Monday, June 8, 2009

Nihkil Chopra and the performing process

Chopra spent 48 hours in the old tower of the Arsenale. He ate, slept, and painted. The performance was focused on a process of transformation in which the artist became another person.

As a second performance in the bookstore in the Giardini's central pavilion, he began a separate act of self-transformation. First, he removed his normal clothes. Then the Indian artist applied make-up quietly and slowly in front of the small audience that watched him. He then donned a new outfit of native clothes. He stood in front of his viewers and played a little snare drumm, and then paraded through the bookstore with members of the audience following him.

The performance was followed by a conversation with Clementine Deliss, who runs the Future Academy at the Edinburgh College of Art, and she described the performance as melancholic, which he agreed with. Chopra turned the conversation to the subject of the importance of painting to his work. He explained that painting is a starting point for all of his performances, invoking both a romantic quality as well as a sense of nostalgia.

He went on to explain that the figure he inhabited in this performance, evoking his grandfather, represented that sense of nostalgia and the colonialist world in which he lived. Chopra cited other examples of his performance work in Mumbai and Kashmir.

Performance as part of a documentation process. As a transformation of the self. As the result of the act of painting. These are the remains of his works when he left the space: his objects, his drawings, and even his hair...

Jan Hafstrom about the cinema

“Movies are the greatest art of all… As a child, I had a sensation that the black room was protecting me from the world.”

Shadows of memory- Jan Hafstrom

It was a great choice to close this series of performances and conversations with a performance by the important Swedish artist Jan Hafstrom, in collaboration with the Swedish choreographer Lotta Melin. It was a wonderful and fulfilling experience for all those present. Ten figures entirely cloaked in black, with their heads in tall, pointed hats draped in black cloth that covered their faces, traipsed across the stage, walking, skipping, nearly falling. One dancer made her way across plates set out like stepping stones, sliding them across the stage, and then another dancer gathered them up, a game that increased in intensity between them. The stage itself was decorated with scores of simply drawn skulls on thick, stiff paper below which the performance took place, mixing images and actions rife with the quickness of life and the specter of death. But describing this, word for word, seems unnecessary in a way. It was a real performance experience--unrepeatable. Carried by the poetic sense of mortality, a viewer could almost fall in love with death, as absurd as that may seem. Through the elegant and gracious movements of the dancers, one could feel the vibrations of life's force bizarrely drawn from mortality itself. It seemed that mortality and beauty became two indivisible phenomena.

The conversation that followed continued this flow of the bizarre that was enchanting us. The usual questions were left out, instead Steven Henry Madoff, who curated the performance and conversation series for the Biennale and published a book about Hafstrom in 1986, evoked some rather interesting moments from his fictionalized account of his encounters with Hafstrom, seeking the real essence of his thought. We could only question ourselves whether their conversation was a pure fiction or the stories they shared truly existed--though it turns out that Madoff's questions for Hafstrom were based on two classic texts that have been central to the artist's work: Conrad's novella, Heart of Darkness, and the film version of Thomas Mann's great book, Death in Venice. The mixture of the performance itself and the ensuing conversation were more than intertwined. In the end, maybe we don’t need to make distinctions between fiction and reality in order to find the right balance of things. Thinking about the performance, it seems that the balance we all need is precisely in this connection of the present paradise and the absent or even lost one.

At one moment, Hafstrom said that he was just “trying to resolve the riddles we all have.” So maybe all this back and forth of our memory is the right way to find answers. When we think about his work installed in the Arsenale, we can see his attempt to organize his experience by putting together the various parts of his memory. As he said: “It’s chaos and order at the same time, and I want to keep them together.”

A document of performance

After Nikhil Chopra left his tower in the Arsenale, where he had spent 48 hours performing, one could still have the sensation of his presence as well as the gradual evolution of performance. The drawings left behind in the tower will be used as documentation of his process. They are the memory of the performance, of course, but also a longtime souvenir of an era that has passed. A silent rhetoric was the core of Chopra’s performance, and the same silence will stay behind as its living testimony.

