Keeping Hope Alive

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"Optimism,", the newest exhibition organized by independent curator Michael Connor takes on the not-so-small task of exploring "the dreams and realities of making progress and changing the world." As everything seems to be crashing all around us, it can be hard--and even risky--to maintain a glass-half-full attitude toward things. Even more challenging is the prospect of making political art that doesn't simply aestheticize politics or that actually makes an impact, rather than simply preaching to the choir of those who already share the artist's beliefs. The work of Becca Albee, Ghana Thinktank Collaborative (John Ewing, Matey Odonkor & Christopher Robbins), Matt Keegan, Zoe Leonard, Tara Mateik, Walid Raad, and Paul Shambroom fleshes-out this tricky conundrum while offering productive and hopeful gestures. The common factor in their work is a frank assessment of a situation and an informed, if humble move to take matters into their own hands--an act which implies a belief in the possibility of change. At times these efforts manifest in almost humorous explorations of failure and impossibility, while at other times they are more explicitly activist and/or hopeful. The exhibit is on view at the Westport Arts Center through November 30th, effectively meaning that it will continue even after the current presidential campaigns hinging on the prospect of change have ceased. While the notion of optimism is often dismissed as Pollyanna, Connor says the show offers an alternate take on the concept, laying out strategies for proactive political engagement and means of future-improving. He suggests, "The glass is not yet half-full, but it will be, once the wine is poured." - Marisa Olson

Image: Matt Keegan, Without touch, we can't connect. Without skin, we can't touch, 2008

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Interview with Aaron Levy

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This week I spoke with Aaron Levy, Executive Director and a Senior Curator of the Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary non-profit art space Slought Foundation, about his participation in the U.S. Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, 11th International Architecture Exhibition. Working in a team with William Menking and Andrew Strum, the exhibition, titled "Into the Open: Positioning Practice," investigates contemporary socially-engaged architectural practice in the United States. Sixteen practitioners were selected for the exhibition, including The Center for Land Use Interpretation, the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), Design Corps, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Gans Studio, The Heidelberg Project, International Center for Urban Ecology, Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates,Project Row Houses, Rebar, Rural Studio, Spatial Information Design Lab/Laura Kurgan, Studio 804, Smith and Others, The Edible Schoolyard/Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Estudio Teddy Cruz. Levy, along with William Menking and Andrew Strum, will discuss the exhibition at Columbia University on October 13th and downtown at Studio-X on October 14th. - Ceci Moss

Ceci Moss: The title for the U.S. Pavilion is "Into the Open: Positioning Practice." Considering the wide range of approaches represented in this exhibition, I'm wondering if you can discuss why you selected this title, and how it speaks to the premise of community involvement through architectural practice.

Aaron Levy: What should our place be in this world, and how should architects help shape our sense of place? These are two of the questions that our exhibition gestures towards, through a new American taxonomy of conflict and urgency that takes visitors through some of the richest and the poorest neighborhoods of North America. The sixteen practices we have selected embody an expanded definition of architectural responsibility, whereby architects and designers become activists, developers, facilitators of a more inclusive urban policy, and producers of unique urban research. The exhibition ...

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Artur Zmijewski's "The Social Studio" at Utrecht's BAK, basis voor actuele kunst

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Opening this weekend at Utrecht's BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, "Artur Żmijewski: The Social Studio" features a handful of the Polish artist's recent works, including videos Them (2007) and Powtórzenie/Repetition (2005). The exhibition title offers a helpful, conceptual frame for Żmijewski's pieces, which take the form of quasi-documentary "social experiments," often counterpoising the disabled or marginalized with signs or representatives of societal ideals and political force. In photograph and video series Oko za oko/Eye for an eye (1998), for example, Żmijewski combines the bodies of amputees and those of the physically fit into "corporal hybrids." The articulation of bodily difference here also becomes the precondition for new forms of social interaction and integration, achieved through Żmijewski's manipulation of the conventions of portraiture. These results are in keeping with the artist's broader agenda, comprehensively laid out in his essay, "The Applied Social Arts," that artistic production should "take responsibility and engage...with the current social and political reality." A timely return to past controversy, Powtórzenie/Repetition re-conducts Philip Zimbardo's 1971 Stanford Prison experiment, in which ordinary college students assumed the roles of wardens and prisoners in a mock-prison environment. Claiming to be an expert in the "psychology of evil," Zimbardo here sought to show the predictable behaviors people adopt in such charged, power-based circumstances. While the facility with which the students adopted sadistic or masochistic roles then seemed to confirm Zimbardo's theory, Żmijewski's participants chose an alternative solution: they protested the project and collectively left the prison. Though Powtórzenie/Repetition caused a good deal of outrage in Poland, its participants' action does lend some credence to Żmijewski's belief that provocative art may "influence social consciousness and stimulate reflection." - Tyler Coburn

