— O.M.

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The grand hall of the Prague Trade Palace has welcomed one of Ai Wei-Wei’s newest endeavours, as the National Gallery opens a new massive show featuring two hundred and fifty-eight human souls, set to sea, in search of a new home and in search of the meaning of humanity. Yet another work of the artist, focused on the current migration situation around the globe, as well as paying close attention to the human crisis of the 21st century in general. 

An enormous, seventy-meters long, inflatable boat is hung from the ceiling, with 258 souls on board, beneath which we can read a series of statements — words of many influential thinkers, contemporary as well as historic. Symbolically, the very quote belongs the the former Czech president Václav Havel and the very last to the Czech literary icon Franz Kafka, who wrote to Oskar Pollak in 1903: “We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours?”. The installation’s connection with Czech history goes even deeper though — the Trade Palace was historically used as an assembly point for Jews being prepared for transport to the Terezín concentration camp, during the Nazi era between 1939 an 1941.

 

It is, without a doubt, a striking defence of the human values, which we so often tend to doubt. The middle section carries an inspiring quote from Socrates: “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” — This very world has now become a hostile environment, strikingly individualistic and ignorant. Ai Wei-Wei’s monumental depiction of refuge brings this topic right to us. Indeed political, but also very human — “The Law of the Journey” is a needed reminder reflecting the values that the 21st century man has incredibly forgotten.
The size of the installation acts as a symbol itself — the scale of this topic is now so massive, that it simply cannot be ignored. It may also speak well about the ignorance itself — does the 21st century man truly need to have these topics so loudly amplified, in order to even notice and spend time evaluating?

Ai Wei-Wei’s installation is primarily not only about the refugee rights, but moreover about the rights of the human being to exist in this world — a principle that is vital in maintaining a functional & democratic society.
If only we could honour these principles — if that would be the case, there would perhaps be no migration crisis as such. Hence “The Law of the Journey”, a stunning reminder to the modern human mind.

Václav Havel’s quote, by the rear of the vessel, read:

“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.”

 

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Juergen-plateIt is, indeed, a challenge to face the works of the german-born photographer Juergen Teller. His often brutally honest and oddly natural photographs seem to stand in direct opposition of what would be expected from a photographer. All the aesthetic impact is stripped, and the viewer is often left surprised at the pure directness of his images.

They are very simplified, but hold intriguing stories when viewed closely. However, it is questionable if and how this transmission of information is successful. They hold personal stories and obsessions which are somewhere between fascinating and ridiculous – almost neo-dadaistic, may I dare to say?

His entire exposition, titled “Enjoy Your Life!” is dominated by plates – in particular photographs printed on plates. One could only wonder where this peculiar fetish originates from – but upon reading closer (or upon knowing german language better than me), one will simply discover that the artist’s surname – Teller – translates from German as “Plate”. This seems to utterly fascinate him: “Come see my new studio. There will be a porn actor there, and models, and a live donkey. And plates. Did you know that Teller in german is “plate”?” he once said to Adrian Searle, the chief art critic at The Guardian.

And the DONKEY – what’s with the donkeys? Read Teller’s story about a “Ride On A Donkey” and you will soon discover a terrifying coincidence in which he was nearly raped by an eager man while riding a donkey near the Turkish-Syrian border – consequently sending him in to a mental turbulence. Hence the donkey reoccurrence! Voilá!

There were many other personal stories and memories reflected in this single exhibition, however hidden in complex visual transcripts. I wasn’t able to uncover many. If the work is inclined to be therapeutical, then it is understandable. However, without any perceivable form of relating these backgrounds to the viewer, the works remain unrevealed and quite possibly misunderstood. And even after filling these gaps, I remain puzzled by the absence of a stronger mental focal point.

