5 december – Stefanie Hessler

Kunstkritikks egna skribenter och inbjudna gäster väljer det mest intressanta från konståret 2014. Varje dag från den 1 till den 24 december publiceras ett nytt bidrag. Idag: Stefanie Hessler.

Vilka var årets mest intressanta utställningar, händelser och publikationer 2014? I Kunstkritikks julkalender sammanfattar Kunstkritikks egna skribenter och inbjudna gäster konståret 2014. Nummer 5 är Stefanie Hessler som är en frilansande curator och skribent från Tyskland. Hessler är bosatt i Stockholm där hon driver Andquestionmark tillsammans med Carsten Höller. Hon är en av curatorerna för nästa års Momentum i Moss, och arbetar parallellt med en utställning för Museum of Modern Art i Recife, Brasilien.


Yvonne Rainer, Chair Pillow, 1969. Photo: Eva Herzog. Dancers in training with Pat Catterson and Yvonne Rainer, July 2014 Dance Works, Raven Row, London.
Dancers in training with Pat Catterson and Yvonne Rainer, July 2014.
Yvonne Rainer, Dance Works, Raven Row, London. 

Yvonne Rainer’s exhibition at Raven Row in London was a well-conceived overview of both her thinking and its results. Half of the show, which was curated by Catherine Wood, consisted of everything from annotations and reflections that build the foundation of Rainer’s distinct theoretical work, to numbered sketches of steps, diagrams and scribblings that translate directly into movement, to photographic and video documentations of early performances laid out on shelves along the walls. In the show’s other half, these thoughts on paper were actualized by bodies in dance in the physical space of the gallery in the form of four performances. A group of dancers, who were clearly enjoying themselves, performed a demonstration of Rainer’s philosophy that dance could include any type of movement. Chair Pillow from 1969, for instance, is a light and passionate, yet precisely choreographed piece including, you may have guessed, chairs and pillows. The contrast between the archive of theoretical work and Rainer’s humor, openness and focus on how we interact with and relate to each other made this show one of the year’s best.

Edmund de Waal, Lichtzwang, 2014. Photo: Edmund de Waal Studio. Lichtzwang, Theseus Temple, Vienna.
Edmund de Waal, Lichtzwang, 2014. Photo: Edmund de Waal Studio.
Edmund de Waal, Lichtzwang, Theseus Temple, Vienna. 

Edmund de Waal’s presentation of the single work Lichtzwang at the Theseus Temple in Vienna demonstrated his preoccupation with the life of objects, as well as what happens after a thing is created and subsequently put away. The installation, whose title is derived from a volume of Paul Celan’s poems, consists of two large vitrines holding more than 200 porcelain vessels. The vitrines were shown in daylight without any added illumination as a diptych at the back wall of the temple. The vessels are placed in the vitrine like lines of words on a page or people standing in rows. The entire installation is in tones of white of varying nuances, with the occasional silver touch on the bases of the vessels. The delicately dented objects lead one to think of manual labour, seriality and questions of collecting, display and museology. De Waal’s porcelain is as delicate and precise as his writing. In The Hare with Amber Eyes (which if it weren’t from 2010 would be part of this list), he retraces the history of his family alongside a collection of 264 netsuke, Japanese miniature sculptures that were handed down through the generations and eventually given to him. To exhibit in Vienna was an important occasion for de Waal, as it meant to return to the place from which his Jewish family had to flee during World War II. After seeing the exhibition, I visited the building on Ringstrasse that de Waal’s family used to own. Even though it was my first time there, it felt like returning to a place I know because of de Waal’s evocative and compelling descriptions of the building, the shape of the passageway, the textures of the materials and the light falling into the courtyard. De Waal’s new book will tell the history of the color white and is set to be released next year (watch out for the 2015 list).

Pierre Huyghe, Human Mask, 2014. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. In. Border. Deep., Hauser & Wirth.
Pierre Huyghe, Human Mask, 2014. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.
Pierre Huyghe, In. Border. Deep, Hauser & Wirth, London. 

Pierre Huyghe’s film Human Mask, which was part of his exhibition In. Border. Deep at Hauser & Wirth in London this fall explores the question of what it means to be human. At the beginning of the film a car drives through a deserted city, the wreckage of Fukushima in Japan. The camera moves into a restaurant, and we see a figure wandering around that looks like a girl in a blue dress, her face covered with a white mask. She pulls a strand of hair into her face while her feet are dangling from a chair. Suddenly she jumps up and darts into the kitchen, takes a towel and lays it on a table in the restaurant. Her arms are too furry to be human, and her movements to abrupt. Human Mask is inspired by a real story, in which a monkey was trained to work as a waitress in a restaurant in Tokyo, handing out towels to the guests for their entertainment. Huyghe’s figure is a strange conglomerate of the human and other animals, shown alone in her habitat, purposefully roaming through the restaurant, opening the fridge and arranging towels as if performing automatized tasks. The mask, with only the monkey’s dark eyes looming out through the slits, is reminiscent of a Noh play and provides a projection surface for us viewers. Apart from a cat strolling past, the monkey could be the last being on earth after the Fukushima catastrophe. Trapped in the dark and empty restaurant, carrying out actions without purpose or greater goal, she seems to perform a metaphor of the conditio humana.

