Author Archives: helenaanrather

SHADOW CATCHERS

This is an exhibition of photography we rarely see at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, presented under the title ‘Shadow Catchers’ (until February 20th). What the five artists shown here have in common is their photographs, taken without a camera, without a viewfinder, without a lens. How is this possible? Three of them place objects directly on photography paper, thus obtaining images by photogram another does the same, but with light compositions that he recreates in a dark room. The last composes images by drawing directly onto photo paper with chemicals that react with the salts of the paper. All compose images that are more or less abstract, bathed in a surreal and poetic light, the antithesis of dominant documentary photography. It’s too bad that it is only in London where one can see such photographic research, and that it is so rare in France.

The first room is dedicated to photograms by German artist Floris Neusüss. Most are traces of bodies where, in a pagan, sensual performance, naked young women placed their bodies on the paper cut to their size: these are astonishingly precise imprints where flesh meets paper, infinitely more precise than Klein’s Anthropométries. Their positions, erotic or sweet, reflect a dynamism, a flight-like dancing motion suddenly captured, the seized shadow of a fairy. (Untitled (Körperfotogram), Berlin, 1962). These are dreamlike, subconscious images. Neusüs also shows a giant photogram of a window at Lacock Abbey taken by William Henry Fox Talbot (life size) photographed in 1835 and, on the groung, an amusing yet tragic composition, a shadow without a body, the antithesis of Peter Schlemihl.

The next room is, alternatively, the domain of alchemy: no more body, no more narrative but the cool beauty and abstract, geometric compositions by Belgian Pierre Cordier emerge in his chemigrams (Dedalogram V, 22/6/87). From random chemical manipulations emerge labyrinths, forests, diamonds, minimal and eternal forms. Photography is no longer a representation of the real world, instead mere writing with light, and the experimental photographer becomes the creator of material, of beauty and energy, rather than its mere registrar.

Passing from bodies to forms, we arrive at almost pure light itself. Equally remote from reality are the works by Englishman Garry Fabian Miller, who creates purely luminous images with various devices, colorful, reflective, or distorting, to achieve compositions where light and color burst. These images easily become vectors of meditation, mystical springboards, or energizing fuels. That which we see never existed, except in the dream of its creator (The Night cell, Winter, 2009/2010).

Susan Derges is closer to nature, and the English countryside; some of her photographs are of the night sky as it reflects on photosensitive paper spending the night at the bottom of a river, others are traces of waves or ice, captured in the same way, by direct contact with the object represented. Four large compositions, one for each season, are more complex: impressions of light from the sky captured through ink, aquatic weeds, reeds, and moss. They reconstitute a magic of nature, a return to the golden age. (Arch 4 Summer 2007/2008).

Finally, Adam Fuss, an Englishman living in New York, has some spectacular photograms, some with serpents whose thrashings through water are registered on photosensitive paper and this one, where a newborn, squirming a bit in a few inches of water, left a baptismal trace that touches the sublime, the metaphysical (top of the page, Invocation, 1992). His photographs are without a doubt the most tragic, those which interrogate us most about life, death, and perhaps the other side. This blue image of a butterfly in a photogram on a daguerreotype, reusing two techniques from the 19th century against the very rules of the daguerreotype; the opposition thus obtained between positive and negative, between image and mirror, between the empty blue and the fragile body of the insect, creates a sumptuous vanity (My Ghost series, 2001).

It is probably only by breaking all the rules of Good Photography, sidestepping all the controls of cameras and lenses, that one can hope to achieve these strange, stark photographs, so real by being so close to the object, and yet so ghostly.

Texte en français

Photos courtesy of V&A. Floris Neusüss Untitled, (Körperfotogramm), Berlin, 1962 Collection Chistian Diener, Berlin ©Courtesy of Floris Neusüss. Pierre Cordier Chemigram 25/1/66 Dedalogram V, 1966 © Pierre Cordier. Garry Fabian Miller The Night Cell, Winter 2009/10, Collection of the artist © Garry Fabian Miller/ Courtesy of HackelBury Fine Art London. Susan DergesArch4(summer)2007/08© Susan Derges; Adam Fuss Invocation 1992 ©Courtesy of Adam Fuss/ V&A Images; , Daguerreotype, series My Ghost 2001© Courtesy of Adam Fuss.

