WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY, at Palais de Tokyo

The refugee crisis seen through the lens of contemporary art has been a recurring source of debate in the past year. What can the art world could do to raise awareness around refugees’ travelling and living conditions? How can artistic engagement change our society’s relationship with migration? Where do we draw the line between awareness and emotional exploitation, education and pathos? Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Green Light’ participatory installation working with refugees at the Venice Biennale attracted both praise and doubts about the efficiency of such a manoeuver, at risk of instrumentalizing a crisis in spite of good intentions. Similarly, Ai Weiwei’s political artistic initiatives made headlines and provoked debate about the limits of art’s activist efficiency. These works revolving around visual impact and participation contrast with focused documentary work, such as Daniela Ortiz’s recent exhibition ABC of Racist Europe   at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. In a series of interviews with refugees and grassroots activists she explores the nature of migratory control systems and European states’ hypocrisy in waving a public “Refugees Welcome!” flag while secretly organising deportations.

Artistic reactions and involvement are therefore wide-ranging and diverse in nature. However, while there are no right or wrong ways of educating and raising awareness or support, there is a recurring sentiment artistic and charity organisations do not neccessarily have a shared network allowing for productive exchanges around the subject. This is why initiatives such as WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY are essential, providing a framework for collaboration between two systems sharing the same ideals with different tools at their disposal. The charity auction, precededed by an exhibition till the 21st at the Palais de Tokyo, will be organized by Christie’s at the Gallery Azzedine Alaïa. Its proceeds will benefit five NGOs working directly with refugees and migrants to advocate for their integration and rights. The initiative is led by Julie Boukobza, Chantal Crousel, Blanche de Lestrange, Niklas Svennung and Marine van Schoonbeek, in direct collaboration with the NGOs La Cimade, Migreurop, Centre Primo Levi, Thot and Anafé. Charity auctions benefiting refugees in Paris and throughout France have thankfully already existed – involving contemporary art but also photographs taken by refugees themselves, as well as the locks from the Pont des Arts. However this is first of its kind in Europe to involve an internationally recognised selection of contemporary artists with strong museum and gallery representation. 

The exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo showing the donated works of 26 contemporary artists should not be mistaken with an exhibition specifically about or illustrating the refugee crisis. While many of the works do reflect some of the artists’ concerns with political and migratory themes, others do not neccessarily draw an immediate comparison, nor are they required to. This is not a show in which the refugee crisis become the direct, quite literal subject of works so much as part of an underlying, broader theme. As Chantal Crousel indicated in her speech during the exhibition’s opening, the aim is to show how refugees’ situations reflected concerns artists harbour about identity in a context of displacement and doubt. In this particular context, this approach gives space for many of the works to reflect broader aesthetics and feelings around the theme of migration, identity and society.

24 HD Rirkrit Tiravanija
Rirkrit Tiravanija untitled 2017 (we dream under the same sky, new york times, january 26, 2017) 2017 Peinture à la main sur papier journal / Handpaint on news paper 228,6 x 185,4 cm / 89.7 x 72.8 in. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

Rirkrit Tiravanija, untitled (we dream under the same sky, new york times, january 26, 2017) (2017) is a new work created for the exhibition which immediately responds to migration and xenophobia by directly painting his statement on the pages of the New York Times announcing Donald Trump’s devastating “Immigration Ban”. A comparison can be drawn with Wade Guyton’s work Untitled (2016), using screencaptures from the same newspaper to challenge the way in which migration is being represented by the media. Oscar Tuazon’s Reading bench 5 (wild ways/services for nomads) (2016) is a bench through which the pages of the magazine Vonulife by an Oregon collective in the 1970s can be read. Standing for VOLuntary Non vULnerable, the collective advocated freedom and nomadism in a refusal to interact with state structures. Its presence in the exhibition allows for the work to take on new meanings around nomadism, freedom and identity.

18C HD Anri Sala 3
Anri Sala Le jour de gloire 2017 Encre sur papier minéral, triptyque / Ink on stone paper, three parts Chacun : 40 x 29,7 cm / Each: 15 3/4 x 11 6/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

A beautiful and sensitive triptych by Anri Sala explores his work practice working directly with refugees in relation to his exploration of sound. Le jour de gloire (2017) is the result of a three-day workshop with refugees in which each of them produced images, drawings and objects related to their experiences. The tonality and rythm of Le jour de gloire corresponds to the layout of the apples in the triptych while presumably challenging the integrity of French republican values facing the welcoming of refugees in terms of our hymn and, implicitely, the motto liberté, égalité, fraternité. This subtle approach relying on several layers of interpretation and viewing also applies to Adel Abdessemed’s Chicos (2015) for whom migration and violence are recurring themes. His use of porcelain to represent two smiling children refers to kitsch decoration and imagery, subverted here to refer to the plight of child soldiers and the loss of innocence.

