London - Interviews

Re-appropriating The Field of Emotion: an Interview with Kader Attia

7 months ago

We interviewed the artist Kader Attia on the occasion of his first major exhibition in the United Kingdom ‘The Museum of Emotion’ at The Hayward Gallery in London. The international artist, who has been named by The Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff as “One of the most interesting and cogent artists practising today”, spoke to us about the Field of Emotion, La Colonie, the Gilets Jaunes, his notion of Repair  and his experience at the 57th Venice Biennale. 

Lara Morrell: It seems to me that your art is a form of catharsis in the face of social and geopolitical frustrations, is this an apt observation and could you tell me more about the title of this exhibition the ‘Museum of Emotion’?

Kader Attia: Yes, that is true. It is important to be aware that we have been neglecting emotion, not only in art, but in politics too. Let me use France as an example: At the beginning of the 80’s, the left gained power with François Mitterrand, after two decades of a right-wing government following ’68 and the Algerian War. However the 80’s brought about the rise of neoliberalism, of a new right and what is even worse, the fall of the left. As a consequence the left became snobbish, what we call ‘Gauche Caviar’, in fact they began to neglect the ‘roughness of life’. In the cultural field they started to render the colours, smells, noise, museums and their exhibitions emotionally and intellectually dark and obscure, with the primary incentive of seducing the market. So the 80’s had become the moment when the Left abandoned the field of emotion. The 90’s were the depoliticised decade, and this is the very when Neoliberalism in France began to emerge and to seep into politics via its very own tool, the media.

LM: What would you say is the most interesting example of this?

KA: Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi owned two channels in France, La Cinq and another channel, whichgradually became very famous. As in Italy, he became the figure of a neoliberal promise and people began to believe that he was right. The connection between neoliberalism, economy and politics became more and more obvious through people like him.  Berlusconi was very much using the field of emotion by provoking catharsis within the people: their desire to be healed, to be cured; but by condemning and blaming the other. For instance the blame for the decline of French economy was put on the Left, the choices they had taken, and it was denounced as total ‘nonsense’. By 1995 Berlusconi had become very famous in France and had began to build his own political party Forza Italia. Here we can see a clear illustration of media as a tool to gain power and control. If you look at what has happened afterwards, in France and also other countries, the direction of the political agenda had started to run parallel with the rhythm of the media and the news. By hijacking the attention of the political and media landscape, by creating scandal to gain attention, Berlusconi, like Trump, played with the ambivalence of emotion.

LM: Could you explain what you mean by the ambivalence of emotion? In your opinion do emotions have the potential power to heal or they solely create conflict? Can you tell us some more about ‘The Field of Emotion’ ? (An installation in the exhibition, where the artist has juxtaposed images of politicians with singers known for their powerful, affective delivery)

KA: Why do I think that emotion is ambivalent? If you look at a seminal context in history of the 21st Century, the way that populism brought fascists to power in the 1930’s, you clearly observe that only culture and artists can compete with politics on that ground. In my wall installation The Field of Emotion, I juxtapose people with very powerful voices – very charismatic singers like Maria Callas, people who really galvanised and magnetised crowds – with figures such as Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler and Fidel Castro. All these political leaders, also females such as Fidel Castro’s sister Juanita Castro or Mao’s wife Jiang Qing who was in charge of the Cultural Revolution, were totally homophobic. They were responsible for the imprisoning and deaths of a vast number of gay people. The Field of Emotion shows the way that most politicians, especially fascists with a radical agenda, hijack intellectuals and art in order to use them as a tool to control the crowds.  You just need to watch Hitler’s or Goebbel’s speeches, convincing the audience just by their passion.

Also Donald Trump is a comparable figure and not all of the crowd are immune to him. One could state that it was a big mistake by the US Left (if one can speak of a Left there at all) to let Hillary Clinton win against Bernie Sanders. Sanders was aware of the field of emotion but there were snobbish democrats who had been convinced they were going to win over the plebs. They continued the way in which the Left in France or Italy had neglected the field of emotion, and as a consequence we woke up in a nightmare. I think we are witnessing a crucial moment of re-appropriation of the field of emotion. I do believe that the filed of emotion today is in the hands of the far right: with people like Salvini in power or with the Brexit.

LM: Could you tell me about your space, the space you opened in 2016 in Paris which encourages cross cultural critical thinking and what is your view on the Gilets Jaunes movement?

KA: Also the Gilet Jaunes protests are connected to the field of emotion. Recently we had Toni Negri for a discussion about the Gilet Jaunes movement. Afterwards I asked Toni Negri if we could connect the Gilets Jaunes to the Forconi movement in Sicily which gave birth to The Five Star movement. He explained that the uprising of the Gilet Jaunes were more complex and that many movements in Europe were the origin of the new far Right, so we now needed to be aware of such a risk.

I absolutely agree with him and Ètienne Balibar who pointed out during our discussion that the Left and the cultural institutions are demonising the Gilet Jaunes, claiming that they were Fascists. But they are just reproducing the words of the neoliberal Right and now that the media has demonised them with one agenda they really have become a Fascist movement in the eye of the public. I think this is a crucial moment; we must reinvent a way re-appropriating the field of emotion, which is held not only by politicians but also by another power: the mass media, the tabloids, the media linked to the neoliberal, and do not allowing any deviation but following the narrative of liberalism. To cope with this we need either to create spaces, small niches or to create art that the audience such as my project on 23rd February. I invited all artists, curators and critics and anyone else who wanted to support the Gilet Jaunes and to state in a public forum that the movement is becoming bigger. Re-appropriatinf the field of emotion has become an emergency today. Over the last 20 years Italy already has been witnessing this evolution towards Fascism.

*On the 23rd of February the artist hosted at his space in Paris – La Colonie a day dedicated to Gilets Jaunes activism, where artists, intellectuals and critics gathered to exchange thoughts and ideas on how to explain and engage in the Gilets Jaunes movement see link to event here

LM: The vast installation ‘The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures’ is filled with African Masks and Paraphernalia from the First World War, could you expand on your notion of Repair in relation to these seemingly contrary objects.

