For non-Taiwanese who’ve read Tao Lin’s novel Taipei (2013), the eponymous city may currently be synonymous with twenty-something anomie, calibrated drug-taking and the improvising of MacBook movies in McDonald’s. Since 1992 it has also hosted the Taipei Biennial – being surely best placed to do so – whose ninth edition is stewarded by Nicolas Bourriaud. In his 52-artist/ collective project, The Great Acceleration, named for the rapid and self-reinforcing nexus of changes overtaking the planet since the latter half of the last century, the French curator, theorist and director of Paris’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts emphasises links between speculative realism, environmental concerns and humanity’s acquiescent ensnaring in the digital. The Anthropocene era – so he theorises with assistance from work by Camille Henrot, Mika Rottenberg, Neïl Beloufa, Roger Hiorns, Laure Prouvost, Maria Loboda and many others – finds humans and the natural world united in being ‘attacked by a techno-industrial system now clearly detached from civil society’. MacBooks and anomie, then, may still be relevant touchstones here.
Five hundred miles west, the Jessica Morgan-curated Gwangju Biennale, Burning Down the House, is almost certainly the first biennial named after a 1983 Talking Heads track whose title, in turn, derives from a chant at Parliament-Funkadelic concerts (though the Brooklyn Museum used it for a feminist show in 2008). P-Funky PR: ‘This hedonism by the P-Funk crowd on the dance floor was then turned into an anthem of bourgeois anxieties by the New York-based band,’ we’re told, and ‘this dual meaning of pleasure and engagement serves as the defining spirit of the 10th Gwangju Biennale’, which explores processes of change, destruction and transformation – with political overtones related particularly to tiger economies. More than 100 artists from over 35 countries will tear the roof off the sucker (or insert your preferred architecture-based P-Funk reference here), including at least one of Morgan’s curatorial favourites: Urs Fischer will be re-creating his New York apartment at 1:1 scale, ‘replicating the interior walls through three-dimensionally illusionistic wallpaper’, which will serve as a base for other artists’ work. Henrot will be here again, as – increasingly expectedly – will be several deceased artists, including Yves Klein, David Wojnarowicz and Birgit Jürgenssen, speckling a list that’s otherwise fulsomely internationalist.
One more blast from the East. This month Blum & Poe continue illuminating non-Western abstraction (following their admired surveys of Mono-ha) with From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction. Tansaekhwa, or ‘monochromatic painting’, the first Korean art movement pro- moted internationally, encompassed a group of artists operating primarily between the 1960s and 80s, its six key members – Chung Sang-hwa, Ha Chonghyun, Kwon Young-woo, Lee Ufan, Park Seobo and Yun Hyongkeun – highlighted here. The group’s tendency was towards collapsing distinctions that separate painting from sculpture, oil from ink painting and ‘object from viewer’. Concurrent with Minimalism, the works – mostly in harmonious, still-fresh cream, white and earth tones – emphasised the observer’s presence, a move that extended beyond any artworld hermeticism in then-authoritarian South Korea. Naturally, a big scholarly catalogue trails the show, led off by the curator, Tansaekhwa expert Joan Kee.
The active participant has faced changing responsibilities over the years, as see Nel Aerts’s show at Carl Freedman. The mid-twenties, Antwerp-based Aerts likes to keep her art flowing and frayed – in one previous show a figurative sculpture morphed into a wax candle edition used for sealing letters; she also lets children colour in murals for her. This exhibition promises a dialogue between painted unlucky clown/sad drunk fictional portraits (recalling figures one might see in the early hours at a 24-hour bar) and wheeled, usable sculptures; the advance image we’ve seen – a scratchy yet monumental painting shuttling between the comic and the lachrymose – suggests restlessness inherent even in Aerts’s outwardly static inclusions.
Amid the military dictatorship of 1970s Brazil, a hugely important and politicised example of mobility in art was Cildo Meireles’s Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project (1970), made when Meireles was still in his early twenties, for which he added comments to Coke bottles – instructions for making a Molotov cocktail, or political critiques – then returned them to circulation. In tune with the networked art of the moment (as was a contemporaneous project using modified banknotes), it nevertheless hardly summarises Meireles’s oeuvre, which has ranged from tiny (9mm) minimalist sculptures to large-scale installations like the cacophonous tower of differently tuned radios, Babel (2001), and the darkly allusive Mission/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals) (1987), with its canopy of 2,000 suspended bones, floor of money and column of communion wafers hovering between.
