The Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (New Society for Visual Arts) presents an exhibition by Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar simultaneously at three Berlin institutions. The monographic show offers a retrospective survey of an artistic production spanning close to four decades.
Mika Rottenberg’s videos explore labour – particularly repetitive women’s work. Her glamorous and oddly erotic workers are squeezed into sweatshops – often literally. Bodily fluids are sometimes part of the production process, where lo-fi machinery and Heath Robinson-like contraptions produce uncertain goods.
France | 1972 | 96 minutes | Color
SYNOPSIS: In 1972, newly radicalized Hollywood star Jane Fonda joined forces with cinematic innovator Jean-Luc Godard and collaborator Jean-Pierre Gorin in an unholy artistic alliance that resulted in Tout va bien (Everything’s All Right). This free-ranging assault on consumer capitalism and the establishment left tells the story of a wildcat strike at a sausage factory as witnessed by an American reporter (Fonda) and her has-been New Wave film director husband (Yves Montand). Tout Va Bien is a masterpiece of radical cinema, a caustic critique of society, marriage, and revolution in post-1968 France.
Originally conceived by the artist in 1991 as a site-specific installation for the Spoleto Festival held in Charleston, South Carolina, indigo blue was inspired by the region’s history of indigo production. Both a plant and a dye, indigo is inextricably bound to the South plantation economy.
Hamilton’s interest in the history of American labor was underlying motivation behind the creation of this work; she has cited Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” (1980)- an alternative history of the nation -as a particularly important source of inspiration.
Indigo blue with Hamilton’s attempt to unearth this history. The work is comprised of approximately 18,000 pieces of used, blue, cotton work clothes. The uniforms of anonymous blue-collar workers, whose names for the most part are lost from written histories.
In front of the platform stands a wood table and chair where a hired participant is seated, and erases passages of the book published by the Naval War College, title “International Law Situations”.
The performative actions of the body are essential aspect of Hamilton’s work, investing the piece with an action of authorship. This action in particular, speaks to how traces of the human body have the potential to participate in the rewriting of the different story.
Offical Website: www.alfredojaar.net
Through installations, photographs, and community-based projects, Jaar explores the public’s desensitization to images and the limitations of art to represent events such as genocides, epidemics, and famines. Jaar’s work bears witness to military conflicts, political corruption, and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations.
“I strongly believe in the power of a single idea,” says Alfredo Jaar. “My imagination starts working based on research, based on a real life event, most of the time a tragedy that I’m just starting to analyze, to reflect on…this real life event to which I’m trying to respond.”
1. Gold in the Morning, 1997
In 1985 Alfredo Jaar went to Serra Palada, an open cast gold mine in north-eastern Brazil. There he photographed and filmed the astonishing working conditions of the self-employed miners. An insistence on the importance of context to the subsequent interpretation and distribution of his work has been central to Jaar’s practice; and the Serra Palada material was initially installed on a New York subway station alongside indicators of fluctuations in world gold prices.
“I always describe myself as a project artist. I’m not a studio artist. I do not create works in my studio. I wouldn’t know what to do. I do not stare at the blank page of paper and start inventing a world coming from my imagination. Every work is a response to a real-life event, a real-life situation.”
2. A logo for America, 1987
The representation of geography and the intricacies of global relations influence Jaar’s every thought and action.
In more recent projects, this obsession has led to critical investigations of cartography. A logo for America was an explicit demonstration of the significance of the images and language of geography – its representation and articulation. It also appropriated an amendable technology that utilized Jaar’s interest in texts, words, film processes, and graphic design. Part of a six – year program sponsored by the Public Art Fund, Inc. in New York, Jaar was one of thirty artists invited to produce a 45 – second computer animation / intervention on the Spectacolor lightboard in the heart of Times Square.
3. One Million Finnish Passports, 1995
Finland has a historically stringent immigration policy, staunch nationalists they accept only a tiny fraction of the citizenship applications they receive, far less than any of their neighboring countries. Observing this, Jaar somehow managed to get 1 million Finnish passports printed up to represent the number of people who should have been nationalized as Finnish citizens but weren’t. Now obviously this poses somewhat of a security risk, so the passports were housed behind a fortress of bullet-proof glass and the passports would be burned after the exhibit ended.
One million replicated Finnish passports, glass, 800 x 800 x 80 cm.
