Jessica Morgan


    Curated by Elena Filipovic

    Technology and its pernicious impact on the body have been popular cultural topics arguably since the Industrial Revolution, but we are now submitting to even greater levels of oppression. Geumhyung Jeong mines the tense, erotic connection between human touch and animatronic presence in her videos, sculptures, and performances, which have previously explored a dramatic sexual encounter between the artist and a CPR doll and deeply humorous yet erogenous antics involving various types of gym equipment. Both performances were excruciatingly paced to confuse the real and

  • Sharjah Biennial 13

    Long admired for her remarkable work as an educator, curator, and convener, Christine Tohme has never before organized a major international exhibition, and I am sure many are eager to see what her pioneering vision will bring. True to form, Tohme is taking an expansive view of what it means to curate, uniting a veritable archipelago of sites and platforms under the rubric of tamawuj, an Arabic word suggestive of fluctuation, the physical movement of waves, or an undulating form. The biennial’s first “act” opens in Sharjah in March, but the show will have additional

  • Jessica Morgan


    Picked up at my excellent local bookstore, McNally Jackson (long may it last!), Maja Haderlap’s novel Angel of Oblivion (Archipelago; first published by Wallstein Verlag as Engel des Vergessens in 2012) is inflected with a staccato rhythm—a rush of present-tense observation—that reveals the writer to be a poet at heart. Set in the Carinthian countryside, which harbors a lesser-known European history—that of the Slovene-speaking minority in Austria and their resistance to Nazi occupation—Haderlap’s first-person story is authored with the intense sensorial

  • Jessica Morgan

    SOMETIMES MORE IS LESS. Despite its extensive documentation of alienating labor conditions past and present, despite multiple reflections on an atrophied human society, and despite a decidedly bleak view of the possibilities for political change, the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale is surprisingly easy on the eye and mind. Works are viewed, acknowledged, and effortlessly passed by. Although many performances and live works interrupt the exhibition’s flow and call out for attention, very few offer a memorable or visceral experience.

    This Biennale is an unexpected turn for curator Okwui Enwezor, who


    SHEELA GOWDA is always weighing her options: literally—insofar as her sculptural works are often suspended, their hanging substance demonstrating their heft—but also figuratively, as the found images she uses are assessed for potential content, both obvious and latent. “I find it impossible to look at anything around me without thinking about the processes behind it,” the artist has said.1

    The material consciousness of a sustained sculptural practice does not commonly accompany the two-dimensional scrutiny of our image-obsessed culture, a scrutiny increasingly filtered through technological


    Pop Art serves to remind us . . . that we have fashioned for ourselves a world of artefacts and images that are intended not to train perception or awareness but to insist that we merge with them as the primitive man merges with his environment. The world of modern advertising is a magical environment constructed to produce effects for the total economy but not designed to increase human awareness.

    [. . .]

    “Pop Art” is the use of some object in our own daily environment as if it were anti-environmental.

    —Marshall McLuhan, “The Relation of Environment to Anti-environment”¹


  • “Rita McBride: Public Tender”

    Industrial designer, public artist, sculptor, architect, producer, author . . . Rita McBride has forged the path for the ’90s generation of multidisciplined, unconventional sculptors of mellifluous space, people, environments, and, most particularly, products.

    Industrial designer, public artist, sculptor, architect, producer, author . . . Rita McBride has forged the path for the ’90s generation of multidisciplined, unconventional sculptors of mellifluous space, people, environments, and, most particularly, products. It’s a wonder that she’s not yet conquered the realm of performance (an area so de rigueur today), but perhaps, given McBride’s acute attention to the thingness of our existence, there’s never been a need: The public has always been the performer. In this survey, curator Bartomeu Marí brings together such key works


    LIKE MANY CURATORS, I have an abiding fear of becoming blind to art that doesn’t have a “look” I am already comfortable with. So many up-and-coming artists seem to fit into well-established categories, whether the etiolated figurative painting of Kai Althoff, Enrico David, Tomasz Kowalski, and Andro Wekua; the linear and refined abstraction of Tomma Abts, Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, and R. H. Quaytman; or the large-scale “accumulation installation” of John Bock, Christoph Büchel, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Mike Nelson, to pick out just three current “styles.” Given the dominance of such trends, it