Gabor Ösz, an experimental BMW Paris-Photo Prize

The theme imposed on the candidates for the BMW Paris-Photo Prize, awarded yesterday, was ‘electric vision,’ which proved to be the best and worst of things: there were fireflies, night scenes, and of course, a photograph of a nuclear power plant, but it is significant, and comforting, that the jury, instead of awarding an ‘ordinary’ documentary photographer, chose the Hungarian photographer (living in Holland) Gabor Ösz, who, for years, has done novel work on the essence of photography itself, recreating space from the void, or playing on the opposition between negative and positive, all the while questioning reality. Much of his work focuses on the use of architecture as a pinhole camera, in particular using the bunkers of the Todt line, buildings for observation now in disuse, like a giant camera obscura, registering the seascape on film in the back of the bunker.

The photography shown here is the in the same vein. Turning a small caravan into a camera obscura, Gabor Osz photographed greenhouses on the outskirts of Amsterdam: this image is the result of four nights of exposures, patiently spent gathering all the possible photons emitted by these feeble light sources (Permanent Daylight n.6, 12.1.2004).

Among Gabor Ösz’s series (Ösz’s work is also on display at Loevenbruck Gallery until December 4th, and at the gallery’s stall in Paris Photo), this one called Constructed Views seems quite interesting: when you remove the steel rods used for construction of a reinforced concrete building, there remain a large number of small holes, around two centimeters in diameter, regularly drilled into the walls. From these small holes, before they are filled, we have a view of the world from a skyscraper, the city unique and ephemeral, slightly different from each hole. It is this family of perspectives that the photographer captures with a camera obscura, leaving us with a very particular vision of architecture.

I was not as excited by the honorable mention bestowed on Carlo van de Boer, who strives to capture, using electrical sensors attached to his Polaroid camera, a person’s aura, experience, impressions, what is to come. It is a beautiful photograph, a blueish portrait seemingly floating in space, but the discourse behind it is a bit too ‘new age’ for my taste.

In contrast, I was very seduced by Max Aguilera Hallweg’s entry. Against the backdrop of New York’s metallic hard lines, under the slanting lines of media projectors, into a very grey and cold universe springs a Pollock canvas, its colors violent, its lines sinuous: in this museum laboratory (at MoMA), two men analyze the canvas, in the process of restauration. One can see on various screens partial and full reproductions of the canvas, like digital echoes. I found this spellbinding, having the full force of a Jeff Wall composition without the artifice: the confrontation of two visual worlds, their junction on the screens; the resulting tension pleasing (Pigment composition analysis of a Pollock painting, using multispectral fluorescence and ultra-violet imaging, MoMA, NY, 2007).

In this selection, which is actually quite average, my  last favorite is by Jean-Christian Bourcart (who was the winner of the defunct Prix du Jeu de Paume) photographed (Stardus 73), the glass front of the projector in a movie theater: the film’s image is unreal, floating, studded with grains of dust lit by the beams (images are on his site as well). Ultimately, these three photographers interrogate our vision, each in his way, each as radical as the next.

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All photographs on the site can be seen in diaporama. Photos courtesy of Paris Photo.

A store full of Italians

Le Magasin is showcasing the young Italian scene (in Grenoble, until January 2nd). There are artists already somewhat known, like Francesco Vezzoli, Paola Pivi, Claudia Losi (above, left, with the two brains attacked with acid, now porous; I missed it in Pollino this summer), Lara Favaretto (seen at Sharjah, and who occupies the principle space here, with a tranquil army of gas cylinders whistling on kazoos (Platon), as well as cubes of confetti, one white, the other three glittering black), Rosa Barba (who has a show at Tate Modern, and who’s piece here is a projector vacillating on its pedestal, its projected text wandering from wall to wall), Salvatore Arancio (passionate for volcanoes; he had one of the most interesting presentations in the jeunes galeries section at Frieze), but also many others whom I came upon for the first time here.

