kong.

Both Scroll Figure #3 and Scroll Figure #4 belong to part of a four-part series of videos. They analyze the tension between image and text intermittently and across eras and cultures. Each video tackles a specific topic such as time and warfare, the network-based dissemination of images through new media, the riddle of cities, or the enigma of the landscape. The same formal structure appears in each work in the series: videos play on a small-format screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio, though each screen is covered with a dark security foil that ensures that only one person—i.e., whoever is standing directly in front of the video—can watch it at a time. The effect is an intimate art-viewing experience not unlike reading a book. A text by the artist scrolls vertically over various archival film clips from the 1960s and ‘70s, much as it would roll across the screen of a teleprompter. The texts combine quotes from well-known writers and philosophers with fragments and commentary from the artist herself. Analogue film grain, mixed with pixilation on the accompanying background images lends them an almost painterly quality—they stand in stark contrast to the crisp, high-definition digital video more commonly seen today. The original footage could have been filmed on either Super 8 or 16mm film stock, as both analogue formats use the 4:3 aspect ratio.

Scroll Figure #3 references one of China’s best-known ancient artworks, a piece known as Along the River During the Qingming Festival. The handscroll painting measures 24.8 x 528.7 cm. Rendered by Song dynasty painter Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145), it shows various scenes of everyday life in the northern capital of the Song Dynasty (present-day Kaifeng) during Qingming, a Chinese festival commemorating the dead. Its central motif, apart from rural vignettes, is its depiction of a bustling cityscape complete with detailed premodern urban street scenes. The visual images in Scroll Figure #3 are a direct reference to the painting, except the city views here were captured on film in the 1960s and ‘70s. They show large numbers of city-dwellers engaged in ordinary activities, but also building facades and advertisements, passing cars on a multi-lane highway, and a river landscape. The compact 4:3 aspect ratio conveys a palpable sense of the city’s density and frenetic pace. Contrasting with these is the dense, scrolling text, an element that demands intense, sustained concentration on the part of the viewer. The video essay takes the celebrated scroll painting as a starting point for exploring the invisible souls of the deceased wandering through the city; for pondering the medial analogy between Chinese scroll paintings and the film reel; for contemplating a quote from the Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923–1985) and his 1972 novel Invisible Cities (Italian: Le città invisibili) and describing both high-rise facades that reflect the sky and the dominance of reflections, displays, and screens in the modern-day urban landscape. Fittingly, the artist also touches on the cinematic character of a Chinese scroll painting: “Embedded in the scroll is cinematic thinking: the slow tracking shot across a vast landscape showing various times on a linear plane, the shifting perspective and foreshortening of the image, the editing and focus on one section.”¹

Scroll Figure #4 finds the artist exploring both the motif of the waterfall in the landscape and the culturally-coded perception of the sublime as it relates to views of nature. Its featured footage shows waterfalls from different perspectives, though each shot only hints at the powerful spectacle of nature. Some clips allow us to make out sections of the surroundings, others confuse the eye with rushing, blurred volumes of water that ultimately flatten into abstract color fields. Three waterfalls are mentioned by name, but which are seen in the piece is left unknown: Iguazú Falls (Argentina/Brazil), the Xiao Wulai Waterfall (Taiwan), and Urami Falls (Japan). Some scenes show not only flora and fauna, but butterflies and buildings as well. Humans, by contrast, are kept out of sight.

The text in Scroll Figure #4 operates predominantly at a media-reflexive meta-level, primarily with regard to the analogy between waterfall and film. It begins with a discussion of the significance of the viewer’s perspective, followed by a quote from the French philosopher and media theorist Jean Baudrillard (1929–2007). The artist seizes on Baudrillard’s observations about the Iguazú Falls and his description of human intervention to reflect on the ways natural phenomena of this kind are presented in media. The video essay ends with commentary discussing the centuries-long, historically-conditioned process of perceiving landscape through the Western concept of the sublime in nature, with the artist noting, “There is a lot of meaning you can project onto such enigmas of landscape.” It becomes clear that what we mean by landscape today is only ever a culturally-conditioned extract—a construct no different than a painting, a film, and the processes of reception that go with them. Further highlighting the sublime in the field of poetry, Sia quotes a poem by the Japanese haiku master Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694), in particular his poetic experience of viewing the Urami Falls from a cave behind them: “Silent a while in a cave / I watched a waterfall, / For the first of / The summer observances.” 

Tiffany Sia’s combining of text and image fragments from various different media contexts creates new intermedial and intercultural narratives, more specifically ones that challenge Western-centered modes of perception and visual interpretation of any kind. She interrogates the limits of visual media, expanding the Western-centric interpretive horizon with references from the East Asian cultural sphere.

Nevertheless, the connective link is ultimately the viewers themselves. The role of interpreter falls to them as well (mostly as individuals), since it is their culturally-informed perception that lends them both temporality and physical presence, especially in public space. The simultaneousness superimposition of text and image is sometimes deliberately meant to overwhelm the viewer with the act of reading and seeing, effectively forcing a kind of self-reflection. As the text and images reverberate like an echo, revising/re-visiting one’s own modes of perception and cultural appropriations seems all the more urgent—particularly in a global world coursing with visual media and narratives. 

Tiffany Sia (b. 1988 in Hong Kong, lives and works in New York) studied at Bard College (US) and Qingdao University (CN). Recent solo exhibitions include those at the Vienna-based gallery FELIX GAUDLITZ (2022) and Artists Space, New York (2021). Her work has featured in a number of group exhibitions and screenings, including those at MoMA, New York, (to come in 2023); Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2022); Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf (2022); Hordaland Kunstsenter, Bergen (2021); The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2021); Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong (2020). She has also screened films at a number of festivals, among others at the New York Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, MoMA Documentary Fortnight, Flaherty Film Seminar, and the Open City Documentary Film Festival. Films and video works by Sia Tiffany include What Rules The Invisible, 2022; Scroll Figure #1–#4, 2022; Do Not Circulate, 2021; A Wet Finger in the Air, 2021; A Road Movie is Impossible in Hong Kong, 2021; SEA – SHIPPING – SUN, 2021; and Never Rest/Unrest, 2020.

Scroll Figure #3 / Scroll Figure #4, 2022
Video, color, no sound
03:51 min. / 03:01 min.
Courtesy of the artist and FELIX GAUDLITZ, Vienna
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton

¹ Breathing Cameras: Tiffany Sia, Tiffany Sia in conversation with Andrea Lissoni. By Andrea Lissoni and Tiffany Sia. Mousse Magazine, 21 April 2021, p. 144.

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11.22 Omer Fast
Garage Sale

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11.22 Omer Fast
Garage Sale
28.10.–18.12.22
Omer Fast is an artist and filmmaker. Much of his work involves a deep exploration of the psychological structure of trauma, often with a focus on blurring memories and the retelling or re-narration of current or historical events. The artist’s videos subvert the formal conventions of various film genres and critically analyze both analog and digital images as information-disseminating media. Frequently based on a historical event or current point of reference, Fast’s film work defines a new relationship between reality and fiction. The artist is interested in the way narratives are constructed, specifically the change (hi)stories undergo when recounted by different voices and from diverse points of view. More
His practice draws on cinematic stylistic devices including blended narrative levels, altered time structures, slippage between film plot and production set, and reenactment—strategies that allow him to create dense visual worlds that help negotiate the process of historiography and collective memory. Recurring themes in Fast’s films include recollection as a cornerstone of human identity (Remainder, 2015), families grappling with tragic events, and psychological coping strategies with absurd tendencies (Continuity, 2012). August (2016) finds Fast focusing on the life and work of August Sander (1876–1964), the legendary Cologne photographer whose dreamlike sequences show him to have been haunted at the end of his life by the death of his son and the figures he photographed. More recent works including The Invisible Hand (2018) mark the first time the artist can be seen experimenting with VR and digital technologies. His films are often presented in specially designed spatial installations: theatrical or cinematic mises-en-scène that turn the audience itself into protagonists.

