Richards often carries parts of one film over to another. For his ICA show, though, which premiered at Bergen Kunsthall and is headed for Hanover’s Kestnergesellschaft, he’s turned properly cannibalistic. Requests and Antisongs uses his 2015 film Radio at Night as the starting point for a trio of video and multichannel sound works: an affective dismantling in which aspects will recur and a whole will be ‘smeared’ (in the artist’s lexicon) across multiple edits in multiple rooms. Attend also to Richards’s public programme, which encompasses talks, performances and film screenings: a superlative composer/ arranger/remixer, he’s no slouch as a DJ either.
Clemens von Wedemeyer, Otjesd (still), 2005, 16mm film transferred to digital file, colour, sound, 15 min (loop). © the artist and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Paris
One more filmmaker purposefully pulping fact and fiction, you say? All right, but mind the alliteration in future. Clemens von Wedemeyer’s first institutional German solo show rewinds through the career of an artist many first clocked at Documenta 13 in 2012, where his three-screen Muster (Rushes) (
2012) explored the history of a Benedictine monastery near Kassel, turned consecutively into a prison, a concentration camp, a reformatory and a psychiatric institution, the story part-fictionalised so that art might be, as Picasso famously had it, the lie that tells the truth – or might be, might not. Earlier, von Wedemeyer had made works such as the nine-part The Fourth Wall
(2009, shown at London’s Barbican), which ran the story of a group of possibly unsullied modern-day primitives in the Philippine rain-forest through a Brechtian filter, and Von Gegenüber (From the Opposite Side)
(2007), a pseudo day-in-the-life documentary about a railway station, spiked with fictional episodes. Like archive-riffling contemporaries Luke Fowler and Duncan Campbell, then, he misleads only to remind us of what – the objective documentarian view, footage’s fidelity to history – we’d be naive to trust.
Damián Ortega, Eroded valley (detail), 2016, red bricks, dimensions variable. Photo: Gerardo Landa Rojano. Courtesy the artist
Damián Ortega’s Cosmic Thing
(2003), the Mexican artist’s most famous work, is an exploded Volkswagen Beetle meticulously deconstructed by assistants and strung from wires; a couple of years ago, he told The New Yorker
that he did this to show the complexity of systems, the interdependence of their parts (we paraphrase). In the same interview Ortega also showed off his tool collection, and tools and systems are what characterise his Fruitmarket exhibition. The works are mostly made from clay – fragility and flux being among his art’s fundamentals – and a large display-cum-timeline of tools made from seemingly unfired clay ranges through human innovation, from flints to smartphones. That’s the earth and the human hand in synchrony, then, and indeed Ortega’s show (which includes other forms, such as waves, icebergs and models of river erosion) is directly concerned with the four elements and how they shape our world, as well as mankind’s desire to harness the natural world for our own use.
Marwa Arsanios, falling is not collapsing (still), 2016, digital video. Courtesy the artist and Mor Charpentier, Paris
Ideology is most successful when it’s invisible: ergo, Marwa Arsanios tracks its physical effects. In her 2014 film OLGA’s NOTES, all those restless bodies
, built on research into Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s introduction of reforms to the country during the 1960s and particularly his introduction of a ballet school in Cairo as a ‘factory of the bodies’, dancers variously perform dances done for Nasser, or pole-dance, or brokenly enact a harem dance, or reference Yvonne Rainer. If such work suggests indignities and damage to the human body, the Washington, DC-born, Beirut-based Arsanios’s project for her first Los Angeles exhibition considers a sullied city and the political weather behind it. Here videos, architectural renderings and models, and maps reflect the Lebanese capital’s fast-changing urban spaces and garbage crisis, correlating the city’s notorious landfills and morphing shape with the evolution, if that’s the word, of the neoliberal project since the early 1990s.
Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Die Aap van Bloemfontein (The Ape from Bloemfontein) (still), 2014, single-channel video projection, colour, sound, 23 min. Courtesy the artists and Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin
I once interviewed Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys by email, or rather tried to interview Thys while he confessed he’d rather be watching Midsomer Murders
and eating soup. Later he announced an admiration for extreme introverts, since they’d found a way to avoid reality. That may be the famously oblique Belgian sense of humour at work. Nevertheless, over the last quarter-century – first in video, using a regular cast of amateur actors, and increasingly in sculpture and drawing – the Belgian pair have constructed a world in which damaged-seeming individuals either drift slack-jawed in their own headspaces, get bullied in institutional environments, lash out at each other or complain mildly about mediocre package holidays. Meanwhile, their drawings – affectless pencil sketches that equalise the dramatic and the mundane, Fischli/Weiss style – appear made in character, as if in some kind of rehabilitation class. De Gruyter and Thys’s worldview takes some extracting; but as blackly comedic philosophers they’re in a class, and world, of their own.
