Monthly Archives: July 2014

Franz West

This preview of Franz West’s “Where is my Eight?” at the Hepworth Wakefield appeared in Mousse:

“What is sculpture?” Austrian artist Erwin Wurm ponders in an interview. “Sculpture is to add volume, to take volume away, and you can also say that when you gain or lose weight.” His own sculptures and installations, which often look as if they had been subjected to a brutal fattening-up regime or diet, warrant the analogy. Take the bloated Fat House (2003), for instance, and its counterpoint, Narrow House – a mere sliver of a place that visitors could walk straight through at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Conceived jointly with MUMOK in Vienna, where it opened not long after Franz West passed away in 2012, and adapted to its new context – the Chipperfield-designed public gallery named after Barbara Hepworth who grew up in Wakefield – this exhibition also playfully invokes the “before and after” images familiar from weight- loss commercials. Pared down from Lost Weight (2004), a gouache depicting a woman who proudly holds up a pair of trousers matching the ones she herself is wearing, only several sizes larger, the show’s title was chosen by the artist, who worked closely with MUMOK’s curator Eva Badura-Triska on the exhibition in its previous guise.

The largest show to date at The Hepworth Wakefield, which was unveiled in 2011, will take over seven of the ten display rooms, spilling out onto the gallery grounds with a single Lemuren Head (2001) piece – from a series of outdoor sculptures originally designed as headstones for a bridge in Vienna – placed like a sentinel opposite the entrance, next to a watermill overlooking the River Calder. The exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield differs from the one at MUMOK in the selection of works on display, a substantial number of which comes from private collections and galleries; in the emphasis placed on West’s “combination” pieces, which bring together works in a variety of media, some by artists other than West; and, above all, in the parallels that it draws between the plaster and papier mâché sculptures of the Viennese artist, his so-called adaptives especially, and the plaster casts made in her studio by the presiding deity of the place, Barbara Hepworth.

Black-and-white archive photographs of the two artists at work in their respective studios set the scene for this encounter, framed as a conversation between Hepworth and West. “Conversations” was the title of a 1974 solo show of Hepworth’s works at the Marlborough Gallery in New York, the year when Francis Ford Coppola’s Palme d’Or-winning film The Conversation was released. The earliest of West’s Passstücke – initially translated as “fitting pieces” or “adaptables”, before the artist hit upon the more congenial “adaptives” – go back to that year. The poet Richard Preissnitz, who was a friend of West, coined the term to designate the sculptural oddities fashioned out of plaster and papier mâché, designed to be handled and put to other, more or less imaginative uses, yet forcing the body to “adapt” to them rather than the other way around. Unlike her large-scale, polished bronze-cast pieces, somewhat forbidding in their smooth finish, Hepworth’s void plaster models have the lightness, portable and rough-and-ready quality of some of the adaptives.

For Hepworth, “sculpture is perceived, above all, by the sense of touch which is our earliest sensation”. The tactile dimension of her sculptures, if anything, comes to the fore through contact with West’s body of work. In the archive photographs, Hepworth appears to be as it were interacting with the large-scale plasters in her studio. If the works of both artists appeal to the visual and the haptic senses, in West’s case they were made to be held as well as beheld. Whereas most artworks are intended for contemplation alone, they actively encourage physical interaction. West used to repair himself any of the objects that were damaged in the process. The posthumous nature of the exhibition does mean that several adaptives and combination pieces that visitors would previously have been able to interact with will now be off bounds in an effort to preserve the works. But by no means all. From the twelve divans of the 1993/1995 Ordinary language to NYCNAC (2008), an artwork you can hold and even put on your head, should you feel the urge, adaptives and installation pieces that can withstand handling will be spread across the gallery rooms. Touch them while you can.


Solaris Chronicles

 This piece appeared on

Left: LUMA Foundation founder Maja Hoffmann with architects Annabelle Selldorf and Frank Gehry. Right: At the “Solaris Chronicles” event. (All photos: Herve Hote)

THE TWENTY-ACRE PARC DES ATELIERS, a defunct SNCF railway yard on the outer edge of Arles, might only be a fifteen-minute walk from the train station. But as I stood in midday heat last Sunday, with no taxis in sight, Maja Hoffmann’s proposal to build a station closer to the Ateliers made perfect sense to me.

Not so to my French travel companions, who saw it as a sign of how out of touch with (local) reality the Swiss-born arts patron is. A new railway station is, after all, “an affair of national concern.” Though Hoffmann, who recently purchased the Ateliers to transform them into a Frank Gehry–designed research and exhibition center for her LUMA Foundation, might be more in touch than many, given that she spent her childhood in the French Provençal city.

Spurred on by the prospect of refreshments hosted by LUMA, editor Phoebe Greenwood and I briskly made our way to the Ateliers, past the amphitheater and other Roman vestiges, pausing to gape at the women who drifted past us as in a dream in full arlésienne garb, looking starched and crisp despite the heat. We arrived in time to sip Bloody Marys and juice in the shade of the Atelier des Forges, overlooking the fenced-off vacant plot where the foundation stone of Gehry’s shiny stainless steel-clad tower—the centerpiece of the arts complex due to be completed in 2018—was laid in April.