Fast’s film Garage Sale begins with a heavily pixelated image. The image zooms out and pixels become smaller, allowing us to better distinguish the contours of human figures in an interior space. This cropped detail of a larger image shows what appears to be a mirror, eventually recognizable as the picture-within-the-picture detail from the famed Arnolfini Portrait by Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. The 1434 rendering of Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his bride is currently on view in the National Gallery in London. Art historical interpretations vary as to whether the two subjects are already or recently married, in the process of taking their vows, or are still engaged. A clicking sound punctuates the film’s entire soundtrack—an effect recalling the photographic snap of a shutter closing in an analog camera. The film’s unseen female protagonist gives a detailed account of her fascination with the painting and of a project that failed to materialize; throughout, she interrupts her own narrative flow with terse instructions to another person off screen, presumably the camera operator. The camera pans to reveal the painting on a puzzle box lid; further clicks reveal the overall setting for that box: a yard sale, more specifically a hodgepodge of cast-off, unused and disorganized odds and ends sprawled in front of a suburban New Jersey home. Within a few minutes, the narrator has connected Van Eyck’s painting to Erwin Panofsky, the renowned German-born Jewish art historian who published a close analysis of the portrait in 1934. A close-up of a photograph of a semi-detached house in Hanover—home to one of the narrator’s husband’s relatives—is followed by shots leading further into the interior. Viewers find themselves inside Tante Klara’s living room, where the husband’s aunt is pictured leafing through a photo album.

Unspooling from and around this introductory scene is a complex, interlocking frame story linking various times, (family) histories and biographies, discourses on cultural heritage, migration, and racism, but also objects/artifacts and historical personalities on a number of narrative levels. One narrative thread explores the question of how traumatic events are processed in a family, how the memory of such events is passed on from one generation to the next: sometimes with suppression and secrecy, at other times in a more unvarnished version. Subsequent images in Garage Sale reveal a double portrait of two men in SS uniforms standing in front of a semi-detached house in Hanover. The two men, identified as the aunt’s twin uncles Uncle Benno and Uncle Manfred, open a crack in the past, enabling us to peer into it. In an instant, actors in a reenactment bring the black-and-white photograph to life. We hear no further details about the actual past under the Nazi regime or how her husband’s relatives were involved. Instead, the protagonist contemplates the absence of that information in her interaction with the aunt, an instance she describes as “a brief velvety moment swarming with conflicting possibilities,” a moment spent in shared silence as the two women look at the photograph. She asks a series of open questions that are never answered, as if waiting for the viewer’s response.

A postcard of the Arnolfini double portrait, seen propped against books on a bookshelf, ultimately serves the protagonist’s transition to an art-historical digression on Panofsky’s interpretation of the painting. Immediately after, we see the following scene play out back in the New Jersey suburb home: Karen, the white homeowner, carries a cardboard box containing one of her husband Ted’s family heirlooms out to the garage sale. It is a statue depiction of a Black jockey, a racist lawn ornament. Leona, an African-American neighbor, peers into the box and discovers the toxic object. Karen apologizes for the object, but Leona insists on buying the jockey and does not allow Ted to stop her. And yet that same evening, she returns the box with the statue. The narrator reports on a later Zoom conversation with Leona, the protagonist of her failed project, before pointedly telling viewers that “the Zoom conversation never took place. The whole project was entirely fictional.” The admission casts doubt on the entire story once again; the artist allows the narrative house of cards to collapse in the viewer’s mind. It is a moment that also brings into focus the dual role of the narrator as a stand-in for Fast himself. Still—and also in her presence as a disembodied voiceover—she is a distanced figure, one who embraces aspects of Brechtian alienation: She directly addresses viewers several times, comments on the failure of the project, and continually interrupts the flow of her own story with instructions to the camera operator.

Eventually the film circles back to the painting by Jan van Eyck. In another interpretation by the American art historian Linda Seidel, it becomes clear that the painting, “can be seen as a guarantor of circumstances that were wished for—a future reality—rather than as a record of what has already transpired—the exchange of nuptial vows.” This repeated encounter and engagement with the painting can be understood as an invitation on the part of the filmmaker, encouraging viewers to recall similar episodes in their own lives or particularly in art, to remember other instances of “a brief velvety moment swarming with conflicting possibilities.”

The film is shown as a three-part projection, presented on three identical garage doors, each installed facing the main window into the exhibition space. One of these doors will open and close from time to time, obeying an invisible dramaturgy. The visual tripartition of the film not only requires that viewers pay closer attention, it also confronts them with the impossibility of perceiving all three films at once. The garage door, a visual motif in the film, doubles as a projection surface and a physical object in the room. Stripped of their actual function, the garage doors have the look of surreal foreign objects in the exhibition space, particularly during the day. They inspire conjecture, invite speculation. Garage doors typically tend to be perceived as inconspicuous components of a building, elements with the ability to demarcate private property from the surrounding space on the one hand and (when slightly open) attract the voyeuristic gaze on the other. 

And yet Fast’s intent with Garage Sale is not to supplant fiction with biographical or documentary film; he is much more concerned with drawing attention to the spaces and times that open up between media and genres, between the analog image and its digital counterpart, between past and present, individual and collective memory. The point is to make them recognizable as a point (or rather: punctum) where fractures and contradictions become visible, and critique and self-reflection can begin.

Omer Fast (born 1972 in Jerusalem) spent his early years between Jerusalem and New York City. He received a BFA from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and an MFA from Hunter College in New York City. Solo exhibitions include those at the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich (2021); Salzburger Kunstverein (2019); Times Museum, Guangzhou, China (2018); STUK Leuven, Belgium (2017); and Gropius Bau, Berlin (2016). Fast’s work has also featured in a number of group exhibitions and biennials including the 12th Berlin Biennale (2022); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel (2012); the 54th Venice Biennale (2011); and the Whitney Biennial (2008/2002).

Opening Fri 28.10.22, 7 pm
Introduction in the lecture hall of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld
Welcome Christina Végh, Cynthia Krell in conversation with Omer Fast

Garage Sale, 2022
Installation with three garage doors, dimensions variable
Three-channel video in color with sound
29’30”
Courtesy the artist and Dvir Gallery, Tel Aviv/Brussels/Paris, gb agency, Paris, and James Cohan, New York
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton
Photos Lukas Strebel
Written, directed, and edited by Omer Fast
Commissioned by ajh.pm, Bielefeld, Germany and Seoul Museum of Art, South Korea

 

 

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10.22 Anri Sala
Unravel

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10.22 Anri Sala
Unravel
15.8.–9.10.22
Albania-born video artist Anri Sala explores the relationship between time and image, space and sound in videos, objects, and sound installations. His films have no linear narrative and feature no actors; instead it is essentially pieces of music that become the real protagonists of the works. Music and music-related elements write the script, set the dramaturgy and the rhythm. More
Apart from their musical qualities, the artist is particularly interested in the history of reception of these pieces, as well as their social and political embedding, each as interpreted in our time. Sala’s early video works from the late 1990s used primarily documentary strategies to explore post-communist life in his native Albania. Somewhat later, in the early 2000s, his interest shifted to the psychological effects of acoustic experiences. The artist uses music and sound to create complex cinematic compositions that evoke mental images when viewed, stir memories and convey emotions. Since the mid-2000s, Sala has increasingly included musicians in his films and in live performances. He has also created complex object-sound installations, some incorporating historical instruments. His solo exhibitions are themselves both dramaturgically and spatially composed—similar to a piece of music. They respond to the particularities of the (museum) architecture in a site-specific way, thereby providing visitors with a visual-acoustic spatial experience.

