Friday, October 31, 2008


Top: Rivane Neuenschwander, still from
Inventory of Small Deaths (Blow), 2000
Super 8 film transferred to DVD 

Below: Rivane Neuenschwander, Suspension Point, 2008
Installation view, South London Gallery, Photo: Andy Keate

London - I want to retrace an initial impression of a show I saw a few weeks ago: Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander’s exhibition Suspension Point at South London Gallery. I have a poor memory, even if it’s just reaching by a day or so, so I make no promises of accuracy. But I think a vague outline is in keeping with the fluid tensions set up in the exhibition, the sense that material objects and physical places exist in perpetual transition with streams of thoughts and sensations.

For the exhibition the artist transformed the Victorian gallery by constructing a second floor. On entering the space visitors are confronted with a choice: to climb a newly-constructed wooden staircase—to go up into the bright expanse of a high-ceiling second level and walk onto its unfinished plywood floor—or to head toward the construction itself, into the web of beams and frames that support the structure.

The white walls of the upper level are lined with drill holes the size of golf balls, decorative peepholes that stop short of pushing through to the outside. The shavings from the drilling are spread into a haphazard pile of sawdust, a miniature mountain of growth that rises from the ground. (On second thought, perhaps the sawdust is a byproduct of the larger construction, remnants of the trees that makes up the flooring?) In another spot a dented metal bowl has been inserted into an opening in the floor. Droplets of water fall on its surface and, amplified by a microphone, echo like hits to a kettledrum. (Seen from below, I realize that there’s no dripping water after all, that I’ve been duped by a recording.) Walking back down the staircase and underneath the floor, I felt like I was descending underground. But in contrast to the subterranean feel, Neuenschwander inserted a Super 8 film of a giant bubble as it drifts its way through landscapes and sky.

If it sounds overly complicated, it’s my fault. In the end, the artist has occupied the space with a poignant simplicity. Her sculptural hand draws lines of continuity between natural and constructed materials, through the social parameters and possibilities of the space, and back around to the romantic and practical frameworks that imbue them with meaning and purpose. She abbreviates a body of water to a bowl, then inserts a phantom leak like some meditative soundtrack or a quiet clock to the head. She transforms a ground level gallery into an introverted, basement-like environment, only to propose an idyllic view through a cinematic window, an outside world seen through the soft distortion of a floating bubble.

Walking through the exhibition I was left with a sense of having moved through territory, of having passed through the objects and associations as they fold one into the other, expanding and collapsing like breaths through breathing things.

I realize I would benefit from a return visit to take in more of the details that I’m sure are there…to collect background information on the artist, her intent, exhibition history, working context and so on. But the truth is, I’m satisfied with the richness of my first viewing and content to chew on my hazy associative recollection.

Liz Bruchet

GUIDO IGNATTI, Esquina de Gorriti y Carranza

Buenos Aires - One night, not long ago, I received a text message from my friend Guido: “Veni.” It was an invitation to come to a nearby street corner where he was staging an intervencion titled Sin Titulo (publicidad interior). Guido had chosen a corner in Palermo Hollywood in front of an old, one-story, Italianate house slated for demotion. This was once the rough and tumble neighbourhood across Maldonado Creek, featured in Borges tales, where victims of knife-fights often had their bodies dumped. Now the area exemplifies the gentrifying creep of Palermo restaurants, bars, and fashion.

I arrived to find Guido, with the help of his boyfriend, working quickly and deliberately in front of the old house - currently surrounded by pre-construction billboards advertising a Peruvian shaman’s new self-help book. Here Guido had chosen to re-paper these billboards with wallpaper. The rolls of flowered Victorian paper were unrolled on the sidewalk, slathered with paste, and mounted over the shaman’s multiple faces.

I stood back to watch, take pictures, and offer the odd hand passing a tray or brush. Guido’s act of domesticating a public and commercial space contrasted sharply with the well-dressed passersby on their ways to the local chic restaurants and bars. Understandably, any out-of-place public act can lead to unexpected responses, which often take narrative form. And this night’s narrative involved an old woman, a police officer, potential reprimand, unexpected praise, and a warning that Guido’s work could be vandalised. But as tempting as it is to recount that story (complete with its beautiful ironies), I think it is consequent and subordinate to Guido’s act and the tone it set.