“I could say that everything I know about art, I learned as an architect. As an architect, I give myself a program, taking into account a specific space. Space is not just physical. It’s also social, cultural, political. Studying the space, I try to reach what we call the essence of the space. Then I combine that with the essence of what I am trying to say. All these elements are incorporated in the program, in which I have an objective.”
4. Infinite Cell, 2004
Iron bars, painted wood, mirrors. 145 5/8 x 177 1/8 x 102 3/8 inches.
“A mirror is a simple object of daily life, and the perfect articulation of the narcissism of our society- a society that only cares for itself. In ‘Infinite Cell’, it’s about seeing ourselves in infinite projection and thinking about what we want to do as artists, as intellectuals. What do we want to say as producers of culture? And to whom are we speaking? Am I my public, or is it someone else? It also has to do with the horrors of the twenty-first century. This piece is probably one of my most emotionally charged works. Unfortunately, it has a universal life: all countries have histories of horror. And so, in a way, this piece asks, ‘How do we make art in the world, the way it is now? How do we make art today?’”
5. The Cloud, 2000
Public intervention, Valle del Matador, Tijuana, Mexico-San Diego, USA Border. October 14, 2000.
“People describe me sometimes as a conceptual artist, as a political artist, with work of a strong political connotation or social content. I always reject those labels. I’m an artist, and believe it or not I’m interested in beauty and I’m not afraid of it. It is an essential tool to attract my audience, and sometimes I use it to introduce horror because the audience has to be seduced.”
6. The Skoghall Konsthall, 2000
Public intervention, Skoghall, Sweden.
Jaar was invited to Skoghall where he constructed a paper museum, organized a one-day exhibition, and then had the structure set on fire. The timing, temporarily, and duration of this project—as well as its denouncement—had a theatrical character.
“I was shocked to discover that a community could exist for thirty years without any visible cultural or exhibition space. How do you represent it the absence of this space for culture in an entire community? I found it hard to believe that people could live without it the intellectual and critical stimulus that visual art can provide^to question, to speculate, and to search. It blew my mind. I sought a spectacular way to deal with this lack. I created an exhibition space for twenty-four hours and then burned it away I wanted to offer a glimpse of what contemporary art is and what it can do in a community. Then by “disappearing” it in such a spectacular way, I hoped to reveal its absence”.
7. Lights in the city, 1999
In Canada Alfredo Jaar completed a project referred to as Lights in the City, in 1999. This is a historic landmark which had burnt around five times before Jaar completed this project. The building is called Copula of the Marche Bonsecours. There were approximately a hundred thousand watts of red lights installed within the Copula so that when a button is mashed the copula lights up with a red color inside of it very brightly so that it can be seen all around the city of Montreal.
Detonating devices have been placed in multiple places such as Accueil Bonneau, la Maison Eugenie Bernier and la Maison Paul Gregoire, and homeless shelters that are located within five hundred yards of the Cupola. Each time a homeless individual enters one of these areas they are free to push the buttons located within these areas so that the Cupola will light up inside with bright red colors. The entire point of this is to allow homeless individuals to be recognized as a person within the city without humility.
“I submitted my proposal to the people at the shelters. They appreciated that I was not exposing them through photography. They liked and approved my idea. These red lights connected to the shelters were my way of sending a distress signal to the city—of making the homeless visible withcnit pointing at them directly Of course, the red hghts also recalled the fires that consumed the building many times, but metaphorically. ”
“We wanted the Cupola to become a permanent monument of .shame, and other shelters wanted to join us and get connected, but six weeks later the mayor canceled it. like all of my projects, it failed. We did not give the homeless a home. We did not resolve their problem. We gave them a brief, hopeful moment when they regained their humanity, when people started acknowledging their presence, smiled at them, when the press also contributed to the dialogue, but eventually they returned to their status as homeless. With these projects you change so little…”
Tate Modern 12 October 2010 – 2 May 2011
Official Website: www.tate.org.uk
Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds challenges our first impressions: what you see is not what you see, and what you see is not what it means. The sculptural installation is made up of what appear to be millions of sunflower seed husks, apparently identical but actually unique. Although they look realistic, each seed is made out of porcelain. And far from being industrially produced, ‘readymade’ or found objects, they have been intricately hand-crafted by hundreds of skilled artisans. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content make this work a powerful commentary on the human condition.
