Thursday, August 23, 2012

British Artist at Kunsthalle Basel

Craigie Horsfield – Slow Time and the Present at Kunsthalle Basel

written by Nathalie Zwimpfer in Basel, Switzerland
Walking into the rooms of British artist Craigie Horsfield’s latest exhibition at Kunsthalle Basel is compelling. Surrounded by three monumental, large-scaled and dramatic pieces of tapestry and two frescoes, one could feel overwhelmed. The scale not only causes this feeling but also the historical connotations to these techniques, which are often associated with abundance and power. The exhibition is imposing and the rather magnificent halls of Kunsthalle reinforce this impression.
On first sight the pieces of art can’t be distinguished between photography, fabric and painting. Even though based on film-stills, they are rather pictorial. Single colored yarn threads become an image. The materiality and surfaces play an important role in Horsfield’s artwork and the handcraft of the tapestries is astonishing.

Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present

Horsfield found a small weaver’s workshop in Flanders that developed a new technique to produce tapestries of this quality. Tapestries as well as frescoes are often associated with the Italian Renaissance. A time when the manufacture of tapestries and frescoes were costly, therefore only the church or rich and powerful families could commission them. Horsfield’s frescoes might even have similarities with Masaccio’s.
Although at first sight the tapestries’ motives seem to be from past centuries, this is not the case. All of them are based on film-stills Horsfield took in the last few years. Therefore a traditional handcraft is applied on contemporary motives such as rock concerts but also rituals that have been held for centuries. Two tapestries The Arciconfraternity of Santa Monica, Chiesa SS. Annunziate, Sorrento, April 2010 (2012) and Above the bay of Naples from Via Partenope, Naples, September 2008 (2012) and the fresco Processione die Gigli, Via Cocozza, Nola, June 2008 (2012) show rituals that take place annually. However, the third tapestry Broadway, 14th day, 18 minutes after dusk, New York, September 2001 (2012) displays an event that is the opposite of a traditional, annual event. A film-still of Ground Zero acts as a remaining evidence of a moment that changed history.
The second fresco At 99 Posse concert, Via Gianturco, Naples. September 2008 (2012) is based on a film-still taken at a rock concert in Naples. Although a totally different context the fresco’s composition, perspective and motive is very similar to the one showing the procession in Nola. Many people are standing extremely close together, all looking at the same direction.

Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present

There is a very strong interplay between the five artworks in the first and largest room. All the procession’s penitents and concert visitors on the first tapestry and on the two frescoes are facing the Ground Zero scene as well as a tapestry that shows fireworks and explosions in the bay of Naples; an image that is similar to a historical painting of a naval battle scene. The people on the frescoes and the Fraternity tapestry seem to be looking at those drastic scenes. The two tapestries’ dark petrol, blue and grey colors reinforce the threatening feeling evoked. These two artworks have many similarities with a picturesque Turner painting.
The largest tapestry The Arciconfraternity of Santa Monica, Chiesa SS. Annunziate. Sorrento, April 2010 (2012) shows a very old, catholic ritual that takes place annually in Sorrento, a town near Naples. In this scenery a large number of penitents prepare for a procession. The tapestry covers almost the whole wall so the beholder nearly becomes a part of the artwork. Looking at the picture is discomforting, the viewers find themselves surrounded by numerous people covered in white cloaks. The clothing looks much like the Ku Klux Klan’s cloaks. This association is leading to an intimidation. Only a very few participants aren’t hooded and haven’t covered their faces yet, therefore it feels like an anonymous, ominous threat walking towards the beholder. By covering their faces and bodies with white clothes the penitents are losing their individuality and the Fraternity is acting like a common collective. Due to the tapestry’s size one feels like being among the penitents, however, the beholder doesn’t become a part of them. One acts more like an alien peeking into a hidden world to which one should not have access.

Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present

In the second and much smaller room of the exhibition there are two tapestries called Zoo, Oxford, January 1990 (2007) each showing a rhino. These two tapestries are very different in a way from the ones in the first room. With this diptych the story of two individuals is told. Both rhinos lie on straw with their legs bent under their bodies on the floor of their concrete boxes. They are lying there very quietly and seem rather exhausted, tired or sad. It’s an intimate atmosphere, however the scenery isn’t less dramatic than the ones in the first room of the exhibition.
The two tapestries are almost symmetrical to each other. The animals seem to be captured in the tapestries square. Questions about their relation are evoked. Are the rhinos lying in the same room and are they living with each other? Although they are facing each other it seems like there’s no dialogue developing between them. They are rather living next to each other instead of living with each other. There are two parallel stories happening at the same time and place, still they don’t cross. Rituals and traditions can’t be found on this diptych, however, there are strong historical connotations. These photographs are similar to first zoological photographs of the late 19th century or even to Muybridge’s animal photographs. Additionally, images of rhinos always reference to Albrecht Dürer’s famous illustration. In this context Walton Ford’s triptych painting Loss of the Lisbon Rhinoceros (2008) should be mentioned as well. Like Horsfield, Ford deals with the notion of time and history’s perception.
Cragie Horsfield’s exhibition Slow Time and the Present is posited on the idea of the past being a part of the present. The linearity of history and its perception is questioned. The motives show traditions and rituals that have been practiced and developed over a long time as well as historical moments and individual stories. The exhibition mixed different perceptions of time and the relation of the past and the present.
Although some of the art pieces have been shown in previous exhibitions one could almost believe that this exhibition was site-specific. There are not only strong connections between each piece of art but also connections to the building and its surrounding.

Craigie Horsfield, Slow Time and the Present

Before even entering the exhibition there is a newly renovated fresco Das Erwachen der Kunst in der Renaissance by Ernst Stückelberg from 1877 in the stairway of Kunsthalle. According to the assistant curator of the Craigie Horsfield show, the fresco’s recent renovation was one reason why Horsfield was chosen for the current exhibition.
Furthermore, Kunsthalle’s floor structure is similar to the church’s floor in The Arciconfraternity of Santa Monica, Chiesa SS. Annunziate. Sorrento, April 2010 (2012). Therefore, the large-scaled tapestry that almost touches the floor seems to fade to the actual floor of the exhibition. Additionally the size of the artworks matches the size of the exhibition halls. The connotation and significance of tapestries are related to the historical site of Kunsthalle. However, there is not only a site-specificity to the building but also to its surrounding. Looking out of the only window in the exhibition one can see Elisabethenkirche, one of Basel’s most important, historical churches. 
This show is recommended to everyone because it deals with the perception of time, which affects or even dictates all of our lives. Craigie Horsfield states about the exhibition: “The title Slow Time and the Present concerns a sense of the duration of our attention and of life as something other than the busy and often frenetic onrush of everyday experience and our consequent separations from a consciously lived present. It concerns the notion of a present we may inhabit, a dilated or deep present.”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rey Akdogan, Light Wielder, MoMA PS1

written by Lindsay Zackeroff in New York

“9. To recognize light as well as colour of metallic origin, and the discovery of beams as an equivalent of the economic development of the town.
“10. To relate the sun as a bonfire of illumination to the system of our flesh and bone.”
--Kazimir Malevich, “Resolution >>A<< in Art”

Rey Akdogan currently has her works on view at MoMA PS1 in one of their second floor project spaces entitled “off set”; she was also featured in Miguel Abreu Gallery’s “Surface Affect” show.  Both shows use lighting gels, light sources, metals and plastics as media; and she uses all of her media in their entirety—each is displayed as a whole—thus situating her work somewhere between ready-made/found object and sculpture. Using light as a solid medium, her show meticulously highlights the nebulae of the spaces, whether it is her solo show or a few works in a larger show.

As a staff member at MoMA PS1, I have spent over 20 hours in Rey Akdogan’s solo show.  Visitors, frequently rush through “off set” unprepared to face the barriers to her space.  At the entrance is a screen frame, folded to extend its triangularity and hinged into some sort of dwelling for the silver streamer looped to one of its poles.  She rarely uses adhesive, allowing her media to conjoin and intertwine through its natural properties.  Yet the piece has the corpses of unused electrical tape still tacked on.  The windows are blinded to eclipse the red filters, the most striking piece in the show.  Over the course of the sun’s movement, the red and white glow crystallizes into defined lines dawning in the corner of the room and moving down a roll of glittery Mylar like a timekeeper or the hands of a clock, metastable depending on the weather that day. Behind an electric blanket is Carousel #5, a slide projection that exhausts all of material such as a plastic bag or packing supplies into the light.

