Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Producing Futures—An Exhibition on Post-Cyber Feminisms,” 2019.

    “Producing Futures—An Exhibition on Post-Cyber Feminisms”

    Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst
    Limmatstrasse 270
    February 16–May 12

    The soundtracks of installations by fifteen artists mix situationally into polyvocal sound sets—an apt metaphor for this exhibition’s emphasis on the impossibility of discrete embodiment. Hard to miss is Tabita Rezaire’s Sugar Walls Teardom, 2016, comprising a hot-pink gynecologist’s chair and video work that deconstructs the history of colonial exploitation in gynecology. Rezaire also shifts into view the various points of departure for feminist critique by recalling the tactics of digital collage and abject empowerment slogans of the collective VNS Matrix, whose Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, 1991, is wallpapered in parts of the exhibition space.

    The development and appropriation of imperialist technologies extends beyond mechanisms of digital dissemination, a point brought home by the queer-feminist work of Mary Maggic. Estrofem!Lab, 2016–17, and 6 Point Plan for Hormone Queering Resistance, 2016, include research into DIY methods of estrogen extraction, far from the biopolitical surveillance of state and medical institutions. Meanwhile, Housewives Making Drugs, 2017, a glaringly bright, exaggerated video in the style of a YouTube tutorial, employs the semiotic clichés of a consumer world tailored to “housewives,” and reflects the artist’s dreams of destabilizing the gender spectrum through molecular-hormonal supplements. With its focus on critical constellations of cyborg and feminist thought since the 1990s, this generous show does not look like a survey, and for good reason. Instead of genealogical groundings, it opts for linking together works that together sound a call to let a thousand futures bloom.

    Translated from German by Diana Reese.

  • The Brotherhood of New Blockheads, Blessed Easter Sunday, 1999, still from action and video performance.

    The Brotherhood of the New Blockheads

    Kunsthalle Zurich
    Limmatstrasse 270
    February 16–May 26

    A vast array of drawings, photographs, videos, restaged installations, and artifacts by the Brotherhood of the New Blockheads—a Russian performance collective active mainly in and around Saint Petersburg in the mid-1990s—is presented in this archival exhibition. From 1996 to 2002, the eclectic fraternity’s eight key figures staged more than one hundred performances, often combining mundane materials such as magazine covers and canned foods with playfully archaic and at times mythical language. For The Movement of a Tea Table Towards the Sunset. Seven Days of Travel, 1996, the members loitered around Saint Petersburg monuments with a table and two folding chairs, idly drinking beer while developing a performance script and interacting with passersby. Perhaps due to the officious, bureaucracy-invoking presence of a typewriter, the Blockheads went along their route, from the Palace Square to the Alexander Column, unquestioned by security guards or police.

    In both the collective’s antics and this exhibition, riffs on totalitarianism and the pomp of its language are presented alongside evidence of post-Communist Russia’s existential and material instability. In the Blockheads’ work, it often seems that levity is just precarity’s carefree sibling. In April 1999, the group traveled to the Shapkinskiye Lakes near Saint Petersburg to create their performance Blessed Easter Sunday, part of their “Central Russian Elevated Stupidity Project,” 1999. Documentation shows three men on a blanket overlooking a forested landscape. Theatrically consuming simple foods (ham, eggs, bread) in the nude, their bodies in this scene convey a sense of a ritualistic communion. Or perhaps, as the project title suggests, they are simply playacting a stupid activity.