Left: Art Cologne director Daniel Hug with dealer Jochen Meyer and artist Julia Müller. Right: Art Berlin director Maike Cruse.


BERLIN IS IN THE MIDST OF CHANGE, both seasonal and structural. Seasonal because a summer of torrential rain has finally given way to the blue skies and orange hues of autumn; structural because, as Forbes said earlier this year, Berlin has “turned into a thriving global capital that draws investors.”

One of said investors is the respected fair Art Cologne, which has now merged with art berlin contemporary (abc) to create Art Berlin. This event was inaugurated last week and, as most of Berlin’s art world succumbed to the flu, sales soared for art and Ibuprofen alike.

The city’s exponential development seems motored by the merging art, techno, and startup scenes as successful DJs become collectors and investors. Two openings in reappropriated (i.e. gentrified) buildings marked an early start to Berlin Art Week: Haegue Yang’s towering venetian-blind installation at Neukölln’s KINDL Centre for Contemporary Art (a former brewery) and the Volksbühne’s contemporary dance festival, mounted by new artistic director Chris Dercon and French choreographer Boris Charmatz at one of Tempelhof Airport’s defunct hangars. As the sun set across the vast horizontal park, a pink glow was cast upon hip-hop, house, and vogue dancers, who moved into the darkness.

Left: KW director Krist Gruijthuijsen. Right: Curator Octavio Zaya, dealer Barbara Thumm, and artist Dread Scott.


Tuesday was marked by the late Brazilian designer Bea Feitler’s exhibition at Wolfgang Tillmans’s project space, Between Bridges. Following his anti-Brexit campaign, Tillmans is again engaged in politics, encouraging young left-wing German voters to turn up for the September 24th general election.

Wednesday saw Willem de Rooij’s opening at KW Institute. My own cold brought me down, but I was determined to make it out to Potsdam’s historic Villa Schöningen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where British artist and poet Billy Childish is showing paintings. His haunting, introspective works depict figures and landscapes inspired by Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele. Performing a capella music and poetry for the first time in more than a year, his confessional words thrilled audience members including Berlin stalwarts Eva & Adele—“I’m meant to read some poems, that’ll get rid of ya!”—while his dedicated dealer, Tim Neuger, told me about his first-ever meeting with Childish, traveling hundreds of miles to find the artist seated at a grand piano. The museum’s founder is the charismatic Mathias Döpfner, CEO of publishing company Axel Springer, who talked of his passion for the building—which was designed for a Prussian King and later abandoned by a fleeing Jewish family. Cocktail revelers returned to Berlin for a party bathed in red light at BRICKS, while I went home for a hot lemon-and-ginger.

The next day, Art Berlin’s opening was marked by an energy that has been lacking from the fair’s prior iterations. 110 galleries from sixteen countries came together to expand the former remit by presenting contemporary and modern art, attracting collectors including Harald Falckenberg (who claimed it was the best fair he had been to in years), Uli Sigg, and the Boroses. Booths ranged from Sprüth Magers’s chaotic John Bock extravaganza complete with acid-green walls to Gillmeier Rech, participating in a Berlin fair for the first time, and Norway’s Galerie Opdahl, who showed the dreamily corporeal sculptures of British artist Rebecca Ackroyd. OUTSET’s award went to Julian Charrière and Julius von Bismarck, whose work Objects in Mirror Might Be Closer Than They Appear (2016–17) will join the Sprengel Museum’s collection in Hannover.

Left: Artist Geoffry Farmer, Schinkel Pavillon director Nina Pohl, and Maria Eve Lafontaine. Right: Dealers Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany and Nadine Zeidler.


The evening’s opening took place at the Hamburger Bahnhof, where the surreal “Festival of Future Nows 2017” mixed performances featuring an indoor forest, drones, interactive screens, and walking doors. Highlights included Fabian Knecht’s The Falling Man—Knecht is known for setting fire to the roof of the Neue Nationalgalerie—and the festival’s founding director Olafur Eliasson could be seen wandering the cavernous hall.

A throng of gallery openings took place the following evening in the former East and West alike. Esteemed visitors including Hito Steyerl perused the videos at Harun Farocki’s exhibition at Galerie Barbara Weiss. (Farocki, who made over ninety experimental films, died in 2014 and also has a retrospective at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein.) Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler launched their new gallery just next door, an exciting step for this interesting pair, currently showing Andreas Crespo’s videos and drawings.

Cycling down the road, I popped into the Monica Bonvicini’s show at the Berlinische Galerie, where her giant scaffold and wall divide the space in two, and nearby, ChertLüdde are showing Ruth Wof-Rehfeldt’s archive, an East German artist now in her mid-eighties, who was included in this year’s Documenta 14 having virtually stopped working when the wall fell in 1989. In Schöneberg, there was British sculptor Holly Hendry at Arratia Beer, whose strata of rose marble, jesmonite, and oak are intestinal in appearance, and Michael Simpson at Blain|Southern, an octogenarian painter whose elegant renderings of stairways were presented by the gallery’s Craig Burnett and Jess Fletcher.

Performance at BRICKS Berlin Art Week launch party. (Photo: Camila McHugh)


I went onto Sprüth Magers’s dinner at Le Petit Royal, where artist Jon Rafman’s charming mother Sandra (a pediatric psychologist) greeted visitors in a whirl of excitement about her son’s brilliant gallery show. I chatted with artist Simon Denny, Future Gallery dealer Mike Ruiz, and Feuerle director Daniele Maruca, who kindly invited me to visit the collection of Asian art the next day, housed in a World War II bunker—an offer I gleefully accepted, despite staying out until the early hours of the morning partying with Julia Stoschek at Kudamm Karre, a smoky knieper in a shopping center.