  • “Sanja Iveković: Sweet Violence”

    A central figure in Eastern Europe’s long-overlooked history of astutely political Conceptual art, Sanja Iveković is finally getting her due with “Sweet Violence,” an exhibition of more than one hundred works spanning the Croatian artist’s career since 1974. For her photomontage series “Double Life,” 1975–76, Iveković matched photographs from her personal album with clichéd poses cut from women’s magazines, using mimicry as an incisive critical strategy (and notably predating Cindy Sherman’s 1977–80 “Untitled Film Stills”). Along with many other photomontage works and

  • “Rosa Barba: Stage Archive”

    With individual examples appearing in recent biennials, Barba’s work has become known for its engagement with the mechanics of film projection and the eerie nostalgia of forgotten sites.

    With individual examples appearing in recent biennials, Barba’s work has become known for its engagement with the mechanics of film projection and the eerie nostalgia of forgotten sites. This summer, a broader spread of her work will be presented all at once when she mounts coinciding shows at neighboring institutions. Eleven pieces made during the past five years will be on view, including several existing 16-mm films and new site-specific work for both venues. Taking this opportunity to excavate MART’s own archive, Barba creates an imaginative mental


    HALF JAPANESE AND HALF BRITISH, raised in a remote seaside village in England and gay, with an education in architecture as well as in art, Simon Fujiwara has a biography that is almost too full of potential for our “glocal,” multiethnic, multidisciplinary age. The temptation to read the twenty-seven-year-old artist’s practice through his personal life is irresistible, all the more so since his work—which moves among the registers of the performance-lecture, the sculptural installation, and the written word—is almost always ostensibly autobiographical, albeit with a liberal dose of