11 HD Mona Hatoum
Mona Hatoum Afghan (red and orange) 2008 Laine / Wool
 107 x 180 cm / 42 1/8 x 70 7/8 in. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris © photo : Florian Kleinefenn

Abraham Cruzvillegas’ new work specifically conceived for the sale, Self Constructed Upside Down Shelter (2017) associates his interest in the dynamics of craft and reclaimed materials with the theme of migration, with a copper-plated, reversed world map on which all borders have been erased. The world map reclaimed and reinterpreted outside of a Eurocentric or American world view is a common theme in Mona Hatoum’s work, while letting domectic and socio-political issues confront and collide as part her practice. Her work Afghan (red and orange) (2008) reprises this subject. The eroded shape of a world map on the traditional carpet reveals a view of the world based on the Projection of Peters,  rendering each country to scale and thus allowing for a more realistic representation of the African and Asian continents. Danh Vō ‘s work Promised Land (2017), created for the sale, relates to the themes of migration and cultural identity present in his work. His gilding of the lettering on a piece of cardboard seems to poke fun at the expectations and ideals we can ascribe to objects and the countries they are associated with. Its light-hearted but intimate message reflects Vō’s practice, which often resonates with his experiences as a Vietnamese-born Danish artist.

The abstract and multifaceted nature of the works does not soften the project into a feel-good, do-good initiative without any hard facts on migratory policy in sight. On the contrary, an integral part of the exhibition and week-long initiative leading up to the sale on the 27th is to raise awareness around each of the beneficiaries’ works by letting them have centre-stage. Every evening, free and open conferences take place in the exhibition space during which each NGO has room to launch conversations and debates about their activities and the condition of refugees in France. The fact that this is happening in Paris is all the more important. The refugee crisis here is not an abstract concern but a tangible and shameful reality in which individuals in seek of asylum or a better life are denied basic human rights and living conditions. Xenophobia and racism have not died down since Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential elections. “No room for homeless people, but at the same time centers for migrants continue to open,” declared journalist Jean-Pierre Pernaut earlier this month, on privatised and most widely watched French television channel TF1. This is only one example of the way in which the refugee crisis is either scapegoated or normalized. This was notably the case for a recent French maths textbook using the increasing arrival of refugees to teach children about percentages. (The manual has since been withdrawn to be reprinted).

Thus, the involvement of five NGOs with five different priorities is all the more essential, raising awareness about what needs to be done on so many levels and educating exhibition-goers about many unhealthy assumptions we may have internalized (such as picturing refugees as more worthy of being welcomed than migrants coming for economical purposes). Migreurop are a network of activists conducting research on the EU’s exclusion policies, raising awareness around detention and deporatation as well as the closure of borders. The Centre Primo Levi focuses upon refugees suffering from trauma related to torture and political violence, while Thot is a school for migrants and refugees, teaching French and facilitating their inclusion into society. While Anafé concentrates on human rights at borders and “waiting zones” with dire living conditions, La Cimade deals with asylum and integration rights. The focus on different needs for refugees and migrants alike is all the more important to give the visitor increased awareness of what needs to be acheived, beyond a blanket “refugees welcome!” statement. It is genuinely rare to leave an exhibition with so much activist information at your disposal. At the door as I arrived, peaceful protesters were holding placards with a familiar name – that of Cédric Herrou, condemned for his help towards refugees as a concerned French citizen. While grassroots activism and individual involvement are admittedly not a part of WE DREAM’s activist representation, it is difficult to leave the space without considering our individual responsability towards the people we welcome into our countries.

Art and activism must form more networks and initiatives to work together, to balance ideals with calls to action in spaces geared towards information and debate. This exhibition and its charity sale is important for a number of reasons, beyond the financial support and social awareness it will raise. It shows what can happen when artistic and charity networks merge to bring their individual expertise to the table for a dynamic and solidarous exchange. It would be sadly optimistic to think we’ll need less of these initiatives in the future. Nevertheless, these projects bring hope that the art world will know how to anticipate, mobilise and organise with increasing skill, passion and commitment to relieve further suffering and injustice.

WE DREAM UNDER THE SAME SKY, at Palais de Tokyo till the 21st of September, charity benefit sale at Galerie Azzedine Alaïa on the 27th September

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Golem at Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme in Paris

If (as the Greek affirmed in the Cratylus)
the name is archetype of the thing
in the letters of “rose” is the rose
and all the Nile in the word “Nile”.

 And, made of consonants and vowels,
there’ll be a terrible Name, which
guards in precise letters and syllables
the ciphered essence of God and the Omnipotence.

The verses in Spanish recited in a low rumbling voice by Luis Borges himself invade the darkened space, a cryptic and lyrical introduction to our exhibition’s main protagonist as a video of Jakob Gautel’s performance Matière Première (1999) sees the slow modelling, perfecting and . The Golem is the iconic creature of Jewish lore, a mass of man-shaped clay which comes to live when the word EMET (truth) is carved into its forehead, and returning to a pile of dust and dirt as soon as a letter is removed to form MET (death). From the onset, however, it is obvious that this will not simply be a historical account of a legend, but rather an exploration of the ways in which its presence has trickled down into art, science-fiction, cinema and even video games. Beyond the fantasy of the creature coming to life, there are deeper-seated meanings. The Golem represents the tension between being animated and being truly “alive” as a person. Furthermore, like Frankenstein and his monster, a vast part of the Golem’s myth lies in relation to its maker. The most famous protagonist of the Golem legend is Rabbi Löw, the 16th century Maharal of Prague, who created the Golem of Prague to defend the Jewish ghetto from antisemitic pogroms. Beyond the myth and its power as a symbol of resistance, the tension between creator and creature, maker and object, have fed into the collective artistic conscience up until now.

