Monthly Archives: December 2013

Bergen Assembly: Monday Begins on Saturday

This review of Bergen Assembly, Bergen’s inaugural triennial, appeared in Flash Art:

Bergen’s inaugural triennial did not come out of the blue. First mooted in 2007, the idea was then debated at the 2009 Bergen Biennial Conference, a Bergen Kunsthall initiative designed to give more visibility, on the art-world map at least, to Norway’s second city. Titled “To Biennial or Not to Biennial?”, the conference scrutinized the biennial format as a whole and yielded the serviceable Biennial Reader (2010). The question at its heart was answered in the affirmative. Somewhat perversely, though, the answer took the form of a triennial: the Bergen Assembly – An Initiative for Art and Research.

Entrusted to the Moscow-based curator-provocateurs Ekaterina Degot and David Riff, the first edition of Bergen Assembly at once glorified and poked fun at the notion of “artistic research”. Taking its title from the 1964 science-fiction novel Monday Begins on Saturday by the brothers Arcady and Boris Strugatsky, a satire of scientific research institutes in the Soviet era, the exhibition was conceived as a book in space. Eleven venues, large and small, played host to imaginary research institutes going by evocative names such as “Institute of the Disappearing Future”, “Institute of Lyrical Sociology” or “Institute of Defensive Magic”, each with its own crew of artist “researchers”. A session of the two-day symposium coinciding with the start of the triennial considered the specificity of artistic research and whether research can be conceived as art, but without reaching any conclusions.

The curators’ avowed “shared preference for time-based and time-intensive art” accounted not just for the exhibition’s elaborate literary framework but also for the prevalence of moving image among the artistic media on display. Lenin’s views about the centrality of cinema among the arts were invoked to justify why video and films, some very long and demanding the visitors’ sustained attention, dominated the show to such an extent. The choice of curators also explained why the overwhelming majority of invited artists were from Moscow and Berlin. As Degot and Riff see it, the triennial’s relatively narrow geographical focus opposes the market-driven dogma of representative global “diversity”.

Barring an exception or two, Norwegian and Scandinavian artists were notable by their absence. The shared post-socialist condition that Russia and Norway have in common did lend a certain local flavour to the symposium discussion and to some of the artworks, namely A Border Musical (2013) by the Chto Delat? platform of which Riff is a member. But, by paying little heed to the local artist community, the curators have turned Bergen into yet another art tourism destination.


BMW Tate Live: Charles Atlas

This piece, based on an interview with Charles Atlas, appeared in Flash Art:

Charles Atlas, Fractions (1), 1978. Video, color and b&w, sound 32 Mins 59 Secs. Collaboration with Merce Cunningham. Courtesy Vilma Gold, London.


Programmed as part of the “Performance Events” strand of the four-year BMW Tate Live series, now in its second year, Charles Atlas’s nine-channel video installation MC9 (2012) and live multimedia collaborations with the dancer and choreographer duo Ce­cilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud, based in Paris, and with performance artist Johanna Constantine from New York, were the last performances to be staged in the Tanks for some time. (They will not reopen until 2016,  the date set for the completion of Tate Mod­ern 2.) The inaugural run of what’s billed as the first museum space “permanently dedi­cated to live art” ended on a high note with riveting, if more or less polished, performance works that illustrated both the virtues and the limits of experimentation.


Reconfigured for gallery viewing and tai­lored to the round space of the Tanks, the work is titled MC9 in tribute to the late Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) with whom Atlas made some forty films in as many years, ex­cerpts from which were shown on large- to medium-sized screens as well as monitors during the museum’s opening hours. On two separate evenings, the same elaborate set-up was used to screen Atlas’s own heady mix of live visuals. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” says Atlas, “a live performance with so many screens that could be seen at once and with live dancers.” Open rehearsals had been initially scheduled, in a bid to bring the public closer to the making process, but the performers proved less than willing to lend themselves to the experiment.


Live performance events at the Tate will revert to their prior nomadic practice now that the Tanks are about to be temporarily closed. Meanwhile, artists will continue to explore the possibilities of the live digital space launched in March 2012 in a separate BMW Tate Live strand. The next “Performance Room” event, broadcast live on Tate’s YouTube channel on May 16, will involve a DJ mixing up Chinese music with theoretical texts about Chinese avant-garde art, alongside facsimile reproduc­tions of objects from the collection made by Chinese artist Liu Ding. According to curator Catherine Wood, the work intends to probe “ideas of value in the Western canon embod­ied in somewhere like the Tate.

Every Which Way

This review of Rashaun Michell’s and Silas Riener’s Way In was posted on

Rashaun Mitchell & Silas Riener, Way In, 2013. Performance view, Danspace Project, New York, November 2013. Davison Scandrett, Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Riener, and Claudia La Rocco. Photo: Ian Douglas.

IN A FOUR-WAY “conversation” with his collaborator Silas Riener, dance critic Claudia La Rocco, and lighting designer Davison Scandrett, posted on Bomblog on the eve of Way In’s premiere, choreographer and dancer Rashaun Mitchell said: “I’m always thinking about what’s the way into this and out of this.” What follows are four ways into the piece I went to see at Danspace Project during its brief run, offered up as my way of making sense of it (with a little help from my friends).

