Afterimage Vol. 40, No. 6



Afterimage 40.6

Reports

All the Fun of the Fair
by Nicola Mann

Art13 London
Olympia Grand Hall
London, UK
March 1–3, 2013

Art fairs are tricky beasts. Often located in convention centers or temporary tents, and populated by maddening crowds of art collectors, gallery staff, and surly art students, they are wellnigh impossible to negotiate, let alone review. Nevertheless, spurred on by fair director Stephanie Dieckvoss’s promise that the inaugural Art13 London would be “different,” I attended the fair armed with my battle-hardened students, only to find myself duly convinced.

Located in the Olympia Grand Hall on the westward edge of Kensington, Art13 London—its name a wry acknowledgement of its place as the capital’s thirteenth art fair—lived up to its billing as “Europe’s first truly global art fair.” The brainchild of ART HK founders Tim Etchells and Sandy Angus, Art13 showcased the work of emerging and established artists from 129 galleries in countries as diverse as Brazil, Australia, China, and India. Through a combination of talks and spaces dedicated to projects and performances, the fair broke out of the three-walled cul-de-sacs traditional to art fairs in the hope that architectural openness would stimulate fruitful dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures. This global cocktail sought to contest the art world’s prevailing Eurocentricity, as well as provide a forum within which to exhibit some politically loaded pieces. Upon entering the fair, it became clear that the organizers had wrapped this serious investigation into global hybridity in a shiny bow of fun. From educational family activities, to fancy fast food, to sponsor Fortnum and Mason’s champagne bar, frivolity-focused “visitor experience” was the order of the day. As Lithuanian Žilvinas Kempinas’s ribbons of celluloid film (Fountain, 2011) bubbled across the entrance floor, South Korean Choi Jeong-Hwa’s inflatable kinetic lotus flower (Breathing Flower, 2011) announced visitors’ arrival at this global party, its reflective blobbiness attracting the sticky fingerprints of passing children and international collectors alike. A treasure trove of jenga chips and blue chips, Art13 announced itself as a place of interaction and exploration.

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Not Much Fire in the Dragon’s Cave
by Alison Frank

Göteborg International Film Festival
Göteborg, Sweden
January 25–February 4, 2013

It is easy to see why Göteborg chose the dragon as its mascot: faced with bracing temperatures at this late-January festival, a fire-breathing friend would be welcome. Mythical creatures aside, the Swedish port has a very real, and typically Scandinavian, talent for creating cosy ambience. Here, Christmas cheer lasts all winter: at night, small lamps glow at nearly every window of the city’s expansive brick apartment blocks. There is a comforting 1950s warmth in the movie theaters’ vintage neon signs, from the curlicues of the Biopalatset and Bio Roy to the Viking ship that sails endlessly above the marquee of the palatial Draken (“Dragon,” the real source of the festival’s signature Dragon Awards). By day, in candlelit cafés, “fika” means more than just a coffee break: it is the whole experience of hot drink, sweet treat (fresh cinnamon bun or cardamom shortbread), warm atmosphere, and relaxed conversation.

The Göteborg International Film Festival is the biggest in Scandinavia, and its grand prix one of the most generous film prizes in the world: the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Film is worth one million kronor (over $156,000). Given the substantial reward, it was disheartening to discover that the eight films in this year’s competition were weak. There was not a bad film among them, nor was there a masterpiece: they were, largely speaking, mediocre and conventional films. The most interesting aspect of the selection was the unintended emergence of common settings and themes: the eight films can be divided into four pairs, and in each of these pairs, one film is clearly stronger. There are two films set in forests, two at sea, and two in the violent demimonde. The two remaining films are linked by their character study, examining personal principles and how these are challenged.

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From the Technological to the Poetical
by Gabrielle Decamous

16th Japan Media Arts Festival
National Art Center
Tokyo
February 13–24, 2013

The Japan Media Arts Festival aims to promote the creation and awareness of media arts in Japan and abroad, and has awarded prizes to outstanding media artworks since 1997. This year’s edition received more than 3,500 entries from seventy-one countries, demonstrating its growing importance internationally.

Among the numerous entries, the star piece and Grand Prize winner was Pendulum Choir by Cod.Act (n.d.). Developing from a previous project from 2006, the work now consists of a group of opera singers who are strapped to a computerized system of hydraulic valves. Placed under their feet, the mechanism moves the vocalists as they sing. Although the mechanical choreography adds an interesting dramatic twist to an already dramatic art, the beauty of this media arts festival as a whole does not lie in interactive gadgets or technological bravura. Its beauty lies in its being of its time, which is to say, in being truly postmodern.

