TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 2020

Myriam Ben Salah’s top ten highlights of 2020

Myriam Ben Salah is the director and chief curator of the Renaissance Society in Chicago. She recently organized (with Lauren Mackler and Ikechukwu Onyewuenyi) Made in L.A. 2020: “a version,” the fifth edition of the Hammer Museum’s biennial in Los Angeles.

1
“SHAHRYAR NASHAT: FORCE LIFE” AND “ADAM LINDER: SHELF LIFE” (MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK; CURATED BY STUART COMER)

“Force Life/Shelf Life” was a provocative overlap of two exhibitions, a double meditation on the limits—in space, in time, in theory—of the body, one preferably without organs, one that flirts with technology. Nashat and Linder left me thinking about flesh, what comes before the body, “that zero degree of social conceptualization that does not escape concealment under the brush of discourse, or the reflexes of iconography,” as Hortense Spiller describes it. Flesh, for these artists, is fugitive. It acts outside a fixed reality. It resists—or rather, it escapes, runs the hell away from—ideology.

View of “Tishan Hsu: Liquid Circuit,” 2020, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Wall, from left: It’s Not the Bullet but the Hole 2, 1991; Fingerpainting, 1994. Floor: Virtual Flow, 1990–2018. Photo: Jeff McLane.

2
TISHAN HSU (HAMMER MUSEUM, LOS ANGELES; CURATED BY SOHRAB MOHEBBI AND ARAM MOSHAYEDI WITH NICHOLAS BARLOW)

Usually, about once a year, I lose faith in contemporary art. Then I come across a practice that makes me start believing again. It happened to me with “Liquid Circuit,” an overdue survey of Hsu’s work that contended with a cyborgian trope: There is no alterity in the machine; in fact the machine is me, or part of me, a phantom limb of sorts. Through a formal and theoretical tour de force, Hsu by—passes the failures of language and representation to communicate the body’s most quintessential feature: pain. His is an art of radical empathy.

Organized by SculptureCenter, New York.

3
MARK ALIZART, LE COUP D’ÉTAT CLIMATIQUE (PRESSES UNIVERSITAIRES DE FRANCE)

First of all, there is no “climate crisis.” A “crisis” would entail an unexpected turn of events,and the environmental disaster we’re experiencing is, well, anything but unexpected. Which means there is a political desire for the climate to be in crisis. Yes, global population decimation is beneficial for some (William Gibson called it the “jackpot”). Yes, climate change creates winners (Naomi Klein named it “disaster capitalism”). Yes, people are cashing in on chaos. What Alizart terms the “carbofascist” coup against democracy and humanity is in motion. Deal. With. It. Alizart did.

Nina Beier, Total Loss, 2020, marble lions, milk, performance. Installation view, Andrejsala, Riga, Latvia. Photo: Andrejs Strokins.

4
SECOND RIGA INTERNATIONAL BIENNIAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART: “AND SUDDENLY IT ALL BLOSSOMS” (CURATED BY REBECCA LAMARCHE-VADEL)

Can there be art without exhibition making? Hans Ulrich Obrist might lose it over this interrogation. Let me rephrase: How is art best served? When Lamarche-Vadel conceived of an exhibition that posited the end of the world, she did not anticipate that the apocalypse would actually delay, alter, and reframe her debut as the curator of the Riga Biennial. What if the exhibition became a movie set? Would the artworks be props? Would the performers be actors? Together with Latvian film director Dāvis Sīmanis, she’s producing a feature-length film not on the show but, for most intents and purposes, as the show.

Orian Barki and Meriem Bennani, 2 Lizards: Episode 1, 2020, HD video, color, sound, 1 minute 26 seconds.

5
ORIAN BAKRI AND MERIEM BENNANI, 2 LIZARDS

Everyone said this was the best thing that came out of quarantine. Actually, I said it first, and it was.

Cover of Journal Safar 5, 2020.

6
MAYA MOUMNE AND HATEM IMAM, JOURNAL SAFAR 5: “MIGRATION”

Journal Safar uses bilingualism (English and Arabic) not only as a formal design structure but also as a conceptual and political framework. The dual covers of issue 5 were shot on Zoom by Lebanese photographer Myriam Boulos, who has a sharp eye for capturing intimacy. The covers feature, respectively, Mekdes Yilma and Tsigereda Brihanu, Ethiopian domestic workers who share their firsthand experiences of living under kafala, the sponsorship system used to exploit migrant laborers in Lebanon.

Mati Diop, Atlantique (Atlantics), 2019, HD video, color, sound, 105 minutes. Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré) and Ada (Mama Sané).

7
MATI DIOP, ATLANTICS

A poetic zombie tale, Diop’s debut feature invokes Jacques Derrida’s punning idea of hauntology. To be is precisely to be haunted—doubled, shadowed, monstered by persistent elements of the past. Diop constructed the movie via ellipses, omissions, visual litotes, dissociative temporalities; things manifest through their absence. The director resists the easy political packaging of exodus and trauma, trading tropes of “visibility” for a more nuanced and complex invisibility. The movie deploys a fascinating negative space. Oh, and the soundtrack, composed by Fatima Al Qadiri! I still have it on loop.

Reynaldo Riveira, Melissa and Gaby, La Plaza, 1993, gelatin silver print, dimensions variable.

8
HEDI EL KHOLTI AND LAUREN MACKLER, REYNALDO RIVERA: PROVISIONAL NOTES FOR A DISAPPEARED CITY (SEMIOTEXT[E])

Rey Rivera is a character from another era. He hates, in no particular order, labels, emails, and bullshit. He photographed queer clubs and house parties in Los Angeles in the 1980s and ’90s. El Kholti and Mackler did an amazing job digging through his archive with him to reconstruct a city that has all but disappeared. The images of Echo Park as a predominantly Latinx neighborhood rife with artists of all types, the air scintillant with performative flare and queer glamour, remind us that LA has a deep history and a short memory, as Mackler puts it.

Hilton Als, Lives of the Performers (work in progress). Performance view, LAXART, Los Angeles, November 17, 2019. Helga Davis and Victoire Charles. Photo: Sara Pooley.

9
HILTON ALS, LIVES OF THE PERFORMERS (LAXART, LOS ANGELES, NOVEMBER 17–18, 2019)

A work in progress developed through a series of workshops, Lives of the Performers is an experimental play loosely based on the life of the actor Sheryl Sutton, whose biography Als intertwines with the story of June and Jennifer Gibbons, West Indian twins who grew up in Wales in the 1960s and ’70s, creating their own language (in part as a response to de facto segregation), writing fiction, acting out dramas of their own devising. Performers playing performers, Victoire Charles (the LA alternate for Okwui Okpokwasili, who played the role in New York) and Helga Davis presented a layered vision of Sutton and the Gibbons sisters’ multiple selves

The Last Dance, 2020, still from a TV show on ESPN. Michael Jordan.

10
JASON HEHIR, THE LAST DANCE (ESPN)

Two highlights: Jordan’s “flu” game and Dennis Rodman’s hairstyles.

11
LYDIA OURAHMANE, صرخة شمسية “Solar Cry” (THE WATTIS INSTITUTE, SAN FRANCISCO; CURATED BY ANTHONY HUBERMAN)

But wait, there’s more––

In the #11 series, Artforum invites contributors to add one more thing to their 2020 Top 10 list. Myriam Ben Salah discusses Lydia Ourahmane's صرخة شمسية “Solar Cry” and the limitations of transmitting art virtually.