Now Showing: Guillermo Kuitca
A moon—crying, singing, yawning?—the darkened figures of humans at night and a muted Christ-like face are the few visual clues that Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca offers at Mayfair’s Hauser & Wirth, that might help the viewer to root out any reality in his obscure world. Having just returned from the South American country ourselves, Elephant enjoyed a fair few signs of his homeland.
Kuitca’s works are velvety in their intensity; layers of black, deep blue and grey punctured by the odd colourful tone which, very occasionally, teeters upon flooding the full canvas. Within this rich darkness, light is highly important, and the artist’s observation of light, luminous even when depicted in the moodiest of shades, is a long-practiced element of his work.
The cubistoid paintings slide between abstraction and figuration. Stooped and huddled figures are common against the bolder faces that emerge as larger icons, such as the aforementioned moon and suggested Christ. Alongside this, there is a constant play with line and plane, at times angular and mathematical, at others softer, almost blending in entirely. Slices of paint jut and jar into one another, in a manner which seesaws too between aggressive and dreamy.
This style gives Kuitca away as the physical painter that he is, creating much of the shape and form within his work from his own pacing movement up and down the canvas, in an echo of one of his early influencers, Pina Bausch, the avant-garde choreographer. His canvasses can border on the enormous, his Untitled (Exodus) (2015) here measuring over six metres.
Though a one-size-fits-all approach can be dangerous when discussing an entire art scene, Elephant couldn’t help but revel in some of the similarities we spotted in Kuitca’s fellow Argentine artists’ work, after a refreshing dip into arteBA last week, where the hands-on nature of painting and sculpture was a focal point of much of the work we encountered, and greys, black and earth tones dominated precise but spirited works.
‘Guillermo Kuitca’ is showing at Hauser & Wirth, Mayfair until 30 July
Now Showing: Yayoi Kusama
Infinity finds corners and edges at Yayoi Kusama’s eponymous solo exhibition with London’s Victoria Miro—which spans both Wharf Road and Mayfair spaces—offering an intimacy that is not always present in the artist’s work. Perhaps, infinity has an end afterall.
For previous guests of Kusama’s major 2012 Tate Modern exhibition, this work will touch on the unfamiliar. There, infinity was vast, expansive, and, a group experience. At Victoria Miro, Kusama’s three mirrored rooms offer an enclosed sense of infinity, each smallish box attracting a constant queue as visitors are allowed in one by one, for one minute each.
Standing alone in these boxes, one experiences a new side to the work. It allows for a clear stretch of infinity, where you alone are the human presence. The sense of ‘shattered ego’ that is intended in these works, the person falling into many fragments, is effective when it is purely your own self that is being shattered. In these boxes you can view yourself as others see you, in an ego-crushing manner that isn’t too dissimilar to the horrific experience of 360-degree changing room mirrors that, let’s face it, everyone fears. My nose is how big in profile?
But the smaller size of these rooms also leads to a greater sense of enclosure than the artist’s larger spaces. The illusion is not quite fully convincing, lines and edges can be spotted in the expansive view; there is an infinity there, but it is not true infinity. Perhaps, it is a personal infinity, stretching on and on around the self, but not quite finding itself flowing right out into the dark unknown.
Of course, pumpkins make many an appearance. The first floor of Wharf Road holds three sturdy sculptures of the spooky veg–as fast as Kusama produces these pumpkins, they seem to remain eternally amusing and novel–and the most captivating, and playful, of the three rooms, All The Love I Have For Pumpkins. In this room perhaps we take on a little of the artist’s ego too, finding ourselves overwhelmed by her instantly recognisable aesthetic; of course we’re automatically driven to reach for the iPhone to snap a quick selfie–ego shattered or not.
The artist’s sense of play in these works finds a sense of control in her Infinity Nets paintings, of which there are many on the second floor at Wharf Road. The works are precisely formed from small loops of paint, mirroring the artists obsession with natural patterns, in particular those from pumpkins. The Mayfair space also shows paintings, from Kusama’s My Eternal Soul series. In all, this is a varied and pretty thorough exhibition of the artist’s work, of which we already know so much, but are always willing to know a little more.