Luc Tuymans, Scramble, 2016, oil on canvas, 208 × 155 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
Also in ‘Belgian interviews’: when ArtReview
spoke with Luc Tuymans four years ago he was arguing that he’d been a proper painter all along, an aficionado of light in particular rather than a theorist of the medium’s weakness and inability to represent history’s horrors, and he had just gear-shifted into relatively bright colour schemes and self-shot (albeit off TV screens) imagery. To judge from the warm tonalities that speckled his most recent New York show, he’s still feeling perky. Or as perky as he gets, since that show, the Godard- referencing Le Mépris
(2016), was thematically concerned with ‘isolation, melancholy, degradation, and nostalgia’. The Antwerp-based painter doesn’t strike one as nostalgic; he doesn’t, he says, keep hold of his own paintings, doesn’t want to see his old ones. Yet on the evidence of 25 Years of Collaboration
he has warm feelings for his longstanding and local gallery, Zeno X. Expect a compressed retrospective and plenty of evidence for how and why, during the 1990s, a generation of figurative painters emerged in Tuymans’s authoritative wake.
Lothar Baumgarten, Eine Reise, oder mit der MS Remscheid auf dem Amazonas (A Journey, or with the M S Remscheid on the Amazon), 1968–71, 81 slides, 14 min. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano. Courtesy the artist and Galleria Franco Noero, Turin
Tuymans has made work relating to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
(1899), and Lothar Baumgarten, opening Franco Noero’s second gallery space, has called his own retrospectively themed show Specchio del mare
, or ‘Mirror of the Sea’, a likely reference to Conrad’s eponymous 1906 book of essays and sketches. Way to go, Joe, not to mention the endless topicality of The Secret Agent
(1907). Baumgarten’s show collates works dating from 1968 to now, but considers a longer arc – its theme being the reduction of natural resources, here pursued from the beginning of the Anthropocene (which Baumgarten dates to 1492, the year Columbus arrived in the New World) to the present. The German conceptualist is uncommonly qualified to map his own career onto that timeline, since it has taken him from early institutional critique during the 1960s to engagements with South America during the 1970s, further explorations of colonialism in the 1980s, a focus on botany in the 1990s and a general concern and lamentation for the fate of indigenous populations and nature. What we’ve seen of the show, an elegant-looking parcours, is as heterogeneous as you might expect from an artist who’s constantly avoided a signature style, except in the graphic identity he cocreated with Dutch typographer Walter Nikkels, which appears in stacks of letter-blazoned canvases: an ‘I’ to set against the mutually dependent ‘We’ that Baumgarten understandably favours.
Isabel Nolan, Based on my recent observations (1–7) (detail), 2014, 7 drawings, colouring pencil, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
Isabel Nolan’s own previous literary sources include George Eliot, Hippocrates, John Donne and Shakespeare, and the Dublin-based artist’s recent body of work at CAG Vancouver, The weakened eye of day,
spins off from Thomas Hardy’s fin de siècle
poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ (1900), whose ‘weakening eye of day’ apostrophises a wintry sun. From here the Irish artist considers light as metaphor; the sun as a symbol; and vast cosmological events, from the formation of the earth’s crust to the sun’s own eventual burnout. Nolan, heedless of outmoded formal distinctions, moves – in an evolved version of a 2014 show for the Irish Museum of Modern Art–from a huge textual scroll to small abstract paintings, sprouting plantlike sculptures to chromatic carpet-making, murals to steel sculpture, while sidestepping the hubristic notion that works in any
media can truly reckon with the enormity of her subject matter. The work’s poetic spaciousness is a gift, though. In ‘The Darkling Thrush’, the narrator hears a thrush singing, out of ‘Some blessed hope, whereof he knew/And I was unaware’. Spend enough time in galleries, and you’ll know how the listener feels.
This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of ArtReview.
23 August 2016