The title of the video Unravel, 2013, is a reference both to the English verb “unravel” and to the surname of Maurice Ravel, composer of a famous piano concerto for the left hand. The video shows a woman with headphones, a DJane, so to speak, listening to two different versions of the concerto and attempting to synchronize them on a turntable. Showing utmost concentration and professional stamina, she devotes herself to this inherently impossible task for the entire duration of the nearly two-hour performance. The camera circles the young woman once, but lingers for a long while on a close-up of her hands stopping and releasing the two records on the turntable. It is only closer to the end that we see the architectural setting and glimpse something of the outside through an open door. It is the monumental architecture of the German Pavilion on the Giardini in Venice, where the Venice Biennale is held every two years. This is because in 2013, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, Germany and France each presented their national exhibitions in the other country’s pavilion for the first time. Anri Sala, who represented France that year, realized a three-part video installation.

The two recordings of the concerto were performed by pianists Louis Lortie and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, respectively, accompanied by the French National Orchestra. The artist changed the tempo of the concerto for each pianist, so that the two performances progressed synchronously and asynchronously at the same time. This creates the perception of musical echoes, which are made more prominent by dynamic repetitions. The seemingly disoriented tempos complicate the piece, lengthen and shorten it, push and pull on the ears and brains of listeners—but we do not hear what the DJ hears. What remains is the attempt, together and independently of one another, to disentangle and unravel the piece of music: to return it to its beginnings as a unified, harmonic whole. The dissolution happens at the very end, in the final bar of the concerto, when the difference in tempos simultaneously opens up a resonance chamber for sonic dissonance that transforms the play with time into a visual-acoustic experience of space. Hence the artist not only opens up an acoustic resonance chamber, he also builds a constant tension that both abandons and counteracts the usual listening experience—in this case that of classical music. 

The approach Sala takes in this work also exemplifies his artistic system of coordinates, which he sums up as follows: “Music is a trigger, a point of departure, but also a way of cultivating time and allowing it to unfold according to a schedule. Our society sees the relationship between image and music as hierarchical, like the one between a master and his slave. Music usually passively follows the image—as it does in mainstream cinema, for example: music is added once everything else has already been thought out. It functions as a code designed to heighten the audience’s emotional response to a scene. My approach is the other way around: the music is there at the beginning, it’s the action you see in the image—what you hear is what you see.”¹

Anri Sala (b. 1974 in Tirana, Albania) lives and works in Berlin. He studied in Tirana, Paris, and Tourcoing. His work has been distinguished with numerous awards, including the Vincent Award (2014). Solo exhibitions include those at GAMeC Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo (2022); Kunsthaus Bregenz (2021); MUDAM Musée d’Art Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2019); Castello di Rivoli, Turin (2019); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2017); the New Museum, New York (2016); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2014); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2012); and Serpentine Gallery, London (2011). Sala has participated in numerous group exhibitions and biennials including the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); and the 55th Venice Biennale (2013), where he represented France; dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel (2012); the 29th Bienal de São Paulo (2010); the 2nd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2007); and the 4th Berlin Biennial (2006).

Unravel, 2013
Single-channel HD video
Color, sound, 20:45 min.
Courtesy of the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2022
Still © Anri Sala
Fotos Ines Könitz
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton

¹ Donna Schons, “Ich untersuche Musik wie ein Fossil,” [I examine music like a fossil] interview with Anri Sala, Monopol Magazin, https://www.monopol-magazin.de/anri-sala-mudam?slide=1 (in German, 04.07.2022)

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9.22 Francis Alÿs
Children’s Game #12: Sillas musicales (Musical Chairs)

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9.22 Francis Alÿs
Children’s Game #12: Sillas musicales (Musical Chairs)
15.6.–14.8.22
Francis Alÿs’s oeuvre hovers between a poetic storytelling evoking the absurdity of everyday life and cultural anthropological observation of his surroundings. For more than three decades, the Belgian-born, Mexico-based artist has created paintings, drawings, sketches, artist books, photographs, objects, animations, and videos, which he often presents in specially-conceived spatial settings, in vitrines, or on tables. More
Walking in public space has been an essential part of his practice since the early 1990s. His strolls (Paseos) engage with his everyday life as a foreigner (European) in megametropolis Mexico City and take up its historical and social contrasts; the resulting works, including at times highly conceptual pieces, interventions, performances, and photographic series, have earned him international renown. In his dual role as observer and participant, resident and artist, Alÿs has mapped the surroundings around his studio near the Zócalo over the course of many years. His explorations seemingly casually document the political, social, and historical layers of his adopted city and weave them into urban tales.

Since 1999, Alÿs has filmed children at play all over the world. His exhibition activities and travels have taken him to almost every continent on earth—hotspots and peaceful countries alike. His Children’s Games series comprises just over thirty videos at present, all numbered chronologically. It shows children skimming flat stones across the water in Morocco (#2), French skipping in France (#4), flying homemade kites in Afghanistan (#10), playing with a cloth ball in Nepal (#17), leapfrogging over one other’s backs in Iraq (#20), playing a country-specific version of mancala in Congo (#26), and snail racing real gastropods in Belgium (#31). The children seldom play on their own; instead they are mostly seen playing in groups, competing in some instances and cooperating in others. While some games seem extremely recognizable and familiar from one’s own childhood—tag, jumping rope, skipping rocks, flying kites—others are typical of a particular country or specific to a geographic region, and not globally widespread. The videos capture youngsters and their interactions in the game, often in a single take and from the children’s point of view. The only perceptible audio is the original sound; the artist deliberately refrains from additional explanations. Indications as to the location and name of the game appear only in the title and opening credits. All of the films oscillate heavily between objective documentation and participatory observation; the closeness of the recording conveys the lightness and joy of play.

Alÿs’s Children’s Game #12: Sillas musicales (Musical Chairs), Oaxaca, Mexico (2012) is captured in a single, overhead take. Six children can be seen setting up five folding chairs in a row, one after the other, for a game of musical chairs. With the start of the song “Tus Ojos Negros” (Engl.: Your Black Eyes) by the Mexican band Super Lamas, the boys and girls circle the row of chairs in a clockwise direction. Without warning, the music stops. Each child rushes to sit on a free chair as quickly as possible. One player is inevitably left standing, is eliminated and removes a chair from the playing field. Finally, a girl wins against a boy of the same approximate age. We see little of their surroundings; a dusty dirt ground dominates the screen. A rooster crows briefly near the beginning and end of the video. The title of the work points to the place of its production: the state/city of Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

Children’s Games finds Alÿs conducting a kind of artistic field research, his approach resembling that of an ethnologist minus the purely objective or systematically scientific procedure. At the heart of his subjective interest is the human being as a cultural, social creature that plays for the sake of playing. In play we find a negotiation between order and chaos, consensus and dissent, self and other, the individual and the many. It is a learning process we all master on our way to becoming social, cultural beings. The artist has also pointed to an analogy between his own approach to work and the rules of a game: “I realized the importance that children’s games had had as an inspiration not so much of the scripts but of the mechanics of my works: the absurd logic of very clear rules which did not have much sense in themselves. I am not very good at defining what is that I am looking for, but it is crystal clear when it is that I am out of bounds. Children’s games are like that: the moment you step out of the rules of the game, children will complain to you. Sometimes rules are not well defined, but there is a clear limit between being in or outside of a game.”¹

As a child, Alÿs was fascinated by Children’s Games, c. 1560. The opulent, detailed painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder offers an encyclopedic view of the children’s games of his time, many of which are waiting to be rediscovered. The reference highlights Alÿs’s focus on the universal nature of children’s play with the intent of creating a cultural archive of children’s games—before they are lost as a cultural practice or can no longer be passed on to the next generation. The commonality, the linking factor shared by all people (children) across all cultures is not only play as a generic characteristic of humans, or play as a life experiment and key vehicle for learning and creativity, but rather the purposelessness associated with play—and with art.