Yayoi Kusama is showing at Victoria Miro until 30 July. All images Courtesy KUSAMA Enterprise, Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama
Architecture Biennale 2016: Shumi Bose, Jack Self and Finn Williams
Reporting From the Front stirs up images of danger, patriotism and national interest, and is a fitting proposition for 2016’s Architecture Biennale in Venice. As the UK finds itself in the grip of a housing crisis–we’re certainly not alone in this–three British curators, Jack Self, Shumi Bose and Finn Williams, create Home Economics; an architectural response to the current climate. The Biennale opens to the public on Saturday 28 May.
Can you briefly describe your response to the idea: ‘Reporting from the Front’?
Jack Self: Alejandro Aravena has executed quite an ideological shift with this theme. He is not asking ‘What is the front line of architecture?’ but rather, ‘What is the front line of social struggle in your country, and what can architecture do about it?’ Coincidentally, the extreme housing shortage in the UK–which is driving social inequality, exploitation through rent and oppression through debt–could be seen as our most pressing concern. In order to address this crisis, normally understood exclusively in economic and political terms, Home Economics proposes an expansion of the role of the architect in order to more effectively harness their skill and agency.
Do you feel that your response is purely British, or does it confront a more universal problem for modern living?
Shumi Bose: The problems–or rather, conditions, as we’re not really framing these as problems and solutions–described in the five proposals are global, if not universal. Whether discussing unaffordable living costs, the changing nature of family life, or the treatment of dwellings as assets rather than homes, many of the situations we frame are a symptom of globalised markets and late capitalism; we have now presented the ideas within Home Economics from Rotterdam to Rio, and we have found that these ideas resonate with various audiences. Also the lens of time, which we selected as a universally pressurised factor affecting contemporary life–we figured that everyone could relate to the idea that life is measured in beats and units of time.
Yet, there is a peculiar and rather unique relationship that Britons have towards the notion of ‘home’. Particularly with regards to ownership; the aspiration and idealism behind the privately owned dwelling has a very British anxiety and idealism associated with it. A man’s (or woman’s!) home is his castle, desirable above all, and is therefore a repository for hopes and dreams; it is also the place where, through material and spatial choices, he or she would embody their ideas of class, taste, cultural values, power and gender relations. In France, the idea of long-term rent is less stigmatised than it is in Britain; in Switzerland social housing is for all income levels, and in Germany collective ownership is relatively common. So there are some attitudes embedded in the show that reflect a very British attitude to the idea of home.
You’ve mentioned that the British housing crisis is due, in part, to the ‘failure of traditional housing models to accommodate new patterns of domestic life.’ Do you feel this has been a constant and ongoing area of difficulty for architecture; or is it a more 21st century problem?
JS: Every epoch has its own specific crises to address, inasmuch as every generation creates and recreates their own reality. We shouldn’t claim any unique status of the present day. However, the biggest change concerns the rise of mass mobility. There are many causes of this, including the economic and political. But probably more importantly for Britain, mass mobility has been the result of inexpensive air travel, the EU right to free movement and the proliferation of universal real-time communications (mobile and internet). These factors have stretched and compressed our experience of space, which has fundamentally restructured our relationship with time. We must still ask ‘where do you live?’ but we must also add, ‘and how long will you live there?’
You’ve chosen to work with people who can offer an alternative to the traditional models of architecture. Do you feel that architecture must now look outside of itself to work its way through the current crisis?
SB: Architecture as a traditional vocation has changed immensely, both in its culture but also in its practice, through technological and other developments, like attitudes towards risk. Many roles traditionally located within the architect’s office have dispersed outwards, to more specialised practices or technical contractors. But architectural thinking, as a design process is incredibly powerful; there are ways in which its structural and collaborative processes may be applied to many other fields. It’s not strictly a case of designing buildings, which I think architects will continue to do of course–but in terms of an impact on space and affecting the way we live, we would argue that something like Uber constitutes some architectural, and obviously urbanistic, thinking. We would agree, however, that in the current economic context, it would be of great value if architects consciously had a better understanding of financial and political issues, whether in traditional practice or not. We find it frankly irresponsible, for example, that the realities of viability and other real financial pressures are hardly discussed in the academy, during years of architectural training.
Of the five propositions included in the British Pavilion, you will be focussing on ‘hours’–as opposed to days, months, years and decades. How are hours addressed in the work?
