Whether it’s a voyage to a faraway destination, a quest for knowledge and truth, the passage of life, or even an expedition confined to the realms of the imagination, one way or another, we’re all on a journey.
© Giovanni Anselmo
NOIRE Contemporary Art Gallery explores the notion of the journey in its myriad of forms in the upcoming Voyage Autour De Ma Chambre exhibition at Villa Flor, aptly located in the arty Alpine enclave of Upper Engadin.
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Unless you’re using it as in the very inclusionary context of “my brother from another mother”, most of the time signaling someone out as coming from somewhere else than where you come from becomes, to some degree or another, a confrontational act. Let’s face it, people like to belong, and so much so that even if it’s an idea that isn’t working out all of the time, most also like to believe in the growing global community. The current cultural currency of that ideal of global community is never more evident than in recent telecommunications ads, and if you take their message at face value, buying that new phone or switching provider isn’t just going to put you in touch with people in every corner of the globe, that virtual net is the very fabric of a new and better world. Certainly owning these products won’t do anything to further the cause unless you actually use them to communicate with people in every corner of the globe, and not many will, but there’s still one question left hanging unanswered: is there any sincerity to it, or is all the “brother from another mother”-style inclusionary rhetoric just covering up the truly exclusionary nature of our times?
When I walked through the darkened entry door of Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990 at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum last week, there were a few things I expected to find, and even to feel, when visiting the first major survey of the movement. A Michael Graves tea kettle, for example. Maybe an occasional twinge of repulsion as well. Postmodernism was, in a way, very reactive; surely not all of its expressions could hold up decades later. Add to the mix that no one seems to know how many more “post” prefixes to add on to accurately describe where we’ve philosophically been at in the last 10-20 years, and what I really expected was an almost indescribable suffocating nausea. I also expected that to fuel a good few conversations about why we, in a collective sense, seem to be struggling to throw over the weight of post-modernism (or post-post-modernism, or so on…) the way they had done with modernism, and just get on with it.
The last thing I expected was to be slapped in the face, almost immediately, with an overwhelming and incongruous sense of nostalgia. How on earth did that happen? Jenny Holzer’s Protect Me From What I Want never seemed so relevant…
In one way, I was relieved. That kind of reaction must really mean that post-modernism really is dead. The discussion is over. We are free. So why did I still feel such a sense of loss?
For one, the curation and exhibition design were excellent, and they knew what they were doing: throwing a funeral service. The low lighting, ostensibly to protect the objects exhibited, worked with the dark industrial display units to create an extremely somber atmosphere that at times created the perfect backdrop, by means of contrast, to postmodernism’s most colorful and playful moments. Pieces by early postmodernist Italian design group Memphis were among the works that looked more joyous for this context; the expected Michael Graves tea kettle, however, could have been an Egyptian relic in its low-lit vitrine.
Postmodernism covered a lot of ground, and the stand-out achievement of the exhibition was the successful transition between art, architecture, product design, film, fashion and, perhaps most importantly, music. Pop songs become siren songs, irresistibly pulling you around dark corners to discover the next chapter in Postmodernism’s story, and then decline. Indeed, the room on pop music seems to serve as the exhibition’s control room. Here costumes from Grace Jones, David Byrne, and Klaus Nomi are displayed at unnatural heights, elevating the characters they represent to a God-like status. If any doubt remains as to music’s importance in the exhibition’s narrative, that becomes as dead as the movement itself at the exhibition’s end. Staring at Andreas Gursky’s Tokyo Stock Exchange (1990), you’re pulled around one last corner, past a Robert Longo drawing, by the sound of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle. In this last dark room is the video Longo directed for the song, and it’s almost impossible not to see it as an epitaph for a movement that, at that time, was just beginning to crash under its own weight:
I feel fine and I feel good
I’m feeling like I never should
Whenever I get this way
I just don’t know what to say
Why can’t we be ourselves like we were yesterday
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Contributing writer: Melissa Frost
Photos: Victoria & Albert Museum
There are a lot of variations in the expression of the sentiment, but “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is probably the cleanest and the most classic. How true it is. Ai WeiWei was certainly a far cry from unknown at the time of his April 2011 arrest – his installation Sunflower Seeds was concurrently housed in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – but the outpouring of outright love from the art world that followed his arrest and detention in an undisclosed location brought the artist to an even higher level of fame. As speculations of his death in detainment were growing, nearly 3 months after his initial arrest he was finally released. Hopefully without being too glib about what was indeed a horrific experience for the artist, a speculated death can be as good the real thing in terms of a career move.
Now nearly 3 months after his release, his exhibition Interlacing at Kunsthaus Graz demands one additional question when viewing an Ai WeiWei: is it possible now to separate the persona of the artist from the body of work? Was it ever so with Ai WeiWei anyway, or was his persona always “interlaced” with the work? True, you could easily ask those same questions in relation to just about any artist, but when the body of work is so centered on cultural and political criticism, the position of the ego within it, justified or not, more easily becomes a point of debate.
However you feel about it – and who says you have to make up your mind now anyway? – from September 16th Kunsthas Graz will be presenting Interlacing, the first large-scale exhibition of Ai Weiwei’s photographic and video work, just taken over from the Fotomuseum Winterthur. It is certainly one not to miss if you’re in Graz between now and the 15th of January next year.
Contributing writer: Melissa Frost
Photos: From Kunsthaus Graz, all © Ai Weiwei.