    ACTOR, PLAYWRIGHT, AND VIDEO ARTIST Rabih Mroué has made the lecture-performance his métier. Picaresque journeys through Lebanon’s recent history augmented by archival evidence of dubious veracity, his presentations are filled with engrossing narratives. They lead audiences through a series of responses—among them laughter, disbelief, painful empathy, and horror—and leave them with a profound doubt as to the possibility of identifying in any accounting of the past anything that could reasonably be called the truth.
    Mroué is not alone in exploring this territory. His practice took shape within a tight-knit community of artists, writers, and curators (each occupying multiple positions) who, in the early years of this decade, came together in Beirut to form an unofficial school. What the members of this cadre (including Walid Raad, Marwan Rechmaoui, Walid Sadek, Christine Tohme, and Akram Zaatari) share is an interest in analyzing the near-constant war of their youth, as well as a conviction that such analysis must entail the replication and deconstruction of both experience and representation. Text, image, video, and archival materials feature in many of their works, as does arch, satiric humor that provides intermittent release from the relentless recounting of violence. Mroué’s examination of the structures of live performance, however, distinguishes him from his cohorts. Like the experimental theatrical and choreographic artists (such as the Berlin-based group Rimini Protokoll and the French performer and choreographer Jérôme Bel) with whom he often appears, he creates work characterized by a reflexivity that abolishes the fourth wall of traditional theatrical space. Occasionally, he writes scripts for multiple performers, but his one-person shows and his videos—which undertake the same kinds of destabilizing epistemological explorations as his live works—are at the core of his practice.
    While Mroué is a charismatic performer, his presence onstage is reticent. He typically appears seated quietly at a table with a computer and a single light source. Images are projected onto a nearby screen—his own documentation, ephemera, news articles, and other mediated materials—and this “evidence,” some of it fabricated, becomes his performance’s focal point. (In The Inhabitants of Images, 2009, a piece Mroué presented at this year’s Istanbul Biennial, for example, the artist meditates on the propaganda posters that are ubiquitous in Beirut, taking as his jumping-off point a surreal flyer that shows an impossible tête-à-tête between Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt who died in 1970, and Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister who resigned in 2004 and was assassinated in 2005.) Emphasizing voids in knowledge and meaning, the artist deliberately creates temporal confusion: Reflections on the civil war of 1975–90 are woven into a kind of double present—the textual present (when a lecture is written) and the performative one (when it is staged). His own professed and depicted confusion about these chronologies becomes the audience’s sympathetic experience. Spectators may feel they are watching a relentless unearthing, reassembling, and reexamination of available media and “histories,” including rumors and conspiracy theories—the navigation of a Borgesian labyrinth. Mroué deliberately plays with the trust that is generally assumed between actor and audience: His self-doubt undermines our capacity to suspend disbelief. Along with the artist, we are left to double back from dead ends, trying to recall paths already explored and attempting absurdist leaps of the imagination—at times, seemingly, the only option available—in order to unwind a tangle of possible interpretations.
    The serious questions posed by this theater of mediation become all the clearer when considered in the Lebanese context—one defined by conflict and by authoritarian control of information (Mroué has had numerous run-ins with censors)—and the artist explored these implications in Three Posters, 2000, written with Elias Khoury. The work’s starting point is the videotaped suicide testimony of Jamal Sati, a fighter for the National Resistance Front in Lebanon, which was rediscovered by a friend of the authors’ on the shelves of a Beirut TV station, where it had been gathering dust since 1985. Reviewing it, the authors found that in fact Sati had performed three versions of the testimony before settling on the “best,” the one that he wanted shown on TV. Even in death, it would appear, there are variants on the right, or perhaps the most believable, performance. Mroué’s piece intermingles his own readings (one prerecorded and projected onto a screen, the other live) of Sati’s speech with the original 1985 tape. Sifting through these temporal and performative layers, the audience is left to surmise which version is most credible.
    And in turn, the performance was subject to further layering, giving rise to a subsequent piece—a video work titled On Three Posters, 2004. Here, the artist recalls how, in 2002, he decided to stop staging the piece outside his home country. Post-9/11, Sati’s martyrdom—which Sati, like other Lebanese factionalists, would have seen not as an act of jihad but as a military-political operation—was too frequently subsumed within the often frankly xenophobic Western debate about religious fundamentalism. As he recounts this chronicle of mistranslation, Mroué wonders whether in fact the martyr’s televised statements could be seen as Lebanon’s first video art and whether that explains the compulsion on the part of artists of his generation to reexamine such documents.
    As the dual (On) Three Posters suggest, the interconnections of live and video performances in Mroué’s work are complex. In his US debut, tentatively titled “Letter to New York” and taking place this month at New York’s P.S. 122 under the umbrella of Performa 09, he will present four videos—I, the Undersigned, 2007, an autonomous section of a longer work called Make Me Stop Smoking, 2006; On Three Posters; and two additional works, With Soul, with Blood, 2003, and Side A/Side B, 2002—along with a fifth, still in development as of this writing, that the artist calls a “letter” to the audience. Some who know his work may find it curious that Mroué is not performing live. And yet an intimate letter—a text that marks its author’s absence and distance in the author’s own voice and that initiates a ricocheting interplay of past, present, and future—seems, in its inherent paradoxes and reflexivity, to be, for Mroué, a perfect form of introduction.

    IN LEBANON, almost anyone who is killed, anyone who dies an unnatural death, is called a martyr. And there are posters of them everywhere. Normally, it’s taboo to talk about them—all these weird political street posters with pictures of dead people—because it’s taboo to discuss anything having to do with martyrs. They are heroes; they’re half saints. And what I began to think, when I was developing The Inhabitants of Images, is that these posters are like a new form of icon. So the piece is an attempt to deconstruct and talk about these images in a very human way, to deal with them as