Perhaps “exterior” is the best adjective that describes Guido’s furtive actions: the element of vandalism, and thus risk, was palpable. But the sense of risk was not due solely to this act of “vandalism.” The act felt denuding. We naturally expect tension when the outside world invades private space. We are more familiar with the fear of the uncontrollable and threatening invading our interior refuges. But Guido’s piece demonstrated the opposite elicits just as much tension: bringing the intimate and private into the street infused that corner with a palpable sense of vulnerability. Brought outside, the wallpaper seemed to re-expose the old house, to bring it back in front of the billboards, to turn the old house inside-out. With this simple change, Guido converted the mise-en-scene of the street.

The next day I received an email. Guido had returned and photographed the corner in the bright morning sun. At some point in the night, along one side of one billboard, someone had torn a small piece of the wallpaper. It was now, in his words, “perfecto.”

Nathan Tichenor


London - Though much narrower in its scope than The Islanders, Elmgreen & Dragset’s exhibition Too Late, at Victoria Miro, managed to transport me as well, making me nostalgic for a scene I’ve never been a part of. In what sounded at first like a self-indulgent proposition, the pair recreated a gay nightclub in the gallery. But I was taken by how well they managed to harness an atmosphere of sexual tension, social revelry and an almost familiar sense of community while imbuing it with the residual aura that comes when the party’s over, when “lights are still blinking and the disco ball sadly spinning, but there’s no-one on the dance floor, and the last round has been served long ago.”

The “missing common social ground” they refer to extends beyond the specifics of any particular scene and instead draws on a collective vulnerability and a shared sense of loss. Makes me wonder where we’ve all gone off to…

Liz Bruchet


London - Last night I visited Charles Avery's exhibition, The Islanders: An Introduction, at Parasol Unit, an absolutely stunning exhibition fuelled by a rigorous imagination and artistic talent that spans literature, philosophy and visual art.

From the press release:
The Islanders: An Introduction is the latest instalment in Scottish artist Charles Avery's epic project which began in 2004. Avery has created texts, drawings, installations and sculptures which describe the topology and cosmology of an imaginary island, whose every feature embodies a philosophical proposition, problem or solution. Imbued with a formal beauty, humour, and a spirit of philosophical enquiry, these vivid and intricate works invite the viewer to recreate the Island in their own minds, and to use it as an arena for exploring philosophical conundrums and paradoxes.
It’s one thing to conceive of such an elaborate project, another entirely to pull it off with grace and conviction.

Liz Bruchet

Sunday, September 7, 2008

SUSAN HILLER, Matt's Gallery

Susan Hiller The Last Silent Movie 2007 (video still)
Courtesy the artist and Matt's Gallery, London

London - On the topic of materials and their ability to conflate time, Susan Hiller’s work, The Last Silent Movie (2007), is another instance of an artist’s subtle slight of hand. Recently screened at Matt’s Gallery, the work takes simple source materials to poetic ends.

Visitors are ushered into a projection room and invited by the gallery assistant to take a seat. Cued by the work’s title and the darkened little theatre, I got the feeling I was being set up to expect a cinematic experience only to have it thwarted. True enough, the work doesn’t offer any visuals or narrative per se. Instead text appears on screen, introducing the name of a language with the words “extinct” or “seriously endangered” beneath. A short audio clip of the dialect in question follows and subtitles stream across the screen to provide translation. Another name appears, again followed by an audio sample and subtitles. Following this pattern, Hiller weaves together snippets of folk tales, segments of interviews and a few repetitive language exercises for good measure—efforts by anthropologists and linguists to capture these ‘dying’ languages in perpetuity.

Without visuals to rely on, senses get mixed up. The crackling of obsolete recording equipment takes on more weight, and I felt as if I were watching for sounds. The passing of time felt almost physical. The rough voices of the elders and the tentative repetitions of the novice language students seem to scratch their way along history. They talk of losing the right to speak their native tongue, of how their voices have been hushed, misinterpreted, or done away with, yet the smooth fluency of their tongues elevates their speech and makes me anticipate the nostalgia they seemed to promise. (In one instance no translation of the language exists, so it becomes simply a beautiful, haunting melody.)

Even as outsiders, the audience is implicated. We are forced to read the text on screen to comprehend the sound, words that can never adequately translate the nuances and inflections of spoken language. Just as the text offers a point of entry, it becomes an imposter, a colonizing force. Just as the screen displays a way in, it provides evidence of what has been taken away.

