Sunday, December 21, 2008

How Hate Hippies Make World Go "O"

There is something in using mutually exclusive notions that I absolutely adore. The pairs of words, the tricky combinations like that are slippery and soft at the same time. They are a contradiction in terms squeezed into the smallest possible linguistic unit, the most concentrated paradox. And paradoxes -- I do love them, humble bugs! They are fragile indeed, and in a way they also are slightly impossible. Like beauty. Impossible at least according to the square logics of everyday.  But shouldn't we sometimes try the limits of impossible? At least in art. Or writing. Or criticism. Unless you do it there is a serious lack of salt and pepper in your discourse. You get nowhere near "it". Near certain truths and probabilities... And you can move no mountain, I bet. 
The notions like that -- and I found a personification of one of those on Friday at the Christmas Ball of the Artists Association -- are specially sympathetic, cause they don't carry too much weight. You couldn't seriously draw an argument based on them. Or bake an Oedipal pie from them. Never-ever! One half of the pair is constantly undermining the other and you are fluctuating between the two. Confused Nazy is no Nazy, and a Policeman lost inside himself is not even a Policewoman! It is sometimes hard to get a clue what you are being told to do. "Nje rõba, nje mjaasa", as the Russians always say. Thus there will never be a serious, calculated, well wrought out argument using these paradoxical tools. Like the one the Powers are using  to make you do things (Foucault) or to make things happen (Auden). The one and only Sublime (Lyotard) which makes you to join someone's crusade. But to the hell with one!
If a pair of mutually exclusive notions really hits the vein, it shakes you hard. And it has to be a real life experience, fresh wind, so to speak, as we pampered humans haven't found a single notion yet. To cover it up (Winnicott) , or to pin it down  with one sharply penetrating word. 
A combination like that undermines the credibility of both parties involved. And in the end of the day you have Nil, a landscape of corroded letters and corrupted promises. "Hate" and "hippies" -- they don't mean anything important for me, mostly. But it is different with "hate hippies"! 
I guess it is getting tiresome and I have to tell you a story. I better do, if I don't want to lose you, dear reader. The notion of a "hate hippie" would have never occurred to me if there had not been a slightly embarrassing social situation at the Artist's Union Christmas Ball, on Saturday. I was sipping my soda water when I got hit by an artist, Jaak Visnap. OK, I am exaggerating. I got hit by the sheer power of his sermons. He looked straight into my eyes somewhat militantly preaching honesty (which seemed to be sth. loud for him) , some kind of liberation, drunk straightforwardness and uncompromised future. The future of the mysterious young ones. His own future as opposed to the one of the old farts, the ones who are the masters of the scene, the clique of the Artists Union. And he kept lecturing on and on how it is the fault of Art Historians, their need to label and pin and so humbly serve money from the auction houses that leaves no chance for a contemporary artist like him. In that he actually might even have hit the point, somehow. But fuck, I don't miss the son of a preacher-man! Even now I have an urge to drop this little piece here and go for a cigarette as I think of it. 

And it was then, while smoking downstairs at the Kuku, it strike me that Jaak Visnap is a hate hippie! Not the only one in Estonia, for sure! Not particularly original in this sense too. Most of the people infected by nonconformism of Non Grata School are. Not all of them,  like Sobu or Sorge, but some indeed. Definitely! You can recognize one if you see one. It is in their eyes as a cold flame and in their voices as demanding tremolo. Even some of the people around Erkki Kasemets, real quiet, peaceful people, may be "hate hippies". I definitely was a one at some point in my life. We both were with Anders as we wrote as troubleproductions. May be we still are, who knows?

But what do I have in mind by coining this phrase? What does it stand for me -- the term "hate hippies"? Why bother to exercise a fresh constellation of words seemingly negating each other? But the idea itself is not so fresh, actually. I am trying to talk of the new personification of a man of ressentiment ( as it was described by Nietzsche). I am painting a portrait of someone constantly preaching that the other is evil, shouting --  he is a Faschist! he is a Communist, he is a Capitalist! Constantly pointing his finger to a fellow citizen just to declare a moral victory, "if I were you... " He is proud of not being something the other is, thus being good, semi-automatically...   

And what else could it stand for -- "hate hippies"? There is at least a few answers for that in "Anti-Oidipus", if you dare to use it "as a manual of non-faschist living" (Foucauld). An answer by Deleuze and Guattari I would prefer to postpone tonight...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reformation no 10 Revisited, The Tom Sawyer Day...

