Between performance and theater

Vito Acconci passed away last Friday, the 28th, at 77. Acconci’s performances were partly responsible for my interest in staged photography, which then developed into an interest in durational performance, again inspired by Acconci, Tehching Hsieh and Marina & Ulay’s performances. When I heard the news about Acconci’s death I remembered something he once said about Marina Abramovic’s retrospective at Moma. According to Acconci, most of what was happening during that exhibition was not performance, instead he thought they were theatrical pieces. Because I tend to agree with him (though not regarding the performance The Artist is Present), I often think about what separates performance from theater and, in that process, I also question whether these characteristics are merely descriptive or if they entail an evaluative measure.

For me, the question that always triggers this discussion concerns the temporal aspect of the performance: What is its duration? Is it unique or is it a repetition? But these questions tend to follow the million dollar question regarding performance (or whatever art form, for that matter), that is: What defines a performance? or What is its most distinctive quality?

I haven’t been doing any reading on the subject, it’s just something that I think about, now and then, particularly when a performance hits the stage for the second or third time. And yes, I immediately become a little frustrated when that happens, as if something sacred had just been profaned. But it’s not performance, itself, that is violated or corrupted when repetition takes over. Instead, the word “performance” is and I question the necessity of attaching such a label to something that has as such an important historical value. What I mean is: performance or, as some like to call it, the art of action, is, in its nature, anti-systemic. Its ephemeral nature defies the art market, the nominal structure, the value systems, the necessity of the white cube and, above all, it revolutionizes the place of the spectator and his/her importance to the making of an artwork. I understand everything evolves, and so do art genres. That’s the way it is and I don’t think we should fight evolution per se. But should we keep using the term performance to describe something that has none of its most important characteristics, namely: being anti-systemic and being ephemeral?

When Acconci addressed Abramovic’s The Artist is Present he said the following: “She turned herself into a sculpture, into an act of endurance: the repetition, the constancy, turned her action into habit: the constant presence of an audience turned her so-called performance into theater.” Although I think durational performance is about a sort of change that, undeniably, has to do with repetition, I also think that this repetition is very different from the repetition at play when someone re-stages a performance, as was the case in Marina’s retrospective of some of her former works. The question is: is a performance still true if it is performed by someone other than the original performer? Can a performance be interpreted? I think the answer is quite clear: it can’t. Both its anti-systemic and its ephemeral nature will be lost in that process, so why insisting on re-staging it and call it a performance? Is the art world that greedy? Are the artists that vain?   

Let’s try for another example. Last month, in Portugal, a performance made a fuss in Lisbon: Héctor Zamora‘s (b. Mexico, 1974) Ordem e Progresso (‘Order and Progress’). The performance opened on the re-inauguration of one of the latest “museums” in Lisbon (not worth going into that), called MAAT. Although the performance lasted for only one night, it was then turned into an installation that occupied the space for an entire month. The “performance” consists in a group of men destroying seven vessels. The installation consisted on the wreckage of such vessels plus the sound of the happening itself. 

This is ‘Order and Progress’ third restitution. It first happened in Lima, Peru. On that occasion, the statement of the author starts with the following paragraph:

El emplazamiento en el extremo norte del Paseo de los Héroes Navales de un barco pesquero que será desmembrado poco a poco durante el periodo de exhibición funciona como una alegoría del desmantelamiento del universo simbólico y aspiraciones que la navegación encarna. El barco es fundamentalmente un símbolo de la aventura y el descubrimiento; pero también representa la esperanza del refugio o la posibilidad de sobrevivir en un ambiente hostil, es vehículo de viajes místicos y deidades, encarnación del poderío militar y comercial, de la conquista y la dominación. En el caso de esta embarcación particular, se trata de un recordatorio del papel fundamental que la pesca ha tenido en el desarrollo del litoral peruano a lo largo de más de cinco mil años, y del enfrentamiento económico y cultural de la pesca artesanal frente a la industrial. También subraya la importancia estratégica de los puertos de Lima –de ahí la razón de su ubicación crítica en el paseo de los héroes navales– tanto como base de intercambio cultural y escenario de conflictos militares. 

On its second happening, ‘Ordre et Progrès’ went indoors, inside the Palais de Tokyo, in Paris, France. On that occasion, Zamora’s statement kept the same, yet in his site there’s a quote from someone else (not credited) that reads: 

De la performance de Héctor Zamora le soir du 2 mai 2016, ne subsistent que des débris de bois et de métal. Ils sont la trace des mouvements répétitifs et destructeurs d’une équipe de performeurs venue désassembler cinq navires de pêche en tenue de travail et casque de chantier. Un protocole simple, exécuté de façon aveugle, qui suffit à transformer l’espace d’exposition en un cimetière de bateaux.
Des embarcations de départ – des ready-mades grand format – aux squelettes d’arrivée, l’œuvre joue sur le rapport évolutif des formes à l’espace. Son aspect sculptural réside aussi dans le geste démolisseur. A travers lui, Héctor Zamora « dissout les promesses de l’imaginaire dont ces bateaux sont porteurs ». Une dissolution à coups de hache qui traduit la brutalité de la transformation du secteur de la pêche, la violence des bouleversements socio-économiques mondiaux. L’artiste court-circuite ainsi la vision de l’histoire pensée comme un progrès perpétuel d’Auguste Comte (1798-1857), philosophe français à qui le titre « Ordre et Progrès » est emprunté. Héctor Zamora prend ici la doctrine positiviste à rebrousse-poil : le progrès peut-il naître du désordre ?

Finally (or maybe not), ‘Ordem e Progresso’ happened in Lisbon, last March, also indoors. Portuguese MAAT curator Inês Grosso wrote about the performance/installation, trying to contextualize its appearance in Portuguese grounds: 

Of different kinds and with different features, the boats represent the traditional vessels of Portuguese fishing villages and cities, such as Sesimbra, Ericeira, Nazaré, Aveiro, and Figueira da Foz. The boats, autentic examples of Portuguese artisanal fishing, were selected because of their advanced state of degradation. They were all built between the late 1960s and the early 2000s. Some display national symbols that invoke the period of the Portuguese Discoveries; and others were baptized with names that refer to the traditions and mysticism of the fishing communities, or to the local culture and folklore.

to which she adds that

Zamora uses the configuration of the gallery to create a spatial boundary that separates the audience from the stage. The visitor is limited to the role of a passive spectator, watching as the fishing vessels are destroyed by a group of workers. Using manual tools such as mallets, hammers and axes, these actors/performers will turn these ships into pieces, as if they had been destroyed in a shipwreck or naval battle. Most of them immigrants themselves awaiting the opportunity of a job, the workers were hired through a Portuguese recruitment company. This particular detail is a pertinent and timely criticism of inequality in our contemporary world, of the inextricable relationship between the imperialist policies of the most powerful nations and the refugee crisis, but also of the way migration can be used as a tool and device for social transformation. In this perspective, there is a clear (and curious) parallel between these workers and the combatants in the original naumachias, who were mostly war prisoners, Christians, or slaves—the victims or Roman imperialism.
In Ordem e Progresso, body and action are politicized in an immersive performance, charged with theatricality and dramatism, and with a special focus on the poetics of the gesture. The presentation of this piece invites us to reflect upon the role of images, upon violence and upon the numbness of our contemporary society towards it. Much like in the games of the Roman world, this piece transforms the spectator into an abstract, passive, and contemplative subject, fascinated by the violent action of the destruction of the ships. […]

A series of question immediately arise from the curator’s statement, namely: Is it appropriate to say that Zamora uses the gallery space, in this context, when the performance originally happened in the streets of Lima, Peru? What is the purpose of calling the workers (who she then describes as migrants hired through a recruitment company) actors/performers? Does this mean that if I play a part in a play I immediately become an actress? If I show a piece in a gallery do I immediately become an artist? What adds value to the work, is it the institution?

Truth be said, this “performance” really annoys me, for I can’t see how the political and social dynamics become its content. If they were, shouldn’t it have a transformative power other than a conceptual one. Can we really say that body and action are politicized if what is “regenerated” is only the idea that progress arises from destruction? How does politics affect the workers (the black workers, one should add) after the piece is over? Are they only playing a role? So isn’t this just theater? How much were they paid? 

Instead, I think this functions just as another critic to the art world, but it is hypocritical, being that it is a repetition (no original value, besides the symbols evoked), it is happening inside a gallery space, in a museum that is financed by a huge corporation, it objectifies the worker’s body as strength value, and it ridicules the viewer. Where is the seriousness in all this? And the content? And how legitimate is that we keep making art jokes around the passiveness of the spectator?

WPP 2017 (our worst or Ozbilici’s iconic photograph)

© Burhan Özbilici, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş shouts after shooting Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey.
© Burhan Özbilici, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş shouts after shooting Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey.

Most of us will agree on one thing: this year’s WWP winning photograph is not their typical choice. But that’s it! The consequences of this choice are as multilayered as the photograph itself.

