DESH by Akram Khan at the Macau Cultural Center, June 20, 2014

June 21, 2014

Snapshot - 8

DESH a solo performance by dancer/choreographer, Akram Khan with set design by Tim Yip, music by Jocelyn Pook, lighting design by Michael Hulls, and scripted by writer, poet Karthika Nair. Duration: 80 minutes with no interval

“An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.” James Baldwin

Identity is a story we assemble from fragments, in the stories we hear from parent and other elders, and in the cultural icons we come to identify with. In DESH, which means ‘homeland’ in Bengali, we see a man in pursuit of those fragments and in this case masterfully weaving them together in a tableau of extreme beauty.

In speaking of the movement seen in DESH Khan says he recognizes and admires the work of his contemporaries like Pina Bausch with her Dance, Theater Wuppertal as well as other Western sources, Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as well as Buster Keaton to name a few, but he goes on to say that for this work he sampled the scenes of his ancestral home Bangladesh. We see the gestures of fishermen, taxi drivers, weavers, beggars and others who he encountered during his 10 day research mission to the shipyards and villages of Bangladesh.

Sledge hammer

Indeed the opening scene, a man hammering the grave of his father with a massive sledge hammer, Khan said was inspired by the 12 year old boys who he saw at Bengali shipyards pummeling massive sheet of steel, in an attempt to flatten them. As he points out the hammering symbolizes frustration. He also referred to a few instances where the Shaolin martial arts find a place in the work brought in during interactions with a movement trainer who practiced these arts.

As Sanjoy Roy, points out in his review of this work, “DESH feels very connected to Khan’s home ground: kathak. Not that it’s a kathak piece; rather, kathak’s mode of presentation – solo episodes in which the performer freely ‘becomes’ different characters and evokes the presence of others through gesture, mime and address – is abundantly present in DESH.*”


In a word the movements in this performance are convulsive, as Akram Khan himself puts it he has extreme bursts of energy, “You contain, and contain, and then explode on stage,” he said as he explained that he was always better at the 100 meter dash, as opposed to a marathon. But this does not translate into an assemblage of sporadic elements, here the movement is masterfully woven and fluid like the water which Khan claims as an inspiration. “I am fascinated by water inside the earth, it is the core principle of the way I think and move, fluidity within form…” he says in the program notes.

Snapshot - 9A

The stories of origin he weaves on stage are magical, There is a dream-like quest for honey by the son of a poor beekeeper, beautifully illustrated on stage with black and white video animated drawings. The animated exploration continues on a ship, an encounter with a white elephant (considered sacred in many Asian cultures), and a climb high into the trees of a virtual forest. Khan mentioned a reference to Alice in Wonderland when he elected to bring an over-sized white chair onto the set, its use evoking the different perspective and mystery of childhood. In addition, the artist constructs a shadow play at moments behind the chair calling to mind scenes of Asian puppet theater, or the scenes one might encounter as family life takes place behind the stage of a drawn curtain.

The heart touching interaction he has on set with an imaginary small girl, a niece, is a completely fictional interaction as Akram neither has a child, nor a niece, but it shows his extreme mastery and command of his production, clearly an artist with a keen sense of what is needed in the presentation. Through this scene you see as he clearly struggles with the words and stories of his father, which get internalized as fear in the ear of his niece. We see an attempt to find balance in negotiating the questions and duties of a parent figure in the present, while shouldering the burdens of the past.

Elephant encounter

DESH closes with a turbulent scene, an extreme struggle of man and machine, a huge industrial fan placed on set. He is blinded by a violently fluttering cloth which has blown across his face covered his head. At the same time his body is buffeted by the exhaust of the fan. Akram Khan went into great detail describing the origin of this prop, and its use, as he had to argue and justify its presence on the stage with his collaborators. Akram Khan explained that when he found the fan sitting at the back of a theater in Grenoble, France its sheer mass and state of ruin were what attracted him to the device, as he pointed out it was the kind of technology one would find in Bangladesh. He goes on to say, “This performance is a contemporary work and as such any object I use should have multiple meanings. You project memory onto an object.” In this case the fan closely approximated the jet aircraft engine which, as his story tells us his father had to climb into to clean, because he was a small enough man to do so, part of his job as cook for a crew of Pakistani pilots before Bangladesh’s independence. The scene becomes the struggle of a man fighting the winds of change, or the past and clearly overwhelmed by the task.