Nikhil Chopra's transformation

Chopra underlined the importance of the transformational act in his work. The act itself could be manifested in different ways. Disguising the body may just be one of the solutions, andthis implies the spontaneous mutation of the personality as well. He seeks to elevate this mutation to the highest level possible. If he starts the transformation as a very masculine and ascetic figure, the logical opposition would be a feminine and seductive presentation of the same figure. But this process of change is a rather complex situation. One must keep questioning oneself in which way it should proceed, how far to go with it, to what extent, etc.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Carlos Basualdo in conversation with Michelangelo Pistoletto

Mirrors represent the core of Michelangelo Pistoletto's work. Since the 1960s, he has used mirrors as surfaces that propose the idea of infinity and unreality. In the Arsenale for this current Biennale, Pistoletto did a performance in which he smashed all but two of his "intangible" mirrors filling a large gallery as a huge crowd watched adoringly and applauded. But the philosophical question remained of what these shattered mirrors signified.

In the Conversation series, Pistoletto spoke with Carlos Basualdo, the curator of modern and contemporary art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He began with the work at the Biennale, but quickly moved on to cover the whole range of his career. "Everything is calculated," Pistoletto noted. A mirror in itself can represent anything at all, so it's the equivalent of a zero--it is the ground zero of the world's reality. And given this idea, Pistoletto thought early in his career to offer the mirror something to reflect. He divided the mirror in two, reflecting each part mutually, and so he obtained an infinite multiplication, a mise en abime. He considered this duplication a way of sharing the world infinitely, or as he put it in Italian, "dividere per condividere."

Pistoletto focused on a second chapter of his career during which he printed his self-portrait on his mirrors' surfaces. This was not simply suggesting the multiplication and sharing he previously proposed in his work, but suggested a democratic spirit in that his image represented "everyman," each of us represented in the world by our images.

All this intense work made Pistoletto known internationally as one of the leading Italian artists, and one of the artists in the significant art movement of the 1960s in Italy, the Arte Povera group, which was born in part as a response to American Pop Art in the United States. While Pop Art was about material wealth, Art Povera was about starting from the reduction of materials to the essential). Pistoletto related this tendency to his own experience in Città dell'Arte, located in Biella.

His discussion of this essentialism made us think about the mirrors in the Biennale differently, marrying their philosophical character to their sheer physicality. And I wondered, "Can we ever reach the starting point of the infinite?"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A good choice?

Keeping the words of Yoko Ono's curator, Nora Halpern, in mind that this is the first time that Ono is looking back at her life (for she is always looking forward), it is interesting to consider the performance she did for a packed house in the Teatro Piccolo was very much related to her concurrent exhibition in Venice at the Palazzetto Tito, "Anton's Memory." There she underlined the idea of the first moment in which our memory starts to generate itself and when we realize the presence of the other.

Yet couldn't this encounter at Teatro Piccolo be a place for a slightly different approach? For the memories on view in the film she projected, filled with images from her childhood and after, hardly seemed related to her art practice. As people began to leave during this extended home movie, it was obvious that they came to see and hear something related to Yoko Ono's art, which has supposedly been influential since her first performances in the 1960s and for which she came to Venice this year to receive the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.

Yoko Ono- performance

It was certainly the conference which caused the biggest interest among the visitors so far. There was a line of people waiting to come in, but not all of them were able to do it.

The performance started with a couple playing check on a stage, followed by Ono's love sounds, her breaking the chair by saying "no one will tell me what to do", her reflects on the public with a mirror and, with words "are you still walking on a thiny ice" she closed the first part of the performance.
The second part consisted out of two film projections. One was a musical one to which she danced and the second was focused mainly on her life history. The odd thing in this second film was that it was so strongly related to her life in general. We saw the first pictures of her life, her childhood, the stories about her parents, etc. She was attentively describing each scene. The narration followed chronologically her life, shows she did, statements she made, mainly focused on the idea of spreading around the world the words "I love you". It ended up with the song of John Lennon "Imagine" and their kiss. All the time during a projection Yoko Ono was siting on a chair, turning her back at the public.
There was not too much of discussion about her work with the curator David Ross. She basically answered the questions asked by the public, and shortly after it was over.
People could take a piece of a broken vase that was left on a stage and keep it for ten years, when they were suppose to gather again and recreate the same vase.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Architecture and narrative- L.Gillick, A.Ogut

Today's rather refreshing conference was held between Liam Gillick, British artist presenting German pavilion, and Ahmet Ogut, Kurdish artist presenting Turkish pavilion. The discussion was coordinated by Tim Griffin, the editor of Artforum.