KA: My idea of Repair has developed bit by bit through my research of the past, especially when researching storage spaces of ethnological museums. I observed that throughout history isolated societies which had not been in touch with Western thought or modernity before colonial times, used to apply practices of repair which have absolutely nothing in common with Western concepts of repair: they repaired broken objects while keeping the wound visible, so a broken calabash for instance would be repaired with visible stitches or staples. This is not only the case in Africa, but also in Japan where the fissure of a broken ceramic pot was painted in gold after mending it. This is called ‘Kintsugi’ and it is a very delicate artistic form of taking care of the injury. With the rise of technological developments and modernity, the West started to be obsessed with an idea of repair that equals the necessity to control and to erase the injury and to make the object look like it did at the beginning. This is the total fantasy of modernity. If you consider this very obvious, yet deep-rooted contradiction you begin to realise the different concepts of injury from the westernand from the traditional point of view. For me the most significant moment of a shift of Western modernity, and perhaps the beginning of its end, was the First World War. It lasted 4 years, millions died, and it was the macabre theatre of the many inventions of Modernity. At this very point in time, the injured and wounded bodies were the incarnations of progress. What I find extremely interesting is the way people then tried to fix the injuries. At the beginning of WW1, in 1915 or so, people repaired injured faces and bodies on the battle field. The armies were simply overwhelmed with what was happening as they had not foreseen such slaughter. So they had to rely on young women, young nurses.


There is one famous French woman who after the war became a very important plastic surgeon, her name is Suzanne Noël, and she described repairing the faces of the injured in the middle of the battle field with bombs exploding above her head. In my research I found that those very early repairs looked much alike broken African mask objects that had been repaired. As the war proceeded, by 1918 the repairs became more ‘perfect’ in the sense that resin prosthetics were invented; doctors would dry the skin to fill it with resin. Pictures were taken to prove that science can repair the injury. This you can see in the slide show in the installation.

The approach towards repair is very different in the Western and non-Western world, in terms of both physical and psychological injury.

*In the slide show which forms part of the installation ‘The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures’ Attia pairs images of soldiers treated to early, rudimentary plastic surgery with African masks and objects bearing signs of physical repair, a series of juxtapositions challenging our conventional ideas about wholeness, injury beauty and otherness.

LM: On the topic of psychology could you tell me more about the installation Shifting Borders (three separate videos and a series of uncanny sculptural elements) and your focus on Mental Health Southeast Asia?

KA: The work Shifting Borders includes interviews I did in South Korea and Vietnam, and it is about the way these two countries have been dealing with their traumatic history by applying techniques from  psychology and by using of traditional healing. I have been working a lot on the way that psychotherapeutical methods have been used in societies where traditional beliefs and rites have always existed.

In South East Asia I discovered something extremely interesting,  because, for instance, it was really difficult to find Shamans in South Korea. Most people would say they don’t have Shamans any more. South Korea is a  society which has been faced with forced capitalism, it is so neoliberal, it is so tough, you are nothing if you are not brilliant, beautiful and competitive, it is a scary society so the few people who are ‘normal’ like us are trying to fight against this.

Vietnam, on the other contrary, is a country that embraces communism and despite the fact that communism opposes superstition, Vietnam has protected animism.* The work looks into a different form of healing and highlights the therapeutic role played by shamanistic practices in non-Western societies.

*In one of the interviews with mental health professionals, academics and traditional healers, a Vietnamese spiritualist describes holding a ceremony for the spirit of an American solider who had possessed her brother-in-law.

LM: Lastly, you exhibited in Venice for the 57th Art Biennale, we are based there, how was your experience on our home turf?

KA: It was great, I participated with a sound piece ‘Narrative Vibrations’, which was slightly hidden away in the Arsenale. I intergrated voices of female singers, and the sounds were transformed by a software we had developed in order to move grains on plates by sound waves. This was based on the discovery by a German physicist Ernst Chladni (1756-1827). He observed that solids transmit sounds and that some frequencies produce patterns that also exist elsewhere in nature. I applied this to an apparatus I invented with a couple of French engineers: we had ten plates in the space that were connected to the screens showing the singers, and I had poured couscous on each plate. The semola grains moved through electromagnetic waves provoked by the sounds in correspondence with the voices of musicians; Arab singers in fact from the postcolonial golden age, singers I grew up listening to. It produced some quite stunning abstract sounds and visually it was absolutely astonishing and effective.

Lara Morrell

  • Installation view of Shifting Borders, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind .jpg Installation view of Shifting Borders, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind .jpg
  • Installation view of Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019.jpeg Installation view of Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019.jpeg
  • Installation view of The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind.jpg Installation view of The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, Kader Attia_ The Museum of Emotion at Hayward Gallery. Copyright the artist, courtesy Hayward Gallery 2019. Photo_ Linda Nylind.jpg
  • Kadia Attia with Ralph Rugoff Kadia Attia with Ralph Rugoff
Shanghai - Reviews

The Secret Sauce of Ten Essential Exhibitions in Shanghai to See during and after Art Week

10 months ago

Reporting from Shanghai: A Review by Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva

Not only it is Hairy Crab Season in Asia, but in Shanghai it is also Art Season. With two major fairs, that not so long ago were competitors, but now seem to run along in a complementary fashion (with several galleries exhibiting at both), a myriad of gallery shows, and a biennale, Shanghai just strengthens furthermore its position as a unmissable destination on the art calendar. The 6th Edition of ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair took place November 8-11 with 103 galleries from around the world. Settled in the iconic Shanghai Exhibition Center (a Sino-Soviet Friendship Building built in 1955 in the Stalinist style) it attracted a wide range of people, young and veteran art goers alike, as well as socialites and celebrities. The more sophisticated West Bund Art & Design fair, on the other hand, located in the now well developed art area further from the center, appeared to appeal to more seasoned art professionals and museum crowds. This year it welcomed 115 galleries for its fifth edition, expanding into a new tripartite expo centre with garden-like areas in between the three halls.