Thirsting to know what God knows,
Judah Loew arranged permutations
of letters and complex variations
and finally pronounced the Name: the Key,

the Door, the Echo, the Guest and the Palace,
over a doll which with clumsy hands
he carved, to teach it the secrets
of the Letters, of Time and of Space.

1. Wegener.jpg
Paul Wegener, Le Golem, comme il vint au monde, 1920.
Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin © succession Paul Wegener

This is a peculiar exhibition which escapes any attempt to categorise by object, preferring a loose thematic which starts at the basics of the legends then unfurls into questions of personhood, resistance and artificial intelligence. Rather than being relegated to a special room, a sideline to the historical content, contemporary art is present from the very beginning. It is deeply rooted into the space of the exhibition with the work of Lionel Sabatté, Smile in Dust (2016) which uses the dust picked up in the museum itself to create a composite portrait of the Golem, highlighting the fragility of a creature born from dust and the poignant image of a figure born from a collective Jewish heritage and imagination. This is because the Golem has never been a fixed historical and legendary figure: his significance is as malleable as the clay he is made of. The expressive and dramatic films of the 1920s and 1930s reveal the Golem as a political figure but also a subjective one. It is inevitable to misread the Golem from Wegnerer’s Der Golem (1915) as anything but a figure of resistance against a dangerously growing antisemetic sentiment. The same case can be made in no subtle terms by Julien Duvivier’s Golem in 1936. However, Jean Kerchbon’s 1967 film chooses to portray the Golem as just another facet of the main protagonist, away from political concerns into the psychological. Both films use experimental camera work to convey the statue coming to life – shaky camerawork and plunging shots channeling a tense and erratic state of mind.  This feeling runs throughout the exhibition: the Golem is the reflection of what we create and what we fear to become.

8. Kiefer.jpg
Anselm Kiefer
Rabi Low : Der Golem, 1988-2012
95 × 95 × 58 cm
Anselm Kiefer, courtesy galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris-Salzbourg

The figure becomes a signifier for Jewish resistance in visual culture as well as an interrogation on existence and agency. Navigating throughout the exhibition, Joann Sfar’s comic on the Golem rubs shoulders with a Minecraft-style animation in which the creature comes to life to wreak pixellated havoc. Further away, Niki de St-Phalle’s golem is a strange but benevolent monster which children can use as a slide in a garden in Jerusalem. Anselm Kiefer’s interpretation, meanwhile, in Rabi Löw: Der Golem (1988-2012) is more abstract and solemn, the Golem trapped in its original form to which its creator’s name is attached. It is as if representation itself has become too much: the very idea and notion of the creature which would emerge from a mound of matter becomes enough. Kiefer’s particular work around German memory and pain, combines with his interest in kabbala lore, takes on the mythos of the Golem with purposes that are clearly understood yet never explicitely stated. In the space, its presence feels commemorative, like a space of prayer, a feeling heightened by the work by Christian Boltanski next to it. In Le Golem (1988) the creature is reduced to a silhouette, a play of light and shadow.  The main criticism of the exhibition could be that it had so many complex strands to play with that some may have become tangled along the way. The way in which the Golem was a part of comic-book pop culture alongside the Incredible Hulk feels slightly dissonant; so do the video-game interventions which feel more like a fleeting argument that a powerful statement. Far more interesting is the notion of what it means to animate an idea and to toy with this concept, playing God until it is taken too far.  Jan Svankmajer’s Darkness Light Darkness (1989) is a dark and funny take on a clay body defining and constructing itself into existence in a process that is both grostesque and engrossing.

The final part of the exhibition is compelling in and of itself and was perhaps what I was really looking for in the contemporary, pop-cultural references: the current feeling of unease we have when we face our own sentient but non-human creations. The iconic robot from Metropolis looms over the visitors as the Golem’s legacy updated into artificial intelligence is unravelled beautifully, from Hiroshi Ishiguro’s uncanny twin android to Lars Lundsröm’s series Real Humans about a society in which robots have developed emotions and a thirst for agency.  Fritz Lang’s Metropolis robot, Maria, towers gracefully over the proceedings as the golem of the new age. Our anxieties and fascination around robots and artificial intelligence shows that what the Golem represents has never disappeared. In fact, the Golem feels more powerfully conveyed through silicone and metal than clay. The exhibition does not attempt to attribute any moral or immoral commentary on artificial intelligence. Instead, it does exactly what the Golem does in the first place as an enduring piece of Jewish mythology trickled into the mainstream. It raises a mirror to the fears and hopes we have about creating animate beings, the anxiety and fantasy of looking up to powerful beings who could also destroy us if they spin out of control.

10. Metropolis
Walter Schulze- Mittendorff
Copie, réalisée par Moulages du Louvre en 1994, de Maria, le robot du film Metropolis
(1926) de Fritz Lang
Résine peinte, 190 × 74 × 59 cm
Paris, Cinémathèque française

 

The Japanese House at Barbican Centre

A chaotic queue of people leaving their luggage at the cloakroom and half blocking the doors to the exhibition entrance created a strange contrast with the calm and minimalistic atmosphere I found there when I made it past the doors. As a display text unfurled on the right, a white staircase awaited ahead, underneath which I noticed a neat little kitchen, as though I was about to intrude on someone’s breakfast. It takes a few moments to adjust to the clever and artfully executed premise of The Japanese House: an exhibition and an installation rolled in one, both explaining the particularities of Japanese postwar architecture and showing it through an impressive to-scale reconstruction. Ambitious, sleek and beautiful, the exhibition is as flawless in design as it is dense in terms of information, providing an insight into the newfound creativity of architecture as an extension of Japanese art, traditions and ways of life.

