February 27, 2009

Back from London

Just back from a couple of intense days in London and the very pleasant company of artist/curator Marianne Eigenheer, Museums consultant Benedetta Tiana (shown eating Japanese), poets Carol Watts (second photo) and Caroline Bergvall (website in my links), Professor Will Rowe, and Petur Arason from Iceland - with whom I saw the Altermodern show at Tate Britain, which I will review this weekend. Sorted out various projects including my forthcoming book, a couple of international museums developments, and the structure of the Poetics symposium in the Text Festival.

February 19, 2009

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

According to the Palais de Tokyo http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/fo3/low/programme/ glossy catalogue, Gakona is a small village in Alaska, home of the HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program), which inspired by the inventions of Nikola Tesla is believed to be studying the transmission of electricity in the high atmosphere. What it is actually up to is a mystery because of its military funding. The premise of the show is that the works from Micol Assaël, Ceal Floyer, Laurent Grasso and Roman Signer somehow respond to this context of electricity research, mystery, rumour, science and imagination of Gakona. There are some good pieces in the show but the Gakona reference seems fairly arbitrary. The artist who most directly seems to respond to HAARP is Laurent Grasso who has constructed what seems to be a replica of the HAARP hi-fi array, but as far as I could tell it didnt actually function so it became merely an illustration. Micol Assaël "Chizhevsky Lessons" falls into the same category. The installation consists of twenty copper panels, a transformer, a generator and a cabling system that transforms the air particles around it into ions, so creating a large static charge in the gallery space. The catalogue hyperbole undermines the work by over-egging its importance and thereby exposes its weaknesses. Apparently "it lifts viewers out of their passivity and confronts them with the immaterial". "Visitors lose their bearings" and the work "has the pecularity of offering us nothing to see". All these were not my experience: the static charge basically made my scalp itch. The copper panels and wires were in plain view and I think you could only lose your bearings if you missed 'o' level science at school or have never come across static electricity.

Roman Signer's 'Parapluie' is a dramatic event of a work, the huge tesla coils slowly charge up, just before the charge is massively discharged an alarm sounds and visitors not near come running, a bolt of lightening explodes between the points of the umbrellas. In the sense of it being in the same vein as Assaël's electrostatic field, it is not much more than an illustration of basic science, though more effectively dramatised. Signer's more moving piece is the robotic lawn-mower - pugnaciously moving chairs, by randomly bumping into them, out of its programmed square of operation. But its boundary is the source of the work's sadness; as the lawn-mower's sensors hit the edge of its world, it turns back. In the corner of its space there is a charger unit, so like Sisyphus, the little machine will return to re-charge itself. Someone will re-site the chairs in the square and he will start again.

This work also resonates with my favourite work in the show by Ceal Floyer (who I recall meeting some years back at the Blinky Palermo Symposium in Edinburgh) called "Taking a line for a walk (1 Litre)". The road line painting cart has meandered over the floor of the gallery until the litre of paint has run out, dribbled a bit further then died completely. At this point Floyer has wedged the wheels of the cart so it is what it is and what it has been at the moment of its death. It is these wedges that make the work, without them it would just be a reworking of Lawrence Weiner's 1968 "AN AMOUNT OF PAINT POURED DIRECTLY UPON THE FLOOR AND ALLOWED TO DRY". It reminded me of my favourite line from Sartre's "Huis Clos" - the character Inez observes: One always dies too soon - or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are - your life, and nothing else.

February 13, 2009

Monsters in Museums

Last week the Guardian newspaper reported on the launch of a manifesto from a new charity called "Kids in Museums" to make museums more family-friendly. The detail of the 20-point plan are by definition of no interest. This nonsense was apparently triggered by the experience of Dea Birkett, surprise surprise, a writer for the Guardian, who was asked to leave the Royal Academy five years ago after her two-year-old son pointed to an Aztec statue with snakes for hair and a beak for a nose and shouted"monster!". It is claimed that the family were "thrown out" for the noise. So this Birkett woman began a campaign that grew into an independent charity.