In 1976 Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin and Anne-Marie Miéville made Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere), planned as a pro-Palestinian documentary comparing the lives of one French and one Palestinian family, but expanding out to question its own ostensibly transparent form. The film has been artworld-influential – see Kerry Tribe’s excellent 2002 two-screen video Here and Elsewhere, which adopts Godard et al’s formal motif of a father questioning his daughter – and continues to be so. Seven years since a Bronx Museum show of the same title/ reference point (is the artworld running out of exhibition titles: discuss), the New Museum’s Here and Elsewhere loops back to the Middle East, marking the apparent influence that the original film had there. Bringing together over 45 artists from 15 countries, including Lamia Joreige, Anna Boghiguian, Etel Adnan, Akram Zaatari, the show thus offers a neat back-and-forth: that the truth- and objectivity-querying methods of a film engaging with Palestine can be seen refracted in the approaches of Middle Eastern artists of recent times.
Another 1970s film triggered Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin’s project Dodo at Jumex: specifically Mike Nichols’s 1970 adaptation of Catch-22, and we could make a few easy links here with the previously mentioned exhibition. The mutability of archival source material and thus of history itself is emphasised, here, as Broomberg & Chanarin, formerly photographers/editors at Benetton’s Colors magazine, edit together offcuts from the original film – shot on the Mexican coastline, apparently since it looked more like wartime Sicily than Sicily did in the late 1960s – into an ersatz nature documentary. Added to that, though, was the pair’s discovery that one of the planes used in the film was buried somewhere on-set. They thus set out on an archaeological expedition to uncover it, but, we’re informed, ‘that’s not what they found’. Suspense!
Marine Hugonnier’s films over the past decade – such as her Afghanistan para-travelogue, Ariana (2003) – have explored and expanded upon territories opened up by Godard and ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch concerning the hinterland between documentary fiction and truth, in Hugonnier’s case steadily burrowing into questions of what ought to be seen and what is more usefully withheld. In Apicula Enigma (2013), on show at Baltic, Hugonnier emphatically resists shaping reality, filming a bee colony in the Austrian mountains and making the process – and the contingencies – of framing and filming it into the very material of her work, subject and making being collapsed together in the use of the beehive itself as a camera obscura.
Rigorous attention to production and context is redoubled by the show’s pairing with an exhibition by Daniel Buren. That towering figure of conceptual art is best known, of course, for his 1965 decision to organise his shows around site-specific deployments of 8.7cm-wide vertical stripes. In recent years, though, Buren’s done other things, and the Baltic show offers fibre-optic works from his 2011 Electric Light series, reliefs, paintings and sculptures.
The region-specific, local-gallery-driven art fair is evidently on the rise. In Copenhagen, CHART – Denmark’s first fair focusing on contemporary art – is about to launch its second edition, held in the Charlottenburg Museum and involving Scandinavian and Nordic galleries exclusively, ranging from savvy young names like Oslo’s VI, VII to Copenhagen’s upscale Bo Bjerggaard and Reykjavík powerhouse i8. As added incentives, that Copenhagen is a culinary epicentre will be reflected in the dining options available, and the excellent talks programme is organised by, well, us.
Meanwhile, Berlin’s annual art fair, ABC (AKA Art Berlin Contemporary), active since 2008, typically scans as either a loose-limbed, funky affair or a ramshackle one, depending on your tolerance for sprawl. Increasingly it’s become more of an event than a cluster of gallery booths herded under one roof, with last year’s fair boasting a number of site-specific works; it also synergises with Berlin Art Week, when the city’s institutions typically open new exhibitions (including, this time, Ryan Trecartin at Kunstwerke and Katharina Grosse at N.B.K.). And if ABC does decide to slick up, no doubt there’ll be plenty of retrospective complaints that it’s no longer sufficiently Berlinesque.
The staging and mediation of language has been Cally Spooner’s terrain since she graduated from Goldsmiths in 2008, sometimes expressed in disjunctive video, scrambled novellas and radio plays, more often in performances that scrape denatured, formalised or artifice-related phrases from YouTube trolls, newspaper headlines about Beyoncé’s miming, Lance Armstrong’s staged ‘confessional’ to Oprah and more. In the evolving And You Were Wonderful, On Stage (2013–4), such verbiage was framed and formalised further, as a portmanteau musical. There’s a sense of language using the speaker as a vessel, one that Spooner, nevertheless, partly comes to own in her use of the work of philosophers, from Hannah Arendt (especially The Human Condition, 1958) to Maurice Merleau- Ponty to Bernard Stiegler, who’s explored technology’s effects on our use of language. A film version of And You Were Wonderful is apparently forthcoming, while her recent Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated in Any Manner (2014) made a mini-opera out of vituperative online comment threads; consistent amid all this is not just an unhitching of hive-mind speech but an emphasis on fluid production over dismal reification. Spooner’s show in Paris may offer more of the same, then, but differently so.
This article was first published in the September 2014 issue.