The peculiarity of this conference was the decision to confront precisely these two artists. Usually, we have almost immediate association of Gillick with the rest of the relational artist. But this time, confronting his work with the one of Ogut's, gave a new and refreshing prospective to his art practice. This was also a great opportunity to point out the importance of Ogut's work, for he's still little know in the western art scene. The fact that the whole auditorium was completely full was just one of the indicators how much was interesting this kind of confrontation.

The main discussion was about the importance of pavilions, buildings, spaces in general and their relavance in a creation of ones identity. Can they be observed as a carriers of doubled identity, as Ogut would put it. According to him, when seen trough the eyes of narrative, the identity of pavilions could be thought of as the objects in themselves or as the artist in a subjective role. On the other hand Gillick, in his work,  was taken by the idea of a "pavilion that was never built". He was trying to rethink about the structure and the concept of the given and rather complex space. As he puts it: "I still wanted to fight the building without talking about the things we already know about." To use a given space, along with its historical implications, in all its potentiality but by narrating, in a same time, about its present conditions form a different prospective. For Ogut "if you rebuilt a building than it becomes melancholy". It's not by chance that his buildings have frozen a few seconds before their irreversible destruction. By doing so he suspends time, space and our memory engraved in them. Even dough it might be seen as rather private reflections one could have, that intimate memory spreads easily into a collective one. As a silent hunter.

LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX: Paul Chan in conversation with Jeffery Schnapp

“I thought you wanted to talk about sex?” Paul Chan asked playfully of Jeffrey Schnapp. Of course, we were all there in the Teatro Piccolo Arsenale this afternoon to hear Chan talk about his new work “Sade for Sade’s Sake” which is installed on the decaying brick walls of the Arsenale. Schnapp asked Chan if the title of the work offered a guiding structure through the 5 hour and 45 minute installation. In turn, Chan toured the audience through his creative approach toward making the work, admitting that he first started with his love of words. “At first I wanted to explore making a sexually explicit work without working with the body. But then I realized, that was ridiculous!” Although Chan’s shadow animation involves a multitude of bodies and body parts, he notes that the way the work is structured, like a ballad, reflects his interest in re-inscribing the idea of sex in another form. “Poetry, with it’s rhythms, repetition, and cadence, creates a sensation in the body and our mind that somewhat approximates the sexual.”

Schnapp asked about the role of the reoccurring storyteller in the work. Chan noted that in Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom” episodes of sexual debauchery were interrupted by afternoon storytelling sessions told by madams of the night. “He understood that to create the most heightened sense of desire, one must distance the thing that you want” Chan said of Sade, pointing out that this was the role of the storyteller in the book and in his animation.

Chan was careful not to make Sade out as either a hero or a villain – he approaches Sade’s text as raw material that can be changed and amplified for future use. Noting that Sade wrote his book while a prisoner, Chan spoke about the theme of escape - “It is important to be able to detach from the present moment. The most intimate form of engagement is escape. Escape creates a sense of inner and outer integrity and gives a picture of what freedom looks like. “ In this respect, Chan does not regard the book so much as an escape route for Sade, but more of an idea of “what escape and what freedom looks like.”

Chan’s artistic practice is leavened with a sense of political struggle and conviction, and he drew from these sensibilities when questioned by Schnapp about the limitations of using pornography. “Porno has changed with the times and we are now in a time of the purification of porn” He noted that pornography, in its earliest forms, was often used as a political weapon and a form of social critique, “titillation was a way to make people feel” the issues at hand. Some where along the way, he noted, pornography “fell victim to the division of labor” and has left us with contemporary images of porn that employ every advance of media technology to capture what is “real,” but it is ultimately empty of meaning, as it only delivers that which is literal. In this regard, “the literal is the ultimate special effect” quipped Schnapp.

