PRINT December 2017

Manuel Borja-Villel

1 “DARK MATTER GAMES: A SERIES OF ARTISTIC INTERVENTIONS IN VENICE” (S.A.L.E. DOCKS, VENICE) This spring, Venice was trapped between a Biennale that, in an act of desperation, was proclaiming the long life of a living art and of Damien Hirst’s zombie venture. “Dark Matter Games” presented a festival of artistic interventions focusing on the dark matter that, though invisible, constitutes the day-to-day reality of the art world. This reality has a lot to do with the precarious employment and the self-inflicted exploitation suffered by large segments of society and also, in the context of mobile elites, with the repressed imagination and creativity of the people. The title refers to the theses expounded by Gregory Sholette, whose book Delirium and Resistance came out earlier this year.

View of “Dark Matter Games,” 2017, S.a.L.E Docks, Venice. From left: Emily Eliza Scott, Art Historians Against Fascism, 2017; Committee Against Big Cruise Ships of Venice, Banner from San Marco’s Tower, 2014. Photo: Veronica Badolin.

2 PIERRE HUYGHE, AFTER ALIFE AHEAD (SKULPTUR PROJEKTE MÜNSTER, GERMANY) For his work in Münster, Pierre Huyghe designed an ecosystem in which algae, bees, bacteria, mollusks, and peacocks coexist, in addition to cells from the immortal line known as HeLa. Huyghe succeeds in redefining the traditional notion of nature: The mechanical and the digital intertwine with living organisms, and it is often difficult to discern their boundaries. Visitors learn that the HeLa cells belonged to an African American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, and were harvested and later marketed without the permission of her family. And we come to realize that if once we imagined nature as a shared place, it is now one that no longer belongs to us.

Pierre Huyghe, After ALife Ahead, 2017, concrete ice-rink floor, sand, clay, phreatic water, bacteria, algae, bees, chimera peacocks, snails, aquarium, black switchable glass, textile cone, incubator, human cancer cells, genetic algorithm, augmented-reality program, automated ceiling structure, rain, ammoniac, logic game. Installation view, Münster, Germany. From Skulptur Projekte Münster.

3 ANGELA MELITOPOULOS, CROSSINGS (DOCUMENTA 14, KASSEL AND ATHENS) This piece reflects, perhaps like no other at Documenta 14, the delirious and schizophrenic condition in which the great recession of 2008 left Greece. What was once the cradle of Western civilization has recently become the epicenter of two of the most important conflicts in Europe: the refugee crisis and the debt crisis. The work bears witness to the impossibility of any positive collaboration between the abstract world of financial capital and the concrete reality of the people, and to the historical roots of the conflicts, but it also makes clear that the new world order engenders new subjectivities, which, in turn, allows for unprecedented modes of resistance and change.

Angela Melitopoulos, Crossing, 2017, four-channel video, color, sixteen-channel sound, 109 minutes. Installation view, Gießhaus, Universität Kassel. From Documenta 14. Photo: Nils Klinger.

4 ROSA BARBA (PIRELLI HANGARBICOCCA, MILAN; CURATED BY ROBERTA TENCONI) For almost five months, an old hangar in which locomotives, boilers, and aircraft were built and repaired housed an exhibition in which the machine was the central element. Although today our lives, experiences, and affections are articulated more than ever by devices and gadgets of all kinds, contemporary art is often guilty of being overly discursive and of ignoring the machinic dimension of social domination. This show, on the contrary, immersed us in and made us aware of this ineluctable circumstance.

View of “Rosa Barba: From Source to Poem to Rhythm to Reader,” 2017, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio.

5 “LUA CÃO” (MOON DOG) (GALERIA ZÉ DOS BOIS, LISBON; CURATED BY NATXO CHECA) This collaborative project could be said to have been the reverse of the Barba show. The device was also very important here, but while history and the machine are essential for the Italian artist Alexandre Estrela, what particularly interests the Portuguese artistsJoão Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva are sensory experiences in which there are continual interferences between physical and mental images.

