Neue Slowenische Kunst

Garage Museum of Contemporary Art
Krimsky Val, 9
September 30–February 5

View of “NSK: From Kapital to Capital,” 2016.

A ferocious noise assaults visitors on the top floor of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. It stems from a film in which men in gray uniforms shout fragments of speeches by Tito and Mussolini while wartime imagery flickers behind them. The film is of a concert at the Ljubljana Novi Rock Festival in 1982 by the group Laibach, who established the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) art collective two years later with the artist groups IRWIN and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre in post-Tito Yugoslavia. Never before has an exhibit explored in such depth NSK’s vast output of writing, films, posters, and paintings. Co-organized with the Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana, where it originated, the show traces NSK through 1992, as it probed the deadlock of modern utopian projects at the end of the Soviet era.

Guiding the exhibit is NSK’s “retro” principle: The horrors of the past must be addressed rather than brushed aside. The work brims with images and sounds from the Soviet avant-garde, the punk scene, pop “authoritarians” like the Beatles, the region’s socialist present, Slovenian nationalism, and its fraught historical encounters with German fascism. NSK excavated its world in order to roughshod the fault lines of conformist societies.

This process of flouting tradition, of pressing life’s more severe bodily and psychic limits, of embracing and rejecting the arrival of Western capitalism and its international art market, unleashed fierce creative energy. Signs of this are everywhere at Garage, in woodcuts of bodily mutilation, in the collaboratively painted “Was ist Kunst?” series, and in the globally minded State in Time project, which since 1992 has issued fourteen thousand membership passports to the “non-territorial” artist community. Through the manifestos that paper the show’s walls, we follow NSK restlessly seeking forms alternative to itself, lending the pursuit of alternative forms of governance a rare and bracing urgency.

Christianna Bonin

“FAKE. It Is Not True, It Is Not a Lie”

Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM)
Calle de Guillem de Castro, 118
October 20–January 29

Montse Carreño and Raquel Muñoz, Las cajas chinas (The Chinese Boxes), 2011. Installation view.

“The only interesting answers,” Susan Sontag wrote, “are those which destroy the questions.” “FAKE. It Is Not True, It Is Not a Lie” is one of those rare exhibitions that illustrates her point. Organized by Jorge Luis Marzo, this show encompasses fifty artists and art collectives that hijack mass communication, invent artistic identities, and create false documentaries, exposing not only our gullibility but the fault lines of our most preciously held convictions.

In the videotaped action Real Snow White, 2009, Finnish artist Pilvi Takala, dressed as Snow White outside Disneyland Paris, generates excitement and photo ops before being apprehended by security and escorted to the restrooms to change. A mother pulls her child away—“Come on, it’s not the real Snow White.” In 2011, artists Montse Carreño and Raquel Muñoz commissioned Chinese forgeries of five paintings lost during the Spanish Civil War, for their piece Las cajas chinas (The Chinese Boxes), and anonymously delivered them to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, astounding museum officials who eagerly ran forensic tests and then called the police. The signed copies are shown here.

As we descend further in, there’s a video excerpt from The Yes Men Fix the World, 2009, where the Yes Men impersonate Dow Chemical representatives promising a $12 billion payout to victims in India for the environmental disaster the company caused there in 1984. Their hoax sent the company’s stocks plummeting. Deeper in the exhibition, a 1944 Nazi propaganda film of a concentration camp illustrates the most horrific and heartbreaking falsity of all. Here, we reach the dark heart of the matter: not only the way fiction can co-opt reality, but the way we, the audience, are often doing the reverse. On social media, the boundary between true and false is so abraded it defies precedent. Yet there is genuine danger in ascribing truth to falsity, in believing in a “real” Snow White.

Jessica Lott

“The Society Machine”

Malmö Konstmuseum
Malmöhusvägen 6
September 24–January 29

Kalle Brolin, Jag är Skåne - förbindelser mellan skånska kolgruvor och sockerindustrin (I Am Scania - Connections Between Coal Mines in Scania and the Sugar Industry), 2016, digital video, black-and-white and color, sound, 22 minutes.

The Swedish welfare state is internationally famed as egalitarian and progressive. Less acknowledged is the fact that it was co-constituted with the birth of industrial society in the country, which lifted it out of poverty and created the wealth necessary for redistribution but also engendered a multitude of political, cultural, and ecological changes. This exhibition’s title, “The Society Machine,” furtively evokes the churning of gears behind social cohesion, while the curation juxtaposes contemporary artworks with objects from various collections—normally separated into natural-, industrial-, and cultural-history displays—across the city-museum complex.

Several works address the long-term consequences of industrialization. Kalle Brolin’s compelling video Jag är Skåne - förbindelser mellan skånska kolgruvor och sockerindustrin (I Am Scania - Connections Between Coal Mines in Scania and the Sugar Industry), 2016, brings together two major productions in southern Sweden, sugar-beet farming and coal mining, creating a historical parallel in which sugar fuels workers like coal fuels machines. The show also productively connects the idiosyncratic Swedish system to the global economy on which it depends. In Sara Jordenö’s installation Diamond People, 2005–15, a glowing 1985 sermon speaks of the distant yet manifest bond between the apartheid regime and the Swedish workers’ livelihoods that rely on the South African–owned synthetic diamond factory in their town. Artworks alongside items such as a taxidermied specimen of the now almost extinct yellowhammer bird elucidate how the welfare state’s history parallels an unprecedented transformation of landscapes by timber monocultures, large-scale farming, and iron mining. At a time when redistributive national systems are under attack around the world, even in Sweden, it seems all the more vital to build models of society that protect people beyond northern enclaves, and networks of solidarity capable of supporting species that are not ours to own.

Sarah Lookofsky

Aykan Safoğlu

Ystads Konstmuseum
St Knuts Square
December 3–February 5

Aykan Safoğlu, Off-White Tulips, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 23 minutes 47 seconds.

“There won’t be a certain white-balance setting for this film,” a soft-spoken Aykan Safoğlu narrates in Turkish as the malfunctioning camera struggles to find focus in Off-White Tulips, 2013, a video essay that uses the years James Baldwin spent in Istanbul––the artist’s birthplace––in the 1960s to explore a range of identity-based political questions. The voice-over addresses Baldwin directly: “You felt more comfortable here as a black man. You felt less oppressed.” A small bouquet of off-white tulips is placed onto a brown surface along with tasteful shifting formations of photographs, patterns, and magazine clippings. The golden era of the Ottoman Empire was called the “Tulip Era,” while the Turkish phrase for “off-white” is also slang for gay or queer. These flowers thus index experiences of Turkish national identity: Safoğlu’s own sense of belonging as a gay man now living in Western Europe and how Baldwin’s relationship to his race and sexuality was changed by the Turkish context.

Through a host of characters, from Turkish child stars to the cast of Dallas (1978–91), and the friends Baldwin made among Istanbul’s literati, Safoğlu poses a series of complex questions about race, nationality, sexuality, and creativity. We learn from a sequence of photographs that the artist’s mother became increasingly blond throughout the 1970s––as Baldwin would say, “there are no untroubled countries.” The artist’s youthfulness, characterized by his impatience and indignation, sits as a rift on the surface of the film, a kind of punctum that marks it with an earnest fallibility. Refreshing in a time with so much irony, Safoğlu puts himself on the line as he forges thought-provoking relationships between personal and collective histories.

Kristian Vistrup Madsen