Sunday, 24 July 2011

Koen Vanmechelen at Venice - nato a venezia

In the 2009 Venice Biennale, we found a strange exhibition by Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen. What seemed to be the main section held a group of composite large birds made of feathers, metal and glass. I didn't like them, didn't find them interesting.
There was also a case with a gold egg in it, which I didn't understand.

But then I read the long label and became fascinated. I think it was only restrictions of time that kept me from saying anything about it here then. Here's some of the text from that label:
"The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project is a ...cross-breeding project with chickens that connects art and science... For his first cross-breeding Koen Vanmechelen chose the 'Mechelse Koekoek' (cuckoo of Mechelen), the pride of Flemish chicken breeding and a relative in name to the artist. The 'poulet de Bresse' (chicken of Bresse) is a first-rate French chicken. Their cross-breeding is the 'Mechelse de Bresse' that went to London, to the Lisson Gallery, to be cross-bred with the English 'Redcap.' This successful race was almost infertile. By cross-breeding with fresh blood it became fertile again...After many years of isolation you get to deal with phenomena such as the Redcap.
"In the meantime the 'Mechelse Redcap', uniting Belgian, French and English nationalities was crossbred with the American 'Jersey Giant' which is not surprisingly the biggest chicken on earth. Only in case a border is actually being crossed, the artist indeed shows the whole breeding process from the hatching of the eggs until the breaking out of the chicks. More cross breedings were made with the 'Dresdner Huhn,' the Dutch 'Uilebaard' and a Brasilean chicken which is a samba chicken. Vanmechelen: 'I am fascinated by the fact that people have bred such chickens. It says something about the origin and the existence of their national conscience. In those chickens one may find the characteristics of a nation.'
"All current chicken races originate from the first, primitive chicken, the 'Red Jungle Fowl,' that still lives near the Himalayas. In Nepal Koen Vanmechelen was able to film a Red Jungle Fowl family. In contrast with domesticated chickens the Red Jungle Fowl is monogamous. As the fowl still lives in the wild, monogamy may be even a stronger characteristic than the polygamous element. The super bastard of Cosmopolitan Chicken is no return to the primitive fowl, but a new start. 'What she will look like is not important,' says the artist.' She will get another sort of beauty. She will have all genes of all chickens in the world. It is an ideal and like ideals it will be full of deficiencies. This chicken is a living work of art that is ready for someing new. The artist's role is almost gone. Everything is on the move. It is a perpetuum mobile.'
"The project already has ten genrations - the latest being the Cuban Mechelse Cubalaya...."

Cases of glass eggs from Cosmopolitan Chicken Project in 2009
This year we were delighted to find that Koen Vanmechelen had additional work in Venice, this time in conjunction with Glasstress. First, one of his glass eggs with chicken legs is at the Palazzo Franchetti.

A significant part of his exhibition, titled nato a venezia [born in Venice]  is in a nearby palace of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, where the Venetian Pantheon, a display of marble busts representing distinguished men who were born or lived for a long time in Venice, is on display.  Positioned among them is Vanmechelen's portrait of the 'Mechelse Fayoumi,' the 15th generation of his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, a result of the mating of no. 14, the' Mechelse Silky' and the Egyptian 'Fayoumi.'

In shelves behind the Pantheon are taxidermied representatives of the previous 14 generations of the project.

Upstairs in a 'breeding room' are inclubators with eggs resulting from the 15th breeding waiting to hatch. When we asked, we learned that the chicks were due in a couple of days, would remain in the palace for about a day and then be transferred to the gallery on Murano, since the palace wouldn't permit the keeping of live animals.
Also upstairs were several laptops and a researcher working on Vanmechelen's Open Diversity Project, which involves several areas of research on diversity. One was about symmetry and asked the visitor to be photograped. I tried it, but my head was tilted in the photograph so that it would not produce any sensible results in a symmetry project. I tried answering the questionnaire, but missed some questions and couldn't get back to it to complete participation. My personal experience with that combination of art and science was that neither was working properly in that particular context.
Another part had to do with flatworm populations and I wandered away from it.
But we remained fascinated by the chickens and on Murano we made a point of visiting them. We saw the chicks that had hatched earlier

Generation 15

and visited the parents, one of which kept crowing insistently. I gather he was the Egyptian Fayoumi.

