Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hans Schabus, Lower East Side in Simon Preston

Austrian artist Hans Schabus presents in the Simon Preston Lower East Side location the site specific body of work profoundly titled Lower East Side. By using his obvious wits and humor the artist manages to address both conceptual questions regarding barriers and exclusivity within the art world, but also to facilitate an intense physical experience, since the objects that he is presenting in the gallery are extremely dominant within the space, forcing through special composition, size and scale an interesting interaction with the viewer. There is weird sense of awkward discomfort since the works are too large to be seen, at least in such a small space, and therefore they can be experienced by the visitor more like sculptural walls than images.

Being consistent with his interest in principles of order in architecture and society and the role that architectural structures play within the social realm the artist exhibits three facades, three sculptural copies of the gallery's glass entrance. All three, standing in a row, are facing their original, blocking the viewer entering the space instead of inviting him, reversing the function of an entrance. The first one is an almost identical copy constructed by the same material as the actual storefront. The second one, built out of plywood is the structure that was actually used by the gallery when the glass entrance was removed from its original place to become a readymade sculpture for the booth of the gallery in the 2013 Art Basel Miami. The third one, standing last in the row, is a 1:1 scale drawing of the entrance on a canvas that becomes a sculptural construction itself as it is presented as a free standing three dimensional object, the same way as the other two constructions do.
On the walls of the gallery the viewer comes across photographs (digital c-print, 9 x 12 in.) documenting the process that the artworks have been through, their previous life as functional objects or in the case of the canvas as a work of art that was meant to be site specific, but was built in a different space (the artist's studio in Vienna) and only achieved its site specificity when it encountered its alternative versions, the ones that once were functional. Through that the artist creates a narrative that seems potential fictional to some of its aspects. Therefore the audience becomes intrigued by the back story, seeing the physically powerful structures, artworks by themselves, as ephemera of an action, witnessing an intriguing duality. The same way the works function all together, each one individually is both real and unreal, public and personal, inside and outside.

By reversing the function of a gallery's storefront, creating blockades instead of entrances the artist presents a view at the art world's power structures in an attempt to undermine and question them. Even if the galleries in general and Simon Preston in particular do not follow the pattern of physical intimidation through architecture that other institutions(museums, libraries, et al.) do, the gallery as a power structure in the world of art can often become a blockade, a barrier to self expression. This condition creates a sense of discomfort to creative individuals who will often search for ways to present their work outside the tight circle of the gallery system. Hans Schabus manifests this discomfort in physical space and in the process creates an intriguing environment, worth experiencing.