One of the first persons to speak openly about why this photograph “should not have won such a prize” was the chairman of the judging panel: Stuart Franklin. In an opinion article, published by The Guardian, Franklin describes the event that is depicted in Burhan Özbilici‘s winning photograph as a murderous spectacle. Franklin adds that this is only the third time a register of an assassination wins the prize. For Franklin, awarding the photograph of a murder poses a moral problem. Sorry, that’s not really what he says. In fact, his words are: It’s a photograph of a murder, the killer and the slain, both seen in the same picture, and morally as problematic to publish as a terrorist beheading.

I don’t like to give in to cynicism, so I’ll hold back my worst self and just say that I smiled when I first heard this. Sorry, Franklin, but the idea that a competition such as WWP should not beautify and promote our worst selves is ludicrous. The only reason why some photographs have traveled the world with the WWP exhibition is because they were made famous at the expense of the dead bodies represented in them. And those lifeless bodies were only seen, contemplated and appreciated because they had an aesthetic dimension, they were beautified and through that transformation evil was made redundant. That, as I see it, poses a moral problem, because it compromises the dignity of the people in them. But Franklin means what he says. Not only does he disagree with the photograph of an assassination being the winner of the year, he also opposes the message it sends out to the world: Placing the photograph on this high pedestal is an invitation to those contemplating such staged spectaculars: it reaffirms the compact between martyrdom and publicity.

I confess his honesty and ingenuity surprise me. And I understand where he comes from. In Franklin’s perspective, the winning photograph should testify to a less visible reality and it should expose, be a call for action, inspire change, so he says.

But let’s go back to that day: 19/12/2016. Özbilici, a Turkish photographer, is attending a press conference by Russian ambassador that was happening in a gallery in Ankara. One should stress that being a photographer in Turkey is to be part of the resistance, for that country’s liberty is long gone. What happened next is history: while the ambassador, Andreï Karlov, was speaking, Mevlüt Mert Altintas, a 22 years old off duty police officer working security for the event, shot him. He shot him 9 times and claimed to be punishing Russia for its intervention in Syria.

Being there, Burhan Özbilici made the decision to photograph and his shots immediately traveled the world. I saw the winning photograph the following day and I remember it clearly. I was extremely surprised, I showed it to my partner and we had a wee chat about it. At the time, what surprised me had nothing to do with the event itself. What astonished me was the contradictions at place, how different forces and dynamics had made it into one picture. Still, to this day, what I think makes this photograph so great is that it is iconic. And being iconic means we’re talking about its aesthetic value. It’s almost as if this photograph should not be understood as photojournalism, for it has too many hidden layers, too many subtleties. Basically, it’s too brilliant to be reduced to its role as proof.

I also remembered wondering how cold blooded the photographer had to have been to compose this image. It’s inevitable, it looks like a performance. It’s the effect of the White Cube: you put something inside a gallery and it becomes art. The reality is quite different. Ozbilici tells us that he felt he just had to do his job. Back in December, on Hyperallergic, Robert Archambeau published an excellent article entitled Aesthetic Interference where he pretty much says it all, so I’ll quote:

I think a large part of my inability to fully process the images from Turkey has to do with a kind of category error. They should, I tell myself, be documents of an atrocity, the kind of images we’re bombarded with all the time, and to which most of us have, perhaps at some cost to our humanity, developed antibodies. We see mediated atrocity every day. We tell ourselves we care, and perhaps we do. But generally we look at the wreckage, the carnage, the suffering faces, and we move on. This time, though, I’m having a hard time moving on, because I don’t just see the images as documents of atrocity. I also see them as aesthetic, and that doesn’t sit easily with the other way of seeing them. Indeed, it feels immoral. It feels wrong.


In the strange combination of urgent action and an uncanny suspension of motion, they are reminiscent of some of Jeff Wall’s photographs (1984’s “Milk,” for example, or “Dead Troops Talk,” from 1994). Perhaps it is the dramatic nature of the poses — combined with the fact that they’re set against the stark, white background that instantly declares itself an art space — that makes the figures almost seem like an art installation. Perhaps an installation by Maurizio Cattelan, in line with his 2002 wax dummies of police officers, “Frank and Jamie.” If you begin to let yourself see the photos as works by Jeff Wall, they seem to show the calm at the heart of violence. If you begin to look at them as photos of an imaginary Cattelan installation, you start to think of them as meditations on the nature of exhibitions. But if you do either — and I have done both — you might find yourself uncomfortable to the point of queasiness with your own slip into aestheticizing. The atrocity is real. The violence is real. The death is real. And the photos? They’re so good, they almost don’t let you see that. They’re so good they make you feel bad to have shifted your attention from the moral urgency of bloodshed to the composition itself. They’re so good they make you wonder about the cruel indifference of beauty. They’re so beautiful that they lift you from the real to the aesthetic, so true they send you plummeting right back.

There’s nothing we can do about our visual culture and backgrounds, so it’s inevitable that for those familiar with references such as the ones mentioned by Robert Archambeau, this photograph jumps between categories and tends to reject the most obvious one: that which gave it the WWP prize. Where I differ from Archambeau is that I don’t have any remorse. And why is that? It’s complicated, of course, but as I’ve mentioned many times before, I think contemporary photojournalism is condemn to fail. It hasn’t always been like this. Before the wars were televised, before cellphones had cameras, photography held that status of “authentic proof”. Now, the most authentic imagery seems to come from the perpetrators themselves. They photograph their victims as trophies and those images are also good examples of the hatred that rules this era. But they are not conscious photographs, only digital images. In most of the cases, there is no author behind them; that maker is so morally compromised that one could not recognize him authorship. What this era might well do to photography, as an autonomous expression, may actually be what we’ve been waiting for. And maybe Özbilici’s photograph could trigger that debate, because photography is not an automatism, it is not a machine, and there’s always an aesthetic dimension to every image. Maybe if we don’t potentiate that dimension we will just keep talking about realism and objectivity, where instead we should be speaking about fiction and subjectivity.

≡ the ‘vaginal address’ & the ‘f’ generations artists ≡

kup0rQKMhmr3HMD0Uc3L__2D-_hIttu6Rw2j-r1dEvswy6r4dAwKW2eSa-YPhJBs_RS927RisHmYgU51ciF06oDocumentation of Casey Jenkins‘ performance Casting Off My Womb. Image via

Casting Off My Womb was a 28-day performance by artist Casey Jenkins, that took place at the Darwin Visual Arts Association. A local television network documented the performance and later made it available on youtube, gathering over 6 million views and triggering hundreds of angry comments

Reacting to the hate mail, Jenkins wrote an article in The Guardian, where she explains that:

My image and work have been consumed, contemplated and commented on by millions across the globe. It’s interesting then, and gives an insight into the performance’s heart, that all of this electronic crackle and buzz has not altered my identification with it at all.  […]

The response to the clip was immediate, massive and, for the most part, negative, marked with fear and repulsion. The word “ick” features heavily, as do “eww”, “gross” and “whyyyy?”. Exclamation points are afforded entire comment boxes, broken only by the odd question mark. Everything comes in for criticism; the menstrual blood used in the work probably cops the most, but viewers have taken swipes at my hair-cut, my eyebrows, my skin, my home-city, my choice of words, my knitting technique and the colour of my shirt. The nature of the response wasn’t unexpected, but the scale of it was and it’s been fascinating to watch.

3bc76b21-92b7-4ad1-b6b0-5b991a4b0b5d-bestSizeAvailableImage via

[…] As the deafening response to my work demonstrates, there is a hell of a lot of clamouring noise in society about what a person with a body like mine should and shouldn’t be doing with it. The pitch and volume of opinions can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to quiet the noise, step back and choose a clear and autonomous path. With Casting Off My Womb I have attempted to do just that by paring concepts about body parts and activities related to women back to their most elemental. Over the course of the month I sat with the steady rhythm of the knitting needles and of my body and created a work that I have complete confidence in, a confidence that thousands of internet opinions have not dinted.

* * *

IMG_9256Documentation of Sofia Magalhães‘ exhibition Retratos (“Portraits”). Image via

IMG_3826Documentation of Sofia Magalhãesexhibition Retratos (“Portraits”). Image via

Yesterday, by accident, I came across Sofia Magalhães‘ work in a documentary by Luís Hipólito called Diagnóstico: Dinamite (“Diagnosis: Dynamite”). The documentary featured a work of Magalhães that mixes photography and ceramics, something I had never seen before. I then realized I could have seen her exhibition Retratos (“Portraits”), where she displayed a series of old photographs decorated with humorous ceramic elements, but was not aware of the work.

* * *


manifestoTo continue reading the manifesto click here.

≡ Woman as Object = Fashism (fashion + sexism) ≡

Broomsticks 1960Broomsticks, circa 1960.

tipalet_1970Tipalet, circa 1970.

badedas_circa 1970Badeda, circa 1970.