Today is the day. You must remember it from your childhood. When Tom Sawyer was trying to sell off to his mates the painstaking duty of painting a fence as if it were some kind of adventure or something. As a life's chance, perhaps. And he succeeded. Got away with it. He even got payed for giving away his brush for a couple of minutes. A bite of chocolate, a dead mouse, a half broken whistle... Whatever the boy wished. Whatever they had. Whatever he could bargain out of the poor dumbsters. Maybe even a few pennies. Or something extra special. Just for putting up a right face, for showing an attitude. Indeed. I should try it myself. Attitude is what matters most if it comes to art anyway. (Only this was not supposed to be art, only as cleaning up the mess after an art project for the group show of "Stylish Pentagram".) But nevertheless, today is the day and the paint is ready. I should be proud for the oppoturnity. And should not whine about the dough I put in it. It will all be payed back in the heaven for misunderstood little conceptualists. After all it is my duty. Sounds better than an obligation anyway. Sounds honorable. Although I have managed to delay my duty a few days -- with no foul intentions but because of heavy flu I managed to catch up in London last weekend. Today I will have to indulge in the actual restoration process. I have no choice as I have signed papers with the city Heritage Department. Or, I do have a choice, you always do, but... This time I would prefer to follow the rules. To go by the book. I have admitted my duty to paint back  the historic columns of Kunsthalle Tallinn which I painted green during a performance at about two weeks ago. Then Silvia, who was filming got attacked by a crazy lady. She was waiving a stick at her and shouting something. She didn't care a damn about the color of the columns but actively objected being filmed as an innocent bypasser. Little did she know that she is being filmed all the time while doing her little crazy lady walk around the old time. A pity we couldn't catch her colourful curses while she was trying to smash the camera. Let's see what happens today! If anything. The team is ready; Silvia (camera), Väärtnõu (work) and Hanno (talk). Here we go now! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Just What Is It that Makes ICA Today So Appealing, So Different?


All of the artists in Dispersion explore how identities are constructed rather than given, and how -- through investigating the politics of representation -- it may be possible to achieve what may be called a "critical" image.
Polly Staple, curator

