Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ai Weiwei

Sometimes with Ai Weiwei’s work I don’t get it, but I feel it. His review show, Ai Weiwei: Under Construction at Campbelltown Arts Centre, conflated a lot of those immediate bursts of enjoyment I have with his work, because for the first time I heard him talking about things, using words in a way that made me want to think about the world with more gravity while throwing a lightness back at it. There’s three hours of footage from Fairytale in the show. In one of the earlier moments, Ai talks about the expression of the work being important from the beginning. Fairytale is such an overwhelming concept that often the idea that the artist is expressing it gets lost in the scale of human movement and human change. But the act has a form and Ai has a heart for narrative; so for the narrative to adhere there has to be a residual presence of it. A cluster of probably a hundred black and white suitcases in the first gallery at Campbelltown spelt out the collectivity of the Kassel Fairytale, how objects take on the messages of their context and can hold these messages for long enough to transmit them to an audience far away from Beijing or Kassel. (Another tiny moment of expression, in the video Ai asks if they can add mushrooms to one of the communal dishes, “mushroom goes with beef, no?”). The suitcases sit in front of group photographs of Chinese nationals swept off to Germany — there are girls winking with bright, shapeless hats on their heads and middle-aged men who look straight-up and you wonder if they sneak looks at Ai Weiwei’s blog from their desk computer during the day. A compulsion to insert narrative into Ai’s work is unrelenting …


Template came tumbling down in a gusty storm in Kassel and Ai told the camera that it’s better because a person couldn’t do this because people don’t have the same touch as nature. He’s not an artist working in the singular. He seems to listen attentively to the world. An oily coat on a coat-hanger with a condom attached by a metal eyelet to the front has the sublimated and humorous tone of Duchamp, and the I-have-a-penis preoccupation of Wang Xiaobo. Usually artists who work with clothing have a strong sense of their personal narrative in relationship to a wider social context (Yayoi Kusama, Lucy Orta, Duchamp, Andy Warhol); an idea persists in these wearable forms that clothing is the meeting point between an internalised logic and shared logic. It can be an interesting space.

Ai’s work with wood was probably what I most wanted to see up close — I’ve always seen them as a kind of talisman or a reminder to keep looking at things and re-imagining them. Never let objects become fixed or stagnant. Always keep a flow, frenzied or gentle, keep a flow. What’s the work called? Colour Test I think. Mounds of disposed wood: some like the rocks that jutted out of water landscapes in the documentary about nature in China the other night on SBS; some with aged carvings that have been slowly worn away into gentle, cartoon-like curls. They’ve all been painted in matte and pastel colours and are gathered into a space on the ground. Not quite Stonehenge, more cognitive than cosmic. I don’t feel the nostalgia that a lot of people feel with this wood, that’s been taken from the wreckage of Hutongs. There is a pragmatism that cuts through a longing for the past — the more urgent impulse to construct a future. Dr Charles Merewether, the curator of Under Construction, refers to Ai’s work as a “history of the present”, an immediate reflection that follows any action. Again I think of a weighty understanding with light projections, perhaps to displace a trapping cycle of pessimism.

Hao Guo, James Deutsher and I flew to Campbelltown for 40 hours to see the show and go to the opening, then the conversation between Ai and Charles Merewether the next day. Sitting outside at the opening and getting fresh air, I looked down at my camera case and saw a palm-sized huntsman half on the concrete slab we were sitting on and half on my scarf. At another moment I probably would have overreacted, but Ai’s work had momentarily displaced the feeling of self being at the centre of the universe, so I enjoyed watching it walk away and negotiate a thin blade of grass.

Ai seemed tired and precise at the conversation the next day, but we waved when he sat down and he waved back (ah, connection!). The sparse audience kept on wanting him to talk about his ‘position as a Chinese artist’ when the floor was thrown open for questions, and he kept retreating in a way that made the idea of artists thinking about themselves in relationship to the ‘artworld’ kind of ridiculous. He said, “I only feel like I’m Chinese when I do things like this.”

