Wednesday, December 18, 2013

AC INTERVIEW, Stefanos Tsivopoulos at Art Basel

While at Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Comments interviewed artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos at the booth of Kalfayan Galleries. Born in Prague but based in Amsterdam and Athens, Stenfanos also represented Greece at this year's Venice Biennale with his solo exhibition 'History Zero'.

How does this exhibition here at Art Basel Positions relate or extend the work presented in the Greek pavilion at the Venice biennale this summer?

In a couple of ways, first, its the world premiere of the single channel version of the triptych History Zero that was shown in Venice. And the second way is I am taking a step further with the alternative currencies, which was in the central part of the pavilion in Venice by making my own proposal of an alternative currency which suggests an imaginary way of exchanging. This new currency is handmade crocheted doily that bears the words Fuck the  ” (its also the title of the work) and comes together with series of three photographs that show different gestures and use of the doily.

Stefanos Tsivopoulos
Fuck the 

What's the risk of proposing a system as opposed to critiquing a system?

If you look a bit more carefully, the way my proposal is articulated is based on human exchange, on trust, mutual trust, and the idea of the gift. The idea of the gift as a concept and as a sacred economy was thoroughly developed by Charles Eisenstein. His concept is that we can propose a new way of exchange through different objects and different systems of communication. This is an imaginary, I would say, utopian way of human exchange.

Stefanos Tsivopoulos
History Zero

This way of exchange relates to your posters here at the booth. Is this your gift?

Yes. The piece is called Residue, and it was inspired by my walks in Athens. I'm from Greece and over the years I've seen people displaying different commodities that look like luxury products such as Chanel wallets, bags, shoes, etc but they are actually cheap imitations made in China. This is part of the economic situation that reflects the current crisis in Greece. Most of these products are sold by immigrants living in Greece, and thats their way of making ends meet.

And the second poster, again, is coming from the streets of Athens. Angela Merkel, the counselor of Germany who is highly related to the economic crisis in Greece visited Athens back in 2012 . There were a lot of demonstrations on the streets, so I tried to collect some of the stones and debris that were thrown during the protests. In the end I took a picture of the pile of stones. Two elements contradicting one another but at the same time both reflect the economic situation in Athens.

Stefanos Tsivopoulos

Whats the challenge or opportunity for art during moments of crisis?

I think art is affected by crisis but art has its own mechanisms to push back or find ways to present itself with new ideas. I think art can be much greater and much bigger than any kind of crisis because it takes it inside its own system and somehow makes new propositions and brings to the front new ideas.

For example, in my own country I see that people are coming closer now because of the crisis. The idea of art as a commodity or just as an art object changed a lot because theres no such market anymore in Greece. People are away from the burden that they have to produce just a marketable object. They want much more than that. Art became more socially engaged and more critical towards society and that brings artists together by forming new initiatives and alliances, which is fantastic!

What disciplines or experiences inform your work? Obviously economic concerns, but what else informs your production?

Im working a lot with history and archival material. One of my major projects was for Manifesta 8 back in 2010 where I did a lot of on location work and research and thats where the filmare based. This research involved a lot of search on archival photography and film as well as local history and myths, poetry, and other findings around the subject matter. Its a bit like the work of a historian or an archaeologist who digs in the past and into the history of things. Im tracing the roots of the treeinterested in the origin of things and for me this is a way of dealing with whats happening nowadays. Even though I go back in history, its always in relation to the present and future.

Stefanos Tsivopoulos
Fuck the 

One of the things we like about your work is the way you approach history. At Art Comments we often discuss the notion of history as a medium and as something that is alive.

If I may, there's a very interesting recent exampleFor several years Im collecting archival photographs and some of them are from the National Television of Greece. A few months ago the National Television was seized once and for all because the government austerity plans demanded the layoff of almost two and a half thousand people. The whole institution and 75 years of broadcasting collapsed overnight. Black screens appeared on TVs all over Greece and the Greek people were like, "oh, my god." That was terrible news not only because of the layoffs but also because it was a black day for democracy and for the freedom of speech.

Ileft with all this material in my hands and I wonder about its new meaning. I don't know how to approach it or how to deal with it anymoreI feel that these images have a completely new value now. So the idea of history is not something that is frozen in the past. Images and history are charging constantly and reactivated in different ways according to our lives now.