Although ready to collapse into a heap of tissues by the weekend, I found time to visit the Schinkel Pavillon on Saturday, where Geoffrey Farmer’s show comprising sculptural reproductions from antiquity to modern times perfectly complemented my experience of the Feuerle Collection. During the institution’s dinner at the Kronprinzenpalais (Crown Prince’s Palace), I sat with Stoschek Collection director Monica Kerkmann while Schinkel director Nina Pohl heaped rightful praise on Farmer.

The week came to a fitting end on Sunday as I met with Art Berlin director Maike Cruse, who had just returned from giving a tour to supercurator Hans Ulrich Obrist. Though ever cool, she had caught the—now infamous—Berlin cold. She was happily ready to fall into fall, hot off the heels of a successful fair that has seen her signing another three-year lease at the venue, Station Berlin. I just hope a year is enough time to recover before round two.

Louisa Elderton

Now I Know How Joan of Arc Felt

Henningsvær, Norway
09.11.17

Stine Janvin Motland in Adam Linder's To Gear a Joan. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)


JOANS, GET OUT HERE with your skills . . . UP!

The call-to-arms at the core of Adam Linder’s To Gear a Joan came from a pert, partially armored performer following a slow parade around the attic space of the Trevarefabrikken, an old cod-liver oil factory lately serving as a “social shelter.” Conceived as a “wearable libretto,” “activated” by the Stavanger-born vocalist Stine Janvin Motland, Linder’s performance will recur throughout the September run of this year’s Lofoten International Arts Festival, which kicked off the Friday before last in Henningsvær, a comely little fishing village roughly one hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Motland was perfect for the part, with the delicate, darting features of a sparrow offset by an austere slate of close-cropped bangs. Her breastplate’s near-symbiotic fit and the sea-stone smoothness of its carbon-fiber finish made the performer look simultaneously futuristic and ancient. In her rich, Regina Spektor–like chirp, Motland warned her unseen foes: “Joans have grown thicker skin.”

But what use a Joan of Arctic? “This history of conquest, expansion, and extraction, this mining of resources and overcoming of nature—it all has such a masculine energy to it,” Linder explained during a publicly broadcast Skype call from Switzerland, where he was prepping his solo show at Kunsthalle Basel. “I started thinking about feminism—not as an essentialized representation of women, but rather as the philosophical principles that might come from the feminine.” He saw his Joan as equal parts ecofeminism and feminist pessimism, both troubled by the proximity to the sea and the ocean’s complicity with capitalism, “what it has carried and what it has buried.”

Left: LIAF artist Daisuke Kosugi. Right: LIAF Curators Milena Høgsburg and Heidi Ballet with LIAF director Svein Ingvoll Pedersen.


“It’s amazing how much of the artists’ thinking mirrored our own,” LIAF curators Heidi Ballet and Milena Høgsberg marveled after Linder’s talk. “I Taste the Future,” their theme for this year’s edition, challenged participants to imagine life 150 years from now. “It’s difficult to talk about the future in such a loaded moment,” Ballet confessed. “We wanted to move past apocalyptic scenarios and get into a more playful way of thinking.”

“None of the artists took the 150-year prompt that literally,” Høgsberg added. “But this was the premise for a conversation about what a shared future might look like.” The emphasis on “taste” was key, as it lifted the discussion out of the usual theoretical maelstroms. “I guess we could have just as soon called it ‘I Smell the Future,’” Høgsberg admitted.

The curators drew from two archives, which are on view within the exhibition. The first culls science-fiction titles such as J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Deep Range—fantasies of utopian/dystopian futures, almost all connected to the ocean. The second archive traces the intertwining of national branding and resource extraction, a critical conversation when the consequences of one society’s consumption can be conveniently shouldered off onto peoples on the other side of the globe. Undercurrents of nation-state mythologies and their attendant racial inequalities churned through the works of Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Sondra Perry, Youmna Chlala, and Ho Tzu Nyen, each of whom proposed a novel measure (from gilded mouth grills to the color blue) for charting the bathtub rings of receding colonialist regimes and the oncoming tides of capitalism.

Still from Fabrizio Terranova's Donna Haraway—Story Telling for Earthly Survival, 2016. (Photo: Kjell Ove Storvik/NNKS)


It was no surprise that the festival found its anthem in Donna Haraway’s 1984 “Cyborg Manifesto.” The renowned theorist makes a cameo appearance via Fabrizio Terranova’s Donna Haraway: Story Telling for Earthly Survival, a ninety-minute film that needlessly seeks to upstage its magnetic protagonist with green-screen high jinks, including the arrival of sofa-size jellyfish, serenely streaming behind her desk chair. Haraway’s message—as endearing as it is exacting—does not need special effects to resonate.

Still, jellyfish made a ready mascot for the festival’s theme, given their association with adaptability and the implicit conviction that the politics of the sea will soon supplant those of land. As Lisa Rave’s 2014 film Europium reminds us, the very compounds that make our iPhones and LCD displays possible—the so-called “rare-earth minerals”—are, true to their name, not exactly in abundance. The ocean floor remains one of their last potential lodes, spurring recent attempts to legally peel the seabed from the waters above, allowing for mining rights to be bought or bartered, despite the supposedly international waters: in effect, privatizing the ocean.

Rare earth is not the only resource the sea offers, as Belgian artist Filip Van Dingenen reminded audience members during his Seaweed Cutting, Collecting and Conservation Project workshops, conducted throughout LIAF’s opening weekend. Participants learned about the myriad applications of the sea plants (“Weeds is really a misnomer”) while using a press to create impressions of harvested species. I pointed out that Van Dingenen’s signature logo—“CCCP”—could be read in Russian as “USSR.” “Printmaking has always been connected with revolutions,” he reasoned.