Image: Artur Żmijewski, Powtórzenie/Repetition, 2005 (Still)

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cybercafe @ kings x (1994) - Heath Bunting

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"During the day of Friday 5th August 1994
the telephone booth area behind the destination board
at kings X British Rail station will be borrowed
and used for a temporary cybercafe."

kings x Press Release.
kings x Report.

Other "Cybercafe Net Art Projects."

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Mark Your Calendars for September 5th!

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Join us at the New Museum next week, on September 5th, for this month's New Silent Series event "the Scale of Intervention." An official warm-up for the psychogeographic festival Conflux, the panel will explore possibilities for artistic disruption within urban environments. Artists CutUp Collective, Leon Reid IV (of Darius + Downey), Betsey Biggs, and Roadsworth will present their diverse body of work, followed by an in-depth discussion led by the founders of the celebrated street-art site Wooster Collective.

[Information and tickets here.]

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Summer in the City

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Designer/researcher Greg J. Smith has curated an online exhibition that surveys twelve of the most influential mapping-related new media projects of the last ten years. "City of Nodes" is the 21st show presented by CONT3XT.NET, who use social bookmarking site del.icio.us as a platform for their TAGallery. The sites Smith selected actually skim the longstanding relationship between tagging and urban studies, with a focus on cartography and locative media. In his curatorial introduction (in this case, a "tag description"), Smith synthesizes Lewis Mumford's late-1930s conception of the city as "a nexus of social, creative, and economic collaboration," in contrast to William J. Mitchell's '90s era take on cities as including "not only asphalt and concrete, but bandwidth, code, and connectivity." This is the filter through which the twelve selected projects are viewed. They include the seminal Amsterdam Realtime (2002) project by Esther Polak and Jeroen Kee (the Waag Society) in which GPS devices worn by volunteers create a comparative portrait of the personal occupation of the city; iSee (2005), the Institute for Applied Autonomy's web-based program for locating CCTV cameras throughout a city and planning your travel route accordingly; and One Block Radius, Dave Mandl and Christina Ray's (a.k.a. Glowlab's) psychogeographic documentary of the immediate neighborhood surrounding what was then the future site of the new New Museum building. Given that so many of the selected projects are about tracing a collective experience, the folksonomic curatorial platform seems a perfect one on which to contemplate the work, with guest-curators' tags suggesting an interpretation before inviting viewers to travel off on their own. - Marisa Olson


Image: David Rokeby, Seen, 2002

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Community Builders

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Currently on display at Baltimore's Contemporary Museum, "Cottage Industry" foregrounds the entrepreneurial and communitarian ethos of six artists/organizations, including Andrea Zittel and Christine Hill. The exhibition positions these practices, many taking the form of real- or pseudo-business and cultural ventures, in an extensive history of relational projects: from Beuys' "social sculpture" to Matta-Clark's "Food" restaurant/cooperative. Several of the participants interpolate conceptual production with community organization, including Lisa Anne Auerbach, whose project, The Tract House, makes available to museum visitors and online users a series of "manifestos, diatribes, stories, [and] rants" written by friends and acquaintances of the artist, as well as visitors to her website. Auerbach thus overlaps two meanings of "tract" (an area of land and a loosely distributed, often socially- or politically-conscious text), as if to suggest her open document pool to be a foundation for a new architecture of social exchange. The City Reliquary will also contribute something from its dusty coffers. First established as a window display in 2000, the City Reliquary has become a much-loved spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, displaying the eccentric accumulations of local collectors, old New York ephemera, and organizing events like the annual Bicycle Fetish Day (which is pretty much what its title suggests). For the exhibition, a mini-City Reliquary will be set up in the gallery in the form of a shadowbox containing special finds from their collection. In addition to exhibiting past works by participants, Contemporary Museum has helped a handful of them realize site-specific projects throughout Baltimore, including the sixth "regional prototype garden" of Fritz Haeg's Edible Estates, an ongoing project to replace "the domestic front lawn with a highly productive edible landscape." While the exhibition will conclude on August 24th, Haeg's garden will continue indefinitely -- one of many excellent examples the exhibition ...