Lunch was served on a table that spanned the full length of the Atelier des Forges, the first of the former SNCF sheds to be renovated by New York–based architect Annabelle Selldorf. In a speech prefaced with a caveat about her German penchant for sentimentality, Selldorf explained how the Parc des Ateliers was “more or less a ruin” before the LUMA Foundation set about “sensitively” refurbishing it with her help.

John Baldessari‘s Laughing Man / Architecture / Angry Man, 1984.

Designed to house photographic exhibits, the building with its pristine white walls was ready for the opening of the forty-fifth edition of the acclaimed photography festival, the Rencontres d’Arles, and put at its disposal. But gifts are sometimes spurned, and the Rencontres d’Arles, somewhat perversely, would have none of it. Its director François Hebel resigned earlier this year in protest against what he views as Hoffmann’s ruthless takeover of the Parc des Ateliers, whose dilapidated halls have served the festival well over the years.

All the political wrangling may be little more than a bataille de quequettes (“battle of peckers”), as the fireworks maker Christophe Berthonneau next to whom I was seated curiously put it, but it’s hard not to think that LUMA Arles is, if not quite ousting, then upstaging the festival with Liam Gillick, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Philippe Parreno’s spectacular, changing “Solaris Chronicles,” a collaborative endeavor conceived as a Gesamtkuntswerk, whose second stage was precisely timed to coincide with the start of the Rencontres. Placed on the outside of the Atelier de la Mécanique, by the entrance to “Solaris Chronicles,” John Baldessari’s 1984 billboard Laughing Man / Architecture / Angry Man seemed apt.

By the time I reached the Atelier de la Mécanique, where the “Solaris Chronicles” event was about to begin, the cavernous hall—lit up by a single moving spotlight standing for the titular light-bearing planet—was filled with people, many of them from Arles. The most beguiling element of the show—the sharply outlined shadows of the building’s columns and of Gehry’s architectural models gliding over a white screen at the back of the room—was achieved by the simplest of means, reminiscent of early cinema and its experiments. Parreno’s strident, flickering marquees suspended above the models felt brash in comparison.

Deliberately low-key, the delicate indoor fireworks, orchestrated by Cai Guo-Qiang with the aid of Berthonneau and his Camargue-based Groupe F, who have been creating fireworks displays for some of the most high-profile events in the past two decades, were never going to be crowd-pleasers. Yet, judging by some of the bemused reactions (“Wait, we’ll get crushed by a maquette”), Tino Sehgal and Asad Raza’s choreography for Gehry’s signature architectural models (including one of the sprawling Facebook West Campus building in Menlo Park), which were shifted around on trolleys and threatening in their sheer bulk, had an awe-inspiring effect, compounded by Pierre Boulez’s atonal musical score.

Left: Kunsthaus Zürich curator and Parkett editor Bice Curiger. Right: Artists Tino Sehgal and Asad Raza.

The sun was no longer au rendez-vous when we emerged into broad daylight. Soon after the start of the afterparty at the Villa des Alyscamps, a former convent adjoining the Roman necropolis of the same name, it began to rain, forcing everyone to huddle together beneath an old tree, large enough to shelter us all. “People should always hold conversations under trees,” Obrist said, invoking Lebanese poet and artist Etel Adnan. Behind the villa, beneath another tree, the LUMA “core group” and its extended family of artists, art-world luminaries, and Ping-Pong aficionados were discussing the foundation’s weighty matters as the party got going.

The rain and inevitable grumbling about the DJs didn’t stop us from dancing on the sodden platform in the shadow of the ruined Saint Honorat Church facing the villa, its lit-up tower rising above us like a premonition. Hoffmann herself joined in at some point. “Who could stop her?” someone comments. “Did you see her dance? She’s a force.” I have to concur.

Berlin Documentary Forum

This report from the Berlin Documentary Forum appeared on

Rabih Mroué, Riding on a Cloud, 2014; all images courtesy Berlin Documentary Forum / Haus der Kulturen der Welt

Spread over four days, the programme of parallel screenings, performances, live broadcasts, seminars and talks presented in two adjoining spaces at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, besides two audiovisual installations displayed elsewhere in the building throughout the Berlin Documentary Forum (BDF) and beyond, made this visitor long for the ability to be in two (or more) places at once.

Basma Alsharif, Doppelgänger, 2014; photograph © Basma Alsharif

Bilocation, and the cognate theme of the double in film history, is something Basma Alsharif explores in Doppelgänger (2014), partly as a way of making sense of her own split identity as a Palestinian leading a nomadic existence. A highlight of this lecture-performance, followed by a screening of Super-8 footage filmed in Gaza, Malta and Athens, some of it under autohypnosis, came in the shape of a collective state of hypnosis or altered consciousness induced by means of binaural beats that accompanied a bright pulsating image projected onto the screen in front of which the artist stood.