Chinese tables and Chinese vases must translate to so many people as ways of dealing with Chinese-ness, but they’re just the objects around Ai and he is clearly responsive to social environments. Kind of flustered from the tedium of trying to remove this blanket of ‘Chinese artist’ that seemed to be smothering him on the small stage, he made his most lucid appeal, basically saying we’re humans first and that “people often see artists as someone more clear than you, but I’m just a confused man and we have to do something and we call it art.”

It’s moving work because it spreads itself out so openly, it balloons into moments of universality then retracts into personal treatments of culturally wrapped objects. (At the conversation I took notes. The first thing I wrote down was a categorical description of what Ai was wearing; everything was different shades of dark blue except for his black shoes). Charles asked about growing up as the son of displaced intellectuals — he responded by suggesting people must be punishing him by always asking about history, because he has a bad memory and doesn’t remember anything: “People are always trying to find a logical result from the past.” I guess if the past has no logical conclusion then possibilities for the future are unfettered. Nothing fixed, everything always in a state of construction.
Liv Barrett
back to SPEECH

Monday, February 04, 2008

A dinner with... Erick Beltran

What does a dinner about translation look like?
There are about 30 people seated around a U shaped table. There is an artist talking about translation. There are people who follow, there are people who try to follow, and there are people who wait until they can talk. The artist speaks in French, his French is fluent, not so much because he speaks the language very well but because he knows he makes himself clear. While the artist articulates his discourse, the guests translate his message however they can to make it comprehensible. The event has a certain intensity, at least for those who follow and who eat at the same time (there is a lot of wine circulating as well). There is something about digesting food and words, digesting a frog and a diagrammatic system of translation. The process is not even parallel but analogical and simultaneous. There is no dessert because this dinner has no end (as the artist explains).
Catalina Lozano

The part of the presentation I liked best was when he put his crab juice smeared hands on his laptop bringing the medium of our togetherness into a theoretical place.
Geoff Lowe
une réunion de travail,
un dîner entre amis - délicieux -
il y a eu presque un meurtre ou quelque chose comme ça, non ?
cuisses de lapin, de grenouille et de poulpe, chocolat-ail-persil
mais où est donc passée la soupe de cuisses d'anguille ?!
sympathique cafouillage synesthésique
l'artiste s'est mis en quatre: il a affronté deux jours durant les muscles morts,
il nous a servi un prêche sur la pensée des particules
j'ai oublié de demander le nombre et la liste des recalés
peut-être constitueront-ils la prochaine tablée...
Cédric Schönwald

Klaus Speidel's response was removed at his request by SPEECH

I don’t really speak French. I understand a few words but this usually leads me to misunderstandings. But there is also a pleasure in not really understanding what’s going on. First plate was frog legs, pan fried with garlic and parsley. The second, cold seafood salad with calamari, octopus, tomato, lemon juice, herbs and perhaps bread. Erick described the plate in terms of a discourse about civilisation, Diogenes in relation to the octopus. Next plate, something to do with geometry as a mental way to resolve things, using the triangle for instance, mussels cooked with an egg custard and spinach. This idea that everyone has a shape in their mind to help solve problems… energy, molecules, specific idiograms. Casanova, Orson Wells, seduction between one system and another, between machine and process – and the changing form, ‘le trouve’? (I was a bit lost here and I asked the person next to me to translate a little but he said he didn’t understand either.) The next plate was steamed broccoli cooked with chestnuts, onions and celery and the next a Mexican dish, le tre kiki – Holy Trinity – three persons in one is a monster, an indigenous dish of baked green peppers stuffed with meat and raisins with an almond cream sauce. Body, knots, a surface… development and negotiation of coodination of points. Ghost sensations, amputations, these feelings diminish with time but the person feels some sensation for ever – like mental illness… a trilogy. Crab with chili and cinamon and, if I understood right, a little tortilla dough for flavour. The final course was rabbit cooked in a thin chocolate sauce, the ultimate pleasures apparently – and a construction related to architectonic systems. I liked the formality of the dinner, the place names, the white tableware, wine and water glasses, everything matching. It did make me anxious that Erick stood and spoke throughout the entire dinner and didn’t sit down to eat with us.
Jacqui Riva

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NetAlert: Be afraid, be very afraid