The sparse nature of the work brings the complexity of language back into focus, assigning equal weight to its practicality, its sensual power and its political might. Our desire to experience what is being said directly—unmediated by text—transforms what might otherwise be a conceptual or academic exercise into a shared, physically felt experience of loss. In less capable hands, this work may have been conceived of as a sound work, kept as a sentimental, politically correct statement. Thankfully Hiller knows how to let material speak for itself.

Liz Bruchet

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Buenos Aires – War Club in Boedo is more club than gallery where you can listen and dance to live dj sets. However, instead of go-go dancers or shows, you are surrounded by art. I like the idea of “curating” a club, and War Club has a good curator. Daniela Luna injects War Club’s events with the same punk energy she brings to her Appetite Gallery in San Telmo where the art is not only on the walls but also in the events that occur between them.

War Club proves that the true spirit of punk is not in the heavy-touch, but rather in the no-touch. The space itself, a former factory, has neither been altered nor honed and instead maintains its concrete floors, cracked plaster walls, and courtyard bar’s half-open-to-the-sky ceiling. On the club’s opening night, the bar itself consisted of no more than a chest-fridge with its available (albeit limited) drinks written on a piece of paper in quick sharpie pen. But the crowd who patronizes War Club is not picky; moreover, they come not for the space but for what happens in the space – for the art, the music, and the people.

So it was in keeping with this spirit of counter-intervention that Luna invited one of her artists to create an installation at War Club. In a small former kitchen, sandwiched in a corner between the bar and the main room, Guido Ignatti has "non-transformed" the space. Because it looks deceptively similar to how it appeared before Ignatti began. With Poetica intimista en un espacio que no le corresponde (or Intimate poetry in a space that does not correspond), Ignattti gives us a seemingly institutional kitchen, very much of a bygone era of sometime between 1950 and 1980.

Ignatti’s hand is barely noticeable: you can’t be certain which features are original and which have been changed. In fact, much of the original kitchen remains – including the tiles, countertops, and appliances. But Ignatti cleaned and honed these features until they became more than themselves. The tiles transcend their uniqueness; they are also the essence of Tiles.

Ignatti added the carpet which, when stepped on, automatically signals your entrance into a different space. You are in the kitchen but at the same time you float; your soft and quiet tread detaches you. But the wallpaper is probably the most surprising addition. Ignatti has aged it so convincingly you would swear it has been there for years prior. However, the baroque monkey-in-a-tree pattern provides the subtlest incongruity, suggesting another sensibility, another – perhaps parallel – place or time.

You feel like you’ve been here before but you are also aware of it being a unique space. Different epochs, specifics and ideals, along with your own individual memories, are conflated into one. For a moment time stands still.

Nathan Tichenor

ELBA BAIRON, Braga Menendez Contemporaneo

Buenos Aires – Braga Menendez Contemporaneo’s show of Elba Bairon’s sculptures features a large grid of basic black metal shelving displaying about a dozen pieces – mostly white, a few black – arranged as though they were drying in her studio. The shelving is surrounded by three, near-identical, near-life-sized, female figures sitting and holding something in their laps.

To me they appear to be “drying” because Bairon’s pieces look cast-molded from a ceramic or porcelain slip. And on the shelving her works seem like ceramics waiting to be fired, or in-between firings in what’s referred to as a “bisquit” stage (after the first firing but before the application of glaze and the final firing). Bairon’s medium is in fact not ceramic but rather a combination of papier mache and plaster. But their final smooth, matte, molded appearance heightens the sense that her works inhabit a state of constant “becoming”, or similarly, a position in-between states.

The shapes of the pieces themselves sit on the cusp of recognition. From one side, a piece appears amorphous, but from the other, with the addition of a few strokes of crayon-like paint, the piece becomes a human head. Likewise, a head with tree branches sprouting out the back, from another angle, looks like a human heart, arteries and all. The features of the seated female figures are so undefined that they seem equally either in the process of emerging or being eroded away. And the ceramic-ness of the pieces give them an appearance of over-sized figurines causing us to wonder: are these crafts, mass-produced chatchkas, or works of art?

And it is exactly this defiance of definition that breathes a subtle, beautiful life into Bairon’s pieces. Their forms engage our cognition. They invite us to perceive. And as a result, Bairon’s work stimulates an awareness of our perception: of how we form, shape, categorize, and make sense of our world. How, in fact, we make the world as we perceive it.

Nathan Tichenor