One of China’s leading Conceptual artists, Ai is known for his social or performance-based interventions as well as object-based artworks.
Los Penetrados (The Penetrated) is a 45-minute film in eight acts. The film was originally shot on October 12 2008, Día de la Raza, or the Day of the Race, which is the Spanish holiday commemorating Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. The film features a mirrored set with ten geometrically arranged blankets positioned on the floor, on which the various possible combinations of male and female and black and white, engage in anal penetration. The faces of the hired participants are digitally removed, rendering them as dehumanized, modular workers in Sierra’s imposed economy.
2008, black and white photograph, 55 x 98 inches
The eight acts are divided into the following permutations: white man/white woman, white man/white man, white man/black woman, white man/black man, black man/black woman, black man/black man, black man/white woman, black man/white man.
Choosing to film on Día de la Raza, Sierra makes an allegorical connection between the conquest of the Americas by the Spanish, and the penetration that occurs in his film. The subject matter of anal sex invites an examination of cultural psychologies of domination and submission as they relate to labor, race, gender, and class. Though conceived upon a mathematical formula, the film’s acts arrive at a succession of fluctuating outcomes, which yield an analysis of contemporary social structures in Spain. For instance, in Act III, seven of the ten blankets are left without performers, due to police pressure against females taking part in the labor. Or in Act V, where the number of passive black male subjects is diminished by cultural insecurities, perhaps born from experiences of racial inequality.
160 CM LINE TATTOOED ON 4 PEOPLE
El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo. Salamanca, España. Diciembre de 2000
Sierra’s projects often employ underprivileged individuals who function as laborers in useless and demeaning activities. These acts have largely been seen as a commentary on the social ramifications of capitalist models. Procedures such as tattooing a continuous line across the backs of his “workers” foreground the artists’ concerns with exploitation.
12 WORKERS PAID TO REMAIN INSIDE CARDBOARD BOXES
ACE Gallery New York. New York, United States. March 2000
He is well known outside of the United States as an agent who challenges notions of the “politically correct” in order to illuminate social incongruities. Stemming from minimal and conceptual practices of the 60’s and 70’s, Sierra’s controversial actions and performances yield evidence and/or documentation in the form of sculpture, photography, video, and installation.
July 09 – October 03, 2010
Mika Rottenberg’s immersive video installations address issues of gender and labor through outrageous narratives centered around real women (not actors or models) and their bodies. With her new video entitled Squeeze, Rottenberg collapses the humorous and the unsettling to examine global production in a 20-minute narrative that screens on a continuous loop at SFMOMA. Splicing together documentary footage from a rubber plant in India and a lettuce farm in Arizona with her own narrative of women in an absurdist makeup factory, Rottenberg’s surreal video homes in on the social realities of women’s labor.
A story of deception
Modern 15 June – 5 September 2010
An exhibition by Francis Alys at Tate Modern takes place during summer 2010 as the experimental artist showcases his work from over the last twenty years. Including painting, installations, animation, sculpture and video art, this exhibition is set to explore the nature of this politically motivated conceptual artist.
Argentine video artist Mika Rottenberg is known for videos depicting women engaging in elaborate systems of production that often harvest their own body.
Mika’s video installations envision the female body as a microcosm of larger societal issues such as labor and class inequities. In her short films, women cast for their notable physical features and talents perform perfunctory factory-line duties, manufacturing inane items worth less than the labor required to make them. Her homemade machinery and decor are functional but crudely constructed.
These contraptions, operating by pedal, conveyor belt, paddle, rubber band, or string, are reminiscent of Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s kinetic props, though the human interaction in her works adds a carnivalesque element to Rottenberg’s environments, the physical comedy implicit in her narratives recalling Eleanor Antin’s filmed performances. The bright colors of Rottenberg’s self-contained sets don’t disguise the close quarters in which her characters work or mitigate the sense of claustrophobia induced by a dead-end job. A blue-collar work ethic is conjured through the women’s uniforms, ranging from diner-waitress dresses to jogging suits. Her cast often use several body parts at once, reminding the viewer of the feminine capacity for multitasking while it suggests an ironic futility in her sweatshop-like situations.