Continuing in this vein, Chan referred to Sade’s text as an exhaustive cataloguing of sexual practice that is at once poetic in its repetition, but also as cruel and rigid as the religious order responsible for his imprisonment – a telling case of the oppressed using the tools of his oppressor upon the objects of his own desire. Interestingly, Chan drew a parallel between the mechanism of Sade’s application of stifling rigidity to cataloguing sexual practice – one that rendered an autonomy of pleasure which was essentially mechanical and sterile – with the movement in the art world of applying increasingly rigid readings and categorizations of art, which are done in the name of the autonomy of art, but which may also handicap the ability to derive pleasure and read deeper complexities that the work may intend to offer. In fact, Chan stated that the reason why he chose to include the interludes of colorful geometrical compositions in “Sade for Sade’s Sake” was to “recreate a polyphony” of points of access to the material by including sources of sensual pleasure that must have been on the chateau’s walls – sunlight windows and artwork on the walls –but which had been entirely absent from Sade’s original text.

In the end, Chan admitted that he anticipated having a conversation that might have spun out in more somber tones, but the conversation was, surprisingly full of humor, and of course peppered with devious pleasures, and intellectual delight. On the closing note, Schnapp wondered out loud, how apt Foucault would be at reading Sade? Chan was taken aback by the thought “Now that is interesting…and I wonder how Sade might have read Foucault? I can see them now, holding hands, like in a claymation!”

John Baldessari in conversation with Daniel Birnbaum and Steven Henry Madoff

The "key" artist of Biennale 2009 John Baldessari, presented his work in front of a crowded audience. Daniel Birnbaum and Steven Henry Madoff were both feeding the conversation with the artist, while a huge quantity of journalists literally invaded  the Teatro Piccolo.

In the beginning of the talk, Daniel Birnbaum announced the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement prize to John Baldessari, and than introduced some artworks showed in different points of the exhibition. When we say Baldessari we can actually think about a complete artist of an older generation who explored since the 60's alternative ways of making art and who tryed to figure out what art is. He argues about the notion of site-specific installation in relation to the value of language in his works.

On the facade of Ca' Giustinian palace, facing the Canal Grande, appears one of his famous sentences: "I will not make anymore boring art".

He replies to this, describing the need of Art to concern about relations, and this is the reason why he also painted the main wall of the central pavilion of the Giardini (now called Palazzo delle Esposizioni, known as Padiglione Italia since last year).

Consequently the Palazzo wears a new identity, and Birnbaum was entusiastic about giving the chance to realize new works for the Biennale to artists of new and old generation. He describes the Baldessari's wall painting as an intense and strong impact on the viewer. In my opinion the artwork gives us a different kind of feeling, such as curiosity, for example!

Steven Henry Madoff, the organiser of the series of conversations between artists and curators, focused on the great personality of the artist, in particular on his professional experience as an art school teacher. Baldessari said he was managing the teacher career in the same way of the artist one. "Students have to be considered as young artists" he said.

Conversation between Fiona Tan and Saskia Bos

"How we represent ourselves and how we interpret the representation of others"

Whit this quote we can idealize the artist work. But that's not enough. 

Fiona Tan is representing Netherlands in the Padiglione Olanda at the Giardini. She proposes a multiple projection of videos, time and site specific based. The exhibition, called Disorient, is a video-installation where the viewer is captured by motionless images and moving portraits. The atmosphere is incredible culminates on the main piece of the exhibition based on Marco Polo's figure. Fiona Tan highlights links with a past and a present Venice, recognizing the crucial role of the city since the 13th century.

Fiona spoke for a while about the poetry of the architecture of Rietveld's pavilion and about the mutual connection between artwork and space. Looks like if the artist was firstly inspired by the dutch master-architect ability on organizing spaces and volumes. Even the cover of the catalogue uses the pavilion's plan as a decorative module. Actually Raise and Fall installation is unusual because of the screens proportion, stretched on the vertical line imitating the windows rhythm. We all must recognize that the dutch pavilion of Giardini is really a jewel of modern architecture...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

inside- tenderness

After a thoughtful observation that his work carries a lot of tenderness inside and hides a certain vulnerability, Wentworth agreed. He added that most of the objects have a sense of belonging which makes them unique, but that possession is also what makes them fragile because it's easily lost.


It was more that underline the deep connection between London as a city and the Wentworth's work. According to the artist, his work wouldn't exist without it.