Indeed, the display works best when objects and models give us an insight into the tension and harmony between tradition and innovation, continuity and change exemplified by the post-war years. Kiyoshi Seike’s furniture and design is compelling in its use of the codes of Japanese craft interconnecting seamlessly with modernist minimalism. Less is more, but is no less complex and multi-layered in its approach to Japanese history and international contemporary trends. However, another aspect of Japanese architecture and design is revealed, revolving around a messier, more organic approach to the home. Concrete may be associated closely to urban spaces but in Junzo Yoshimura’s Mountain Lodge A the concrete foundations raising the wooden lodge up to counter the risks of humidity and create a continuity with the forest floor. The lodge was for Yoshimura’s own personal use to fulfill his wish of living “like a bird atop a tree”. Further along, a surprising but welcome fashion element adds itself to the mix, as we encounter Kosuke Tsumura’s Final Home unisex coat, a transparent plastic trenchcoat covered in pockets which are padded with cloth and newspaper for insulation. The designer describes cloth as a protective element, creating a “mobile house” for the urban wanderer (surprisingly, issues relating to homelessness are not taken into account.). A particularly insightful room gives the usually dry experience of viewing architectural models a new twist, in a spectacular display showing experiments in house forms as a form of playfulness, experimentation and spirituality. Yuusuke Karasawa’s s-house, for instance (below), attempts to absorb and emulate references from the computer and cybernetics in order to incorporate them into a housing design. The result is a small, delicate and thoughtful masterpiece, presented like a jewel-like relic in dramatic lighting in a dark, immersive environment. The house appears as the site for not only an established way of living, but as part of a wider network of proposals for new, utopian lifestyles.

3. The Japanese House, Architecture and Life after 1945, Installation, Miles Willis, Getty Images (1)

The main talking point of the show, however, is not its content but rather its design. The Barbican Centre acheived the impressive feat of reconstructing the rooms from the Moriyama House designed by architect Ryue Nishizaw on a 1:1 scale. The meticulous care taken in recreating the house’s atmosphere extends to every tiny detail, every book or trinket placed with delicat, minimalistic care. Walking through these rooms at the centre of the display is oddly soothing and satisfying. The exhibition’s greatest acheivement is the way in which it seamlessly managed to navigate between this experience of the Moriyama House and the information on display about post-war Japanese architecture. Circling around the space makes the visitor alternate between reading the text and viewing the displays and models, and looking down into the garden with glimpses into some of the rooms, as the lighting subtly changes from dawn to dusk. This allows the notions to distill quietly and reach their full potential when you walk throughout the space.

6. The Japanese House, Architecture and Life after 1945, Installation, Miles Willis, Getty Images (32)

The installation is impressive, smart and unapologetically Instagrammable…not that there is anything wrong with that. I was happily snapping away with other people and was already reimagining my quaintly minimalistic lifestyle, complete with a nonchalant pile of Jean Cocteau poetry books next to a potted plant, beneath a Nouvelle Vague poster. It almost tempted me to pick up Marie Kondo’s The Magic of Tidying, before I realised I would never commit to keeping only the items which “sparked joy” and would instead commit to keeping countless quantities of years-old museum tickets and used-up pens as I do now. The immersive act of living and walking through the house is strange in its familiarity and remoteless, like a space half lived-in but somewhat unattainable.

The exhibition has pulled off a second ambitious installation with the presence of Terunobu Fujimori’s teahouse, custom-made for the purposes of the space. It is a strange liminal space in the display, navigating between its function as a ritual space for tea and as a dream-like bubble made for dreaming and silence. The sensitivity and sincerity of the space is palpable in the behind the scenes snippets Barbican Centre have provided on their blog.  People must queue, remove their shoes at the entrance (only six people at a time). A boy is staying there and playing on his phone, as people come and go. I feel as thought he has probably accidentally grasped the concept of passing time and contemplation inherent to the Tea House better than most other visitors have. The paradox of a queue of people waiting five minutes for one minute of serenity in a small designer teahouse is not lost on me (flashbacks from the overclogged cloakroom return). Perhaps this is the main issue. It is difficult to appreciate these spaces as a user rather than a fleeting visitor. I do not feel as though they could be lived in or experienced as anything other than a exhibit without a single object left out of place. Ironically, it felt as though the aesthetic of the exhibition left no room to consider its potential or intended inhabitants. There is more “architecture” than “life” in the display as a whole.

12. The Japanese House, Architecture and Life after 1945, Barbican Art Gallery, photo by Ben Tynegate

Furthermore, while this unique and ambitious installation and design made much to recreate the experience and aesthetic of “the Japanese House”, it became difficult to grasp its deeper meaning and emotional reach. It even ran the risk of vehiculating stereotypes about Japanese culture based on an incomplete stories and a few fleeting assumptions, whereas the house itself was quite one-of-a-kind. The Moriyama House was a special commission for a hermit-like owner, so the house is quite a unique reflection of his contemplative and seculuded life. Yet, there is no information at hand in the exhibition itself to explain the kind of conversations and changes that may have taken place between the architect and the homeowner. It does have the advantage, however, of making an architecture exhibition feel more accessible and less dry: seeing children play and enjoy the garden and changing lights while their parents read the information is the best argument for the installation alone.