Henningsvær feels ripe for a revolution, albeit maybe on a more modest scale than the one posited by the festival. Poised between its history as one of the capitals of the fishing industry and its looming potential as a site for the extraction of the ocean’s still largely untapped mineral resources, the town of 450-ish has temporarily settled into the uneasy lull of Airbnb tourism. For its first edition based in this village (previous outings have centered on the “big cities” of Svolvær and Kabelvåg), LIAF headquartered in Trevarefabrikken, though the exhibition overflowed to two other former fish factories at opposite ends of the walkable enclave. Elin Már Øyen Vister’s ebullient contribution, Dear Henningsvær and the Ocean that Embraces You!, made the most of the compact terrain with an “outdoor sensory walk” cobbled together from oral histories of the village, punctuated by Sea Sámi mermaid yoiks at the water’s edge.

Left: Eglė Budvytytė's performance Liquid Power Has No Shame. Right: Director of the Norwegian Art Council Kristen Danielsen, Vågan Municipality mayor Eivind Holst, and Trevarefabrikken's Andreas Hjelle.


Another crowd-pleasing coastal commission was Daisuke Kosugi’s Good Name (Bad Phrase)—a title nicked from Gayatri Spivak—which occupied the Henningsvær Stadion, a blank slate of eerily clean artificial turf hanging over the picturesque tip of the island. Viewers listened through headphones to four different audio tracks, each mingling storytelling with a set of instructions. As an intermission, listeners were treated to “I’m My Own Grandpa,” quite possibly the world’s most upbeat ode to incest.

Eglė Budvytytė’s Liquid Power Has No Shame also took to the (few) streets, sending three gender-fluid performers on a steady, sultry progression from Trevarefabrikken to the rocks lining the shore. Their placidly lurid gyrations were explicitly directed toward nature rather than the human audience; this omnivorous, interspecies eroticism manifested in their glossy hoodies, embroidered with oblong octopi. “A boy on a tricycle just asked me where the people in gold are,” Budvytytė beamed. “The kids in the village have been watching us practice, so they now know all the moves.”

A prized component of LIAF’s programming is its outreach to school kids. (The mayor of the Vågan Municipality, Eivind Holst, pledged that all one thousand of the district’s pupils would tour the exhibition.) Students—albeit of the slightly older, aimlessly “arty” variety—already made up the majority of revelers at Friday’s official launch. I noticed artist Markus Degerman herding a busload from the Trømso Art Academy, while curator Joanna Warsza sailed in with ten participants from her CuratorLab at Stockholm’s Konstfack. While the room was clearly gearing up for dancing (“Club Night,” I kept hearing), I eyed the above-the-Arctic pricing for alcohol and winced. “How do students afford to drink here?” I asked Degerman. “On the drive here we pulled over at a discount supermarket,” he shrugged.

I ducked back to the Henningsvær Bryggehotell for a fireside glass of wine with curator Jarrett Gregory, in town on a research trip for her new post at the Hirshhorn Museum. At breakfast the next morning, we asked art historian Hanne Hammer Stien if we had missed anything. “The Northern Lights?” I had forgotten that above the Arctic Circle, the stakes for early bedtimes were higher than just missing a few choice party fouls.

Left: Daisuke Kosugi's Good Name (Bad Phrase) at Henningsvær Stadion. (Photo: Kjell Ove Storvik/NNKS) Right: People's Kitchen Tromsø's Liv Bangsund.


The true social centerpieces of the opening weekend were the communal lunches, prepared by People’s Kitchen Henningsvær, an offshoot of the eponymous Tromsø initiative. The meals were prepared exclusively with surplus or expired foodstuffs from the grocery stores in neighboring Kabelvåg. I had first encountered dumpster-diving a decade ago while studying in the Bay Area, and, I admit, the concept still left me queasy. At the time, the practice was something of a shibboleth for a certain set of co-op kids, mostly East Coast scions for whom the reclaimed cheese plate offered entre to a world of communal showers, conspicuously dirty sweaters, and polyamorous entanglements with lavender-dreaded white girls.

The People’s Kitchen Tromsø founder, Liv Bangsund, quickly dispensed with this stereotype. Warm and slightly maternal, she has a way of speaking that makes you feel like she’s about to give you a cookie. The idea had originally rooted as part of her MA in art and sustainability, but Bangsund wanted to push it further, outside the art world and into partnerships with local environmentalists. For People’s Kitchen Henningsvær, this meant reaching out to groups such as the Lofoten wing of Framtiden i våre hender (The Future in Our Hands), an Oslo-based environmental advocacy group. “Lofoten is full of people who come to surf, to climb, to be with nature,” Bangsund told me. “These are people who tend to be interested in climate change, who reject capitalism and collect surplus food.” She paused, then added: “But really I got the idea from South Hackney.”

The People’s Kitchen Henningsvær set up shop in the town’s Festiviteten, inviting all who were interested to pitch in with cooking and cleaning. The extravagant Saturday lunch was met in kind by a swell of underfed art students and curious onlookers. By the time Warsza, Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, and I had made it through the line, little was left but cauliflower soup and potato chips. Across the table, Van Dingenen caught my eye: “We should have brought some seaweed.”