When it comes about the dictionaries there were some very interesting remarks. One of them was that they may be considered as a way to create a world inside of words. In a way they do have a life on its own, just as the ones Wentworth used for his installation, and that makes them sort of carrier of a strong cultural content. Maybe one day, that new world created out of the ocean of words will become the prefect one, just like Wentworth wishes.
"This Biennial is exceptionally theatrical"
"I wanna be particular but I don't want to talk with people about particularity... it's something that matters to me a lot", R. Wentworth

Richard Wentworth

Another friendly conference in the Biennial, this time between British sculptor Richard Wentworth and the curator and critic David Anfam.
The conversation that was held in a Palazzo delle Esposizioni, a space created by Italian artist Massimo Bartolini, was rather a chat between two friends which was well accepted by public and contributed to a good mood among present ones. Without any doubt, a lot of credit for this kind of atmosphere was due to the space itself which didn't allow any strict accademic approach to the conversation. One could say that Anfram was leading the conversation with his numerous reflections and remarks about Wentworth's work. The discussion went from the Wentworth's works exhibited in the Biennial, the problematics of language, works of David Smith, Liam Gillick, craftsmanship and ended up by talking about the peculiarity that dictionaries have.
oftently the discussion was interrupted by mutual laughter, creating some new and spontaneous questions to come.

A garden chat between Miranda July and Roselee Goldberg

“Why are girls like this? Why do they want to talk?” - This afternoon, Miranda July read this from a delightful snippet of her novel-in-progress, drawing her audience into the world of her emerging character - a 12-year old girl who has just finished a magic workshop and is threatening to have her first date with a newly minted 15-year old boy named, Pasqual. The story of the fictional pubescent date unfolded with all the playfulness, vulnerability, and urgency that also embodies her interactive sculptural garden installation, “Eleven Heavy Things” which is on display at the Arsenale.

After the reading, July had a conversation with performance scholar, Roselee Goldberg, who started off by remembering July’s early performances at The Kitchen. She then continued to explore the interdisciplinary nature of Miranda’s work (July has published a book of short stories, has made a formidable body of films including the feature film, “Me And You And Everyone We Know”, and has mounted a countless string of performances.) “Writing was the last thing I figured out how to do” July said, admitting that her performance work began when she was 6-years old, when she penned a play called “Oh Rats!” about a pet store that sold rats. But even though her performance work often reflects the emotional terrain of childhood, July insists that she is not an artist whose muse is her raw inner child. “I think pretty hard about stuff” and even though her performances glow with the air of innocent whimsy and spontaneity, they are all actually quite tightly scripted.

Goldberg drew July out on how she moved between the mediums of writing, performance and film. July responded “writing fiction is like being a watch maker, you get to tinker with all the tiny gears,” whereas the value of performance, she noted, is in the immediate charge of the present moment. It is filmmaking, she mused, that is the most challenging mode to manage because it is so abstract. “I struggle to figure out how to keep the present moment in my films.” In her attempts to maintain the magic of performance in her filmmaking, she has come to think about her films as a string of little moments that are happening all the time. In this regard, she maintained that “staying present is the main responsibility of the director.”

At the end of the conversation, she talked a bit about the interactive sculpture garden that enveloped the gathering. She urged her audience to follow the invited impulse to touch, step on, and otherwise physically engage with the sculptures. “In my mind, this work becomes complete when you take a photograph of yourself on them or inside of them, and posting them on your website.”
“I’m representing my mind actually”, J.Jonas

thoughts on the drawing, J. Jonas

When asked what was a drawing for her, Joan Jonas, a well known performance artist participating in 53th Venice Biennial, answered instantly that “it’s everything”. The way she was describing her affection, gave one desire to create them, if in no other way than at least mentally. It is the performance itself, it’s not thinking, it’s something that comes without any rationality. Before performing she does many drawing preparations, but still what happens on stage comes rather naturally. A special affection to the drawing comes when exhibited on a blackboard, for this kind of surface holds a lot of school memories, so in a way it carries a magical element for Jonas. In a debate whether her drawing may be seen as a choreographic piece as well, she remarked that she just considers it as an image made on the ground.

thoughts on the drawing Joan Jonas

When asked what was a drawing for her, Joan Jonas, a well known performance artist participating in 53th Venice Biennial, answered instantly that “it’s everything”. The way she was describing her affection, gave one desire to create them, if in no other way than at least mentally. It is the performance itself, it’s not thinking, it’s something that comes without any rationality. Before performing she does many drawing preparations, but still what happens on stage comes rather naturally. A special affection to the drawing comes when exhibited on a blackboard, for this kind of surface holds a lot of school memories, so in a way it carries a magical element for Jonas. In a debate whether her drawing may be seen as a choreographic piece as well, she remarked that she just considers it as an image made on the ground.