In an interview following the performance Akram Khan explains that this work, 2 years in the making, is not a memorial to a dead father. In fact he clarifies that his father is still alive and was present for DESH’s (2011) World premiere on 15 Sept 2011, at the Curve Theater, in Leicester London. So although the work is highly autobiographical and emotive it is not driven by the loss of a dead parent, or the guilt associated with it. As Khan explains it is stagecraft where art expands upon life and augments it.



Pipilotti Rist at the Times Museum, Guangzhou through December 8, 2013

November 7, 2013

Guangzhou, a city perhaps less know for its interest in contemporary art, than for its history as old Canton, is the stage for an exhibition curated by Ruijun Shen of German video artist Pipilotti Rist.

Ms. Rist’s exhibition entitled, Gentle Wave in your Eye Fluid is a mix of old and new, with several works created for the location and others like, Open Air, Open My Glade, and Cape Cod Chandelier being older pieces.


In the lobby of the Times Museum, host for this exhibition, Pipilotti’s 2011 Cape Cod Chandelier, is a collection of underwear encircling the Chandelier illuminated from within and over its surface, functioning as a screen for two video projections in the room. The projected images described by curator Konrad Bitteli as, “a psychedelic vortex: a vertiginous view down an endless tunnel: a view deep into an eye, or down a gullet” may serve as an allusion to the female undergarments as the gateway to the world within a world. A place capable of the most basic creative energy, through birth and the vortex of all male desire. This world within is a recurrent theme found within Ms Rist’s oeuvre and it is often mixed with a pallet of plastic textures, fanciful candy colors, and her impish irreverence. There is always a hint of the erotic in her work, found either in the long stem or phallus like head of a flower, in the cavities she explores with her lens, or the in the flick of her tongue.

When so many “big name” video artists are producing work that looks more and more like a Hollywood production, Rist’s endeavors continue to maintain a cottage industry appearance. For example, in the video and audio installation, Open Air she enlists family and friends to engage in a round of swallowing the universe, or so it seems. Childish perhaps, but truly honest and engaging, this video is characteristic of her prankster aesthetic.

There is a love of nature, flowers, and the outdoors evident in the largest installation of this exhibition entitled, Mercy Mercy. This 12 projector, 75 meter long installation transforms the space through the use of red, green, blue and yellow colored gels, which mask the skylights and windows. This is combined with the vivid colors of her video projections. The combination of these elements creates a joyous, yet meditative space. Ms. Rist’s choice of subject matter which we are told is culled from the rural surroundings of Guangzhou include fields of flowers and crops, men working the earth with hoes, and landscape views all subject to the child-like interventions of Pipilotti’s tongue or hands.

Her work is always honest, simple and refreshing and I would recommend venturing to Guangzhou’s Time Museum to take a look at what she has transformed there.

This exhibition runs through December 8, 2013. The Times Museum is open:
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 – 18:00 and closed on Monday
Address:Times Museum, Times Rose Garden, Huang Bian Bei Lu, Bai Yun Da Dao, Guangzhou.

Art Basel /Hong Kong May 23-26, 2013

November 7, 2013

It comes as no surprise that Hong Kong should become the third ring in the chain of Art Basel host cities. With the combined economic clout of powerhouse cities like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Dongguan (China’s third largest export city) and the financial might of Hong Kong itself the base for a large investment market in the Fine Arts is present. Art Basel is all about developing that market.

