The gray and damp weather didn’t completely discourage me from going out to see a few shows and experience the vernissages of the Lowenbrau district. By the time I arrived, most people had left, which was great because it allowed me to actually look at the work, and still catch a glimpse of the party that had been.
I first stopped at Hauser & Wirth on the lower level of the center, where I saw a show of Martin Creed. This British artist won the Turner Prize 2001 for his electrical intervention The Lights Going On and Off and stirred as much controversy as most other recipients of the prize have done before. Since 1984, when the prize was first awarded to Malcolm Morley for his photo-realist paintings, the art community was divided on the Turner Prize, which usually encouraged and supported exclusively conceptual work. Many of the awards sparked protests from other artists, as did Martin Creed’s submission, when Jacqueline Crofton pelted the empty room where Creed’s lights went on and off with eggs.
Creed’s exhibition at Hauser & Wirth is very eclectic, ranging from collage, to painting, sculpture, and video – all of it very minimal. And yet the only work that engaged me, and did not demonstrate the repetitive staleness of most minimalist painting and ready-made installations, was his video of a woman innocently and uninhibitedly raising her dress and defecating in the middle of a stark white background. This video was projected on an immense wall, and was about 10 minutes long. It engulfed the viewer completely, forced us to watch every second – the arrival of the girl, the raising of her skirt, the squat position, and the waiting… Finally the conclusion. The girl then lets down her skirt and goes. Throughout these stages, the viewer goes through several emotions: anticipation, nervousness, embarrassment, and finally relief. Creed tries to take away the voyeuristic sensation by making it all too normal – without shame, without inhibition. The girl knows she’s being watched but is as comfortable as if she were in the privacy of her own bathroom. The video is extremely funny in a gross kind of way, as well as a slap in the face of bourgeois values of propriety so frequent in the art world. Creed takes the idea of the creative act and the concept of the “everyday as art” to a whole new level, but at the same time he makes fun of the seriousness usually adopted by artists who try to push the limits of our acceptance of art. Unfortunately, the rest of the show doesn’t have this humor and playfulness.
At the Kunsthalle the main exhibition was by a rather boring young photographer from Germany, Annette Kelm. There were two “change-over-time series” that were slightly interesting, Haystack-like, but otherwise I was quite surprised that a banal photographer like Annette would have been granted an entire museum show at this early stage in her career.
A smaller exhibition at the same Kunsthalle was “Audio, Video, Disco”, a group show curated by David Bussel, and much more interesting. The show examines history through acts of revolutionary dissent, and artists’ participation and commentary on social movements, identity politics, and political change. Artists included in the show are: Nina Beier and Marie Lund, Claire Fontaine, Luca Frei, Sharon Hayes, Sturtevant, Cerith Wyn Evans, and Rosemarie Trockel.
The most interesting pieces for me were Claire Fontaine’s, Sturtevant’s, and Cerith Wyn Evans’s. Claire Fontaine is a collective artist based in Paris, who took her name from the brand of a notebook, and whose work is intentionally reminiscent of others’. For this show Claire Fontaine created an installation of several bricks, Brickbats, each wrapped in a book cover of a famous novel and philosophical treatise. The title of the installation alludes to two different ideas: a brick used as a weapon and the term evoking critical expression of dislike for some artwork. And this double-entendre alludes to Claire Fontaine’s understanding of the clash between real revolutionary action and the suppression that is exerted by the power structures that rule public opinion. Although very compelling, this work also reminded me of a very interesting movie about the May Day protests in Berlin that played at the Chicago Film Festival last year called Berlin: 1 Mai by Carsten Ludwig. These May Day protests, although in spirit were originally meant to express real dissatisfaction with the status quo and to press for change, have unfortunately now become a venue for angry, embittered people to lash out and become violent, under the pretext of social protest.
This is also the trend among some of the most recent anti-Israeli protests, that are in fact opportunities for many anti-semites to hide behind the idea of Israeli injustice and express the most vile and hateful sentiments, and be allowed to do it under the guise of protesting the status quo. I fear that this is why the left is losing ground and it’s a real pity. We need progressives that can push for “justice for all”, not allow hatred and violence to flourish in their name.
The work by Sturtevant (Elaine Sturtevant was born in 1926 in Lakewood, OH) is also somewhat appropriated from various other artists, but more than that – she recreates certain works to analyze the idea of authorship, and in this work, specifically Beuys’. In La Rivoluzione siamo noi, Sturtevant poses as Beuys in one of his famous photographs, and thus alludes to Beuys’ own idea that art is politics.
Cerith Wyn Evans’ The Return of the Return of the Return of the Durruti Column is a silkscreen on board made with phosphorescent paint that is only visible in the dark. The title evokes the famous anarchist column during the Spanish Civil War led by Buenaventura Durruti, the Spanish anarchist who organized the column, or group, of 4000 men to support the rest of the Republican soldiers to fight against Franco’s army in the Battle of Madrid. In 1967, the Situationists created a poster called The Return of the Durutti Column, misspelling the name of Durruti. Based on this poster, Evans appropriates twice more the work, thus concluding with “the return of the return”, and ink only visible in the dark, which significantly also suggests the night-operations of the revolutionaries, and according to Bussel, warns against the premise of the Situationists’ main thinker, Guy Debord, that history is just spectacle in the making.