Francis Alÿs (b. 1959 in Belgium) lives and works in Mexico City. He studied architecture before turning entirely to his art practice, which encompasses painting, drawing, animation, and video. His work addresses ethnological and geopolitical issues through observation and engagement with everyday life. Recent output includes a series of new projects in Iraq, culminating with the historical fiction film Sandlines, the Story of History, 2018–20. His Children’s Games series (ongoing since 1999) is an anthology of children at play around the world. Alÿs also developed a series of new films in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium, Canada, and Hong Kong for presentation in the Belgian Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale (2022), where they are being shown in conjunction with paintings and drawings. Alÿs’s work has featured in prestigious museums and art institutions around the world and is included in major collections.

Children’s Game #12: Sillas musicales (Musical Chairs), Oaxaca, Mexico, 2012
Single channel video, color, sound
5:05 min.
In collaboration with Elena Pardo and Félix Blume
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton

¹Cuauhtémoc Medina, “A Collection of ‘Innumerable Little Allegories’: Francis Alÿs’s Children Games,” in Francis Alÿs, Children’s Games, eds. Marente Bloemheuvel and Jaap Guldemond, (Rotterdam: nai010 Publishers, 2019), 15.

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8.22 Yael Bartana
The Undertaker

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8.22 Yael Bartana
The Undertaker
15.4.–14.6.22
With provocative ambivalence, Yael Bartana combines feminism and collective national consciousness in visually powerful and narratively fictional constellations. Her films, installations, photographs, and performances employ a unique visual language to explore identity construction and the politics of commemoration—especially in Israel. More
Key concepts in Bartana’s work include the meaning of such notions as “homeland” or “belonging,” which the artist investigates in the form of ceremonies, public rituals, and social practices designed to reinforce a sense of collective identity in a nation-state. Her practice embraces a synthesis of the factual and the latent/fictional to deconstruct and critique both fundamentally-oriented Israeli and Western-influenced ideas and narratives. The artist develops poetic metaphors for the mutual conditionality of cultural identities that also describe her personal dialogue between cultures.

A cemetery becomes a crucial setting in Bartana’s 2019 video The Undertaker, appearing at the start and in the culminating moment of a military funeral procession in which no soldiers are laid to rest. A grave has been dug. But instead of coffins or human bodies being carried to the gravesite, we watch as a diverse army procession disposes of their firearms, tosses their rifles into the open grave so as to bury them with dignity. The soldiers are dressed in tunic-like sheaths in a variety of beige tones, giving them the uniform look of a single, striding organism. Various sequences show the swarm moving through the northeast US city of Philadelphia as part of the artist’s 2019 public performance Bury Our Weapons, Not Our Bodies! The city, the birthplace of American democracy, becomes a key character in its own right as the mass of uniformed dancers, war veterans, and activists from a variety of local communities meander through its historic streets. Leading the procession is a charismatic, androgynous leader with long, loose white hair, dressed in an all-black trouser suit. The artist deliberately uses a female protagonist here as a counter-figure to the stereotypical political leader. Similar to Bartana’s recent videos and performances What If Women Ruled the World, 2017, and Two Minutes to Midnight, 2021, the work combines fictional settings with real-life people to create complex plot scenarios that test feminist alternatives to outdated concepts of patriarchy and power.

The play of contrasts, opposites, and dichotomies is continued in the juxtaposition of military imagery and dance: Various points in the video find a group of dancers simultaneously performing simple sequences of motions and gestures. Inspired by work of Israeli choreographer, dance pedagogue, and artist Noa Eshkol (1924–2007), these movements quote passages from Eshkol’s 1953 performance in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Yet in contrast to the leveling of the subject normally found in the military, we see performers deviating somewhat from the uniformity of the movements, retaining something of their own, personal uniqueness. Characterizing the video overall is a sense of solemnity and dignity, a quality manifested in the uniformed group’s serious facial expressions and purposeful, confident stride. It is further reinforced by places in which the events of this ritual play out: the graveyard, for example, or the stairs leading up to a structure resembling a classical Greek temple—settings that allude to life, death, and the struggles of human existence.

All of this is heightened by the sound design and the rhythm of the video’s editing, which give the allegorical scenario an almost monumental character. Certain moments find visually powerful shots amplified by militaresque musical elements layered into the original sound. Yet speaking and singing remain altogether absent; it seems human language does not exist in this world. Even the choreographed pieces are for the most part accompanied only by sounds of nature. Such formal and stylistic elements allow the work to both build and maintain a level of tension in the mind of the viewer; its reduction gives form and visibility to the unspeakable. The unseen experiences inscribed in these bodies—collective memories, ordeals, or traumas—are kept under wraps, retain their charge. 

Yael Bartana (b. 1970 in Kfar Yehezkel, Israel) lives and works in Amsterdam and Berlin. She has had numerous solo presentations at international venues including the Jewish Museum, Berlin (2021); Fondazione Modena Arti Visive, Modena (2019/2020); the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2018); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2015); Secession, Vienna (2012); Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2012); Moderna Museet, Malmö (2010); and MoMA PS1, New York City (2008). Other presentations include those at various biennials and group exhibitions, including the São Paulo Biennial (2014, 2010, 2006); Berlin Biennial (2012); documenta 12 (2007); Istanbul Biennial (2005); Manifesta 4 (2002); at KINDL – Centre for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2020); Kunstpalast Düsseldorf (2020); Stedelijk Museum Schiedam (2019); and Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem (2019). Her work features in a number of museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris. 

The Undertaker, 2019
Single-channel video and sound installation, color, sound
13:00 min.
Courtesy the artist
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton

 

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7.22 Tony Cokes
Evil.81: Is This Amrkkka?: DJ Joe Nice Speaks

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7.22 Tony Cokes
Evil.81: Is This Amrkkka?: DJ Joe Nice Speaks
15.2.–14.4.22
North American artist Tony Cokes has been working with the video essay as a medium since the 1990s. His practice explores discourses of structural racism against Black people, social critique, capitalism, and war, considering them in both their historical and contemporary dimensions. More
Cokes’s videos consist primarily of animated texts presented against an image or monochrome background with a pop music soundtrack. For them, the artist draws on his own archive: a compilation of images, films, pieces of music and text extracts from mass media, the Internet, pop culture, politics, and philosophy. Fundamental to his artistic method is the decoupling of word and image. Cokes takes a post-Conceptual approach to the sign systems of language and image, engaging in strategies that can be traced to Conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s. His earliest work in this vein was Black Celebration (1988), a seminal video merging newsreel footage of riots in urban Black neighborhoods in Boston, Detroit, Newark, and Watts in 1965 to the sound of songs by the Canadian industrial band Skinny Puppy. Incorporated texts include those by Morrissey, Martin L. Gore, Barbara Kruger, Situationist International. Cokes’s sampling and recontextualization process points to the necessity of deconstructing media for any kind of emancipatory politics and empowerment, as it enables counter-readings of stereotypical representations.

The video Evil.81: Is This Amrkkka?: DJ Joe Nice Speaks (2021) is part of Coke’s Evil series (ongoing since 2003), a group of works investigating conflicting notions of evil in the past and present. The quotes seen here—fragmented individual sentences and questions spliced against alternating solid-red or blue backgrounds—is based on the transcript of a video interview with African American DJ and “ambassador” of the UK dubstep sound, Joe Nice. The video was recorded following the tragic death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man shot and killed by white police officers in the small town of Elizabeth City, North Carolina on April 21, 2021. Nice’s monologue condemns the fatal failures of policing in Black communities, raises questions about apparent inconsistencies in Brown’s case, and accuses the police and judiciary of concealing evidence in what amounts to a cover-up. He goes on to criticize historically-entrenched structural racism against Black people, with frequent references to US President Joe Biden and other liberal politicians whom he views as both ineffective and ultimately indifferent to the concerns and interests of their Black constituents. The text itself is characterized by such word repetitions and questions as “We demand justice. We demand justice now, we demand the release of these tapes of Andrew Brown Jr.” or “What are you doing for the people? More specifically, what are you doing for Black people?”. The result is a rhythmic, song-like maelstrom of accusations mixed with demands for clarification and justice. 