Michael Baers, An Oral History of Picasso in Palestine, 2014; © Michael Bears

The Middle East was a geopolitical focus of this edition of the BDF biennial, founded in 2010 by Berlin-based Israeli curator and filmmaker Hila Peleg. The biennial opened with Rabih Mroué play Riding on a Cloud (2014), starring his younger brother Yasser, who relates how he was treated for aphasia and partial memory impairment, having been shot in the head, aged 17, during the Lebanese Civil War. In the deeply moving final scene, prepared for by a screen-projected dialogue between the two brothers, Yasser is joined on stage by his double, Rabih himself. The evening of the well-attended opening also featured a reading of Michael Baers’ online graphic novel An Oral History of Picasso in Palestine (2014). Baers’ hyper-detailed account of the bureaucratic hurdles that stood in the way of bringing Picasso’s Buste de femme (1943) over for a show at Ramallah’s International Academy of Art in 2011, obliquely exposes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Recording situation, Smadar Dreyfus 2010; photograph courtesy of the artist

The context provided by some of these works brought out the latent ideological and political implications of Smadar Dreyfus’ immersive sound installation School (2009–11), first presented at the Folkestone Triennial in 2011. Made with audio material recorded over the course of two years at various secondary schools in the artist’s native Tel Aviv, School schematically renders the spatial layout of a school with its different classrooms, where different lessons are being taught – History, Bible Studies, Arabic, Literature, Geography, Citizenship, Biology – connected by a central corridor that comes to life during breaks. Each room is sculpted, as it were, through surround-sound, registering tenuous sounds and the voices of teachers and pupils alike. The latter are visually mapped out in white letters, which translate into English the original Hebrew, on a screen whose placement and shape evokes a blackboard.

Harun Farocki, PARALLEL IV, 2014; photograph © Harun Farocki

In Harun Farocki’s PARALLEL I-IV (2012-14), sound columns positioned in front of single- and two-channel video installations divided up the main auditorium at the HKW into as many sonic zones that visitors, equipped with headphones, would tune in and out of as they moved across the space. Taking the depiction of trees, clouds, wind, and other such motifs as its starting point, the four-part installation charts the history and stylistic developments of video games, which have been around for 35 years, in an attempt to open this field up for theoretical reflection. For Farocki, video games are a mirror of reality or a parallel reality; hence names such as ‘Second Life’ reflected in the work’s title.

Narrative and how it shapes reality – the chosen theme for the third edition of the BDF – takes its cue from philosopher Jacques Rancière’s paradoxical claim that ‘the real must be fictionalized in order to be thought’, which runs counter to the idea of a documentary presenting facts objectively without fictionalizing. What Peleg set out to debunk is the myth of a documentary’s greater objectivity and hold on reality.

Sohrab Mohebbi, Al Jazeera Replay (Feb 1-4, 2011); photograph © Alexander Sehmer, Creative Commons

Non-fiction, from journalism to (auto-)biographical and historical accounts, relies on narrative and storytelling just as fiction does. The narrative propensity of news reports was illustrated in the Al Jazeera Replay panel discussion – centred on the network’s coverage of the Egyptian revolution of 2011 – with talk of a ‘perfect narrative arc’ of 18 days culminating in Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in the ‘picture perfect’ setting of Tahrir Square.

Melding fact and fiction, the 17 projects included in this year’s BDF show the personal and subjective face of documentary making. Drawn from literary criticism, the term ‘unreliable narrators’ appears in the title of CAMP’s Shaina Anand and Ashok Sukumaran presentation of three media forms – leaks, stings and citizen vigilante videos – all of which employ dubious methods of investigation. And yet, rather than simply indicting them, Anand and Sukumaran strive for an impartial overview of the broader surveillance landscape and its effects on Indian society.

Photograph © Maya Goded

Part of a wider ‘narco-culture’, songs celebrating the exploits of drug lords or traffickers known as narcocorridos, are analyzed by an ethnomusicologist, who offers possible readings of this disturbing phenomenon as a counter-narrative and a cathartic outlet for violent fantasies, in a series of filmed interviews projected in the second of the three-part ‘Narco-Capitalism’ sessions, teasing out the connections between neo-liberalism and the spread of violence in northern Mexico’s lawless border cities. The discussion panel included writer Sergio González Rodríguez, who inspired Roberto Bolaño’s character of the avenging reporter in 2666, published posthumously, and is himself the author of Bones in the Desert (Huesos en el desierto, 2002) dealing with the femicides in Ciudad Juárez. If his essay and Bolaño’s novel offered two parallel ways of investigating the lurid reality of the unsolved crimes that have plagued the city for over two decades, González Rodríguez acknowledges that literature has nothing to envy journalism or political science when it comes to narrating facts.