«The demands of fashion for women reveal sexism, for men experience much less pressure to conform to clothing trends. While they are not totally immune, the basics do not change for them – suit and tie, pants and a shirt. Casual clothes can be very simple as well, with little attention to fashion “shoulds.” Women’s fashions, on the other hand, change constantly, and many risk being judged and in some arenas ostracized for not staying current. For women, casual clothes are rarely casual. To feel socially acceptable and succeed at being a “real woman,” keeping up with fashion trends is a requirement at all times.

«Fashion exerts control over women by defining the current standard of femininity and each era has had its own method for keeping women anxious, uncertain and dependent. But today, sexism in fashion is dictatorial, unforgiving, and oblivious to individual variations in body type, weight, or preferences. Although the buying and selling of status and self-worth reflect the basic American values of democracy, materialism, and opportunity, taken to the extreme as it has in the fashion industry, it can destroy a woman’s freedom, creativity, self-esteem, and health, no apologies offered. Let’s call it “fashism.» source: BODY WARS: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies, by Margo Maine.

Warner's 1967Warner, 1967.

advert-immoral.1976Love’s Baby Soft, 1976.

«The two most blatant cultural myths that are invoked in the advertisement are the standards of what beauty and femininity are in Western Culture. “Roland Barthes used the term myth to refer to the cultural values and beliefs that are expressed at this level of connotation. For Barthes, myth is the hidden set of rules and conventions through which meanings, which are in reality specific to certain groups, are made to seem universal and given for a whole society… These norms constitute a myth in Bathes’s terms, because they are historically and culturally specific, not ‘natural’ (Sturken & Cartwright, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture).

In understanding what representations and myths plague the world of images and especially advertisements, we can better understand the relationship between culture and their target demographic. The relationship is somewhat one of reciprocity and exchange in that culture grooms society while simultaneously being created by it.» source: What Do Images Really Say? A Semiotic Analysis

ODF 2008Organ Donor Foundation, 2008.

Relish_2009Relish, 2009.

TFforMENTom Ford.

mjacobsMarc Jacobs, Daisy, 2014 + Lola, 2011.

DuncanQuinnDuncan Quinn.

am apAmerican Apparel.

CK 2010Calvin Klein, 2010.

Dolce-Gabbana-Fashion-Wallpapers-3-WallpaperDolce & Gabbana

a5_suitsupply1Suit Supply, 2010.

≡ (re)Discovering the work of Gregory Crewdson ≡

When I first saw Gregory Crewdson’s photographs, roughly 10 years ago, they didn’t appeal to me. Aesthetically, they still don’t. Throughout the years, in classes and other events, there were various encounters with his lynchian universe, but my immediate reactions weren’t changed and beyond my interest in some of the technical issues called forth by his process, I never gave it much chance. Having said this, two pictures stayed with me: one being Ophelia, and the other Woman in Flowers (sew below). I now admit they may have influenced me further than my conscious will admit.

Untitled (Ophelia), 2001© Gregory Crewdson, Ophelia, 2001.

woman in flowers, 1999© Gregory Crewdson, Woman in Flowers, 1999.

What I disliked about Crewdson’s work (and still do) is his perfection: his absolute attention to detail and obsession with the authenticity of the sceneries; the meticulous control of light; the repetition of a cold, dark, old and decadent human figure. All this amounts to such a perfect theatricality that the realm of reality (and that of imagination) is excluded from the picture: that which is supposed to enclose all the possibilities.

Errors, slips, and an overall lack of control, do not participate in Crewdson’s work, even if he feels otherwise. And because of this perfectly staged theatricality, and although every single image is grounded on an open narrative, I feel stuck in is visual language, stuck in his interiority, and unable to relate to his anguished subjects, with whom I should easily empathize.

New fact: I changed my mind about Crewdson after recently having watched Ben Shapiro’s documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (2012). Although I still find no punctum in Crewdson’s photographs (his latest work in Cinecittà being an exception), now I can contemplate the man who authored such a work. Does this affect my relation with the photographs themselves? Well, yes and no.

The documentary follows Crewdson during the making of his biggest project to date – Beneath the Roses (2002-2008) – which is intercalated with an autobiographical account that helps contextualize his artistic sensibility. This narrative directly relates and immediately adds to the deeper layers of the photographs, yet my eye is still  caught in his perfectly absent encompassing of human lives in their everydayness.

Formally, the vivid use of colors, the sharpness of architectural elements and the rigidity of the framing, all accentuate the drowning of the image into itself, obliterating one of the major specificities of the photographic medium: that a photograph is a surface. A surface that is able to show (and mirror) the surface of things, and in doing so, being able to trigger a dive into as many imaginary layers as one can think of.

Jeff Wall, who uses theatricality in a completely different way, to whom the absorptivity of the subjects within the image is crucial, is an important reference for Crewdson. And although Wall has a highly coherent body of work, some of his photographs are less successful than others. The image below, Insomnia, is a good example of how the performative nature of theatricality can take over an image and ruin the art of deceiving that is so intrinsic to theatricality, open narratives and imagination.

Insomnia, 1994© Jeff Wall, Insomnia, 1994.

Wall is famous for his concept of “Near Documentary”, namely, the ability to enact and capture an event to the point that it looks naturally occurring. But in this particular photograph there’s none of that. Instead, there is too much stillness, no dynamics, a lack of credibility and an uncomfortable proximity between the eye of the camera and that of the insomniac man under the table. The perspective, particularly the way the cabinets stumble upon the framing, not only exposes the stage (which wouldn’t be a problem per se), but also confine our attention to such staginess, disrupting our empathy with the simplicity of the everyday drama depicted in the picture.

This staginess I was referring to can be encountered in Crewdson’s work. Both the images below can serve to illustrate how now and then he seems to loose perspective and give us nothing but the stage: the sceneries, the actors, the performance, the lights, the camera, and no action. An alienated representation of a theatrical moment between takes.

Untilted, 2005© Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 2005.

Untitiled (Back Yard Romance), 2004© Gregory Crewdson, Untitled (The Back Yard Romance), 2004.

At one point in the documentary, while we’re showed the image just above, Crewdson says: “My pictures are a moment between moments, really. And, I think twilight is sort of a beautiful kind of metaphor for that.” As implied before, I am unable to comprehend how can this be a moment between an imaginary before and a possible after, because there is no sense of time, no account for the present tense or untimely beauty: the figures lack an overall engagement with the atmosphere, each other or the image itself, and end up being overshadowed by the choices of framing and their bodies position. Oddly enough, Crewdson’s Untitled (The Back Yard Romance) reminds me of Jan Saudek, who mastered the art of photographing people performing love and sexuality. And on that note, here’s one of Saudek’s pictures that came to mind.

Pieta No. 1, 1971© Jan Saudek, Pieta No. 1, 1971.

⁞ The complex task of seeing through Photography: a conversation with Isaac Pereira ⁞

1012600_643410882417254_4043574406647253164_nall images © Isaac Pereira. Courtesy of the artist.

This conversation took place in July 2014, over the virtual space that unites Macau and Lisboa. The original, portuguese version, of this conversation, can be seen HERE.

Sofia: We’re having this conversation mainly because of your exhibition, Tree, now held in Macau. Although I couldn’t be there, I find the way you are imposing installation and performance on the photographic matter very interesting. In an article about the exhibition, published in South China Morning Post, you named what seems to be the keyword for this project: contamination. Tell me about that contamination.

Isaac: The idea of “contamination” in this work, comes due to a problem that has been on my mind about Photography and my own work: Is it still possible today, given the level of profusion of visual information and the speed at which such information circulates, to “retain the look” of the other, and your own look, on the images we create? Let us assume, driven by a mere hypothesis, that is the result of a direct observation, the “act of retention” is close to a breaking point. I call this “the crisis of the look”. So what remains? Or, in other words, in what manner can images, or certain images, survive this crisis? A simple argument, frequently used in this debate, is the argument on the idea of the “strong image”. But, in this context, what is now a “strong image”? My quest is only to ask if, from the point of view of my own practice of photography, and the practice of photography in general, and given the classical definition of Photography as “the act of killing time”, would it be plausible to pass this idea to an installation, in the sense of “an action”. This “act” presupposes the existence of an effective relation between an image and its site specific reading – the space of the installation – a “combat mode” relationship, of a fair challenge between the one lending his eyes to the possibility of another look. Or, alternately, to a look as a vehicle of reflection and thought. For me, this “combat-challenge” is an attempt to, by means of such relation, overcome the “crisis of the look” or, at least, it matches my desire to leave it outside this crisis. Even if it is a paradox, I call “contamination” to the appeal to a mode of survival that is motivated by the experience of thought as a look “over a time that has already lived through its end.”

Sofia: Where you speak of “an action”, I speak of “a doing”, let me explain: in Kant’s Critique of Judgement, he distinguishes between agree and facere, explaining that “to do” is related to the artistic practice – it entails intention and finality; while “to act” relates to nature – a natural effect, with no intention. It seems to me that what you purpose is based on your intentions and ability to act, the spectator is able to do more than contemplate. But in such a context, where through installation you are setting an atmosphere that guides the experience of the spectator, what relevance do the images presented really have?