On reading this tale, obviously my first thought was: what is the point of taking a two-year-old to an exhibition of Aztec art? Surely the monster in the room is the mother. I'd be willing to wager that 2 year olds are not one of the target audiences for the Royal Academy (or many other galleries either - or for that matter interchangeably with many other non-arts activities), and it's also a pretty safe bet that the authentic visitors in the gallery at the time were having a greatly diminished experience with the screaming kid; but there is something else that doesn't ring true in this woman's "children-are-our-future" myth-making. The Aztec snake-haired, beaked monster is the elephant in the room. I tried to think what this could be. This triggered a momentary digression to my personal favourite the Olmec Were-jaguar, just because it's always seemed to me if you are going to fall victim to one of the undead composite anthropomorphs (were-creatures), how cool would you sound being a were-jaguar rather than a were-wolf? Anyway, the statue is not Olmec and were-jaguars don't have snake hair. So what was it? The next obvious Coatlicue, but she is all snakes rather than just hair. I thought of a few others I could remember but none fit the description. The internet is no help - couldn't find a snake-haired Aztec figure with a beak, which confirms my suspicious that there is a hole in the story. If we give her the benefit of the doubt that the figure exists as described; what sort of middle-class mother takes her 2yr old for a cultural educational experience and allows such a sloppy response to go unchallenged? Shouldn't she have said, "no, darling, it's not a monster, it's Huitzilopochtli"? In context of National obsession with child development and educational achievement, surely, rather than expelling this awful woman from the gallery, the staff should have called social services to save the child from the intellectual neglect.
Anyway, off to Paris (France).

February 12, 2009

Tampere Museums

Tampere is a great place to visit. It is remarkably built astride swirling black rapids dropping 80 metres between two large lakes. It is also remarkable for its number of high quality museums. I visited:

Vapriikki museums -
www.tampere.fi/english/vapriikki; the current "Tampere 1918" show about the civil war is one of the most powerful museum displays I have seen in years (picture). And in a different way, the survey of the work of Finnish designer Dora Jung was as well done.
Maltinranta, Tampereen Taiteilijaseura - www.tampereen-taiteilijaseura.fi/hakue.htm
Grafiikanpaja Himmelblau -
Hiekan Taidemuseo -
Finnish Labour Museum Werstas -
Tampere Art Museum -
Sara Hildénin Art Museum -
The Amuri Museum of Workers' Housing cafe
Stone Museum - surprisingly fascinating collection of stones and minerals.

Mediamuseo Rupriikki
KivimuseoTR1 Exhibition Centre
- which featured a survey of the work of
Reima and Raili Pietilä - architects whom I didnt know but whose designs were very impressive, Tampere central library is a fine building.

Tampere Cathedral is also worth an architectural detour; built in 1906, with surprising decorations featuring naked boys carrying gallands of bright red roses, a wounded angel being carried on a stretcher and a serpent looking down from the middle of the ceiling.

It may shock you to read, knowing my recent criticisms of children in museums, that the most memorable museum experience was actually the Moomin Valley Museum - http://inter9.tampere.fi/muumilaakso/index.php?lang=en . As you'd expect I was completely unaware of the children's books featuring the Moomin characters, but the museum is a magical place, showing the artist's work with well thought out drama and mystery while making the illustrations accessible. But more important than the form of display was the impressive quality of Tove Jansson's designs: if anything the published stories don't do just to her illustrations - her line and sense of composition is comparable with Hokusai.

February 01, 2009

So Anyway

The new online journal 'soanyway' has just launched: http://www.soanyway.org.uk/soanywayintro.htm

I have "Mr.Worthington's Chapel" featured. It was written after a visit to Greville Worthington's chapel to see his exhibition of Roger Hiorns http://www.a-n.co.uk/interface/reviews/single/392964. The first time I visited Greville the lines from William Carlos Williams' famous "This is Just to Say" were being installed along the top of the wall in his kitchen. The installation turned the poem into a single line rather than retaining the original line endings:

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

So at the Hiorns opening, Greville and I were in the kitchen agreeing that the poem needed the line breaks. About the same time, in response to 50 Heads, Robert Grenier had compared my practice with Carlos Williams; so driving away from the party, I couldnt resist responding to WCW and the Worthington Kitchen. On reflection it wasn't appropriate to allow the poem to actually fit the kitchen location otherwise it would look like I was suggesting that it replaced WCW, so instead of one long line, I wrote 3. The vertical break in the lines is notionally where the corner of the room falls.
So anyway, I am off to Dublin for a couple of days pulling together my next book "Space", and then on to Tampere in Finland to set up some projects.