NetAlert is one aspect of our general culture of victimhood: a general set of attitudes leading us to believe that we are all victims in some way. Steeped in fear and uncertainty, this kind of culture fosters infantilisation. Whether it is admitting and facing some kind of victimisation, seeking help from the multitude of ‘experts’, or seeking increased security online, we are more increasingly fearful and protective of our very mode of existence. Children become the focal point of this process – the imaginary fantastic site where the collection of all fears is projected. In part, this is because of the uneasy relationship that the west has with child sexuality: sexualisation of children through advertising coupled with hysteria over the threat of perverts and paedophiles, and increased prolonging of adolescence (30s are the new 20s). Thus the need for over-protection, because this need is ultimately about protecting fantasy and controlling imagination.

At the same time, this culture fosters self-gratifying exhibitionism: Myspace, Facebook, Blogs, and similar web-diary technologies are as much about networking as they are about creating, projecting and distributing an image of yourself for your imagined audience. Although, this kind of technology creates a ‘safety-barrier’ where we control the information disseminated, nevertheless today more than ever, we are willing to make public the details of our private lives. This perhaps also explains why we are equally willing to submit ourselves to increased control and surveillance under the banner of security.

Protective technology such as NetAlert is about consumption. In today’s society, online technology is a product that when consumed represents a certain lifestyle. Whether creating a profile on Myspace, downloading hard-to-find niche music, or discussing Saw 4, this kind of technology enables us to experience a lifestyle through participation in a community. This includes the way in which this kind of technology normalises transgression, where we are all urged to ‘explore’ and ‘reinvent’ ourselves. It also includes the way in which this transgression takes place within (increasingly) controlled environment of the internet. Thus, NetAlert enables parents to work even harder and longer, while having the computer assume symbolic responsibility for the security of children. It combines the lifestyles of successful career and dedicated parenthood, with the intensively moral agenda that underpins NetAlert. Because, the kind of protection it offers is more about minimising the freedom of choice through monitoring, classifying and controlling of our activities.
1 See for details
2 Jodi Dean’s excellent blog ‘I cite’ regularly discusses many of the issues raised here. See

Uros Cvoro
back to SPEECH

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Roni Horn

A Kind of You: 6 Portraits by Roni Horn
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art Melbourne, Aug-Sept

Each image is like a comma or pause in a sentence that gives us a story that we must construct intuitively.
Bronwyn Loxton

Horn shows us that the slightest change in expression can make the difference between vulnerability and dominance.
Chloe Snait

You are the Weather constantly shows the one girl with the same expression but relies on differences in background content and use of colour and colour temperature to provide feelings of different seasons, such as bright summers and dark & cold winters.
Jayden Leggett

Roni Horn's elusive images invoke a compelling sense of investigation into the interior monologues of her chosen subjects, reflecting and representing their own personal changes through altering environments, emotional states and stages of their life.
Louise Pilkington

Her gaze follows you around the symmetrical room in a taunting mischievous manner.
Renee Verkerk

This exhibition depicts the range of different expressions created by the emotions that people express in their life.
Carly Lagana

Portrait of an image, a beautiful series, the French actress Isabelle Huppert plays a roll for each set, at times she is very confronting other times restrained.
Christina Shiels

Encompassing, there is no escaping the raw emotion.
Tara Marinucci

Each imperfection and every beauty (Isabelle Huppert) are subjected to the world’s eyes.
Keely Frearson & Stephanie Mercoulia

The images of Isabelle Huppert show the over-saturation of movie stars – an image that we have forced upon us on a daily basis.
Michael Burgess

There is a strong sense of history and substance in the repetition of the photography.
Kate Sheehan

The series allows us to closely examine the bodily process of expression, showing us fragments of a multi-layered personality.
Sarah Schade

Horn casts a shroud of ambiguity over her weather watchers.
Jonathan Encavey

You can see these pictures like a time lapse, where the atmosphere, colour of the water and the time of day give different expressions of the face.
Camilla Rabben

The clown head uncontrollably and violently rolls around and around, smearing those demanding, painted red lips over the image.
Sorcha Wicox

Face, raw and fleshy.
Ben Callinan

Distorted muted faces remind the viewer of a childhood memory that varies slightly each time you revisit it.
Angela Lang

This exhibition creates a desire in the viewer to note Horn’s style, alter it slightly, build on it and produce one’s own version of many moments in time.
Megan Kenny

I see the series as a wind blowing through the room. The tone of the pictures changes from warm to cold, as the strength of the wind would change.
Margrethe Stenevik
image: Roni Horn, You are the Weather 2002, 2003, courtesy ACCA
back to SPEECH

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Doomsday Celebration

Dear Geoff+Jacqui,

I have duly received yours of February 27 together with the Doomsday Celebrity exhibition photos and, alas, I must decline a review, much to my regret.