Sunday afternoon, I tried my luck once more at the communal table, comforted with the breakfast-buffet nectarine tucked into my tote bag. The art students had all left that morning, filing out of town in a backpacked progression along the main road. (“It’s like watching the last day of Glastonbury,” writer Harry Thorne remarked.) An eye-popping spread greeted me at Festiviteten, with full platters of colorful salads, meatballs, fried fishcakes, apple crumble, and crepes, with two kinds of sauces: chocolate and “other.” It was an embarrassment of riches. Debating the ethics of going back for seconds, I recalled a line from Linder’s libretto: “And you ask why the future cannot be tasted? Cause to blink in the present has left more wasted.”

Kate Sutton

Left: LIAF artist Youmna Chlala. Right: Curators Natalie Hope O'Donnell, Anne Szefer Karlsen, and Tone Hansen.


Emory Memories

Modica, Italy
09.08.17

Left: Dealer Corrado Gugliotta and artist Emory Douglas. Right: Dealer Sveva D'Antonio and collector Francesco Taurisano.


THE MODICA STOP on the erratic airport bus from Catania was more rugged than I expected for an ancient UNESCO World Heritage spot. But a few hills down the road we were engulfed by the voluptuous Baroque architecture that defines this beautiful Sicilian comune: “The historical center is over there,” the driver beamed.

Sveva D’Antonio of Laveronica Arte Contemporanea met me at the parking lot with a disarming smile and the equally disarming presence of seventy-four-year-old Emory Douglas, the graphic artist behind the Black Panther newspaper (1967–80). Douglas had wanted to go on a stroll, and picking me up was as good an excuse as any. Celebrating the gallery’s ten-year anniversary, Corrado Gugliotta and D’Antonio had invited the revolutionary designer to share his experience and artwork with the community in a laudatory, aptly titled show, “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle.”

Struggle was the furthest thing from our mind, though, as we were treated with a visit to Cooperativa Sociale Quetzal La Bottega Solidale, a fair-trade chocolate laboratory, where Monia Berti and her perky eleven-year-old son Giacomo educated us on the bittersweet economy of cocoa—from its history of exploitation to its spiritual Aztec history. Dinner followed al fresco with antipasti, arancini, and ricotta.

Left: Collectors Grazioso Attilio and Stefania Giazzi with Pablo the dog. Right: Artist Francesco Lauretta and Jonida Xherri.


The next day collector Francesco Taurisano picked us up in front of San Pietro church to take Gugliotta’s car to Scicli (another late Baroque gem). The scenic trip was accompanied by a sound track of the E Zezi Workers Group, a mid-1970s band created by Alfasud car factory workers. Insurrection was the theme of the day. At the Convento del Rosario Scicli, Laveronica had organized an emulation of the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program in collaboration with Maria SS. del Rosario Day Centre for Juveniles, which cares for kids from disadvantaged families.

“I was the old man then, twenty-one going on twenty-two,” Douglas said, laughing while pointing at his slide presentation, underscoring the early Panthers’ extreme youth. Sixty-five Sicilian kids patiently surveyed photos of the African American revolutionary group––founded in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale––feeding children (and at times distributing as many as ten thousand bags of groceries), handing out shoes, and sending ambulances to communities where officials wouldn’t venture. After a roaring “Thank you!” the mob rushed the tables for a sugar-coma-inducing breakfast. Assisting the sisters were collectors Ignazio Manenti and Francesca La Terra, intern Sarah Lewiecki, and artist Guglielmo Manenti, who created a satirical illustration of the Black Panther Party logo for kids to color, and a logo with Laveronica’s name. Running back and forth, children stopped to hug Douglas, their affection palpable.

That evening we headed to the city of Ragusa, known for its Baroque and fascist architecture. “Welcome to our headquarters,” said Pippo Gurrieri of the Ragusa-based Sicilian anarchist group Sicilia Libertaria. (Gurrieri collaborated with the gallery last year on a project by artist Jonas Staal and curator Matteo Lucchetti.) We toured the three-floor building as our guides explained the construction of the Multiple User Objective System ground station (MUOS) in Niscemi, a US military transmission facility. “Every war the US starts, they do it from Sicily,” said Gurrieri, whose group is part of the “No-MUOS” movement that calls attention to the harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation on nearby inhabitants and wildlife. The evening’s meal was gluten-themed: fries, a lot of them, and pizza. Nearby, on a concrete platform, an outdoor karaoke station provided Laveronica’s team and friends a stage to celebrate their anniversary.

Left: Arist Rosario Antoci. Right: Artist Guglielmo Manenti.


Saturday night the gallery officially opened. Our crowd filled the narrow cobblestone streets in front of the exhibition space, and then headed to CoCA, which was hosting an outdoor presentation by Douglas. “It is small, but it has the expression of a dream,” said Rosario Antoci, as I pointed out the romantic setting.

We fetched beers with artists José Angelino and Federico Baronello and settled in for Douglas’s impressive account of the images he had authored over the years, tributes to the causes he and the Panthers fought for. The list was long: the assassination of Bobby Hutton; Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics medal ceremony; the 1972 silent protest by US Olympic runners Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett; the high veteran suicide rate; Nixon, Obama, Trump, Guantanamo Bay.

Douglas shared his message matter-of-factly, always clear on right and wrong, but never putting one group above another. “Racism is as strong today as it was then,” he later told me, and while no doubt true, I found his very presence reassuring. The night went late at Singola Organic Restaurant, where we danced, drank fancy white spritz, ate cannoli, and fused two seemingly disparate worlds: Sicilian dolce vita and the fight for human rights as visualized by the former minister of culture of the Black Panther Party.

Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Left: Chocolate Lab's Monia Berti. Right: Emory Douglas with the day care kids at the Convento del Rosario Scicli.