The Way of Taste

In a prior incarnation, a site-specific performance and installation at the BFI Gallery in Miami, Way In was titled Taste. La Rocco, writing for the Miami Rail, described that work as a conversation about taste, good and bad. The questions of what’s tasteful and what’s not, and who is the ultimate arbiter of taste remain live in Way In, though the newer work bears little outward resemblance to the previous piece. Way In takes place inside Saint Mark’s Church, its nave enfolded for the occasion within wide bolts of garish pink-laced nylon. The pink lace that bespeaks a camp aesthetic is of a piece with the fluorescent pink envelope containing the press notes, and the highbrow baroque music, from Lully to Rameau, alternating with cheesy Franz Waxman movie scores and Frank Ocean’s “Versace Gold.” The same fabric appears in costumes—including a ski mask worn by Scandrett—designed by Mitchell and Riener, who shun the neutral unitards prescribed by Cunningham, for whom they both danced, for practice clothes or less seemly items. (Eventually, booty shorts decorated with dollar signs.)

The Way of Conversation

Way In is framed as a conversation among “two trained dancers and two untrained ones”—to invoke the first recorded text, conceived as a sort of critical companion to the show, written and read aloud by La Rocco. Would it be more illuminating to view her and Scandrett as “performers” rather than “dancers”? Or is there something in the register of “dancer” that allows us to view their movements with a different vitality? The opening act, which features La Rocco holding up signs of diminishing sizes to the audience (the largest announced the show’s duration, the smallest was a fortune-cookie message) and Scandrett wheeling himself around on a dolly, felt more like a species of “performance art” than anything else in the show. Such comic/absurd interludes—heirs to Cunningham’s Antic Meet (1958) or the vaudevillian juxtapositions of Yvonne Rainer’s The Mind Is a Muscle (1966–68)?—were a counterpoint to the dancing, as well as a palate cleanser. Cast in the awkward/poignant role of participant-observers, La Rocco and Scandrett were also called on to assess and give cues to the dancers (“Cut,” “Stop,” and the like).

The Way of Intimacy

A second recording captures an argument between Mitchell and Riener. Their proxies here are La Rocco and Scandrett, who have known Mitchell and Riener for years, both professionally and personally. The tiff lays bare the ongoing process of negotiation, of give-and-take, involved in their collaborative work and personal life together, presumably. We’re allowed, briefly, a window into their shared intimacy, as collaborators but also partners in life. (One way of reading the title.) At its “core”—that is, in the duets that Mitchell and Riener dance together—Way In is a deeply personal portrait of a relationship, one long past courtship but not beyond yearning. What is held up to the spectator is love at its neediest, most pressing, at once sensuous and tender.

The Way of Quotation, or Inside Jokes

One of the more memorable moments in the duets, when the two dancers remain locked in a carefully composed embrace, may in fact allude to a piece by Sarah Michelson. Whereas the embrace between two men (in that case, Greg Zuccolo and Mike Iveson) who are friends, not lovers, is but a fleeting moment in Daylight, 2005, Mitchell and Riener hold each other for what, on stage, feels like an eternity. That work is also playfully invoked by way of a chorus of lights set up in the church’s chancel, reminiscent of a row of lights, designed by Joe Levasseur, placed in front of the audience in Daylight. Scandrett, who did the lighting for Way In, and whose collaboration with Michelson and Parker Lutz on the visual design for DOGS at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2006 won him a Bessie award, is simply described as “Joe Levasseur’s roommate,” reflecting Michelson’s own purported fondness for inside jokes. “In order to get at something you go in through the side door,” La Rocco writes in a rehearsal diary included in the press notes. Side doors and inside jokes can be a way in or a way out, depending on your vantage, on your taste.

Atelier Van Lieshout

This review of an Atelier Van Lieshout show at La Friche la Belle de mai was posted on

“The Butcher” is the first installment in the New Tribal Labyrinth trilogy, the latest Gesamtkunstwerk by the Rotterdam-based collective Atelier Van Lieshout in the greatly expanded exhibition space at Marseille’s La Friche la Belle de Mai, which has been spruced up like the rest of the city to mark its term as the 2013 European Capital of Culture. The work comprises large-scale sculptural installations inspired by the built environment the Industrial Revolution left behind; agriculture, industry, and ritual are the three pillars upon which the imaginary society of the New Tribal Labyrinth rests.

“The Butcher” comes in two discrete parts. An entire floor of the main exhibition space is taken up by drawings, urban plans, architectural models, sculptures, and installations, giving body to the elaborate fiction upon which the collective’s dystopian project Slave City, 2005–2008, rests. In Board Room, 2007, a table fully spread with oddly shaped crockery, illustrated with scenes from the daily life of Slave City, makes for a spectacular if unsettling introduction to the local mores. These are made more palatable perhaps by the use of materials such as resin in Headquarters, 2008, and cardboard in Male Slave University, 2007, the latter of which incorporates the shape of the body and its innards into architectural design. For all their aesthetic appeal, the objects on view chill the viewer to the bone once one discovers precisely how they fit into the overall scheme of the profit-driven and “green” Slave City, which admits of producing no waste—least of all human—in a way that inevitably recalls Nazi labor camps (as do some of the Bauhaus-inspired, no-frills architectural models).

After this, the bulky industrial machinery, rusty pipes, and conduits of the New Tribal Labyrinth make for easy viewing. The installation is livened up by a few brightly colored AVL-designed chairs, which form part of the centerpiece work—Blast Furnace, 2013—in the second space, the Panorama. Blast Furnace is a monumental installation incorporating three large steel tanks amid smaller tanks and a large steel furnace. These elements are interconnected by a network of steel pipes and connected to two manual traction wheels, also made of steel. Accessed via a vast rooftop terrace offering spectacular views of Marseille, the self-contained Panorama provides a much-needed change of scene, if not quite light relief.