.... I find the style turgid, cliché-ridden and the attempted evokation (sic) of French medieval life is pretty dismal. What happened? Well, I don't know; maybe that was not your subject, but at any rate this is not...

Forgive me for being perhaps undiplomatic about my opinion of your work, but I prefer to be clear about my reasons in a situation like this.... and please forgive me for this disappointing letter.

Best regards,


The real must be fictionalized in order to be thought. Jacques Ranciere’s statement seems to be the most apt when I think of Doomsday Celebration, a small-scale exhibition at castillo/corrales gallery in Paris. The title of the exhibition is an allusion to our era, which is getting more and more idiotic with paranoia. In the exhibition space no more than 5 works are installed with an intergenerational approach. A photograph, a drawing, 5 books and a faded photograph coupled with a diary. None of the works in the exhibition are easy to decipher and none of them can easily be classified under a theme. Even though each work differs widely from each other, upon closer examination the series of books make one wary about the bigger picture of the exhibition. The President Kissinger and Kissinger Affair books are attributed to the controversial publisher Maurice Girodias who was in his heyday in the 1950s and 60s in Paris. This work can be taken as a hint of blurring the fiction and reality occurring within most of the works in Doomsday Celebration.

Pelin Uran
Maurice Girodias President Kissinger (1974; trad. Fr. 1997)

I have no idea how people think they can keep getting away with events like these! A whole lot of indecipherable rubbish that someone gives an intellectual alibi for and now you all believe it. I really feel sorry for anyone sucked into this. If I want words I’ll take Gerald Manley Hopkins. What about the rest of us who really care and search for meaning in our lives?


Since ‘Inside the White Cube’ appeared on the bookshelves some thirty years ago, we are used to consider the space in which an exhibition takes place as important as the objects themselves. Whereas the context gains weight not just at the level of art production, and instances of Institutional Critique are incorporated by the very institution itself, Doomsday Celebration brings us a little step further by staging the last show of a gallery which activity is planned by its owners backwards. What at first glance seems just bad fait, ultimately indicates the notion of process and time as the determining factor of this show.
Artists Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda show a small photograph that portraits the technical and artistic cast of a film on 35 mm that they shot. Taken by a member of the troupe on the last day of work, this is the only trace of the work, since the artists were the only one to be aware that there was no film in the cameras. Reversing the reproducibility of the medium, Jay and Q’s work resulted in a performance to which the interpreters were the only public. If the failure of the project was an inherent element of this work, in an early work by Vito Acconci this was unplanned. For a determined period the artist was having a relationship with two girls at the same time, recording the ménage a trios in a diary and assigning to each, daily, a score. (Not surprisingly) one of the girls attempted suicide, thus putting an end to the project. Conceptual art and its legacy also informs Gardar Eide Einarsson’s piece: a chart, a work that addresses process, time and procession and that at the same time indicates in the formal expression of early works by Acconci, Kosuth, Bochner, that went under the name of office aesthetics an orientation of the show. The exhibition takes place in what has been a gallery, and then an office. A context, therefore, that perfectly frames the show as it performs and interprets the closing of the shop. A sad last goodbye, and then another activity will replace the gallery. Yet, entering the space, it all feels a bit too staged, thinking of Michael Asher’s seminal work at Claire Copley gallery in 1974, where the removal of the wall that separated the office and the storage from the exhibition room stripped bare the space of its aura and the sense of loss was more provocatively accompanying the recogniction of a gallery as market and adminstration-led activity.

