Revisiting: Tony Oursler – The Influence Machine

In Madison Square Park in New York, and subsequently in Soho Square, the heart of London’s media world, video artist Tony Oursler created a spectral audio-visual experience for an image-saturated society. Conceived as a kind of psycho-landscape, The Influence Machine delves deep into the history of media, rousing long-forgotten spirits and setting them to roam about both squares at night. The ghosts of the Fox Sisters, who made telegraphic contact with the spirit world in the mid-nineteenth century, haunted alongside the ghost of television pioneer John Logie Baird.

Jointly commissioned by the Public Art Fund, and Artangel, and realised in 2000, the work is now part of the Artangel collection, and has been restaged in a range of location both in the UK and elsewhere.

What the work itself comprises is difficult to delineate, as it not only relies on Oursler’s quintessential ‘talking heads’, and thus also sound (including a sound track by Tony Conrad), in this case moving image’s ephemerality is pushed even further because of the outdoor projections onto whatever they fall upon – buildings, trees, people and, most strikingly, smoke, which forms an integral part of the realisation of the work. As a result it is not only literally always fleeting but also different in every context, visibly influenced by the surroundings in which it is revived.

In the book Oursler’s then most elaborate deep media project is condensed in an illustrated time line, ‘Timestream, I Hate the Dark, I Love the Light’, while accompanying texts elaborate on the phantasmagorias of the late eighteenth century, its contemporary equivalents, and the influence of spiritualism within the general development of media. With an introduction by Susan K. Freedman, Tom Eccles and James Linwood, a conversation between Tony Oursler and Louise Neri, and essays by Carlo McCormick and Marina Warner, as well as extensive image sequences.

The design is by Mark Diaper, who came up with the idea to break up the ‘Timestream’ and divide it in different strands that, as time passes, cross each other, or new strands ‘fade in’ and old strands ‘fade out’. The hardback cover also has a dust-jacket on which the title on the front cover and spine lights up in the dark…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Revisiting: Rachel Lichtenstein – Rodinsky’s Whitechapel

Traversing London from near Euston Station to the top of Brick Lane through back alleys and quiet streets today, made me realise how much this city has changed in the span of just under two decades. I was reminded that in the late 1990s, early 2000s, virtually the only happening place was the Vibe bar on Brick Lane, and that you struggled to find a decent cup of coffee. And now look at it! Designer shops galore, and more trendy bars and restaurants than one could have ever imagined. Not to mention the upmarket hotels, private members’ clubs and bicycle shops…

One of the reasons I know the area around Brick Lane well is the range of projects Artangel commissioned around the area around 1999. In addition to the premiere of Douglas Gordon’s  Feature Filmin a cavernous space that was part of the Truman Brewery complex, and Janet Cardiff’s The Missing Voice (case study b), which literally took visitors out on the surrounding streets, from the Whitechapel Library to Liverpool Street Station, there was Rachel Lichtenstein’s Rodinsky’s Whitechapel.

The project focused on the story of the Jewish recluse David Rodinsky. In 1969, he mysteriously disappeared from his attic room above the synagogue in Princelet Street, in the heart of the old Jewish East End. A decade later his room was reopened and its mess of papers, notebooks, writings in several languages and cabalistic diagrams began to capture people’s imagination. Eventually, Rodinsky and his rooms assumed mythical proportions.

As the granddaughter of Polish immigrants who settled in Princelet Street in the 1930s, writer and artist Rachel Lichtenstein was immediately intrigued when, in 1990, she first heard of the synagogue. She secured a residency in the building and took over Rodinsky’s role as self-appointed caretaker. She began to catalogue the objects left in his room, and also started searching for people who had known him. Granta commissioned her to collaborate on a book about her findings with Iain Sinclair, which became Rodinsky’s Room.

Working on this publication and walking the streets of Whitechapel, Lichtenstein built up a wealth of information about the area, and gradually the story of David Rodinsky began to interweave with her own history, her knowledge of this neighbourhood they had both inhabited. Commissioned by Artangel, Lichtenstein ended up writing an artist’s guidebook titled Rodinsky’s Whitechapel, which takes the reader on a walking tour, past sites and buildings that played an important role not only in Rodinsky’s life, but also in Lichtenstein’s own. The walk highlights the last remnants of many important locations of the once vibrant, but now quickly vanishing Jewish East End. Mr. Katz’s closed not long after publication in 1999, as have many other places on the route since. Like Cardiff’s book and audio work, Lichtenstein’s guide highlights how a city like London has been a home to migrant and different communities living side by side for centuries. Doing the walk now also makes us aware of how quickly so much of the city’s tissue can change, and what stays the same, revived, refurbished, regenerated.

The book as an object is a neat little number, that comes with a map, and that fits easily in one’s pocket. Designed by Mark Diaper.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

How Institutions Think

cover-draftFollowing the conference titled ‘How Institutions Think’, which took place in Arles in 2016, and which was organised by CCS Bard, Central St. Martins, Valand Academy (University of Gothenburg) and the Luma Foundation, work has commenced on the book. I will be working on it as managing editor, alongside editors Paul O’Neill, Lucy Steeds and Mick Wilson.