Ellie Ga at Bureau

Four Thousand Blocks, Three Channel Video, 23:40 
            Ellie Ga’s exhibition Four Thousand Blocks consists of four pieces in a number of different media addressing the history of a lighthouse. Ga created a three-channel video, which almost feels like a documentary, featuring photographs, film, interviews, and sound recordings of her experiences and investigation of an ancient ruin, the Pharos of Alexandria. Ga’s work explores the landmark—one of the seven wonders of the ancient world located on the Nile delta in Egypt.  It was a Greek monument built in the 3rd century B.C., which was later, damaged by a number of earthquakes. Ga unfolds these historical facts and other in-depth research while enrolled in the Maritime Archeology Program at Alexandria University.
            The highlight of the show is the video, shown in the back of the gallery. The screen on the right shows footage of typesetter’s letter case, to the left is of a darkroom in which the artist develops photographs, and the center screen contains footage of the artist’s journey towards understanding the mystery of remaining of the lighthouse. Ga is clearly interested in archival aspect of obtaining as much information of the remaining, with the aid off archeologists and natives of Pharos.   In the center screen she uses a light-box and lays down transparencies of drawings, photographs, documents and other ephemera collected in Alexandria. In a way, Ga is trying to emulate the idea of a myth by layering images over each other. The central screen is like a storytelling device, and at the same time a diary entry from the use of both personal and historical memory. 
Right screen of Three Channel Video
            While Ga narrates in the central screen, she continues to insert letter into the letterpress holder constructing text on the right screen.  In the beginning of the video, Ga tells the story of Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom, the inventor of writing and measurement of time as a lunar deity. The legend entails a dialogue between Thoth and the King of Egypt concerning Thoth’s invention of writing. He claimed  “it will make humans wiser and improve their memories”. The recipe for memory has been discovered.  The king replies, “ What you have discovered is not the recipe for memory, but the drug of reminding. With your invention they will be taught, but they will not be wise.” Alongside the video in the gallery, Pharmakon, a letterpress on paper is a text of the dialogue between them and a brief description of Thoth. Accompanying the piece, Projector Harbor, a gelatin silver print of dice, which also depicts Thoth invention of magic and dice.  Adjacent to the photograph is the work It was Restored Again, which consisted of two slide projectors showcasing text and iconographical images of the history of Pharos of Alexandria.
Projector Harbor, Gelatin Silver Print, 2013
            The theme of translation is evident in every piece in the exhibition especially seen in the three-channel video. Firstly Ga narrates about the various symbols that were carried on from ancient Egypt to ancient Greece. Secondly, the site in which the ruin once stood was a place of translation translating the bible into Greek. Thirdly, in her video, Ga conducts interviews with Egyptian archeologist in which translation became a problem.
            Ellie Ga’s interest in lighthouses branched from her past work The Fortunetellers. In that work she began to trance the etymology of lighthouses leading her back to the island of Pharos in Egypt. Ga’s obsession with archives and the use of mythology, philosophy, and archaeology is entwined in all her pieces. During her voyage to Alexandria, Ellie Ga learned a volume of information and through her experiences she reveals a vast amount of hidden history to the art world. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jasmina Cibic's Fruits of our Land at LMAK Project


Jasmina Cibic brings to LMAK Project's manhattan gallery a painfully staged dramatization of a 1957 Slavenian parliamentary debate.   The video (which represented Slovenia at the 55th Venice Bienniale in 2013) portrays a committee selecting artwork for the People's Assembly building in Ljubljana Slovenia.  The film is placed amid a curious installation of beetle wallpaper and photographs.  The rest of the installation along with the fact that the show is in an American gallery lend the video a new context and a new layer of content.  The title of the film and installation Fruits of Our Land betray the artist's acute awareness of what it means to represent one's country abroad.     
Upon entry of the gallery the viewer is swept past photographs of well groomed people in 1950's apparel.  These characters are absorbed in the discussion of an architectural model.  The lighting and the ambiguous setting within the photographs are reminiscent of the stills one finds in the program leaflet while attending a play, or the dramatic shots that line the corridors of theater houses. 
 The photographs are set against an installation of peculiar wallpaper. The walls are bejeweled, floor to ceiling, with illustrations of beetles of various shapes and sizes.  The press release explains that the beetles are all of the genus anophthalmus hitlari. The anophthalmus hitlari beetle failed as a Slovenian national icon due to the unfortunate name, which was given to it by a Nazi sympathizer in the WWII era.  The presence of the beetle in the wallpaper installation speaks to the augmenting connotations of nationalist symbols over time.  The poor beetle has been dethroned from its place as a patriotic icon, not by any fault of its own, but due to shifting ideologies and the scars of a darker time, the record of which can never be expunged. 

Moving past the strange wallpaper and photographs the viewer passes into a darkened room where the video is playing.  The space is just light enough to reveal that the walls bear the same beetles that infested the previous room.  The voices that occupy the darkness have the air of authority and diplomacy that is familiar to anyone who has sat through a committee meeting of any kind.  They belong to the same cast of well groomed diplomatic types seen in the photographs.  However, now they appear in a video being screened at the far end of the space.   The viewer is thrust into all the frustrations of such meetings.  Opinions are stated and restated with varying volume and conviction, tracing the infuriating circular conversation.   
They are discussing proposals for artwork for the Peoples Assembly, the submissions for which are never presented to view.  Instead the viewer is left with what he can glean about the work from the conversation.  This device is brilliant.  It fictionalizes a real artwork by reducing it to what the bureaucratic gatekeepers say about it.   Continued use of the word 'decorate' reiterates the irony of the limited way in which bureaucracy views the art it is selecting.  There is a enthralling dichotomy taking place between the decorative appearance of the wallpaper (being itself fine art) and the conversation of the characters in the film discussing art as simple decoration (not fine art).  This facetiously cynical representation portrays an art at the mercy of power structures that don't understand it.  At once a parody and a tragic truism, Cibic's installation embodies the age old maxim that 'a camel is a horse designed by a committee.'


