Posts Tagged 'book-review'

Collectivism after modernism

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – This cover could completely go without a book. My first thought at seeing the picture on the book Collectivism after modernism, a collection of essays that “explore the ways in which collectives function within cultural norms, social conventions and corporate or state-sanctioned art”, reads the back.

Needless to say, to a certain degree this weblog is a collective practice as well, and how I’d love to be with our members on that arrow-shaped boat. Even more when I read that the essays explore collectivism in social, cultural and political contexts. They are set in New York after 1975, the Cuban national crisis in the eighties, the sixties in Japan and in the last decade in Senegal. Not to mention the introduction which ambitiously plays out collectivism against the backdrop of the cold war in which collaborative practice is identified as suspicious communist activities and individualism is hailed as the prodigal practice of Western capitalists artists. Hmmm, this begins to look like a tasty menu.

Unfortunately, promising as it may sound, it seems like the authors forgot to add salt, pepper and a nice sauce. Very few manage to really give proper analysis of the relation between collectives and the contexts and surroundings in which they operate, on how they carry out political action, provide discursive places and alternatives and, most important for me, what kinds of strategies and methodologies they have developed.

To enable transformation on a social, cultural or political level, as the introduction promises, collective practices need to be translated to an operational level. How else can you be an actor in such societal fields? Only Okwui Enwezor manages to translate theory into practice in his text The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes.

It is a rich and intelligent text that combines insights from social studies, post-colonialism, community practice and collectivism to describe the political and cultural situation in Senegal. Situated in this complex framework he describes the practice and methodologies his case-studies Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes have developed. It is a theoretically complex and layered story combined with a very insightful, hands-on description of subversive collective practices. In all honesty: one the best texts I’ve read.

Therefore, my advice is to borrow the book, make a big coloured photo copy enlargement of the cover and put it on your wall. Photocopy Enwezors essay and lock yourself in the room with the poster and read it to last word! Inspiration guaranteed!

Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (editors), Collectivism after Modernism: The art of Social Imagination after 1945, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-4462-9
Authors: Jelena Stojanovic, Reiko Tomii, Chris Gilbert, Jesse Drew, Rachel Weiss, Ruben Gallo, Alan W. Moore, Okwui Enwezor, Irina Aristarkhova, Brian Holmes.

Robert Rauschenberg

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — I step on my balance. It reads 70 kg. I step off and on again. Now it reads 65 kg. Much better. The difference: Robert Rauschenberg. I put aside his catalogue (it’s so heavy) and realise that this 635 pages monster still doesn’t cover his work altogether. How on earth can I weigh the intellectual, creative and visual influence he had on me?

* I think a painting is more like the real world if it’s made out of the real world *

For sure, I could describe his historic importance being one of the first postmodernist artists: looking at the world, at his environment, his country and culture, rather than looking at his canvas only. He was one of the first who brought back the world into art, “the return of the real”, to use Hal Foster’s famous phrase. I could brag on about the way his layered, mixed-media canvasses unfold the intense complexity of life. How they describe a new world of spectacle and entertainment, of chaos and uncertainty.

But that just won’t do it, at least not when such a giant passes away. So, instead, I will have to “return to my reality”. To the time when I had my own inspiring dialogues with Rauschenberg and that was, like so many of his admirers I’d reckon, when I entered the art academy.

Now this is a peculiar moment in life. You find yourself, for the first time ever, alone on unknown territory and just one question burned in my mind: what on earth am I going to do here? All frames of reference that had provided structure to my fragile young life so far were swept away. I had no clue about what art school was supposed to be; I had no clue of what was expected of me. So for want of something to cling to I bought a ridiculously big Rauschenberg catalogue. 635 pages, I thought, that should provide a long-term source of input.

* An empty canvas is full only if you want it to be full *

It’s quite striking, now I come to think of it. In need of order, of something to hold on to, I turned to an artist whose work could be described best as chaotic, layered and uncertain. What good would that do? Nevertheless, despite this paradox, what I needed wasn’t a “regime” of order and discipline to find my way into life at the academy. Instead, I was looking for something that would get me “out there”. What I needed was a Starship Entreprise, a vessel that would take me on a journey and explore unknown worlds and galaxies! And Rauschenberg turned out to be my Jean-Luc Picard: captain and spiritual guide through my private universe of possible artworks. And so we embarked on a journey.