The fair opens in 2013 with the inclusion of 245 top tier galleries from 36 countries. These are arranged into four formats. The Galleries area highlights 170 galleries from around the world selected on the merit of their programming. An Insights category showcases installations from regional galleries who provide themed or solo artist exhibitions from the work of Asian artists. The Discoveries area highlights 27 presenters, introducing the work of one or two emerging artists. Finally, the Encounters sector includes 17 large scale, sculpture and installation projects created by principal artists from around the globe, selected by the Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, Yuko Hasegawa.

In the The Discoveries category the work of Benjamin Appel presented by Weingrȕll Gallery of Karlsruhe, Germany was notable. In an artwork reminiscent of Donald Judd’s sculpture, Appel’s installation combines found furniture to create a base for a finely constructed concrete slab. In this way the elements become one monolith. The work is both minimal in reference yet contemporary in its “recycled” nature.

Benjamin Appel
Benjamin Appel

Another interesting artist found in the Discoveries category is Brendan Earley, who could be found at Mother’s Tankstation a gallery from Dublin, Ireland. Again an artist who toys with Minimalism, Earley’s constructions at moments have a Futurist edge. The materials are simple: fluorescent lamps, colored gel, and simple wood or composite structures suffice to modulate a dynamic space.

Brendan Earley
Brendan Earley

One could also find an assortment of Post-Minimalist artists at Art Basel at locations like the Italian Gallery Lorcan O’Neill from Rome, where one could find signature works by artists like Richard Long and Rachael Whiteread.

Richard Long, Rachael Whiteread
Richard Long, Rachael Whiteread

Regionally, the Encounters sector installation by Raqs Media Collective, A Different Gravity from Project 88 in Mumbai, India provides us with an interior composition of elements, a table, mirror, chair, and carpet, which defining a “private” space in the exhibition hall. The three words found displayed on these objects WRONG, TIME, FLYING remain somewhat cryptic, but perhaps allude to a personal space and a desire to remain there.

Raqs Media Collective
Raqs Media Collective

When contemplating the regional at Art Basel Hong Kong it was interesting to see how many galleries were present from India. Project 88 gallery was joined by several others to make a dozen presenters from the region.

Subodh Gupta, Valay Shende
Subodh Gupta, Valay Shende

Sakshi Gallery from Mumbai presented the work of their artist Valay Shende, who created an assortment of impressive garments made from a collection of ball bearings. This was in addition to another work, a Lukas Samaras-like box clustered with portrait beads and other images.

In addition many other artists of Indian origin could be found among the scattering of galleries within the different sectors of the exhibition hall. These included artists like Subodh Gupta showing at Arario Gallery of Seoul, S.Korea, who presented an untitled work, which included a “found traditional boat” along with other objects. From the presence of these artists and galleries it is clear that there is a strong, new voice coming into the global arts dialogue from the Indian sub-continent.

Of course, as one might expect, the great majority of galleries at Art Basel Hong Kong were from Hong Kong and the rest of China. Outnumbered only by the combined presence of exhibitors from the United States and the U.K..

Gao Brothers, Chen Chieh-jen, He Xiangyu
Gao Brothers, Chen Chieh-jen, He Xiangyu

Some of the contributors were the Long March Space in Beijing, which held one of the Encounters spots, with an installation entitled Play (201301) by Madeln Company. Grotto gallery from Hong Kong brought the work of Danny Chin-fai Lee. He Xiangyu, who was shown by White Space gallery of Beijing, created a mock death bed entitled, My Fantasy, which makes a self reflective reference to the embalmed Mao found at rest in Tiananmen Square. The 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong presented several interesting works from the artists of The Propeller Group and the photographic images of Bui Cong Khanh. Other more socially reflective artists included the Gao Brothers who had several works featured by IFA gallery in Shanghai and Chen Chieh-jen who presented a video installation entitled, Friend Watan. This video, a self-reflective attempt to capture the essence of a friend’s past, was showcased by Lin & Lin Gallery from Taipei.

Another contributing artist worth noting is Lin Tianmiao born in Taiyuan, China and working in Beijing. Her silk encrusted bones and other objects have a macabre yet beautiful presence. They were presented by the Lelong Gallery of Paris, France.

