PRINT December 2002

Kate Bush


1 Igloolik Isuma Productions/ The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat) It was easy to appreciate the social imperatives of this Inuit film collective’s documentary work at Documenta 11; harder, within the time constraints, to admire the extraordinary artistic accomplishment of their Camera d’Or–winning first feature, The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat), directed by woodcarver turned filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk. A tale of love and hate in an exceptionally cold climate, Atanarjuat dramatizes a thousand-year-old tale of festering evil on the frozen Canadian tundra. The first film ever to be performed in the Inuktitut language, it’s a cross between a cave painting and a Shakespearean tragedy. Atanarjuat furnished the most indelible cinematic image of the year, of the eponymous hero running for his life, naked and bleeding, across the freezing arctic wastes.

2 Chris Ofili (Victoria Miro Gallery, London) It may seem extravagant to compare Chris Ofili’s The Upper Room, 1999–2002, to the Matisse chapel in Vence or the Rothko in Houston, but this was the territory he dared to stake with this hugely ambitious painting installation, conceived in collaboration with architect David Adjaye. Nothing prepared you for the experience of turning the corner of a deep, dim corridor into a soaring walnut-faced interior studded with thirteen intensely colored, precisely lit paintings. Against the velvety surround of the wood each work glowed with a spectral luminosity, as if just landed from another planet. Ofili’s trademark tropical pointillism, with those appliquéd drifts of glitter and stars trapped within layer on layer of incandescent resin, here described the motif of thirteen turbaned rhesus monkeys, each realized in a different hue. The Upper Room was decorative and theatrical, yes, but its choreography of color, light, and space created a splendid temple to painting in secular times.

3 Shirana Shahbazi (Citigroup Private Bank Photography Prize 2002; Photographers’ Gallery, London) Rank outsider Shirana Shahbazi wrested photography’s big prize with her ongoing series “Goftare nik” (Good words). Shahbazi’s sharply designed installations mix photographs and commissioned billboard paintings and cast her native city of Tehran in a clear, cool light, purged of the romantic tropes that dominate depictions of contemporary Iran. The imagery of the Orientalist imaginary—the desert, the odalisque, the veiled woman—is stripped bare as Shahbazi ponders the complexities of a society caught between the competing forces of tradition and change.

4 Diller + Scofidio (Swiss National Expo 2002, Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland) Architectural folly or technological tour de force, Diller + Scofidio’s photogenic Blur Building floated above Lake Neuchâtel like a piece of weird ectoplasm. “Built” out of innumerable drops of glacial water siphoned from the lake and forced through 31,400 tiny high-pressure jets, this performing structure expanded and contracted, rose and sank, in reaction to the changing weather. A triumph of form over function—plastic raincoats requisite.

5 Francis Alÿs The power of human endeavor over intractable nature was also the theme of Francis Alÿs’s supremely biblical performance When Faith Moves Mountains, a work realized on the desiccated Ventanilla dunes outlying the Peruvian capital and home to thousands of disenfranchised shantytown dwellers. On April 11 hundreds of local people equipped with shovels gathered at the foot of a giant sand dune and collectively shunted the sixteen-hundred-foot-long mound four inches in one direction. Moses met Sisyphus in a gesture at once heroic and futile—confirming Alÿs’s place as one of the most compelling mythicists around.

6 Wolfgang Tillmans (Palais de Tokyo, Paris) Evans on the subway, Eggleston in the kitchen, Moholy-Nagy atop the radio tower, Stieglitz beneath the moon: Tillmans’s work has always reverberated, for me, with photography’s ancestral voices. And yet here, in an airy, sweeping space at the back of the Palais, with the huge cameraless abstractions brought into graceful harmony with the smaller figurative pictures, he looked strikingly original and seemed to have found his essential subject somewhere between photographic process and photographic image, between the material and the ethereal.

7 Richard Prince, Paintings and Photographs (published by Hatje Cantz, to accompany exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel, and Kunsthalle Zürich) The book has always had a special place in Richard Prince’s oeuvre, and these two handsome volumes preserve the rambunctiousness of his work in print while comprehensively reprising the painting and the photography. Prince’s own writing threads through the images in the form of elusive third-person allegories that tease at the relationship between looking and libidinal drive. Brilliant in its iconicity, its blatant clichés, its boisterous enthusiasms.

8 Matthew Barney (Museum Ludwig, Cologne) With the CREMASTER cycle now complete, it’s hard to imagine a more definitive Matthew Barney exhibition—and impossible to resist the visual fascinations of his unendingly complex symbolic universe. To talk or write about the incomparable Barney is to get lost in a maze of meanings and metaphors, and yet it is testament to his supreme mastery that this exhibition served both films and sculpture while remaining lucid and absorbing throughout.

9 Keith Tyson (South London Gallery/ Kunsthalle Zürich) Keith Tyson has always inspired virulent opposition and passionate support: I’m in the latter camp, seduced by his spirit of restless experimentation and his ability to filter diverse bodies of human knowledge—from quantum physics to artificial intelligence to probability theory—into exuberant and utterly unpredictable works of art.

10 The Office (BBC Television) TV doesn’t get more perfect than The Office, a comedy that, in its second season, propels the form to a new level: so excruciatingly real it’s almost unwatchable. Set in Slough, England’s most featureless town, in a paper merchant’s establishment, The Office is presided over by insufferable boss David Brent, a character more mortifying than Basil Fawlty. You’ll never label your stapler again.

Kate Bush is senior programmer at the Photographers’ Gallery, London.