In The Poem About Love You Don't Write the Word Love

The overwrought title of this show – ‘In The Poem About Love You Don't Write the Word Love’ – sounded like a manifesto for metaphor. In fact what curator Tanya Leighton’s selection of works shared was the desire to explore slyer forms of political engagement via the sin of omission. The exhibition was almost essayistic in making the case that political art should not be a finger-pointing, heart-on-sleeve affair. The works’ strategies were crablike; the enemy was the literal because, the show suggested, there is no such thing.

The exhibition, comprising works by over 30 artists, was characterized by films, folds and fictions. Of the many moving image works, spread across the gallery and CCA’s cinema programme, Walid Raad/The Atlas Group’s and John Smith’s might be emblematic. Raad’s I Only Wish That I Could Weep (2000) is a compilation of video sunsets filmed on the seafront in west Beirut, wrapped in the fiction that the footage was shot by a sentimental member of the Lebanese security forces. In Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum (1976) an east London street scene has a voice-over that seems to direct all the actions of the people and objects on-screen, turning random bustle into careful choreography. While in many respects antithetical, both works use their droll, unnerving narratives to foster a disbelieving curiosity in the face of everyday, ephemeral surfaces. Even complete fidelity to the facts can be harnessed to decidedly subversive ends, as in Sharon Hayes’ videos (provided in take-away form) of her reciting from memory four messages originally recorded by Patty Hearst while held hostage by the Symbionese Liberation Army. With a pedantic off-screen chorus pouncing on any tiny deviation from the original, Hayes’ performances make you wonder if the spirit can survive literal representation.

The folds were best exemplified by François Bucher’s Readymades with a Fold (2004), which consist of little else: photographs of magazines folded to juxtapose ads and earnest features, cover and contents. Images bleed when this ‘pornography of proximity’ is laid bare: a Paris Hilton porn video facing off with an Abu Ghraib image, a shot of the Israeli ‘security wall’ and a publicity photograph of a celebrity trapped in a bubble. They doodle enjoyably with the crass conventions of segregation, while perhaps sacrificing a little of their bite by taking the form of high-gloss digital photographs rather than being exhibited, lepidoptera fashion, as splayed objects.

There was a strain of the baroque in the show, taken up in works such as Lucas Ospina’s Manrique Versus Ospina: In A Poem About Art, A Curator Doesn’t Write The Word Curator (2005). Ospina, in the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges’ reviews of non-existent authors, presents a show-within-the-show about the fictional artist Pedro Manrique Figueroa, ‘precursor of collage in Colombia’. But the tendency towards the intricately oblique was most elaborately and brilliantly displayed in Gareth James’ Get Real Estate (2003), a work that served to knit the whole show together. Three plywood tables support Perspex cubes, each with a two-way mirror on one side, containing complicated origami sculptures: a half-collapsed building, a truck surrounded by ring-fencing and a collapsed dome. Three pencil drawings on the wall look like floor plans but can eventually be discerned as implausible diagrams of how the sculptures were cut from single sheets of paper. Opposite them are two framed newspaper pages, which contain the source images for two of the sculptures: a report on a collapsed dance floor in Jerusalem and an article about a Garibaldi memorial in New York. But again content bleeds, so for example Sweat Equity (2004) the title of the sculpture based on the Garibaldi memorial, is derived from an article on self-build housing which appears on the same page of the newspaper. With its complex imbrications, delicate display and labyrinth of allusions, Get Real Estate looks as much as anything else like an impossibly ambitious attempt to fold together all the contradictory elements of Hans Haacke’s oeuvre, from Minimalism to property polemic.

More than any other artist in the show, James seemed to match the curatorial desideratum, nodding to early Conceptualism, while married to political content. (The number of alumni from the Whitney Independent Study Program involved, including Bucher, Hayes and James, suggested a certain lineage.) Leighton’s target was also obvious; the many documentary-makers manqués and soapbox preachers currently trading as political artists. The alternative proposed is playfully high-minded, though a world away from relational pieties. Perhaps Leighton herself, in a catalogue text that invokes the French critic Serge Daney’s distinction between the ‘image’ and the ‘visual’, is more programmatic than the art she puts forward; but she has staged a show that seriousl challenges prevailing trends and makes a credible case that ‘commitment’, in straightforward terms, is a canard. Art’s battalions advance in motley array, and their engagements are rarely decisive.

Issue 97

First published in Issue 97

March 2006

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018