Similarly, at Miguel Abreu gallery, her piece with the carpet and lighting gel, strategically hung near the floor crunches the room into a pink line of light.  All of her works, though relatively small compared to the other pieces in the show by varying artists, have a massive effect on the space and the viewer’s access to it.

Her work addresses what is installation and modalities of minimalism.  It seems that Rey Akdogan’s installations are minimalistic, in that the media appear relatively un-tampered and un-tinkered.  This minimalism in geometry and reduction of form paradoxically maximizes the material, introducing a chaotic tension—which I would like to relate to Russian avant-garde and installation.  Ilya Kabakov, a prominent Russian installation artist, refers to minimalism as an “inner equilibrium and focused attention”, coercing the viewer to go “inside himself”[1].  In the maximization of her material, she invites the viewer to contemplate the material itself, as a whole, reduced to its original and pure form a la Malevich’s “Black Square”.  Yet her core medium, light, is inexhaustible.  

Rey Akdogan, Carousel #5

As “Black Square” claims to be the reduction of all form, in Carousel #5, this pairing of reduction and all, she diffracts and gathers her media as a high-powered microscope and as a telescopic whole: an image + light.   This projection motif is also the nucleus of the red filter on the window, where the viewer gains access to the projection and the projector itself, in which the projector bulb has harnessed the sun (and the post office outside PS1).  The media is distilled from the film set or theatre.  The privacy screen recalls the fabric architecture of the movie screen, extracted from the peripherals of a movie theatre, and replaced with what Roland Barthes refers to as “dancing cones of light”, the projections.  She wields light as solid beams, using the movement of space and time to animate them, recalling how Giuliana Bruno describes solid light films:

“Thus draped in the luminous space of the gallery installation, we are folded back into the animated surface of the film screening, woven into the very architecture of the spectatorial experience ‘suited’ to the electric psychic fabric of cinema.”[2]

Like the public movie theater, or recalling a Heideggerian clearing[3] (Lichtung), that tear in the world that the art-work creates, she has called us to her space to gather.  Her installation is both aggressive and serene, perhaps a bit like a temple.  Installation art is analogous to temples.  We are all gathered in the museum supposed to be looking at something, finding, feeling something, but we do not know what it is we are looking at or feeling (if we did, we would not need what I call the little white curatorial Viagra-texts, or reviews).  The pleasure, which we pay admission for and give our time, is the community of human and objects as sacred, and the contemplation of this.  James Turrell in his work “Meeting”, a floor above in MoMA PS1, accomplishes an intravenous architectural feat, providing benches for an audience, a congregation, to be worshippers of light and sky. 

The frequent haste to dismiss Rey Akdogan’s work ignites the question of installation and interaction with installation art—how do we reach the unconscious of the installation work, which is relatively new, in the way we have been trained when we look at a painting? When entering Rey Akdogan’s space, some viewers refuse this focus of attention and reconciling with this minimalist and chaotic form.  They look to the wall text for permission to depart, with the supposed understanding of what it all “means”. 

What is this review other than more wall text?—my viewing and re-viewing over the time I have given to her work.  I cannot make the critique of whether it is “good art” or “bad art”.  I evaluate my opinion based on the success of the realization of intention.  The intent for this installation is not articulated, nor does it need to be, but without it I cannot further express my “critique” past my experience.  It is an experiential installation—a heightened, plateau of experience in no need of this review I am writing, which is only an articulation of my gelling inside the image. I recommend staying with Rey Akdogan’s work, re-viewing and re-viewing.

Rey Akdogan continues until September 17,

[1] Boris Groys, David A. Ross, and Iwona Blazwick, Ilya Kabakov, London: Phaidon, 1998.
[2] Giuliana Bruno, “On the Surface of Film and Architecture”, Urban Images: Unruly Desires in Film and Architecture, By Synne Bull and Marit Paasche, Berlin: Sternberg, 2011.
[3] Martin Heidegger, and David Farrell Krell, “On the Origin of the Work of Art”, Basic Writings: Martin Heindegger. London: Routledge, 2010.