Missing Pieces

Ramallah, Palestine
08.23.17

Poet Asmaa’ Azaizeh performing Rabih Mroué’s Make Me Stop Smoking, 2006. (All photos: Gökcan Demirkazik)


LAWRENCE ABU HAMDAN’S BIRDWATCHING was supposed to kick off the opening days of the Sharjah Biennial 13 Off-Site Project in Ramallah.

It was not possible.

I had seen him deliver a version of this lecture-performance in March in Sharjah. Abu Hamdan wove a beautifully multilayered yet distressing narrative around the political implications of hearing and suggested that sonic forensics could help reconstruct otherwise incommunicable episodes of horror—from the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to the Syrian military–administered Saydnaya Prison near Damascus—in the service of justice. As a Lebanese national cannot travel to Israeli-occupied territories, he was going to perform by phone, remotely controlling the laptop before us at the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center (KSCC).

Yet his voice kept breaking and the connection was lost several times. There was little point to finishing a performance on sound amid these interruptions. Curator Lara Khaldi, in charge of the SB13 Ramallah Off-Site Project, called the event off, saying, “Perhaps Lebanese artists have to be here physically.”

Indeed, a whole host of Lebanese artists and art professionals could not make it to Ramallah—including the curator of this edition of the Sharjah Biennial, Christine Tohmé. Rabih Mroué had taken the unprecedented step, for him, of training someone else—the Haifa-based poet Asmaa’ Azazieh—to present a miniretrospective of his lecture-performances, and a joint paper by Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti was read by Hanan Toukan and Lara Khaldi. Substitution got the job done, but it also rendered the obligatory absences more flagrant, more menacing.

Left: Artists Michael Rakowitz and Robert Chase Heishman with Aline Khoury, programs coordinator of Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art. Right: Artist Khalil Rabah and Sharjah Art Foundation’s deputy director Reem Shadid.


Long before my arrival I had felt, as well as understood, the connotations of underground artivism in the title “Shifting Ground.” Thanks to my Turkish passport, any mention of the West Bank—let alone the Sharjah Art Foundation, funded by Israel’s state enemy, the UAE—could put my Israeli visa application (without which, ironically, I could not travel to Ramallah) in jeopardy. But once past the infamous checkpoints, the improbable, counterintuitive spiral of Sharjah “inside” Ramallah “inside” Israel disappeared amid the many absurdities that constitute Palestinians’ everyday lives. Ramallah’s neoliberal, consumer-driven transformation has hardly normalized traces of the occupation, and this contrast proved fertile ground for taking a step back and reconsidering the implications of how earth came to be romanticized after the loss of the Palestinian sovereignty over their homeland, as Khaldi put it in her opening speech.

Against the expansive tyranny of geopolitics, Khaldi’s “Shifting Ground” covered as little space as possible: Eight newly commissioned publications (two in draft stage, another yet to come) were stacked in square niches, formed by two topographic models carved from a single, massive piece of stone—the work of designer and architect brothers Elias and Yousef Anastas—at the core of KSCC. An accompanying symposium upstairs, co-organized by Rana Anani and Yara Saqfalhait, served to “illuminate” these publications and introduce other relevant topics for discussion.

The Off-Site Project in Ramallah was a largely local affair that responded to the urgencies of its context with robust participation and attendance from Palestinian artists and professionals––from institutions such as the Al Ma’mal Foundation and Riwaq––who might cross several checkpoints every day to come to KSCC from Jerusalem. Besides a handful of Americans already living in Palestine or engaged in projects here (Casey Asprooth-Jackson, Jake Davidson, and Michael Rakowitz and his crew), most of the foreigners on-site were those on the symposium program (Keller Easterling, Filipa César, Chiara De Cesari, and Doreen Mende) and some members of the international press (Nicola Gray, ArtAsiaPacific’s H. G. Masters, and Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian).

Left: Abdul-Rahim Al-Shaikh and Suhad Daher-Nashif. Right: Critic and writer Adila Laïdi-Hanieh and art historian Hanan Toukan.


The first couple of lectures, featuring academics Abdul-Rahim Al-Shaikh and Suhad Daher-Nashif, tackled the charged topic of Palestinian cemeteries, including secret “cemeteries of numbers,” where bodies of Palestinian martyrs are buried close to the earth’s surface by Israelis, with only numbers for headstones. Calling them “an archive to abrogate the past,” Daher-Nashif also addressed martyrs’ “social role,” what happens when their bodies are returned to their families, and how agency over one’s own (or a loved one’s) death can constitute an act of resistance.

Presentations in the afternoon, on the other hand, were marked by an observational yet coolly playful approach to the built or “natural” environment: With Atlas Group–like twists, Inas Halabi “performed” her publication Lions Warn of Futures Present, crafting stories around the Israeli-generated excess of radioactive Cessium-137 in Hebron, Palestine. She used red filters—their tone proportional to the area’s activity—when photographing the Hebron wastelands, evincing a desire to engage the landscape while preserving distance. Benji Boyadgian followed suit, expressing his distaste for what he called “conflict aesthetics.” (“Are we journalists or are we artists?”) He spoke of his book Clogged and of painting big pseudo-Orientalist watercolors of tiny defunct Roman waterways between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Before arak and Shepherds (a Bir Zeit beer) at the local art-gang haunts Radio or Garage, water came to the fore again in Jumana Emil Abboud’s dreamy performance Out of the Shadows, held amid the forlorn fig trees of the KSCC garden. In an atmosphere that recalled a cozy provincial summer cinema, Abboud and her young performer Salma Misyef took turns tenderly narrating a violent folktale with supernatural beings (among them ghouls and djinni) in Arabic and English, as well as painting or drawing over black-and-white acetate photographs of landscapes projected on a standing screen. In the end, they called out names of streams—an important backdrop for the tale—in Palestine, and those who held corresponding stitched nameplates stood up and were bestowed with the significance behind them. “You are Ein Fawar,” Abboud told me, savoring each syllable. “You are in Jerusalem and are inhabited by a good and a bad spirit. One is a free man and the other is a slave.”