Isaac: I understand and respect the kantian stand, but here I do not make any distinction between the resolute nature of the categories. Nowadays, the concepts are expanding and acquiring different meanings and in the rhetoric of the aesthetic discourse, “to do-to act” is not that opposed to “to act-to do”.
Let me just add a final consideration about the idea of “contamination” because it pertains to your question. During the creative process, I wanted to embrace that idea in the editing process. I don’t know the exact number, but I must have gone through over 10 thousand negatives, some long forgotten. During that revisitation some images grabbed my thoughts but some failed to have that energy. So I started to separate them. It was like I was looking at something for the first time, something that had already lost the seal of ownership and was free from me. I then decided that in some way this idea should come through in the installation and that the images, though from different times and spaces, should “look at each other”. I thought that contamination, exposed through the installation, should give the spectator the opportunity “to act”. At the same time, I showed the final edition to a couple of creators – a music composer and a filmmaker – and asked them to create their own works parting from that body of images. This idea then culminates with a request to the visitor: that he/she chooses three of his/her photographs – which he/she thinks dialogue with what he/she saw – and “lend” them to this project in order for them to be edited and placed in the installation space where there’s a wall with 25 empty wooden boxes, the end place for the images that will be “lend” and chosen by those visitors wanting to associate with the exhibition.
Now in terms of your question. The relevance of the images chosen for the exhibition is that of having been chosen with the limits I set for myself. During the creative process, I decided these were more connected with the nature of this exhibition and with whom I am as a photographer, but what interests me is that these images are not definitive, they can disappear and be replaced by others. In fact, in a way this can be noticed in the installation. I was interested in some images that had to be left out precisely because they dialogue with each other and with the overall idea of the work. The idea of a work enclosed on itself is frightening. Between a void and an aura, there is a never ending field of action. More than the possibility to look at each of the images in this installation, the spectator has the choice not to see all of them and to interact with them.

Sofia: Meaning, it isn’t the photographs, those photographs, that make the exhibition, but the autonomy you are choosing to give to the work exhibited, in order for it to remain open, in an internal and external dialogue. You call for a very strong image, that of seeing the work being set free from the father, which makes me think of two, somehow conflicting, ideas: firstly, the “death of the author”, given you are suggesting to erase intentions of property and authority and hand in the autonomy to the artwork; on the other side, there is a kind of obsessive control over the format and the selective power, even if the interaction between the spectator and the work can be dynamic. Do you really think that opening the range of possibilities to the spectator will allow him/her an experience that is more suitable for the subject?

Isaac: I wouldn’t go that far. The photographs make the exhibition, but not only them. I would say what makes the exhibition is the relation, full of possibilities, people establish with the images that are integrated in the physiognomy of the space. What I suggest is not really an “effacement” of the author – because the trace is there – but an extension of the way I experienced the installation in the autonomy of the other, given his/her choice not to look at some of the images and appropriate them as a selective, exercise of memory. The possibility to overlook some images and through a range of options establishes new relations. The spectator’s reactions tend to highlight that aspect, meaning: although I’m aware that I am the one who created the images, that is as an original selection and pre-set format. In the end it is very interesting to see the experience of the spectator being able to explore other meanings in his/her relation to the work. My proposal is to further investigate otherness. The door is slightly opened to an interactive proposal that goes beyond a deferred act of looking that is imposed by the totality of the visible.




Sofia: I was trying to avoid making this reference and evoke other names in this conversation, but the way you describe this extension of the space of the author to the space of the spectator and your reflection on otherness make me think of Marina Abramovic’s latest performance in London, at the Serpentine Gallery, where I find that by insisting on the opening of the field of possibilities she is actually imposing control over such field of experiences. I’m not saying your example is the same, what I question is if, instead of offering the world to the spectator, the interactive nature of a work is not a practice that ends up constraining the freedom of the spectator’s aesthetic experience. How are people reacting to your exhibition?

Isaac: My main concern is not to obtain a certain reaction, in that sense I can agree there would be some kind of control force involved. My quest is for the opening of the spectator’s field of action, presenting him/her with a proposition that stands between “yes”, or “no” or a “maybe”. I’m more interested in that “maybe” because, as I’ve said before, it gives the spectator “time and space” to act. This “maybe” or, if you will, I insist, the possibility to find different paths parting from mine, is the way I try to “offer the world” to the spectator (to quote your phrasing) liberating from the more conventional ways to look at an exhibition. In this sense, I confess, the reactions have been surprising. People ask questions such as: How does one see this exhibition? Which section do I start from? My response is that the order is arbitrary. I think this installation – that is accompanied by a “map” – urges, because of something I call “positive provocation”, to repeat the entering process, more than once and in a different way. Because this work has a different psychological time, people are free to start from different “endings” and stop at different “beginnings”. People say they need to come again one more time, preferably on their own, which I think is symptomatic and at the same time gratifying.

Sofia: Some time ago, we exchanged some words about our frustration with the way people are creating and showing art. I was pleasantly surprised by this exhibition, precisely because it proposes something new and you didn’t confine yourself to installing a bunch of photographs on the wall hoping someone can make a more or less linear understanding of them. What was the moment that triggered this exhibition?

Isaac: I’ve been thinking about what Photography means today and what is its role in our contemporary society, a reflection I hope to further develop. I’ve been thinking seriously on my work, or about what it could be. You and me, every one of us, we see lots of things. In museums, galleries, virtual sites. I feel that, in some way, our eyes are tired. Tired of looking, tired of the “photographable”. I only think everything is photographable from the moment the “photographable” wins over the weariness of looking, from the moment there is “a way of looking”. I counteracted the way of looking with “a way to make visible”, because although I’m sure about what this set of images “say”, the look of the other does not necessarily imply the same “references” and the same care, particularly because the images exhibited allude to other significances beyond their apparent meaning. But, today, as a creator, this is not satisfying enough. The excess of the visible has in itself an excess of light that obscures. Maybe, this is what you were previously referring to as “the obsessive control of the format”. I wanted to protect this body of images from that linear reading, from that excess of the visible. I thought, I assume that “yes, I want, wish for people to see this work”; but in order to achieve this, I had to assume a personal rupture with the way I’ve been choosing to make things visible. I think this is the role of the form in Tree. From the conception of the space to the organization and presentation of the images, going through the boxes where people leave their feedback in the form of a word, to the lightning design itself. I wanted that, in the end, people could retain a memory of the way they experienced the exhibition. Altogether, these aspects culminated in a call for intimacy in the experience of the exhibition, and that is the moment you call “the trigger”.



Sofia: That idea of an “intimacy in the experience of the exhibition” is, by itself, an impossible premise when we’re dealing with photography. It seems to me that you are going through a process of reflection that is common to those who mature with photography, for it becomes inevitable to think about the medium, even if the value of auto-referential art is tendentiously instrumental.
With this exhibition you called for the participation of the public, for them to send photographs with which you would then make a new Tree with universal associations. Is that it? I couldn’t help but notice that you mention notions usually assigned to authorship, using words such as “property”, “signature” and “author”. Where does the need for that rhetoric come from?

Isaac: I don’t agree that the fruition of an intimate time with an object such as this exhibition is an impossibility. I’d never thought about what maturing with photography could be. In any case, yes, there will always be a place for a reflection upon the medium that I find important and necessary.
Yes, I’m inviting people to send me photographs that are their property, to work upon them. It’s not a call for photographers, but a shout out for everyone who owns photographs. My proposal is to challenge the readers of these images to locate in them traces of their subjectivity. And after finding those traces, they go to search in their own archive – it looks to me as if today, everyone owns a photographic archive, even if unconsciously – an image that appeals to that relation.
The images within this exhibition don’t demand an enclosed and objective reading. The premise for the invitation is that people authorize me to work on those images, in case I feel the need. The end result will be an open session for the installation of the images received – at least 25 –, in the physical space of the exhibition. I’m asking people to think about the images in terms of memory and their biography. Once again, I associate this idea with the notion of “contamination” we were talking about earlier. On the other hand, when I speak of propriety, authorship, signature, that is not fundamental. I don’t hold that question in terms of a rhetoric on photography. It’s solely a way to say that even the vagrant is left about in the desert for a reason. Someone left it there. And that has a story that I’m interested in. Suddenly, I thought it could be interesting to unite the brunches, those personal stories, to the same trunk, to this tree of Photography, infinite and immense, and see how a dialogue between things coming from such different places and experiences, could work in itself and with me. I’ve already received some images and the results are surprising.

Sofia: I see the idea of this tree as a kind of otherness within you, I mean, the part of the “collective identity” that participates in your “individual identity”. When I speak of the impossibility of an intimate experience in a photography exhibition is not in relation to your show but in general, because it’s my opinion that photography more rapidly deviates than brings closer: it is part of the universe of representation, it is plain and rarely does it survive by appealing to any other sense than the visual one, even if it has a very unique potential to evoke memories. After this collective experience of reuniting stories and the exhibition is over, is there any project in mind?