Cokes combines the written text with samples from over ten different pieces of music, many of them politically-motivated protest songs with a rap, reggae or dub sound. Audible tracks include “Can’t Trust It” by Public Enemy, “Babylon Makes the Rules” by Steel Pulse and “Wicked” by Ice Cube. Songs interact following a set dramaturgy conceived by the artist; the progression opens up a pop-cultural and political narrative (about the Black community in America), complete with topical, relevant references that show the need to interpret it from a present-day point of view. In his use of contrasting text and sound elements from various media contexts, Cokes’s video essays become condensed time capsules, giving rise to new narratives whose appellative character makes them all the more forceful and urgent in the mind of the viewer. After all, this work (like most videos in Cokes’s Evil series) ultimately centers on the long history of “non-visibility” experienced by Black Americans and their lack of representation in the United States—problems that persist to this day.

The viewer becomes both the interpreter and the connecting link, as it is their sensory and spatial perception that lends the videos both temporality and physical presence, particularly in a public space. At the same time, the simultaneity and overlapping of text and music elements poses a constant, deliberate challenge; it overloads the viewer’s senses as they are reading and listening, effectively thwarting any passive attempt to make sense of what they are seeing. In doing so, it enables an experience of selective perception and, consequently, a more layered reading/interpretation. This multidimensional and ambivalent approach—a hallmark of Tony Cokes’s works—is how the artist makes the exemplary explicit. Just as words and music echo in the mind, so too does the call to critically question one’s own thoughts and actions, and to object to the perpetuation of hegemonic systems and historiographies.

Tony Cokes (b. 1956 in Richmond, Virginia, lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island, US) is Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. Recent international exhibitions include those at Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, New York (2021); MACRO Contemporary Art Museum, Rome (2021); MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2020); ARGOS centre for audiovisual arts, Brussels (2020); and BAK – basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht (2020). His work has featured in group exhibitions and screenings at Kunsthalle Wien (2021); La Casa Encendida, Madrid (2021); the 34th Bienal de São Paulo (2021); School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2021); and The Kitchen, New York (2020). Cokes’s work has screened at a number of film and media art festivals including Rotterdam International Film Festival; Rencontres Internationales, Paris/Berlin/Madrid; Freewaves, Los Angeles; and Oberhausen International Short Film Festival. Haus der Kunst and Kunstverein München in Munich are collaborating on a presentation that will constitute Tony Cokes’s first institutional solo exhibition in Germany (3.6.–23.10.2022).

Evil.81: Is This Amrkkka?: DJ Joe Nice Speaks, 2021
Video, color, sound
19:00 min.
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton
Photo Ines Könitz

Commissioned by MACRO Rome:
“This Isn’t Theory. This Is History.”
Text Joe Nice
Youtube 4/29/21
„Andrew Brown Protester BLASTS Biden When in the Hell Are You Helping Black People“
Music MRVN G, ISHN SND, MSP, PE, LKJ, KRPTC MNDS, GTH TRD, CNSLDTDx2, ICEQB, STL PLZ
Editor Stephen Croker
Concept & design Tony Cokes

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6.21 Dor Guez
The Sick Man of Europe: The Painter

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6.21 Dor Guez
The Sick Man of Europe: The Painter
15.12.–14.2.22
Dor Guez’s practice often addresses the charged area of tension between official historiography and personal biography/memory, between collective and subjective (visual) memory and archive. Many of his series embrace a complex system of references at the level of both content and form, and his multi-part The Sick Man of Europe is no exception. More
Guez’s title draws on a 19th-century expression used to describe the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. His work illuminates military history through the individual biographies of cultural figures (architect, composer, painter) who were involved as soldiers in various wars and conflicts in the Middle East. The Sick Man of Europe: The Painter, 2015, is usually presented as a room-encompassing total installation. Components include a video and reproductions of paintings, but also a number of tabletop display cases: repositories of seemingly personal, found or collected everyday objects, objects, photographs, magazines, books, and, in some cases, drawings that are distributed throughout the space. As (symbolic) contemporary witnesses, they appear in the video as well. The displayed items, found objects and artifacts complete the portrait and narrative of the work’s central figure (the painter).

Guez’s video The Painter, 2015 combines documentary approaches with a manifesting of personal history. The main character, painter D. Guez, bears the same last name and first initial as the artist himself—a trace that unintentionally implies that the piece should be read autobiographically. The film shows the painter speaking episodically of his life. Framing his account at the beginning and at the end is a Tunisian animal fable.¹ We learn that he comes from a family of Tunisian Jews who emigrated to Israel. Raised in a religious household, D. Guez spoke Arabic at home and Hebrew in his wider surroundings. He then gives a very detailed account of his self-taught career in painting before becoming a soldier. Letters to his family, read aloud, are illustrated with a number of snapshots showing his time in the military. This is followed chronologically by his deployment in the Yom Kippur War² in October 1973, a conflict that ended with a brutal attack in Syria. The painter was traumatized. We hear quoted excerpts from D. Guez’s psychiatric file. Finally, we learn about his relationship with his wife, who is from a Christian Palestinian family. The film ends with a continuation of the animal fable.

The protagonist’s narrative flow is pictured with visual material consisting of his drawings and paintings, photographs from his military days, illustrations from books and various documents. Paintings also appear as fragments or in tightly-framed close-ups that allow the torn layers of paint to stand out in detail—a visual analogy evoking the traces and injuries of history. Inspired by the painter’s direct life-world, their motifs also indicate the stylistic influence of Western art history, showing figuratively suggestive (village) landscapes and still lifes. Guez also makes formal use of the scanning process, employing it several times throughout the piece. It is only through the scanner’s artificial backlight that the drawing, painting, and document are made visible to us—the artist’s process also rather allegorically resembles that very same technical procedure, consequently revealing the hidden unwritten, personally-experienced history behind an official historical account.

Guez’s constructs the Sick Man narrative so as to reveal tensions between Eastern religious and Western secular cultures in border regions such as Israel (“villa in the jungle”) and Turkey (“the gateway to Asia”). Every video and individual object in The Sick Man of Europe installation shows how written history often collides with the lived stories of various individuals. The project metaphorically transforms the reading of Middle Eastern history from a highly simplified meta-narrative to a nuanced, diverse chorus of personal stories in a region where military service is mandatory for all able-bodied men (and in Israel, for women as well).

The video resembles a visual essay that formally follows a stringent script. In embracing a documentary-biographical approach, Guez focuses mainly on questions of representation and of the relationship between history and memory via various, material means of accessing the past. In doing so he spans an arc between biography as a narrative of one’s own life and history as a collective way of accessing many subjectively experienced pasts, which are then placed in a relationship with narrative processes. The choice to collect and archive objects that gain value through personal selection—viewed in a museum-like, archival presentation—describes a subjective, partly biographical narrative that both mirrors and condenses the collective writing of history. Guez assumes an outside perspective, a decision that allows him to subject his own experiences to scrutiny and to process these investigations in an artistic way.

Dor Guez (b. 1980, lives in Jaffa) is an artist and lecturer. He was born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian family from Lydda on his mother’s side and a family of Jewish immigrants from North Africa on his father’s. His photographs, video installations, essays and lecture-performances explore the relationship between art, narrative, trauma, memory and displacement.