João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Washing Machine (camera test), 2014–15, 16 mm, color, silent, 2 minutes 40 seconds. Installation view, Galeria Zé dos Bois, Lisbon, 2017. Photo: Lais Pereira.

6 THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV (ALBERT SERRA) Albert Serra, in what is possibly his best film to date, takes us back into the past once more (as he did in his reworkings of the tales of Don Quixote and Casanova), the better to understand our own time. The persona of the Sun King was infinite and all-powerful, but Serra situates him at a moment when that absolute power was confronted by the implacable decadence of the body. The death of Louis XIV brought an exceptionally long reign to an end and marked the beginning of a period of uncertainty that has more than a few parallels with the present.

Albert Serra, La mort de Louis XIV (The Death of Louis XIV), 2016, HD video, color, sound, 115 minutes. Madame de Maintenon (Irène Silvagni), Blouin (Marc Susini), and Padre Le Tellier (Jacques Henric).

7 OSCAR MASOTTA (MUSEO UNIVERSITARIO ARTE CONTEMPORÁNEO, MEXICO CITY; CURATED BY ANA LONGONI) Over the past few decades, Latin American art has ceased to occupy a peripheral position, but this does not prevent it from still being subject to simplifications and commonplaces, and if one thing has remained absent from our vision of it, it is its intellectual character, which is indispensable for any understanding of the reality of the region. Here, a genuinely unclassifiable author such as Oscar Masotta—who championed the practice of theory as a mode of political action, who defined himself as an existentialist, a Marxist, and a Peronist, and who first introduced Lacan to Argentina—is a key figure.

Oscar Masotta, El helicóptero (The Helicopter), 1967. Performance view, Buenos Aires, 1967.

8 NO INTENSO AGORA (IN THE INTENSE NOW) (JOÃO MOREIRA SALLES) Through a masterful use of archival material, Moreira Salles describes the convulsive revolutionary world of the mid-1960s. Beijing, Rio, Paris, and Prague are some of the cities in which popular revolts took place. Each of these had something of the nature of an event—that is to say, an unforeseen irruption of history—and each constituted for an instant an uncontrollable movement in which, as the author says, “everything was possible, except the seizure of power.”

João Moreira Salles, No intenso agora (In the Intense Now), 2017, HD video, color, sound, 127 minutes.

9 GERMÁN LABRADOR MÉNDEZ,CULPABLES POR LA LITERATURA (GUILTY OF LITERATURE) (TRAFICANTES DE SUEÑOS) Collective experience is not unitary, but the writing of it is. This tends to erase everything that challenges unity. This book recounts not the official history of contemporary Spain but that of the forgotten, those who sought the simultaneous transformation of society and their own lives. Rather than resorting to sociology or history, Labrador Méndez turns to literature, which is capable of evading established narratives and entering into existence itself.

10 C17—THE ROME CONFERENCE ON COMMUNISM (ESC ATELIER AND GALLERIA NAZIONALE, ROME) Five days in January. A huge success in terms of numbers, considering the subject: communism. A word that had been forgotten, misinterpreted, or hated, now catapulted back into the thick of things. The conference was significant not only for the quality of the debates and the participation of a great number of activists and thinkers, but also for the fact that it was held in two apparently mutually antagonistic places: ESC, a very dynamic social center in the heart of Rome, and the Galleria Nazionale. The duality of spaces and publics expressed a different political and social situation. At the present moment, the political is transversal and manifests itself in a diverse multiplicity of subjects and situations.

Claire Fontaine, Untitled (Paris 11 April 2006), gesso, pencil, and smoke on cardboard, 12 × 30". From “Sensible Comune,” C17—The Rome Conference on Communism.

Manuel Borja-Villel is the director of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, and formerly served as the director of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona (1990–98) and of the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (1998–2008). He has curated monographic exhibitions of Marcel Broodthaers, Lygia Clark, Hans Haacke, Lygia Pape, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Nancy Spero, and Antoni Tàpies, among others.