Ai Weiwei,  Lin Tianmiao
“Ai Weiwei, Lin Tianmiao

A stunning installation, not part of the Art Basel Hong Kong venue, but held concurrent with it by the Hong Kong based non profit Parasite was Ai Weiwei’s installation, as part of an exhibition entitled, “A Journal of the Plague Year” In this work Weiwei, making reference to recent accidental poisonings from baby formula, placed hundreds of cans of baby milk formula into a pattern profiling the map of China, detailed with different colored regions identifying each province. The reference underlines problems with food supplies in China and the resulting mass descent on Hong Kong to purchase items like baby formula deemed to be safer there.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis at the (Brooklyn Academy of Music) BAM Harvey

December 2, 2010

A young man falls ill with a debilitating illness. Unaware of the gravity of his situation he struggles to, but can no longer work. He loses his job and soon loses the respect of the family with whom he shares a home. This is Kafka’s Metamorphosis, a chilling piece of theatre, which speaks to us from the onset of a chilling time, published in 1915, and as witnessed by the text, written before the onset of the first World War.

Metamorphosis, performed December 1 – 5th at the (Brooklyn Academy of Music) BAM Harvey is an ingenious adaptation of the work by David Farr and Gisli Orn Gardarsson for the Vesturport Theatre of Iceland. In this production Mr. Gardarsson’s role as Gregor Samsa, the unfortunate soul who’s fate it is to transform overnight into a large insect, is riveting. Mr. Gardarsson a trained Olympic gymnast hangs from the fixtures of a distorted room, one turned on its side, climbing the walls, or hiding under the bed. Gregor the elder son of this Czec household, is attended to in his affliction for a time, by his sister Greta, who’s violin playing he often requests, but no longer receives. At one point Greta makes clear that because Gregor role as bread winner for the family is no longer tenable, he can not expect his privileges as a family member to continue. Soon even the scraps of food she once offered him are denied, his room is stripped bare of the fixtures of a normal life by his mother, and he is brutally attacked by his father. Soon he is left to die in the darkness of his ravaged room. Kafka’s play is a world stripped of human caring, a time when love no longer plays a role. The grave outline of this distorted world is characterized in Gregor’s own distorted reality, and in the foreshadowing statements that arise in the text. For example a statement by a visitor to the household, Herr Fischer that soon “the vermin of society will be removed” harkens the rise of Totalitarian terror. Kafka draws the thin line that separates us from total isolation, and those we love. It is also the line that defines the limits of sanity and reason. In a time when many are in fear of losing their jobs and with that their roles in a society, this production is a chilling check on reality.

The brilliant performances by Mr. Gardarsson, Nina Dogg Filippusdottir who plays Greta, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson who plays the father Hermann Samsa, Kelly Hunter playing his mother Lucy, and Jonathan McGuinness who stars in two visiting roles, are accompanied by the haunting music of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis both veterans of the band the Bad Seeds.

Dor Guez at KW Berlin

October 24, 2010

Berlin, October 24, 2010

Dor Guez’s Al-Lydd is a series of video interviews presented at KW Berlin and curated by Susanne Pfeffer. In this work the artist interviews several residents of Lod, formerly known by its Arab name Al-Lydd, a small town in Israel. These are Christian Arabs, who identify themselves as “a minority in a minority”. They are citizens of Israel, who despite their upbringing in Jewish schools and surrounded by Israel culture suffer the burden of anti-Arab racism. This comes to light in the artist’s interview of a young woman, Samira who is employed as a waitress, in one of Lod’s restaurants. She communicates the story of having been called into her boss’s office because of clients who complained at having an Arab woman serve their table. The boss asks her if she can please change her name, written on the client’s check. After her refusal the boss makes it clear that the refusal will result in her losing her job, so a compromise is reached where she will employ the name Mira on the check, a name which aids in concealing her Arab identity. Another work July 13, 2009 is an elder resident’s recollections on the occupation of Lod by Israeli para-militants on 13 July, 1948. At this time, the remaining Palestinian residents, a thousand in number, take refuge in the local church. This building, which is later surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by the Israeli military becomes the center of Lod’s Palestinian ghetto. The stories are simple, but very clearly outline the conflicted identity of these individuals, Christian-Arab-Israeli-Palestinian they belong to all, and yet also to no one’s camp. For the Palestinians they are not Muslin, and in that lesser Arabs. For the Israeli’s they are Palestinian, and therefore suspect. This work is a chilling view of the mechanics of racism in what is called the Middle East’s only Democracy.