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Golden Anniversary
by Karen vanMeenen

Society for Photographic Education 50th annual conference
Chicago
March 7–10, 2012

This year’s annual conference of the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) brought more than sixteen hundred photography educators, students, curators, critics, writers, and artists to Chicago to celebrate the organization’s fiftieth anniversary under the theme of “Conferring Significance: Celebrating Photography’s Continuum,” intending to “examine how concentration on a subject has allowed image, concept, criticism, teaching and learning to shape the past, present and future of photography, its instruction and SPE itself,” as stated in a press sheet. The ever-increasing ease of distribution and the proliferation of images being shared resulted in expected attention being paid to the digital and social media on a global scale. But with this golden anniversary, the legacy of both the organization and the medium’s primary practitioners was honored in the programming.

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Features

Getting Past the Icon: Should Photographers Depict Reality, or Try to Change It?
by David Bacon

This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement
Edited by Leslie G. Kelen
University Press of Mississippi, 2012
Co-published with the Center for Documentary

Expression and Art
256 pp./$29.70 (hb)
Photography in Mexico
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
San Francisco, CA
March 10–July 8, 2012

Can photographers be participants in the social events they document? The question would have seemed irrelevant to those involved in the political upsurges of the 1930s and 1960s, in both Mexico and the United States. Many photographers were political activists, and saw their work intimately connected to workers’ strikes, political revolution, or the movements for indigenous rights. Today what was an obvious link is often viewed as a dangerous conflict of interest. Politics compromise art. Photographers must be objective and neutral, or at least stand at a distance from the reality they record on film or compact flash card.

Now a book and a recent exhibition have provided both images and the narrative experiences of photographers that should reopen this debate: This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, published by the University Press of Mississippi, and Photography in Mexico, exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The book and exhibit share a common discourse about the relationship between documentary photographers and social movements. The book is an intensive look at the photographers of just one movement—the civil rights movement in the US South during the 1960s—while the exhibit highlighted the changing relationship between photographers and Mexico’s social movements from the Revolution to the present.

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Believing in not Seeing: Teaching Atrocity Without Images
by Sharrona Pearl

In 1982, philosopher Frank Jackson proposed a thought experiment challenging the notion that all knowledge is entirely physical.1 In his construction, a color scientist named Mary knows everything there is to know about color, but has never herself seen it, existing entirely in a monochromatic environment. What, Jackson asks, would Mary see were she finally exposed to color? Jackson’s scenario sparked a vigorous debate in the philosophical world, culminating in a range of responses in the 2004 edited volume There’s Something About Mary: Essays on Phenomenal Consciousness and Frank Jackson’s Knowledge Argument.2 While Jackson and his colleagues were interested in forms of knowledge acquisition broadly construed, I ask a more humble—if equally abstract—question: how effective is it to picture an image without seeing it? Or: what happens to verbally painted portraits when assembled only in the mind’s eye? I ask the two sides of this one question in order to grope, clumsily, toward a greater understanding of the ethics of teaching atrocity through visual media.

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Exhibition Reviews

Mediated Algorithms
by Matthew Ryan Smith

Clive Holden: Media, Mediated
Stephen Bulger Gallery
Toronto
March 2–30, 2013

An approach to artmaking that is driven by the prospect of chance, by the accidental, is reliant upon the inherent rationale of the natural world. There, chaos constitutes change (or vice versa) and reveals new forms that displace and/or update the old. Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist Clive Holden’s recent practice has manipulated the properties of the natural world into an aesthetic strategy. Utilizing the randomization and dynamism found in nature serves to unsettle and reconfigure his installations, transforming them into ever-evolving media.

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Pas de Quatre
by Heidi Rabben

Dara Friedman
Hammer Projects
Los Angeles
January 19–April 14, 2013

A door juts open in the Hammer Museum courtyard. Approaching its threshold, the atmospheric sounds of visitors buzzing around the Hammer begin to give way to the subtle clamor of Miami street noise. A dynamic, yet subtle interplay of two different urban sounds animates the space of Dara Friedman’s film Dancer

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My Name is Legion, for We Are Many
by Kathryn Shriver

Legion
By Kelly Richardson
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Buffalo, New York
February 16–June 9, 2013

As an exhibition title, Legion snugly fits around this collection of Kelly Richardson’s video works. Including ruined landscapes that nod to the morbidity of human relationships with nature and technological “reality,” her work addresses the marks of the human army that has scarred its way across the earth. However, “legion,” recalling both biblical demons and mass militant forces, reflects not the work, but the audience. Richardson affirms that as humans, we are the legion responsible for shaping the scenes set austerely in front of us.