The artist’s many bodies of work juxtapose personal experience with official accounts of the past. His work continually questions the role of contemporary art in telling unwritten histories and addressing associated blind spots, as well as the recontextualization of visual and written documents. In doing so, he also traces the potential of a many-voiced and speculative narrative. Guez’s oeuvre and research over the past 20 years have focused on archival materials and photographic practices in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as on mapping traces of violence in the landscape. In 2009, Guez founded the Christian Palestinian Archive (CPA), the first archive dedicated to the Christian Palestinian minority in the Middle East. Preserving images—as situated within complex frames of reference—is crucial to his artistic approach.

Dor Guez received his PhD from Tel Aviv University in 2014 and has been teaching at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design since 2009. He is director of Bezalel’s Master’s Program in Fine Arts and co-director of SeaPort: Mediterranean Curatorial Residency. His work has featured in over 40 solo exhibitions worldwide, including those at Bogotá Museum of Modern Art MAMBO (March 2022); Galerie carlier | gebauer, Madrid (April 2022); Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, USA (May 2022); Goodman Gallery, Cape Town and New York (2021); Kunst im Kreuzgang, Bielefeld (2021); Les Rencontres d’Arles, Paris (2020); Galerie carlier | gebauer, Berlin (2020); Centre for Contemporary Art Futura, Prague (2020); American Colony Archive, Jerusalem (2019). Guez has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, including presentations at the Jewish Museum, New York (2021); The Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2021); Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, USA (2021); Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin (2021); University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art, Cedar Falls, USA (2020); and Susquehanna Art Museum, Harrisburg, USA (2019).

The Sick Man of Europe: The Painter, 2015
1-channel video, color, sound
20:00 min.
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton
Photo Ines Könitz

¹This one is about a female beetle who marries a male mouse. The beetle falls into a pit; the male mouse lowers his tail to save her. In the process, the tail falls off. After a party with all the mice from the village, each of them has their tails removed as an (outward) sign of the equality of all living creatures.
²Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on the holiday of Yom Kippur on October 6, 1973, thereby recapturing territories previously occupied by Israel. The war ended on October 26, 1973, when both parties signed United Nations Security Council Resolution 338.

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5.21 Tobias Zielony
Hurd’s Bank

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5.21 Tobias Zielony
Hurd’s Bank
15.10.–14.12.21
A telescope acts as an extension of the human eye, doubles as a symbolic prosthesis. A telescope acts as an extension of the human eye, doubles as a symbolic prosthesis. It makes distant objects appear close enough to see in detail, allows them to be viewed in their entirety or observed at all. More
At the same time, the circular image through a viewfinder only ever reveals part of the whole, and it becomes increasingly blurry towards its black edges. Tobias Zielony’s Hurd’s Bank (2019), a video commissioned by the art space Blitz Valletta in Malta, employs static shots through a telescope as a cinematic and artistic device. The artist used a camera fitted with a telescope lens to record ship traffic at Hurd’s Bank: a distant, shallow stretch of water where oil smugglers from Libya (and other ports or states) transfer crude from one ship to another—a kind of maritime darknet. Its footage shows the hazy contours of passing motorboats and container ships, countless luminaries and light points, ship workers on break. All of it appears swallowed by darkness, made dim and vague by its distance and fuzziness. Moving images blur before the viewer’s eyes, evoking a kind of maritime log book with no clear reference to either geographic location or the ships themselves.

A fictional narrator gives a fragmentary account of his observations and experiences during his stay in Malta. The monologue’s actual storyline reconstructs the still-murky murder of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia (2017); it searches for explanations and speculates as to connections between corrupt politicians and the mafia underworld, but also ponders Malta’s political role at the far borders of the EU. As the narrator notes, “Who wanted her dead? And why? The people trying to solve these questions live in danger. Something thick and impenetrable lays in front of my eyes. I hope that the opacity is hiding something rather than being the answer itself.” Right before her death, Caruana Galizia had raised allegations of corruption by members of the government and exposed the country’s lucrative cash-for-passports scheme. The articles posted on her blog made her many enemies, particularly among the island nation’s political elite. Despite an extensive investigation and findings holding the Maltese state at least partially responsible for the murder, questions as to its realpolitik motivation remain.

Several passages in the monologue point to a dialectic of the visible and invisible: “I wonder if merely looking at a ship might already be dangerous? The telescope blurs the distinctions between distance and proximity, risk and safety, movement and stillness,” and later, “When I connect the telescope to the camera and aim it at the harbor, I see nothing at first. The noise of the camera blends with the motionless water, magenta and black. The dots of lights make no sense. What am I looking at?” Zielony succinctly sums it up in his use of observation and a telescope to create a meta-reflection, a resonance image for opaque, under-the-surface dealings beyond the law. Like his work in photography and in other videos, the artist moves between documentation and fiction, observation and assertion, staging and deconstruction. Zielony keeps things in limbo, negotiates in an almost unspectacular way the personal and political aspects of an assassination-for-hire—speculates about dark in-between spaces, but also their influence on and collective memory in a country, history, and people.

For many years, Tobias Zielony’s work has focused on youth subcultures and marginalized groups in society, which he mostly photographs in their social surroundings. Photo series by the artists often take a specific location as point of departure. From there the artist embarks on a visual search for traces, cautiously approaches people, gets to know their day-to-day customs and codes, explores their habitus and status. Zielony’s photographs frequently take up tools of photojournalism, in particular a sense of intimacy and proximity to his subjects. Zielony’s chosen protagonists touch on political and social issues in a globalized society, and yet they also always reflect on the image itself as a phenomenon of our time. In 2006 he introduced videos and stop-motion films to his practice, the earliest of which were still closely tied to the photo series in terms of subject matter. His later cinematic works show increased artistic autonomy. Involving and focused on socially-marginalized communities, they probe the line between documentation and fiction, using the emerging in-between spaces to create alternative narratives.

Tobias Zielony (b. 1973 in Wuppertal) studied documentary photography at the University of Wales from 1998 to 2001. He completed his studies there in 2001 and went on to become a master student of Timm Rautert at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, or Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig. Zielony’s work has featured in numerous solo exhibitions, most recently at the Museum Folkwang Essen (2021), Blitz Valletta, Malta (2019), Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal (2017), and Berlinische Galerie, Berlin (2013). He has also contributed to group exhibitions and biennials including the 11th Seoul Mediacity Biennale (2021) and shows at Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna (2020), Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf (2020), and Fotomuseum Winterthur (2019), as well as RIBOCA, the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (2018) and the 56th Venice Biennale, German Pavillon (2015).

Tobias Zielony
Hurd’s Bank, 2019
1-channel HD video, color, sound
14:55 min.
Courtesy of the artist and KOW, Berlin
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton
Photo Ines Könitz

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4.21 Laure Prouvost
Lick In The Past

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4.21 Laure Prouvost
Lick In The Past
15.7.–14.10.21
“When we move by night at the speed of desire
With you at the wheel my limit goes higher
Just turn me on, you turn me on
You are my petrol, my drive, my dream, my exhaust.”
Lyric from the song Vroom
Text
Laure Prouvost

In the video Lick In The Past (2016), shot in an abandoned parking lot in downtown Los Angeles, hip teenagers meet in the city, improvise lyrics and act according to a secret script by the artist.
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They can be seen having a good time, talking about banal and surreal things, licking their mobile phones, posing, touching each other and other bodies as if by accident, driving around LA by car. The amateur protagonists infuse their lines with slang and their own expressions as the narrator, Laure Prouvost herself, whispers alliterations, onomatopoeias, and puns. The artist juxtaposes this urban scenario with footage from her video We Will Go Far (2015), a work featuring young people in rural France who ride a motorcycle to escape their everyday lives. The LA clique’s escape vehicle of choice is a white car. We see them gliding along highways, past building facades, parking garages, deserts, and beach promenades—LA comes to life as both a place of longing and the setting for countless movies. Also evoked are Edward Rucha’s iconic black-and-white photographs of LA from the 1960s and 1970s—images taken following a rigorous cartographic and Conceptual approach, but whose very conciseness has solidified their place among the archetypes of American culture and landscape.

