Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cerith Wyn Evans

Cerith Wyn Evans, "Untitled", 2010, one part of the installation S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E
("Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive's overspill") Photo from Bergen Kunsthall.

I walk between trunks of light. And I unwittingly slow down my pace.
The light itself is warm and comforting - not too bright - and I notice that it changes slowly. While one trunk is almost completely dimmed, another one reaches a peak of brightness.

It is as if those poles of light make the entire room radiant with a subtle, otherworldly energy. And when I stand close, I can feel a round and friendly - I'll almost say loving - heat.

But there is also sound.
- Can sound be warm? - Can I wrap it around me like a thick - but lightweight - comforter?

The entire room oscillates. - Walls like bellows that breathe very calmly. - And a small wood of light-trunks that grow (eternally?) into the ceiling, from far below the floor.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dan Colen, "Peanuts"

Dan Colen, "Silent Treatment", gum on canvas, 2010. Photo from afmuseet.

When you Google Pictures search "Dan Colen" you get as many photos of cool art dudes partying as you do artworks he has made. That makes me apprehensive. - Like I was when I arrived at his Astrup Fearnley Museum "Peanuts" show last weekend.

And his chewing gum pictures confirmed my prejudice. They give off an air of art school adolescence, and are not very different from this painting which he has found and included in his show:

Dan Colen, "The Big Swirl", found painting, 2006.
Photo from Joshua Abelow Art Blog.

Colen and the group of art buddies he used to hang out with have been called the "Bowery School", from The Bowery in New York. For a short while in the 1990s I lived on St. Mark's place (close to The Bowery) together with aspiring artists of many different disciplines. And often I would see helpless artwork like the one above put out on the sidewalk to be chucked into a garbage truck.

What was interesting, I thought, when I saw "Silent Treatment" and "The Big Swirl" hanging next to each other in the Astrup Fearnley exhibition, was that Colen's chewing gum canvas only barely rests on the right side of the boarder towards a less than mediocre art school student's desperate attempt to come up with something original ... - Chewing gum!

Dan Colen, "Self-portrait as the wanderer
(as I pause to ponder: do real men break hearts?
I decide yes! They do. Only to later change my mind.)",
 oil on found painting, 2004. Photo from afmuseet.

There are quite a few found paintings in the show to which Colen has painted additions. - Like the one above that I show in a small version to protect under age viewers...

This hangs on a wall all by itself, and becomes quite poetic - even touching - by way of its title.

Dan Colen, "Eviction Party", flowers on canvas, 2010. Photo from afmuseet.

The flower pictures radiate a similar poetic sensibility. - Those fresh, but perishable colors smeared into an unprimed canvas ...

Dan Colen, "The Whole Enchilada", 2010. Photo from Kunstkritikk.

And even this knocked over flagpole becomes an image of general sadness and loss, rather than a political statement.

All this subtle and potent poetry finally managed to outshine Colen's insisting cool, and it proved my visit to the Astrup Fearnley Museum worth while.

With this new - more positive - attitude I was even able to find something interesting in his banal text paintings:

Dan Colen, "Holy Shit", Photo from jameswagner.

"Holy Shit" placed upside down is more interesting than "Holy Shit" placed the right way.

Dan Colen, "Holy Shit", Photo from Peres Projects.

And "Holy Shit" mirrored is more interesting than "Holy Shit" upside down.

Dan Colen, "Holy Shit" t-shirt, Photo from Urban Outfitters.

But "Holy Shit" on t-shirts from Urban Outfitters becomes far too much!
(It is this consumerism - latent in all the text paintings - that makes them annoying.)

(Norwegian readers should check out Kjetil Røed's excellent review of "Peanuts" at Kunstkritikk.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tino Sehgal, "This Progress"

Photo from Kunstnernes Hus.

I was not disappointed.
My expectations were high. I came all the way from Bergen just to listen and experience. And I am happy I did.

First I listened to the talk on Friday.
About his interest in dance as an activity that does not produce material products (which he considers problematic because one cannot engage with them). Inter human communication is much more interesting, Sehgal says. And he does not want his works to be documented (to be made into material products) because one has to experience them first hand. The quality of the experience, says Sehgal, is more important than access to information about it.

When I came back to experience "This Progress" on Saturday, I understood better his aversion towards documentation. Until then, I had just read about his work and seen a few illicit photographs of it. What I had read and seen made me very interested in its conceptual aspects, but having experienced "This Progress" live, I realise that the gap between contemplating his concept intellectually and actually experiencing it is much wider than it is in the instance of object based conceptual works, like Joseph Kosuth's "One and Three Chairs":

Joseph Kosuth, "One and Three Chairs", 1965. Photo from MoMA.

Elsewhere in this blog I have stated that what I enjoy most about art is the way it can alter my perspectives. A painting, a photograph or a video can make me think, feel and understand something in a different way than a factual text can do. But that kind of interaction with a material work is very dependent on my own initiative and thus limits itself to my projections of meaning. For instance, Joseph Kosuth's "One and Three Chairs" cannot ask me questions that I myself do not think of while standing in front of it.

Tino Sehgal's "This Progress", however, can (on a very literal level) ask me questions, and that is exactly what it does.

As I entered Kunstnernes Hus on Saturday, a young girl (11 years old?) came over to me and said "This is a work by Tino Sehgal." Thinking about it now, that statement itself induces many questions: What is the work? Is it you? Is it you talking to me? Is it me answering you? Well, I did not think about all this then, because I had to focus on the question she actually asked me: "What is progress?"

From there on, the piece could have taken many directions. I could have decided that this was not something I wanted to take part in, or I could have given a nonsensical answer and thus sabotaged (?) the intention behind the work, but either way I would have already become a part of it.

Nice and clever as I want to be, I tried my best to give as good an answer as possible using terms that I thought the young girl would understand. And strolling through one of the downstairs galleries at Kunstnernes Hus with this sympathetic young girl was very enjoyable, even though I was slightly distracted by self-conscious thoughts about being partially responsible for the execution of the work ...

But I warmed up quickly enough, and really got going when I was handed over to a young man (around 20) who asked me how I have experienced progress in my own life. He took me up the back stairs to one of the second floor galleries, and there I was handed over again, to a woman (around 40) who listened patiently to a couple of stories I told her as an answer to her statement that people should not keep cats or dogs as pets ... By the time I had to leave (the man (around 60) who was the last one I talked to was told by Sehgal that he had to go talk to somebody else), I had really taken advantage of the chance to just ramble on ...

When it was over, I sat down for some lunch to digest the experience.
I thought about the interpreters (the people who talked to me): How demanding it must be to stay present and attentive towards so many different people throughout the day! Do they consider the conversations rewarding or just hard work? How much are the conversations really worth as constructive interaction, and how much are they "tainted" by the excitement inherent in the situation (the thought of being a piece of art ...)?

Well, while I was sitting there in the ground floor restaurant looking out at the beautiful winter sun on the trees and snow across the street, I nourished a very good feeling: I was moved by the interaction itself, - the simple beauty of meeting four people I newer knew, in a setting that in its strict limitations became liberating. When else do I get to talk to complete strangers about important matters without having to wonder about their agenda, the impression they have of me, etc.?

I was tempted to go again, to try once more. But I decided I had had my chance, and I was afraid the experience might be watered down a second time. It would perhaps have been interesting, though, to see what would be different if other "interpreters" had taken me around, or if I had come on a day that was not the busy opening day. (Jerry Saltz did five rounds of "This Progress" at the Guggenheim and managed to make the artwork cry ...)