Leveraging the thousands visitors in town that came for the fairs and the biennale, locally based galleries and museums are competing for our attention by offering high stakes exhibitions aiming at setting themselves apart from an eclectic and crowded art scene. In addition to MAG’s top ten choices, here are ten suggestions of shows to visit in Shanghai during November art season.

Shanghai Biennale
Taking over three floor of the Shanghai Power Station of Art (PSA), the Shanghai Biennale, who’s list of artists was kept hush-hush until nearly before the opening, brings touches of humanity to an otherwise vision of a confused world. Curated by Mexican Cuauhtémoc Medina, with María Belén Sáez de Ibarra, Yukie Kamiya, and Wang Weiwei, the biennale presents works by 70 artists from 26 countries. Videos are an important component, from documentary-like renditions such as by Ursula Biemann and Paulo Tavares’s “Forest Law”, that talks about the endangered Ecuadorian Amazon, to artistic renditions of nature such as by Clemencia Echeverri’s “River By Assault” allegorically staging the Colombian rivers Cauca and Magdalena as a soulful body. Small and grand installations are also present, such as the card boxes formation on the grand floor by Enrique Ježik that trace the Chinese characters for Lenin’s  book “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” and is readable from the upper floors. Paintings, photographs, and more, span—with performance activated-spaces in some cases—reaching up to the PSA’s third floor.

Until March 10th, 2019

Yayoi Kusama: “The Longing for my love all began from my heart” at OTA Fine Arts
The exhibition includes 34 paintings from Yayoi Kusama “My Eternal Soul” series that she started in 2009. Initially planning to make 100 of them she has since painted more than 500. Faces, flowers, eyes, and organic shapes populate the series with vibrant colours, whimsical yet powerful charm. Forming a language of their own, they speak with the artist’s signature motifs, as many characters of magical fables she would have authored.  Soft sculptures along the paintings materialise some of the shapes in a tridimensional state, as if props for the stories told by the pictures.
Also on show, an Infinity Mirror Room that works like a large kaleidoscope of sorts with two small openings for visitors to peek through. Playful and mesmerising the installation features multicoloured lights.

Until January 20, 2019

“Can you Hear Me? Nalini Malani 1969-2018” at Arario Gallery
The exhibition title for Nalini Malani’s solo show is “Can you Hear Me? Nalini Malani 1969-2018” and comes from an iPad-created stop-motion animation series the artist once shared through her Instagram account. Multiple projections show her older animations alongside the more recent ones. One screen remains static for a while with a text that says: “George Orwell once said: “either we all live in a decent world or nobody is”. Also on show, a beautiful range of her reverse paintings (a technique where layers of paint are applied on see-through surfaces starting from the finishing layers, and then the surface is turned around to produce the final image).

Until February 17

Shanghai Center of Photography (SCôP) 
Curated by Shanghai-based artist and curator Hao Xu, “Another Way of Telling” at the Shanghai Center of Photography (SCôP) features almost 100 works by two leading documentary photographers from the UK: Anna Fox and Karen Knorr. Funny and colourful, the show offers glimpses into the country’s working class and cultural influences. It includes Knorr’s “Belgravia” series where photographs are paired with text in ironic renderings about class and society. Or Fox’s series “Resort”, featuring the British working class on holidays. Touching and insightful, one can draw a parallel between the show contents and today’s rise of the Chinese middle and higher class.

Until November 18th.

“The Artist is Present”, curated by Maurizio Cattelan, Yuz Museum
Born from the will to have something fun and inspirational made in Shanghai by artist Maurizio Cattelan and Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele the show was inspired by the idea that this city exemplifies the concept of copy as an original. Thus the show “The Artist is Present” gathers more than 30 artists whose works question the notion of copy through borrowed inspirations, issues of originality, and open appropriation. The result is a fun linear walkthrough, as walking through the fun house of an amusement where the audience gets to discover the many tricks artists use to produce material for their artwork.

Francis Alÿs “La dépense”, Rockbund Art Museum
Known for his banal approaches that draw from a vast range of media, Belgium Mexico-based artist Francis Alÿs occupies the floors of the Rockbund Museum almost quietly—with the exception of the mesmerising Tornado video, where he runs into a tornado multiple times, camera in hand. The rest of his solo show “La dépense” features little paintings, drawings, and other witnesses of small gestures made by an art flâneur who links the globe together via mundane and repetitive actions, effectively rendering the impression that even a megalopolis can be experienced as an village.

Until February 24, 2019

Lui Chun Kwong “Forming Dusty Clues”, Aike dell’Arco
“Forming Dusty Clues” is the solo exhibition by Hong Kong artist Lui Chun Kwong and features a series of his recent landscape abstract paintings. Lui describes his painting practice as “standing, drinking, walking, and ploughing”, an attitude that results in canvases with long lines running parallel each other and created through a series of action and time-based gestures that reflects a quiet and meditative life (the artist lives in a remote area in Hong Kong and likes to be barefoot). Lui’s delicate and minimal strokes evoke the natural colours of his environment, an unpretentious way of life at the heart of Chinese traditional culture. Notably, the artist has taught many Hong Kong artists, and remains an influential figure into their way of thinking.

Until December 16

Long Museum besides Bourgeois the other one Tu Hongtao
After walking past Louise Bourgeois monumental spider at the Long Museum, one can head for the exhibition space in the basement that features a solo exhibition by Chinese artist Tu Hongtao, “A Timely Journey”. Inspired by his native Chengdu, landscape surroundings, art history, and from traditional Chinese as well as Western canons, Tu creates landscapes that seem abstract paintings at first. After a longer gaze, one starts discerning forms and perspective within the compositions. The artist paints over and over what he has done multiple times, creating thick surfaces as if adding more stories onto the canvas. Also on show, a remarkable mixed-technique scroll which original texture echoes both Chinese ink tradition and graffiti culture.