Massimiliano Gioni in conversation with Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg


The conversation started in a friendly mood. The young italian curator Massimiliano Gioni said: Djurberg means Anymore mountains and Berg means Mountain!

That's an ironic coincidence that actually connects the two in a very close relationship, in their work as well as in their own life.

Nathalie Djurberg, swedish video artist born in 1978, is now exhibiting for the first time in the Venice Biennial in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. 

Using plasticine clay and stop-motion technique, Djurberg puts us in micro-stories where perverted and sexual behaviours show the cruelty of human being.Hans Berg composes all the music bases for the videos. 

Unfortunately the conversation was not much focused on the artworks' contents. Probably, Nathalie has already talked enough about the attractive and the repulsional unconscious sides of her work!

Anyway, Gioni, Djurberg and Berg spoke more about the technique: How her puppets come to life during the making and how Hans gets the inspiration from this.

Actually, the conversation about the "making of" was quite interesting. 

Nathalie infact realized for the Venice Biennal an installation mixing videos and a series of flowers' sculptures which completely overrun the entire dark space. Furthermore, everything is handmade, which is very remarkable for an artist today.

Maybe she is the "true contemporary artist" even if I can't understand or explain well why I'm feeling so attracted by her small puppets...


Conversation between Joan Jonas and Robert Storr

Robert Storr, last curator of Venice Biennale 2007, introduced the new video of the american artist Joan Jonas. The artwork, located in the Arsenale, is a film on Dante's Divina Commedia. 

Fascinating by Italian's icons and by the vernacular language of Dante, Jonas approached this masterpiece using different medium and trying to not fix him in a unique narrative but in a series of fragments.

Jonas is known for her videos that in 60's had a relevant place in the scenario of american young filmakers.

She was performing and filming herself in videos, and during the conversation she pointed on this double presence of her in videomaking: as the performer and as the director. 

In Dante's piece, Jonas (aware of technology possibilities) chose some fragments of the Dante's journey and she represented him in a different context. Robert Storr remarked the importance of the voice and the references to the child's stories.

Then, Dante could be read by everybody. as Jonas said. In my opinion that is a good wish.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"old forms could be new, without being nostalgic"

Mark Lewis, the artist representing Canada in the Canadian pavilion in the Giardini, discussed a lot about rear projection that he used in his new work. He considers this method relevant, for it underlines the flatness of the work itself. It creates the sensation of a bad illusion that makes us aware of its presence, but in the same way it includes us in its existence. So, we could say that it has a double nature. Lewis does not pretend that the illusion should be seen as such, but at some point it should include the spectator. This idea of destroying the illusion in its becoming is very much of Modernist trope. What we see is really a modern form existing inside of the classical one. In 1930s, the introduction of a sound obliged directors to additionally add the background to the film scene because outside noise was too great. But Lewis, as Hitchcock, finds it interesting to use this technique, as it encompasses the element of disavowal. As he puts it: "I like it, because I know it's not real.."

Conversation between Mark Lewis and Benjamin Weil

The first conversation on the day before the official press opening was more like an intimate conversation with a few friends in the audience. It rolled into a fluid and seamlessly artìculate discussion among the people there. 

Mark Lewis, guided by Benjamin Weil, the French curator, opened the conversation (naturally for a filmmaker) with a discussion of architecture. For those familiar with the Canadian Pavillion - otherwise known, as Lewis said amusingly, as the outhouse for the British Pavillion, and the only modern construction in its section of the Giardini, you will find it transformed. Lewis redesigned it; a wall of smoked glass now closes off the usual wide entrance, blocks-out the outside world and dims the lights to create an effective viewing room for his four short, silent films  - two large and two small -  which he installed, he said, in the simplest and most conservative of manners, like pictures in a gallery.  

The conversation continued with a relaxed, amiable yet erudite discussion of the historical parallels between the rise and fall of modernism/the international style and the cinema, both peaking in the 1950s/60s, and the manner in which Lewis draws on the memory of cinema to create new works: combining for example a classic Hollywood technique of rear projection (an outdated form of illusion making), with a live foreground scene filmed in state-of-the art  HD video. It's just that point where illusion is both destroyed and admitted that fascinates, he says, allowing you to hold that contradictory thought in your head. And for those of you who would like to hold it comfortably seated  - well, we were sorry to learn that it was a lack of funds and not an artistic choice that prevents the presence of benches in the viewing environment. Sitting on the floor works beautifully.