Exhibitions: Helsinki, Finland

October 16, 2010

Helsinki, October 16, 2010

Nice time for Finland. The exhibitions here in Helsinki have been remarkable. At Kiasma two really powerful works from 2 female artists one from Estonia, Kristina Norman the other Swiss, Sasha Huber. Both works address ethnic and racial issues in conflict with accepted social “norms”. A timely subject indeed. After War by Kristina Norman recreates a Soviet War memorial removed from Tallinn by the majority Estonian government resulting in outrage and days of rioting among the Russian minority. The act is a call for tolerance and peaceful co-existence. Sasha Huber’s work Rentyhorn makes a symbolic trek (via helicopter) to the summit of Agassi Horn in Switzerland to rename the mountain Renty Horn, named after the African woman photographed by Agassiz to propagate his racist agenda.

One can top this visit off with the South African exhibition at the City Museum of Helsinki that goes far beyond William Kentridge, who is included. There is an amazing installation by Jane Alexander who’s work The Promised Land of Security Services, portrays Egyptian-like anthropomorphic figures in shamanic attire walking inside a barbed wire enclosure filled with discarded red rubber gloves, and confiscated scythes, machetes. Then works in photography by Pieter Hugo documenting a wandering band of animal trainers, with Hyennas and baboons in tow from Nigeria. Sculptures and photos from Nandipha Mntambo provoking reflections on European mythology with African shamanic gestures. Mikhael Subotzky’s photo documentation of a High Security prison in Cape Town, and Zanele Muholi’s photo self-portraiture in Massa ja Minah in the servant roles she takes from her mother’s experience.

Clearly, good things are happening here.

Pamela Z: Baggage Allowance By Ron Rocco

October 5, 2010

Sept. 16 – Sept. 18, 2010 at The Kitchen
512 West 19th Street, New York, NY

composer, performer, concepts, video & sound design:
Pamela Z

produced in collaboration with:
Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC)

lighting designer / visual director:
Elaine Buckholtz

fabrication & technical design:
Bill Ballou

interactive video programming:
Pamela Z, Ian Winters, Carole Kim

Sade Huron

Pamela Z, a San Francisco-based performance artist, is an adventurer. As an artist on the move she has spent a significant amount of time traveling the world. A by-product of those comings and goings are long waits in the traveler’s lounge, and near baggage carousel’s. Clearly for Pamela this time was well spent. This is a masterful presentation in which she ruminates on the things we all carry with us. Her initial entry on stage, in a costume which brings to mind words like travel worn, belies the brilliance of her solo performance. This is a weaving of voice, interactive electronics, a train of hand baggage and video, which navigates the viewer through a journey of reflection, questioning what we choose to bring with us as we subject ourselves to the many ordeals of modern-day travel.

Throughout this work Pamela Z skillfully orchestrates midi sampling devices with simple hand gestures, producing an electronic score, processed live, mixed with operatic flourishes, and vocals reminiscent of Merridth Monk. The theme of baggage becomes her lens through which issues of security both national and personal; memory, melancholy and homelessness are viewed. Pamela Z has the skill to balance these narratives with subtle application through the use of her technology, which fills the stage with a clean well designed look. She is clearly a visual artist, musician and show woman. This adventure is one that you may want to take, before packing your bags for the next screening by the TSA.