JS: The time period of hours is a tricky one. It would seem self-evident that we spend hours in our homes. So the intent was to imagine a type of domestic space offered in addition to the individual residence. The proposal is for a communal living room. Access is private, yet it is offered as a kind of extra social space adjacent to the home. It is imagined within the context of a new model of a high rise social housing tower, where the traditional relationship between core, corridor and unit has been broken down–the core has been pulled apart to create these spaces between apartments.
In the show itself this common living room has been realised at 1:1 so that it can be directly experienced. It demonstrates how, if we are prepared to share rather than insisting on individual ownership, we can all have a better quality of life and space. In other words, it demonstrates sharing as a form of luxury, not compromise.
Did you work closely with the four other teams, or have the five rooms been developed quite independently?
SB: We started this process with a weekend workshop involving all the collaborators–participants, exhibition designers, industry advisers all in the same room, sharing ideas, questions and meals. This was a really important moment in exposing and developing our thoughts–there was plenty of cross-pollination, and it was very good to share initial ideas so that each team could position themselves with more acuity and conviction. It also allowed our industry advisers to form natural partnerships, or provide specific expertise as necessary. For example, Naked House Community Builders and our invited participant Julia King formed a close affinity, and effectively co-authored a proposal, whereas others preferred to follow their own artistic or creative practice.
Following the workshop, we developed an overall brief, with specific and detailed sections for each team. As curators, we worked through many variations and iterations with each team individually, sometimes remotely but with close attention. But we have all been working from a shared Dropbox, so everyone has been able to check on what their colleagues are doing and producing. From the beginning we intended to have an open structure, where we can see and benefit from the others’ thinking.
There is an emphasis on architectural responses, rather than solutions, throughout the project. Why is this important?
Finn Williams: We think it would be misleading to claim that architecture itself can ‘solve’ the housing crisis. The underlying causes of the crisis we currently face in the UK are longstanding, systemic, and complex, so proposing a particularly clever flat layout or self-build system as a solution would almost distract from the larger social, economic and political challenges that architects should also be turning their attention and skills to. We believe architects can have an important role in responding to these wider challenges, but not necessarily by always proposing a building as the answer. For example, Home Economics shows that architects can help to redesign debt, as Julia King has done in the Years space by developing a new kind of mortgage together with a housing association and high street bank. Or they can redefine what we understand as rent, as Dogma and Black Square have done in the Months space. For us, these responses aren’t so much readymade solutions as models that can be adopted, adapted and realised in different ways.
Paolo Baratta suggested that architecture is the most political of all the arts, would you agree?
FW: No art can be immune to politics–particularly if money is involved. But architecture does take more money, and more time, than most other creative disciplines. It also usually involves a level of public permission through the planning system. And of course the politics of architecture don’t stop when a building is complete, political life is played out within architecture. So if politics is an unavoidable part of the way architecture is funded, permitted, and occupied, it should also be an integral part of the way we learn and practice architecture. Home Economics suggests that architects need to see politics (and economics) as part of the design process, if we really want to influence the built environment.
The 15th International Architecture Exhibition, ‘REPORTING FROM THE FRONT’ runs 28 May until 27 November at various venues. The exhibition ‘Home Economics’ has been commissioned by the British Council for the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016.
Now Showing: Martin Creed: What You Find
Martin Creed appears. He is dapper in a pressed suit, with combed grey hair, wire-framed glasses, well-worn brogues. Under his jacket he sports a bright orange turtleneck; in his left hand he holds a glass of kale and cucumber juice. He’s been here at Hauser & Wirth Somerset on a residency over the last couple of months, creating new sound installations and working with the local community to produce Pollock-like paintings. It looks like he’s made himself at home.
What You Find is a domesticated version of What’s the point of it?, Creed’s 2014 retrospective at the Hayward Gallery. Instead of the menacing neon MOTHERS which rotated above visitors’ heads at the Hayward, a smaller neon MUMS DADS KIDS GODS beams from a barn wall. Several of the artist’s treasured plastic bags flutter on a tree in the courtyard, caught like flies for Louise Bourgeois’ Spider. Piles of rubbish transported from his Barbican flat have been curated into corners of the gallery – Creed (a vegan) appears to be a loyal patron of Holland & Barrett.