One nice discovery: the series by Swedish-Italian Linda Fregni Nagler (è italianissima, con un fisico da modella ed una compostezza tutta nordica), that lines up Rorschach-like grounds of black and white (above) that reveal themselves to be photographs of a pair of women in strict black mourning robes (Unidentified Mourners), their hair in nets, their faces hidden (it would have please Bill Hunt). From which Puritan sect do they come from? They are different women but so alike: the trouble begins. These photographs seem to be silhouettes, promising to reveal the depths of their souls (I return to Lavater). It is a series of twelve photographs, and a very successful work.

The work of Marzia Migliora is based on writing, and the majestic use of quotations; one, on the ground, the tragic black sheep of cycling, Marco Pantani (“I got uphill so fast in order to shorten my agony”), the other, no less tragic, of another ‘black sheep’ of genius, Pasolini, in his last interview, a few hours before his death (“Maybe I’m wrong, but I still say that we are all in danger”): it is inscribed on three walls of an alcove which one enters carefully, and once it registers, we realize that the letters are mirrors that reflect us.

I will mention again Patrizio Di Massimo’s ‘anti-colonial’ two-channel video, about a (fictional?) dialogue between Négus and the Duke of Abruzzi (the great explorer, and colonizer of Somalia), videos shown at perpendicular, mirror images (so to speak) of mutual ass-licking (Facetta Nera Bianca Facetta). Facetta Nera was a colonial and fascist song from the 1920s, pretending to lend a humanist air to a colonial enterprise (one thinks of this piece by Rubin…)

I must also mention the alpine video by Rossella Biscotti accompanied by the sound of rocks themselves, the skull jewel ORFEO by Giorgio Andreotta Calò, and the stony face of a young girl with holes for eyes by Alex Cechetti (who also had a performance that I didn’t see). The negative aspects of the show: a few too many works at the frontiers of design, a few heirs of Arte Povera unable to free themselves of their heritage, and a few too-simplistic pieces, particularly in the main hall (excluding Favaretto).

Here is commentary just as informed as mine, and here, a short piece in Italian, and photos.

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Eating and Drinking at the Museum

It is not the museum’s restaurant, it is the exhibition rooms of the Stuttgart Kunstmuseum which, until January 9th (after Dusseldorf, where there was a superb and edifying meal, and Innsbruck), are filled with food: some tasty animations, but above all the works by Daniel Spoerri, Michel Blazy, and Dieter Roth fill the halls of this exhibition  ‘Eat Art’ (eating art, or art to eat?). Many of the pieces play with food (that which my mother formally forbade me to do) either by excess, as with this dune of sugar covering a shopping cart (Thomas Rentmeister), or by the incongruous marriage of two objects, like this Brotteig-objekt by Daniel Spoerri, shoe-sandwiches.

Among the numerous works by Dieter Roth, I found this spice cabinet very beautiful, like a fake, fragrant marble (Gewürzfenster).

But the most interesting pieces are those interested with social acts and comportment around food, whether it is Christian Jankowski who goes hunting with a bow and arrow at the local supermarket ( Die Jagd), or  the documents on restaurants by Daniel Spoerri or Gordon Matta-Clark (Food), or concerning rituals around drink: Dustin Ericksen and Mike Rogers composed (and collect) glasses, cups, goblets, bottles, flasks, and other receptacles (Cups) from which art world celebrities drink: water, tea, beer or vodka. The whole thing is painstakingly documented and catalogued: here is Dan Graham, drinker of dishwater coffee, flanked by Ethiopian artist Julie Mehretu and the serial artist Eleanor Antin (who, at Kassel, herself collected the blood of poets, and must have been pleased by this project), who drank nothing but water from sad plastic cups.

There are also those works that kill the appetite, like the video installation Dough by Mika Rottenberg, the video Sailor’s Meat, Sailor’s Delight by Paul McCarthy (steak, sex, and mayonnaise), or, like this furry little animal breathing softly, its skin rising and falling slowly next to the nuts (Atemobjekt 231/99 de Günter Weseler).