Isaac: A cultural sociologist, whom I’m very fond of, McLuhan, talks about Photography as being a hot medium. To my knowledge, some contemporary art critique that is less prone to reflect on contemporary Culture, tend to overlook, as I see it unfairly, his thoughts about the media, although McLuhan has only dedicated a small part of his reflection to Photography as a medium. In any way, I still find it his thoughts on the media as an extension of the body relevant, although he only focuses on his “socially structuring” character. I mention this because you referred to as characteristic of Photography. In his book “Understanding Media”, McLuhan defends that Photography is a “hot medium” because it “extends a singular sense and in high definition”, understanding “high definition” as a “state of high saturation of data”. This author says that “visually, a photography is distinguished by its high definition”. I am particularly interested in this issue. It’s worth to notice that the “state of the medium” is not definitive and can be “overheated” or “cooled down”, depending if we’re facing a “hot culture” or a “cold” one. It’s a discussion worth developing.
Some days ago, while visiting the space of the installation, someone was telling me that this exhibition is “a provocation”. I responded that I agreed. In my opinion, what is happening in the Photography domain is an overheating that is maybe tending to a cold cycle. It’s an open question. But here I find a connection with our conversation at the beginning about the need to “retain the look”, very much because of that “data saturation”. I wanted a composer to work on a music score based on the images – music may be a cold medium – in order to make way for that synesthetic experience. We can argue about all of this and that is why I find a need for a necessary discussion. But, of course, further ahead when he refers to Photography as a “Brothel with no Walls”, McLuhan says that “no one can enjoy a photograph on its one” and that the work “The Balcony” by Jean Genet was inspired by Photography. For all we’ve talked about, this is where my provocation, a positive provocation, comes in, because there is a space and time, or it could be, for in a first encounter to enjoy a photograph in solitude, with all that it implies.
I would like to take this work to Portugal and to other places in Asia. To be able to work on this idea and develop it. I don’t think the process is over. I will read and reflect upon the words left behind and the images that were given to me and work on that material, on their stories. Maybe the result will be a “Ode-Manifest-to-Photography”. Perhaps, it will be possible to develop this work in the form of a book. For now, no new exhibitions. Probably in two or three years. I feel the need to look at it again, after some months of absence.

Sofia: I agree this work is provocative, but fortunately that’s not the reason it was born, lives or breaths. And even if some of my questions may reveal my pessimism towards the process of interaction in art, I feel that your questioning can only potentiate change.
Thank you very much for being so prompt and for your patience in accounting for your creative process.
All the best to you Isaac.




٠ Can Marina Abramović’s work be faulted? ٠

Marina-Abramovic-5Marina Abramovic, © Marco Anelli

The first time I cried while reading a book I was going through some spectator’s reviews of The House With the Ocean View, in the book featuring that performance. I naturally connect to the atmospheres Marina often tries to create and can understand the importance of immateriality and spirituality in art, not only because it challenges the institutions to re-define their notions of value, but also because it appeals to some of the most important qualities in art, namely its ability to suggest new values and to potentate a symbiotic relationship between subject and object, i.e., between the self and his/her state of being.

Since The House With the Ocean View I’ve often felt frustrated with Marina Abramović’s work, in particular with what I was able to understand, at a distant, from her retrospective at Moma. I see the re-enactment of her past performances (or any performance for that matter) as an attack on performance itself. Though I can easily argument against my own impulses, there are some points worth noting: (i) performance exalts the value of immaterial labour and makes it impossible to attest a value to the object based on its utilitarian value; (ii) performance is an ephemeral event, its value also comes from the fact that it cannot be repeated and objectified, therefore maintaining its originality and singularity; (iii) performance is nothing like theatre, for its strength comes from it taking place in the here and now.

A lot has been written about Marina’s latest performance – 512 hours – at the Serpentine Gallery, in London. Throughout the summer, the Author will be in the white cube connecting with people. Director Julia Peyton-Jones, and Co-Director Hans Ulrich Obrist have stated in a press-release that 512 Hours draws on the history of Abramovic’s use of her body as the basic material of her artwork. During her exhibition at the Serpentine, the artist will, for the first time, commit to an unscripted and improvised presence in the space of the Gallery. And that’s it.

Her message seems to be basically the same (isn’t that what really makes anyone an author?), the goal being to create an atmosphere of spiritual cleansing where people can come and find new perspectives by seeing, touching and hearing her. The artwork, in this case, is the body of each spectator, the extension of the artist’s work.

marina abramovic© Splash News/Corbis


Reviewers speak of the ambience inside the gallery as being hot and, as I understand, tendentiously paranoid. The audience is expected to leave their gadgets at the door, so that they can fully enjoy the experience. Then Marina’s assistants guides them into specific situations. And once again, amidst the theatricality of such dispositions, I wonder if Marina’s creative freedom is in fact only possible at the cost of our submission to her authoritative role. This performance, as happened with The Artist Present, is only possible if the spectator follows the rules, if he experiences it as Marina wants him or her to.

One spectator tells: Having been guided by an assistant in black uniform to a room filled with chairs and sound blocking headphones, I simply sat down, received a five-second massage, and experienced ‘nothing’. Sitting at the front I closed my eyes waiting for something to happen but nothing did. Opening them a couple of minutes later I discovered every chair had been filled by other Marina fans, breathing and closing their eyes in meditative pose. / Deciding I knew there would be more to gain from this exhibition I got up, only to be directed moments later to a different chair in that same room. Thinking about my presence and why I was ‘chosen’ by an assistant to sit back down I got up again and walked around a different room. Standing against the white wall I found myself staring at those deciding out of intuition or guided by assistants to stand on this slightly raised platform in the centre of the room. […]

There is no denying that she is a great influence in the art world and has done ground-breaking work, but the fault in her latest works is that she isn’t doing anything new, nor is she proposing new relations, understandings or associations. Where she succeeds is in bringing to the art world formulas and processes that exist outside the urban society and have huge ritualistic and spiritual value. By bringing them into the Gallery, Marina, because of her nominal value, is able to ascribe to these practices artistic significance. Is the place itself – the museum, the gallery, etc – and the nominal value of the author that make these performances possible.

In an extreme interpretation of Marina’s latest durational performance, what she sets out to do has a neo-colonialist undertone that can only be accepted and legitimated as a self-referential note to the art-world.

More of Marina’s work can also be seen on

٠ The edible reality of Alicia Rios ٠

vivero06vivero10© Alicia Rios, from A Temperate Manu (An Edible Garden). Photographs by Jesús Porteros.

excerpt from a conversation between Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Alicia Rios + Christopher Winks, regarding the work A Temperate Menu firstly showed at the Centre for Performance Research, Cardiff, Wales (UK), in 1994. Published in TDR (1988-), Vol. 41, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 90-110

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: You have to be very creative to work with what’s there. It’s finally not about money. Even with limited means, there are rich possibilities.

RIOS: Sometimes the very combination of limited space and time makes it still harder, because more time, even the same space and the same ingredients will give you more possibilities. Our time was limited to a morning because two assistants went to hear papers. They were volunteers. They had not been paid to help me.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: Did you encounter anybody who did not understand what you had done, that didn’t get it?

RIOS: Oh, no. I was very satisfied because everybody understood it perfectly. It’s wonderful to have good interlocutors, that’s the ideal.


RIOS: One aspect of cooking that I like is a condition that I believe is common to theatre and cookery. I consider the role of the cook in somewhat philosophical terms as maieutic. The mother of Socrates, the Greek philosopher, was a midwife.


RIOS: He called his method “maieutic.”


RIOS: The philosopher, in his dialogs, acted as a midwife because by asking…

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: …he helps deliver.

RIOS: Yes. A cook is engaged in a maieutic process. So are performers. After you have been to the theatre, you aren’t the same. The actors are maieutic in that they’re bringing things out of you. The cook also “delivers” people. Some of them may have felt like gardeners for the first time that day. Perhaps they’ve never used field implements before. Or if you think in terms of an- other kind of menu, Chinese cuisine for example, it may be the first time that some people feel themselves to be Chinese.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: You distributed a “menu” for the garden. It says: So the menu is a portrait in which you read, you translate into edible terms, you choose an aesthetic code-colors, textures, flavors-and you deconstruct it, get it out of its context, manipulate and bring it to realization, empower the idea, and choose the right language. I always look for happiness or integration, I reject association with frustration. Since to me food is looking forward, and forward one feels more free, just grasping the instant and projecting it free from morals, just for enjoyment.

RIOS: One of the cook’s potentials is to produce pleasure.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: That’s very interesting. With one exception, all the food performance pieces at the conference were about pain.

FERNANDEZ: Especially the ones by women…

RIOS: I too was surprised that all the solo performances were by women. No men did solo performances. We didn’t get to know the masculine subconsciousness.