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It’s in the Details
by Tim Maul

As it were . . . So to speak: A Museum Collection in Dialogue with Barbara Bloom
The Jewish Museum
New York City
March 15–August 4, 2013

A once obscure 1970 entry in his lengthy CV, Andy Warhol’s Raid The Icebox with Andy Warhol exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art grows in relevance in this moment of openness between cultural institutions and artists invited to curate or engage with collections, specific artworks, or performances. Warhol knew a great deal about (in his words) “the wrong thing in the right space”1 bluntly recontextualizing that museum’s holdings of Americana to reveal his own collecting interests (and prefiguring his later hoarding tendencies).

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Scotch Tape, Spit, and Glue
by Harriet Riches

Laura Letinsky
The Photographers’ Gallery
London, UK
January 18–April 7, 2013

Focusing on Ill Form and Void Full from 2010–11, the exhibition of Laura Letinsky’s recent series emphasized her continuing engagement with the legacies of still life. The series’ expanded scale, matte finish, and familiar motifs recalled the painterly conventions of the Dutch-Flemish traditions, whose social relationships intrigue the photographer. As in the earlier series Hardly More Than Ever (1997–2004) and To Say It Isn’t So (2006), the tropes through which the genre’s themes of mortality, desire, and melancholy are symbolized recurred here: once again in domestic settings, the series focused on food, and the aftermath of the mealtime once diners have left the table. Wine stains smeared the tablecloth like fingerprints in Untitled #18; elsewhere the ephemerality of the flesh was suggested, the plump peach in Untitled #3 half-bitten to reveal its wrinkled stone, wizened against the succulent melon threatening to spill its over-ripe seed.

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Transforming Media
by Omar Kholeif

Rosa Barba: Subject to Constant Change
Cornerhouse
Manchester, UK
January 26–March 24, 2013

Turner Contemporary
Margate, UK
February 1–May 6, 2013

Rosa Barba’s work over the past decade has sought to engage with the physical materiality of film as a medium. She is part of a grouping of artist-filmmakers, including Tacita Dean, Ben Rivers, Fiona Tan, and London-based artist collective no.w.here, to name but a few, who have all sought, in different ways, to forefront the structural components of the dying medium of celluloid. The precarious nature of film itself is the lens by which we explore Subject to Constant Change—Barba’s largest solo presentation to date, presented uniquely as two constituent halves of one exhibition spread across two exhibition sites: Cornerhouse, Manchester, and Turner Contemporary, Margate.

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Landscapes of Industry
by Kirby James Pilcher

Silver and Water
By Lauren Bon and the Metabolic Studio Optics Division
George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film
Rochester, New York
February 9–May 26, 2013

The Owens Valley outside of Los Angeles was once fertile farmland, until the needs of the city and the silver mining industry began to tap the resources of this region. Today what is left is an arid valley with a one-hundred-square-mile dry lakebed. The water transported from the Owens Valley and Owens Lake via aqueduct west to Los Angeles was vital to the development of the city and, by extension, the Hollywood film industry located there. Much of the silver mined here was loaded into shipping containers and moved by rail, boat, and truck east to Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York, where it was used to make film. It is no surprise that the Hollywood film industry has long been one of the largest consumers of Kodak motion picture film. Thus the codependent relationship of these industrial innovations forever links these disparate places in the development of the United States and the visual culture it is known for.

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Shadow Sites
by Harriet Riches

Light From the Middle East
Victoria & Albert Museum
London, UK
November 13, 2012–April 7, 2013

Archaeologists know that at certain times in the morning or evening, traces of human habitation are revealed on the topography of the land as low-light conditions throw previously unseen details into sharp relief. Seen and photographed from above, sites of historical interest invisible to the eye during fieldwork emerge as shifting traces that come and go as the light changes once again. Known as “shadow sites,” these phenomena informed Iraq-born Jananne Al-Ani’s Shadow Sites II (2011), an 8-minute video made from aerial photographs of the Iraqi desert accompanied by an unnerving soundtrack of drone-like static and radio interference. Surveying the surface of the land, the restless camera zooms in with vertiginous effect on the residues of settlement that, usually overlooked by both camera and naked eye, question the misconception of the desert as a desolate and uninhabited wasteland.

