Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ron Amir, Quelque part dans le désert @ Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Ron Amir, L'Arbre de Bisharah et Anwar,  2015
Ron Amir’s photographs and videos, Quelque part dans le desert currently on exhibition at the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris make up the kind of work that if I had more time, I would be tempted to write an article about. The photographs are curiously documentary-like. I say, documentary-like, because their subject matter is so extraordinary, it’s difficult to believe that Amir hasn’t set up the shot with more manipulation than is made visible in the image. Which is to say, what results from Amir’s process are images that other photographers might spend hours, even days, looking for. But in the Negev desert surrounding Holot in Israel, the detention facility (that is, prison) for asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, the material presents itself over and over again. There is no need for manipulation.
Ron Amir, Mosquée, 2016
The inmates waiting for asylum processing are allowed to leave the facility during the day, but as Amir’s photographs show us, there is nowhere to go. They are in the vast, lifeless Negev desert bordering Jordan and Egypt. The tension between the two poles of freedom and captivity is one of many that animates Amir’s photographs and videos. The inmates are always being moved around the country by the Israeli government, while their time is spent waiting, waiting, waiting for visas and documents. They are stuck in the eternal nowhere land between bureaucratic hoops that they aren’t always sure if they are jumping through or not. Dichotomies that match this impossible state are repeated at every level of Amir’s images: still images placed next to moving ones, and in a video Don’t Move, 2014, a group of migrant men pose for a photograph as Amir sets up his box camera, tweaks the light, and so on. We feel their discomfort of standing still, their itching to move, and in between set ups, the freedom to move but again, with nowhere to go. Making the video becomes synonymous with acquiring legal status in Israel.

Ron Amir, Don't Move, 2014

The still photographs are also about time; they ask questions such as how long is time, what unfolds while waiting and watching the repetition of bureaucratic processes over which these people have absolutely no power. In the photographs we also see the engagement and interaction of the people with the photographer. In the video Don’t Move, we watch one of the asylum seekers turn off the camera, then taking  photos of him as he continues to fiddle with the video camera.
Ron Amir, Tiko's Kitchen, 2014
There is also a pervasive sense of the desert space in the photographs, across which Amir shows how the migrants have articulated their presence, identity, belonging, community, security, and the human instinct for order and repetition. Rocks are carefully laid out on a sparse desert floor to stake ownership. Blankets are rolled up and placed carefully in the arms of a tree’s branches in a photograph entitled L’Arbre de Bisharah et Anwar (2015), thereby naming the objects and space, encircled by a ring of empty water bottles and stones, as belonging to Bisharah and Anwar. An image of a few poles, wire sheets and turned over buckets strewn through a clearing in the shrubbery is titled La Cuisine de Tiko (2015) and though we may wonder how Tiko cooks anything of substance in his kitchen, we are soon reassured by the carefully placed objects as an expression of his care for the space. That it belongs to Tiko is more important than what he makes in his kitchen.
Ron Amir, Stall (Closed), 2014
Another photograph Mosquée (2016) confirms that the stones on the sparse desert floor do not comprise a representation to be looked at, but a representation to be inhabited. We assume this simple space—that might otherwise be mistaken for some ancient message—will serve as a place of group worship in among the bushes and empty water bottles often strewn across this landscape. Like Tiko’s kitchen, the mosque and other spaces marked out in the photographs are filled with dignity, the spirit of community and care that the people have for each other.
Ron Amir, Oven, 2015
I found the exhibition moving, not only because of Amir’s skill in invoking the very human desire to belong, to identify, and create community. But also because here in Paris, the plight of the very same people may look different—they set up camp in densely populated metropolitan streets—but the problems are effectively the same. Always moved on by the authorities, looking to stake out a territory of their own as they wait for papers, visas and court dates, the Eritreans and Sudanese I see in their hastily built camps in the north of Paris face identical frustrations, and are ultimately searching for the same things as the rest of us.


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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mary Weatherford, I've Seen Gray Whales Go By @ Gagosian New York

Mary Weatherford, The Gate, 2018
Despite the narrative titles of Weatherford’s works, it’s difficult to see past the overwhelming physicality of painting that is everywhere present in these latest paintings. The result being that they work equally as abstract and figurative canvases. On entering the gallery, we come face to face with Cock Robin (2018), and are drawn in by the large swathes of green paint that have been applied to the canvas with a sponge. Weatherford likens her process “to that of a child playing with silt in the bottom of a rain puddle,” and it’s not hard to imagine her moving the paint energetically over and around the canvas. Each enormous gestural mark is executed in a colour that is typically kept separate from the others, spanning a range from dense dark concentrations of paint to transparent washes. Interestingly, the paint at its darkest and densest is never thicker, only darker, thanks to do Weatherford’s process of pouring water on the canvas before adding pigment, and then working the colour around and over the surface. 

Mary Weatherford, 2018 (2018) 
As I say, Weatherford’s body is always present to these huge paintings that she created specifically for Gagosian’s flagship New York space. While the application of paint appears smooth and continuous, each gesture reveals the physical effort involved in the often full body-sized sweeps. In some cases, we see traces of her hand having manipulated the paint. Looking at the fluid curvaceous marks on the canvas, it’s not just the presence of the artist, but the enormous energy of painting, the physical demands of interacting with paint on canvas that are revealed. This energy and strength in the application and motion of paint makes Weatherford’s work more contemporary than Mitchell’s paintings. If for no other reason that the expanse of the application of paint require huge canvases—a sign of their contemporaneity—appearing at home in the converted parking garage that is Gagosian's gallery space.

Mary Weatherford, Cock Robin, 2018
And then, across, down, or around the very painterly expressionist, coloured gestures Weatherford places a neon light of a different colour. The neon works all at once to rupture, illuminate, to violate and to rationalize the painterly expression. And at the same time, the neon is another colour, functioning as another application of paint. Visitors will be reminded of Dan Flavin’s neon tubes responding to their environment by changing colour and forcing our confrontation with our own vision. But Weatherford’s use of neon is different because the thin glass tubes are strategically laid on paintings, not on walls and floors. Similarly, the neon never erases or invalidate the painting, rather it ruptures, creates conflict, always maintaining the principles of interaction.

Mary Weatherford, I've Seen Gray Whales Go By
Installaton @ Gagosian
Together with the neon, Weatherford exposes the electrical wires that lead to the neon, extending paint and colour beyond the four sides of the frame. The wires create patterns as the works spill out onto the shiny gallery floor. This gesture is an extension of painting into our space, the real, three-dimensional world. The painting is thus engage in this process of mirroring and doubling, while at the same time technology has colonized painting as representation.

Mary Weatherford, GLORIA, 2018

Coming back to the narrative titles, the works reminded me of nature interrupted or violated by technology. It’s difficult not to see a forest of trees in 2018 (2018) or The Gate (2018). In these paintings, the colour green in all its variations verges into black and blue, as if taking us further and further into a lush forest. They do not seem to be representative of an actual place, but are more likely exploring the feeling of being in nature. The single line of blue neon becomes like an incision, its colour bleeding over its edges to taint the forest. The choice of the neon colour is everything; blue cuts through the forest, a soft pink and baby blue come together to create a gentler, nevertheless, still disruptive ethereality on a diluted red surface on another canvas. While the stark contrast of the blue on green and white on red creates violence and rupture, the pinks are absorbed by the delicate colours around them. 
And so, for her first big show in a blue chip New York gallery, Weatherford has exhibited an impressive selection of works. Certainly, she is an artist who deserves to be moving up in the estimation of the art world.