Counteracting these cityscapes, especially at the beginning of the video work, are sometimes idyllic, sometimes unruly images of animals and nature. Examples include grazing cows, fish gasping for air, or a paintbrush acting as an octopus. In a short sequence of images, the artist herself appears to be eating a dead bird—not a cruel fantasy, but an art historical reference to the 1927 painting Jeune fille mangeant un oiseau (Le Plaisir) by René Magritte (1898–1967). Prouvost draws on a large repertoire of visual references and motifs that recur throughout her body of work, among them animals (fish, octopus, cow, bird), liquids (water, honey, milk, silicone, oil), consumer goods (car, motorcycle, mobile phone), and body parts (female breast, hands). She virtuosically montages significant individual shots to create surreal images and silly, exaggerated metaphors, but also to evoke expressly erotic associations and clichés that nevertheless have a very immediate impact on the viewer, potentially setting their own imaginations in motion. Consciously creating visual overstimulation while adhering to the artistic principle of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, videos in Prouvost’s exhibitions are often embedded in elaborate, meticulously-staged spatial installations. These typically deserted-seeming settings have something of a dystopian, toxic quality; destroyed (consumer) objects appear strewn on the floor under a poured-over layer of an epoxide-like, hardening liquid—a second skin. Complementing this are pieces of found or specially-made furniture, posters, signs, wallpaper, sculptures, or drawings, all creating a sensually condensed atmosphere between fantasy and desire, reality and déjà vu.

Laure Prouvost’s film is and remains ambivalent to viewers, at once idyllic and rebellious, naive and refined, obscene and sensual, unique and universal. The teenage road movie shows an attempt to flee mundane daily routines, which usually end at home. A never-ending escape from one’s own skin, one’s own history, one’s own life. The serene landscape is polluted with motorcycle exhaust fumes; LA is de-romanticized thanks to its concrete ducts and runoff oil. The result is not least a deliberately orchestrated vertigo that entices us to dive into our own associations, worlds of thought or memories, to escape from everyday life for a moment, as words spoken at the beginning of the video suggest: “We could go far, far away… (humming) Follow me we could go far, far away. Come this way! (singing) We could go far, far…”

Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost is known for her lush, immersive videos and mixed-media installations. Interested in confounding linear narratives and expected associations between words, images, and meanings, she has said that her works are where “fiction and reality get really tangled.” At once seductive and jarring, her films consist of a rich, almost tactile assortment of images, sounds, spoken- and written sentences that appear and disappear in rapid, highly rhythmic cuts. These are often shown in installations filled with a dizzying array of found objects, sculptures, paintings, drawings, furniture, signs, and architectural assemblages, all based on themes and images from her films. Prouvost does not allow for passive viewing; throughout her work, she often speaks directly to the viewer, drawing them into her unruly, imaginative visions.

Laure Prouvost (born 1978, lives in Antwerp) is a graduate of Central St Martins and Goldsmiths University of London. She also participated in the LUX Associate Artists Programme. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen (2021); Lisson Gallery, London (2020); Kunsthalle Lisbon (2020); les Abattoirs, Toulouse, and LaM – Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, Villeneuve d’Ascq (2020); M HKA – Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (2019) and Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018). Prouvost represented France in the 58th Venice Biennale (2019) and participated in the 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020). She is winner of the 2011 Max Mara Art Prize for Women and was awarded the Turner Prize in 2013.

Lick In The Past, 2016
single-channel video, color, sound
8:23 min.
Courtesy of the artist and Gallery carlier | gebauer, Berlin/Madrid
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton
Photo Ines Könitz

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3.21 Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian
From Sea to Dawn

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3.21 Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian
From Sea to Dawn
1.5.–14.7.21
Straight away, the video From Sea to Dawn (2016/17) begins with dramatic scenes unfolding on the Mediterranean Sea. We see people being rescued from overcrowded boats, but also floating in the water, stranded or lifeless bodies. Subsequent sequences appear as we know them from the news, as we have recorded them in our collective visual memory: More
scenes of lifesaving arrival on the beach; the provisioning of exhausted human beings; enormous piles of used life jackets; mobile masses of people making their way through Europe; dissuasive border fortifications and security forces; considerate helpers with food and bottles of water. The video ends, as indicated by the title, with an unstoppable human train running to meet the dawn. Shown without sound, it features subtitles that reflect the original soundtrack or journalistically comment on the footage, pointing to the images’ news-media origins.

And yet what we encounter here is not simply the bare media material itself pictures that never fail to roil us as European-socialized viewers, draw our sympathy, shock or even deaden us over time. Artists Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, and Hesam Rahmanian create these moving paintings” by combining media images with found footage material, printing them as individual pictures and painting on them by hand. The painted-on lines, patterns, and embellishments often give rise to a very poetic defamiliarizing effect that brings both playful and grotesque-looking creatures to life. The video covers the individual faces of the migrants with ladybug wings, for example; figures in the human train sometimes appear as floating cloud-entities, as mythical creatures or even as part of a giant, meandering organism. Unexpected mirror effects give some sequences an almost surreal quality; we watch as human bodies or an inflatable boat take on lives of their own, morph and mutate into fantastical beings.

The alienation effects used here seem to force a distance to what it is that we actually believe we are looking at. As a gestural moment, the overpainting acts as a counterpoint to the media news images, overlapping and overlaying an often cruel or tragic reality. This painterly act wraps the depicted scenes and people in a (symbolic) second skin that also protects their privacy. The embellishments counter the news images circulated in the mass media with an alternative narrative of migration — one that does not relentlessly focus on the suffering of others, but creates an aesthetic space for reflection that slows down the process of reading the images and thus also demands a reaction from the viewer. The artists’ series of works not only translate the power of mass media and global inequalities through photography or the moving image; they also always imply questions about the possibilities of representation and an overwriting of the collective visual memory with counter-images.

Ramin Haerizadeh (born 1975, Tehran), Rokni Haerizadeh (born 1978, Tehran) and Hesam Rahmanian (born 1980, Knoxville) have been living and working together in Dubai since 2009. They work as individual artists independent of one another and also propagate a form of collaboration devoid of individuality. The artists met in Tehran in the mid-1990s and each continued to develop his own artistic signature. A few years later, they formed a loose collective and moved into a house in Dubai. The house — a creative site for developing such organically-grown collaborative works as installations, films, objects, and sculptures for exhibitions — is also home to their collection of artworks, mundane items, and found objects. Their exhibitions encompass a combination of perfomance, painting, collage, drawing, videos, and texts, which they often incorporate into site-specific and expansive installations. A first glance would suggest a focus on crises in the Middle East, investigating power structures, and topics of exile and migration in a historical dimension. Yet their works — subversive in terms of visual language and culturally complex in structure — also contain satirical scenes or expose the absurdity of the globalized world. Employed artistic strategies and elements include costumes, role-playing, performative objects, and homemade painting machines that they use to create their expansive installations. Another key component of their practice is exchange and collaboration with cultural practitioners, writers, and artists, who also they invite to participate in their exhibitions.

The trio’s works have featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions and biennials worldwide. Solo exhibitions in recent years include those at Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main (2020); Frye Art Museum, Seattle (2019); Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Turin (2018); MACBA, Barcelona (2017); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2015); Kunsthalle Zürich (2015); and Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen (2015). Major group exhibitions include the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, (2020); the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019); the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2019); the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2017); and the 9th Liverpool Biennial (2016).