We were the last of our crew who remained hanging out at the Entertainment, a lounge bar near Trafalgar Square, Erkka and me. The others had gone to the hotel, for a disco nap, perhaps, or for the fresh clothes. But why bother? Why waste time? You better sit down, chill, check out some glamorous people, save energy. Try to remember that it is all London here anywhere you go, so why run around? Take your time! Relax! And then make your move! 
Thus there were only two of us left enjoying a refreshing drink or two and occasional fog moistened cigarette outside at the door. The lazy ones -- a Finn and an Estonian. But we did some almost excessive talking about ancient trade routes, Finnish and Estonian national traits, potlatch economy and changes in medieval cartography, when I suddenly got a text message from the City Guide Girl. "Occasionally passed ICA, quite a nice show, Dispersion, with Eichhorn et alter. Curated by Polly Staple." -- was Maria' s scant but promising message. We had been willing to go to an exhibition for almost a day, Erkka and I, and to our greatest luck we had landed pretty close to something conveniently small, but seemingly significant. To hell with our discussion on weather Turku had been a commercial centre comparable to Narva during the Hanseatic times! It is time for some action, Mr Tourist! We just had to wait for Silvia a wee bit more and off we were, the three of us, tourists. Of course we could have chosen the closest venue at hand instead, the National Portrait Gallery, just around the corner, exhibiting photos by Annie Leibovitz, everyone would have liked them photos, I guess. But I hoped to go for something more cutting edge. For something more London. For something which could make me think, puzzle and trick me a bit. Like good art is to do, occasionally. You go into the white cube, you reside, and leave a slightly different person. Hopefully. A walking encyclopedia, as I was ironically referred to by the crew earlier this morning when we passed by the main hall of Tate Modern, I couldn't keep my mouth shut even now and went on sermoning about Richard Hamilton and that famous little picture of his with a hulk and the lollipop called "Just What Is It thet Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?". It is since then, since the early days of proto-pop in 1956 that this place has occasionally managed to be a hot spot of the Artworld. And I didn't even go into preaching about "Prostitution" show in 1976, with Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey and others, that is my favourite theme of all times. All that harsh rat infested proto-punk transgression in the middle of these flamboyant houses smelling of centuries old stock money, of colonial conquest and the haydays of British Empire. Unbelievable! I'd better not start with that old chant of mine!  And then there is the ICA shop I couldn't keep my mouth shut about, tiny as a shoe-box but equipped to its best. You can find any an obscure cult movie from there which is not yet out of stock. I could see the shine in Silvia's eyes. But then, finally, the exhibition. With works by Anne Collier, Maria Eichhorn, Mark Leckey, Hilary Lloyd, Henrik Olesen, Set Price and my old time favourite Hito Steyerl. Some of them works being better, some less to the point, I guess I will here focus on only two of my favourite pieces here, on few of my favourite themes -- archiving,the status of information and of course, sexuality. 
With some works -- like the one of Hilary Lloyd, showing two enormous double wall projections of what seemed to be her studio floor, with all the paint stains on it -- I couldn't develop a closer relationship, or, to be honest, no relationship whatsoever. The picture was on fucking still-stand as far as I understood. And with some artists, like Mark Leckey, I have another exhibition -- the Turner Prize show at the old Tate --  covering his current position in a much more comprehensive way, it is Eichhorn's "Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices" 1999-2008 and Hito Steierl's "Lovely Andrea", 2007, I am willing to talk about. Besides, I think there is more than enough in these two pieces, the first and the last one of the exhibition tour, to follow the curators idea behind the vague but suggestive title "Dispersion". With Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices by Eichhorn you will first be faced with an empty, neutrally lit room, an idle 16 mm film projector and a nice immigrant girl ready to serve you. Next thing you will notice, most likely, is a list printed on the wall, with each name referring to a 3 minute movie. There is 11 of them altogether in the list, and you can ask the girl to put any of them on. But not all of them have been made yet. And the list runs like that; Breast Licking, Cunnilingus, French Kiss, Licking the Eye, Contorsion. A kind of a porn cinema, but a conceptual one, indeed. Filthy not because of possible arousal, quite to the contrary, arousal has been made impossible. But pornographic due to the almost clinically cleansed nature of the interaction between the person ordering something to be shown, the projectionist filling the statistics sheet for the artist, the museum guards passing by and another people peeking at what you had chosen. It is not playing on the actual hard-core kinkiness of what might be currently projected, but indeed carefully distanced discussion with your buddies on, let's say -- "was I the first one today ordering the arse-licking movie?" "Last time we saw the work of Eichhorn was in Kumu", I told Silvia. "Remember the installation with the pool table, the visitors could play, the one a little bit out of balance. In the 90s Berlin scene show" I guess I got it only now, that this probably was about sexuality too. But then, what isn't? I would love to write longer about "Lovely Andrea" 2007 one of the few pieces I genuinely liked at the documenta XII. But to analyze the thing which was really interesting for me, I would have to have this 30 minutes documentary before my eyes just now, looping again and again. It is Hito Steyerl's ability to breach themes and allusions both verbally and visually, connecting Spiderman with 9/11,  returning from a field-trip to Japanese bonding scene with some vaguely Situationist slogans like WORK IS BONDAGE / BONDAGE IS WORK humming songs by Vice Squad. And what was it all about? She started the whole documentary film project in order to accomplish something almost impossible. She set out to find a single fetish photo she had done 20 years ago, which was most likely sold to one of the 300 of a Japanese bondage porn magazines which existed back then. And she succeeded, indeed. Both in finding her picture, but more importantly, doing a hilarious piece of RRiot Girl documentary. Indeed, on the way she "highlighted networks of dissemination, the relations between private life and public sphere, and alluded to the secret life of images and the order of the things," as the curator put it in her introduction. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rediscovering Minimalists Close to your Home


Art excludes unnecessary. Frank Stella has found it necessary to paint stripes. There is nothing else in his painting. 
Carl Andre