FERNANDEZ: I was saying in our discussion group that the women’s performances were about painful aspects of food-you are overweight, you are underweight, you have cellulite, you have cholesterol, etc. They were all facing pain. All the performances by men were about pleasure, for example, the futurist banquet, Sempronio’s Lunch, presented by Giinter Berghaus, and Franco Taruschio’s demonstration of melanzane in carrozza. Theirs is the pleasure. The women have to face the problems. Alicia also said in that discussion that as a psychologist, she doesn’t feel she has to confront pathology all the time.

KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT: In our discussion group, a woman who’s more into the visual arts said that what she loved about Alicia’s work was how it closed the gap between art and everyday life. I would say that A Temperate Menu operated in the space between them. She said it closed the gap.

RIOS: I believe that there must be intentionality in art. You work on an abstraction. You give this abstraction an aesthetic dimension. You convert it. In the end the outcome has a certain aesthetic value. What I do in Spain, in Madrid, does not have the aesthetic value that it has in London or New York. Even though much depends on what is valued in each context, ultimately the result is independent of reception. It is a style. It is a form of conceptual art that invites an appreciative mind or eye.

sombreros-comestibles-4EdibleHatsGastronomicasombreros-comestibles-1© Alicia Rios, from Edible Hats Postcards, 1995. Photographs by Alejandro Pradera.

“Throughout history puritanical cultures have rejected fancy foods as a frill that goes beyond food’s primary purpose of sustenance. Although at first glance these hats may seem frivolous, I intend quite the opposite. Just as the goddess Athena was born winged from the head of Zeus, so these edible hats relate to the world of ideas, to the collective subconscious that arises from the head. These hats are, for me, like altars that bear the most sacred and peaceful offerings.”

Alicia’s statement. Excerpt from Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Winter 2005, 5.1, pp.113-4.

٠ David Catá: a human life is never done ٠

* the title references the following post: ‘A Woman’s work is never done

ni_conmigo_ni_sin_mi_02._david_cata© David Catá, from the series Ni Conmigo ni sin mí (Neither with me nor without me), 2011

ni_conmigo_ni_sin_mi_01._david_cata© David Catá, from the series Ni Conmigo ni sin mí (Neither with me nor without me), 2011

* * * * *

David Catá   Bajo mi piel© David Catá, from the series Bajo mi piel (Underneath my skin), 2011

web_bajo_mi_piel_02© David Catá, from the series Bajo mi piel (Underneath my skin), 2011

* * * * *

a-flor-de-piel-por-david-catá-20david-cata-sews-portraits-of-his-family-into-the-palm-of-his-hand-05© David Catá, My Brother Javi, from the series A Flor de piel (Skin deep), 2012

a-flor-de-piel-por-david-catá-18david-cata-sews-portraits-of-his-family-into-the-palm-of-his-hand-20© David Catá, My Cousin Anita, from the series A Flor de piel (Skin deep), 2012

a-flor-de-piel-por-david-catá-14david-cata-sews-portraits-of-his-family-into-the-palm-of-his-hand-18© David Catá, My Grandpa Catá, from the series A Flor de piel (Skin deep), 2012

article-2538544-1A9F2FB300000578-461_634x632David’s portrait, taken from here

٠ ‘ A woman’s work is never done’ ٠

tumblr_myqotbhiqq1qa4iv8o4_500tumblr_myqotbhiqq1qa4iv8o1_500tumblr_myqotbhiqq1qa4iv8o3_500© Eliza Bennett, all photographs from A woman’s work is never done

Using my own hand as a base material, I considered it a canvas upon which I stitched into the top layer of skin using thread to create the appearance of an incredibly work worn hand. By using the technique of embroidery, traditionally employed to represent femininity and applying it to the expression of it’s opposite, I hope to challenge the pre-conceived notion that ‘women’s work’ is light and easy. Aiming to represent the effects of hard work arising from employment in low paid ancillary jobs such as cleaning, caring, and catering, all traditionally considered to be ‘women’s work’.

Eliza’s statement

٠ Kant’s classes clash ٠

The title references Pierre Bourdieu’s critique of Kant’s famous essay on aesthetics – The Critique of Judgement. Bourdieu’s take on Kant’s distinction between ‘taste’ (available to all animals) and ‘beauty’ (exclusive to the humankind) implies a marxist notion of the separation of classes. For him, Kant’s praise of beauty and of ‘pure taste’ is a praise of the bourgeoisie:

‘Pure’ taste and the aesthetics which provides its theory are founded on a refusal of ‘impure’ taste and of aisthesis (sensation), the simple, primitive form of pleasure reduced to a pleasure of the senses, as in what Kant calls ‘the taste of the tongue, the palate and the throat’, a surrender to immediate sensation which in another order looks like imprudence. At the risk of seeming to indulge in the ‘facile effects’ which ‘pure taste’ stigmatizes, it could be shown that the whole language of aesthetics is contained in a fundamental refusal of the facile, in all the meanings which bourgeois ethics and aesthetics give to the word; that ‘pure taste’, purely negative in its essence, is based on the disgust that is often called ‘visceral’ ( it ‘makes one sick’ or ‘makes one vomit’) for everything that is ‘facile’-facile music, or a facile stylistic effect, but also ‘easy virtue’ or an ‘easy lay’. The refusal of what is easy in the sense of simple, and therefore shallow, and ‘cheap’, because it is easily decoded and culturally ‘undemanding’, naturally leads to the refusal of what is facile in the ethical or aesthetic sense, of everything which offers pleasures that are too immediately accessible and so discredited as ‘childish’ or ‘primitive’ (as opposed to the deferred pleasures of legitimate art). […]

Aristotle taught that different things differentiate themselves by what makes them similar, i.e., a common character; in Kant’s text, disgust discovers with horror the common animality on which and against which moral distinction is constructed: ‘We regard as coarse and low the habits of thought of those who have no feeling for beautiful nature… and who devote themselves to the mere enjoyments of sense found in eating and drinking’. […]

For it is a familiar enough fact that men wholly absorbed by their senses have much greater perceptive powers than those who, occupied with thoughts as wel l as with the senses, are to a degree turned away from the sensuous. We recognize here the ideological mechanism which works by describing the terms of the opposition one establishes between the social classes as stages in an evolution (here, the progress from nature to culture).

BOURDIEU, P. (1996) Distinction: A social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

YinkaShonibare_2© Yinka Shonibare, Immanuel Kant, Life-size fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, mixed media, 2008

Immanuel Kant, sculpted after the Age of Enlightenment philosopher and presented with amputated legs — a fictional disability suggesting that intelligence can be a hindrance when it creates a damaging thirst for conquest.

03large© Joachim Koester, The Kant Walk #1, 2003-2004

01large© Joachim Koester, The Kant Walk #3, 2003-2004

“Throughout his life, Kant never left his native Königsberg (former capital of Prussia, later renamed Kaliningrad), nor did he keep a diary or describe his habits in the letters he wrote. And although he was sociable as a young man, one might even venture to say gregarious, as a mature man he became rather reclusive and hypochondriacal.

All we know about him are his walks. Walks Kant invariably took unaccompanied and which helped him to focus his thoughts. Knowing where the two homes in which Kant lived are located, Koester was able to recreate those strolls the philosopher went on with such punctuality that his neighbours used to tell the time by them.” excerpt of text by Jose Manuel Costa

f_02© Laurent Millet, Calmez-Vous Mr. Kant, 2009, from the series Les Derniers Jours d’Emmanuel Kant/The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

f_11© Laurent Millet, Vous y etes Presque Mr. Kant, 2009, from the series Les Derniers Jours d’Emmanuel Kant/The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

f_05© Laurent Millet, Pas Si Vite Mr. Kant, 2009, from the series Les Derniers Jours d’Emmanuel Kant/The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

The title of the exhibition is taken from Thomas de Quincey’s novella of the same name, in which the narrator describes the declining health and diminished perceptual faculties of the eminent philosopher, rendering Kant less capable of interpreting the world around him. Millet takes Kant’s waning powers as the inspiration for his own explorations of phenomenological doubt. For all of their pleasurable optical revelations, Millet’s constructions are hardly the effects of a naïve dabbler, but rather make knowing and winking reference to a wide-range of Modernist art and scientific discoveries. From Tatlin’s Constructivist reliefs to molecular models: against this matrix of signs, Millet’s work evinces a critical doubt and wonder at our ability to understand and perceive the world around us in any objective fashion.

