Friday, September 12, 2014

Une Histoire: Des Années 1980 à Nos Jours au Centre Pompidou

Olafur Eliasson, Cold Wind Sphere, 2012
When the Centre Pompidou changes the display of the permanent collection, it's an occasion. And the new curation of the permanent collection is just that: a treat to be savored. The hanging follows on, chronologically and within the space of the museum, from the issues and concerns of the Magiciens de la Terre redux. Even though it isn’t made obvious enough, the collection presents post-1980s art that follows the themes begun by the original Magiciens de la Terre in 1989.
Walid Raad, Hostage: The Bachar Tapes Souheil Bachar, 2001
In some of the early rooms of the new hanging, visitors are introduced to single works by artists from the world’s most troubled post-1989 regions. Works from the Middle East, Serbia, Albania, and of course, Israel and Palestine are captivating for what they show as much as what they do not show.  To my own surprise I really enjoyed Walid Raad’s video, Hostage: The Bachar Tapes Souheil Bachar, 2001. I was surprised because I have never seen what the fuss around Raad’s work was all about. Hostage tells the story of the low-level Lebanese worker from the Kuwaiti embassy in Beirut who was held with the American hostages caught in the crossfire over the Iran-contra affair during the second Reagan administration. Raad re-presents Souheil Bachar’s video tapes #1, #17 and #31 in which he tells the shocking narrative of the Americans who wanted him to fuck them. In a female voiceover that overlays animated images of the hostages, Bachar remembers the American’s obsession with their own bodily hygiene and their disgust at his. And yet, they could not stop touching him. One night he even felt one of the American’s press his body so close that he felt his erection. The narrative is shocking, not because we hear anything we didn’t already know, but because Bachar’s story, as it is represented by Raad, reduces this public political event to a private struggle of the Americans with their own bodies.
Maja Bajevic, Women at Work (Under Construction) In Construction, 1999
The works in these early rooms that reuse the archival were exceptionally compelling: Maja Bajevic’s Women at Work (Under Construction) In Construction, 1999 was wonderful. Bajevic stages women war refugees embroidering the scrim that protects scaffolding while the National Gallery in Sarajevo was being renovated. On the one hand, it’s a very familiar use of women’s work to re-articulate a public and political space, and on the other hand, as a form of memorial to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovnia, it’s an innovative and powerful challenge to social change. Chris Marker’s Detour Ceausescu, 1990 in which he uses the footage from the Romanian revolution that we know from Farocki and Ujica’s Videogramme of a Revolution, or Thomas Hirschhorn’s Outgrowth, 2005, are very powerful critiques of state violence. Hirschhorn’s familiar anti-aesthetic  is both amusing and disturbing in Outgrowth: globes on shelves have growths covered in masking tapes, as though they have contracted some kind of virulent disease. Taped to the shelves on which they sit are these magazine pictures of disasters, state violence and war. The message is clear.
Thomas Hirschhorn, Outgrowth, 2005
Other political works of art, especially those that engage with the world and make us look at it in different ways were also extremely powerful. I sat through Tony Oursler’s New York 9/11 as he captures the events unfolding and the responses of New Yorkers in the days that followed. As his camera moves in and around ground zero and the streets of New York City, I was deeply moved by a city coming to terms with this great disaster. Even though the hand held camera and other aspects of the aesthetic might be otherwise alienating, I was transported back into the confusion of those days following September 11, 2001. An interesting contribution from Amar Kanwar on the ecological fallout as a result of industrial developments in India: The Scene of the Crime, 2011 was also moving, though it unfolded in a slower, more subtle and almost invisible way, just like the disaster it documents.

Amar Kanwar, The Scene of the Crime, 2005
Works that were not as directly political are also in abundance, even though I did not spend as much time with them. There were rooms filled with experimental art, post-minimalist works by Daniel Buren, Steven Parrino’s Necropolis (the Lucifer Crank) for Anger, 2004 – a post-avant garde, post-structuralist film. An absolutely divine piece by Olafur Eliasson, Cold Wind Sphere, 2012, in which light creates space, memory and a world of its own. There were also works from the collection with which I was not previously familiar, and was inspired to see more: Alain Bublex’s Plug-In City, 2000, being one example.

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