Weil also evoked some of Lewis's older work, not shown here in Venice, that  explicitly explores the cinema process or syntax ('deconstructive' if you will), such as movement and time, e.g. very short films incorporating the names of camera moves into the titles, like "Downtown Pan...", which relieves the viewer of the usual waiting to see what will happen next, or films determined by the length of the reel, with 4 minutes as a preferred length for galleries and museum viewing, constraint as other forms of relief...

Carrie Pilto

Tony Conrad's performance at Teatro Piccolo, Arsenale

Snapping The Drone was an intense performative concert where the eyes of the crowd played an important role. Tony Conrad, known as a multidisciplinary artist, performed a violin concert behind a white curtain. Just his shadow was visible as a projected moving image.

Now let's talk about the ears: the Teatro Piccolo was filled with a pre-recorded violin mixed with Conrad playing live. The acoustic wave rose higher and higher and the sensation I had was a very physical presence in the space.

During the conversation with Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator of the Department of Media of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Conrad made the fascinating statement that photos as well as films could be converted into paintings, as he sees the paintings he made that are on view in the central pavilion, curated by Daniel Birnbaum. I believe that In Snapping The Drone we assisted in this kind of transformation, while the artist seemed to be in close relation with his violin.

The conversation took place after the concert and was about Conrad's early works. The sense of the past represents the most relevant way to conceive our present, Conrad said. Conrad offered some examples of the importance of artists in the musical field who he inspired, such as Rhys Chatham and Sonic Youth, and he talked about his work with LaMonte Young and others since the 60's - referring also to the extended music practice - and what this means nowadays.

Actually, I'm still hearing the fading blasting noise concluding the performance...

Marina Abramovic at Tony Conrad's performance

Marina Abramovic commented that the small public present for Conrad's performance--there were only about 25 people-- reminded her of the same almost intimate experiences of witnessing performances in the 1970s. She said, "I think that we are very privileged to hear you. Thank you a lot." Everyone agreed. It was a real privilege...

some questions

When asked what was the reason for the visual shadow on the sheets, he simply answered that he wanted to create a double presence

as Brecht

It was almost as Brecht like.. Depersonalisation still remains a very strong element of our reality. Still, Conard's sound deconstructing gets us closer to the essence we require. It was not needed to see the whole performance to be able to grasp this sensation.

Tony Conrad's performance "Snapping the Drone"

He stays behind the white waving sheets, takes his amplified violin, turns himself toward the light source projecting his shadow back to us. Hidden behind this waving sheet, Conrad in a way stays invisible to our eyes. All we can see is the shadow of him playing the violin. The performer's presence, by mystifying it, was put in the background, while the act of listening was clearly underlined. It was all about the listening and not seeing--or mostly. If we focus our perception only on the sound itself, we'll find it almost impossible to conceive how all these varieties of sounds may come from only one instrument. Conrad does use a lot of previously recorded sounds, but almost all of them are coming from the violin itself. So it's not by chance that he chooses the violin, which is considered the queen of instruments, the one with the largest tuning range. Conrad's "fundamental sounds" are much more complex than we can imagine. They produce a variety of possibilities, from very simple and calm ones to complex and aggressive ones. The beauty lies in these combined differences. As Conrad puts it: "I like to mix these long intervals of time, along with very short ones, and put them together..."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Welcome to Making Worlds Conversations

At the 53rd Venice Biennale, curated by Daniel Birnbaum and titled "Making Worlds," there will be an exciting program of conversations between artists in the Biennale and experts who will speak with them about their work. I've curated this series.

Some of these talks will also start with performances, including Yoko Ono, Tony Conrad, Miranda July, Nikhil Chopra, and Jan Hafstrom and Lotta Melin.

We'll begin on June 3 (with Mark Lewis, the artist representing Canada, with curator Benjamin Weil) and continue through the last conversation on June 7, which is Jan Hafstrom and Lotta Melin's performance followed by a conversation with me.

We're going to blog as many of these as we can to let you know what the artists talked about. We'd love your comments, as long as they're related to the conversations!