The metaphor of the journey is crucial in this matter, because movement is the only way to discover what art has to offer. You need to touch, smell, look, create and produce heaps and heaps of mediocre drawings, failed silkscreen prints, attempted paintings and then you need to mix them, layer them, cut them up, glue them together, pile them, fold them, burn them, destroy them and start all over again. This dynamic and creative circle of life seems to describe exactly the attitude that Rauschenberg had towards art and that helped me to get through those first years in art school.

* People ask me, “Don’t you ever run out of ideas?” In the first place I don’t use ideas. Every time I have an idea it’s too limiting, and usually turns out to be a disappointment. But I haven’t run out of curiosity *

An actual count of Rauschenberg’s works could provide some clues about his giant production, so I pick up the catalogue again. After 160 pages I’ve counted 200 art works, leaving 475 pages still to go… In a rough estimation that would add up to around 800 works, which is, needless to say, merely a selection, put together 10 years ago. It’s a long shot, but perhaps Mr. Rauschenberg produced roughly 2000 works altogether. Divided by the 56 years of his professional career, that would account for 36 works a year. Slowly inching along myself, I barely manage to produce four projects a year. I guess I still got a long way to go…

* I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with influence because I think that one can use another man’s art as material either literally or just implying that they’re doing that, without it representing a lack of a point of view *

Robert Rauschenberg: a postmodern Da Vinci, dinosaur and space traveller, spiritual father of influence, creativity, inspiration and ‘point of view’.


Urban Theory – John Rennie Short

It’s hard to find good books about the city and urbanism. The market is saturated with popular glossy-looking books, dealing with interesting subjects such as globalization, terrorism, new media and so and so forth. However, they generally fail to put these developments in a historical and theoretical perspective.

So I was quite thrilled to find Urban theory, a critical assessment, by John Rennie Short. The book doesn’t dig deep into any issues, its strong point is the discursive overview of urban theories. Rennie describes the most important discussions regarding the city, starting with theorists such as Benjamin, Simmel and Howard in Modernism, and Soja, Lefebvre and Dear in Postmodernism and further discusses issues such as globalization, immigration, control and politics in the city.

It’s a pleasant and easy read; a must-have hand book on the city, comprehensive and gripping. So please, don’t judge this book by its cover, because that requires some critical assessment as well…

Charles Jencks cover

I was quite surprised that a key work such as Modern movements in architecture by Charles Jencks was out of print. I was lucky though and found a second hand copy on internet. But I was even luckier when it arrived today; it turned out to be a gorgeous vintage 1977 print.

In retrospective the cover seems very ironic. The book describes the decline of universal values in modernist architecture and its failure in humanistic terms – how today’s getto’s were originally build as utopian visions on urbanism. The irony is the fact that the cover has the same look as many science fiction novels of the same period. Dark stories from authors such as Philip K. Dick and Brian Aldiss in whose novels modernist architecture functions as ruins or backdrop on which a distopian future is build.

If you’re into old school book covers, check out this amazing collection of Pelican and Penguin publication.

Lucy Lippard / Stanley Brouwn

This week I found a great book in the library ‘Six years: the demateralization of the art object from 1966 to 1972’, by Lucy Lippard. The book gives an overview of performance, minimalist, conceptual art and land-art in this period. No theory! The book gives a scrambled overview of publications, articles, bits and pieces of interviews, statements; put together in a seemingly chaotic order.

In the middle this chaotic heap of information I found this beautiful text about Stanley Brouwn – an intriguing Dutch artist, who can be described best as mystical minimalist/conceptualist (or maybe I’m just full of it):

Brouwn, Stanley. Potentiële beginpunten van this way brouwn’s in Hamburg.
Stanley Brouwn began his walking and direction pieces in 1960 in Amsterdam. One of his early projects was an exhibition of all the shoe stores in Amsterdam. An early book was entitled Brouwnhair and each page contained a sample of the artist’s hair. The following three pieces date from 1969:
1. a walk through a grass field

2. a walk during one week

3. a walk from a to b

Picture above is from the project This way Brouwn, in which Stanley Brouwn asked people on the street to draw the directions to a certain point.