Friday, November 15, 2013

53rd Venice Biennale Interview

This past summer Art Comments sat with independent curator Stamatina Gregory at a local cafe in Venice, Italy to discuss her involvement with the Bahamas pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale, a pavilion that featured the cerebral and risk-taking artist Tavarares Jackson.

Working on the first inaugural Bahamas  pavilion must be exciting and stressful.

It is definitely exciting and stressful at the same time. I mean, this is the kind of project that has taken a tremendous amount of planning, and primarily on  behalf of the artist. So it's been over 2 and a half years in the planning process, including both the conception and the installation of the work. And also the negotiation process with the government because it is not like doing a show with an institution. There's a lot more diplomacy involved. This woman right here, Amanda Paulson, the director of the National Gallery of the Bahamas, is Bahammien, I'm not. Although she wasn't involved in this iteration of the pavilion. She'll likely be involved with future iterations. I've learned about the structures of the Bahammien ministries through her. She's dealing with the culture side. Definitely exciting and stressful. You want to make sure that people notice the work you've done. And this was really important for the artist, Tavares Strachan. He wanted to have a real presence here at the Biennale. Even having a presence at the Arsenale already disrupts expectations about the representation of the Bahamas. And so that was the first step, to make sure that there was real visibility and that you were not in some broken down pallazzo somewhere. And also, through the installation completely disrupt expectations about what art from that country or an artist from that country might look like. A number of people viewing the exhibition came up to me and this was kind of shocking and they said, 'But the Bahamas is not cold.' So you are disrupting expectations, and you are speaking not only to an art world audience but you are also speaking to a general audience in many ways.

Can you talk about the differences in working in a commercial gallery setting, non-profit sectors and the biennale?

The area that I've had the least experience is the commercial gallery setting. I actually have not curated many exhibitions for commercial galleries. And within that category there's a huge range. You can curate an exhibition for a gallery that is somehow invested in this exhibition and you're showing a particular artists work that might sell, and so therefore money might be invested in the installation, planning and associated materials. But in my experience doing work for commercial galleries has been a labor of love for smaller commercial galleries where there actually isn't a lot of capital. And you notice that too in international biennale exhibitions that it kind of falls on the dealer to finance a lot but it is only a certain category of a dealer that can do that or do it on a certain level.

Most of my curating has been with institutions, either museums or non-profit institutions so I am used to working under stricter budgets. But also having the infrastructure of the museum or the institution on my side. Which makes a really big difference. And here it is completely different, I am one small part of an amazing team that made this happen. And I am one of the minor players that is behind the tremendous force, that is the artist Tavares Strachan. And he in many ways is the person closest to these negotiations. There's negotiations between the government of the Bahamas with the institutional structure of the biennale. It's been a learning process for everyone. The installation presents its own set of challenges and the negotiation presents its own set of challenges. And of course, here in Venice, installing anything is challenging. And so for me, I've primarily been on the communication side, I've done a lot of writing, editing and contextualizing of the exhibition in preparation to our opening for a long period of time. And that's primarily been my role as that kind of facilitator but also as part of a small team where everyone does everything when needed.

Is that the role of being a director of programs and education?

In part. I organized a small program that we had the other day a talk between Tavares (5:38)and it was moderated by Eric Shiner. In the beginning I think we had a much more ambitious program in mind. In the crush of the few days of the preview of the Biennale, reality starts to set in, the work is discursive on its own and all the layers of discursivity don’t need another discursive layer of events. There is not a steady stream of events in the space. So it’s not like the Japan pavillion where it’s chaotic and things are happening and it’s not like some other pavillions that have embraced or are still rooted in the discursive turn where the pavilion is where things happen. And so my title became deputy curator to better reflect the work I was doing.

How did the selection process for the artist work?

Every pavillion is different and the hierachy of who makes which choices are completely different from pavillion to pavillion. I didn’t select Tavares, in fact Tavares selected me. The artist happily enjoys working with friends and we’ve known each other a very long time and everyone on this team. Before he graduated with his MFA we have known one another and we did a show together in 2009 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, where I was curator at the time and that was a part of the project where he was launching rockets off the coast of Nassau using only Bahamian materials. Sand, sugar cane.

Can you talk about the contemplative component of the exhibition?

One of the major and connective threads throughout the artist’s pracice is this idea of what is visible and what is invisible and how they shift and how displacment and cultural and historical changes affect both. To realize what is there and what is not there takes a patience of vision for the viewer. Part of the artist’s project and part of the project of this installation is undoing common conceptions of what we think we know about history, narratives of history, what we know about representation. There are many layers to the work, for example, the narrative of Matthew Henson. 