I am charmed by the idea of breeding all the chickens of the world together to make one breed, a 'one world' chicken. I see it as a metaphoric peace initiative, although I can imagine other far more negative interpretations. Other aspects of working with chickens  discussed in Washington Post article about Vanmechelen's exhibition there in November 2009 - for example the idea of breaking out of a shell to find oneself in a cage, in a gallery - also interest me, but it's the cosmopolitan chicken that caught and engages my imagination.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Glasstress II Murano

The second part of Glasstress on Murano is in a larger, somewhat more flexible but very rough space, a former glass factory. Javier Perez's Carroña [Carrion], a shattered blood red chandelier on the floor beset by stuffed black crows, conjures various aspects of death. in photographs the shards of glass look like spilled blood. I wonder if the near homophone titles of this and his Corona at the Palazzo Franchetti associate them with their surreal references to mortality and pain. The Fred Wilson on Murano is another of his Iago's Mirror series, a beautifully designed layered black mirror in 18th-century Venetian style. It would have fit seamlessly into the Istituto palace and here stands out high on a rough wall.

Tomas Libertiny The Seed of Narcissus
Thomas Libertiny's The Seed of Narcissus is a glass shape covered with honeycomb; a video in the same space documents the bees at work. I wonder how he got the bees to make this, and why he wanted them to.

Marta Klonowska reproduces in prickly glass the animals in Old Master Paintings. Resting atop one of the kilns is Il Miracolo della reliquia della Santa Croce after Vittore Carpaccio, the dog from the Carpaccio painting of a Miracle of the Holy Cross, This adorable dog seems completely independent of the painting's subject.

Marta Klonowska, Il Miracolo dalla reliquia della Santa Croce after Vittore Carpaccio
Antonio Riello's Ashes to Ashes almost disappeared on the rough wall where it was installed, but like many of the works in this exhibition it caused me to think about death, this time the death of loved or important books, absence, and using one thing to stand for another. He actually burned books to make this installation and I noted a few that meant something to me: Le Petit Prince, Madame Bovary, and The Name of the Rose.

Antonio Riello, Ashes to Ashes

Pharrell Williams's Inside Out consists of two skeletons, one winged, and the other not, floating in a dark space. The rapper has chosen a pretty common subject for his contribution to the show, but skeletons are always interesting and they reinforce the unstated theme of the exhibition.
Ursula von Rydingsvard's work is both a surprise and consistent with her channeled wood sculptures. The 2009 work is titled Glass Corrugated, and is a lovely gold color.
Hidden in an upper room that we almost missed was Hitoshi Kuriyama's Life-Reduction, constructed of broken flourescent bulbs, again suggesting aspects of death. Tom informed me after we left it that broken flourescent bulbs emit mercury, which is dangerous.

Also in an outside area I found No Kick, No Touch, a broken glass full size soccer/football goal net by Mauro Bonaventura, a Murano glass artist who specializes in spidery orbs and other shapes.

Through writing about the works that interested me here, I've discovered that most of them make reference to death, breakage, and absence. No doubt this has more to do with my own choices than with the exhibition's curatorial choices, since the curator's stated theme is "the complex relationship that ties art, design and architecture together, reviving critical issues...[like] what makes...a work of art? To respond to the spirit of the time, must a work refer only to itself? Can we say today that the function of a design object is itself enough to make the work alien to the spirit of the time regardless of its formal qualities?" These questions of course, have almost nothing to do with the objects in the show and frankly, have little interest for me in the context of an exhibition. What the works do demonstrate, as Glasstress has indicated is a mission, is that glass can contribute powerfully to the content of works of art simply by virtue of its qualities as a medium.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Glasstress II in Venice, Palazzo Franchetti

(If the spacing in this entry is frustrating and irrational, please forgive me. Blogspot is totally frustrating with images and the ugliness does not show in draft mode.)