Until December 2

Ding Yi “Interchange”, ShanghART
After a 12-year gap from showing at the gallery, Shanghai-born artist Ding Yi’s solo exhibition “Interchange” at ShanghART Gallery West Bund features his most recent paintings from the “Appearance of Crosses” series, as well as the installation “Painting Stand” (a large stands with canvases standing inside). The paintings are the latest exploration of the artist into the painting of crosses— “+” and “x”— that he started in the 80s, through different colour palettes, textures, and brushstrokes. Initiated as a minimalist response to a rampant country-wide wave of urbanisation around him, the paintings merge design and art in what seems an effortless yes obsessive practice. After so many years, the relentless and repetitive patterns have become a language indisputably the artist’s own. 

Until January 6th, 2019.

Also in town: Yanyan Huang at BANK Mab Society, Takashi Murakami at Perrotin Gallery’s newly opened space, and Cindy Sherman at the Fosun Foundation in the stunning Bund Finance Center, jointly designed by Foster + Partners and Heatherwick Studio.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Installation view, Shanghai Biennale, 2018. Courtesy of Power Station of Art Installation view, Shanghai Biennale, 2018. Courtesy of Power Station of Art
  • Nalini Malani, Desire Rupture, 2016 Nalini Malani, Desire Rupture, 2016
  • Karen Knorr, Fables 2, The King's Reception, Exhibition view at SCOP, Shanghai Karen Knorr, Fables 2, The King's Reception, Exhibition view at SCOP, Shanghai
  • Installation view of “Francis Alÿs: La dépense”, Rockbund Art Museum, 2018 Courtesy of Rockbund Art Museum Installation view of “Francis Alÿs: La dépense”, Rockbund Art Museum, 2018 Courtesy of Rockbund Art Museum
  • Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Room, OTA Fine Arts Shanghai Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Room, OTA Fine Arts Shanghai
  • Lui Chun Kwong, Lui Chun Kwong, "Forming Dusty Clues", Installation view, Aike Dell'Arco, Shanghai, 2018
  • Tu Hongtao at Long Museum Tu Hongtao at Long Museum
  • Ding Yi, Interchange, Exhibition view, 2018. Courtesy of ShanghART Ding Yi, Interchange, Exhibition view, 2018. Courtesy of ShanghART
Rome - Reviews

The White Night at Villa Medici

3 years ago

The White Night at Villa Medici (Rome) was held yesterday night and it presented a series of artworks and installations in the Villa’s rooms and garden.

Visitors were invited to admire the works in the unique setting, with the magical atmosphere created by the colors and the lights of the Roman night. A common thread united the artists’ projects: the 35th anniversary of the French Academy in Rome and the ties that combine the institution with the Eternal City. Several French and international artists have been called to interprete this historical but still contemporary relationship.

The artist list includes Eva Jospin, Simon Rouby, Olivier Kosta Thiéfaine who are currently enrolled in the Villa fellowship programme and for the night have also been in charge of the performances line-up.

My Art Guides Editorial Team

  • Alvise Sinivia Alvise Sinivia
  • Eva Jospin Eva Jospin
  • Anri Sala Anri Sala
London - Reviews

Review – James Richards: “Requests and Antisongs” at ICA London

3 years ago

October is a rather intense period for many British artists, curators and other protagonists of the art world. The Frieze just closed its doors, and the Tate announced to the public the nominees for the Turner Prize. Prior to this major event, on the 21st of September, the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) has inaugurated the exhibition “Requests and Antisongs” by the ex-nominee of the same Turner Prize, London-based James Richards.

The buzz around the artist really began after he was put forward for Turner Prize back in 2013 for his work Rosebud, which was presented during the 55th Venice Biennale The Encyclopedic Palace. And it has already been announced that Richards will be responsible for the Welsh installation at the international art exhibition Venice Biennale in 2017.

The artist is best known for his compositions of shuffled raw visual and audio materials, easily accessible through various information sources and databases, i.e. Internet, books, records and films. Those that are familiar with his work, can observe the same prevailing aesthetic approach and meticulous research on the material used, in the solo exhibition “Requests and Antisongs”.

The three-presented pieces, multi-channel sound installation “Crumb Mahogany”(2016), and video installations “Radio At Night” (2015) and “Rushes Minotaur” (2016), differ in medium, however, interact on a level of aesthetic and sensory experience. The artist considers it as a sort of “déjà vu”, where the immediate emotional response to them becomes a centrepiece of the exhibition.

“Requests and Antisongs” begins on the first floor. In the spacious room of the ICA Richards placed 4 benches surrounded by six speakers. Different sounds, oscillating through the speakers, seem to have thematic commonality. For example, there can be found nature related sounds (birds, crystals, running water), or noisy streets (cars, people, rumbling of tyres). Subsequently, an unexpected, disturbing, splitting noise, musical fragment, calming piano melody, or simply a silent pause, interrupts these simultaneously interweaving base tones, closing one compositional episode and opening the possibility for another to emerge. The benches, on the other hand, become like a stage, which do not contribute to the liveliness of the installation. Once seated and encircled by these speakers, with grey curtains or wall in front, the listener might feel as if trapped in a hermetic sound bubble. The most interesting and in some cases even amusing thing to observe becomes the visitors, struggling to puzzle out the piece.

Ariadne’s Thread of the exposition continues up the stairs to the upper gallery, where the sound for the video “Radio At Night” starts penetrating the hearing. It is the moment of déjà vu that the artist was aiming for. The same familiar notes following from the previous room this time are accompanied by video collage. Bits and pieces of various images such as flying birds, moving trains, smokes, forests, a photograph of a leather phone case paralleled with a hairy human skin, people in the hospital with the hanging pigs in abattoir, moving eyeballs, and eyelashes that evoke the question of the act of looking itself.