There’s no sense of a major departure from previous exhibitions, but Creed’s art is more about reassuring accumulation than radical progression. It’s ok, the show seems to say. Art’s still being made, life’s ticking along. EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. Creed follows a system of carefully choreographed chaos: an artwork is created by applying a rule (a particular palette, gesture, surface area) and seeing how far he can push within its parameters. It’s a way of getting the decision process over and done with: ‘You have to separate a piece of art from the world in order to work on it, and that involves judgements, exclusions which I’d rather not make,’ he explains. ‘Any definite border is against nature. Definition is death.’
That said, Creed doesn’t deny the allure of ‘nice lines, shapes framed in a square’. The exhibition is full of them: stripy tapestries, canvases the width of a brush, panes of perspex measured to human height. Even his cars line up nicely, red, green and blue ‘like a painting’; each appears to be newly hoovered, MOT certificates on the front seat. ‘Lines and borders make us feel safe, but if you stop people from moving around, life is fucked’. That’s the thinking behind two new videos which address the migrant crisis, set to a soundtrack from Creed’s upcoming album Thoughts Lined Up. The mood is unassailably jaunty, expressing the same understated playfulness as the rest of his work. Breathe and repeat: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.
Except that, for many, Creed is a symptom of everything that’s wrong with contemporary art. He’s been accused of tedium, narcissism, conservatism, plagiarism, and of being that most insidious of things, a charming artist. It’s true – if you’re not charmed by Creed himself, you probably won’t like the art.
The show is essentially autobiographical, prioritising ‘being’ over ‘making’. Wall-mounted speakers are a testament to the artist’s obsessive self-recording; we hear him shouting at the TV, moaning gently as he falls asleep, humming a little tune about shit and someone called Jenny. The music video for Understanding, the track which headlines the new album, shows Creed trying out different looks from his extensive wardrobe: the pinstriped professional, the tweedy retiree, the stern schoolmarm. It’s like a game of paper dolls, Make Your Own Martin.
There’s something happy and homegrown about the Hauser & Wirth exhibition, and Creed’s attitude to art and life has found global appeal. A 25ft tall neon, UNDERSTANDING, was recently installed at Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Creed’s first US retrospective will open at Park Avenue Armory on 8 June. What gives Creed the right to play emperor, strutting around in his new clothes? His work was originally viewed as a practical joke on the art world, now it’s being consumed as an alternative coping mechanism – a sort of anarchic mindfulness. You can’t exactly call Creed’s work therapeutic, but it does allow the viewer to recognise their relationship with chaos and control, and to work out their route from there. We’ll hold court to the emperor a little longer.
‘Martin Creed: What You Find’ is showing at Hauser & Wirth Somerset until 11 September.
How has Silicon Valley and, more widely, technology shaped contemporary art? Elephant’s latest issue hits this question head on, talking with artists such as Petra Cortright, Brett Wickens, Martin Venezky and more, about the utilization and subversion of technology within their work and the ways in which emotion can be felt in the era of digital art.
Claire Shea talks with the new breed of contemporary ceramic artists who are throwing out traditional tools and forging a fresh path for the medium in ‘Research’, while Charlotte Jansen explores art for post-capitalists.
We also feature ‘Encounters’ with Michael Wolf, Christoph Niemann, Chris Martin, Bernard Frize, Susan Hiller, Helen Marten and Theaster Gates, and meet those on the rise in ‘New Establishment’; Firelei Báez, Luke Butler, Emily Mae Smith, Nicholas Hatfull, Chris Hood and Caroline Mesquita.
‘Paper Gallery’ presents Isa Melsheimer’s exclusive commissioned paintings of brutalist landscapes alongside the colour-blocked drawings of Aaron Kasmin.
‘Show of The Times’ focuses on the extensive career of the art world’s enfant terrible, David Hammons.
Silicon Valley for and against Creativity
Infographics by La Tigre
Ry David Bradley
Show of The Times
Emily Mae Smith
Silicon Valley vs Creativity
Art for Post-Capitalists
Michael Wolf: Roulette with the Real
Christoph Niemann: Possible Paths to Inevitability
Chris Martin: Sparkle and Sincerity
Bernard Frize: The Expression Myth
Susan Hiller: Communications from the Chthonic Unconscious
Helen Marten: Conceptual Textures
Theaster Gates: Who are the Builders?
Cry (and Laugh) for Me, Argentina
The Last Bohemians?
Are You Smart Enough To Join MENASA?
10 Ideas: Bedwyr Williams