Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Multiplicity of Worlds

[“My Frontier Is an Endless Wall of Points” (2007) by Joachim Koestler, 16mm black & white film. “The Diamond (Descartes’ Daughter)” (2008) by Emily Wardill, 16 mm color film with sound. “Associations” (1975) by John Smith, 16mm color film. “Some People Say They Think It Sounds Like Aluminum …” (2010) by Hannah Rickards, silkscreen on paper. “Fever 103” (2010) by Ulrike Müller, vitreous enamel on steel. “Chain of Triangles (from Rodez to Vernet)” (2011) by Leonor Antunes, copper.]

Taking its title from Bruno Latour’s 2005 book “Reassembling the Social,” this exhibition of works and performances by Leonor Atunes, Gregg Bordowitz, Joachim Koester, Ulrike Müller, Hannah Rickards, Sergei Tcherepnin, and Emily Wardill—up at Murray Guy through August 5, 2011—is conceived as a prompt for evaluating how artworks deploy and multiply uncertainties. Compelling viewers in their scrutinizing of collected forces, enacting of displacements, and drawing of associations, this exhibition is the first time Rickards, Antunes, and Wardill have been exhibited in New York.

Latour—an eminent French sociologist—sought in “Reassembling the Social” to pierce such concepts as “social” and “social relations.” Arguing that “the social” doesn’t exist—let alone explain or relate to human relations—Latour counters that it is a construct that must be constantly and provisionally assembled out of traces, translations, enrollments, and movements. In its negation of “the social,” Latour’s text asserts a series of significant uncertainties: “How are groups always in formation rather than formed?” “How is every action always overtaken by multiple agencies?” “How do objects have agency?” “What standards or formats circulate from site to site?” “What counts as an empirical fact?” Rather than settling or solving these essentially existential questions, Latour poses an alternative “sociology of associations” in which they are embraced. By actively deploying these questions, the many emanating connections drawn and redrawn around them can be collected and examined. This potential construct, a “sociology of associations,” is fluid—related as it is to experiential vagaries. While demanding a plurality of “identity currents” such as class, gender, imperialism, and racism, Latour’s nuanced metaphysics derides efforts by researchers to fit their subjects within specific structures or frameworks.

In their recognition of historical and anthropological contexts, the work of Leonor Antunes transforms spaces it occupies and is an especially apropos component in this show. Having shown her work in Berlin, Lisbon, London, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro, Artunes configures that space through a precision of staging. In her dialogue of renewal, the work of Artunes is dense and textured while exploring the disproportionate, miniature, and monumental. Variations of size, scale and proportion are key in her work.

While having a veneer of humor, John Smith’s films, videos, and installations convey a deeper—and many times darker—layer of meaning in which he narrates and composes discomforting visual narratives just beneath those jokes and puns. Unfettered by boundaries of “fact” and “fiction,” Smith’s work is rigorously conceptual while his “storytelling”—relying as it does on semiotics, digressions, montage, and linguistic explorations—reveals inherent social and political conflict. Viewers can experience the interplay between sound and image in John Smith’s works that have—since 1972—defied such film labels as avant-garde, documentary, and experimental. Obscuring as much as it reveals, Smith’s body of work betrays deeply conceptual analyses that run parallel to his craftily irreverent constructions. While teaching fine art film and video at the University of East London, Smith’s work has been viewed internationally in such institutions as: MoMA PS1, Tanya Leighton Gallery (Berlin), Tate Britain, Berlin Biennial, Venice Biennale, Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Pallas Projects (Dublin), Whitechapel Gallery (London), Royal College of Art Galleries (London), Sala Diaz Gallery (Texas), Ikon Gallery (Birmingham), Kunstmuseum (Magdeburg), Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool), Pearl Gallery (London), and Australian Centre for the Moving Image (Melbourne). Additionally his works have won international acclaim in the form of major prizes at many film festivals.

Like those of John Smith, the works of Conceptual artist (and 2008 Hugo Boss Prize finalist) Joachim Koester bridge documentary and fiction. Working primarily in video and still photography, Koester draws upon an array of inspirations in his fresh—if forensic—works: occultist Aleister Crowley, philosopher Immanuel Kant, balloon explorer Salomon August Andrée, Jonathan Harker (of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”), theater enfant terrible Bertolt Brecht, film juggernaut Jean-Luc Godard, Belgian poet and painter Henri Michaux, and horror genre cult figure H.P. Lovecraft. Spanning internal and external worlds at once physical and psychological, Koester’s obsessive work conveys every shadow, blemish, and apprehension in its narrative.

Connected to the Dada-inspired Fluxus movement, British artist Emily Wardill has richly used language across the spectrum of her works to communicate ideas, reflections, and philosophical ponderings. Whether via performance pieces, installations, and 16mm films, one can experience Wardill’s imagery-laden scenarios. A senior lecturer at Central Saint Martins College of Art, Wardill—in her films—focuses on brief moments of clarity. As with John Smith and Joachim Koester, Wardill’s works blur constructs of truth and fiction—while struggling with such concepts as rationality vs. emotion and symbolism vs. reality. Noted for their rigorous intellectual and historic engagement, Wardill’s works have been viewed in such venues as the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), De Appel (Amsterdam), The Showroom (London), and Spacex (Exeter). Awarded the “Follow Fluxus After Fluxus” prize (instituted by Wiesbaden’s Nassauischer Kunstverein), Wardill’s work subtly deconstructs language and can be seen through the prism of “searching for self” within a vacuum of isolation.

Dealing with transformations between categories of perception and representation—such as between the visual and audible or between natural and artificial—the work of British artist Hannah Rickards utilizes a process of reduction recalling 1970s Conceptualism. Although Rickards' work shifts between different modes of perception and representation, sound and its “consequences” have a vaunted place in her work. In 2005’s “Thunder,” Rickards utilized a manufactured thunderclap while in 2002’s “Birdsong,” she used recordings of six different passages of birdsong (and lowered their pitch)—in both variably manipulating those sounds. Critic Melissa Gronlund has posed placement of Rickards between two very eminent poles in “rationale” for referential works—between Beethoven’s aim of imitation (in 1808’s “Symphony No. 6”) and John Cage’s of immediacy (in 1972’s “Bird Cage”). Meanwhile, in her diagrammatic installations, Rickards focuses on transformative processes. In the totality of her works, the viewer experiences the netherworld between perception and representation.

An extension of 1970s feminist ferment, the psychologically intense and sexually explicit work of Ulrike Müller utilizes text, narrative, language, and abstraction to break down traditional binary systems and create new options that address current feminist, gender, and queer concerns. With a body of work at once activist, feminist, and theoretical, Müller—in her use of language and body as vehicles of expression—confronts viewers to act critically. This she does in graphic works, videos, performances, and minimally colored drawings. A co-editor of the queer feminist journal “LTTR,” Müller has herself critically examined a number of relationships, including those between artist and viewer and speaker and listener. In fact, her book “Work the Room” was conceived around its own question: “What does it mean to act critically?” Müller's works have been performed or exhibited in such venues as: Broan Gallery (New York), Shared Women (Los Angeles), Diagonale Festival of Austrian Film (Graz), Mumok (Vienna), and PS 1 (New York).

Writer, AIDS activist, video-maker, and artist Gregg Bordowitz produced the autobiographical documentary “Fast Trip Long Drop” in 1993—a work that examined his experience in testing positive for HIV antibodies. A collection of his texts, “The AIDS Crisis Is Ridiculous and Other Writings: 1986-2003” was published by MIT Press. A professor of film, video, media, visual, and critical studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Borodwitz’s essay, "Picture a Coalition," was published in the seminal "AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism" issue of "October" (#43, 1987). A work-in-progress of Bordowitz’s project “The History of Sexuality Volume One by Michel Foucault: An Opera” was shown at Tanzquartier Wien while his other works have been viewed at The Gene Siskel Film Center (Chicago), New York Jewish Film Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), Sundance Film Festival, and on PBS.

Containing their inner dialogue between improvisation’s theory and practice, the compositions and performances of Sergei Tcherepnin have been performed in such institutions and settings as Da Capo Chamber Players, St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, the American Symphony Orchestra, the American Wind Symphony Orchestra, Merkin Concert Hall, Chelsea Art Museum, Dia Beacon, National Olympic Stadium (Tokyo), Look and Listen Festival (St. Petersburg), the Moscow Autumn Festival, and the Emerging String Quartet Festival (Deer Valley). Tcherepnin writes for the “Brooklyn Rail” and performs as part of the analog synthesizer collective “Analogos.”

The empirical works drawn together for this show—in various ways—attempt to shepherd contradictory elements and realities. Like Latour, some of these artists have been associated—if tangentially—with social constructionist approaches, and have since diverged from such approaches. On its face, this show may seem dryly intellectual: Yet these works that complement a relativist approach cast a light on possibilities of a “multiplicity of worlds” or “multiplicity of realities” in keeping with nuances of Latour’s worldview.

Events as part of this exhibition:
· Thursday, July 7, 2011 Performance/talk by Gregg Bordowitz: “Testing Some Beliefs”
· Thursday, July 21, 2011 Film screening by John Smith: “Slow Glass” & “Lost Sound”
· Friday, August 5, 2011 Performance/installation by Sergei Tcherepnin

A Form Is Simply Something Which Allows Something Else to Be Transported From One Site to Another: An Exhibition of Works & Performances by Leonor Atunes, Gregg Bordowitz, Joachim Koester, Ulrike Müller, Hannah Rickards, Sergei Tcherepnin, & Emily Wardill
Through August 5, 2011
453 West 17th Street NYC 10011

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