The exhibition’s main argument is that there is not a “single” Japanese House however the access to information about other housing types is not explored sufficiently in-depth for this to become the main point to carry away from the display.  Kosuke Tsumura’s coat and Junzo Yoshimura organic lodge are in fact good examples: they both spark curiosity in their singularity but there is too much to cover for a focus on the slightly stranger examples of architecture, design and its cultural impact on visual culture. The best way to navigate the exhibition is to cater it to your intersts, jot down as many names as possible and construct a strong basis for further research. This said, the full extent of architecture’s impact on film is excellent, with two separately screenings showing live-action and animation sequences respectively (viewing Miyazaki film extracts in a zen-like artificial garden was just as serene an experience as the tea house – if not more so). Great length are taken to explain the social and political symbols behind architecture in terms of openings, enclosures, entrapments and shifts in the structures and their use on screen.

With a fascinating range of design and architecture, the exhibition shines through its flawless design and aesthetic but experiences issues when it comes to condensing its selection, which could have provided more information with more focused examples. As the architectural stars of the exhibition express all too clearly after all: less is more.

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, at the Barbican Centre until the 25th of June.
Between 14 and 25? Check out the free Young Barbican membership for exhibition discounts. I essentially signed up in five minutes on my phone and got in for five pounds. 

Credits for all images: The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, Installation View, Barbican Art Gallery, London, 23 March – 25 June 2017, Photo by Miles Willis / Getty Images

BLU’s street art animation

Street art mocks permanence and stillness. Even though there may be a documented trace of a graffiti on a wall, nothing can predict the length of time it shall stay up, whether it will stand its ground for years or barely a night. It could stand the test of time or end up covered in countless other layers of street art or censoring paint. However, the power lies in its creation and its interaction with a space that remains unclaimed and untamed, without artistic boundaries. Perhaps, then, it made sense that street art would meet animation within Blu’s work.

Blu is an anonymous Italian artist, who has been doing street art for years, working with white housepaint and black outlines to convey monstrous, changing figures with social and political sharpness, adapting to the architectural space and political mood of the city to his murals, always created within a space for free. Even though Blu has been noticed by museums and galleries alike, collaboration has not always been successful: he was invited by the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Francisco to paint a mural for their “Art in the Street” exhibition which was promptly covered up the next day. Most recently, his animosity towards street art within the museum took a distinctly radical turn. Upon learning in March about the exhibition Banksy: Street Art & Co in Palazzo Pepoli, within his home town of Bologna, in which his street art featured amongst many others that had been removed from the street without their artist’s consent, he painted over 20 years’ worth of his street art within the city. The gesture was a defiant sign of protest against the commodification and hoarding of art that ought to remain within the public realm. He has also painted over his own work to resist an area’s gentrification because of it.

Resisting stagnation and fears of destruction, sometimes conducting it willingly in order to move forward, it perhaps made sense that Blu would look towards animation. The animated mural he worked on in Buenos Aires, MUTO, took him a year to complete, for seven minutes of film.

It is a disturbing and dynamic metamorphosis in constant evolution, which maps the walls of a run-down part of the city, spreading into rubble and derelict buildings. Just as one painting replaces another to create movement on the walls, the effects of this creation are left visible, through the white paint residue of erased artwork and the time-lapse of the sky, moving cars and passers-by. The effect is not “clean” or seamless, on the contrary letting us peer through all the cracks, breaking the illusion. In another animated mural, BIG BANG BIG BOOM, the painters themselves are left as part of the final effect. This only adds to the effect when the paintings interact with actual objects; here, Blu also plays with stop-motion animation on city objects and detritus of the everyday, as well as some passers-by turned actors.

Animation has no rules – except, perhaps, the constraint of expressing a succession of images in sequence. The original animations  were made on Ancient Egyptian murals so that charioteers riding past at full speed could see different images following each other at such a rate that persistance of vision would blend them into a movement. In the same way, Blu’s EVOLUTION OF MAN , while not a video in itself, would probably create an animated effect at a faster speed – or would slow the process of animation and change down into a thoughtful, contemplative walk alongside the walls of an anonymous street to follow the stories of an anonymous artist.

Blu’s animated stories have only one space in which their display reflects their true spirit: the street. Attempting to preserve a fragment of the story warps its driving creative force, the power it draws from the ephemeral, the city and its fleeting encounters.

Jake Fried

Defining where animation ends and where it begins starts with the trickiness in defining what is “animated” and what is not. Is the “illusion” of movement all it takes? Or are there more subtle rules at play? Or is there simply a way to make everything animate itself depending on how you see it? Time-lapses of paintings have a fascinating animated quality as the drawing’s process makes it comes to life, layered over time. In the same way, adding and subtracting becomes movement.