Finally the last piece, silent video installation “Rushes Minotaur” concludes the “Crumb Mahogany” and “Radio At Night”, by arriving to the close-ups of the visual and audio constructions. For the audio part it is simply the silence followed by some echoes coming from other rooms. And the visual part is made up of textural photos of human and animal skin, or fur and flesh, the artist has chosen.

The main impression the show leaves is that it is another work from the series “the homework has been done”. Each piece is nicely done, the artist did not use complicated effects and manipulations of sounds or images; everything looks precise, neat and tidy. Yet at the same time Richard’s subtly chosen and aesthetically pleasant compositions create an ambiguous narrative that is not easily comprehensible. Is there something else, more intricate to be noticed only for visitors with extremely sensitive receptors of sounds and images? Or it is as simple as it appears to be?

Milda Batakyte

  • James Richards, Radio at Night (2015) Courtesy the artist James Richards, Radio at Night (2015) Courtesy the artist
  • James Richards, Crumb Mahogany 7 (detail), 2016, courtesy of the artist. James Richards, Crumb Mahogany 7 (detail), 2016, courtesy of the artist.
  • James Richards, Requests and Antisongs, 2016, courtesy of ICA, London James Richards, Requests and Antisongs, 2016, courtesy of ICA, London
Venice - Reviews

Sarah Moon at Palazzo Fortuny

3 years ago

“Every photograph is the last witness, if not the last evidence, of a moment that would otherwise be lost forever; it’s the sense of loss and of time passing…and of death. […] In the action of capturing an instant and making it exist once again, there is life in death; it’s a bit like the spirit and the body, you might say that the body, the event, disappears in the instant in which it is captured, but the soul remains and the photograph is the soul of every instant, the soul of the person whose end we just saw…”

– Sarah Moon (Coincidences, Delpire, 2001)



These are the last few days to visit the wonderful Sarah Moon’s exhibition at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice (open until 1 May 2016), curated by Adele Re Rebaudengo and Alexandra de Léal.

Sarah Moon (1941) is one of the greatest photographers of all times. The exhibition at Palazzo Fortuny enchanted me, I felt mesmerized by the photographs and their perfect symbiotic relation with the venue’s atmosphere. While admiring the inkjet and silver salts prints, the curator Adele Re Rebaudengo explained to me how this exhibition was conceived, sprouting from her passion for Venice and her friendship with Sarah Moon. In 2015, Ms. Re Rebaudengo curated an exhibition of Sarah Moon’s images at Palazzo Madama in Turin, a project by Agarttha Arte, where she presented her works about Palazzo Fortuny along with the works of Pino Musi and Marco Maria Zanin about Casa Mollino. The fascinating theme “house-museums of artists” was the starting point and the first inspiration that brought about the idea of this exhibition. “Sarah Moon is the ideal photographer to show at Palazzo Fortuny” states Ms. Re Rebaudengo, “her brilliant personality, her photographic talent and her artistic path make her and her images the ideal guests for an exhibition at this Palazzo”. Our dialogue continues and she entertains me with fascinating details regarding the personal history and style of the artist.

Sarah Moon is intrigued and inspired by the concept of Time. She approaches her subject with an oneiric and imaginative expressivity, staging an intimate reality filtered by memory and the unconscious. She uses light in a special way, blending white areas and creating mysterious atmospheres. In fact, mystery and sensuality are at the very core of her work. She avoids codified languages, capturing emotional scenes.

Moon’s images recall fragments of an inner story, memories of a magnificent past. The photographs on show are a tribute to Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), an outstanding artist with an eclectic personality: painter, photographer, inventor, stage designer, and designer of fabrics. The images portray Palazzo Pesaro Orfei (otherwise known as Palazzo Fortuny), venue of the exhibition: on the one hand, images of the house-museum; on the other hand, details of the statues housed within, a homage to the plissé. In the Gothic Palazzo Mr. Fortuny set up one of the most important workshop-studios for the creation of sumptuous fabrics and drapes which were used for the clothes he designed, now on permanent show.

Sarah Moon, like Mariano Fortuny, is a rather eclectic character. During her career, she has turned from being a model into being a photographer and filmmaker. A free spirit, she is an extraordinary photographer with a very humble view of her work. Moon believes that “chance” dominates over “will”, as if fate would decide everything. Images are vulnerable and ephemeral, they represent an echo of what the photographer has in mind. She shoots intimate photos recreating surreal ambiences where light plays a fundamental role and an imaginary reality is staged, as in a visionary process. And if “the most creative part of us is the part closest to our childhood”, the concepts of Time and Memory return cyclically in Moon’s work where specific importance is given to Life in all its forms.

Sarah Moon’s poetic and visionary style is perfectly suited to Palazzo Fortuny and to Venice, the enigmatic city par excellence. Furthermore, as revealed by Ms. Re Rebaudengo, new and very interesting projects will soon connect the French photographer again to this city…

Teresa Sartore

  • Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore
  • Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore
  • Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore
  • Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore Exhibition view at Palazzo Fortuny, photo by Teresa Sartore
Brussels - Reviews

Ana Torfs: Echolalia. Every Story is a Travel Story

5 years ago

Thank goodness summer is over and the new art season is back in swing! Wiels have kicked off their new term by celebrating Ana Torfs, an artist who works and resides in Brussels. According to Dirk Snauwaarts, the director of Wiels, one of the words which could sum up her exhibition is “exotic”. Her exhibition ‘Echoalia’ is a travel through language and time, journeying to tropical lands and reaching into exoticism in literature. The Oxford dictionary describes the etymology of echolalia as, “late 19th century: modern Latin, from Greek ēkhō ‘echo’ + lalia ‘speech’.” Ana Torfs’ exhibition is an echo of her linguistic curiosities and explorations of etymologies and places.

In this exhibition, Torfs shows that she is an artist of many mediums. Photography, film, audio and installation are her predominant choices of media. However, she has also conducted works in tapestry and her research process may not be overlooked. In every piece, you can recognise her precision for detail. Yet, her works are not severe; there is a sense of playfulness in her pieces as she toys with words and their meanings.


