The Beauty and th Build
1 - 13 April 2017
opening time tuesday-sunday 2-6 pm
The Beauty and the Built is a short exhibition that brings together a selection of film and video works by artists working in the varied geographic and cultural context of Europe. In exploring connections between contemporary Western society and its cultural heritage, it brings to the fore a range of architectural frameworks and institutional contexts to reveal the complex relationship these structures of culture establish with broader questions related to history, society and ideology.
Tear Down and Rebuild by Slovenian artist Jasmina Cibic is set within the magnificent Palace of the Federation in Belgrade, which was built in 1959 as an ideological and political symbol of non-aligned former Yugoslavia and the country’s seeking of a “third way” during the Cold War. Stripped of its former functions, the palace becomes the site of a theatrical mise-en-scène that features four female figures embodying specific roles: the Nation’s Builder, The Pragmatist, The Conservationist and the Artist/Architect. Bypassing specific political, historical, and geographic contexts forms a strategy that seeks to destabilize the audience, which is reinforced by the casting as well as the acting style, which can be read as quintessentially British. The dialogue is comprised of different historical discourses, statements and declarations that were made over the course of 20th century history by public figures, intellectuals and politicians (including Ronald Reagan, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher, Benito Mussolini and Walter Benjamin). These decrees establish diverging points of view concerning questions of destroying or preserving an artistic and architectural heritage of unquestionable artistic value that was initially conceived as functioning at the service of political and state ideology.
János Sugár is among Hungary’s pre-eminent media artists. He matured artistically in the alternative art scene under socialism, first as part of the avant-garde interdisciplinary art collective Indigo in the early 1980s, and from 1985 within the Balázs Béla Stúdió, an experimental filmmaking platform where he completed The Persian Walk (1985). The title references Montesquieu’s book Persian Letters, which details French life through the eyes of two Persian noblemen. Adopting this outsider perspective to the Hungarian everyday of late socialism, the film, originally shot on 16mm, shows two young men ambling across the city while relentlessly reciting news headlines, which Sugár grabbed from the headlines of an economic weekly. The soundtrack also provides two extra-diegetic voices that comment on the quotidian urban scene. Through the voices of the ambling men, the banal city scenes are anchored within the specific socio-economic moment of 1985. Yet the added absurd dialogue guides our gaze towards everyday urban objects from lampposts to headlights that become marked as amusing and strangely historic artifacts, the film itself becoming a self-conscious historiographic document in the process. A moment of pause midway through the film takes its protagonists to a gallery space. The abstract works in the exhibition, made by Sugár for the film, are an exercise in imagining the art of the future. They dialogue with the cityscape, deepening the delicate tension between the historic and cultural value of the filmed present-day of 1985 and the imagined future that echoes, but also fragments, our perspectives as current-day viewers.
Muntadas was born in Spain but has been living in New York since 1971. He is a widely celebrated and internationally exhibited multi-disciplinary installation and media artist, whose diverging oeuvre addresses various social and political issues, and often exposes connections between private and public space. Alongside considering the way in which information is disseminated and consumed in contemporary society, his work often focuses on institutional structures, systematically deconstructing the ideological, financial, cultural, and architectural systems that support them. Situación 2011 (Situation) is a key example of Muntadas’ artistic approach. It explores the world-renowned Spanish museum Reina Sofia, zooming in on the relationship between the original building, built in the late eighteenth century by Francesco Sabatini, and an extension added in 2005, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. The video was made on the occasion of Muntadas’ 2011 exhibition Entre/Between shown at the institution. It focuses predominantly on the interstitial spaces where the two buildings, carrying largely different historical and cultural connotations, are joined, filming the four floors of liminal spaces, including staircases, hallways and elevators, where the structures fuse together. By also including conversations with several professionals who directly shaped or have been affected by this architectural intervention, including Nouvel, the work reveals the crucial effects of the extension that implies foremost economic (corporate), spatial, performative, and aesthetic shifts related to both the museum as a cultural symbol and its everyday functioning.
The artist duo Little Warsaw (András Gálik and Bálint Havas) conceived of The Body of Nefertiti in 2003 for the Hungarian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale: a bronze statue of a headless female body that gains meaning through a video piece, which shows the sculpture as it is being attached to the legendary bust of Nefertiti, conserved at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. After lengthy verbal exchanges with the artist, it is Dietrich Wildung, the museum’s director himself, who executes the act. Although it lasts only a few minutes, the unification of Nefertiti’s bust and the statue of her body brings to the fore a number of questions by engaging a dialogue that is both temporal (35 centuries separate the statues), artistic (the place of contemporary art is confronted with ancient and established art) and even geographic (a statue produced in Hungary exhibited in Venice unites with an Egyptian statue in Berlin). Not everyone appreciates the encounter of the two statues and Egyptian state officials, shocked by the intervention, will go as far as to reclaim the return of the bust to Egypt. Inspired by conceptual processes, the work of Little Warsaw engages the boundaries between diverging contexts. Here, the work engages the encounter between two works coming from spheres a priori foreign to the world of art, establishing in this way a structure of exchange and dialogue.
The video The Course of Things guides our attention to the ways in which cinematic codes inform our perception and interpretation of the everyday. With these issues in mind, collectif_fact filmed the visitors and staff of the Museum of Natural History in London over the course of several days as they unknowingly become characters of a suspense film.
