nina zivancevic

Marc Kober and Dias Ferhat in Parisian Cultural Center of Egypt

users-msh-desktop-dias-dias3.jpg Marc Kober is a poet and an ardent scholar who defended his Ph.D. thesis on Georges Henein at la Sorbonne in 1996. This specialist of Oriental literature was born (1964) and raised in Nice but presently he teaches Modern and Contemporary literature at Paris 13 University, in Paris. He has travelled widely, lived in Italy and Japan (Osaka and Nagoya), and as the result of his experience he has produced a large body of writing published either separately in a book form or in  numerous reviews and magazines. It is important to notice that this experienced Orientalist has absorbed the atmosphere of his favorite scholarly topic which is Far and Middle East- as a poet, he has always collaborated with visual artists. He has had his poetry either illustrated by painters such as Gerard Seree, Enrico Baj and the calligraphers such as Yukano Ishiguro or himself- as  he was also trained in Japanese calligraphy he has illustrated the paintings of Dias Ferhat  with his own poems. In 2005 Kober had collaborated with Dias on a set of calligraphed poems stitched onto stones and pieces of wood-floor in the Society of French Poets in Paris, and more recently, these two exhibited their Oriental arabesques (Dias’s paintings framed with Kober’s poems) at the Egyptian cultural center in Paris. Marc Kober had studied Japanese calligraphy in Japan in 1997 and had participated in the production of the poetry books illustrated with etchings- once upon a time he would design up to 30 calligraphed books honoured by just about 15 poems printed on beautiful luxurious paper in large format. Kober emphasizes the fact that his work with Dias differs in scope and quality from the one he executed with his previous collaborators. The poet says that their collaboration closed up more towards precision  regarding the so called  painterly interpretation of the poems and it’s been much larger in scope: the  chosen poems  which are quite long are chosen by the painter himself. There is a dream like quality of their collaborative work together as well as in their individual respective verbal and visual expressions. They first met in a “dreamlike” work setting which is the surrealist magazine “Superieur Inconnu” in 2001 where Kober-editor presented Dias’s work. Their recent collaboration has bloomed with oneiric colors, with pinks, all shades of purple and deep blue, the color which Kober “chose instinctively” one morning as he was waking up. He comments upon his own work by accentuating the paradox: in such a Cartesian world that he inhabits – the pure meaning of his poetry resides in its obvious non-sensical quality or on a certain “non-cartesian logic”.  He adored working on pale pink paper, the color of Kober’s preference, which was taken over from the cover of his handsome poetry book “Sixty Kisses”, previously published by “La Mezzanine dans l’Ether”. Unlike Marc Kober, Dias Ferhat grew up in a distant Algerian casbah where he, as an autodidact, started drawing and painting at age sixteen. By 1975 he reached the colorful city of Paris where he tried to sell what he knew and had on his fingertips, that is, a certain sense of Orientalism which he clearly manifested iin his early paintings of “Turkish baths”, odalisques and other Ingres meets Delacroix subjects. It was only in the period of 1980s that Dias started refusing the cultural identification  and an unwilling “return to his North-African roots” - he enlarged his notion of cultural background and started sharing his days with Nina Simone. In the busy 1990s, the painter increased speed and diversity of his painterly movement as he explored the cinematographic themes and the iconic world of stage and theatricity. The last decade of Dias Ferhat’s work is marked by the sense of calm and poetical reflexivity brought into his world   through his collaborative work with poets such as Kober, thus his latest show  at the Egyptian Cultural Center bears the poetical title “Torch Song”. Indeed on his huge acrylics and pastels on paper one can hear the meditterannean and arabic soul songs, chants of local griots as much as metaphysical and musical yearnings of Dias’s contemporaries. The Arabic calligraphy on his painting becomes a living flame, fire eating up and purging both continents, Europe and Africa, bringing them together and at the same time splitting them apart. There is a spiritual meeting point between these two continents as much as there exists  a meeting spot between poet Kober and painter Ferhat: their work essentially quite different, finds one common ground in the oneiric landscape of dreams and dreaming to which both collaborators tend to migrate. Both artists live in the world disintegrated by daily worry, existential angst and patience as Ferhat has, quite appropriately entitled one of his paintings “Waiting for Messiah”. As they travel the road from their interior to the exterior world filled with non-sensical political and social events, Kober the poet and Ferhat the painter  present us their dreamscape which transcends the pillars of history or geography for that matter. Nina Zivancevic

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WITH FRANCIS POWELL in PARIS and... ELSEWHERE by NINA ZIVANCEVIC

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Francis Powell comes from England (he always says jokingly “he's neither Scottish nor Irish, but simply plain English”)- however, for the last ten years or so he's been residing in Paris on a permanent basis. He has made a name for himself as a brilliant musician and a composer of electronic music, known as 'DJ WISE' and meanwhile he has been painting beautiful, sort of 'Art Nouveau- Klimt meets Aboriginal Art' paintings, all coupled with printed samples of his own creative writing and steady journalism. He often says that he belongs to a certain eclectic British tradition of visual artists who often turned musicians and then turned something else.

Interview With Shirin Neshat in Paris by Nina Zivancevic

Shirin Neshat is one of the leading contemporary artists in the world. She was born in 1957 in Iran. In 1974 she moved to the United States where studied art at the University of Berkeley. The Islamic revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeiny had introduced many changes into the Persian society which fell under the yoke of the Fundamentalists. All the liberties were restricted, the moral rigour was imposed and the condition of women worsened. It was only in 1990 that Shirin Neshat was able to return to her native ground- what really shocked there was the dramatic evolution of the situation of women. A recipient of many international awards, she began a series of photos called Unveiling in 1993. For these self-portraits, she wore the chador and exposed only body parts (eyes, hands, feet) which women are allowed to reveal in public according to the Islamic Law. Neshat wrote on the surfaces of the photographs, covering the exposed parts of the female bodies with Farsi script. Soonafter, in 1997 she began her video creations while continuing with her photography. Primarily inspired by the great Persian tradition and culture, Neshat shows the foresmost interest for the universal approach to concepts of society, identity, asylum, refuge and utopia.In her recent work which we were lucky to see at “Jerome Denoirmont” gallery in Paris this past spring, Neshat took a more cinematographic approach to her work – the bold metaphorical imagery of her early films and videos has given way to a more narrative approach bringing in the current dialectics of the binary oppositions such as man/woman, east/west, and oppressor/oppressed. Her recent work has drawn its inspiration from Women Without Men, a novel by the Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur which describes the lives of 5 Iranian women who lived through the history of the CIA's regime in Iran, supported by the Pahlavi royal family. Through the exploit of the themes which she had already explored in photography and video, Neshat gave us her reinterpretation of the Parsipur's novel in a double-sided project which encompases cinema and art. There is a feature film, shot in Morocco, due to be released in 2008 along with 5 videos depicting the lives of these five women during the summer of 1953. As her name in Persian means “sweet” and cultured, we were not surprised to find her answers open and responsive to the media while interviewing her at Gallery Denoirmont in Paris last spring. Question: Shirin, are you a feminist, in the largest sense of that word? Yes and No. Yes, because I’ve devoted my entire body of work to the subjects relating to women. I believe in the female power in emotional, intellectual and biological terms. No, because I’ve always fallen shy of claiming to be ‘feminist’ because at least in my culture, it has a very concrete meaning, seemingly someone who is involved in an organized movement, something that I don’t belong to and have no interest in.

QUESTION: What idea made you create 5 videos dealing with Persian women such as Mahdokht, Zarin, Munis and Faezeh? When I began to re-adapt the novel of “Women Without Men” written by Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur, into a feature length film, which essentially evolved around 5 female characters; I knew that I would develop an art component of this project. I quickly became interested in making a series of short videos that related to each one of the five female characters. I was very interested in how in a museum or gallery setting the audience could walk from room to room, visiting each women and at the end, they could put the story together. The audience in a way becomes the editor of the film, in the way that they could put the puzzle together. This approach indeed was very different than a film made for a theatre setting where the audience is quite passive seated and the narrative is linear. So at the end I managed to make the five installations and have just finished the feature too.

Question: You left your original country a long time ago. How do you relate to the images of these women now, when the Persian reality is so far away from you. How do you connect? This film of course takes place in 1953 before I was born, so it does not directly reflect the life that I experienced in Iran. But of course each woman in one way or another symbolically embodies obsessions, issues and problems that has continued to this date to haunt Iranian women, whether stemming from religion, political reality, sexual taboos.

Question: What made you draw, make photography, create art in your life to begin with? Do you remember your earliest stages of interest? Art has been a wonderful escape from the banality of everyday life and more so a way to find a meaningful engagement with life and people around me. My life since active as an artist has been an exciting one, not always easy but wonderfully full and adventurous. Also, for me making art is a way to face my own emotions and anxieties. I consider my first serious attempt in art began in 1993 with the “Women of Allah” series, a group of work that brought me back to my home country, if not geographically, spiritually and emotionally.

Question: I almost called you "female Jean Luc Godard"...What draws you towards film and video as medium, and - do you prefer that medium to painting, sculpture ? And if yes, why so? I’m very touched by what you say! Of course I don’t believe I deserve it! I developed a love affair with the moving image back in 1993, with my first video attempt for a small gallery show at Franklin Furnace. There is strong potential of poetics in this medium that I don’t believe is as tangible through mediums of painting and sculpture. At least I found myself right at home with video and film.

Question: What are its advantages and what are the limitations of these media (such as video, film) for you? For one thing with film and video, an artist can incorporate elements of photography, painting and sculpture by the way she or he visually constructs the picture. More so, with film one can be a story teller, and can experiment with music, sound, choreography, performance, and more. As for myself, making videos and films have become an incredibly challenging and ambitious creative experiences. The limitations are that the process is often tedious and complex as it takes a lot of preparation and organization, so it’s not as spontaneous as medium like painting, where you can simply pick up your brush and paint. Furthermore, once you begin to experiment with the language of cinema, one has no choice but to gain the tools, by studying its tools, and history.

Question: How do you chose your subject and themes in your work? Do you search for them or they come to you? It changes from time to time, but most often my ideas are inspired by literature that I read by various authors. Otherwise, there are times that I become obsessed with certain themes, often existential ones which eventually find their way into my art.

Question: Given the fact that your subject is often political (social commentary etc), Would you call yourself an "engagé"? I am not sure exactly how you use this term, but if I understand it right, the question is how engaged I feel in relation to the socio- political subjects of my work. The answer would be that, I feel extremely connected to all the topics that I depict, as they are all topics that have and continue to effect my personal life. Sometimes I see myself as an activist, not the type who marches into the streets but one that is constantly preoccupied by political issues and is quietly confronting them by engaging in the community.

Question: A committed artist or just a human being who observes injustice? How do you see your work? I see my art as a vehicle for dialogue and this is something I take very seriously. The subversive nature of my art is often my form of objection against any social and political injustice, in particular in relation to my own country. Of course, I can’t help but express myself not in the form of propaganda but in the form of poetry and aesthetic.

Question: What's the situation like in the American contemporary art scene? Closed, open? How do you see your own place in it? America is usually qualified as ‘melting pot’ so it’s the best place for a ‘nomadic’ artist like myself. I do however feel that I live in my own bubble in the way that I don’t follow any particular models, groups or trends. Also my subject matters (in a healthy matter) tend to pull me away from the what I consider the ‘glossy’ art world and closer to reality of everyday life. Question: What's your experience with the Iranian contemporary art scene? Are you familiar with it and are there any outstanding artists, in you view? I’m very happy to say that I’m extremely active with the Iranian community particularly with the artists and filmmakers. I regularly try to educate myself in what’s going on culturally inside and outside of Iran and there are always fascinating talents around. Next week, a show will open at the Asia Society in New York that I’ve curated with another Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi. This is a very powerful show of an older Iranian artist, political satirist, Ardeshir Mohassess who was once a legend in Iran, but sadly neglected for decades due to illness. I take great pride in being involved with such magnificent event.

Question: You covered your recent photographs of men and women with letters, writing. What role does literature and writing in general have for you and your work? Literature and words are suggestive of emotional and intellectual minds of the writers that deeply inspire me. Having been obsessed with Iranian female writers, in a way, I feel my visual work are embodiments of these ladies’ strong expressions. In earlier work for example I often used poetry by Forough Farokhzad, a heroic figure in Iran, a writer of enormous talent and imagination. Later, for the past five years for example, I’ve been devoting my time to the novel of “Women Without Men” by Shahrnush Parsipour whose imagination is equally extraordinary and beautiful. So literature for me is food for thought and inspiration

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Faezeh & Amir Khan 2008 Ink on C-print mounted on aluminium 223.5 x 178 cm / 88 x 70 in. © Shirin Neshat. Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris
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Shirin Neshat Copyright Linda Bertucci, 2006 Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York

Interview of French artist Anne Van der Linden by Nina Zivancevic

Anne Van der Linden
Anne Van der Linden comes from a wealthy middle-class French family who allowed her at an early age to launch into an artistic adventure which he has never returned from afterwards. She was born in England, in 1959, but she was raised in France. She started drawing in the stream of conscioussness manner age seventeen, only to trasfer her interest to other genres while studying at the French Academy of Beaux-Arts. Perhaps it was this negative experience of the art school that prompted her to work all alone in her studio. She understood that the joy of contemplation and a challenging emotion could also serve the language of figuration and that these could be equally expressed through an expressionist drawing. Her drawings thus became at the same time serious and reminiscent of those ancient echtings of Dürer and Bosch and also critically charged and merciless somewhat like those caricatures of Otto Dix and Max Beckmann.The artist's drawings challenge those 'dangerous' or socially (un)acceptable topics-- she often asks a question whether all our relationships, including the family, sexual and the ones at work - are just a simple exercise of power ? The artist always answers this question in a brave and humorous manner as she reaches for the heritage of her great predecessors, notably authors such as de Sade, Bataille and Frida Kahlo who, in their turn, refused any given socal norms that stood in their way of being creative. The drawings of Van der Linden's are more than provocative- they are often ladden with the 'erotic' symbols as exemplified by the beautiful females resembling the top models placed on the torture table of the Great Inquisitor who, in splashing their sex with boiling oil represents, perhaps, common reason and consciousness. There are also in there the fallen angels who descend from Bosch's inferno and who devour penises in the red houses of Amsterdam and Antwerp.The constant themes of the artist's obsession are the following: the terror of racism, neocolonisation, consumerism and an overall industrialization of the society staggering both under the social regulations and family norms as well as under an influx of the pseudo-scientific and technological consciousness. And in an ancient expressionist manner her drawings also criticize the sanctum of motherhood, as they are critical of the Virgin and the Saint and of our new Holy father who hides a knife, an animal and a telephone in his pants instead of the penis. We could surely say that the girl who makes love to a phone receiver evokes more a naif symbolism of the neo-technocrat world than that she leads us to the erotic connotation of Van der Linden's image.

The artist complains that despite the fact that "all that she has always wanted to do is to be a painter" she gets sollicited by the publishers only as an illustrator. This is mainly due to her painfully precise analyses of the contemporary society, that is her drawings which often decorate the texts that are serious textual analyses of such. She treasures that painterly approach to color and the painter's material which often does not reveal itself to draughtsmen. Van der Linden had been visiting for some time psychiatric wards- an experience which left an impact on her; after such an experience she conceived the painting "Total peeling" on which a patient tries to peel off her own skin and flesh. In a certain way, the whole oeuvre of Van der Linden's enters the category of "peeling off'' of the conscious as the paintings evoke the reality peeled off and penetrated to the bone. Her palette is very heavy and sombre resemling a bit Diego Rivera's, although her overall sensibility belongs to the European art history.

The artist has also got involved in theater (through 1990s), performance and film, earlier with her legendary partner Costes. Her short films such as the "Ironing" and the "Well", 1999,treat cruel subjects: the problem of an alcoholic mother and life of a cleaning lady who gets literaly ironed by her boss. And although these films are both committed and heavy just like the artist's very painting they are also capable of keeping our attention on them- the phenomenon which surpasses many a contemporary artist and his work these days. If we were to ask about the number of Van der Linden's group or solo shows in the world we would learn that such number is big; and if we wanted to inquire about the importance or a scope of the places where she showed her work we would also learn that it has been very present in many prestigious places in the world. However, when we start thinking of the artist's work, this particular thing is not something that we begin to think of. The important thing is that her art approves of thinking, so to speak, and at the moment when she flashes her art like a gun or a glove , to the face of the spectator, he takes a good look at it- and starts thinking about it.

Her work is to be seen most recently at Les Singuliers Gallery in Paris.

Amour by Anne Van der Lindencyclabominable

1. Question: What made you draw and paint in your life to begin with? Do you remember your earliest stages of interest?

Anne Van der Linden: As a child I had access to art books and art pieces as my mother managed a small art gallery in Paris - she sold contemporary prints. My first drawing experiments happened in the 70's. At that time everybody smoked pot and I did the same for a while, so in that sort of context I started drawing the improvisations, free association figures, objects and shapes, all of which were very distant from the academic type of artwork, meaning that they appeared very spontaneous. Then I went to art school and lost that manner, but in a way I kept the "free association" mood until now.

2. Question: I called you a sort of "female Durer"...What draws you towards drawing and etching as medium, and do you prefer that medium to oil painting ?

Anne Van der Linden: In the beginning drawings and etchings were the skeleton on which I had built my painting skill (isn't that a classic one?!), that was the place where the idea materialized, nothing more or less than that. Then a friend suggested that I just show my drawings as he thought them very good, and I followed his advice. However, the truth is that I still prefer painting (mix of oil and acrylic) to any other tehnique. Painting is really the cult object for me...maybe because the painting material makes the object look like a corpse, as it smells, shines, and appearing sometimes repulsive and at some other times attractive, it is more ambiguous, and interchanging according to lightning etc...

3. Question: What are its advantages and what are the limitations of that medium?

Anne Van der Linden: Drawing is easy to be reproduced, you hardly get bad surprises, also you can draw everywhere, you don't need much room. Drawing is the place of research, and by using the line you try to bring out ideas, and you can throw away the sheet if you are not satisfied with the result, thing that you cannot do so easly with painting, because it is so sticky and wet it becomes quickly fused and saturated with color. Plus, you don't want to run through the canvas too quickly because of the high price of the material! But drawing -the way I conceive it - is a very austere technique, I sit at my table for hours and sometimes I get hand cramps. Also it can take me quite a long time to fill the blank space and « kill » the paper sheet, unlike the medium of painting where you use a few brush strokes and that's it, the space of the canvas is conquered in no time- it becomes my space!

4. Question: How do you chose your subject , your themes in painting? Do you search for them or do they come to you?

Anne Van der Linden: It comes from varied sources, some images come from what I saw and that particular experince then influenced and inspired me to paint it, or also, there are ideas which I am not fully aware of and which come to me from the 'back room' of my mind... Most of the time things appear to my mind as set choreographies, and then the action becomes more precise from one study to another. The idea develops simultaneously with the shape, and after a few aborted attempts at legitimate existence it reaches the state of harmony, I mean I experience it as such when the image starts "talking" to me. Sometimes I take over the subject from one image to another, developing the so called 'small variations' of the original version.

5. Question: Given the fact that your subject is often political (social commentary etc), Would you call yourself an « engage »? A committed artist of a sort? How do you see your work in a larger context?

Anne Van der Linden: My art talks about mankind and doesn't avoid any aspect of humanity, I use obscenity, violence, sexuality and all our orifices as means of expression, and automatically that makes a committed artist out of me, as I have to account for the choices I make. A Feminist? It is a questionable tag for me to get- sometimes I can adopt a feminine point of view and explore some subjects that have been unexplored because they belong specifically to women's domain of work. Sometimes these are themes which women have not dealt with much until now, so it is interesting to use certain paths to explore them. But in general my position as an artist is the one of "transgender", meaning being beyond sexual determination, just like an animal is,so that I could feel more free in such an operating space. Also I happened to be rejected by so-called feminists, who thought that I was presenting a degrading image of women. I thought that their opinion was so unfair and boring! Such a mental sclerosis!

6. Question: What's the situation like in French contemporary scene? Closed or open? Likable, or rather dislikable?

Anne Van der Linden: Well, viewing things from my personal experience, the French scene is quite shy, at the same time full of the inferiority complex and conservative, always looking up to foreign countries art scene and deciding what is good in art or not, and the result of such a process is disastrous as we all know. Also the institutions have been adamant for decades that their rôle con sisted in promoting the old conceptual art, and all of us painters sculptors etc...could just go and die elsewhere. However, on the other hand, here in France I can make and broadcast pieces of art that could easily put me in trouble if I 'd shown them in other parts of the world. That lack of censorship here IS good!

7. Question: What's your experience with film, video? Do you like working with that media?

Anne Van der Linden: I have made 3 short films some years ago (2000-2001), and I used to develop and extend the themes of my paintings into film, in order to make them move into action, and this sort of experience was interesting. What I mean is that these films were close to performances, with a more material, everyday life aspect to them than my painterly images had before. But the filming of these images hasn't been an easy process- Ii had conflicts with the technicians I was working with and this problem has been blocking me and my filming process eversince.

Conversation with Ilana Shamoon by Nina Zivancevic

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I am sitting with Ilana Shamoon on the fifth floor of the Fondation Cartier, one of the major Parisian centers for contemporary art. For over twenty years, Cartier has been developing a highly individual style of patronage through his Foundation. Since moving to Paris in 1994, the Fondation Cartier has been housed in an airy building filled with light that was designed by the legendary architect Jean Nouvel. In this unique setting, exhibitions, conferences and artistic productions come to life. At once a creative space for artists and a place where art and the general public can meet, the center is dedicated to promoting public awareness of contemporary art. Each year, the Foundation organizes a program of exhibitions based on either individual artists or themes and commissions work from artists thus enriching their important collection[...]

Tate Modern, made in (Tate) Britain

Tate Modern, made in (Tate) Britain

By Nina Zivancevic

 

 

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What to say about a colossal art project which opened in 2000 housing 48 galleries devoted to the display of its permanent Collection? That it possesses numerous works of art which its mother-house, Tate Britain could not house any longer? That it hides in its vast basement a ghastly amount of art work which will never see the light of day due to an endless number of objects that are already scheduled to be displayed in there through the year 4000? And that in this particular respect it resembles madly the awesome temples of contemporary art such as New York’s MOMA and French Center Georges Pompidou?

However, as the Tate Modern, nested along the Waterloo’s riverside area, opened its doors to the Londoners and the international public not so long ago (in 2000) ago, surprisingly, and in May 2006 it decided to make a major amendment and rehang its permanent Collection around an entirely new concept. The rehang which features four wings (on levels 3 and 5 ) was generously backed by the UBS, British banking investors who enabled their visitors –unlike those who visit Center Pompidou or MOMA- to see the great works of the 20th century art history for free! The four wings correspond to the four periods in history associated with Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism; Surrealism and Surrealist tendencies; Abstract Expressionism and European Informal Art; and Minimalism. Around these focal points a range of displays move backwards and forwards in time, exploring how these movements echo a continuous dialogue between contemporary art and the past. There is an introductory room for each suite bringing together a striking pairing of major works by two artists with different artistic outlooks and from different generations.

The new display also includes a special showing drawn from the UBS Art Collection counting in the specific genres that were not well represented in the Tate Collection- last year, for instance, the show was drawn from their photography stock and this year we are offered a view of their rare drawings collection.

Around 40% of the works in the new display have never been shown at Tate Modern before including such luminary icons such as Lichtenstein’s Whaam! or important pieces by painter Picabia and sculptor Kapoor. Some 20% of works on display are brand new acquisitions by the most recent avantguard representatives such as the Guerrilla Girls or Christian Marclay. In addition, Tate Modern has included in its programme additional events and displays which take their inspiration from both the permanent Collection and the temporary one (located on level 4). The first of these events to celebrate the rehang, took place in 2006- it was a four day festival “The Long Weekend”; and in 2007/2008 there are other major live events scheduled as bi-monthly live performances (as the ones of Cai Guo-Quiang, DV8 and Merce Cunningham) As displays also focus on education and interpretation family initiatives, they allow for the performance of the events to be carried out in dedicated family space, as well as on the public concourses and computers linked to Tate’s online art database.

There are numerous important conferences and symposia related to the temporary shows which are exhibited on the level 2(in Starr Auditorium); among their highlights worth mentioning is the talk on David Smith in the series “Abstraction Across Media”(January 2007) and Sean Rainbird’s lecture on Kandinsky’s works which he himself curated at Tate in summer 2006. Among the most significant travelling exhibitions which have recently taken place at Tate Modern one can count in Wassily Kandinsky’s last year’s show. The Russian artist, who was one of the most significant artists of the 20th century was also considered as a pioneer in the development of a new visual language which is abstraction. The show “Kandinsky:Path to Abstraction” mainly focused on the early, exploratory period of his career when he was moving from mere observations of landscape towards the full abstract compositions. The show could serve as an example in good curatorial taste as it showed special caring for a compilation of the artist’s very beautiful, but at the same time very symbolic and above all, difficult to interpret, work. After Kandinsky’s show was over, the museum organised in collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation the big retrospective of David Smith’s work. Widely regarded as the greatest American sculptor of his generation, David Smith created some of the most memorable work in the twentieth century. Characterised by the use of the industrial materials, especially welded iron and steel, and the exploration of an open, linear structure, his work revolutionised the art of sculpture in the United States and elsewhere.

It is worth noticing that the so called travelling or temporary exhibitions which perfectly define the conceptual direction of the museum, always get their original initiative from the most exemplary work displayed in the permanent collection. So, what are the most recent trends in the Tate Modern curatorial policy and what are the possible tendencies in art to take shape in their future shows? “Learn to Read” is the latest exhibition in the Level 2 Gallery series which forecasts themes and trends in international contemporary art. This dense and visually diverse display brings together works by 29 artists which play with text, erasure and miscommunication resulting in the works which remind us of the legacy of early Dada, late Fluxus and conceptual art in general. The display from the UBS Art Collection in the Level 3 encourages the visitors to enlarge their experience of drawing. A vast collection of more than 40 drawings examines this medium thoroughly, both as a personal expression of famous artists and their primary exploration material. The display also includes the highlights of some of the best contemporary American artists such as Chuck Close (his unforgettable self-portrait evoking c lose resemblance with Allen Ginsberg!)and Robert Rauschenberg. We mentioned that the permanent Collection consists of four wings located in the Levels 3 and 5 and that at the heart of each wing is a central part offering an in-depth exploration of key periods in the development of modern art. The wing “Material Gestures” implies the spirit of action and gesture that are characteristic of the Futurists and the Expressionists whose work, created in the 1940s and 1950s, is to be found in this section. It opens into Boccioni’s futurist sculpture and is dominated by the works of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Lucio Fontana and Clyfford Still, along with the most recent acquisitions of Rothko’s immense and quiet “Seagram Murals”, of Guillermo’s Kuitca’s work (“Untitled”) and Douglas Gordon’s short video work (“10ms-1”) from the 1990s. The second wing in this level entitled “Poetry and Dream” is exclusively devoted to the Surrealist movement. Some of the movement’s most important works, including Max Ernst’s “Celebes”(1921) and Joan Miro’s “Painting” are to be found in its central hub. This section, as to its form and content, pays an excellent tribute to the Surrealist movement as no museum or gallery in France does – thus the proverb “familiarity breeds contempt”. As it examines the surrealist revolution in art with all its critical echoes in music , film, literature and theory, the Tate’s display takes a serious approach to this, perhaps the most subversive art movement in the 20th century. However, one gets the impression that the zealous curators of this display often have a tendency to overdo it as their choice of the surrealist works of art overfeed the visitor with the visual information; their choice of objects on display is admirable but as they are placed so tightly together, this sort of art work carpeting of the section’s interior creates a counterproductive effect. The wing named “Idea and Object” in Level 5 focuses on the development of the Minimalist movement during the 1960s. It includes some of the movement's most exemplary works such as Donald Judd's multi-dimensional objects, alongside with the pieces by Carl Andre. There are new acquisitions which put Ellsworth Kelly's work in new prospective as well as the recent work of Christina Iglesias.

Works which acted as precursors to Minimalism can also be seen in this level, as well as certain pieces which attest to the development to the Minimalist aesthetics and ideology. The wing opposite to this one is devoted to the “States of Flux” which explore the historic movements such as Cubism, Vorticism and Futurism. These movements which are often linked if not jumbled together in French museums are exemplified here mainly by the works of Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger and Giacomo Balla. Among the younger artists who have already become classics we can observe the respective presences of Gerhard Richter, Jonas Mekas -with his imaginative documentaries of the New Yorkers- and Steve McQueen. There is an additional series of the original music tracks that go together with the visual pieces, as well as the artists' commentaries and archive recordings made by the leading cultural figures- all contained in the museum's so called Multimedia Tour.

It is worth noticing that all the entrances to these displays are free or if there is a suggested concession it is fairly minimal, up to £1 or £2 which is quite unusual for a European museum of that size and scope.

The famous temporary Level 4 which houses special shows curated for the occasion – and which implies a certain entrance fee- presents us with two different shows this season, Salvador Dali's work related to film and entitled “Dali and Film”, and the work of a contemporary Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica under the working title “The Body of Color”. Salvador Dali (1904-89) is one of the most controversial artists of the 20th century- accused from the Surrealists that he was not imaginative enough to join their crowd, often he was also criticised by other artists and art critics that he was too commercial to be truly artistic. One field where his commercial taste for self-promotion met true art was the seventh art, that is, film, thus this particular show at Tate pays homage to that particular aspect of Dali's work- his attachment to cinema. The show brings together more than 100 works by Dali, including major paintings, photographs, drawings and films in order to explore the central role of cinema in his work. The exhibition also displays collaborations between Dali and legtendary filmmakers and producers such as Bunuel, Disney, Hitchcock and the Marx Brothers including the entire screenings of his early films made with the poet Lorca and Bunuel such as “The Andalusian Dog”(1929) and the “Golden Age”(1930). The symbolic imagery that Dali established in these films as a sort of his own painterly idiosyncratic language had served him throughout lifetime and became his own personal branding and landmark. Dali explored human psychology and his own obsessions in all modes of his practise- the ants that pour out of human body, the dismembered hands, the melting clocks and ancient statues- we find them all in his “Le chien andalou” and then in a repetative manner in all of his paintings. His critique of religions , of a small middle-class life and manners and his love for a Spanish landscape and its peasants are visible both in his and Bunuel's film “L'age d'or” and in all of his early paintings. Very much like in Tadeus Kantor, Roman Polanski or Julian Beck, Salvador Dali saw theater and cinema as the extended painting medium where the so called paintings follow one another with an unprecedented speed but with live actors and settings that change quickly. Film was a major passion throughout Dali's career as he was one of the first artists for whom film was a key influence as well as a creative outlet. It is true though that sometimes he was too creative for Hollywood studios and their standards- Disney studios suppressed the animation “Destino” for which Dali had written the script- his images were simply too wild for Disney's spectators! Fortunately, the 12 minute animation has been restored successfully and is shown in Tate in its integrity. However, Hitchcock had well understood the fact that Dali's motifs had already formed part of our collective imagination so he invited the artist to design a dream sequence for his film “Spellbound” as early as 1945. It is a sequence only 2 minutes long but it has all of Dali in it- his shadows, his chess-tables and his dreamlike atmosphere as a part of a real dream or an imagined psychological nightmare. It is interesting to know that he was also quite a talented scriptwriter, very prolific indeed, but very few of his scenarios were ever realised as the entire process of film-making often eluded him. This particularly clarifying show is at Tate Modern through September 3, 2007.

 

Nina Zivancevic

New Quai de Branly Museum in Paris

New Quai de Branly Museum in Paris

By Nina Zivancevic

 

 

A brand new Parisian "composite" and "bridge" museum which sees itself as a  French "museographic, scientific and cultural institution dedicated to the dialogue between cultures and civilizations" has barely opened its doors to the public when the series of harsh, critically oriented articles started barraging the international press. The 40,600 square meter colossus, consisting of several buildings, a huge garden, 3 suspended galleries and an enormous terrace, all supported by a powerful metallic megastructure was conceived in 1995 by the French president Jacques Chirac who, following a long pharaonic tradition of French presidents, desired leave a powerful testimony to his 12 year reign of the country. By creating a multi-faceted cultural institution of such scope, Chirac not only wanted to compete with Mitterand's impressive National Library building as well as with Georges Pompidou's Center, but he also wanted to emphasize his political stance which, according to him "desired to see justice rendered to non-European cultures otherwise present in French cultural heritage." By executing the 10 year long works of this new cultural and scientific institution, Chirac had but one idea on his mind -- to put an end "to a long history of disregard by giving just consideration to art forms and civilizations (of Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania and of the Americas), too long ignored or misunderstood." At once museum, cultural center and a body for research and teaching, the museum of Quai de Branly, located just across from the Eiffel tower, was constructed to be a rejection  of any proclaimed hierarchy in the arts as it is meant "to celebrate the universality of human spirit." In the press kit which I got prior to my visiting the museum, it was also announced as "a school of multiple disciplines, that is, an invitation to look upon the Other with greater knowledge, greater respect and with greater openness of mind."  In his presidential preface to the museum's guide, Chirac has also mentioned the fact that "throughout its history, France has always sought to instill universal values, but it has also learned the value of otherness." If these words came from any other politician in France, I admit that I would have been very careful whether to believe them, or simply I would have not. Coming from an ancient communist regime where people such as Lenin and Stalin flashed such lofty words of cultural encouragement left and right but then too readily failed to fulfil their promise, I was always quite sceptical to observe the politicians "eager at establishing the universal values of respect towards the Other." However, as these words were coming from the mouth if not the heart of the president who said "no" to the U.S. intervention in Iraq, I rushed down to the Rue de l'Université, to the most luxurious section of Paris, to see the new architectural wonder designed by the famous Jean Nouvel. I was equally hoping that all the treasures from the ancient Museum of Mankind, those from the museum of Asian art, Guimet, as well as the priceless objects transferred from the previous Museum of Africa and Oceania have found a decent and improved housing in this new climate of mutual respect and improved technology. And although I did not like the overambitious notion of so many "non-European" cultures (read the whole world!) jumbled together in one single space, no matter how large it could be, (out of my own respect for each cultural diversity), I still rejoiced at the idea of going to the place where  according to the architect Nouvel, "everything served to draw  the emotions out of the tribal artefact", the place "marked by symbols of forest and river ... of death and oblivion,  ... vibrant and spiritual", a sanctuary for censored works produced not so long ago in Australia and America. I wanted to reach such a place in France where "the ancestral spirits of those who awoke to the human condition and who invented gods and beliefs ... dwelled and conversed", the place which was both strange and unique, "poetic and disturbing." And finally when I arrived at such a place, I noticed a huge metal colonial building which was surrounded by a lake, African reeds snuggled inside the bush, and I remembered the sight of Kaduna river in north Nigeria where buffalos grazed and Fulani women washed their linen. The colonial building stood in such a contrast with the surrounding lake, no buffalos and Fulani women whatsoever, and I thought that I understood everything, even my desire to quit university where I studied cultural anthropology 20 years ago. I need not enter this building, I said to myself although the architect promised the visitors "a farewell to structures, fluidity, frontage joinery, safety staircases, railings, false ceilings, projectors, pedestals, showcases and wall clocks ... " However, I entered the expensive sanctuary where the artefacts from various continents competed with the photographs of people who were using them, of those faces behind the masks which were exhibited along the corridors of a museum which was, alright, beautiful. In a gaudy glass tower in the middle of the museum comprising of 4 different buildings, there were 9500 various musical instruments, but there were no living people to play them, no griots or poets to tell us stories about the events in which the musicians came to be separated from their instruments. The idea that rules the organized tour of the museum was also gone: a guardian at the very entrance of the museum had warned me that it was healthy for me or any visitor there not to have any curatorial guidance on the premises, "you see," he said, "the idea is for you to feel a bit like an explorer and to lose yourself in a maze with no boards in it." It was easier said that done, as the continents sort of merged together and melted in my brain and I find myself busy trying to sort out African Ashanti dolls  from the American Indian Katchina ones. A small task for a daughter of a former director of Museum of Mankind in Belgrade; but I was just wondering if I brought my children or a larger group of people, where would I start and how would I go about explaining the history of all civilizations in there ... ? Well, I don't know, as much as I don't know if all that investment was really necessary to boost up the curators' ego which was not even generous enough to tell us the primordial story about the birth of each of these respective civilizations ...  There were reminders everywhere telling us that indeed much money  was invested in this building, money which could have been given to the starving people in Asia and Africa. Another artefact of waste: there's so much water  being constantly splashed over the museum's artificial hanging gardens which cover the frontage of the museum ... In this needy "non-European" world which is dying of thirst and hunger, was there a real need to invest more than one million euros of the backers' money into the garden "which covers 18,000 square meters enclosing the museum and creating an impression of wild profusion ... a perfect natural setting for the collections"!!? Is all the money in this world used to create merely an impression of caring for the population and cultures who really need it? I think that the real controversy being created in relation to this, or any other museum lies right there -- in our unwillingness to admit that under the cloak of so called caring about preservation of a certain culture and/or civilisation or so called "Other" we often try to hide our guilt about basic human neglect for  the very phenomenon we pretend to care about. And there is no room in any museum in this world that will exhibit this sort of hypocrisy of a naked human heart.