This idea of process and change is at the heart of Jake Fried’s work. His animation is defined by his beginnings as a painter seeking a way to record a painstaking process in constructing his works, before realizing that the evolution itself was the artwork. He uses ink and white correction liquid among other materials to let his work animate itself through constant, breathless changes, never suggesting movement but letting the collage of patterns and fantasies create it anyway in our mind.

The excruciating detail is barely admired before it is already lost into layering, adding and taking away as the accumulation of details creates the animation rather than any distinct element. His work is face-paced and feverish, playing with chaos and melancholy as well as paradoxes and surrealism. Dürer and Escher come to mind in terms of greyscale and precise layering, accompanied by a certain sense of claustrophobia. Even Jacques Villeglé’s work, creating new meanings and narratives by lacerating advertising posters, seems to resonate with this work.  A new kind of engraving or collage that is paradoxically both immobile and in motion emerges in Fried’s work, one white-out line at a time.

Jacques-Villeglé-Les-Présidentielles-1981-1
Jacques Villeglé, Les Présidentielles, 1981
cycle
M.C Escher, Cycle, 1939
Melencolia I (B. 74; M., HOLL. 75)*engraving  *24 x 18.8 cm *1514
Dürer, Melencolia I, 1514

Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson Curates The Hepworth Wakefield

You could be forgiven for not knowing about Wakefield, but not about giving up on visiting one of the most visually stunning museums inYorkshire, if not the UK, just because it’s about two hours from London by train. That’s almost as much as it takes to cross London during rush hour, and the destination will yield far more surprising and satisfactory results. The gallery was created purposefully to house Barbara Hepworth’s gigantic, spectacular plaster casts, with an architecture opening up the building to the light. At the turn of a nondescript cluster of outlet stores, coming across this serene block moored in the midst of the river is like coming across a strange alien structure fallen out of the sky. It is all the more arresting in this particular context, after a long pilgrimage from the station, with a suitcase and 9 hours of travelling behind me. This is a space which has the rare quality of being as breath-taking on the inside as it is compelling on the inside, its functionality and openness making the works breathe and live within the space with complete effortlessness, far from being a sterile white cube. There is something unique about gazing upon the river below through a Hepworth as evening falls and the light changes. I fell in love at first sight. And as if that were not enough, Hepworth Wakefield then reunited me with a long-lost love – fashion and art curated together.

It’s not that I do not like fashion exhibitions or the complex and fascinating ways in which art history has informed the design, history and evolution of fashion. It’s purposefully because I do care deeply about fashion that I feel dissappointed when art-and-fashion juxtaposed together do not do each other justice. Art inspiring fashion is more than a Mondrian dress, just as fashion inspiring art is more than Jeff Koons’ “Fashion Loves Art” line with H&M (or his more high end collaboration with Vuitton only recently). None of these elements are bad in themselves, but they barely skim the surface of a entire range of possibilities and issues. These are the issues which the designer JW Anderson manages to sum up with a simple premise unfurling into a range of beautiful visual questions: the human body through 20th and 21st century  fashion, design and art. It reads like a love letter to the transformation, sublimation and subversion of bodies, beyond the beautiful or the aesthetic.

Installation shot of Disobedient Bodies JW Anderson curates The Hepworth Wakefield Photo Lewis Ronald Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield
Installation shot of Disodebient Bodies: JW Anderson Curates the Hepworth Wakefield. Photo Lewis Ronald. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield

While ambitious, the exhibition never seems to work too hard for anyone’s approval. The prestigious selection has Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois and Sarah Lucas alongside Rei Kawabuko (Comme des Garçons), Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Dior in strange, quiet conversations allowing you to work and question juxtapositions rather than face anything too literal. Design is not left out of the equation either, as Eileen Grey’s chair rests faces Jean Arp’s S’Elevant (Rising Up) sculpture expresses the fluidity and ambiguity of human bodies, and earthenware by Mo Jupp reacts to Gerrit Rietveld’s Zig Zag chair. It’s not always neccessary to search too far for answers sometimes. Henry Moore’s Reclining Nude irreverently leads to an iconic pointy-breasted bodice by Jean-Paul Gaultier. A cluster of Sarah Lucas’ eerie ragdolls draped on chairs is juxtaposed with JW Anderson’s trio of elongated knitwear jumpers (above). Softness and transparency, protective armour and movement form categories whose boundaries blur into each other. The text is limited to a simple booklet to allow the visitor to wander through rooms thinly delimitated by Anderson’s vintage fabrics, structuring the space. I usually take it upon myself to only read the booklet after visiting the exhibition, and it’s refreshing to feel as though the display can work as a free association of ideas around the body, without the explanatory text. Interestingly, the rooms are divided up in themes shown in the booklet like “disrupting classicism” and “casting skin. exposing and protecting” but these are not followed by lengthy room texts, simply regrouping a cluster of works and allowing for an extended labels for each. This was excellent in creating some kind of narrative thread without drowning the reader with heavy-handed thematics. There were a huge amount of creators I did not know and learnt from in the exhibition; the booklet still provides a stable resource for me to lean on. I learn from the same booklet that the architectural conception was meant to evoke “an intimate social gathering in someone’s home”. While I’d be absolutely terrified to discover a Hans Bellmer doll (above) in my home, I appreciate the sentiment. It’s all the more interesting to remove art from its stately pedestal and remove fashion from the runway in a display that craves intimacy rather than glamour. There is only one installation in the exhibition: JW Anderson’s 28 jumpers, creating an odd forest of soft, colourful knitwear to wander through.

