Allan Kaprow, Poster for Fluids: a Happening by Allan Kaprow, 1967
While Francis Alÿs choose to melt ice the hard way, he’s not the only – or the first – artist to make art from ice melting away. In 1967, Allan Kaprow staged a Fluxus ‘happening’ in which enclosures were built from large blocks of ice around the Los Angeles area; they were then left to melt away. Kaprow advertised the event in advance to find volunteers to help build the enclosures, a major undertaking given their size.
The event was documented photographically – by Dennis Hopper (yes, that Dennis Hopper) – but essentially this was an event to be experienced in real life rather; it existed for those who were involved in the building process and in a different way for those who came across the ice enclosures before they melted away.
Francis Alÿs, Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997
It’s the idea of making art by making a journey that’s brought Francis Alÿs to mind now. Alÿs is an artist whose work I find fascinating. It can be funny, moving, thought-provoking and, in a couple of cases, really quite alarming. And quite a few of his video works are all about the journey. I’m pretty sure I’ll write about other works by Alÿs at some point but the idea of the dismantling and remaking of the shed in Simon Starling’s Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture no. 2) in my mind, has made me think about Alÿs turning something into nothing by making a journey.
In fairness, a block of ice in Mexico City stood a proverbial snowball’s chance in hell really, but Alÿs has made facilitating the act of disappearing the ice into a pleasingly futile act through the application of hard work in the hot sun.
There are many ways of making political art. For some the point needs to be made in an explicit way while others are happier to leave things open to interpretation. Though Summer Camp is much easier to make sense of than And Europe Will Be Stunned, which I wrote about here recently, Yael Bartana is clearly towards the open to interpretation end of the scale. In Summer Camp, Bartana records the rebuilding of the house of a Palestinian family in the village of Anata (east of Jerusalem) by volunteers organised by the Isreali Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a non-violent direct action group both protests about house demolitions and seeks to rebuild demolished houses. The team of volunteers filmed by Bartana included both Palestinians and Isrealis as well as people from other countries. In a sense then, Summer Camp is effectively a documentary, but as with the films that form And Europe Will Be Stunned there’s more to it than that.
Eugenio Dittborn, The 11th History of the Human Face (500 years) (Airmail painting no.91), 1990
For as long as there’s been an art world, art has travelled. In an increasingly international, multi-centre art world that’s truer than ever and artists working at an international level might have exhibitions in several countries at any one time. For some artists though getting their work out isn’t easy. For Eugenio Dittborn the question of how to get the work out has determined the nature of the work itself. Based in Santiago de Chile, for Dittborn the issue is not just about distance but about the problem of making art while living under a repressive regime and in 1984, with Chile governed by the military, he started to make what he calls Airmail Paintings. Collage-based works, these are made of lightweight, foldable materials and are posted to the galleries that exhibit them – often in segments to be assembled on arrival – with the envelopes becoming part of the work.
Cerith Wyn Evans, Astrophotography…The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy…’ by Siegfried Marx (1987), 2006
Thinking about Kris Martin’s Mandi iii and its futile attempts to communicate information reminds me about Cerith Wyn Evans’s chandeliers, one of which – the snappily titled Astrophotography…The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy…’ by Siegfried Marx (1987) – was in the Fade In/Fade Out exhibition at Bloomberg SPACE. Unlike Martin’s piece though, Wyn Evans’s did communicate its message, alebit in a way few could read without assistance. Astrophotography…The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy…’ by Siegfried Marx (1987) is not just the title of the work but also of the text it is painstakingly spelling out in morse code.
Writing about Bruce Nauman’s Days yesterday put the idea of sound and the way information is communicated firmly in my mind, so coming across a leaflet for Fade In/Fade Out – a show I saw at Bloomberg SPACE a few years ago – while sorting through a pile of random paperwork felt like a very good coincidence. There were a few great pieces in the exhibition, but the work that’s stayed with me most clearly is Kris Martin’s Mandi iii, a station information board loudly and relentlessly updating to make sure we have up to the minute information. But as the flaps clicked over the lack of information remained; every surface on the board was plain black.
There is a beautiful simplicity to Bruce Nauman’s Days at the ICA. The space is empty but for two rows of plain white squares suspended at roughly head height. Walking between the white panels – seven in in each row – it’s clear that they’re loudspeakers and that from each a voice can be heard speaking the days of the week. So far, so simple. The space is almost empty and what’s in there is simplicity itself – my liking for art that’s minimal and preferably white can be no secret to anyone who’s been reading this on even a semi-regular basis – so predictably enough I’m in favour of Days from the start.
Lindsay Seers, installation view of Entangled² at Turner Contemporary, 2012
Seeing Lindsay Seers’s work is never straightforward. Her work is essentially video but it’s never as simple as watching something on a monitor or projected onto the gallery wall. Entangled² is no exception. Unlike previous works I’ve seen, Seers hasn’t built a space within a space to contain the work here. Instead it’s shown in an existing part of the gallery building but one the publicity material refers to as a ‘secret location within Turner Contemporary’. There are screenings every half hour; those wanting to see the work are met in the foyer and led out through the car park to the space. While this is something that could easily irritate me, I’ve found all the work I’ve seen by Seers so far really intriguing so I quite enjoyed loitering in the foyer and wondering who else was on a Seers-seeing mission. And, a real plus, it mean that the whole audience was in placed and headphoned-up before the piece started which meant no distracting comings and goings during the film. So far so good, but what about the work?
There’s something compelling about the sea. It looks so flat and innocent but it demands our respect and we know how violent it can be. But even on the dullest, stillest day, I think I could stare out to sea for quite a long time without getting bored. Standing outside Turner Contemporary at Margate, Mark Wallinger’s Sinema Amnesia is watching the sea this summer and showing it back to us in the form of The Waste Land. The installation takes the form of a shipping container supported by scaffolding and not trying to pretend otherwise. There are references to cinema not just in the title but also the signage but otherwise it’s essentially just a black box in a car park in a run-down seaside town, albeit a car park outside a contemporary art gallery.
Mark Wallinger, Sinema Amnesia installed in Margate, 2012
Tracey Emin, I didn’t say I couldn’t love you, 2011
I’ll start by owning up to the fact that I wouldn’t have gone to see She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, Tracey Emin’s exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate, if there hadn’t been a couple of other things on show outside the gallery that I particularly wanted to see. Over the years, Emin has made quite a lot of work I really like but most of it has been video and, with a few exceptions, I’m not crazy about her drawings, prints and paintings. But I was there so it would have been foolhardy not to take a look. I’ve seen enough of Emin’s work to know that at its best it can be genuinely affecting and that sometimes even the small, almost throw-away, drawings can be funny and occasionally hit a nerve or tell some sort of universal truth.