┐ Endre Tót – 0000000 – Tót Endre └

Stamps0004© Endre Tót, ZEROPOST, Stamps, signed and dated, 1976

Tot1© Endre Tót, in the spirit of Marcel Duchamp, 1987

tot_jobbeso© Endre Tót, if I look to the right: right rain / if I look to the left: left rain, 1973

tot-nowhere© Endre Tót, Outdoor Texts, 1980

iamglad_mittel2© Endre Tót, Hopes in the Nothing (Six outdoor Photos), 1993

After works spanning from pop art collage and gesture painting all the way to minimal art object-pictures Endre Tót took a radical decision in 1971 and started his work completely from scratch. His collage paintings had already contained aspects of installation and his gesture painting had demonstrated the attitude that manifested itself in Tót’s life-long search for identity. His object-pictures (meaning the picture itself is an object, e.g. a tablecloth) signified his last step in painting and the first step towards installation. From the point of view of concept art, signals, messages, posted objects, ads and demonstrations can all be installations. Accordingly, Tót’s media include, among others, postcards, telegrams, letters, envelopes, stamps, rubber stamps, photocopies, faxes, objects, T-shirts, newspapers, electronic message boards, placards/posters, banners, boards, actions, graffiti, audiotapes, film and video.

“My Unpainted Canvases” were conceived as pieces of concept art, but with his slogan “Nothing Is Nothing” Tót entered the territory of “behaviour art”. This means that his behaviour is crucial to his art, since everything that happens to him – through his ideas – is manifested as art. In his gladness works the symbol of nothing, i.e. the zero-symbol 0, becomes an independent shaping tool with which anything can be expressed. In his ideas, in the nothing, gladness, rain, and later in his “mine-yours” works he created mature pieces of correspondence art. By using non-traditional media his documents, the nothing-, gladness-, and absent pictures, are simultaneously present in the mail art network. From the late 80s Tót returned to the use of traditional media, and in these (“absent picture”) paintings his gladnesses were temporarily left unseen. While “My Unpainted Canvases” are about what would make him glad if he could see them, his “absent pictures” made fifteen years later, imply what he is glad to have made disappear.

“I am glad to have stood here” is Endre Tót’s first “sidewalk table“, which he designed in 1996 to be placed in front of the entrance of what was to become the Artpool P60 exhibition space. At first, the sign in bronze, sunk into the asphalt, appears to be a commemorative plaque designating the place where a noteworthy event occurred. In contrast, the style of the text resembles tourists’ writing their name on monuments that will outlive them. The absences in the case of the commemorative plaque: when, until when, and why the person stood here, and once he did, who is this Endre Tót? a tourist? (By the way, Tót is definitely a space-time-traveller.) For a tourist a dusty asphalt sidewalk is not typically the place that would outlive him. So what are we talking about here?

This installation is a new type of absent picture, which harks back to “gladness pictures”; therefore it is worth comparing it with the “gladness pictures” Endre Tót made in the 70s: “I am glad if I can stand next to you” (he is standing next to a Lenin statue), “I am glad if I can look at the wall”, “I am glad if I can lift my leg”, “I am glad if I can go one step”; and a later work entitled “I am glad if this can hang here”, etc. These are all admissible attitudes for him in the present existing as a “kindergarten past”. Since Tót traverses a reverse path, the source of his present gladness is moved into the past (“I am glad to have stood here”), which can also be poetically understood in a way that he is glad about the present which is the past of the future. I am glad that Endre Tót stood here because in this way I myself became privy to a new space-time experience and from now on I will always be glad whenever I have the chance to (be able to) refer to the present as the past, since, as Flusser stated, “the road no longer leads from the past into the future but rather from the future into the present”.

Installing Endre Tót’s “sidewalk table” has been occasioned by Artpool’s installation project and the coincidence that as “self-assembling poetry” it can be directly linked with Miklós Erdély’s {SIDEWALK} table exhibition on Liszt Ferenc Square, as well as with Sándor Altorjai’s picture installations in Artpool P60. The idea was inspired by Miklós Erdély’s oeuvre exhibition in Műcsarnok.

text by György Galántai, October 1998, english translation by Krisztina Sarkady-Hart

┐ Berndnaut Smilde, the Weatherman └

Berndnaut-Smilde-Nimbus-NP3-2012-digital-C-type-print-on-dibond-125x185-cm-courtesy-the-artist-and-Ronchini-Gallery© Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012 / photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk


Berndnaut-Smilde-Nimbus-D’Aspremont-2012-Cloud-in-room-Lambda-print-on-Dibond-125-x-184-cm-Castle-of-D’Aspremont-Lynden-Rekem-BE-Photo-Cassander-Eeftinck-S© Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus D’Aspremont, 2012 / photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk

I came up with a method using temperature controllers, moisture and backlighting. It took a while but I eventually got the hang of it. It’s not really a particular high tech process and the work does not function as a permanent installation. The cloud remains for only a few seconds. The physical aspect is really important but the work in the end only exists as a photograph.

clinicalcartslklein© Berndnaut Smilde, Kammerspiele, 2011. Postcards and miniature tiles

kammer4© Berndnaut Smilde, Kammmerspiele, 2012 – 2013. Cardboard, photomural, tiles.

More of Berndnaut’s work here

┐ Augustin Rebetez, from joy to colera └

GP Rebetezaugustin_rebetez-sans_titre001_largeAugustin Rebetez01

“Augustin Rebetez breathes energy in his works. He has developed a very ownable style over a very short period of time, even though this is not easy to put in a box. With a combination of free and staged photography using his immediate surroundings, he constantly surprises with his work. Augustin is not afraid to cross over with sculpture, film, photography and even drawings. He is one of the rare new and raw talents that the world of photography is waiting for. The fact that he studied in Vevey and lives in the region came as a pleasant surprise for the international jury. The proposed project will be a very welcome catalyst to further develop his creative madness.” excerpt from the statement of this year’s Vevey award.


Augustin’s website here and his vimeo channel here

┐ Stuart Sherman, performance after writing └


Stuart’s Thirteenth Spectacle (time), 1980, can be seen here

“Stuart Sherman, a member of the important generation of American avant-garde performance artists who rose to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s, developed his own unique style across various media, the impact of which continues to resonate with the avant-garde eight years after his death. He devoted a large amount of his time to the creation of performances he called “spectacles”, which often took the form of small tabletop performances. These performances involved the manipulation of both familiar and unfamiliar everyday objects atop one or more folding TV dinner tables. Performed by a poker-faced Sherman, the spectacle performances sit in a unique hybrid space that moves between references to various genres including comedy, magic, musicals, minimalism, surrealism, opera, three card monte games, fluxus, and vaudeville. Through these performances, which consisted of series of intricately structured object manipulations, he crafted a unique identity both as creator and performer. While the spectacle performances were generally miniature in scale, they were certainly not miniature in ambition, exploring with great wit topics such as time, language, mortality, eroticism, and personal identity.” via NYU 80WSE Gallery press release

Sherman_04© Babette Mangolte’s portrait of Stuart Sherman, from the Spectacle Performance

┐ Oleg Kulik, the “it”, the “his” and the “I” dog └

A man is an animal first of all. And then he is a Social animal, Political animal and so on. I am an Art animal, that’s why, spectator, I need your physical and psychological efforts to make sense.” Oleg Kulik

11-54265011-542648© Oleg Kulik, Mad Dog Performance (photographs), 1994

1140+press1© Oleg Kulik, I bite America and America bites me, 1997

628x471art-08© Oleg Kulig, Family of The Future, 1997

Kulik has suggested: ‘I wanted to turn into a sort of new Diogenes, a dog-philosopher’ (2004:56); and, like Diogenes, the active force and vital optimism of his disruptive conduct is perhaps best understood as an uncompromising, transgressive hostility toward the inertia of conventional aesthetic and political gestures. In the uneasy transition to a post-Soviet Russia, the interventions of Kulik as a ‘clown of the catastrophe’ (Viktor Misiano in Watkins and Kermode 2001:63) engaged critically with dominant ideologies and alibis, and presented a range of political, philosophical, and ethical propositions through his bodily actions and accompanying statements. Some of the work explicitly denounced the corruption of the international art market and the commodificatory domestication of dissident aesthetics, as well as the Pavlovian conditioning of socialized gallery-goers. Other actions referenced specific political contexts, for example: the introduction of new capital punishment legislation in Russia during the 1990s, Russian elections (in which, like Beuys, Kulik put himself forward as the representative of the “Party of Animals”), the exclusions effected by the European Union, epidemics of animal disease, the fate of Montenegro in the breakup of former Yugoslavia, and so on. In particular, he returned repeatedly to relations between Eastern and Western Europe, and representations of contemporary Russia in the constitution of a new Europe as a deprived, unsophisticated, mongrel “other” that is charming as long as it remains passive, submissive, excluded, and doesn’t bite back. Kulik’s explicit critique of anthropocentrism seems to be a posthumanist extension of his radical misgivings about Eurocentrism, and a logical development of his critical stance on democracy’s blind spots and limitations. Kulik’s utterances contain echoes of a “deep ecology” in their utilitarian critique of the human subject. There are all sorts of other knowledges outside of the center, he proposes, if only one could create a new “united culture of noosphere” (in Watkins and Kermode 2001:14), an inclusive zoocentrist culture of the senses and of embodied perception”


What kind of dog was being represented here? The Kulik-dog, “a rag of wolf’s tongue redpanting from his jaws” (Joyce [1922] 1960:52), was ill-tempered, confrontational, combative; a wild, mad or fighting dog devoid of any of the other possibilities dogs actually possess. On some levels, it seems to have been little more than a rather reductive cartoonlike vicious dog, a “beware-of-the-dog” dog, territorial and irredeemably antagonistic, although arguably a great deal of courage must have been required to carry out this degree of pretence in many of the performance contexts Kulik chose. Becoming-dog here seems to have been a mimicry of selected attributes of canine behavior, an imitation game as spectacle directed at human beings (rather than, say, dogs). As Phillips has remarked in her critical appraisal of the Deleuzean trope of becoming animal: “Becoming is a fantasy that we do not really want to play out to its very end: to remain on the border-a human in a partial dog site, a dog with a human attitude-is about as far as we are willing to go” (2000:130). What remains remarkable, however, is the level of Kulik’s investment, the monstrous, amoral, libidinal, and exhibitionist energetics of his performance as “dog,” and the contextual, critical focus of his interventions.