When entering ‘Echolalia’ you are drawn into an exotic botanical garden. Two large screens are placed in opposition in the space, a loop of photos are projected onto the screens, gently fading in and out of one another. The images are of a Cuban sugar plantation, a beautiful forest with a tainted history of colonisation and slavery. A voice is reading words describing sounds of tropical birds, delicious smells, fruits on the trees, the luscious vegetation and the sweltering heat. The voice is dictating passages from the diary of Christopher Columbus, in particular, the moment when he landed upon an island in the Bahamas. Columbus describes his first meeting with the islanders, he remarks in his notes that the people would be of value to him as slaves, because they were able to reiterate the words said to them.
There are three screens placed around the installation of a female sign interpreter. She is echoing the tales of Columbus’s diary in sign language; however each of the interpretations is different. One version is English sign language, another is American, and the last is international sign. To realise how different these are, you can read the transcriptions in the artist book ‘Echolalia’, made by Ana Torfs for this exhibition. In this piece ‘The Parrot & the Nightingale, a Phantasmagoria’ (2014) debuting in Wiels, you are met by all forms of communication, visual, audio, and body. The juxtaposition of the three forms can give us a perception of the first mystifying meetings between the Western explorer and the indigenous people.

To Be Read

In a work called ‘Legends'(2009), we have landed on the Canary Islands, where Christopher Columbus was said to have set sail to the India’s. There are a series of photographs allowing us to view the landscapes of the Islands as if through a telescope. The circular view to the slightly grainy images makes us feel like we are peeking through a lens, as if spying on beautiful terrains. Under the images, the artists had added texts, legends about the Islands and their history. The image and the texts draw us into the print. We physically move towards it to study its details. It is as if she is sharing precious secrets or folk tales with us about an enchanted place.

Tickled Pink

The series, ‘[…] STAIN […]’ (2012) would be an example of Torfs’ enjoyment of language. In this piece, beginning with the title, she evokes all of the possible meanings of the word stain, and by adding the square brackets, she informs us that she intends on manipulating the meaning, adding her own interpretation, her own words. And indeed, in this work, inspired by the German dye company, Bayer, she has taken and invented names of coloured dyes and given to them pseudo-scientific explanations. Like Bayer did in the early twentieth century, she has used feathers to show her array of colours and beside each row of fantastically named coloured feathers, such as Prussian Blue or Malachite Green, you will find images of things or people which she has found to have some relationship with the colour. While trying to decipher their links or sources, we are listening to a female voice, announcing supposed facts about each colour.

What’s in a name?

The naming of things has interested the artist greatly. At the press release, she reminded her audience that bestowing a name upon something is a position of power which she regards as “linguistic imperialism”. In her work ‘Family Plot’ (2009/2010) she has created an artwork combining her interest in the history of a name with her love for plants. As a gardening enthusiast, having her own city garden, she came to questioning the naming of plants. They, like humans, have been given forenames and surnames to distinguish them from one another. She found that many exotic plants had been named after their western discoverers or important figures of that time. Indeed, the naming of these plants was like a family plot of conquest and colonisation. In her work, she dissects the name of the plant, showing the portrait of the person from which the plant is named and she has produced maps of the world, portraying the world map how it was known at the time of that particular figure. Upon the world map you may read various insights into that time, that person and into the colonial history of each chosen plant and character name.


Following this theme of the power of names and colonisation we are drawn to her installation of 6 impressive tapestries hanging in the exhibition, this work is named ‘TXT (Engine of Wandering Words)’ (2013). Deciphering signs and interpreting words continues in this piece. We are travelling with Gulliver, John Swift’s invented adventurer and self-pronounced linguist. In the German language, wondering words, Wanderwort, are words which, due to trading, lend themselves to many languages and cultures. In particular, the words which Torfs has depicted are items of trade: Saffron, Tobacco, Coffee, Sugar, Ginger and Chocolate. These words, like the plant names in Family Plot, are also carrying a history of colonisation and capitalism. The 6 tapestries describe the histories of these goods in images. They depict world travels and expeditions, thus through these images, we too can travel with the wandering words. The images are set upon a chessboard like grid. The shape of the grid comes from an illustration of a passage in Gulliver’s Travels, when he learns how to speak a foreign language and is presented with wooden blocks, painted with images, like a child’s learning blocks. These wonderful tapestries were produced by a Jacquard loom, an early mechanical loom which could produce complicated patterns by using a hole punching system on card. This loom was an inspiration for computing technology.

Island Fever

Her exhibition continues on the next floor with a piece inspired by her favourite film, Rossellini’s ‘Journey to Italy’. Torfs had a residency in Gotland, Sweden, where the great film maker Ingmar Bergman used to call home. She fell in love with the tremendous landscapes and decided to make her own version of the film, ‘Displacement’ (2009), with a couple journeying to Gotland. The work is composed of a photo montage, an audio piece where we hear a couple bickering and discussing their relationship, and on the opposing wall, there are two portraits which alternate. One is of a man, another of a woman. Sitting in the installation, we are listening attentively to the love story, admiring the beautiful island of Gotland, whilst ever so often being drawn to the portraits as if they are our protagonists. Repeatedly we are reminded that “Every Story is a Travel Story”, a quotation from Michel Certeau’s book ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’. Even though the piece is almost an hour long, we are gripped to the script and visually travelling to Gotland ourselves.

A Matter of Perception

Ana Torfs’ exhibition is about perspective, it is about details; titles are of the upmost importance. The juxtaposing of the installation elements in the exhibition space, the composition of image and text, and translating signs are all essential elements of her work. This is an exhibition for which you should take your time. There is much to read and interpret. Feel free to jump to the back of the book and read the last page first, she welcome us to find our own path through her work. There are no chronological obligations. But if you haven’t the patience and skip too many pages, you won’t have had the full experience of these tails by Ana Torfs. Indeed, every work here tells a story.