Paul Auster & Sophie Calle / Leviathan

“At 12.05 p.m., she buys a magazine at the news-stand, located at the corner of the rue de Rivoli and de l’Amiral Coligny, Paris, 1st arrondissement. She is wearing a trenchcoat”

Just finished the Paul Auster novel Leviathan. At times it lacks souplesse, but I love his typical mix of genres – detective, crime, drama – and the darkness of his stories.

In a typical Paul Auster manner, characters in the book gradually slip down a dark road of peculiar events and strange encounters; they face complicated dilemmas that are drenched with moral issues and carry a disturbing sense of inevitability, as if they were meant to take up their burden; to pave new moral paths for times when common sense provides no compass.

An interesting feature of the book is the character of Maria Turner, modelled after French artist Sophie Calle. Her autobiographical work often consists of bizarre and compulsory instructions she lays down on herself. They enable Calle to abandon paved paths and enter unknown territory. In one of her projects – that appears in Leviathan as well – Calle hired a private detective to shadow and photograph her during a period of time (picture above). These disturbing pictures lure the viewer into a parallel and highly paranoia world that bears close resemblance to the actual life of several characters in the book.

I like the work of Calle functioning as backdrop for Leviathan. Her photographs are uncanny and mysterious to me, in the novel however, Auster colours them with dark stories, anecdotes and provides the characters with intriguing features and backgrounds. Together they created the book Double game which comprises several projects of Calle, Leviathan and short stories by Auster.

Italy: Re-thinking Tafuri

Spawning a new debate, 9 essays on Tafuri, put together by Peter Lang.

PREMISE. A major conference on Manfredo Tafuri took place in New York City in April 2006. The fulcrum of the event was, according to the organizers: the introduction of the English translation of Tafuri’s Interpreting the Renaissance: Princes, Cities, Architects (Yale University Press in association with the Harvard GSD, 2006), translated by Daniel Sherer. Their stated intention is to use the event “as an occasion for a new assessment of his critical legacies.”

essays by:

Andrea Branzi
David Grahame Shane
Manuel Orazi
Esra Akan
Ugo Rosa
Stefano Mirti
Luka Skansi
Francesco Garofalo
Gabriele Mastrigli

Recent articles

“Veiling the unveiled truth”: the conceptual art of Silvio Berlusconi
Published August 3, 2008 by Antonio Scarponi

We all know that the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a man of talents. First of all he is a man of spectacle, a perfect actor from the old school. He is able to dance, sing and his practical jokes are famous world wide [...] We all know these skills, but recently in two occasion he demonstrated also to have great talent as conceptual artist.
Made in Sweden
Published July 9, 2008 by Trial and error

On a recent journey we visited two well-known Asian landmarks: The Chinese Dragon Gate and the Royal Thai Pavilion, both located in remote places in Sweden.
From motorcycles to 3,5 million pieces of art
Published July 3, 2008, 2008 by Marja Salaspuro and Sergio Davila

Can classical conservative museum structure keep its historically layered architecture, rooms, collections and objects – and still attract the interest of the modern visitors, mainstream tourists and experience seeking travelers? A philosophical reconsideration around the purpose of museums in our era and the architect’s role as a curator.

Popular articles

My Sweden: Clean spaces, Clean information
Published June 12, 2007 by Trial and Error

”I dont understand what you mean by street art. If it has no permission, it is regular destruction and should be punished. I think it is equal to destroying someones car.”
Mikael Söderlund, vice mayor Stockholm ...
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder where you are?
Published January 3, 2008 by Katja Aglert

Imagine a future generation who has never seen a star in real life. It’s a future when the night sky has transformed into a thick layer of artificial light and micro particles that doesn’t let through the sight of any stars or planets, not even the moon is visible. What effect would that have on us and other life forms on earth? ...