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Film Review

See. Dance. Transform.
by Paulette Moore

The Co(te)lette Film
By Mike Figgis
Savage Film/2010/58 min.

Amid battles over women’s bodies, space, and place, director Mike Figgis’s The Co(te)lette Film (2010), a cinematographic adaptation of choreographer Ann Van den Broek’s dance performance Co(te)lette, emerges as a force resisting our culture’s ruinous behaviors surrounding sexual gaze, desire, and expectation. Van den Broek’s deep accounting through dance is amplified by Figgis’s decades-long exploration of how cinema treats the body.

In the 58-minute film, Van den Broek’s three dancers cycle through familiar gestures and actions, sampling clichés about women and their bodies to a point at which artifice is exposed and the grim consequences of what we expect from women are laid bare. In one scene, women frenetically flip their hair, smile, pose with hands on hips, lose their focus into a startled expression, and repeat variations on the sequence again and again. Later two women methodically rip the clothes from a third dancer, slap her body, pick her up, and throw her across the stage while she passively succumbs to the brutality.

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Book Reviews

Fertile Clichés
by Media Farzin

The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society
Edited by Judith K. Brodsky and Ferris Olin
Rutgers University Institute for Women
and Art, 2012
239 pp./$45.00 (hb)

The image is arresting, especially when seen at a distance: a patterned black background that frames what seems to be a pale, fleshy vulva. The title printed above it, The Fertile Crescent, turns the photograph into an erotic pun in the style of Gustave Courbet’s 1866 Origin of the World, a contemporary take on the realist painter’s stark portrayal of a woman’s genitals, cropped so as to reduce femaleness to reproductive organs. On closer view, the image is revealed to be a hand that grasps a silky black veil, a detail of Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar’s four-panel work Freitag (Friday, 2003).

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Park Life
by Adam Bell

Casa de Campo
By Antonio Xoubanova
Mack Books, 2013
144 pp./$50.00 (hb)

It has been speculated that if New York City’s Central Park were to vanish, the city would quickly wither and die. Like any good city park, it is the heart of the city and a critical salve for urban life. One of Europe’s largest public parks, Madrid’s Casa de Campo occupies an enormous stretch of land to the west of the city. A former royal hunting estate, the land was first opened to the public during Spain’s Second Republic in 1931. Closed to traffic, the vast woodlands and fields offer a welcome respite from urban life, the pervasive concrete, and crowds. Yet despite being carefully zoned and managed, parks are never fully controlled. They all contain unruly pockets and spaces free from municipal oversight. In Casa De Campo, Antonio Xoubanova has strayed far from the manicured and sanctioned spaces of the park to explore its interior and the spaces that have given way to more personal and private rituals. Divided into five unpaginated sections, exploring “love, death, fleeting moments, symbols and a lack of direction,” Casa De Campo offers an affecting and idiosyncratic portrait of the secret life of a park.1

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Post-Marxist Aesthetics Anyone?
by Marc James Léger

It’s the Political Economy, Stupid: The Global Financial Crisis in Art and Theory
Edited by Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler
London: Pluto Press, 2013
192 pp./$30.00 (hb)

It’s the Political Economy, Stupid is the title of an exhibition curated by Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler. First presented in Vienna in 2011, the exhibition includes works by four artists/artist groups. These works examine the ways in which art can represent and resist the penetration of everyday life by deregulated capitalism. Organized after the global financial economic crisis of 2008 and occurring at the same time as the social rebellions of the Arab Spring and the urban encampments of Southern Europe and the Occupy Wall Street movement, the exhibition traveled to New York City, Thessaloniki, and Pori (Finland), along the way incorporating the work of eleven more artists/groups. The book functions as a catalog for the exhibition, featuring three essays that provide descriptions and images of the artworks, as well as a snappy theoretical toolkit, with essays by a small but representative collection of artists and theorists on the left.

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Media Noted
by Carolyn L. Kane

Post-History
By Vilém Flusser
Univocal Publishing, 2013
167 pp./$24.95 (sb)

Czech-born philosopher and writer Vilém Flusser’s English translation of a series of lectures—originally written and delivered at universities in Brazil, France, and Israel during the 1970s—has recently been published by Univocal. Titled Post-History, in many ways these lectures, which focus on a critique of contemporary values, foreshadow his later writings (in particular the two Flusser volumes published by University of Minnesota Press in 2011 and recently reviewed in this journal). But, what is unique to this set of essays is the way in which each short essay responds to, and engages with, a particular thinker, from Marx, Wittgenstein, and Arendt to Heidegger, Adorno, and McLuhan.

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