Noemie Lafrance and Sens Production MELT

October 2, 2010

New York, August /September, 2010

MELT under the Manhattan Bridge

Choreography Noémie Lafrance
Score Erin McGoningle
Dancers Elizabeth Wilkinson, Mare Hieronimus, Teresa Kochis, Celeste Hastings, Ori Lenkinski, Adi Kfir, Meghan Merril, Marcy Schlissel, Sarah Donnelly

Beeswax Costumes Noémie Lafrance
Technical Director Spencer Evans
Lighting Design Thomas Dunn
Producer Natalie Galazka

August 18-22 & 25-29, Sept 2-5 & 9-12, 2010
Under the Manhattan Bridge at the Salt Pile located at:
74 Pike Slip near South Street, NYC

I was there when Noemie Lafrance first presented the concepts for Melt as a work in progress at the Black and White Gallery in Brooklyn in 2003. The idea was compelling enough that I kept in touch with the choreographer, and stayed on the mailing list as her work progressed. This presentation presented August and Sept of 2010 is the completed version of that earlier work. Noemie, as a choreographer has a keen sense, when it comes to finding a location for her work. The Salt Pit is an interesting enough site, with its other worldly appearance, but also staging the presentation under the structure of the Manhattan Bridge engages a whole different scope and scale of urban landscape. The roar of the bridge traffic is almost deafening. While waiting for the event, one wonders how a production can be staged in such cacophony?

What is remarkable is that not only does MELT survive this urban onslaught, but it weaves the tempest into the production with the genius of Erin McGoningle’s ambient sound track. To say the costume design and the staging of the work is remarkable is an understatement. Ms. Lafrance has a sculptor’s eye for the spectacle. The work is thus compelling. The dancers strapped in their perch fixed to a 15 foot wall, work within a limited palate of movement to leave a signature of their activity upon the stone surface, this imprint the result of their ever melting bee’s wax and lanolin costumes. The scene is straight out of Dante at times, with the dancers wreathing movements and gestures reminiscent of that author’s depictions of hell. What could be more hell like than to be strapped to a hot stone wall under the bowels of the Manhattan Bridge? Yet there is euphoria in this work. There is a liberation of spirit. As the program introduction states, “Eight dancers….melting until their souls escape their ephemeral bodies and disintegrate into light.”

Although some dance critics found it hard to sustain themselves on such a limited palate of movement, I believe Ms. Lafrance is a force to be reckoned with. She is a choreographer with the sensibility of a visual artist which makes her work captivating and imaginative. Her work is something to keep an eye on.

visit me at:

February 15, 2010

Shake Up!
Solo Show featuring Ron Rocco curated by Lynn del Sol

Shake Up! installation

Exhibition: Thursday, February 18 through Friday, March 19th 2010
Open hours: Thursday, Friday, noon-6pm
{CTS} creative thriftshop @ Dam Stuhltrager Gallery
Directions: 38 Marcy Ave. Brooklyn, NY. 11211

With the support of CTS a full color, 38 page catalogue has been produced for this exhibition.

artist interview of Ron Rocco Shake Up! 2010 a video courtesy of {CTS} creative thriftshop, New York appears at the end of this article.


{CTS} creative thriftshop in conjunction with Dam Stuhltrager Gallery is proud to present Ron Rocco’s solo exhibition Shake Up! curated by Lynn del Sol as the fourth exhibition in it’s series of the gallery’s sponsorship program East/West Project (Opens Feb. 19th 6-10pm). Former expat Ron Rocco, a multi media artist that is well known for installations that border on the margins of disaster and conflict, presents a single installation that reflects the dissolving sense of social order on a global scale.

Working from Berlin and New York, artist Ron Rocco sculpts material assemblages and deeply referential interventions of signs and space. Tracing back to the scrap metal yards that colored the landscape of his Bronx youth, Rocco’s practice reveals a clear fascination with material structures and their mutable functions. Occupying a place between sculpture, installation, painting and performance, Rocco’s raw aesthetic exposes a potential within inert materials. His objects and assemblages relate nostalgic associations and critically examine signs in and out of context. His sculptures exist as symbols, with layered references to a conflicted identity, personal pathos and a sharp political consciousness.