"Minimalism in visual art, sometimes referred to as ABC Art emerged in New York in the 1960s. It is regarded as a reaction against the painterly forms of Abstract Expressionism as well as the discourse, institutions and ideologies that supported it." So much about history at its dullest, as extracted from Wickipedia. A text in the brochure introducing us to the current exhibition in Kiasma focusing on American minimalism from Kouri collection and on international legacy of minimalism mainly from Solomon S. Guggenheim Museum (up to such contemporaries as Francis Alys who is a Belgian working in Mexico City and Olafur Eliasson, a Dane based mostly in Berlin --both among my personal favorites list of artists) uses paradoxical, but quite a witty title - "The Viewer is King". Of course, from one hand, it refers to an age old theoretical debate between the Greenbergian art critic Michael Fried ("Art and Objecthood", Artforum, 1967) and young artists who had emerged primarily in the New York scene since the middle of 60ies -- clearly expressed as a credo in a series of 4 essays by Robert Morris, ("Notes on Sculpture 1-3", Artforum, 1967 & "Notes on Sculpture4; Beyond Objects", 1969) back then an emerging artist and theorist. Fried, although critical of minimalism as a tendency and accusative towards its accolytes, got something really right, or as we may say, hit the vein, by claiming that Minimalist work was based on an engagement with the physicality of the spectator. He accused Morris in ending up in something spectacular, something theatrical, the harshest possible statement according to greenbergian logics, but something which after the change of paradigm, in Postmodern art, became a virtue and later in Postminimalism already something almost self-evident. The idea actually paradigmatically changed the whole process of engaging with art -- the viewer who earlier was supposed to focus onto the trancencent metaphysics of creation emanating from a single piece (a window to another world, an interface with authors soul) was now left walking around the (mostly industrially produced) art objects to hermeneutically experience the spacial relations, figure about the message in the seriality of repetitive details filling the room and ponder the logics of materials used. The installation art was born from there after a wee bit of flirting with much older surrealist logics of finding beauty in random meetings of everyday objects much like the famous "meeting of an umbrella and sewing machine on an operating table". From one hand it might be true -- a white cube full of coherent and inter-dependant works of one author composed into a compositional whole has taken over a single picture in a frame, as a minimal unit of communication most people familiar with contemporary art would expect when entering a contemporary art hall. It might not yet work here in Estonia, not at all times, not among the widest public, but it is a modus operandi of any ambitious exhibition nowdays, a principle of organizing its displays for any a self-conscious international contemporary art venue. But enough of the self evident, enough of playing around with the hold hat -- let's move to what we can now see in the fourth and fifth floor of Kiasma, to what makes this American show close to home so special for a potential Estonian viewer. 
Earlier in my life I have had luck seeing an enormous amount of museum displays on minimalism -- no wonder, as approving or at least being aware of some of the logics of minimalism comes as a key to understanding contemporary art. The scant direct experience of minimalism at its best -- I am even not referring to the almost unexistent knowledge about the  the theory of minimalism among art students or even professionals --  has led quite a lot of potential public of contemporary art in Estonia behind the doors of contemporary art perception. But on the other hand -- we do have early Arvo Pärt who extensively used endless minimalist modulations to bring it to the circles close to contemporary music and many international stars of Minimalism in music, like Steve Reich and Meredith Monk have performed live in Tallinn, or at least as is the case with Györgi Ligeti and Gavin Bryars their pieces have been also quite popular in the context of academic circles of new music in Estonia, imported by Olari Elts, the director at Nyyd Ensamble. And, a fact much more relevant in this context, we must not forget that the whole series of the most successful works by early Jaan Toomik namely "Windows", 1993, "Mirrors", 1993, "A Way to Sao Paolo", 1994, "Dancing Home", 1995, and "Truck", 1997, to name but a few, although mostly approached on the local scene through a rather vague term "Poetry of Nature" coined by Anders Härm for his thorough article on Estonian video art in "Nosy Nineties", 2000 represents one of the most intriguing dialogue with the legacy of minimalism on the East European art scene, the logics of Minimalism has not been widely approved or pondered upon among the Estonian artists. And what is even more important -- the further we move from mid 90ies the more is felt that the most important morale of Minimalism, that is avoiding personal and the cult of creative frenzy and the ideology of deprived genius, has been forgotten or replaced by a vague combination of confessional and harshly expressive. I mean minimalists did loose their battle to Neue Wilde in the end of 1980ies, but that is history, rather a closed chapter if we seek advise from international trends, progressively more and more interested in minimalist legacy since the early 1990-ies Stock Exchange crash and crises in Art Market. Once again every thing potentially ephemeral was in. And there is more to that than just sinusoids of fashion. 
To tell you the truth, most of the museum exhibitions on minimalism (particularly if they are part of permanent collection display) are mostly repetitive, without focusand -- which is even worse -- they mostly seem sort of "dead". That particularly applies to the large American museums I have visited -- each of them having enough money to purchase a set of works representing Minimalism as a chapter in an Art History book. And then, traveling from one grand museum to another, be them in America or in Europe, who all are displaying a set of same American authors having sold rather similar works to different institutions and by that made a discount and compromised one of the most fertile ideas of the Postminimalism, namely that of site specifity, might be an experience making you insensitive towards the all so important little nuances, programmed into good minimalist pieces. In this perspective I have but the praises to the Kiasma team for exhibiting a show focusing on live connections between Minimalist art and its aftermaths. The show is not only delicately installed, with enougth time-space for experiencing each of the works, but it also brings out many of the further links connecting the development of ideas starting from this textbook 60ies trend in NYC art scene to be experienced live, here and now, as the credo of this "movement" dictates. So it is not only Pentti Kouri collection donated to Kiasma -- and I have but to wonder how such a periferal country as Finland used to be two decades ago hosted a collector with such ambitions as to buy such early works as Frank Stella's "Sidney Guberman", 1964, Robert Morris'es "Untitled. Fiberglass Frame", 1968, James Turrell's "Shanta Pink", 1968, Bruce Nauman's "Green Light Corridor", 1970 and such an important work as Walter de Marias "Large Rod Series; 1990 or a even a huge installation by Jannis Kounellis "Untitled", 1988, which following a textbook approach would rather be labeled as Arte Povera but which serves well in an exhibition enlightening further mutations of this American infection, Minimalism. Most of the later works have been borrowed for the show from the most authoritative source, Guggenheim museum and even include some pieces and authors of which I had no glue about. Some of the most intriguing of the "fresh cream" were exactly the lesser known ones. John Pilson's "A la claire fontaine", 2000, an eight channel video installation with sound, working with standardized cubic nature of the architecture of New York skyskrapers, introducing a kind of "noise factor" into these interiors -- a young girl adventuring at those sterile spaces and occasionally taking control of the office space through spontaneous creative outbursts -- starting to sing on one screen while scribbling with her finger  on the window on another screen. It was a perfectly filmed set, with well orchestrated tempos of activities/inactivities on different screens, and to my great surprise, it only lasted 2 minutes 35 seconds, the whole loop. I guess I should also mention Ricci Albenda's "Portal to Another Dimension (Deborah) / Positive, 2001 and Koo Jeong-A's Oslo, 1998 both representing rather a different aspect of what has become of "sculptural" in contemporary art. The wall mounted works of Albenda, fiberglass forms in itsself, tend to take over the whole exhibition room as they melt into exhibition architecture quite seamlessly -- you have but to wonder if he has bought the whole wall along with him from America. The sculptures themselves depict intense, but abstract forms, indefinably somewhere between organic, modular and biological -- but they, as was marked in the exhibition brochure "could also refer to a portal into the viewers mind". In dialogue with the several older wall mounted works at the full house exhibition (Walter De Maria, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Wolfgang Leib, Richard Long) Korean Koo Jeong-A, who currently resides in Paris continues the scattered aesthetics of post minimalism, using crushed Aspirin tablets to create a strange snowy mountainous landscape. As often in his work, the subject may be monumental, but it si executed on a minuscule scale. 
As to return to the catch-phrases of the exhibition "Full House" and "The Viewer is the King" we cannot help commenting that although they both suit well to Minimalist rhetoric they have a certain cling to them smelling of the marketing departments heavy involvement -- they seem to imply a huge popular success, which probably is hard to get with such a reservedly well done exhibition which on the level of works is intrinsically politically loaded, but has only a few works of direct social commentary and none to point creating scandalous curiosity, a teaser for the media. I can only hail my respect to the Kiasma team for doing such a "hard" but really educational show on our scant times and wonder about our own cultural media having being successful  in ignoring the show. Not a mention. How Minimalist!