The video, in oscillating between fiction and reality, plays on the audience’s expectations and its abilities to tell its own stories. The people, seemingly chosen at random, appear to exchange meaningful glances or to chase each other, with the museum becoming a veritable film set. Through montage strategies, collectif_fact manipulates moments of imbalance and pushes the quotidian into drama, anxiety into tranquility. The voice of Alfred Hitchcock, taken from the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents is added to these captivating images, allowing us to observe particular elements, heighten our interest and add narrative details that guide us through this curious visit. At every turn, doubt appears and scattered clues activate our imagination, turning the museum into a potential site of criminal activity. In “fictionalizing” its scenes, collectif_fact confronts the spectator with the power of images to intimate what is not there.
Frederick Wiseman is a seminal American documentary filmmaker, whose work frequently zooms in on institutions of various types, from mental health facilities (Titicut Follies, 1967) to special police forces (Domestic Violence, 2001) to spaces of cultural production (Ballet, 1995). His stylistic approach hinges on a lack of explanatory elements habitually associated with the genre such as talking heads and voiceovers or even a clearly discernible dramatic arch, although his films are filled with emotion and narrative intensity. Wiseman constructs a fully engaging portrait of the spaces he records in lengthy films (usually well over two hours) that delicately balance the weight of large-scale institutional structures with the myriads of personal stories and experiences attached to them. National Gallery focuses on the eponymous British museum in London and provides a multi-layered exposé of its functions as a place that shows art, but also engages in issues of restoration and education. Wiseman’s nuanced view takes turns in showing us curators, conservators, framers, and educators, as well as the many faces of the public visitors alongside the mesmerizing collection of high points of Western art. In doing this, his film ultimately exposes the tension between these diverging aims of the museum as a site bound by infrastructural and bureaucratic systems of operation, and the endlessly dynamic relationship between the works of art and our perception of it, one that is nevertheless rarely fully detached from the institutional context within which we consume art.
Marion Tampon-Lajariette’s installation Panorama proposes an image of a monumental lunar landscape in black and white, evoking those taken by the crew of the Apollo 11 when it completed the first successful landing on the moon in 1969. These over-mediatized images, even accused of being faked pictures of the moon landing produced at the studios of Stanley Kubrick, have taken on a fictionalized, cultish aura. Coming from the scientific realm, the pictures have become archetypes of a spatial imaginary that continue to influence the aesthetic of the fantastic ever since. Panorama, comprised of twelve distinct impressions, is part of a new series of works in which the artist experiments with the representation of antique statues that are turned into imaginary cosmic landscapes. The techniques of reproduction and representation chosen by the artist, including enlargement, fragmentation, close up and cropping, magnifies and at the same time distances the actual museal object that is photographed. “Marion Tampon-Lajariette’s work concerns the ways in which the imaginary, the fictional, and the hypothetical feeds knowledge. The artist incites reflection on different cultural filters that allow us to understand the world in a particular way, both within an intimate and a collective framework.”
British artist Redmond Entwistle explores the relationship between the analytical stakes of language and the material frameworks of artistic production in the context of American minimal art of the 1960s. Armed with a map, three protagonists go on to explore New Jersey in a mythical quest. They visit the industrial suburbs of the country from Montclair to Englewood, from Bayonne to Passaic, iconic sites of artistic interventions by three foremost artists of the 1960s: Dan Graham (Homes for America), Gordon Matta-Clark (Splitting and Bingo) and Robert Smithson (Monuments of Passaic). In the film, actors interpret, or “reproduce” the three artists who recite dialogue taken exclusively from their writings and documents. In tracing the history of their artistic explorations, the film documents both the decline of the industrial region of the state and functions as a type of allegory for the effects of relentless globalization on the United States since the 1960s.
The Belgian filmmaker Jef Cornelis had a prolific career as a filmmaker working predominantly for television between 1964 and 1998, producing a series of documentary works on art, architecture and literature that can be retrospectively framed as essay films. His vision provided a probing, critical and intellectually grounded approach to his subjects, which ranged from issues of urbanism to reports on key figures of contemporary art in Belgium as well as abroad. Working within the mass medium of television while frequently exposing abstract, experimental artistic work, his oeuvre fully exposed issues related to the wide reach of television broadcasts and the relatively marginal position of avant-garde art within the wider cultural sphere. The earliest documentaries he made for Belgian TV already reveal his poetic and careful methodical style as well as his keenness to capture the delicate interplay of the Flemish landscape, discreet historical sites, and the objects as well as the people that inhabit these spaces. Filmed with elegantly flowing camera movements, these elements together form a compelling unity bound by the foregrounding of architectural details and compositions as crucial sites of Belgian cultural patrimony. The film featured here, was made in 1964 and focuses on the historical site of the Park Abbey Heverlee.
///// János Sugár / Persian Walk (1985)
///// Muntadas / Situación (2011)
///// Little Warsaw / The Body of Nefertiti (2003)
///// Frederick Wiseman / National Gallery (2014)
///// Redmond Entwistle / Monuments (2010)
///// Jef Cornelis / Abdij van Park Heverlee (1964)