Critics’ Picks

Chto Delat, The Tower: A Songspiel, 2010, still from a color video, 36 minutes 51 seconds.

Medellin

MDE11

Museo de Antioquia
Calle 52 # 52-43
August 31 - December 9

“It’s time we thought about the educational role of art.” So says the priest in The Tower: A Songspiel, 2010, a film by the Russian collective Chto Delat that is one of the highlights of MDE11, an ongoing citywide event in Medellín, Colombia. Centered on the recent debates and protests over the controversial Gazprom skyscraper to be built in Saint Petersburg, the comical Songspiel (German for “song-play”) features a variety of impassioned pleas from members of the country’s elite, whose task is to “educate” a diverse range of the populace on the tower’s importance. In turn, the film’s representatives of the Russian workforce—including blue-collar workers, youthful girls, and a socialist rebel—all respond to these “educational” pleas in song, each of their stances solidifying a distinct position of defiance.

Effectively situating politics and knowledge in relation to how a public becomes informed, The Tower is perhaps the most compelling instantiation of MDE11’s theme: education. MDE11’s dynamic programming, which is taking place in museums and independent spaces throughout Medellín, includes panel discussions, workshops, concerts, and exhibitions divided among three categories: “Studio,” “Laboratory,” and “Exhibition.” The Museo de Antioquia—the venue exhibiting The Tower, among many other works—represents the curators’ vision at its most mature and is the location where the artists most explicitly mimic pedagogical strategies. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook “instructs” by teaching a class about death to corpses in her series “Conversation with Deaths,” while Mark Tribe resurrects Cesar Chavez, Angela Davis, and Stokely Carmichael with videos from his “Port Huron Project” series, in which actors “modeled” the orators’ respective Vietnam War–era speeches at their original sites of delivery throughout New York.

In the independent space Casa Tres Patios, Dinh Q. Lê presents among other works, Dear Mom, 2011, in which he asked street vendors to write letters to his mother in Vietnam assuring her of his safety. The ensuing letters about Medellín are affectionately exaggerated, perhaps overcompensating for Colombia’s reputation as a dangerous country. More important, Lê’s letter writing exacerbates the tension between traditional forms of academic pedagogy and more experimental forms of public performance, a welcome dynamic that is felt throughout MDE11.