While the Venice Biennale seems to have been unusually boring this year, it was still possible to find many engaging contemporary displays and exhibitions in the city. One of them is Glasstress. For a city that is known for its glass industry, I've been surprised that so little focus is put on glass as art in the city. Glass is everywhere, but very little of it can be called art. Two years ago this gap was filled by two exhibitions - one a show of 6 contemporary glass artists in the Venice Pavilion at the Biennale (which subsequently circulated for a long time in the United States) and the first edition of Glasstress. This time we saw Glasstress in two venues, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti near the Accademia Bridge, and the Berengo Studios on Murano. For Glasstress contemporary artists who are not always known for their work in glass make objects incorporating glass. This is a bit like the residency programs at Pilchuck, where non-glass artists sometimes develop their glass skills.

Chandelier, Palazzo Franchetti

View from Palazzo Franchetti
I love two things about this exhibition. First, many of the objects are intriguing, well-made, and meaningful; second, both the exhibition locations are quirky and encourage looking at the art. The Istituto is a Venetian palace and some of the objects are shown in rooms with huge elaborate chandeliers and views of the Grand Canal. The Berengo Studio is a former glass factory and has the roughness of the Arsenale plus the fascination of empty glass furnaces. You wander into various spaces and discover objects, sometimes prominent and sometimes almost hidden.

At the Instituto the first objects I liked were two heads by Thomas Schutte, distorted cast glass portraits in the stairway of the palace, one green, one red (titled Berengo Head, 2011). Most glass figures have caricatured features or are idealized to the point of caricature, but these had the quality of their clay models, representational in detail, but distorted beyond reality, both mocking and touching.

Zhang  Huan, Ten Thousand Years Old Turtle and Kiki Smith, Milky Way, both 2011
In the first gallery the enormous work by Zhang Huan - Ten Thousand Years Old Turtle, consists of a carapace of glass segments over a large pile of sand.

Jaume Plensa, Glassman II 

Nearby a segmented Jaume Plensa's Glassman II, a deconstructed supine figure with a pool of blood in each body part. Behind the turtle a sparkling wall hanging with a snake slithering up it surprised me as a Kiki Smith.I love the sparkles.

Near the Smith the Javier Perez Corona, a glass crown of thorns on a red and gold pillow, suggests a relic as it calls to mind the Passion of Christ, paintings of the Passion of Christ, and the real pain such a crown would inflict.
Javier Perez, Corona
I neglected to get the title of the Fred Wilson in this part of the exhibition and can't find it anywhere. A white wilted chandelier on a black background, flanked by several framed black glass rectangles with various groupings of holes in them. I didn't understand what they stood for, and in the video Glasstress made of Wilson, he says "no one will know it has anything to do with Wall B, but I will know." I don't know what Wall B is, but the photograph of Wall B appears to have portrait paintings on it. He describes the white chandelier as a figure, with face, arms, and hands.


Michael Joo, Expanded Access, 2011

I enjoyed Korean/American Michael Joo's, Expanded Access, a group of stanchions made of silvered glass. One wanted to move them to a more useful configuration, but of course they would have broken.

South African artist Kendell Geers Cardiac Arrest VIII, glass police batons arranged in a heart shape and his A Rose by Any Other Name VII of paired gold glass police batons in the shape of a cross also made glass objects that are normally not glass, this time with more chilling effect.

Vik Muniz, Hourglass
 The work by Vik Muniz, Hourglass, 2010 is simply a large hourglass with a brick instead of sand. A few brick flakes have fallen to the lower part of the hourglass, indicating that it measures a very long time.It made me think both of stopping time and of the way even a brick disintegrates over time.

Finally, I found the work by Russian artist Oleg Kulik politically charged and amusing.

Oleg Kulik, Deep into Russia