Left: Architect and cartoonist Samir Harb. Right: Artist and performance theorist Ray Langenbach.


The last full day of programming considered archival practices and places of memory: Spotlights on Morbid Symptoms—by Mimi Cabell, Samir Harb, and Nicola Perugini—and Subversive Film’s The Syllabus recovered, annotated, and remixed devices of colonial control and methods of insurgence. A whole arc of mnemonic dis- and repossession could be traced from the morning presentations on the 1978 International Art Exhibition for Palestine in Beirut—widely acknowledged as a partially lost “museum in exile”—to the fictional e-flux announcement of a “Last Museum,” that is, “the Museum of all Museums,” in Noor Abuarafeh’s lecture-performance.

There was some contention about whether Palestine could have a museum under occupation. What do you show in a museum about Palestine without reifying it into a romantic, monolithic narrative? Is the act of exhibiting even relevant? And is “relevance” even a necessary or useful goal for the arts?

Last year the Yasser Arafat Museum opened in Ramallah’s Muqata’a as a polished, largely didactic institution with a self-legitimizing, nationalistic discourse (save for Arafat’s headquarters under Israeli siege from 2002 to 2004, meticulously preserved without comment). In less than two weeks, “Jerusalem Lives” would open at the fledgling Palestinian Museum, the first exhibition since the Heneghan Peng–designed building debuted in May. Locals had very little idea about the direction of the museum’s inchoate programming. It didn’t seem so far from Khalil Rabah’s ongoing Broodthaersian museum-fiction Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind, begun in 1995, the self-avowed “most extensive cultural institution in Palestine.” Still not in its final form and also a part of the Ramallah Off-Site Project, Rabah’s Draft Guidebook for the museum promised a refreshing critique that ventured outside the museum itself, into the open.

So without much preparation I went north, to Bir Zeit, to see the Palestinian Museum with my own eyes.

Left: Architects Lana Judeh and Keller Easterling. Right: Al-Hoash’s Sahar Qawasmi and artist Nida Sinnokrot.


When I arrived around dusk, it was largely deserted. Yazan Khalili—one of the artists in the inaugural show, and its technical director—and his team were outside, installing a work by Sudarshan Shetty. (Other works, by Athar Jaber and Adrián Villar Rojas, were coming along as well.)

The building itself was closed, so I zigzagged through the expansive, terraced gardens. As I walked downhill, each level revealed a new, cinematic view of the hills opposite, while rich aromas—lavender, mint, jasmine, and sage among them—overwhelmed my senses. I recalled a chapter from Abuarafeh’s commissioned novel “The Earth Doesn’t Tell Its Secrets” – His father once said, in which the opening of a certain “First Museum” without anything on display, just like the Palestinian Museum, is met with confusion and even anger by its early visitors. However, Nisreen, a photographer and friend of the protagonist in charge of documenting the opening reception, eventually discovers that her camera had recorded the works of art on view, which were simply invisible to the naked eye

Even though I feared surrendering to a romantic Orientalism at the sight of this stunning landscape, I began to wonder if this view—impenetrable as a whole but discernible in fragments—was the main show one was meant to see at the still-empty Palestinian Museum. On one of the lowest levels of the garden, amid olive trees glistening at dusk, a sentence from Jumana Emil Abboud’s performance from the night prior echoed in my mind: “No amount of trespassing, occupation, forgetfulness, will drive the pain away.”

Gökcan Demirkazik

Left: Artist Benji Boyadgian. Right: Artist Athar Jaber.


W.I.T.C.H. Way

Seattle
08.22.17

Artist Jessica Jackson Hutchins in her installation Reason to Be. Photo: Laura Fried.


WHEN I TOUCHED DOWN IN WASHINGTON on a recent Thursday for the third edition of the Seattle Art Fair, the city was uncharacteristically hot and hazy, enveloped in smoke from forest fires raging nearby in Canada.

But even the miasma couldn’t dampen my excitement about visiting the metropolis that loomed so large in my 1990s teen imagination. Seeking some classic Seattle vibes, I quickly made my way to Pike Place Market for a strong coffee and zine browsing at the radical Left Bank Books. The atmospheric conditions rivaled LA at its worst, obscuring the Puget Sound and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon biodomes under construction just a few blocks away. The city is on the precipice of a major swell: The current “crane capital of America,” more than one thousand new residents arrive every week to work at Amazon and related enterprises.

The most prescient work on view, at both the fair and around town, alluded to new forms of collectivism. At the University of Washington’s Henry Art Gallery, a retrospective of Seattle-born artist Doris Totten Chase (1923–2008) pairs her early abstract paintings and wood sculpture with her experimental computer-animated works of the 1970s and 1980s, which she made after moving to New York at age fifty-two. Across campus at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, director Emily Zimmerman mounted “Untold Passage,” a group show on immigration by artists with connections to the Northwest, such as poet Ocean Vuong and artist Mary Ann Peters. At the fair, Peters presented the world is a garden—a large-scale sculpture comprising a cluster of flowers viewed through semitransparent mesh, obliquely referencing her family’s migration from Syria—in collaboration with Seattle’s James Harris Gallery and commissioned as part of the Projects program.