After all this food, the only thing missing from this show, the logical and inevitable outcome of this (in)digestion: a Wim Delvoye machine…

Photos by the author. Thomas Rentmeister, Daniel Spoerri, and Günter Weseler being represented by l’ADAGP, images of their works will be removed from this site at the end of the exhibition.

en français

Eugène Leroy, religious painter?

There is a beautiful Eugene Leroy retrospective in the 18th century hall of the Musée Tourcoing, renamed ‘Eugene Leroy’ to mark the painter’s centenary. Leroy once said “I didn’t want to make a pretty canvas, I only wanted to make paintings”: these canvases, which weigh as much as 200 pounds, overflow with pictorial matter forming masses, waves, constantly overlapping with, under the carapace of the surface, paint that still seems soft and moving, at times leaving other buried colors to reappear, dissolving others, giving way to other valleys, to other clusters accrued over time. Leroy reworked his paintings incessantly, never satisfied—a veritable living painting.

The viewer is initially pulled in by a long blue wall showing eighteen large canvases, from 1960 to 1998, and one follows it in procession, like the Stations of the Cross. The largeness of the room helps the viewer view the works at a distance, to discern, sometimes screwing up his eyes, the contours of a face or body, before getting closer to register the complexity of his painting. There is no correct distance, no appropriate vision, there is only the experience of navigating the room at the mercy of ones feelings facing such a wall. Will we get burned if we get too close?

In this dark self-portrait from 1960, his face seems to emerge from the depths of the background, but this background itself is a landscape; I thought of Véronique, of the face of Christ emerging from tissue.

In the series of the Seasons (Season 4, a detail of which is shown above), it is, strangely, in the viewfinder of my camera that the motif appears most clearly, and with distance, more revealing. Whatever the subject, it seems, whether a nude, a head, or a landscape, it only serves to reveal the painting, or the reason or story, of painting itself.

There is in his paintings a hidden presence, at first invisible to the naked eye, which only reveals itself after long contemplation. I felt a strong religion dimension; I do not know if others have made this analysis or if Leroy himself intended the connection, but I am struck by the importance of religion in his life:  raised by his uncle and tutor, an abbot, at one point considering becoming a monk, he entered a religious school where, at age 15, his teacher, Father Cau, encouraged him to draw. He made a pilgrimage to Rome at age 19, and was a teacher all his life in religious schools in Holland and in the North. Leroy was clearly steeped in traditional Catholicism. His first show in Paris, in 1943 at Else Clausen Gallery, was filled with religious tableaus; beholding a certain icon at the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow in 1974 was a revelation that influenced the rest of his painting. His closest friend was a poet and priest, Maxime Deswarte. These are but a few clues, surely important to understanding the man, but perhaps not determinant in regards to his painting. But I think, or suspect, that the sense of imminence, of mystery, of revelation that abounds in his work, can be linked to this religious worldview, to this belief. Leroy once said, “To acquire one of my works is an act of faith.” Perhaps it is already an act of faith to look at his Christ from 1958.

Texte en français

Photos by the author. Eugène Leroy is represented by l’ADAGP, and thus reproductions of his work will be removed from this site at the end of this exhibition. Trip paid for by the Musée de Tourcoing.

Kertész plays with bodies

It failed me, for a while, to write about the André Kertesz show, at Jeu de Paume (until February 6th). Not for a lack of interest, since this exhibition is superb and presents (in a fairly classic manner) a thorough panorama of Kertész‘s work. Rather, because his photography is polymorphous, he is interested in everything: we begin (in Hungary), in extremely ordinary scenes; houses, streets, gates, represented simply, far from pictorialism. The scenes from World War I show the good soldier Kertész, in full bonhomie, as if in summer camp. Nothing brutal, nothing deranged, children reading, twilight landscapes, all in small format. How do we grasp this artist? Where do we find the lines of his work? How not to sound didactic in a discussion of his work?