Cecilia Canziani


Damn!!! I Missed the Doomsday Celebration in Paris!!! How could they celebrate without me!!! It better not happen again!!!
However, it must still be on!!! Otherwise I couldn’t be writing this and you can’t see what I am writing now!!! The Celebration could be everywhere!!! So I am going to start my own Celebration right here and now!!! How long can this celebration go for??? Who cares!!! Being happy starts from now!!! Cheers!!! ä±ît!!! ha-ha-ha!!! la-la-la!!! yeah-yeah-yeah!!!
Cheers!!! ä±ît!!! ha-ha-ha!!! la-la-la!!! yeah-yeah-yeah!!! Doomsday!!! Why hasn’t it still not come!!! Come on, come on!!! I am going to lose my patience!!! I hate waiting!!! Come on, come on!!! Don't keep me waiting too long!!! Don't make me worry about the future again!!! Don't make me choose!!! Don't want to pick which is better, or what is wrong!!! Don't want to endure this suffering anymore!!! Tell me tell me please!!! When it is coming??? Don't lie to me!!! Ok ok ok!!! yeah yeah yeah!!! Do I look like a fool!!! Your are all full of shit!!!

Cheers!!! ä±ît!!! ha-ha-ha!!! la-la-la!!! yeah-yeah-yeahÅc

Hao Guo

Conceptual art goes too far

Le truc avec cette expo, c’est le code. Tu dois frapper à la porte, deux fois pas plus, et surtout ne rien dire à celui qui t’ouvres la porte. Alors seulement peut-être tu verras un type qui te conduiras en bas de l’escalier où Vito t’attends, une batte de baseball à la main.
Sérieusement, quel intérêt d’exposer Acconci, disons l’art conceptuel dans un espace alternatif ? Cela signifie trop à mes yeux : il faut en revenir aux fondamentaux ; comme rien de radical, ou de valable n’était survenu depuis lors, et surtout pas en ce moment. Bref, alors qu’exposer Aconcci dans les année 60 dans une petite galerie, c’était fou ; aujourd’hui c’est snob.

Judicaël Lavrador

Doomsday Celebration at Castillo/Corrales, Paris

There is an undercurrent of let-down with this project, an exhibition
I'll never get to see. There is also, it seems, an atmosphere of
pre-destined failure running through the small group of ephemeral
works, documenting a collection of ill-fated or misguided endeavours.

Each of these scraps of productivity, scraps of life, represent an
idea, a plan, an ambition; but one that somehow fell short and was
always going to. Artist, writer, architect; each can craft illusionary
schemes for themselves, designing plots and scenarios to sit within.
In art reality fades, dreams surface. The back-up plan can and
probably will fail, but in this doomsday celebration, there is
evidence of the will that can be found in quiet and desperate

Rosemary Forde

back to SPEECH

Monday, March 12, 2007

Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville

The second Seville Biennale marked Okwui Enwezor’s return to the “mega-exhibition” format for the first time since 2002’s Documenta_11. It also marked a shift in his critical focus: from the series of postcolonial displacements that underpinned Documenta_11, to a single-city exhibition grounded in a single theme. Enwezor reprised Sigmund Freud’s theory of ‘das unheimlich’ (literally translated here as ‘the unhomely’) and filtered it through contemporary geopolitics after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, with particular reference to the ‘unhomely’ internment camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and the ‘bare life’ of its generally rightless and unsighted inhabitants.

If the theme sounds somewhat broad – particularly when coupled with the exhibition’s sub-title of ‘Phantom Scenes in Global Society’ – then this breadth was more than compensated by the astonishing literalness with which some of the artworks approached contemporary politics. Images of war abounded. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s photographs showed American and Iraqi militants in battle, dully reminding us of the truism that all parties to a war commit violence. Josephine Meckseeper presented a suite of banal photographs documenting demonstrations against neoliberal globalisation – as though documentary photography of itself suffices as some kind of political stance. And the Spanish group El Perro exhibited a sculpture of a (presumably American) youth skateboarding atop three hooded, naked figures crouched in a pyramidal form. Just in case we didn’t ‘get’ the Abu Ghraib reference, El Perro kindly presented a photograph of an American soldier skateboarding in Iraq as well.