Mary’s Cherries, video still, 2005
Three previous videos established Rottenberg’s unique narrative approach, in which action is compressed into layers of illogical activity. In Tropical Breeze (2004), a woman in the back of a truck chews gum, wraps it in a tissue picked from a pile with her toes, and sends it on a clothesline to the profusely sweating driver, who dabs each tissue with perspiration to ferry it back for packaging and sale as a “moist tissue wipe.” Rottenberg’s installations often physically echo her videos: Tropical Breeze was screened inside a cratelike box mimicking a big rig’s trailer. Mary’s Cherries (2005) showcases a trio of obese ladies pedaling bikes who, through a magical process of clay kneading and fingernail clipping, transform acrylic fingernails into maraschino cherries. In Dough (2006), one woman smells flowers to provoke hay-fever tears while another mashes a foot-powered bellows into foul-scented air that wafts onto dough, which rises as the moisture and air hit it. Dripping beads of sweat, women’s grunting, and booming machinery dominate the audio, while close-ups of the women’s bodies and faces highlight their resignation to an abstruse cause.
Rottenberg’s newest film, Cheese (2007), conflates farm-girl imagery with the fairy tale “Rapunzel” into a story loosely based on the Sutherland Sisters, renowned for their extremely long hair. Floating through a pastoral yet mazelike setting of raw wooden debris cobbled together into a benign shantytown, six longhaired women in flowing white nightgowns “milk” their locks and the goats they live with to generate cheese. Shots of animals crowded in pens and the sisters’ bunk bed– cluttered room visually compare the women to their ruminant allies. As nurturing caretakers, these women represent maternal aspects of Mother Nature. Here Rottenberg investigates feminine magic, the ability to “grow things out of the body” as she says, as the ultimate, wondrous physical mystery.
Dough, video still, 2005/06
With her video installation Dough (2005/06), Mika Rottenberg has produced an oppressive commentary on capitalism’s alienating work conditions: the moonlight job now takes place in a specially designed sweatshop, where the housewives’ bodies are turned into machines that actually produce sweat and tears. The artist, who was born in 1976, addresses themes such as economics in the post-industrial age or cultural identity; the female bodies she portrays exist far from social norms.
Mika Rottenberg is part of a vital New York scene that is currently attracting a good deal of international attention. Rottenburg’s drawings for Dough were already on show in the pa.per.ing exhibition, which presented paper works by this young generation
of artists in the Lobby Gallery at Deutsche Bank New York. At the Frieze Art Fair, the Cartier Award’s first winner will be showing Chasing Waterfalls: The Rise and Fall of the Amazing Seven Sutherland Sisters (Part 1) for the first time. At the center of this video work are the Sutherland Sisters who became human circus attractions due to their extremely long hair.
Cheese, video still, 2008, Whitney Biennial
The jury of the Biennial Award for Contemporary Art (BACA) 2010 prize has unanimously announced Francis Alys the winner. For over twenty years, Alÿs has lived in Mexico City and recently also in Casablanca. The BACA is intended as a tribute to an artist for his or her adventurous oeuvre and visible influence on other (younger) artists.
Francis Alÿs meets these criteria in exemplary fashion, adding to them a personal world brimming with poetic accents and enormous involvement with his neighbors from non-Western cultures. It is precisely this poetic and humanist side that gives his work such an exceptional power of expression. He is a ‘visual poet’, focusing on small situations with big implications on deeply-rooted levels of meaning. His work consists of photos, video, film, and painted works on paper and canvas, in which a striking element is the way he regularly commissions others to execute these paintings.
The Collector/El Colector. 1991-1992 | Metalic dogs magnetized on wheels, video, photographs, maps, sketches and documentation
Turista | 1996
Paradox of Praxis 1 | 1997
Alÿs pushes a block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it melts; serving as a way to mark time and measure existence.
When Faith Moves Mountains | 2002
A Project for Geological Displacement | Francis Alÿs, collaborating with Rafael Ortega and Cuauhtémoc Medina.
On April 11th 2002, 500 voluntiers were called in order to form a line to move a sand dune situated in the surroundings of the city of Lima. This human comb pushed a certain quantity of sand a certain distance, thereby moving a sixteen-hundred-foot-long sand dune about four inches from its original position. The actual displacement was of an infinitesimal proportion, but not its metaphorical resonance.
El Gringo | 2003
In El Gringo, viewers experience the discomfort of being an outsider when the camera is confronted by a pack of snarling dogs.