Juergen celebrated the completion of his new photo studio by posing naked on a donkey. (2016)

Juergen celebrated the completion of his new photo studio in London by posing naked on a donkey. (2016)

There is, however, one set of photographs that showcases Teller’s brilliant sense. “Kanye, Juergen & Kim” is a grotesque magazine photoshoot of the eccentric american rapper Kanye West and his wife – reality TV celebrity and sex idol Kim Kardashian. The location was originally set at the 16th century Chateau D’Ambreville – and don’t be mistaken, it remained – however Teller (in his classic rebellious manner) averted from from the original setting and instead concentrated on the neighbouring fields and piles of dirt and debris. Just like stripping the settings of all decorative, shiny and so-called “aesthetic features”, he also stripped his models from all the “beauty features”, “celebrity aspects” and other strongly guarded attributes of a star-studded image. Kardashian is photographed rolling around the dirt piles and posing next to a farm tractor – almost ridiculously and nearly self-degradingly. You can barely see her face and her buttocks are more of the centre of attention. Kardashian is reduced to a simple un-exceptional human being – stripped of all the “image”. Her fame and celebrity status mean absolutely nothing in these photos. Kanye West also fails to see Teller’s game – posing egocentrically for the lens.

Juergen-Kim

From Juergen Teller’s “Kanye, Juergen & Kim”

A very similar implication can be drawn from the Vivienne Westwood nudes – a greatly respected fashion designer entirely stripped of all attributed social values and whatnot. Figuratively and literally – with her vagina staring directly through the lens, in to Jurgen Teller’s eye. Westwood (in her classic approach) is however more than aware of the concept.

This is where Teller’s odd simplification creates something quite amusing and weirdly clever. His work is oddly simple on the outside, but can sometimes reach through and bring forward these insightful and playful moments. But only to a certain extent.
In his entirety, Juergen Teller remains unrevealed to me – and quite possibly to many others facing his prints.

***

“Juergen Teller: Enjoy Your Life!”  will run at the Rudolfinum Gallery in Prague until the 19th of March, 2017.

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My semestral paper for the Department of Musicology, by the Faculty of Arts at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech republic.

Abstract:

ENG:
This paper deals with the evolution of the exhibition space in the modern and post-modern history of art. It investigates the changes in approach to space, and the works places inside it, in the last 100 years of progress. This progress is illustrated by a series of examples, which played an instrumental role, and helped towards the so-called “re-discovery of context”. Another part of the paper also deals with the problematic of the participatory role of the viewer in post-modern and conceptual art, which is a thriving topic of the contemporary discourse.
Brian O’Doherty’s essay “Inside The White Cube” was one of the key & inspirational resources for this work. However, it is accompanied, side-by-side, by works written by Sol LeWitt, Boris Groys and other authors relevant to the field.

CZ:
Tato práce se zabývá vývojem výstavního prostoru v moderní a post-moderní historii umění. Zkoumá, jak se přístup k prostoru a k dílům do něj vloženým proměňuje, a jaké změny v tomto přístupu zaznamenalo posledních 100 let vývoje. Tento vývoj je popsán prostřednictvím několika příkladů, které v tomto vývoji sehrály významnou roli a které napomohli k tzv. “znovuobjevení kontextu”. Část textu se rovněž věnuje problematice divácké percepce post-moderního a konceptuálního umění, které je neutichajícím tématem soudobého diskurzu.
Stěžejním a inspirativním pramenem k této práci byla esej “Uvnitř Bílé Krychle” Irského teoretika Briana O’Dohertyho, po boku této eseje se ale v této práci také objeví například úryvky z prací Sol LeWitta či Borise Groyse a dalších relevantních autorů.

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This week, Taryn Simon’s exhibition opened in the Prague Rudolfinum gallery – the artist’s first exhibition in the Central-European capital. The untitled exposition features four different projects created by the New York artist between 2007 and 2014. The Birds of West Indies“, “Contraband, “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” and “The Image Atlas“.

contraband_4
There’s a visible sense of obsession with categorizing, organizing and filtering in Simon’s work. “Contraband” presents her findings from her 1-week stay at New York’s JFK airport, where she photographed hundreds of products captured by the local customs and border protection officers. Food, drugs, natural produce, pirated CDs, DVDs and many other captures… All carefully sorted and exhibited in seperate categories throughout the gallery walls. The photographs are enclosed in plexi-glass covers, as if the viewer should be denied any contact, possible contamination or unauthorized access to the peculiar mix of forbidden goods. An oddly satisfying “catalog” of global desires, which are not always globally accepted.