Without a doubt, having gone back to the show (frustrated by not knowing how to write about it), it is by placing the emphasis on his manipulations, his distortions, his games with images. It is but one aspect of his work, but it is that perhaps which most reveals his creativity, inventiveness, his distance from mere representation. His most well-known series is that in which he uses warped mirrors to turn the bodies of his models into monstrous figures, grafts of enormous, tormented flesh; one thinks of Bacon, even Bosch; but this hydrocephalus and polymastic woman, a monster both devouring and devoured, is also a parent to Die Puppe. These photographs were custom made for a soft core magazine cheerfully titled ‘Le Sourire,’ (The Smile), in 1933, the hour in which Europe darkened. The article that accompanied them, by the poet Aimée-p. Barancy (coincidentally, a friend of Céline), is titled ‘Window open onto the Beyond’: a coquettish review, but literary. The photographer, inveterate voyeur, is present, like the painter or sculpture with his model, Picasso or Pygmalion, demiurge à la Robert Walton. One never tires of looking at these women who are no longer truly human, this profligacy of flesh, of roundness, of orifices, on which so many have already written (Distortion n°41, 1933, MEP).

Another distortion is that of water, and his famous photograph of a swimmer (his brother, I believe) is a gorgeous example. In that image as well, the diluted, distorted representation of the body fascinates, and unsettles us (Nageur sous l’eau, Esztergom, 1917, BNF). But it is without any trick of mirrors that Kertész sculpts the body of the Hungarian dancer Magda Forstner, echoing the sculpture of Ètienne Beothy (left); even if clothed, she is a talisman, an idol, an object of desire, and of a voyeuristic compulsion to watch. Not that Kertész (who was briefly the husband of Rogi André before marrying Elizabeth) didn’t know how to represent tenderness and affection. But his formal research  seems to have unleashed in him unsuspected desires and slumbering demons.

Another complex aspect of his work is that of shadows. This self-portrait in shadow, if not the fruit of some schism (real or metaphorical) between model and operator, must be the fruit of a complex calculus to determine the trick of mirrors and ideal placement required in order to realize this tour de force (give it a try!). Combining thus mirror and shadow, two eternal vectors of self-portraiture, one positive, one negative, he denotes a magnificent reflection on the shadow of the artist, his presence imprinted within the work, inscribed in the history of art from the daughter of Dibutades to the publicity for Égoïste (Autoportrait, 1927, Estate of André Kertész).

Lastly, in his New York period, besides the polaroids taken from his window at the end of his life, I loved, aware of his depressive tendencies and phobia of America, this image of a cloud, free and simple, floating blithely before the cold and imposing mass of Rockefeller Center (Le nuage égaré, 1937, Sarah Morthland Gallery).

texte en français

Photos Courtesy of Jeu de Paume.

Sophie Calle, daughter of

When I think of those disastrous shows held in the ‘privatized’ spaces of the Palais de Tokyo (the worst being, in my opinion, Nivea’s show on skin, where only a work by Nicole Tran Ba Vang saved the day), it’s a pleasure to go explore the current wasteland, the empty spaces under construction on the lower floor,  holding the promise of a bright future (until November 27th, only by reservation). Thanks to the Galerie Perrotin, there is currently on view a selection of works by Sophie Calle, around her mother’s death, ‘Rachel, Monique,’ a mythic and vibrant character (whose epitaph is “I’m already bored,” see the article by Jean-Max Colard in Les Inrocks, October 13 2010).

In this enchanting space, in the midst of busy construction workers in helmets, one watches the video of her death, her last breath, one finds mementos of all kinds; drawings, bouquets of flowers, and quotes (“If one day I have to disappear, I leave you my shadow that will watch over you”*). The story of the memorial trip in the Arctic is very beautiful.

For the anonymous visitor, the story is barely moving, the aura of Rachel-Monique Szyndler-Calle-Pagliero-Gonthier-Sindler: one perceives more irony than tragedy in these surroundings, but as always one admires the way Sophie Calle is nourished by everything around her to transform, to turn into a mausoleum, to effect. And that, that is very strong.

From there, passing by the somber and dank gap at the base of the Palais: in a wild garden (conceived by the group balto), a pillar suspended on a tripod, a funereal ruin as well, perhaps, a tragic monument by Benjamin Valenza.

*A fresco by Masaccio in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence shows the shadow of Saint Peter touching the sick and infirm, who heal upon its passing over them, without a touch, a glance, a word, merely the shadow (Acts, 5, 12-15).