Installation shot of Disobedient Bodies JW Anderson curates The Hepworth Wakefield Photo Lewis Ronald. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield 7
Installation shot of Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson Curates The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo: Lewis Ronald. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield

Maybe the influx of names can sound a bit intimidating, but that feeling is quickly overtaken by curiosity. In a display of the unpredictable, inhibitions are dropped in favour of discovery. Rather than name-dropping, the exhibition allows us to encounter new names and see familiar works in a new light, like old friends talking about a seldom-talked aspect of themselves. This quote while encountering the fabric and steel work Untitled (1998) by Louise Bourgeois stood out for me:

“Clothes are about what you want to hide. Garments can hold memories and they become specific to a certain time and emotional connection.”  

This exhibition is the first that made me think sincerely about the idea of motion and stillness in looking at clothing – the sense that these are shells waiting for life to be breathed into them by the wearers, for a performance and attitude, and that every choice in tailoring and textile will modify and inform the body it covers. The desire to touch was strong, in order to grasp the power of textile to transform and enhance this sense of motion and create a particular vision of the body.  It was the first time that I stopped seeing fashion items in an exhibition as “exhibits”, and started seeing them as living, breathing entities, interacting with the world around them. In short, I started seeing them as works of art outside of the gallery space, meant to interact in motion. Motion is also at the forefront of Anderson’s concerns in portraying the human body within the exhibition, since a powerful range of videos complete the display and infuse it with particular purpose. Merce Cunningham’s Scenario from 1997 (below), shows the immense influence of the choreographer on modern art as well as fashion (his work was also shown in the recent Robert Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern, as the two men collaborated extensively in terms of staging, clothing and set design).

It would have been interesting to see some of the fashion display items in motion via videos for instance. However, this would have made it a historical fashion exhibition, which was neither the case nor the intention. The exhibition did not neccessarily feel like a fashion history or an art history lesson, nor a design one…and that’s a good thing. Too much encompassed within the intimate space, and too much context weighing down on powerful objects would have overkill. This also has the added purposes of letting contemporary art, design and fashion dialogue peacefully, neither overpowing the other.

Installation shot of Disobedient Bodies JW Anderson curates The Hepworth Wakefield Photo Lewis Ronald Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield 2.jpg
Installation shot of Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson Curates The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo: Lewis Ronald. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield

More than an art-and-fashion exhibition, this is an exhibition with a sincere and powerful message in allowing for us to experience powerful and experimental interpretations of the human body. More than a learning experience it is a unique journey into being aware of the power of object and design to extend our own bodies and reflect them. Like Anderson’s interlocking jumpers, it draws connections in ways you would expect the least, tweaking and subverting expectations. I do feel that in more ways than one this exhibition did change a certain awareness I had about my own body and my relation to it, in its presence, transformation and absence. Being able to create this awareness and experience is the sign of an exhibition which will stay with you for a long time. After a long, physically demanding pilgrimage to a museum as unpredictable as it is beautiful, this experience seemed more than fitting.


Disobedient Bodies: JW Anderson Curates the Hepworth Wakefield is on till 18th June. Free entry 

Also in Wakefield, The Art House provides an excellent visit, with opportunities to discover emerging artists’ practices, and a Migration residency initiative on at the moment seeking to explore issues related to the refugee crisis. This coincides with Juan DelGado’s installation Altered Landscapes. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is also not that far away via a bus or a car if you want to encounter a beautiful open-air gallery to experience sculpture outdoors, as well as discover the current Tony Cragg exhibition.  More culture and contemporary art in Yorkshire.

 

Eli Lotar (1905-1969) at the Jeu de Paume

The first photographers of modern life did not only have an entire realm of subjects and spaces  at their fingertips waiting to be captured on film for the first time . In more ways than one their angles of vision created an entire new language in order to grasp, understand and reflect the world in a new medium. When this language is channelled with enduring sincerity and intensity, its message seems ageless. In a period of crisp smartphone snapshots capturing the energy of places and people, Eli Lotar’s analog black and white photographs from the 20s through to the 60s keep the same timeless power.

“Eli Lotar” might not be a household name in terms of modern photography on the same level as Man Ray or Henri Cartier-Bresson. However, the Romanian photographer’s importance and vision as one of the first photographers of the Parisian avant-garde cannot be doubted. His first retrospective in the 90s at the Centre Pompidou, two decades after his death, started a new reappraisal of his legacy. While the level of knowledge and expertise is apparent throughout the display, it operates extraordinary restraint and clarity, managing to operate an overview of Lotar’s work which is complex yet accessible through a hundred photographs from the Centre Pompidou’s archives as well as private and public collections worldwide. The co-curator of the exhibition, Damarice Amao, completed her thesis on Eli Lotar at université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), adding particular strength to the narrative of the exhibition in which different projects and pathways undertaken by the photographer intertwine without ever tripping us up as readers or visitors.