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heidi Bucher at The Swiss Instititue

Viewing Heidi Bucher’s explorations of materiality, space and the body for the first time brought about the feeling that the work could not be any more comfortable within the lineage of seventies Postminialism, but I haven’t seen her work in any exhibitions or books on the subject. It turns out that until this exhibition presented by Swiss Institute her work had not been presented in a U.S. institution since her series Bodyshells exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1972.
 The Bodyshells, represented in the SI exhibit by way of issues of a 1969 German edition of Harper’s Bazaar, are large, body-swallowing wearable sculptures that seem to transform their occupants into plush, minimalist-aesthetic clams and barnacles. My comparison might seem an attempt to poke fun at the high fashion aesthetics of the past, but the documentary film piece Body Shells, Venice Beach (1972), makes the crustacean imagery reading seem definitive. Presented nearby, in the Swiss Institute’s basement, the film documents the body sculptures casually milling the beach, human heads and feet poking from orifices, and then retreating into the form of sculpture object.  The costumes, perhaps phallic or yonic in form, become oversized manufactured crustaceans planted on the seashore. The series, done in collaboration with Bucher’s then-husband Carl Bucher, highlight a lightness and spirit of play that isn’t nearly as apparent in, what is presented as, her central body of work. 

The “Raumhaut” (room skins), which Bucher began after moving back to Switzerland in the mid-seventies, fill the main space of the Swiss Institute. The works, latex and fabric layered casts of interiors and architectural elements, exude a ghostly and fleshy indexical materiality that lands somewhere between Eva Hesse's aesthetic of latex biomorphic surfaces and the content of Gordon Matta-Clark's architectural ruins. 
Untitled (Herrenzimmer), undated, latex, cotton, 102 1/4 x 71 x 7 1/2 in. 

The first of these molds, Untitled (Herrenzimer) (1977-1979), hangs in the center of the exhibition space’s lower platform in the manner that now makes viewers think of Do Ho-Suh’s fabric architectures. Molded from the master bedroom’s of Bucher’s parent’s home and installed to recreate three walls of the space, including the droopy cast of an open door, the installation grants visitors an entrance into nostalgia that seeps from the walls. Untitled (Herrenzimer)’s indexical nature seems to assume an added weight and ghostly ethereality with Bocher's personal reference as the wrinkled and sagging walls turn what was originally architecture into a body. 

The other notable mold hangs from the wall with a different sense of grandiosity than Untitled (Herrenzimer). The monumental 1987 cast Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsport) replicates, or rather memorializes, an ornate hotel entryway with mold-green columns and classical detailing. The cast, once a wall itself, seeps downs from its support into giant puddles, and what might have once been details of the a lavish d├ęcor are lost in the folds. The peeled layers seem to take with them a biographical surface quality from their models, a certain aspect of their liveliness that coats and obscures the surface of interiors over time like dust, but with a certain pathetic attempt at emulating their original. 

As with Body Shells, the room skins are put into a significantly new perspective with the insight of the films presented in the Swiss Institute’s basement. Raume sind hullen, sind Haute (Rooms are surroundings, are skins) (1981) is a thirty-two minute film showing the process behind the “Raumhaut.”  It reveals the playfulness with which Bucher approached her work. She slides between the freshly dried cast and walls to pull them apart and on to her self, leaving the room wearing the walls like her Bodyshells.  This disparity between object that exudes a process art ethos and actual documented process complicates the work but hopefully more recognition and exhibitions will follow and clarify Bucher’s practice and art.