Sean M. Johnson’s show at the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts was amazing. He made the most subtly unnerving video of the season with Paul, Daddy and I (2008). The artist’s feet are massaged in very slow real time by a bearded gent analytically discussing his history of ‘father/son’ fantasy sex scenes. The question of who is seducing whom, and what the artist, performer and the unseen other lovers have taken from their encounters is tantalizingly hinted at but not revealed. Johnson, a queer-culture celebrity for his beard-rubbing videos, remains a master of erotic understatement.
Having spent time in the company of Malcolm McLaren last year, I was reminded of the perennial power of the voice as form. Founder member of Napalm Death and Scorn, Nicholas Bullen’s ongoing solo project, Alienist, is the last word in guttural expression and power electronica; the editorial of Will Holder’s biannual publication F.R. David for the ‘Stuff & Nonsense’ issue continued to reveal a critical, scalpel-sharp and witty voice in a flabby world, while Susanne Oberbeck’s group No Bra continues to tell it like it is.
The ICA, London, sucked up some of most interesting emerging British artists in their accelerated ‘Nought to Sixty’ programme – Anja Kirschner & David Panos, Duncan Campbell and Ruth Ewan, to name but a few. I was also taken with Andy Holden’s knitted objects and sculptural events at Hidde van Seggelen, London, Lotte Gertz’ elegant collages and the energy of Cyprien Gaillard and Emily Wardill.
Marcelo Cidade is one of the more wryly political Brazilian artists of his generation, if not the most. His works challenge the art world without being overly didactic and make use of a lot of Brazilian street vernacular, both visual and verbal. Rodolpho Parigi is a cause for excitement in the art market with his lushly extravagant paintings. Nicolás Robbio’s works involve a complex system of thought and poetics in their relationship to representation: quietly lyrical, simple and always surprising.
Susan Jacobs’ exhibitions of recent sculpture – ‘Side Effect’ at The Narrows, and the more architecturally scaled ‘Ubiquitous Slopes’, at Utopian Slumps, both in Melbourne – showed her to be an artist of ambition and technical dexterity, with a keen eye for drawing through space and creating material problems that deftly encapsulate the competing forces of entropy and inertia. Lisa Radford’s recent book Hi God People: Melbourne Music Flyers from the Late 70s to Last Week, published by Uplands Gallery, Melbourne, exemplifies the free-flowing approach of an artist attuned to collaboration and collective spirit, whether through her own practice as an artist or her involvement with TCB Art Inc., a vital artist-run space in Melbourne’s Chinatown. Open Spatial Workshop push theory into practice through complex theoretical diagrams, public projects, exhibitions and events. Ash Keating’s transformation of industrial waste, media information and institutional detritus sees art practice approach ethical and ecological dimensions. Matt Hinkley’s impossibly minimalist drawings turn the most imperceptible details into material facts of intense opticality. Christopher L.G. Hill’s organic wall paintings, crude installations, unregulated performances and eccentric collaborative projects, somehow manage to refashion conceptual and folk art against prevailing laws and order. Twin sisters Silvana and Gabriella Mangano’s performance videos bring an intuitive body language and communication to bear on the histories of feminist performance, neo-realist film, choreography and drawing in uncannily evocative ways.
It’s a tricky category, as one context’s emergent artist is another’s familiar face, but the French duo Patrick Bernier and Olive Martin are promising. They produced the non-narrative 35 mm film MANMUSWAK (2005) in the context of France’s illegal immigrant population, and more recently X and Y v. FRANCE : The Case for a Legal Precedent (2008), a performance in which two lawyers present to the audience/jury the closing argument in the hypothetical defence of a person without papers, who they argue shouldn’t be deported from France as the intellectual property of their collaborative, non-material concept, of which this person is the author, would be destroyed in the process. Also the young Dublin-based artist Lee Welch has presented a number of interesting works in various exhibitions in 2008, many of them riddled with complex stories and metaphorical illusions. With the re-emergence of his project space, Four, Welch continues to establish a strong and diverse platform and base of practice.
Sharon Hayes was one of the clearest voices to emerge in 2008. By using similar tools – the voice and memory – Tris Vonna-Michell is investigating a more obscure, intimate territory. Roberto Cuoghi has used sound and, again, his own voice – in his show at Castello di Rivoli, Turin, and then at the ICA in London – to compose a Mass in a fictional Babelic language that resonated as the perfect soundtrack for our times: for some strange reason I thought it sounded like the war in Iraq. Seth Price’s solo show in Zurich was a gem of today’s new obscurantist strategies. Being an emerging artist is not always a matter of age: Stan VanDerBeek had a great posthumous show at Guild & Greyshkul, New York, so he should be welcomed into the category. http://www.frieze.com/mp3/finding-chopin.mp3
Bart van der Heide
The Basque artist Jon Mikel Euba and the Irish-born Duncan Campbell are artists I will be keeping my eye on. Euba’s partnership with the Dutch collective If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want to be Part of Your Revolution (2007–ongoing), continues his interest in the representation of performance in processes of writing, re-staging and first-hand experiences. This afterlife of life moments encounters a similar interest in the work of Campbell. His film Bernadette (2008) compiled from footage of the Irish MP and political activist Bernadette Devlin, avoids a conventional documentary format; instead the film climaxes in a thrilling exercise of representational forms.