Shake Up! Is the moment of Shock. The rude awakening after a Turning Point. The moment when the earth moves, and we find ourselves in a hostile new environment. It is also the hope for a ‘wake up call’ to humanity to get with the program of saving our world.

At the center of the gallery sits a 400 pound house composed entirely of enshrined waste materials. The waste material was collected from the streets of Brooklyn and is a material often found in bundled form awaiting recycling. The sheer mass of the object is an attempt to bring to mind the massive mountains of refuse we generate daily. Here it has been compressed and encased in a cast wax form resembling a house. As the artist has done in other artworks such as The Horizon is Nothing (1990) and More than the Limit of Our Sight (1997), the house represents the aggregate of concepts we each possess germane to home, community, and civilization.

This sentiment is intensified for the viewer with the projection and sound-scape of an impending violent storm the artist recorded in Owego, New York on the banks of the Susquehanna River, where he was a resident artist for the Experimental TV Center. The image was processed with the use of a waveform which cycles through the image creating a juxtaposition of positive and negative effects in the image. One might say that this shifting between positive and negative reflects the Tipping Point at which, what under normal circumstances may be seen as a normal storm, shifts into an ecological disaster.

Encircling the entire installation is a 30 yard river of ink covered latex-like fabric which falls from a 7 foot long photo etched aluminum panel in which ghost images of a caribou herd are seen stampeding towards the viewer. The fabric is printed in a wood block style that has been stained with the tire tracks of a fleet of vehicles. The fabric is meant to give the illusion of an animal hide and the tracks speaks to how ecosystems have been bisected by the construction of roadways in the more “wild” areas of our lands.

As a whole, Rocco’s highly charged works hint at the collapse of form and function amidst a dissolving sense of social order. His raw and refined aesthetic, expose a highly acute and critical interaction, with intersecting ideologies and histories.He is able to create a space where time is both paused and running short.

View the video interview with Ron Rocco presenting Shake Up!

Berlin, Reflections on the presentation of Boris Groys: After the Red Square.

April 17, 2009

Boris Groys: After the Red Square @unitednationsplaza* Berlin, October 30 through November 10, 2006

[The contemporary, post-communist situation is mostly understood as a time after the full and final victory of the market over all the attempts to put this rule into question. Accordingly, art is equated to the art market and an individual artwork is seen primarily as a commodity. Under this regime the only way for art to become “serious” is to become “critical”, which means that it tries to reflect explicitly on its own character – as – commodity. It is telling that the art of the former Communist or Socialist countries is regarded from this perspective as non-serious because it is non-critical by definition;  this art could not reflect on itself as a commodity because it was not a commodity. (It was not a commodity because there was no market, and certainly no art market under Socialism.)

But the equation between art and art market, be it critical or not, not only brings about the erasure of a substantial part of the art heritage of the 20th Century; it also – and this is the more important point – ignores the non – market dimensions of contemporary art that functions not only as commodity but also as propaganda (for example: Islamist videos), as a means to organize a new type of communal space and a new type of community itself.

The goal of the seminar is to investigate precisely these non-market aspects of contemporary art in its relationship to the long tradition of non-market uses of art, related initially to the Socialist-Communist tradition.]

Quoted from

The intellectual life here in Berlin has been invigorated by a few artist lectures. Frustrating though has been the aimless, verbal wandering, some of these talks have taken, across themes that sometimes led no where, but I did enjoy the ride as it passed though some interesting concepts, shared below.

The speaker was Russian artist, Boris Groys who addresses the role of religion since the enlightenment,through Communism and now once again transformed in the post Cold War era.  He pointed to the fact that religion had been relieved of its duty to organize societies, a role it played in medieval Europe, by the advent of the French revolution, the model of Napoleon’s strong central governmental framework, and the decline of the nobility.  It then found its mandate in bringing value to the personal life, in attending to the questions regarding meaning in life and death.

Socialist society staked a claim to the interests of the individual, as a member of the group or community and because of that saw no other purpose in death other than as a sort of sacrifice toward the goal of making way for the future generations or as a contribution to the communal common cause.

