PRINT December 2011

Mai Abu ElDahab

View of 11th Biennale de Lyon, “Une Terrible Beauté est née” (A Terrible Beauty Is Born), 2011, Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon. Foreground: Cildo Meireles, La Bruja 1 (The Witch 1), 1979–81. Background: Twenty untitled drawings by Marlene Dumas, 1979–2004. Photo: Blaise Adilon.

1 11th Biennale de Lyon (multiple venues; curated by Victoria Noorthoorn) This year’s edition of the biennial was a much-needed expression of passion for art. Absent were the generic codes of large-scale contemporary art exhibitions (demonstrative diversity of media, rote “internationalism, ” trends . . . ). The exceptional visual poetry of Augusto de Campos, emblazoned on the walls throughout the show’s main venue, underscored the poetic quality of Noorthoorn’s daringly unprogrammatic approach. From Gabriel Sierra’s in situ excavation of the Musée d’Art Contemporain’s physical layers to perhaps the largest presentation of Stano Filko’s color protocols to the idiosyncratic worlds of Robert Filliou and Zbyněk Baladrán, the biennial unabashedly proposed aesthetics as an unwaveringly powerful tool in its own right.

Iman Issa, Thirty-Three Stories About Reasonable Characters in Familiar Places, 2011, mixed media. Installation view, SculptureCenter, New York. Photo: Jason Mandella.

2 Iman Issa, Thirty-Three Stories About Reasonable Characters in Familiar Places (SculptureCenter, New York) Part of an ongoing endeavor to reconfigure the cultural connotations of commonplace imagery, Egyptian artist Iman Issa’s first attempt at fiction successfully translates her artistic concerns and aesthetic sensibility from video and installation to literary narrative. Reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard’s Voice Imitator, Issa’s short stories (published by Sculpture­Center as part of a recent exhibition of her work) may seem prosaic, but their time- and placelessness are precisely where their uncanny character lies.

View of “Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977,” 2011, Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY. Foreground: Times of the Day III, 1975. Background: To the People of New York City (detail), 1976. Photo: Bill Jacobson.

3 Blinky Palermo (Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY, and CCS Galleries at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; curated by Lynne Cooke) Replete with cloth paintings, metal paintings, and a host of other works made between 1964 and 1977, Palermo’s first North American retrospective was an exhibition for the ages. His work, however cerebral and mischievous it may seem at first, mysteriously abounds with poetry and sentiment that can only leave one in awe—as the show, spread across two venues, amply demonstrated.

Organized by Dia Art Foundation and the Bard Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture.

Sven Augustijnen, Spectres, 2011, still from a color video, 102 minutes. Jacques Brassinne de la Buissière and Marie Tshombe.

4 Sven Augustijnen, Spectres (Wiels Contemporary Art Center, Brussels) Four years in the making, Augustijnen’s film purports to investigate the events surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the independent Congo. But not long into the feature-length documentary, it becomes evident that the Belgian artist’s real subject is Jacques Brassinne de la Buissière, a Belgian government official at the time of Lumumba’s assassination, an imperial apologist, and later an obsessed researcher into the last fifty days of the murdered man’s life. The subjective, and often dubious, nature of history is a central concern of the film, but it is Augustijnen’s voyeuristic interviewing skills and his subtle yet evocative images that give this film its poignant quality.

Frances Stark, My Best Thing, 2011, color video, 100 minutes. Installation view, Arsenale, Venice. From the 54th Venice Biennale. Photo: Kate Lacey.

5 Frances Stark, My Best Thing Employing free text-to-speech animation software and Playmobil-like avatars, Stark’s one-hour-and-forty-minute video visualizes the artist’s ongoing anonymous chat-room romances. In this format, the conversations—ranging from the overtly sexual to the philosophical and artistic—amount to an insightful and comical look at the modalities and implications of mediated intimacy.

Reggie Watts performing at Public Assembly, Brooklyn, NY, July 14, 2011. Photo: Eric Reichbaum.

6 Reggie Watts I saw Watts perform at “Alligators!,” curated by Ieva Misevičiūte· and Michael Portnoy for Amsterdam’s De Appel Arts Centre in November 2010, and caught another of his shows at Public Assembly in Brooklyn last July. A musician, stand-up comic, and exceptional all-around showman, the New York–based Watts can mimic just about any accent, musical genre, or persona, and is obviously well versed in cultural theory and art-world whatnot to boot. Improvising seemingly absurd monologues with plenty of superior beat-box and musical stylings thrown into the mix, he manages to be totally outrageous yet sharp and nuanced at the same time.

Detail of Piggipedia Flickr page.

7 Piggipedia Much more than just a Flickr channel, Piggipedia is Egyptian labor activist, blogger, and journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy’s audacious campaign against Egypt’s infamous Mubarak-era state-security apparatus. Just after Mubarak’s fall and the storming of the state-security offices, el-Hamalawy uploaded large amounts of material he seized during this event exposing the faces, positions, and track records of some of Egypt’s most notorious officers. In an event where heroism abounds, el-Hamalawy stands out as a remarkable bastion of courage in his war against this institution of repression and torture.

Deimantas Narkevičius, Restricted Sensation, 2011, color video. Installation view, GB Agency, Paris. Photo: Marc Domage.

8 Deimantas Narkevičius (GB Agency, Paris) Select a song from an online playlist on a laptop in the gallery, and the digital music file comes alive on an exquisite 4A32 Lomo Kinap sound system. This performance-cum-sculpture-cum-sound-installation is a new work by Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius in which he breathes life back into the outdated audio equipment used in Soviet cinema of the 1950s through the 1980s and makes it available to a contemporary audience. Taking a defunct technology originally employed to disseminate propaganda and putting it into the hands of the people, Narkevičius effects a cleverly facetious meeting across time.

View of the Artist’s Institute with paintings by Jo Baer, New York, April 17, 2011. Photo: Takako Oishi.

9 The Artist’s Institute (New York) Going against the grain of the fast-paced art world, this research-based, loosely institutional initiative is slow and focused. Directed by Anthony Huberman under the auspices of Hunter College, the institute presents a succession of six-month “seasons” featuring unconventional events and ever-changing exhibitions curated by Huberman and his students. Each season is devoted to a particular artist—Robert Filliou, Jo Baer, and Jimmie Durham thus far. The past season, dedicated to Baer, saw her practice opened to multiple readings via talks, performances, a one-day orchid sale, and the display of works by Silke Otto-Knapp and others in juxtaposition with Baer’s.

Al Jazeera crew in Ajdabiya, Libya, March 28, 2011. Photo: Alfred Yaghobzadeh/AP.

10 Al Jazeera’s Coverage of The Arab Uprisings Possible criticism of the network’s biases aside, its journalists’ heroic commitment and acrobatic resilience were certainly a game changer for the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, where reporters were the direct targets of harassment and occasional arrest. The voices of Abdel Fattah Fayed, Ayman Mohyeldin, and Rawya Rageh were especially pronounced amid the cacophony that ignited the Arab Spring.

Mai Abu ElDahab is the director of Objectif Exhibitions in Antwerp, Belgium, where she recently curated solo shows by Hassan Khan, Michael Portnoy, Norma Jeane in collaboration with Tim Etchells, and Patricia Esquivias. She is currently producing a new exhibition with Dutch artist and filmmaker Barbara Visser, opening at Objectif in January.