Texte en français

Photo 1: Sophie Calle, North Pole (detail), 2009 / Light box, sandblasted porcelain plaque, video, screen, color photograph, frame, variable from 7 1/4 feet x 16 1/4 feet to  26 1/4 feet © Adagp, Paris 2010, Courtesy Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris ; Arndt & Partner, Berlin / Zurich ; Koyanagi, Tokyo ; Gallery Paula Cooper, NY. Other photos by the author. Being represented by l’AGAP, Sophie Calle’s images will be pulled after a month.

FRESH HELL

Adam McEwan’s carte blanche at the Palais de Tokyo (until January 16th), is one of the most bracing exhibitions in a long time at the Palais, which too often complacently purrs and self-censors. This time, the artist (whom I hardly knew) collected a group of inspiring works to compose a show punctuated with key words (from genealogy to consecration, then to Dance Macabre, and pilgrimage, to finish with mescaline and cemeteries) that are stimulating but not too heavy handed. In the entrance, the heads of three Kings of Juda, decapitated at Notre Dame in 1793 (and not 1789) and found in a wall in 1977: ghosts of the past, apparitions of buried memories, traces of revolutionary vandals and the weight of history. These works sets the tone, not towards a prescribed point, but towards a sensibility. One might be left cold by the mercantile accumulation of crates and the green carpet of Michael Landy, but an almost funerary room (Dance Macabre, necrology, demise, idleness) cannot be ignored: Gino de Dominicis tries to fly by sheer will, Ana Mendieta gets indecent with a skeleton, and an unknown, rundown, Flemish Geert Goiris shows the disaster of a ruin, the house seeming to tumble into the water.

At the back, Bruce Nauman, with Frank Owen, shows some 15 runners (one of which of Nauman himself, in a Hassidic beard and Ray Bans) on a conveyor belt: the bodies jump, their arms move like pistons, mechanical breaths become breathless until finally exhausted; the camera alternates between close-ups of the rustling clothing, sweaty skin, and grimacing mouths. The race is absurd, without end, forever in place, in vain, a sort of dance macabre. The work was initially called ‘Pursuit (Truth),’ then ‘truth’ disappeared; it is no more than a race without end, without name.

Next, one moves through a suspended labyrinth where nothing is ever lost (by Georg Harold, who spent time in prison in East Germany for trying to get West), a light and transparent anti-prison. Then, the viewer can dump his past and unwanted memories into Martin Kippenberger’s rubberized dumpster (‘Memorial of the Good Old Times’). Rob Pruitt has a cirlce of legs in the air, detached from torsos or feet, wearing jeans that fade along the spiral of limbs—a bubbly, happy piece (‘Esprit de Corps’).

Roman Signer shows a model helicopter disaster (‘Helikopter auf Brett’), Michelangelo Pistoletto presents a portrait of Jasper Johns showing only his ears: between the two, a void, an emptiness to jump into, to fill with imagination, a flight of the artist faced with the question of identity.

As a final flourish to these notes of hollow cheer, a wall of Yes by Agathe Snow.

Photos by the author.

Read the original in French here.

50 islands I will never see

Without having grown up, like Judith Schalansky, isolated in East Germany,  I also took long voyages of thought in the pages of my atlas as a child (and I still do), letting my finger wander through deserts, my eyes gaze at the mountain ranges, my spirit knock about the ocean strewn with distant islands. And so I was bowled over by her book, Atlas of Remote Islands, (remote, not abandoned), where, with a beautiful text on her imagined wanderings and her fascination with desert or distant islands, she presents fifty maps of unlikely islands; superbly drawn maps, in which the islands seem like grey-brown jewels in a screen of marine blue. ‘Fifty islands that I have never visited, and will never visit,’ she says; me neither, no doubt. Some of them resonate with history: Iwo Jima, Sainte-Hélène, Pâques, Robinson Crusoe, Pitcairn. Others, confections of French Empire, evoke my philatelic and cartographic childhood: Clipperton, Tromelin, Amsterdam, Saint-Paul. Those in the Arctic and Antarctic are discoveries, starting of course with Lonely Island. And perhaps I would go at least for a day to Brava, in the archipelago of Cape Verde.