"Contraband" at the Helsinki City Art Museum, 2012.

“Contraband” at the Helsinki City Art Museum, 2012. (c) tarynsimon.com

 

Simon’s impressive obsession (and patience) with categorization and extensive research is even more evident in “The Picture Collection”. In this project, Simon works with the picture library of the Mid-Manhattan Library in New York – the largest and most important picture collection in the world, where over 1.2 million pictures, prints and photographs are stored and organised into a complex catalogued system based on over 12.000 subject headings.
Simon uses the library’s system of subject headings (the modern language would call these “tags”) to gather similar images into large collages, which often showcase how the catalogues can create absurd, random and sometimes accidental connections between seemingly unrelated pictures. Reproductions of famous artworks are shown next to travel postcards and generic advertising material. The historically validated images are exhibited side-by-side to those that are not.
Ultimately, Taryn Simon explores this unstable image of the modern day, which could easily create basis for how the future generation will look upon the visual history of this civilisation. She brings into consideration that the future collective understanding could very well be based upon collections like these.

"Folder: Express highways" from "The Picture Collection". (c) tarynsimon.com

“Folder: Express highways” from “The Picture Collection”. (c) tarynsimon.com

The theme of a collective understanding based on the presented visual history reoccurs in Simon’s other project – an interactive installation titled “The Image Atlas”. In cooperation with programmer Aaron Swartz, Simon created a image search engine that shows and compares search results from 57 countries world-wide. The results can be filtered and sorted based on the gross domestic product of the given countries.
The results, depending on the query, can vary in many extraordinary ways – simple searches s such as “girls”, “america” or “party” will come up with different results in each country. These results can then greatly manifest the cultural and social differences, as well as the differences in what these cultures are ultimately searching for in these queries.
Simon seems to be questioning the universal visual language, and turning attention to the implications these unknowing algorithms can have in the future of communication.

"The Image Atlas" at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, 2015

“The Image Atlas” at Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, 2015. (c) tarynsimon.com

Perhaps the only part of this exhibition, that does not carry the sense of constant categorisation, is “The American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar”.  Here, Simon brings out her journalist excellence and hits hard on the anti-american note. The series of photographs capturing the hidden and unknown of the american society is an incredibly intriguing insight. We see the Palestinian woman, fearing the cultural implications, undergoing hymenoplasty (restoration of a ruptured hymen) in Ft. Lauderdal, Florida. We see a white tiger Kenny who, as a result of selective in-breeding, suffers from mental retardation. We see the military testing of explosive warheads and we see the special edition of Playboy, for the visually impaired.
We see the dark and/or unwanted side of America. We see the side of it, that nobody wants to see, but nobody can fully ignore. The hidden and unfamiliar of the “great land of freedom”. A land, that is no longer what it dreamt to be.

"White Tiger (Kenny)", (c) tarynsimon.com

“White Tiger (Kenny)”, (c) tarynsimon.com

"An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar" at the Musem for Modern Art, Frankfurt, 2007. (c) tarynsimon.com

“An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” at the Musem for Modern Art, Frankfurt, 2007. (c) tarynsimon.com

 

Taryn Simon’s exhibition at the Rudolfinum Gallery will run until July 10, 2016.

 

above: “Exploding Warhead – Test area C-80C”. (c) tarynsimon.com

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The Musem of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania, is a very intriguing and exciting place to visit. It is also controversial, unapologetic and features one of the great private art collections of the modern world. Opened in 2011 by an eccentric David Walsh who made his fortune in the gambling industry, MONA cost $75 million to build and contains an art collection worth nearly $100 million. The collection features a variety of works from an original Egyptian sarcophagus all the way to modern commissioned works such as Christopher Townend’s sound installation in the Kiefer pavilion tunnel, Julis Popp’s water sculpture ‘Bit.fall’ or Wim Delvoye’s ‘Cloaca Professional’.