The best work in conjunction with the show, and one that isn’t even included really, but quite the contrary, just listed as a byline in the press release, is the wonderful and revelatory taped happening, Mao-Hope March, of 1966 by Öyvind Fahlström. This Brazilian-born Norwegian, created and recorded the event at the start of the Cultural Revolution in China, and at the height of “progressive” Europe’s sick fascination with, and admiration for, Mao, which reached its apogee in 1968. Orchestrated by the artist, Fahlström invited several of his friends to create a manifestation by holding up a few placards of photographs of Bob Hope next to one placard of Mao on the streets of New York. An interviewer asked passers-by and viewers questions about the march and their lives. The answers are fascinating and give us an intimate and immediate insight into the simple socio-political consciousness of Americans in the late 60s, from all walks of life, including immigrants, who were, and still are, the foundation of New York. Fahlstrom is by far one of the most interesting artists, whose work I am just now starting to know more about. He lived through the 2nd World War in Sweden, and was active through the turmoil of the 60s and 70s. His work has documented the many different movements and styles that the middle 20th century has witnessed and was at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of art-making throughout his life.
Here is a transcript of the interviews in Mao-Hope March, which I find extremely interesting:
Wait a second! Let me see. I don’t know. That isn’t Bob Hope but I don’t know who he is. I like Bob Hope, that’s for sure.
Are you happy generally?
Oh yes, I love the television.
What makes you happy?
Television, because I’m very lonesome without….
Are you happy?
Very tough question. Up and down.
How about you, sir? Are you happy?
Yes, I just came back from Mexico. Why not? I went all through the States to Mexico,
why shouldn’t I be happy? I went on that $99 thing that Greyhound gave out. I took every day the world what it was. So why shouldn’t I be happy? And with this Bob Hope thing, I think it’s a publicity campaign because he was on TV the other day and probably his book that he did or something about Russia.
And what’s the connection with Mao Tse Tung?
The connection? That I wouldn’t know now. Let’s say he’s in town for some sort of publicity, that’s all.
Is Mao in town?
Oh, I thought you meant that Mao Tse Tung was in town.
No. Well not that I know of.
Was it a strike against something? Are they protesting somebody? They’re running Bob Hope for some kind of political office?
There’s somebody else’s picture there, too.
Yeah, I don’t recognize the other fellow. Recognize Bob Hope, though.
Who’s the other fellow?
What is that? The Chinese general marshal? Whatever the fella’s name is. Is that a Japanese? Is he Korean? What do you call it? President, General, whatever he is….
Who is he?
I see Bob Hope!
Am I happy? Sure, I’m the happiest person in the world.
Why? I’ve got my good health, I work, have a nice family, so why shouldn’t I be happy?
What do you make out of that? Do you know?
I don’t say. They’re all sick in the head, maybe.
Are you a happy man?
Certainly! Do I look happy, huh?
Because I live the type of life I do.
What type of life is that?
The type that you don’t.
Why are you happy?
No troubles, nothing to bother me. Nothing to worry about, right? I work, enjoy life….
You know, it really stops you, you know. It makes you sort of stop and wonder what is he running for? Because if you notice that most of these actors are going into politics now, like Ronald Reagan, for instance.
Whose pictures are they?
Bob Hope and I’m not sure of the other person, but it’s, I think it’s Mao Tse Tung.
Is there some kind of connection?
I hope not.
The only thing I can think of is that they’re inferring that Bob Hope is a communist, but….
I wish I knew! Maybe the cops could help. I don’t know. I was just thinking, maybe we ought to call Bob Hope and tell him about it.
If you know his number….
I can get it.
Does it make you unhappy?
Very! It doesn’t make you happy, does it? Doesn’t make you very happy, does it?
You seem to be unhappy.
Wouldn’t you be? Well, tell me. Let me ask….
Are you unhappy?
Well, I think something political, political going on with a picket line.
Are you generally a happy man?
All the time.
What makes you happy?
The whole world.
Is there anything that makes you unhappy?
Are they all pictures of Bob Hope?
No, no, there’s one different. I don’t know. One looks like what’s-his-name from China.
The premier, right? Chu? Is it Chu? Was it Chu?
Was it the premiere from China? Is it? Huh?
My boy is Bob Hope. I like Bob Hope. I don’t like the other guy.
Are you happy?
Because I love this country and I love the people here and I’m very happy.
Are we on television?
Bob Hope for president! Bing Crosby vice-president!
Is that Mao Tse Tung?
Bing Crosby vice-president!
What’s it all about?
I wouldn’t know.
Can I ask you a question?
Are you happy?
What makes you happy?
What makes me happy? Seeing Bob Hope up there, for president. That’s right! Make Bing Crosby vice-president. That’s right! Bing Crosby vice-president! That’s right!
Across the street at Suzie Q Projects was a group show of emerging Swiss artists, Fragile Monumente, curated by Eva Scharrer, among whom a young artist I had met at Kunst Zurich, Kilian Ruthemann. Kilian’s work is mostly interventionist installation, with work that reminds me of Chicago’s Julia Fish. The piece in this show was an entire portion of the parquet removed and placed on top of the existing parquet, next to the gap created. This extremely simple gesture resulted in a very un-monumental yet inherently sculptural work, that just was – without adding any unnecessary materials. In fact, it drew our attention to the beauty of our artificial world and the excellent design of our surroundings, as simple and as inconspicuous as they might seem. Kilian created a sculpture just by taking away part of an existing surface, much like Julia Fish’s installation during the Blink: Interventions in the Salon exhibition, during which she created a piece by highlighting in mint play dough existing cracks and newly-replaced parquet flooring in the NIU gallery space.
Kilian Ruthemann, Untitled