The artist duo João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva and the video artist Marcellvs L. have constructed very singular artistic identities in recent years. Given the consistency and idiosyncratic qualities of their practices, I have significant expectations for their future artistic careers.
Wolfgang Breuer, who needs no more for his works than what the street provides. Leandro Erlich, who gives the everyday world a crazy twist. Volker Hueller, whose paintings have to be explored layer by layer. Ragnar Kjartansson, who turns space into a stage. Sarah Ortmeyer, who recounts history using the iconography of objects.
The young Israeli artist Ariel Schlesinger presented a compelling exhibition at Galerija Gregor Podnar, Berlin. The show’s centrepiece was Burned Turkmenistan Carpet IV (2008). Inspired by a 16th-century carpet on display in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, the work had scars burned into it, like the scores put in the side of a carcass for smoking. An ashtray filled with a glowing orange LED was rather more whimsical. Untitled (Football Players) (1999) was a 1950s-style toy consisting of two footballer figurines atop a wooden box and a button to make one footballer kick the other in the shin with an arc-lamp effect. Lately, to my mind, young artists have been detrimentally rejecting the historical and objectival legacy of museums and seem to be less than curious about the world beyond their studios. Schlesinger bucks this trend by diving into the Pergamon’s collection and constructing a story about damaged objects from the Caucasus region. In doing so, he alleviates the burden of his Israeli heritage while obliquely referring to it.
Walking into an insufferably hot room in the Maison Descartes in Amsterdam, I discovered, and was utterly amazed by, a singular performance by the French artist Aurélien Froment, reaffirming something of the need for re-enchantment. The same is the case with the deft combination of conceptual rigour and formal brilliance – the twain rarely meet, it seems – in the work of the Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang. And where part of Marcel Broodthaers left off, Goshka Macuga seems to be heading. The exquisite silent films of the Lisbon-based duo Pedro Paiva & João Maria Gusmão propose an intuitive science of mystery and wonder; Melvin Moti’s mesmerizing films of light phenomena were a highlight of the Berlin Biennial.
A provocative solo exhibition at Rivington Arms, New York, highlighted the work of Leigh Ledare. The artist, who works in video and photography, depicted another episode in his complex relationship to the eccentric persona of his mother as a subject of his work. ‘You Are Nothing To Me. You Are Like Air’ combined his ‘classical’ role-playing of mourning and self-exposure with themes of intimacy and distance between mother and son.
South African artist Robin Rhode’s exhibition at The Hayward Gallery in London, ‘Who Saw Who’, was a true gem. It included his recent black and white animation Promenade (2008), site-specific installations and expanded onto the South Bank. For her first solo US presentation, the Indian artist Ranjani Shettar created a majestic large-scale installation made from tamarind kernel powder and muslin fashioned into organic shapes for the ICA, Boston. Shilpa Gupta, also from India, explores how fear and suspicion shape the societies we live in. At the opening exhibition of Bodhi Art’s new Berlin space she denounced the everyday effects of global surveillance culture.
At Ikon in Birmingham, Ruth Claxton’s début solo exhibition provided the first major public showing of her work, demonstrating real ambition by threading one exquisitely executed and coherent installation through the entire top-floor space. Karla Black’s arresting installations slowly punctuated the year – especially her solo presentation at West London Projects.
Filmmaker and performance artist Kalup Linzy’s All my Churen (2003) got right under my skin – mission accomplished for work that deals with race, class and family dynamics – and planted the device that keeps me tracking his moves.
Gigiotto Del Vecchio
Klara Liden, Michael Dean, Klaus Weber, Alexander Singh, Stephen G. Rhodes, Kitty Kraus, Hilary Lloyd, Giulia Piscitelli, Christian Frosi, Thiago Rocha Pitta, Simone Gilges, Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Nora Schultz, Marinella Senatore, Ryan Trecartin, Markus Amm, Eileen Quinlan, Julian Goethe, João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva, Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Emily Wardill.
Pauline J. Yao
Hangzhou-based Zhang Liaoyuan filled an entire gallery space – wall to wall, floor to ceiling, from the inside out – with empty cardboard boxes for his solo show ‘An Exhibition’ at BizArt, Shanghai. Visitors to the show were met by an open door and an impenetrable wall of cardboard packaging. Liang Yuanwei’s ‘BLDG 115, RM 1904’ at Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing revealed delicate canvases of painstakingly executed floral designs, whose methodically repeated application of oil paint in layers suggest an attention to process and materials often lacking in young Chinese artists.
First published in Issue 120