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A Message to the World

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A couple of months ago, a message appeared on the roof of Steve Turner Contemporary Art, loosely painted in white across a black ground, reading "Help Us." Given the gallery's location, just across Wilshire Boulevard from the Los Angeles County Museum or Art (LACMA) and the dazzling new home for all things blue-chip, The Broad Contemporary Art Museum, one would be tempted to infer a dissenting tone in the sign, made by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford. But as Bradford's message is not actually visible to the windowless buildings surrounding the gallery, and can only properly be seen from the air and via a live video feed the gallery has established, it's clear that the artist's SOS reaches beyond the limits of contemporary art. Bradford adopts a fundamental position of appeal that is heavily colored by its similarities to those of Hurricane Katrina victims, including Angela Antoinette Perkins, who repeated these very words outside the New Orleans Convention Center, on September 1st 2005, and roused survivors into a chant. Seen through this lens, the selective visibility Bradford grants his piece may reference the infamous account of Bush flying over New Orleans while returning from vacation, as well as the extent to which Katrina, like most contemporary disasters, was delivered unto the majority of the world populous through varying levels of technological mediation: mass-media all the way down to cell-phone videos. The gallery's video feed feels particularly poignant, in this regard, in that it documents, in real-time, a message that has already been painted and that never changes. With each day that elapses, in other words, Bradford's entreaty only more compellingly tells its story of expectation, desperation and thwarted relief. - Tyler Coburn


Image: Mark Bradford, HELP US: An Installation (Aerial View), 2008

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Repeating Residual Histories

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In their 2005 project With Respect to Residue, the Raqs Media Collective printed a theory of residues on disposable placemats, which were then distributed to various restaurants. Defining residue as, "that which never finds its way into the manifest narrative of how something (an object, a person, a state, or a state of being) is produced, or comes into existence," the placemats demanded that diners consider why and how "residues" were left out of history, as they themselves consumed. Raqs Media Collective's latest endeavor, co-curated as a portion of the nomadic biennial Manifesta 7, resides much in the same vein. From July 19th-November 2nd, they will be presenting an exhibition entitled "The Rest of Now" which includes many net art pioneers as well as other artists and non-explicitly artist-practitioners in addressing historic residues in the present tense. Set in an abandoned aluminum factory in Bolzano, Italy, the show works "to see what can be salvaged from the oblivion to which the residues of Modernism are normally consigned." In other words, both the site of the show and the works presented explore the ideas, qualities, and realities that have been swept under the rug in the process of European industrialization. The layers of self-reflexivity are piled high, here. The curators acknowledge that Europe is known for hosting many art spaces sited within old industrial spaces and their show works to juxtapose "remembered industrial energy and a more current melancholia of abandonment" to explore what the cultural embrace (or even coddling) of these spaces means. Their suggestion is that it is "symptomatic of Europe's unwillingness to come to terms with aspects of its own difficult path into, and through, the 20th century." So, in a sense, this show will work to retrace these footsteps of so-called progress, with the almost ...

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You've Got Mail!

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Image: Mark Beasley, @reply-all, 2008


Opening today, the online exhibition FW: Re: Re: explores a medium even our grandparents have become accustomed to: email. Organized by Rhizome's curatorial fellow Luis Silva from the ArtBase, FW: Re: Re: pulls together work produced over the past three years to present a variety of subversive approaches to this ubiquitous technology.

The show works like this:

1) Visit this page
2) Enter your email address
3) Receive the exhibition in your inbox

The format opens the exhibition up to the uncertainty and ephemerality inherent to email -- meaning that these works can be activated or discarded just as quickly as they appear.

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