Honorary mention: Ed Atkins at Kunsthalle Zurich and Ragnar Kjartansson at TBA21–Augarten in Vienna.


A microscopic yellow mite (Tydeidae). Photo: Agricultural Research Service/Eric Erbe.
A microscopic yellow mite (Tydeidae). Photo: Agricultural Research Service/Eric Erbe.
The opening of Micropia at the Amsterdam Zoo. 

The opening of Micropia was certainly a highlight this year. Situated in the areal of the Amsterdam Zoo, the museum offers insights into the world of bacteria, archaea, fungi, viruses and the like. The museum includes a body scanner simulating where the almost two kilograms of micro-organisms that live on an average human body are located, and a display that shows mold growing in different directions to find the fastest route to its food. With the Anthropocene heralding the start of the age in which the consequences of humanity’s impact on the earth become evident, and the Ebola virus shaking up 2014, the museum breaks anthropocentric and Eurocentric worldviews down through unicellular organisms. Micropia reminds us that we are all made up of atoms and cells after all. It is difficult not to see the world through the lens of microbes, the oldest form of life on earth, after a visit to the museum.

Raimundas Malašauskas, Guest Curator Sommerakademie Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, 2014. Photo: Stelios Kallinikou.
Raimundas Malašauskas, Guest Curator Sommerakademie Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, 2014. Photo: Stelios Kallinikou.
Sommerakademie at Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern. 

Since I found myself in Zurich in August, I stopped by this year’s Sommerakademie at Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, which was headed by Raimundas Malašauskas. The week of workshops and lectures was dedicated to the acronym «HR», referring to the initials of Hermann Rorschach, but also calling forth associations such as Human Resources, Hour or High Resolution. Rorschach is considered the father of psycho-diagnostics, a combination of psychiatry and aesthetics. The ambivalent test composed of ten inkblots functions like a screen onto which people project things: emotions, internal conflicts and so forth. It is supposed to allow conclusions about a subject’s personality, emotional state, intelligence, and whether he or she suffers from paranoia through an analysis based on aesthetic manifestations. The Sommerakademie asked whether we treat the world in a similar manner, as a screen onto which we project, and whether the inkblots could be employed for a portrait of the world rather than a person. Malašauskas invited thinkers who work at the intersection of art and science to speak at the Botanical Garden. The roster included, among others, Agency, Rosalind Nashashibi and Denise Ferreira da Silva, whose lecture revolved around the points where justice meets knowledge, drawing from the four elements in analyzing the post-Kantian disconnection between knowledge and being, and ended in the presentation of a cosmogram of Hermann Rorschach.

The Colombian national football team dancing Salsa Choke, 7 July 2014 Photo: 90minutos.co.
The Colombian national football team dancing Salsa Choke, 7 July 2014
Photo: 90minutos.co.
Colombian national team dancing Salsa Choke at the World Cup in Brazil. 

What can I say, the football World Cup was an important event this year. But even more remarkable was the Colombian national team taking the new musical hybrid Salsa Choke from the city of Cali to Brazilian stadiums and television screens all over the world. When I visited Cali in March, the genre, which mixes Afro-Pacific styles with hip hop, marimba and salsa, was playing all over the clubs. The city is known for its performance festivals and nightlife, and visiting some of the events was ecstatic, with live music, the air thick of electricity, radiating an intense energy. Moreover, Salsa Choke is the anthropophagic bastard creation of a new genre from existing ones, displaying awareness of the local, which is privileged over global music corporations and uniformity in style.

Honorary mention: Europa, Europa by The Knife.


Anemones and stalked jellyfish; pastel by Philip Henry Gosse, 19th century. Photo: The New York Review of Books. Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, Devon, UK/Bridgeman Art Library.
Anemones and stalked jellyfish; pastel by Philip Henry Gosse, 19th century. Photo: The New York Review of Books. Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, Devon, UK/Bridgeman Art Library.
Michael Pollan in The New Yorker & Oliver Sacks in The New York Review of Books

Two thought-provoking articles that should be read together discuss different ways of looking at intelligence, consciousness and the mind: Michael Pollan’s «The Intelligent Plant» in The New Yorker and Oliver Sacks’ «The Mental Life of Plants and Worms, Among Others» in The New York Review of Books.