Cloaca Professional. 2010.William Delvoye. Mona Museum. Tasmania. November 2012

Cloaca Professional. 2010.Wim Delvoye.
Mona Museum. Tasmania. November 2012

The latter has become probably one of the more known pieces exhibited in Walsh’ s art temple. The ‘Cloaca Professional’, often dubbed ‘the poop machine‘, is a 5-reactor machine that mimics the digestive functions of a human body. It is fed twice every day and processes the intake just a like human body would through it’s complex system of stomachs, and at exactly 2 p.m. every day it produces and actual excrement. Just as our bodies would.
Yes, we are ultimately looking at a machine that produces shit and is seen upon as a piece of art.
Belgian conceptualist Wim Delvoye is known for his controversial and striking artworks that have historically stirred heated discussions, and towards this piece he reportedly only noted that everything in modern life is pointless and that the most pointless object he could create was a machine that serves no purpose at all.

Cloaca Professional is art imitating life and therefore greatly succeeding in it’s purpose. There can be many layers to the work though: some say the actual piece of art is the final product, and that the implication intended is that the art produced is shit, which would create a completely different, self-critical, perception to the artwork. Others sometimes fail to spot the conceptual brilliance (let it be whichever) and tend to flee the room in disgust and claim to have been attacked on their senses.

It is the most hated, but also most visited piece of art in the MONA collection. The collection owner David Walsh, replying to a question on how a defecating machine can be art, just simply replied: “Aren’t we just machines for manufacturing shit?” – That says it all.

cloaca2cloaca3

 

 

 

 

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MerzbauFrom 1923 to 1937, the german dada prophet Kurt Schwitters worked on recreating his Hanover studio in to an environment commemorating his artistic direction – the MERZ. Everything Schwitters would do, would be connected with MERZ – a word that had no sense, but would be placed in front of everything that Scwitters created: MERZ-paintings, MERZ-drawings…. His studio, his house, would then become his MERZ-house – in a simple german translation MERZ-bau.

Merzbau was destroyed in the allied bombings in 1943, though many of those that visited Schwitters in his studio, talk about a unique immersive experience that can merely be reconstructed. The structure was created from countless three-dimensional objets – found, stolen or created by Schwitters and placed at his random, however he felt it would best fit and progress this environment. The whole concept passed through time and several dimensions, reflecting many external influences – politics, human emotions, memories, ethics and history: Merzbau (or the Cathedral of Erotic Misery) featured several different zones that would mirror these very influences: The Cave of Sexual Murderers, The Grottos of Love, Michelangelo’s Exhbition or the Cave of Deprecated Heroes and the Cave of Hero Worship.
They would appear and dissapear as Schwitters’s incredible dada/constructivist/expressionistic “man-cave” evolved.

The evolving atmosphere of the Merzbau was geniusly described by a german-american dada artist Kate Steinitz, that frequently visited Schwitters:

Merzabu "column"“One day something appeared in the studio which looked like a cross between a cylinder or wooden barrel and a table-high tree stump with the bark run wild. It had evlved from a chaotic heap of various materials: wood, cardboard, iron scraps, broken furniture, and picture frames. Soon, however, the object lost all relationship to anything made by man or nature. Kurt called it a ʻcolumn.ʼ The column-like structure was hollow. Later, when it began to rise like a tower, some irregular divisions or platforms divided it into stories. The inside walls were perforated with entrances to caves-more or less dark, depending upon whether or not the electricity was functioning. The cave entrances were on different levels and never directly one above another. If someone wanted to visit all the caves, he had to go all the way around the column. The very secret caves were probably never seen by anyone except Walden Giedion and Arp.
I remember the Goethe Cave, the Niebelungen Cave, and the Cave of the Murderers, where little plastic figures were bleeding with lipstick. It has all frequently been described-particularly the cave in which a bottle of urine was solemnly displayed so that the rays of light that fell on it turned the liquid into gold. In addition to the Cave of Deprecated Heroes, there were Caves of Hero Worship, Caves of Friendship, an Arp Cave, a Moholy-Nagy Cave, a Gabo Cave, and a Mondrian Cave. Hannah Hoech was allowed two caves for her photo-collages.
I did not work actively on the column, but I remember that Kurt built into it a lost
key of mine which I had been searching for desperately. He placed the key next to a medical prescription written by Dr. Steinitz and the box of pills Schwitters bought but never took. In each cave was a sediment of impressions and emotions, with significant literary and symbolistic allusions.
MerzbauActually the details did all disappear in the course of time. The caves were walled up so you couldnʼt get in anymore. They were either nailed shut with rectangular, colored wooden boards, or they simply disappeared into the depths of the column, which gradually became a cathedral. Some parts of the Cathedral of Erotic Misery were in this stage of transition when I last saw and photographed it. A little guinea pig was sitting on one of the protruding parts.
When I left Hanover in 1936 the construction had spread out so far horizontally that it almost filled up the entire ground-floor studio next to the apartment of Kurt Schwittersʼ parents. Growing steadily in the other direction, too, the Cathedral had broken through the ceiling, and, aspiring upward, had pushed into Kurtʼs and Helmaʼs apartment above, leaving one of the rooms with no floor.” – “If the column had not been entirely destroyed by a bomb, if it had only been buried, it might have been excavated after a few centuries. Then one would have found, as in a time capsule, hidden deep in the inside of the column, the hidden life of Schwittersʼ soul his struggle with all problems of life and art, language and literature, of human and unhuman relations. The Cathedral harbored much more than his erotic misery, which perhaps was rather complicated, but not as tragic as his struggle for pure form which finally conquered the chaos of the darkest erotic caves, the entanglements of the historical caves, and the complexities of the caves of friendship.”

Merzbau

As Brian O’Doherty states in Inside The White Cube, Schwitters’s Merzabu greatly manifested the transformative energy of an exhbition space – it was “the first example of a ‘gallery’ as a chamber of transformation, from which the world can be colonised by the converted eye.”
Merzbau 
was a true example of how space can effect us, and effect what is included in it. An important piece in understanding the conceptual and contextual principals that drove the modernistic insights into modern visual art.

In 1983, Dr. Harald Szeemann commissioned Peter Bissegger to reconstruct the Merzbau and subsequently exhibited it at the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, where it is permanently placed till this very day. A travelling version of Merzbau also exists, as well created by Bissegger, and has been exhibited in many respected museums worldwide.

Merzbau - 1983 reconstruction

 

above: Video of the travelling Merzbau reconstruction – assembled at Berkley Museum in 2011.

 

Bibliography:
THOMAS, Elisabeth. In Search of Lost Art: Kurt Schwitters Merzbau, 2012, MOMA Museum archives.
SCHMALENBACH, Werner. Kurt Schwitters. 1976, Harry N. Abrams.
MARTIN, Megan. Authors on Art: Kurt Schwitters expanding house. 2011, Burnaway.com.
O’Doherty, Brian. Inside The White Cube. 1999, University of California press.

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↑ Jeffrey Shaw: PLACE – a user’s manual | 1995 | Linz, Austria
(video credit: jeffreyshawcompendium.com )

“The user interface in this work is a modified video camera. By rotating this camera and using its Zoom and Play buttons, the viewer controls his forwards, backwards and rotational movements through the virtual scene, as well as the rotation of the platform and of the projected image around the circular screen. The projected scenery displays a computer environment with eleven cylinders showing panoramic landscape photographs shot in various locations, including Australia, Japan, La Palma, Bali, France and Germany.”

“These panoramic cylinders are positioned on ground marked with a diagram of the Hebraic ‘Tree of Life’. The placement of each panorama connects the visual identity of its scenery with the connotation of its symbolic location in this diagram. The viewfinder on the camera interface shows an aerial view of the diagram, which is centred dynamically on the viewer’s actual position in the landscape.”

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