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Eli Lotar, Untitled, c. 1930-40, donation by M.Jean-Pierre Marchand 2009, Centre Pompidou Collection, MNAM-CCI (c) Eli Lotar

In a setting of greys and whites with space for the black and white works to breathe and for the visitor to wander, we encounter Lotar’s modernity for the first time through his photographic reports for different magazines since the 1920s. As a student of the photographer Germaine Krull, Lotar shares her avant-garde vision: one in which through the photographic lens, the photographer transforms the city into a living, active system of shapes and people.  The “New Vision” titling one of his photographic reportages is one in which the viewer redefines the world through his viewpoint. Nothing could be clearer through the creative angles and compositions Lotar creates, adding to written narratives and creating his own silent stories. This vision is steeped in everyday social life and the streets; despite a few  The most notorious series of magazine photographs is a report on the slaughterhouses of La Villette. More than any other imagery, it captures the eery in-between gaps between the realistic and the fantastical buried in the mundane. A picture of a young man staring down at a pile of entrails rubs shoulders with a series of cows’ legs lines against a wall. Surrealism and a certain strand of the supernatural is shown as a particular viewpoint, not only on a street corner but in relation to the world.

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Eli Lotar, Quinze-Vingt Hospital, 1928, purchased through the patronage of Yves Rocher, 2011. Ancient collection Christian Bouqueret, collection Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI (c) Eli Lotar
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Eli Lotar, At the Slaughterhouses of la Villette, 1929, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (c) Eli Lotar

It is rare to see an exhibition which manages to strike such a good balance between its contents and its design, making the discovery of Eli Lotar’s complex and consequent life work readily accessible to the visitor by breaking down different parts of his life and career expertly. There are many inconveniences that slightly pollute an exhibition’s enjoyment which, here, are solved with simplicity. The simple case of getting rid of archival casings to present facsimiles of magazine cuttings on the wall is perfectly adapted to the exhibition. Purists might not enjoy the fact that the original documents are not on display, but the clutter of documentation in cases which you crowd around and lean over awkwardly is avoided here, to go to the essential. In this context you actually have time to read the cuttings and understand the context in which Eli Lotar’s photojournalism operated. Similarly, the secion of the exhibition related to Eli Lotar’s documentary work is treated with skill, allowing for a cinema space in the midst of the display rather than a separate room, managing to srike a balance between the darkened cinema space with benches and time to reflect and the meanderings of the visitor.

The large screen displays his documentary on Aubervilliers in collaboration with Jacques Prévert in the 1940s; the shots and narrative manage to mingle lyricism with realism, popular songs about the children of Aubervilliers punctuating a scene in which they play and barthe alongside dead cats in the river and the ruins of working-class homes. On the side, a bench and headphones allow for a more intimate experience of Tierra sin pan, the documentary of the Hurdes region in Spain by Luis Buñuel in collaboration with the photographer. The shots were in black and white, but remembering them makes me feel as though they fully captured the sun-drenched colours and lights of the region. The extreme poverty of the people portrayed is emphatic and prompts for revolution rather than voyerism, as their stories mingle with legends and customs lost between pagan rituals and Christian values.

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Eli Lotar, Las Hurdes, c. 1935, donation of Anne-Marie and Jean-Pierre Marchand 1993, Centre Pompidou Collection, MNAM-CCI (c) Eli Lotar

The thematic choice of the exhibition as allows for a clear overview not only of Lotar’s versatility but also the way in which connections unfurl beween his different projects. These subjects and themes loosely flowing into each other show a problematic at the heart of Lotar’s work floating between documentary and poetry, the objective and the subjecive in order to eventually choose or compromise on neither. From surrealist photomontages, we then encounter his set collaborations with absurdist and satrical playwrights such as Alfred Jarry. A photojournalistic voyage to Greece shows his attention divided between the portrayal of the Greek landscape and its inhabitants and the representation of Cycladic statues. At the very end of the exhibition, we then encounter a particular sculpture staring back at us. Few exhibitions escaping traditional chronology would have chosen to end rather than begin with a spectacular bust of Eli Lotar by Giacometti, yet here it was by the exit, in a silent conversation with a strange self-portrait: a photograph of the bust by Lotar himself, somehow infusing it with his own presence and viewpoint. Lotar was Giacometti’s last male model, and in return Lotar would confer a particular vision upon the sculptor’s work, made visible in the exhibition through contact sheets exploring his workshop. The relation between the sculpture and the photograph taken of it merges with that of the sculptor and his model. The writer Giorgo Soavi described the complete immobility of Lotar, captured in sculpture:

“[Giacometti’s] gaze shone with a strange glimmer, his body vibrating from head to toe, only able to follow the impulses guiding his hands, his arms, his legs: he was in ecsasy. Observing closely the two faces, I understood the secret allowing Lotar not to breathe: Eli was the perfect model for this sculpture because Eli was dead. He did not breathe, he did not think, remained concentrated till the very end. An electric current linked the artist to the model, uniting them in true complicity. They played together, without a ball, or a racquet, or a net.”

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Eli Lotar, Giacometti, bust of Lotar, 1965, donation by Anne-Marie and Jean-Pierre Marchand 1993, Centre Pompidou Collection, MNAM-CCI (c) Eli Lotar
In many ways it takes this outsider’s insight on Eli Lotar himself to start to understand who he is as a person raher than a photographer. The particular aura around the bust itself is elusive, his gaze vulnerable yet mysterious. Like Lotar’s own work it promises the opportunity to look back again with a new insight and interpretation every time. The “New Vision” lives on.