This theme of visibilty and invisibility and through the installation itself. Ironically, the erased figure of Henson is no more interesting to anyone visiting the pavillion or involved in the international art world than the original figure of conquest that he was associated with. At the same time I think that the work goes further and also is undoing what we immediately reach to as a kind of form of contemporary projects. Because if you look at the missions of institutions for example, many of them mention supporting underrecognized artists and underrecognized figures so this process of uncovering has now also become a kind of common form. 

What I love about the artist’s practice is that it’s not merely about an external narrative but also about an internal narrative. Not only a kind of disclosure itself, an invitation of the viewer into this disruption and displacement. So when you walk in, neon signs which may be exploding or imploding telling you "I belong here, you belong here, we belong here" then you’re like where is here? Who am I? What is this kind of transnational space, is it really transnational? Who is involved who is left out?One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is "40 days and 40 nights" which is the 40 Bahemmien children singing in the pavillion. One thing that I love about it in this space is that it’s two communities from across the globe north of this space and south of this space together speaking a language that we can understand.

Can you talk to us about your approach to history and curating?

That’s a really big question. I think curators have a responsibilty to critically look at history and not just to learn it in a profunctionary way. I’m about to finish my PhD in art history and I feel like maybe I begun to know something. Only begun though. Since the advent of the real professionalisation of curating and also the idea of curating as a career is a really hip and glamourous rockstar thing to do, this critical vision of history is kind of getting left aside and history for everyone is starting in the 80’s or something.

I’ve been looking at Tavares’s work for so long I started thinking about everything in the terms of the problem and the idea of firsts. Who did something first? This colonial rubric that we apply to these things. The idea that a topic is done but you’re always searching for the new thing, when new things are there to uncover everywhere. 

I just finished working on an exhibition from recent history looking at an artist who’s work is really not very well known. An exhibition of (Brian Weil) who’s a New York based artist and died in 1996. He’s best known as an activist, he started New York’s first needle exchange program. The body of work he’s best known for are his large-scale photographs representing various aspects of the AIDS crisis, domestically and globally through portraits. The photographs are wonderful but a limited byproduct. It’s the same kind of thing in curating. The big question now is what is the role of the object and what’s the role of the history. Maybe that’s one answer.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Last Chance: El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum

Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui

written by Nathalie Zwimpfer in New York

This week is your last chance to see El Anatsui’s monumental solo exhibition Gravity and Grace at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition displays over 30 artworks, mostly in metal and wood. The work covers large parts of the museum’s floor, hang on the wall, stand in the room or act as a translucent fabric dividing the space by hanging from wires.

Early in his career his body of work - usually found objects - mostly consisted of wooden sculptures and wall pieces made out of used materials such as discarded mortars that he found in the streets of Nigeria where he lives. All of the object’s surfaces somehow reflect a history of use and human interaction.

One of his first works in metal is Peak Project (1999), an installation made out of hundreds of tin can lids that have been assembled. Anatsui uses the lids of imported condensed milk cans from the Dutch brand Peak. The work’s title not only references the manufacturer’s name but also the shape of the installation. It resembles the physical landmarks that trash generates and evokes questions about consumerism and globalism.

Peak Project (1999)

El Anatsui is renowned for his works that consist of thousands of little aluminium liquor bottle tops that are stitched together to form giant cloths with copper wire. These works are very complex not only because they are extremely detailed, but also because they combine different aspects of painting, sculpture, installation and even the ready-made. 

The giant metal cloths become painterly compositions that however abandon paint and a flat surface developing into site-specific sculptures, while appearing and acting like a giant metal fabric. The liquor bottle top works also show references to Impressionism and Pointillism because each bottle top acts as a tiny paintbrush stroke.

Anatsui’s metal works are playful and there is a dreamy and poetic component due to the warm colors and the shiny, glittery material that also associates a certain opulence. The wall hangings and especially the translucent curtain-like piece GLI (2010) that spans across the museum’s 72-foot rotunda appears like a rain of gold.

GLI (2010)

Several documentary videos accompany the exhibition. They give insight into the artist’s work process and document the finding and purchase of used materials as well as the assembly of the single components of a work. It is a collaborative, studio-based process where up to forty assistants produce segments that are later shifted around by the artist until one big fluid metal cloth evolves.