Recently, Kulik has expressed certain reservations as to the effectiveness of his strategies in the Zoophrenia series (see for example Kulik 2004:56)-the reiteration of metaphor and stereotype in his representation of the animal as “non-anthropomorphous other,” as it is described by his collaborator Mila Bredikhina (in Watkins and Kermode 2001:52); the tendency for him as performer to collapse through immersive mimicry into a state of incoherent affectivity-and his recent work has moved away from Kulik-dog interventions of this kind. Nonetheless, in the unrestrained excess of his mimesis of aberrant canine behavior, Kulik managed to produce an indeterminate creature within which elements of the “animal” lurk alongside those of the “human,” rendering both terms and their constitutive difference unstable and in question: in Alan Read’s words, a “divided self of species relations” (2004:244).”

excerpt of Inappropriate/d Others or, The Difficulty of Being a Dog, by David Williams, in TDR (1988-), Vol. 51, No. 1 (Spring, 2007), pp. 92-118

┐ The House With the Ocean View └

This post serves the sole purpose of sharing documentation about my favorite Marina Abramovic’s performance: “The House with the Ocean View”. There are not many photographs available on the web, so here is a a contribution.



marina13 copy

marina4 copyphoto documentation (day 1 – day 4) photographs by Attilio Maranzano

MARINA_02 copyphoto documentation (day 5 – day 8) photographs by Attilio Maranzano

MARINA_03 copyphoto documentation (day 9 – day 12) photographs by Attilio Maranzano

“In The House with the Ocean View, performed at Sean Kelly Gallery as a continuous 12-day “living installation” of such a form of pure presence, Abramovic gives a new and unexpected twist to the art world’s current over-saturation with cacophonous multimedia environments and conceptual  installations. The gallery becomes her “house”, a sanctuary for a limited period of time in a city smitten with paranoia and fear of terror. We attend her imaginary ocean front, watch her in silence as she watches us. We become the ocean, so to speak, and Abramovic needs us in order to concentrate her energies. The visit to the “house”, three specially constructed living units-bedroom, sitting room, bathroom-halfway up the wall at one end of the open whites pace, is subject to a strict agreement that we enter when coming inside. As she subjects herself to fasting and silent meditation, interrupted only by banal actions of showering, peeing, and drinking water, she expects us to respect he discipline and the restrictions of such  an ordeal and observe her in equal silence.”

excerpt of Marina Abramovic on the Ledge, by Johannes Birringer, in PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, Vol. 25, No. 2 (May, 2003), pp. 66-70

┐ Andrea Galvani, ways to space out └

Conceptually, Andrea’s work is amongst the most interesting I’ve seen recently. His works have their own language, both conceptual and documentary, buh also appealing to the senses, evoking sound and parallel universes. His photographs not only evoke sculpture as they are presented like one, as much as they are performances, with their own body, breathing in their own space and time.

a-cube-a-sphere-a-pyramid-1-2© Andrea Galvani, A few invisible sculptures #1 (left) and #5 (right), 2012

A Few Invisible Sculptures #1, a large scale photograph, captures a performance Galvani staged in one of the oldest clay pits known in Europe. Now abandoned as an open museum, the clay pit in question supplied materials for terracotta artifacts and sculptures for over four centuries of human development. For his intervention in this historically loaded landscape, Galvani constructed a geometric steel sculpture and used it to replace the fuel tank on a motocross bike. The volume of fuel was translated into discrete action by instructing a rider to drive the bike in a continuous loop until all of the fuel was spent. The resulting sculpture takes the form of an excavation, translating the volume of fuel into a displaced volume of clay.

In A Few Invisible Sculptures #5, a second motorcycle and fabricated fuel tank sculpture come to rest at the end of the action. Documenting the end point of the sculpture’s existence, the photograph allows both a sense of monumentality and one of impermanence to coexist.”

deconstruction-of-a-mountain-2_0© Andrea Galvani, Deconstruction of a mountain #3, 2005

“Deconstruction of a Mountain is a complex project that started out as a video, but for which, for the time being, I’m presenting a series of stills. I don’t like to talk about projects that haven’t yet been finished. I can say that, at the same time, I’m working on Il muro del suono (The Sound Barrier): its title refers to the physical phenomenon due to which an object (most frequently a plane) that exceeds the speed of propagation of sound (1,200 kph) probably enters a sort of capsule of silence. Both projects are related to the time of history and that of individuals, the image and its representation, and also the geography of an area and the invisible geometries sustaining it.”

the-wall-of-sound-5© Andrea Galvani, The wall of sound #5, 2003/04

I like to think of velocity as an access code to another level, a propelling acceleration so rapid that resets all references. When a plane goes beyond the speed of sound, it enters a capsule of silence. Its mass meets with a physical limit, abruptly interrupting the diffusion of sound waves, which are compressed until they stick to its surface like a glove. In the project Wall of Sound, a selection of photographic images are blown up and moved physically around the shoot location. The collision between actual landscape and photographic clone generates a force field, a visual plunge built around the rectangular perimeter that borders the images. The time between production and reproduction is compressed to the point that it appears absent.Wall of Sound is the staging of an impossible simultaneity, a two-dimensional deception, a transgression in the hysteresis of reality. The images both reveal and subtract. They are erected as altars and they safeguard mystery.”

death-of-an-image-12© Andrea Galvani, Death of an Image #12, 2006-08

More of Andrea’s work here

┐ Andrea Polli, memories as possessions in virtual space └

25676492© Andrea Polli, Appetite 4, installation detail, Here Space, NY, 1995

3© Andrea Polli, Appetite 4, detail from installation WWW site showing a studio photograph of objects on a plate, 1995

1© Andrea Polli, Fetish, screen shot of detail of installation at the Ctrl show, Name Gallery, Chicago, 1996

“Research into the concept of appetite led me to consider my personal appetite for possessions. It became clear to me that I (like many others) have multiple layers of possessions. We have possessions that exist in physical space, as well as possessions in virtual space: images, sounds and texts stored in analog and digital media. My work, entitled Appetite 4, consisted of 32 porcelain dinner plates suspended on the walls of a small space and containing actual materials symbolic of my personal desires. A cellular phone, for example, symbolized my need for protection-i.e. the idea of being untouchable or unlocatable; keys referred to power and control. I photographed the material on each of the plates in its “ideal” state-lit to resemble a commercial product. Objects of desire in the virtual world exist in a visually heightened state to compensate for the lack of physicality. Remote visitors could access the desires in the virtual world through the World Wide Web (WWW) at <http:// appetite.htm>.
The idea of possessions in virtual space, which I explored in the Appetite exhibition, led me to the conscious realization that virtual possessions are actually an integral part of non-digital life. Every human being has a storage bank of virtual possessions: memories. In fact, the computer storage bank is understood in human terms only through a metaphor of memory.

Fetish, part of Command-Shift-Ctrl exhibition in May 1996 at NAME Gallery, Chicago, explored the issue of memory in virtual and physical space. The installation consisted of 12 objects suspended on glass panels acting as a drop ceiling over the heads of the viewers. A computer in the space provided a virtual replication of the objects. In positioning the objects, I attempted to create a metaphor for the act of remembering. There are physical correlations to many emotional states-for example, joy is experienced as a physical buoyancy, and, in contrast, grief is experienced as physical weight. When trying to remember, humans often will move their eyes up and to the side (Color Plate B No. 1).

I lit each object with a dramatic spotlight, which created exaggerated shadows on the walls of the space. As in Appetite 4, lighting served to give the objects a larger-than-life presence in the space. I wanted to create a physical space that would refer to the mind’s virtual space during the act of remembering events and objects. Certain events have prominence in the mind, and the physical metaphor of size in relation to importance importance is utilized in the space through oversized shadows-foggy reproductions of actual events/objects. I selected the objects as signifiers of personal experiences related to past relationships.”

excerpt from “Polli, Virtual Space and the Construction of Memory”, in Leonardo, Vol.31, 1998