Capitalism, Groys pointed out, ignores death entirely, choosing to avoid the topic, as it is only the pleasures, and consumption of the individual, which give meaning or profit.  Death in a capitalist context is totally cast off to the church. This I found, although really nothing new, interesting to reflect upon. The thread was lost a bit, but then found its way into the idea that a common currency of the contemporary world is the erosion of the concept of truth.

This also was not new to me, in that I had recently read several commentaries from the realm of particle physics and more general science, that bemoaned the damage caused by the erosion of  the concept of empirical truth.   This due to the contested study of complex systems, most visibly in the environmental sciences and the advent of string theory, where the simple fact that the science conceptualized phenomenon residing in dimensions and scales beyond the reach of empirical analysis, found itself immune from forces, which would require it to have to submit to hypothetical proof.

These realities combined with a political landscape, where the world’s most important leaders and their governments can, and do openly lie as part of domestic and foreign policy have created a world where there exists an idea that there is no truth. The beliefs of the Left, when politically advantageous, become the beliefs of the Right, and visa versa. Truth is then only a crutch, like the church, which has be deemed in itself counterfeit and open to attack.  The ultimate result is a zero sum of belief in truth; one man’s truth is another man’s lies.  After all history itself, which is suppose to document ‘how things really were’ has been shown to be only the ‘truth’ of the victor, or the oppressor or the majority.

The question then becomes:  What role does art then play?   What role does religion then play? A comment was made that most contemporary art in the realm of the marketplace becomes opinion less.  A statement which I think is to a large part true, but there are certainly strong examples to the contrary, the work of William Kentridge accounting for one, or that of Hans Haacke as another.

Western Religion, according to the stream of thought presented, moves itself into being capable of subsuming all opinions, accommodating all as equal and therefore equally negating all.  The believer then looses his or her own ability to formulate an opinion, as ‘true faith’ must stand above opinion and it is then only the opinion of the church itself, or its pastor which is allowed currency.  (This I do find to be relevant, when reflecting upon that part of my family who are ‘born again’).   I ask anyway, where did all this good thought go? I am not certain. It seemed to peter out somewhere.

Good questions were asked though, as someone pointed out that the acts of 911 seemed to point to a very strong, and deadly counter current in the opposite directions of these trends, a counter current which insists on a specific truth and an insistent reproduction of a past anti-technological golden age, which breaks with the current.   The clash of the 21st century then being the result of the currents of these two diametrically opposed forces.  What about art?  Where does it stand, what does it say?  To be honest those questions were dropped or lost in the conversation.  It was suggested that art could be contradictory, and that this was not a bad thing, but then again how does it manage not falling into the same troubles as with contradictory science?

I contend that art in itself, regardless of its message or stand, has unfortunately been used by outside forces in ways which undermine the cohesion of society, and in fact the well being of the artist themselves;  one example, the role of the arts in driving the forces of gentrification,  playing as its spear point. Therefore even the identity of one as an artist has a corrosive impact.  Better off the pre-historic model, the role of the artist in the ‘primitive’ societies where ‘art’ was undertaken by all and the art existed as part of the communal environment, sort of like the background noise.

I could go on, but will leave the thought there. Anyway it has been good to be in an environment here where these ideas are discussed as opposed to strategies for gaining a market foothold or just staying alive as an artist which unfortunately is the premise of most dialogue in NYC.

*unitednationsplaza is a project started by Anton Vidokle following the cancellation of Manifesta 6. Unitednationsplaza is exhibition as school.

Structured as a seminar/residency program in the city of Berlin (2006–2007), it involved collaboration with more then 100 artists, writers, theorists and a wide range of audiences for a period of one year. In the tradition of Free Universities, all of its events were free and open to all those interested to take part. Unitednationsplaza was organized in collaboration with Liam Gillick, Boris Groys, Martha Rosler, Walid Raad, Jalal Toufic, Nikolaus Hirsch, Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Tirdad Zolghadr.

While its program in Berlin is now finished, the project is traveling to venues in other cities around the world. (Text taken from their web site: