Centre for the Arts of Doing Something about It

Exhibition

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

On Saturday I visited the most excellent Take this hammer (Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area)at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Take this hammer is about everything you want an exhibition to be. YBCA is in the City Centre, but us Europeans need to remember that American cities centres are not privileged areas, and San Francisco’s is definitely not. It is an area filled with misery, homelessness and addictions. It is important to point out as showing Take this hammer is a Westminster-like area would be, at the very least, cynical.

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The  exhibition starts with a funny take on the ever growing tech-industry, in the form of a catchy video/song called Google Apps Apps, by PERSIA featuring Daddie$ Pla$tik. It sets the tone of the exhibition as a show where the most serious matters are presented, if not with humour, at least with a form of playfulness. It is also a tribute to the LGBT and Drag culture of San Francisco. Nonetheless, I’m unsure whether a still from the video is the best way to advertise the exhibition. As much as it is a good start for the whole narrative, it is not the most powerful piece and by being so representative of the image of San Francisco which is exported, it is perhaps the least iconoclast, or radical.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show as a whole resides in its use of technology. The tech industry in the Valley is sucking life out of the city, not only by creating gentrification and in doing so provoking evictions, as the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project shows, but also by avoiding taxes.

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project http://www.antievictionmap.com/

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project http://www.antievictionmap.com/

 

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All http://www.lesliedreyer.com/performanceinterventions.html

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All http://www.lesliedreyer.com/performanceinterventions.html

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All http://www.lesliedreyer.com/performanceinterventions.html

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All http://www.lesliedreyer.com/performanceinterventions.html

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All http://www.lesliedreyer.com/performanceinterventions.html

Heart of the City Collective Gmuni Free Luxury Free Market Free for All http://www.lesliedreyer.com/performanceinterventions.html

 

Events which are not necessarily visible unless made public by newspapers are here the object of performances, installations and interactive experiences. Technology is used to highlight the effects of gentrification and violence. The website Out of Sight, Out of Mind, by Pitch Interactive, is turned into an installation. It shows the secret strikes carried out by the US in Pakistan – those two countries are not even officially at war. The show goes seamlessly from domestic to foreign dehumanising policies. In fact, the Anti-eviction Mapping Project, where you can navigate the computer to read the stories of the evicted individuals, is not too far from the Out of Sight, Out of Mind process of showing the stories of the victims of drones.

However, one the most striking pieces of the exhibition was for me, by far, the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History. It creates doubt – “I thought Guantanamo was still open?!” – anger – why is this place taking so long to shut down? – hope.

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History, http://www.guantanamobaymuseum.org/?url=welcome

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History, http://www.guantanamobaymuseum.org/?url=welcome

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History, http://www.guantanamobaymuseum.org/?url=welcome

The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History, http://www.guantanamobaymuseum.org/?url=welcome

The whole internet is moved – and rightly so – by the profound, systematic and bureaucratic injustice of an affair like the one depicted in Making a Murderer yet Guantanamo prison has been carrying illegal detention for 15years. If you want to be cynical, at least, Steven Avery got a trial. Guantanamo prison is dehumanising, illegal, illegitimate, it’s a disgrace.

If I describe these conditions without permitting my indignation to interfere, I have lifted this particular phenomenon out of its context in human society and have thereby robbed it of part of its nature, deprived it of one of its important inherent qualities.

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Picturing it as “passed future” is highly radical because it does not simply criticise the project, it also questions the responsibility of the public in bringing an end to it. And this is why this show, even in the imperative form of its title, “Take this hammer” is so powerful: it does not only points out what’s wrong or shows what activists are doing. In another post I will talk about strategies and tactics in art, activism and public art. By making struggles visible these artworks engage with the public: you can take a poster of one of the victims of police violence and colour it, rehumanise it, because #Blacklivesmatter.

You can take a postcard of an imprisoned woman with her portrait at the front and her story at the back. You can take the message home, and it is made possible mainly by technology. All the projects have a website where you can contribute one way or another – I will post each website in the coming week, so keep posted. It doesn’t stay in the white cube.

 

 

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“I Spy with my little eye… A new generation of Beirut artists”.

Exhibition, Short read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

 

Yesterday I visited the exhibition “I Spy with my little eye. A new generation of Beirut artists”, at the Mosaic Rooms, in London. It ends tomorrow, so if you can make the time, go and see it.

“I Spy” struck me for two reasons.

The first is the content of the exhibition. As discussed in last week’s post with Yahya from P21 Gallery, we expect artworks from warzones or postconflict zones to talk about war. This is the opposite here.

 

Photo of the Mosaic Rooms with three different artworks. Source: Margaux Portron

Photo of the Mosaic Rooms with three different artworks.
Source: Margaux Portron

Here you can see a lamp hanging from a chandelier. The artwork by Stéphanie Saadé is part of a series called Re-enactment LB /Chandelier, “a scenario seen in a traditional Beiruti house –  a lamp used only as a support for another lamp”.

The phone is part of the installation Let it ring, by Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, where three phones were dialled – the three phones are displayed throughout the Mosaic Rooms. “the installation/performance employs disappearance as a mode of visual suggestion, conveying historical and intimate meanings, finding poetic lines that extend beyond the realm of existing realities”.

The series of photographs by Georges Awde depict Syrian boys living in Lebanon, certainly, but they’re more about coming of age for boys than about fleeing a warzone:

His passing cover, by Georges Awde Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

His passing cover, by Georges Awde
Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

His passing cover, by Georges Awde Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

His passing cover, by Georges Awde
Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

For some curatorial reason, however, the photographs were hung quite low on the wall, and because they were displayed in the halls I couldn’t really take a step back (literally), to look at them. It is a pity because these are really powerful pictures (as the comments left in the gallery book also suggest).

Which brings me to the form of the exhibition.

I liked that there was no info on the artworks on the walls: you had to take a brochure and find the artist in there. There are so many artworks there that I feel like info on the wall would have disrupted their message. Instead, the pieces work with the space without the museographic codes.

For instance, this is not an artwork:

The Reeds, by Lara Tabet (in collaboration with Michelle Daher) Source: Margaux Portron

The Reeds, by Lara Tabet (in collaboration with Michelle Daher)
Source: Margaux Portron

The Reeds corresponds to the photos, it is not the whole installation. I absolutely loved this set up, because it engaged me physically with the artworks: you have to dig into the box, the photos will not stay in the same order, etc. But even more so, because it comprises “photographic shots of a sexual cruising ground tucked away ine one Beirut’s iconic waterfronts”. Very graphic images indeed. This set-up transforms us from spectators to actors – you do not simply walk past.

 

 


The Mosaic Rooms

Free Admission
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-6pm
A.M. Qattan Foundation
Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road
London SW5 0SW

http://mosaicrooms.org/ | https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mosaic-Rooms/125931740810008 | Twitter @themosaicrooms | https://instagram.com/themosaicrooms/

T. 020 7370 9990

Nearest tube: Earl’s Court

Kites from Kabul

Exhibition, Short read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

 

Today I went to the exhibition “Kites from Kabul” at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

It consists in a display of kites and photos of kite-flying in Afghanistan. It is a strong tradition in this country, even in times of war. Kite-making and kite-flying are both about craft and art, skill and creativity. Children and adults put so much passion into them it actually is more of a combat sport, as you can see in this video:

It was a forbidden practice under the Taliban regime, for a reason I couldn’t find anywhere.

Maybe because of the colours and the sheer fun?

Handmade kites displayed at the V&A Museum of Childhood

Handmade kites displayed at the V&A Museum of Childhood. Source: Margaux Portron

I find it interesting that such practices take place in countries where the airspace is (or was, in the case of India under the British colonisation) otherwise constantly occupied by bomber planes and drones. As kites have been flying over Afghanistan for a century, it looks like what could be a reappropriation of the airspace.

Wonder Years, by Tabby.  Source: http://tabbythis.com/?page_id=2255

Wonder Years, by Tabby.
Source: http://tabbythis.com/?page_id=2255

However, I couldn’t help but notice the total absence of women and girls in the photos. I was suprised the curatorial text didn’t mention it was a masculine practice in Afghanistan (in India, from what I understood, girls participate). It is unfortunataly a rather tiny exhibition which lacks in historical and social context. It is nevertheless worth seeing for the beautiful photos and handmade kites.

Photos taken in 2014 and 2015 by Andrew Quilty

Photos taken in 2014 and 2015 by Andrew Quilty. Source: Margaux Portron


“Turquoise Mountain has been working in Afghanistan since 2006 to revive historic areas and traditional crafts, and has restored over 100 historic and community buildings in the Murad Khani district of Kabul. It has also set up the Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture, which trains hundreds of young Afghans in traditional arts and crafts. The kites in this display are the result of a collaboration between the children of Murad Khani and students from the Institute.” 

V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA Admission free. Open daily: 10.00 – 17.45, last admission 17.30 Nearest tube: Bethnal Green. Tel: 020 8983 5200 http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc


Also on the subject: The Kite Runner, a book by Khaled Hosseini, adapted into a film by Marc Forster.