From Sea to Dawn, 2016/17
Single-channel color video (rotoscopy), no sound
6:21 min.
Courtesy die Künstler und Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton
Photo Ines Könitz

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2.21 Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian
From March To April…2020

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2.21 Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Hesam Rahmanian
From March To April…2020
15.4.–30.4.21
The video From March to April… 2020 offers a glimpse of the artists’ day-to-day life in Dubai during the first lockdown. A long, crowded dining and working table is filmed in a bird’s eye view. We see the daily table setting as it appears before a meal with various, changing dishes of Persian cuisine. More
These images are overlaid with those showing such art materials and supplies as mixed paints, used brushes, differently-sized containers of water, open books and newspapers, countless painted-over copies of historical photographs, and other unfinished artworks. In some cases, the painted-over individual pictures form a seconds-long animation. Unlike the collective’s performance-based works, the artists themselves do not appear. But we do hear (their) male voices singing the days of the week in chorus: “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” Chanted at varying tempos, the named days of the week to bleed into one another, giving the words a mantra-like quality.

The video work serves as a kind of visual diary, albeit one in which the days have no specified date and the global-pandemic-induced state of emergency is not addressed. Instead the artists deliberately reduce everyday life to two, recurring activities — i.e. eating and artistic labor — for which the dining-slash-work table doubles as a randomly-arranged stage. As an overall composition, the table filmed from above recalls Daniel Spoerri’s “snare-picture” assemblages (Tableaux piège) from the 1960s. A key difference here is not only the time-based medium, but also the artists’ use of repetition as a structural element in the video: shots of everyday activities and a recitation of days of the week are repeated; a short piece of music and select verses of a poem by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish are blended in. The poetic insertion of such verses as “If I had two hearts / I wouldn’t regret” or “If I had two paths / I would choose the third” engender a kind of mental in-between space — one that uses literature to punctuate and momentarily disrupt the apparent monotony of day-to-day life.

These days have served as a kind of intensifier for the artists, forcing even more focus (than usual) on their art and thoughts. Life and labor in the collective is accompanied by rituals and condensed in the results of their work; the video illuminates this process for us, the viewers. And yet not only are we watching art in the making, we are also confronted with an open end. There is no social or political critique in From March to April… 2020 and its focus on everyday acts. Emerging instead are more personal notations on a “not anymore” or “not yet” — on an inbetweenness of space and time, a resonating chamber between loss and renewal. They document the fleetingness of a moment that also always speaks of changes to come.

Ramin Haerizadeh (born 1975, Tehran), Rokni Haerizadeh (born 1978, Tehran) and Hesam Rahmanian (born 1980, Knoxville) have been living and working together in Dubai since 2009. They work as individual artists independent of one another and also propagate a form of collaboration devoid of individuality. The artists met in Tehran in the mid-1990s and each continued to develop his own artistic signature. A few years later, they formed a loose collective and moved into a house in Dubai. The house — a creative site for developing such organically-grown collaborative works as installations, films, objects, and sculptures for exhibitions — is also home to their collection of artworks, mundane items, and found objects. Their exhibitions encompass a combination of perfomance, painting, collage, drawing, videos, and texts, which they often incorporate into site-specific and expansive installations. A first glance would suggest a focus on crises in the Middle East, investigating power structures, and topics of exile and migration in a historical dimension. Yet their works — subversive in terms of visual language and culturally complex in structure — also contain satirical scenes or expose the absurdity of the globalized world. Employed artistic strategies and elements include costumes, role-playing, performative objects, and homemade painting machines that they use to create their expansive installations. Another key component of their practice is exchange and collaboration with cultural practitioners, writers, and artists, who also they invite to participate in their exhibitions.

The trio’s works have featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions and biennials worldwide. Solo exhibitions in recent years include those at Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt am Main (2020); Frye Art Museum, Seattle (2019); Officine Grandi Riparazioni, Turin (2018); MACBA, Barcelona (2017); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2015); Kunsthalle Zürich (2015); and Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen (2015). Major group exhibitions include the 22nd Biennale of Sydney, (2020); the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019); the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2019); the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2017); and the 9th Liverpool Biennial (2016).

From March to April… 2020, 2020
Single-channel color video, sound
7:46 min.
Courtesy of the artists and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai
Text Cynthia Krell
Translation Amy Patton
Photo Ines Könitz

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1.20 Pakui Hardware
Extrakorporal

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1.20 Pakui Hardware
Extrakorporal
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Pakui Hardware is interested in the close relationship between materiality, technology, and economics. Central to their work is the question as to how much technology has actually affected commerce and our physical-corporeal perception of reality. Their artistic pursuits involve explorations of automation, robotics, synthetic biology, and the significance of new materials. More
Merging in the artist duo’s sculptures, figures, and installations are various materials, images, and bodies, many of which recall futuristic or biological settings. Technical webbing and textiles meet transparent, ephemeral materials, combining into objects and installations that are at once organic- and synthetic-looking.

Visitors are submerged in Extrakorporal as if in a petri dish. Or could the exhibition space have opened a shamanic realm? Organs and tissues grow on the outside of bodies, the future behavior of which can only be speculated. Turritopsis jellyfish and sea urchin larvae are investigated cell-by-cell in search of a recipe for their immortality. Their self-generating and -organizing tissues are subject not only by the laws of biology, but to the laws of commerce as well: the bio-substances and -materials are channeled into lucrative projects, effectively converting them into abstract bio-values and an element of the economy.

Floating in space is an ostensibly familiar, yet all-but-incomprehensible object — a thing composed of such disparate materials as heat-molded Plexiglas, silicon, glass, and an assortment of fabrics (artificial leather, natural leather, slightly shiny textiles). Formally inspired by the richly-detailed, zoological glass models of father-son glassworkers Leopold (1822–1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857–1939) and the organic-seeming, transparent and delicate sculptures of artist Eva Hesse, it has the look of a ritual mask without the shaman. Evocative of a hybrid creature or trophy, the object recalls something that has been extracted from the vital essence or deathlessness of these sea creatures, as if that essence had taken on a life of its own. But does it still/also curative powers?

With Extrakorporal, Pakui Hardware once again uses artistic means to investigate the significance of bodies, performativity of materials and profit to be gained from biological substances. The sciences are only a starting point for their investigation. Pakui Hardware is just as interested in the underlying economic considerations reflected in the fundamental products and materials. Their focus is what Catherine Waldby and Robert Mitchell have called “tissue economies”¹: the effects of bio-capitalism and regenerative medical technologies that, for both therapeutic and economic reasons, rely increasingly on such human and animal-derived matter as skin, blood, and cellular material. Pakui Hardware attempts to translate the many interacting, disparate elements and topics in sculptural form. Just as researchers probe the inexplicable energies of self-regeneration by combining human substances with those from other species, artificial-industrial and organic forms are combined in the exhibition, merging to form a reality that is at once physically experienceable and altogether speculative. The space around our bodies becomes a petri dish, morphs into the symbolic expression of our eternal quest for immortality in the charged space between economics, science, and technology.

Pakui Hardware (1977 and 1984, Lithuania) live and work between Berlin and Vilnius. Upcoming solo exhibitions include those at Leopold-Hoesch-Museum, Düren (2021); and BALTIC Art Center, Gateshead (2020). Past solo exhibitions include presentations at Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig (2019); Future Gallery, Mexico City (2019); Bielefelder Kunstverein (2018); Tenderpixel, London (2018); and mumok – Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation, Vienna (2016). Past group exhibitions include MO.CO La Panacée, Montpellier (2020); the 7th Biennale Gherdëina (2020); the 16th Istanbul Biennial (2019); MAXXI, Rome (2019); the 13th Baltic Triennial at CAC, Vilnius (2018); BOZAR, Brussels (2018); Kunsthalle Basel (2017); and Kunstverein Braunschweig (2017).

Extrakorporal, 2018
Text Thomas Thiel
Excerpt from the companion essay to Pakui Hardware’s exhibition at Bielefelder Kunstverein, 2018.
Photo Ines Könitz

¹Robert Mitchell, Catherine Waldby (ed.), Tissue Economies: Blood, Organs, and Cell Lines in Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, March 2006.

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