Rebecca Arthur

  • Installation view of the exhibition Ana Torfs: Echolalia at WIELS, 2014, with The Parrot & the Nightingale, a Phantasmagoria. Photo by Sven Laurent Installation view of the exhibition Ana Torfs: Echolalia at WIELS, 2014, with The Parrot & the Nightingale, a Phantasmagoria. Photo by Sven Laurent
  • Installation view of the exhibition Ana Torfs: Echolalia at WIELS, 2014, with Legend, 2009. Photo by Sven Laurent Installation view of the exhibition Ana Torfs: Echolalia at WIELS, 2014, with Legend, 2009. Photo by Sven Laurent
Venice - Reviews

Victoria Combalía: Dora Maar. Despite Picasso

5 years ago

An enchanting exhibition of photographs by Dora Maar, curated by Victoria Combalía, is held until the 14th of July at Palazzo Fortuny, in Venice. This is not only the first exhibition by Dora Maar in Italy, but it also sheds new light on the impressive work of a woman of singular talent. Often remembered mainly for her passionate relation with Picasso, Dora Maar was also an extraordinary artist and a great photographer. Victoria Combalía recently published an interesting book entitled Dora Maar. Más allá de Picasso as a result of more than twenty years of research work and interviews.

The curator states that “Palazzo Fortuny is the perfect location to show and promote the work of this multi-faceted artist, an enigmatic sphinx often unfairly remembered only for her relationship with one of the most prominent artist of our age”. Dora Maar. Despite Picasso, is the perfect title to express the important message that the curator wants to communicate to the public of the exhibition: Dora Maar’s value stands on the extraordinariness of a woman with a special sensitivity and an incredible talent, an outstanding photographer, an important member of the Surrealist group, and a political activist fighting for the rights of the oppressed people. She was also the lover of Pablo Picasso and George Bataille, and friend of other prominent artists and intellectuals such as Paul Éluard, the brothers Jacques and Pierre Prévert, Luis Buñuel, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Balthus, Lucian Freud and André Breton.

In 1945, she had a psychological crisis and started psychoanalytic treatment with Jacques Lacan. After being abandoned by Picasso, she devoted herself mainly to painting and religion. Combalía had the opportunity to interview Dora Maar by phone in 1993, and tells: “Although the great suffering she had been through, I believe that she had no hard feelings against Picasso. She admired his work. She was an enigmatic and tormented personality, but also a very strong woman”.

Dora Maar (Paris, 1907-1997) was the daughter of a famous Croatian architect and a French woman. She grew up in both Buenos Aires and Paris. She frequented the École et Ateliers D’Arts Décoratifs and the Académie André Lhote before being persuaded, by critic Marcel Zahar, to study photography at the École de Photographie de la Ville de Paris. Her photographic career was short, but intense: from 1931 to 1937. In 1930 she began to work as an assistant to Harry Ossip Meerson, in whose studio she met Brassaï, and then she formed a partnership with Pierre Kéfer.

In her photographic works, Dora Maar shows a great interest in the marginal fringes of society, in the world of childhood, and in daily street life. Her favourite themes were: looks and glances, blindness and eyes closed in trance, and sleep. In this, she was probably influenced by the Surrealist leitmotiv of the “eyes closed”. Closing the eyes is a way of closing the doors to the outside world and being able to enter the unconscious and oneiric sphere of being, as expressed by André Breton in his ‘Le judgment originel’.

Dora Maar’s exhibition at Palazzo Fortuny is comprised of over 100 works, including some unpublished works of great interest.

Teresa Sartore

  • Installation view at Museo Fortuny. Photo by Teresa Sartore Installation view at Museo Fortuny. Photo by Teresa Sartore
  • Victoria Combalia. Photo by Teresa Sartore Victoria Combalia. Photo by Teresa Sartore
Venice - Reviews

Genesis: a celebration of the stunning mosaic of nature in all its unspoiled grandeur

6 years ago

“As well as displaying the beauty of nature, Genesis is a call to arms. We cannot continue polluting our soil, water and air. We must act now to preserve unspoiled land and seascapes and protect the natural sanctuaries of ancient peoples and animals. And we can go further: we can try to reverse the damage we have done.” Lélia Wanick Salgado & Sebastião Salgado

Imagine turning back the clock “to the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes that shaped the Earth; to the air, water and fire that gave birth to life”. Genesis is a photographic project aspiring to show and to share the wonders of planet Earth: a journey to remote regions, from the polar circles and tropical forests, to solitary islands and wide deserts. Salgado examines the coexistence of nature and human beings, and the concept of ecological balance that seems to be lost forever in our societies. His earlier projects, such as: “Workers” and “Migration”, show images of a massacred world. They depict sufferance, violence and brutality, as well as human kind’s great courage and resistance.

After the completion of these projects he “had lost faith in the future of humanity”. Genesis seems to express a cathartic need to rediscover and promote the enchanting beauty of nature and its grandeur. The title has nothing to do with religion, but it refers to a concept of harmonic coexistence and to the origins of the Earth.

For Salgado photography is not about militancy, activism or work, it is purely about life. He describes Genesis as one of his “life projects”, more than as a “photographic project”: eight years of work, including a preparation period, 32 trips to distant corners of the globe and post-production. Organisation is fundamental, he states, for practical purposes but also, and more importantly, for psychological reasons.

Lélia Wanick Salgado, wife and partner of Sebastião Salgado throughout all his projects, looking at one of the most impressive photographs tells us that, “we have to get off our pedestal and humbly recognise that we are not superior beings. We are part of nature. Therefore, we have to generate respect for nature among all human beings”, she states, “and empower people in order to change our perception of nature and engage with ecological activism”.

The exhibition Genesis is held at the Casa dei Tre Oci, a splendid example of early 20th-century Venetian architecture, designed by the artist Mario De Maria (Marius Pictor) and built in 1913. Genesis is divided into five geographical sections: the South of the planet, Africa, natural sanctuaries, the North of the planet, and Amazonia.