Michael Pollan, who states that declaring plants to be intelligent beings has long been an easy way to be labeled a «whacko», has written an extensive article on plant neurobiology. The term is somewhat misleading, since it sounds as if scientists in the field believe that plants have neurons and brains. The reality is even better: plants can process information and adjust their behavior – meaning they can «learn» – even without having brains. Pollan discusses this scientific controversy while asserting that plants are agents of their own faith and display some kind of awareness of their environment. What makes it difficult for us to attribute consciousness to them is the drastic difference in the speed of their movements compared to our own. Pollan’s experiments are therefore shown as videos in time lapse, such as the one above displaying two bean plants competing for a pole to attach to. Both are casting their offshoots like fishing rods towards the pole, and after the first one latches onto it, the second one retreats in defeat. Pollan further argues that this research can also benefit ecological agriculture, as chemicals can be used to cause plants to set off defense mechanisms and thereby reduce the need for pesticides.

Oliver Sacks reviews nine books spanning 130 years – from Charles Darwin to Herbert Spencer Jennings to Eric Kandel – that examine the mental life of different species. Mind and consciousness might be strong words, but Sacks convincingly writes that insects, amoeba, etc., are not robots with built-in and programmed behavior, but organisms that can learn and remember. Darwin’s last book from 1881, a study of the earthworm, indicated that worms can distinguish between light and dark, and that their ability to respond to stimuli is proof of the presence of a mind. Referring to Herbert Spencer Jennings’ assertion in his book Behavior of the Lower Organisms from 1906, Sacks writes that we humans are reluctant to attribute qualities of mind to amoeba mainly because they are so small. If they were larger, a beautifully cartoonish idea, we would identify with them just as we do with dogs when ascribing to them states of pain, hunger and pleasure. Compiling ideas and research from the fields of the senses, mind and behaviorism, Sacks’ article makes us think of other species’ consciousness in new and different ways.

Video: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/video-do-bean-plants-show-intelligence

Nina Canell, Mid-Sentence, 2014. Designed by Robin Watkins. Photo: Moderna Museet.
Nina Canell, Mid-Sentence, 2014. Designed by Robin Watkins. Photo: Moderna Museet.
Nina Canell & Robin Watkins, Mid-Sentence, Bom Dia Boa Tarde Boa Noite and Moderna Museet. 

Nina Canell’s book Mid-Sentence was designed by Robin Watkins and published by Bom Dia Boa Tarde Boa Noite and Moderna Museet for the occasion of the artist’s exhibition with the same name in Stockholm. It contains 64 technical drawings of cables, or rather of cross sections of cables to be precise. The book reveals the insides of these transmitters of electricity, which form the physical basis of communication. The cables are also part of Canell’s exhibition at the museum, where they take the form of the sculpture series Brief Syllables. The book title, Mid-Sentence, can be understood as a cut-off communication, an interruption in the system, a momentary instant in which neither past nor future are known, or a fragment uncoupled from its context like a one-dimensional point in space-time. The book is relevant to me because it reveals the hidden channels of our networked communication-based society. It is somewhat reminiscent of early ethnographic drawings, of bringing back the depiction of an unknown with the aim of showing it to the community waiting back home. This analogue and graphic depiction of the substructure of our digital world seems like a reference to remnants of the pre-online age that are almost obsolete and may soon be forgotten.

Good Times & Nocturnal News #2, 2013. Photo: Rustan Söderling. Designed by Rustan Söderling. Edited by Carl Palm and Egle Kulbokaite.
Good Times & Nocturnal News #2, 2013. Photo: Rustan Söderling. Designed by Rustan Söderling. Edited by Carl Palm and Egle Kulbokaite.
Good Times & Nocturnal News

Good Times & Nocturnal News is an «idiosyncratic newsprint publication» and publishes texts and images by artists, writers and curators without ascribing specific names to each contribution. It references the logic of articles in newspapers and online news sources, which gain their alleged objectivity and universality through their anonymous nature. The second edition was dedicated to the past Venice Biennial and the BAR GRROAWL, which was organized in a completely dark apartment in San Marco where visitors could indulge in homemade grappa served from deformed plastic bottles. For the third edition of Good Times & Nocturnal News, the editors Egle Kulbokaite, Carl Palm and Mette Woller are developing a series of stage-based live events. The edition will be launched in Miami in December, and whereas I haven’t seen it yet, judging from the two past papers, this is a highlight to look forward to this year.