Pierre Huyghe, A Journey that Wasn't
Today is the start of my first full week here at Rhizome in the role of Editor & Curator.
This disjunct between reality and its illusory other, the world of privileged consumerism, was at the heart of the 6th Berlin Biennial. In the exhibition catalog, curator Kathrin Rhomberg wrote that there is a growing "gap between the world we talk about and the world as it really is." In an effort to close this gap, the Biennial wrestled with contemporary issues and realities far beyond the gallery walls - an all-too-rare impulse in the hermetic field of visual art.
Unfortunately, this Biennial may well have convinced many of its visitors that artists should stick to the studio; too many of the works lacked any nuance in their portrayal of external realities. There was a highly unpleasant video of a horse being knocked off its feet, subtly titled Problems with Relationship. There was Bernard Bazile's inept installation of shouty protest videos from Paris. There was Sebastian Stumpf running into private garages just as the doors closed behind him, Indiana Jones-style.
Yet there were also moments of brilliance along the way. At its best, the Biennial yielded keen insights into the conditions of contemporary capitalism and the relationship between the personal and the political. Without further ado, here are some of the highlights.
Telephone Trottoire is a publishing system for communities to share news, stories, and opinions over the mobile phone. The system dials members of the Congolese community and plays them a recording in the Lingala language. The recording might be a story, song, or joke, or it could be a discussion of a serious issue. The recipient of the call has the option of leaving a comment in response or forwarding the call to someone else, allowing the system to grow virally. It was developed on behalf of Congolese communities in London by MediaShed, a 'free-media' organization based in Southend-on-Sea, England.
At 01SJ 2008, three artists Graham Harwood, Richard Wright and Matsuko Yokokoji (formerly Mongrel ) presented Tantalum Memorial, an art installation based on Telephone Trottoire. This same installation will be on view at the art and digital culture festival transmediale in Berlin this week. Tantalum Memorial is one of eight projects to win the transmediale 2009 Award. I met up with Harwood at a Peet's Coffee in San Jose last June to discuss these two projects. He wore a hat with the word 'ADDICT' emblazoned across the front (his son's) and ordered an herbal tea. - Michael Connor
Santana Row in San Jose is a kind of holy grail of large-scale property development, combining dining, shopping, and living space in a complex the size of several city blocks. Yesterday at lunchtime, it was bustling with row upon row of restaurant-goers sitting at tables on the sidewalk in the June sun. Imagine, if you can, Paris in the springtime with cheerful waitstaff and ample parking.
For the next few weeks, this terrestrial utopia will play host to RainDance, an outdoor installation by artist Paul DeMarinis. The piece, which somewhat resembles a shower facility, consists of five jets of water streaming downwards onto a raised walkway. Visitors walk under each stream while holding a plastic umbrella supplied by the attendant on duty. When the water hits the taut plastic, it creates a musical composition, generating different notes as the speed of water flow varies. Because the piece is inaudible until a visitor enters, it has a magical quality which was not lost on the shoppers and passersby who happened upon the piece.
I left Santana Row for the Tech Museum of Innovation, where I saw 01SJ Global Youth Voices, an exhibition produced by Liz Slagus of Eyebeam. Inspired by 2007 Nobel prize-winner Muhammad Yunus' approach to micro-finance, the program had offered $500 grants to artists all over the world aged 11 to 21. Interactive artworks made by 12-year olds from the Nueve School in Hillsborough, CA sat alongside a video tour of Kibera, Africa's largest slum. "It's an impressive amount of work for twenty grand," Graham Harwood commented to me. It's true -- except according to a quick calculation ($500 x 17 artists), the actual figure was much less than 20. In the micro-finance model, even a small loan can change someone's life ...
Day two of my San Jose experience began with a visit to MACLA to see High n' Low Rider by Rubén Ortiz-Torres, co-director of the 1995 film Frontierland. Using low rider-style hydraulics, Ortiz-Torres has customized a platform lift (normally used for high-level work on construction sites) so that it can not only be raised and lowered, but also unfolded, tilted, and spun like a pinwheel. Today, the High n' Low Rider merely sat still in the gallery space, but on Wednesday it came to life for the 01SJ opening night festivities, spinning wildly in the midst of a throng of people. I could only hope it wasn't a Decepticon.
From there, I continued on to Space 47, an independent project space that featured Floating Chronologies, a solo show by Jesus Aguilar. I last saw Aguilar's work at 01SJ in 2006, where he presented some promisingly clever pieces, including an instructional videotape that offered lessons in how to speak in binary language. For Floating Chronologies, the artist trawled the Internet to find other 'Jesus Aguilars.' Alan Berliner explored a similar line of inquiry in his 2001 film The Sweetest Sound, for which the director invited twelve other Alan Berliners from around the world to join him for dinner, but Aguilar approaches the concept in a different way. In this body of work, information about other people who share the artist's name is assimilated into a single hybrid character. We learn that this composite character earned a bronze medal at the 1980 Olympics, won the 1978 World Cup, earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, and shot a police officer in the leg. By combining these stray online facts under the umbrella of a single identity, Aguilar's piece creates a ...