The publication How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse brings together an international and multi-disciplinary group of writers who will reflect upon how institutional practices inform art, curatorial, educational and research practices as much as they shape the world around us. It also aims to propose new and emergent forms of institutional practice. Implementing a work-together methodology, combining and sharing networks and knowledge resources, the publication asks how we may begin to conceptualise and build possible institutions/anti-institutions of the future: What are the models, resources, skills and knowledge bases required to build new and progressive institutions now and in the future, if that is indeed possible?

Contributors include Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, Dave Beech, Mélanie Bouteloup, Nikita Yingqian Cai, Binna Choi and Annette Kraus, Pip Day, Clémentine Deliss, Keller Easterling and Andrea Phillips, Bassam El Baroni, Charles Esche, Patricia Falguières, Patrick D. Flores, Marina Gržinić, Stefano Harney, Alhena Katsof, Emily Pethick, Sarah Pierce, Zahia Rahmani, Moses Serubiri, Simon Sheikh and Mick Wilson.

How Institutions Think is the second in a series of three publications and builds on the success of The Curatorial Conundrum: What to Study? What to Research? What to Practice? (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2016).It is due in September 2017.

Revisiting: Steve McQueen

I first met Steve McQueen in Amsterdam in 1996, when I was still working at De Appel in Amsterdam, and he came over to do a talk there. He ended up moving from London to Amsterdam around the same time as I moved from Amsterdam to London. We stayed in touch though, and when in 1999 he had his first exhibition in a publicly funded space in his old and my new home town, the ICA, he invited me to get involved with the catalogue for the show.

One of the works that generated active debate was the insertion of a brick wall in the long corridor that runs alongside the downstairs exhibition space towards the bar and other spaces, without any label or explanation. I’ve always thought about it as referring to issues of access, or lack thereof, of various kinds that Steve has often talked about and that has recently become and extremely current topic in political terms. In recent years Steve’s intervention, which I am inclined to consider both a work and a curatorial statement, was inverted: the wall separating the exhibition space from the corridor was removed, so we could look into the exhibition space without entering it, opening things up for all to see.

The catalogue for Steve’s show has a shot of his feet, a still from the film Deadpan (1997), on the cover. It contains three essays – Robert Storr’s ‘Going Places’, Michael Newman’s ‘McQueen’s Materialism’, and Okwui Enwezor’s ‘Haptic Visions: The Films of Steve McQueen’ – that had already been commissioned before I became involved. Between them they cover a wide range of aspects related to Steve’s then still relatively small oeuvre, as he was only 30 at the time. Three international art heavyweights talking about an artist who was in the process of becoming a heavyweight himself… The show gave Steve the nomination for the Turner Prize that year, which he went on to win. It is of course only with hindsight that this show and its catalogue, and the many intense conversations we had in the years leading up to it, were clear signs of things to come.

The exhibition was curated by Susan Copping and Katya Garcia-Anton. The catalogue was co-published by the ICA, London, and the Kunsthalle Zurich, and designed by Luc Derycke (with whom I had worked previously on a publication on Gabriel Orozco’s project for Artangel).

steve-mcqueen

Revisiting: Luca Frei – The so-called utopia…

While talking to artist Anthony Shrag, he referenced Luca Frei’s The so-called utopia of the centre beaubourg. An interpretation, unaware that it is one of the titles from the Fabrications series I was responsible for, published by Book Works. In turn I was unaware that Celine Condorelli did a reinterpretation of the work at the Southbank Centre in 2007 in a sound piece.

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-11-21-41Here is the link to it on her website. The screenshot above shows the adapted introduction, transposed onto the reality of the Southbank Centre. I got back in touch with Luca and he informed that there now also is a Portuguese translation of the book, and a variety of re-interpretations of his translation have been made by others. I also came across an interesting analysis of the book here. There is also a review in Artforum and on 3AM and even an in-depth critical analysis in a PhD thesis. With the above-ground Centre Pompidou going in for a proper refurbishment it is time for a reread of the story about the alternative.

Conversations

Artist Anthony Shrag and I have been talking for a while about a publication. Whether that will indeed take the form of a book, or may manifest itself in a different way, key to our conversations are the conversations themselves. In his own practice as a socially engaged artist, conversation is an integral aspect. Without it nothing happens, as, after all, he is supposed to engage with people, and like for many artists whose practice is social, communication is at its core. The reality though is that much of that kind of practice is also surrounded by assumptions, misunderstandings, lack of infrastructure, or simply different expectations and agendas often creating (sometimes insurmountable) hurdles and/or confusion among parties involved, from commissioners, to funders, to communities, to the artists themselves. So for the moment he and I are just talking about how his experiences, in recent projects, but also in his practice as a whole and other artists’ practices in general, can be translated into something that may make sense to other people, and from which we can take something away in some shape or form.

We’ve noticed that when we talk, both our thinking shifts, becomes more precise or things somehow click into place, so that how we can possibly think things through becomes clearer. This collaborative process is something that tends to not be talked about, but we realise is important for many people, and many practices. We started our conversation ‘proper’ when I spent a day with him in July 2016, when he was on his way from Huntly in Aberdeenshire to Venice, as part of his project Lure of the Lost, commissioned by Deveron Arts. On the day I met him in Langley Mill in Nottinghamshire, we walked and talked for 8 hours solid. He kept a blog during his pilgrimage and I kept him company mentally and musically by posting a tune a day on his facebook wall, which he subsequently put up on his blog. After he finished, we decided we should keep talking… We’ll let you know when we get to wherever we’re going with this.2015-07-14 14.54.33.jpg