  • Jessica Morgan

    A CONFERENCE AT TATE MODERN in London this fall titled “Landmark Exhibitions: Contemporary Art Shows Since 1968” drove home to me the degree to which the major temporary events on the art-world calendar have replaced museums as the last, best hope for experimental exhibition making. Against the backdrop of a proliferation of blockbuster monographic shows in museums—to say nothing of those institutions’ meek or celebratory surveys of recent art whose critical theorization is limited to the vague moniker “contemporary”—we have seen the memorable statements of Catherine David’s Documenta


    THE INTERACTIVE SCULPTURE Who here listens (to) BBC news on Friday night?, 2008, might be said to offer a key or a code to French artist Aurélien Froment’s photographic, video, book, and object-based practice. The piece, whose title is a mnemonic for the first lines of the periodic table, consists of a glass table covered with fifty-two “playing cards,” all white on one side and with various pictures on the other, in pairs. The depicted items—as diverse as a Bauhaus staircase, a fossil, a billiard ball, and Froment’s own works—circulate around the artist’s concerns both formal (e.g., the image

  • Between Bridges and London’s alternative spaces

    ALONG WITH THE ARRIVAL of the supersize gallery in London, the past few years have witnessed the opening of a handful of galleries that barely warrant the term space, given that they are so entirely lacking in square footage. For example, Ancient & Modern, run by Rob Tufnell and Bruce Haines, is situated in no more than a corridor off Old Street; Associates, the yearlong project run by artist Ryan Gander that closed in 2007, took place in a boxlike storefront on Hoxton Street; and the Bethnal Green gallery Between Bridges is located in what can only be described as a stairwell leading to artist

  • Jessica Morgan


    1 Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, “Expodrome” (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris/ARC, Paris) A generation of artists who have long been concerned with questioning the status quo of exhibition making—and therefore largely steered clear of standard-fare solo or thematic shows—have now arrived at a point in their careers when they are being invited to present “comprehensive retrospectives” of their work in major art-world institutions. Gonzalez-Foerster wisely resisted lapsing into convention with her stunning journey through the unusual spaces of the Musée d’Art Moderne

  • Jessica Morgan

    ROBERT STORR’S lackluster performance as director of the 52nd Venice Biennale does unequivocally achieve one thing: It makes clear how stimulating and sharp Francesco Bonami’s 2003 version really was. Criticized by some at the time for its surfeit of artists, curators, and ideas, Bonami’s “Dreams and Conflicts” insightfully took on the pluralistic state of contemporary art, illuminating the coexistence of discrete but related dialogues in a series of exhibitions that took advantage of the many and divided spaces of the Biennale itself. “Dreams and Conflicts” not only introduced the work of


    WHETHER EXPLORING the colonial history of the Hudson River, recounting the life story of a freed slave in the American Northeast, staging a tale by Edgar Allan Poe, or recording his own attempts to discover the origin of four home movies from the 1920s found on a Manhattan street, Matthew Buckingham, in his film and video projects, often seems also to be documenting the exploits of an amateur enthusiast: himself. Indeed, the New York–based artist’s practice might be seen as sharing common ground with the fast-growing hobby of historical reenactment, involving as it does the exhaustive researching

  • Jessica Morgan

    1 Mario Ybarra Jr. (“Uncertain States of America: American Art in the 3rd Millennium,” Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo/Serpentine Gallery, London/Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, NY) Ybarra excelled in his double contribution to this otherwise confused exhibition. In Oslo and at Bard he presented Dance to the Beat of a Different Drum Machine, 2005, a vast assemblage of flyers and mix tapes collected in the early 1990s by his friend DJ Haven Perez, as well as interviews with participants in the West Coast rave scene. Ybarra’s eye for subcultures’ design aesthetics was also


    UNLIKE MANY ARTISTS TODAY who scavenge from every last scrap of modernist production, Ulla von Brandenburg has leaped over that period of utopian experimentalism, alighting instead in the preceding century. Von Brandenburg is attracted to the sophistication, escapism, extreme aestheticism, world-weariness, and fashionable despair that characterized the literary and artistic climate of the European fin de siècle (though in practice she looks equally to German Romanticism and the baroque metaphor of theatrum mundi). Rather than longing for ideological absolutes, the apparent impetus for the ongoing