Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

posted by on 2010.08.21, under architecture, art, culture, exhibition

Bruce Nauman show at Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin

I’m in Berlin till the end of August, as part of the Takt artists residency.

I learned that the German idiom Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof which means I didn’t understand anything except for the word Bahnhof, (train station) amounts to the English idiom It’s all Greek to me. There are certainly many days when pretty much the only German word I understand all day is Bahnhof.

Hamburger (…er) Bahnhof, former train station and now major contemporary art museum, was such a pleasure to see. Something happens to me when I go out to see art in places like this in Berlin, and I have to be careful because I am easily swept up in the musuemy glitz of it all, but I get a good feeling. It’s a feeling that completely goes against my more suspicious media literacy instincts. I sometimes get the feeling that the museum cares a lot about the work they’re showing, and that the artist deserves such resplendent spaces to let the work shine. I get a feeling that the work is a precious thing, and not in a negative way. I feel like an art rock star fan, and it feels good to feel this way.

Zarina Bhimji Waiting 2007 still. From film installation in "Who knows tomorrow" at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin

But… as I saw more of the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection, even though I was pleasantly overwhelmed to see so many famous contemporary works presented together, many pieces I’ve only seen in books, I was a little miffed to see so few women artists. This collection, (even though this was only some of it, its being presented over 6 years) seemed limited in social and cultural scope. I also learned more about the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection and the controversy surrounding it. His grandfather Friedrich Flick’s steel company was a major weapons supplier to the Nazi Regime. This article by interesting blogger Ivar Hagendoorn covers the first show of his collection at Hamburger Banhof, in 2004, and goes into the controversy a little more . Honestly, as a baby to Berlin and German cultural understanding, all I can think is, at least the money used for evil is now being used for good. What a simplistic thought. Ich verstehe nur bahnhof.

My disappointment at the scope of Flick’s collection was healed a bit by the Who knows tomorrow piece Waiting, by Ugandan artist Zarina Bhimji. The work is a very large projection of 35mm film representing the workings of a sisal factory in Kenya. The piercing beauty of the images illuminate the inhumane history of the industry. Who knows tomorrow is a Berlin citywide exhibition of African artists taking place this summer.  Below is from the WKT website.

“At the exhibition Who knows tomorrow, Zarina Bhimji presents her film installation Waiting (2007), for which she studied the facts of this portion of colonial history at length. Although invisible in her film, it still accompanies it like a melodic theme. Zarina Bhimji visited sisal-processing factories near Mombassa, Kenya, some of which originate from colonial times. The beauty of the architecture, the bright, hot light and the simultaneously quasi-paralyzing atmosphere together with the minute movements and the sensitive details of the colors, the walls and the utensils focus the viewer’s gaze on the beauty of the material. Introduced by the Germans to the German colonies in East Africa in the 1890s and still grown on the plantations today, the material is used for ropes, cords, sacks, and carpets.The beauty of the sisal’s texture conjures up memories of hair, lending life to the material that takes on an abstract quality. The artist’s pictures and her sounds address the viewer in a highly emotional manner. The power of Zarina Bhimji’s works is based on their sensuous and seductive imagery, inseparably tied to the tragic and melancholic sadness and burdened by history.”

They believed every word.

posted by on 2010.02.16, under art, exhibition

Heidi Kayser and I are working on an installation for the Melle Finelli Studio , the opening is March 5, 2010. Melle Finelli and Peter Harris have generously invited us to do a project in their jewelry and art gallery space in Boston’s South End.

Heidi and I have a similar thematic tendencies in our current artmaking. For example, both of our current work is concerned with
-using translucent containers to mediate materials
-interest in biological systems and microscopy
-using repetitive objects as metaphors for individuals

The title is “They believed every word.” It’s like a translation or synonym for “They fell for it, hook, line, and sinker”. (The hook, line, and sinker phrase came up because of the fishing-related materials) With the title “They believed every word” we imagined our viewers questioning their trust of words and mediation in the work. Also the “they” is sort of like the gelcaps, as representatives of individuals.

So now we’ve been installing for about a week,  hanging hundreds of  the gelcap/fishing line/bell sinker assemblies. It’s going pretty well! It’s exciting to see the work actualized. Ideas and experiments with text and lighting have evololved too.  We’re concerned about viewers walking directly into the art and tangling it. It’s quite subtle , so, we’re also mulling over ways to make it clear to gallery goers that they should be careful. The project is going well!

Tacita Dean at Musee d’art Contemporain De Montreal

posted by on 2009.10.18, under art, culture, exhibition, performance, review


I visited the Musee d’art Contemporain De Montreal last weekend and saw the video installation  Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33’’ with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances; six films), 2008.
by Tacita Dean.

Our entrance to the museum was a bit disjointed and confused. The museum is the midst of the construction of a new downtown area call the Quartier des spectacles (see next post for more on that) so it was a bit hard to find the entrance. Then after buying a ticket, I misplaced it and had to rifle through my purse as the museum staff and the others I was with waited.  This agitation dissipated though as we entered the Tacita Dean installation. There was Merce Cunningham in 16mm, life size, sitting patiently and looking at us or looking just past us, in six projections throughout an immense room. It was like that dream in which someone you love who died, comes back, without explanation.

In the projections, Merce Cuningham is performing John Cages 4′ 33″ . Cage’s performance consisted of instructions for a piano player to not play piano, and Merce Cunningham’s rendition is that he simply sits still for that period of time in his  dance rehersal space.  In some of the angles you see the person behind the camera, you see New York and the light from the windows pours into the room and from the mirrors. They are stunning portraits, simple and rich with conceptuality and with accesable human meaning. (and further enriched because here is a collaboration among Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Tacita Dean, all making thier own piece) To me they all state fundamental (familiar but welcome) remarks about the worthiness of experimentation and of challenging popular modes of media. To me, some of these are;

-long static shots remind me that media can represent stillness and this can be so engaging
-he isn’t acting, this is a documentary of a man sitting still
-be patient when making moving images
-there’s an old person on the screen, under-represented population
-he’s a dancer, and his sitting still in a chair and this is his dance
-the projections represent him life size, there is no bigger than life character
-the camera is shooting from several angles, and the projections are located all over the room, blowing apart the illusion of space that this media is often expected to invoke