Anatsui even encourages curators and collectors to rearrange the metal wall hangings each time they are installed. Thus, every time an artwork is exhibited it changes its shape and folds and becomes a site-specific installation.

Anatsui is a master of the non-fixed form, his works allow movement and mutability. Not surprisingly, he once stated,“Art is a reflection on life. Life isn’t something we can cut and fix. It’s always in a state of flux.”

The exhibition closes on Sunday, August 18, 2013.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Reto Pulfer at the Swiss Institute

FRIEZE WEEK 2013: Reto Pulfer at the Swiss Institute

written by Nathalie Zwimpfer in New York

Tonight the Swiss Institute opens a new exhibition showing Swiss Artist Reto Pulfer's Zustandseffekte. Pulfer's work is very elusive in many ways. It is difficult to categorize, however, it can be stated that there is an immersive architectural component to his work. Pulfer turns the 5000 square-foot gallery into a new setting, which suddenly leads to a surprising and unknown experience of space.

The gallery's white cube, sterile and clean by its definition becomes a giant but cozy tent. The tent feels welcoming and warm, in spite of its large scale. One could imagine being in a teepee, or a bedouine tent. Its walls are dynamic, drifting and moving. The space seems unlimited due to the fabric's transparency and the gallery's concrete walls are about to dissolve. A tangible space exists but also an imaginary unlimited one.

Reto Pulfer

The exhibition’s title, Zustandseffekte can be interpreted or translated as effects of a given state. It seems like the room changes from solid to liquid until it almost vanishes.
The light falls through the skylight windows and becomes an important actor giving a site-specific component to the installation. It lightens up the tent from above and when it hits through the fabric it is softly distributed and floats through the room, creating a mysterious and sensual setting. The smell of incense sticks all over the exhibition space supports this ambience.
With large fabrics draping from the ceiling, hundreds of waves are formed on the sheets, evoking thoughts of floating water. One could assume being surrounded by water looking towards its wavy surface from far beyond. At the same time one could picture the sky up in the ceiling. On the egg shell-colored sheets there is a wide, diagonal stripe painted that leads from one corner to the other. It's in blue, green and yellow colors and spreads itself over the tent's ceiling like the Milky Way. 

The sheets are rather subtle despite the installation's size yet they have the power to turn the space into a completely different environment. Pulfer's installation surprises with the ambivalence between its gigantic, impressive appearance and its creation of a reticent, calm and cautious ambiance that leaves the viewer in an almost meditative state.

Reto Pulfer, 
Zustandseffekte continues until June 23,

Friday, January 25, 2013


written by Nathalie Zwimpfer in Miami Beach


Gilda Mantilla & Raimond Chaves
An Uncomfortable Eagerness
Due to the diversity and complexity of the work shown, a gallery that stood out at the Art Nova section was ProjecteSD from Barcelona. They presented a project called An Uncomfortable Eagerness by two collaborating Latin American artists Gilda Mantilla and Raimond Chaves. The work consists of numerous drawings, video work, sound and slide projections. During a period of 9 months Mantilla and Chaves travelled to an Amazonian town in northern Peru, researching the region with frequent visits to two local libraries. One of them, the Library of the Center for Theological Studies of the Amazon was founded by a progressive Augustinian order that broke with the traditional scheme of evangelization and colonialism. The other one was the Library of the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon that had a rather technical approach in their holding.

Mantilla and Chaves chose this specific region for their research because in recent times it has become the center of intense debates regarding the Amazonian identity. It’s a city where fundamental contemporary cultural and artistic movements have emerged.

Their work is concerned with the stranger’s perception of a place, his personal view and his eagerness to find out more. What are the stranger’s expectations, what does he want to find out and what will actually be found?

Mantilla and Chaves had to cross the impervious Amazonian jungle before getting access to the libraries, which was only possible by air or water. The density of the region reappears in the difficulties of researching. The artists had to work through a complex jungle of information, trying to gain knowledge about the unknown.

Questions are evoked about the relationship between the researcher and the region.  How do we deal with information about history, how do we connect it with the present and is there such a thing like reality. There’s a very wide range of artworks all implemented in a different way. The artists’ style is hardly recognizable. And yet in this random way of research and artistic production a certain pattern can be made out. It speaks the language of history book and dicitionnaries, the pictures seem to be known.

Maps have been redrawn, musical scores have been replayed and therefore a personal narrative has been created by the artists. It’s this personal narrative that leads back to the question about the stranger’s perception and the impossibility of understanding this complex world.