Left: Performer in Ellen Lesperance’s W.I.T.C.H. 1985 in Pioneer Square. Right: Artist Shannon Ebner and Henry Art Gallery associate curator Nina Bozicnik.


In its second year under the leadership of artistic director Laura Fried, a Los Angeles–based independent curator, the Seattle Art Fair included one hundred galleries in the massive CenturyLink Field Event Center. While last year’s public program discussed Northwestern identity, this year the fair focused on forging deeper connections with local institutions. The Frye Art Museum collaborated with the fair to premiere Gerard & Kelly’s Modern Living, projected in a black-box buildout. The two-channel video installation depicts site-specific performances featuring members of the LA Dance Project at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, and the R. M. Schindler House in Los Angeles.

While Gerard & Kelly’s installation probed the history of modernism, the fair delved into the history of Seattle. On the north side of CenturyLink Field, Portland-based artist Jessica Jackson Hutchins concocted the cozy bespoke glass installation Reason to Be in a decommissioned bus station, with a hammock as a space of respite. A few blocks north of CenturyLink, Los Angeles artists Dylan Mira and Erika Vogt created the multimedia installation Pool at Union Station, an unused train station built in the early 1900s that today serves as a public gathering place. (Think of it as a rainy-climate version of New York’s High Line.) Vogt created white foam-based sculptures resembling spa “ruins,” while Mira contributed a three-channel video and cauldron-like vessels filled with flowers and “time-traveling” ingredients such as mugwort. The sculptures suggested stylized luxury in the space of waiting.

Artist Naama Tsabar questioned the architecture of display in her collaborative musical performance Closer, performed inside the fair with the vocalist Fielded (Lindsay Powell) on two sides of a wall. Powell wore a baseball cap, embroidered with the phrase “Women in music are dangerously underrated,” by the very underground designer Keep Brave. Also underrated and dangerous: the powerful backstory of Portland-based Ellen Lesperance’s performance W.I.T.C.H. 1985.

Left: Artist Dino Matt with Amy Adams of Adams and Ollman. Right: Art Agency, Partners’s Matthew Thompson with dealer Shulamit Nazarian.


For several years, Lesperance has been investigating chapters of the feminist group W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), currently active in Portland. She created a series of thirteen cloaks based on a garment worn by one of its members at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, an anti-nuclear occupation from 1981 to 2000 in Berkshire, England. Lesperance invited local artists to wear the cloaks and perform at the fair and in nearby Pioneer Square. The former site of the Casino gay bar (one of the first on the West Coast), the gentrifying neighborhood today hosts the homeless along with high-end galleries and shops. Lesperance and her performers marched around with battle-ax-shaped signs, played piccolos, read poems and incantations, and mashed up pigments with a mortar and pestle. At Saturday’s performance, artist Wynne Greenwood (of Tracy and the Plastics) showed up to watch, on her way to riot grrrl mecca, Olympia, Washington.

Back at the fair, Seattle’s recent history figured prominently in an installation of Kurt Cobain’s art and personal effects at UTA Artist Space. The highly anticipated presentation was the art-fair debut for the gallery arm of LA’s United Talent Agency. The booth featured two paintings, a handful of drawings, handwritten lyrics, and a love note from Cobain—including the surrealistic canvas used for the cover of Nirvana’s 1992 compilation Incesticide. UTA secured Cobain’s work through Courtney Love, who couldn’t attend due to a filming conflict. Though Cobain’s paintings weren’t for sale, UTA’s closely hung booth included works by blue-chippers such as Nate Lowman, Josephine Meckseper, Elizabeth Peyton, and Richard Prince.

Another pop-culture icon, Cheech Marin, showed up for his friends Einar and Jamex de la Torre. At the shared booth of Seattle galleries Traver and Koplin Del Rio, the Mexican brothers’ absurdist creations included a glass eyeball sculpture and lenticular prints inspired equally by Alejandro Jodorowsky and underground commix. The brothers’ more-is-more aesthetic drew quite a crowd, but so did more refined offerings. Gisela Colon showed opalescent blow-molded acrylic sculptures at Los Angeles gallery Diane Rosenstein. At Gagosian, heavyweights included neon-tinged prints of mountains by Ed Ruscha and Michael Heizer’s Black Diorite Negative Wall Sculpture, 1992–94, a 5.7-ton rock housed in a steel frame. (One of Heizer’s earliest public commissions, Adjacent, Against, Upon, was made in 1976 for Seattle’s Myrtle Edwards Park. When I visited the park, homeless people had taken shelter under the rocks.)

Left: Artist Ellen Lesperance with installation of W.I.T.C.H. 1985. Right: Artist Gisela Colon.


Works that emphasized craft and process also received enthusiastic responses. Adams and Ollman, located for the past five years in Portland, showed all West Coast works: paintings by outsider artist Marlon Mullen, ceramics by Dino Matt, and Lesperance’s gouaches based on sweaters worn by feminist protesters. Los Angeles’s Roberts & Tilton presented a beaded installation by Jeffrey Gibson along with works by Beyte Saar and Kehinde Wiley. Variations on the theme of political conceptualism-meets-craft could also be seen in Jessica Stockholder’s new works at Chicago gallery Kavi Gupta, Summer Wheat’s acrylic-on-aluminum-mesh paintings at New York’s Fridman Gallery, and Michelle Grabner’s gingham paintings and bronzes in the shape of woven blankets at Portland’s Upfor.