As representation after representation of journalistic images or twee references to oil passed me by, I couldn’t help but wonder whether art’s relationship to ‘politics’ could actually be something more than literal re-presentations of known scenes. What ever happened to institutional critique, for example, as an engagement with art’s own discursive politics as well as the Realpolitik surrounding art? This was a particularly pertinent question given both the biennale’s general lack of engagement with the locations housing it (the decayed Royal shipyards and a former monastery in the equally decaying 1992 World Expo playground) and its strong focus on relatively ‘conservative’ media such as painting and drawing. These media, we must remember, were largely perceived by critics to be lacking in the video-heavy Documenta_11. Had Enwezor capitulated to the desires of the art press? And could art’s politics be more than an opportunistic exploitation of images of people and lands that are themselves being opportunistically exploited today?

Some of the Biennale’s more intriguing works certainly confronted these questions head-on, especially Gerhard Richter’s gunmetal-grey Abstraktes Bild (2000) and its mute challenge to the very possibility of imaging war. Such works were, however, exceptions to the curator’s rule. For this was an exhibition overwhelmingly crushed beneath the burdens of the world – and of art’s own yearning for political relevance within it.
Anthony Gardner
image, Thomas Hirshhorn installation 2006
back to SPEECH

Friday, December 29, 2006

A refreshing week with Martha Rosler

I have just attended a week-long seminar, from December 10-15, given by Martha Rosler within the program of unitednationsplaza. unitednationsplaza is ‘exhibition as school’, a seminar program based in the city of Berlin which was initially planned for Nicosia, Cyprus as a part of Manifesta 6. The program is organized by Anton Vidokle in partnership with individual artists, artist collaboratives and philosophers.

Martha Rosler’s seminar consisted not only of evening lectures but also of a video screening program. This included approximately 70 videos made between the 1970s and 2002 by activists or by artists from Canada and the Americas (two of the 70 videos were by Martha Rosler herself). Included works matched the initial utopian idea of video as a vehicle for provoking social transformation. This quality could be mapped in almost all the works since all were addressing different aspects of the social and political world. Selection of the videos was very telling because it is simply not easy for European audience to encounter most of the works, with the possible exception of Ant Farm’s Media Burn (1975) or Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-1979), which have been shown in art exhibition context. The other unifying aspect of the works was that they were shot in the street, technology allowing the artists to use rather lighter equipment.

The leading interest of works from the 1970s was criticism of television either as a total negation or as an effort to find alternative ways within television to reach the people. In this context, it was refreshing to see the video work of Richard Serra, Television Delivers People (1973), an American artist widely known for his minimalist sculptures made of industrial material. Media-activist collective projects Paper Tiger Television and Deep Dish triggered reflection about the alternative ways of working within the television system. During the 1980s video activists and artists made videos primarily about AIDS, about racism towards minorities and about class and gender politics. Hector Sanchez’s Life in the G: Gowanus Gentrified (1988) and Miriam Hernandez’s Millie Reyes, 2371 2nd Avenue: An East Harlem Story were exemplary works of the activists working together with youngsters in order for them to tell their own stories. In addition to the problems of the 1980s, videos from the1990s scrutinized the problems of the city. Paul Garrin’s By Any Means Necessary (1990) highlighted the political stance of the state towards homeless people. Some videos, especially more recent works about the war in Iraq such as Norman Cowie’s Scenes from an Endless War (2002) and Deep Dish’s Shocking and Awful, raised the question of how to provoke the attention of the public to things happening in the world without recourse to propaganda?

The videos were mostly content driven and the ultimate aim was to be able to disseminate the works to as many people as possible—be it in the art world or among the general public. As a result, the seminar foregrounded a crucial aspect of video, which is easily overlooked at the moment. This feeling was amplified by an exhibition taking place simultaneously at a contemporary art museum in Berlin, Hamburger Bahnhof entitled The Art of Projection: Films, Videos and Installations. The videos included in the show, especially those dating from the 1990s onwards, revealed how works are becoming more and more monumental and sculptural in stark contrast to the low-tech, low-profile features of the early days. The Art of Projection, which was just one of many similar shows, made me realize once more how much video has lost its emancipatory aspect particularly in comparison to the videos I had seen over that one week.
Pelin Uran
is a Turkish curator currently based in Berlin

back to SPEECH