After Rome, London, Toronto and Rio de Janeiro, the Genesis exhibition will be held in France, the United States of America and other locations worldwide.

Teresa Sartore

  • © Sebastião Salgado, Amazonas Images, South Sandwich Islands, 2009. Published in © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images © Sebastião Salgado, Amazonas Images, South Sandwich Islands, 2009. Published in © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images
  • © Sebastião Salgado, Amazonas Images, South Djanet, Algeria, 2009. Published in © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images © Sebastião Salgado, Amazonas Images, South Djanet, Algeria, 2009. Published in © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images
  • © Sebastião Salgado, Amazonas Images, Antarctica Peninsula, 2005. Published in © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images © Sebastião Salgado, Amazonas Images, Antarctica Peninsula, 2005. Published in © Sebastião Salgado / Amazonas Images
Brussels - Reviews

Petrit Halilaj at Wiels. Poisoned by men in need of some love

6 years ago

Petrit Halilaj‘s largest solo show to date opened at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels. Poisoned by men in need of some love is the title of the incredibly powerful installation curated by Elena Filipovic. It includes a three-part film, drawings, and hand-sculpted copies of taxidermy animals that used to be displayed in the Museum of National History in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. This exhibition is the result of a long project in which Halilaj has been involved for years.

The Museum of Natural History had a collection of more than 1,800 individual stuffed animals of various species gathered between 1951 and 1971, during Tito’s most active years of rule. After the fall of Communism and the outbreak of ethnic conflict, new priorities emerged. In 2001 the entire animal collection was removed and stored in hidden rooms, while their space was used to display folk tradition and heritage.

Halilaj managed to have the permission to pull down the wall behind which the animals were stored and secretly filmed the whole process. While watching the video we perceive a tense atmosphere. The ambivalent feelings of the Museum’s staff, people who have been working there for several years, clearly emerge: tension, shame and curiosity. In the hidden cellar-like storage facilities all stuffed animals are found in terrible conditions.

Inspired by these remains and by some old images, Halilaj, over the last two months, has recreated through his sculptures the taxidermy animals. The material he uses is a very rough one, a mix of earth and animal excrement, partly from Kosovo. The choice of the material is connected with the sculptures’ history. Halilaj recreates three-dimensional animals, gives them a new life while simultaneously communicating, ironically and metaphorically, his disagreement with the history behind them. His art provides them a different context, another way of being displayed. This aim is connected with the artists’ feeling of being part of a society reinventing itself after the war and of a new generation in Kosovo who wants to shape the present and the future.

Trash objects, like old showcases from the Museum of Natural History, are also part of the installation and find a new existence in contemporary art. What fascinates Petrit Halilaj, he says, is to find a poetic side, and convey a sense of levity that enables the public to watch the installation and discuss about it.
The sculptures, drawings and old museum objects provoke, on the one hand, uncanny old feelings connected to war, forced exile and loss but also, on the other hand, the perception of new possible realities, imaginary dimensions and utopian places.
Petrit Halilaj was born in Kostërrc (Skenderaj-Kosovo) in 1986. He lives and works in Berlin, Kosovo and Mantova. Recent solo exhibitions: Kosovo Pavillion, Venice Biennale, curated by Kathrin Rhomberg, commissioned by Erzen Shkololli, Arsenale, Venice (2013); “Who does the earth belong to while painting the wind?!” curated by Giovanni Carmine, Kunsthalle Sankt Gallen, St. Gallen (2012); Petrit Halilaj, Kunstraum Innsbruck, curated by Veit Loers (2011); Statement, Art Basel solo presentation, with Chert, Berlin (2011); “Back to the Future”, curated by Albert Heta, Stacion, Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina, Kosovo (2009). Petrit Halilaj, solo exhibition, Chert, Berlin (2009).

Teresa Sartore

  • Petrit Halilaj: Poisoned by men in need of some love, photos by Teresa Sartore Petrit Halilaj: Poisoned by men in need of some love, photos by Teresa Sartore
  • Petrit Halilaj: Poisoned by men in need of some love, photos by Teresa Sartore Petrit Halilaj: Poisoned by men in need of some love, photos by Teresa Sartore
Venice - Reviews

Madame Fisscher at Palazzo Grassi

7 years ago

Madame Fisscher, on view at Palazzo Grassi, offers a journey through Urs Fischer’s artistic career from the nineties to today. His work, characterized by humor, penchant for paradox, and virtuosity of execution, employs simultaneously an extraordinary diversity of media and materials. It calls into question the history of art and sculpture, our relationship to the body, the notion of time and the status of the object.

Urs Fischer’s art, which privileges polysemy and complexity, avoids any academic weightiness or univocal interpretation. With its combination of illusion and reality, violence and humor, his creative universe appears both logical and absurd. The artist creates unstable equilibriums, whose meaning seems to be constantly shifting. The exhibition’s title itself, “Madame Fisscher” (after the title of the work installed in the museum’s atrium), points to this rejection of a unique interpretation.

Does it refer to the artist, his companion, his mother, or perhaps to Madame Tussaud and her famous wax museum? Eliciting in turn – and sometimes simultaneously – surprise, doubt, puzzlement, and concern, the exhibition unfolds precisely in this logic of indetermination and movement.

Teresa Sartore

  • Urs Fischer, Madame Fisscher, installation view at Palazzo Grassi, 2012. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Urs Fischer, Madame Fisscher, installation view at Palazzo Grassi, 2012. Photo: Stefan Altenburger
  • Urs Fischer, Madame Fisscher, installation view at Palazzo Grassi, 2012. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Urs Fischer, Madame Fisscher, installation view at Palazzo Grassi, 2012. Photo: Stefan Altenburger
  • Urs Fischer, Madame Fisscher, installation view at Palazzo Grassi, 2012. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Urs Fischer, Madame Fisscher, installation view at Palazzo Grassi, 2012. Photo: Stefan Altenburger