Spirits were high as the fair wrapped up its first full day. Twilight sun bathed the roof of the Thompson Hotel, where Los Angeles’s Night Gallery—first-time participants in the fair—hosted a cocktail hour. Night cofounder Davida Nemeroff mixed with LA friends, collectors, and noted architectural firm Olson Kundig’s principal Jerry Garcia. Across town in Capitol Hill, the Pacific Northwest scene gathered at the hip Bateau, cohosted by Adams and Ollman, PDX Contemporary, and Upfor. Seattle Art Museum curator Catharina Manchanda and Henry Art Gallery curator Nina Bozicnik mingled among the crowd.

“People look and respond on a personal level,” said dealer Amy Adams over oysters and fries at Bar Melusine next door. “It’s not about what museums have.” Sharon Arnold of Seattle gallery Bridge Productions concurred. “The lack of convention allows for a lot of breathing room to be creative,” she said of her hometown. To borrow a catchphrase from Austin, another 1990s cultural capital, let’s hope they can keep it weird in this next great tech boom.

Wendy Vogel

Left: Artist–musicians Sarah Strauss, FIELDED (Lindsay Powell) and Naama Tsabar with Seattle Art Fair artistic director Laura Fried. Right: Head of UTA Fine Arts Josh Roth with painting by Kurt Cobain. (Photo: UTA Fine Arts)


Scottish Rites

Edinburgh
08.19.17

Ross Little, The Heavy of Your Body Parts and The Cool Air of the Air Condition, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 42 minutes and 24 seconds. Installation view, Collective, Edinburgh.


BETWEEN THE OPENING OF THE EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL AND THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL, ALONG WITH THE EDINBURGH ART FESTIVAL KICKING UP DUST OF ITS OWN, traffic of both the foot and the vehicular variety converged spiritedly on the efforts of a wide range of art institutions. When the opening of the Art Festival came around on Thursday, July 27, many of the affiliated exhibitions had already been open for days or weeks. Two days prior to kickoff, between bursts of sunshine and rain, I made my way through the street performers and commercial hurrah of the city center to see Jac Leirner’s “Add It Up” at the Fruitmarket Gallery before wandering up Calton Hill, slowly to avoid being out of breath, to the nonprofit gallery Collective to see Ross Little’s film, The Heavy of Your Body Parts and the Cool Air of the Air Condition, 2017, which deconstructs the functions and contingencies of the cruise ship–borne lifestyle of “digital nomads.”

Later, I arranged to meet with Kate Gray, the director of Collective and mastermind of its project to convert the City Observatory into a new gallery complex. Over a cup of tea, Gray pointed out the benefits of the arts festival and its potential to encourage “sector-wide momentum in the city.” Its model remains different from the likes of Documenta or Glasgow International, as the main body of art on view, although under the festival umbrella, is not specifically commissioned and funded by it.

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop's courtyard. Photo: Debi Banerjee.


When the opening night itself came around, I walked from the city center to the end of the former Victorian North British Railway for Charlotte Barker’s first major solo exhibition at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. The venue’s courtyard was full of people drinking wine around a large clay mound, there for use in a series of events accompanying the show. The installation itself is an elegant and somber display of monochrome ceramic works and benches that, like much of the festival, speaks to material and ecological themes. As the sun went down I met up with artist Ewan Murray and curator Grace Johnston, who had taxied from the opening at Inverleith House for “Plant Scenery of the World.”

From flitting around and talking over bottles of Paolozzi beer, it sounded like the once-beleaguered institution’s new show was well-received, but conversation soon drifted to the considerable backlash following its near-closure last year and the subsequent negotiations over a new relationship between the gallery and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Touring the exhibition later in the week with RBGE curator Chloe Reith, I came to understand the difficulty of the undertaking, and her savvy and successful negotiations of institutional politics. With an unfavorable review from the Daily Telegraph still in mind, Reith explained that the exhibition’s complexity reflects the “rich associations” of the garden’s archive and also its “fragmentary nature.”

Laura Aldridge, SIGNALS AND GET WET, 2016-17; DISPLAY SCAPE #6 FOR INVERLEITH: DROP.CLOTH (REMOVE SHOES AND COLLAPSE YOUR METONYMIC IMPULSE, REPLACE IT WITH A REFRESHED SENSE OF HOW WE RELATE TO THE THINGS AROUND US), 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view, Inverleith House, Edinburgh.


I spent the following weekend sober while making my way through the buffet of options offered through both the partnered exhibition initiative and the festival’s commissions program. Highlights included Stephen Sutcliffe’s “Sex Symbols in Sandwich Signs” at the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery and Kate Davis’s “Nudes Never Wear Glasses” at the Stills Center for Photography. Although distinct in their themes, with Sutcliffe focusing on masculinity and theatricality while Davis zeroes in on motherhood and work, both artists employ diverse archival materials to develop intricate emotional narratives in film.

The social and ecological themes of Inverleith House’s exhibition complement the commissioned works program, which this year had the mandate of responding to renaissance man Patrick Geddes’s text The Making of the Future: A Manifesto and a Project (1917). In the Johnston Terrace Wildlife Garden, located on the south side of Edinburgh Castle, was a temporary studio building, surrounded by kids eating toasted marshmallows with festival volunteers. This is an urban incarnation of Bobby Niven’s “Bothy Project,” which constructs, through various collaborations, structures for art residencies. Here, it reactivates Geddes’s original green space, allowing for fresh public engagement.

I have standing plans to drive to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s garden, Little Sparta, 1966, in the Pentland Hills, and then further, to remind myself that “little walks by purling streams in meadows and through cornfields, thickets etc. are delightful entertainments,” as one work in Finlay’s plot proclaims––words which certainly complement Geddes’s emphasis on locality and contact with nature.

Bobby Niven's Palm House, 2017, at the Johnston Terrace Wildlife Garden.


Calum Sutherland