Each map has, en regard, a short written history, a poetic narrative vignette, to enrich rather than describe the reverie. Or, more often, the nightmare, the abandonment of the slaves of Tromelin, the folly of Victoriano Alvarez, King of Clipperton, or the burial of Allan George Ramsay to the sound of bagpipes at Laurie Island. Above, her beautiful map of Deception Island, in the South Shetlands, a treatment station for whale oil, inhabited by two hundred Norwegian men and one woman, the captain’s wife; today the island is uninhabited.

This superb book won the prize for the most beautiful book at the Fondation Allemande pour les Art in 2009: it is time that cartography is recognized as an art, and that this book be grouped in the arts section (not travel).

Addendum from November 5th: Although the maps look similar, this strikes me as a very different work from that of David Renaud, both in form and in magnitude, shown four years ago in Metz.

En français.

Move Choreographing You

The show Move Choreographing You at the Hayward Gallery in London (ends January 9th)* aims to explore the interactions between art and dance, starting from the end of the 1950s. Unfortunately, despite a number of interesting works included in the show, the exhibition falls short of being a success. The selection is far from enough, the aim of the show is not adequately articulated, and we end up with too many facile, amusing, interactive pieces, plus a few others which leave one wondering why they were included (like the eight-channel video piece by Isaac Julien, whose only choreographed dimension seems to be to make the viewer move from screen to screen in order to see it: Doug Aiken is better in this regard). It is doubtless symptomatic that one of the pieces in the show is an installation by Robert Morris at the Tate in 1971, as it was reproduced in 2009: sanitized fun-for-the-whole-family, its conceptual dimension lost.

To a degree, this is also the case for the video works by Dan Graham, ‘PresentContinuousPast,’ where the image of the visitor is replayed with a timelapse of eight seconds; a remarkable piece, but presented here as a fairground attraction.  That’s the case for the obstacle course (parcours) by Bill Forsythe, ‘The fact of the matter,’ a game for (large) children that does not seem to connect to the choreographer’s work on the body and space. Christian Jankowski’s hula hoop is sage in comparison with other works using the same device. A few remaining pieces in the show are more complex, less playful and inciting reflection. Boris Charmatz’s sensory room, ‘héâtre-élévision,’ where, for 52 minutes, lying in the dark on a piano-bed, one watches video of dance as absurd as these: it is not especially fun, one does not play, but one experiments, supine, an extreme position of spectator, disoriented, disconnected, a voluntary prisoner. I also liked Franz West’s anti-ergonomic ‘adopted’ objects, impossible to manipulate, towards which one must adapt, and not the reverse; neuroses objectified, according to West.

There are two most most interesting pieces; dense, intimate, not exhibitionist or comical. The ‘Green Light Corridor’ by Bruce Nauman is so narrow that one must walk through it sideways, one’s nose against the wall, aware of keeping one’s balance, moving slowly  and cautiously; the green light adds a slight uneasiness that seizes the spectator. The other is  the installation by Lydia Clark called ‘The house is the body: penetration, ovulation, germination, expulsion,’ in which the spectator penetrates with difficulty, must struggle to maintain one’s path in the midst of loose balls and various tangles, and find refuge in this tear-shaped tent. It is of course a piece about procreation, gestation, and birth, no doubt from a feminist angle, but it is also perhaps a metaphor for artistic creation, or simply for life itself, from an angle half Catholic (you give birth in pain), and half Buddhist (the incessant cycle of life and death).

But this somewhat disappointing show (quite far from the much richer and more reflective A Theatre without Theatre at MACBA), it redeems itself (and merits a visit) through its rich archival selection, where one can see close to two hundred dance performances, organized by theme, period, artist, etc. It is a remarkable archive and I hope will remain long after the show.

*The show will then go to Munich (February to May), and then to Dusseldorf (July to September).

texte en français

Photographs by the author. Images of the works by Bruce Nauman, being represented by ADAGP, will be pulled from the blog after the show finishes in Dusseldorf.