A Mission Statement, perhaps...

The following blog would hopefully primarily serve for me as a reminder of where have I been and what have I seen and cared for or became irritated about having in mind primarily art exhibitions, but also performances, concerts, fashion shows, supermarket displays, journalism,  advertisements, art theory, etc. Hopefully it would at one point also fulfill its promise as kind of "shadow boxing" for public art criticism. And a tool for working out a style of writing for a new age of electronic communication. Short, impressionist, hopefully at a time laden with overcharged value judgments, juicy anecdotes from the practical sides of cultural production, graphomaniac reminiscences and comparisons a out of key for mainstream print media. The main working mode here -- as far as I can imagine something of which I so far have no practical experience -- is constant flow, or to use a Deleuzian term, flux. Fragmented and jumpy but written in present continuous tense. I would not aspire it to be a web journal for art criticism, like for example, in Estonian context, Artishok blog aspires to be. I would rather consider that as kind of "studio time", a way to practice my "gammuts" and get into shape again, by regular writing experience/experiment. As if when you are wring a column you have to come back to it regularly, you have to provide, at least once a week, but quite to the contrary to a column in a newspaper, this electronic mood of publishing on the net a flood of impressions, even if at a time full articles might appear here, is relieved of a need to "come to a point" with every inscription, a need to wrought a perfectly publishable unitary essay, an attempt to cover a theme thoroughly. But still, the authors voice -- this time in English -- and the authors position and personal experience is something which counts here as a constant missing from most of the authors forced to mold their ideas to square forms and limited amount of publishing space related to most newspaper criticism. At first it is an experiment for me -- to get back to writing, to comment regularlyon what is currently happening on Estonian scene. And at the same time provide to Estonian scene with impressions on things international I have seen and am willing to recommend.