Notes on the second Moscow biennale of contemporary art

If you went shopping at TSUM this March, which, as a member of Moscow’s nouveau riche you would be obliged to do, or, if you just went to browse and contemplate the abstractions that constitute the prices of Gucci and Dolce, Miu Miu and Mugler on the racks, you would likely have stumbled upon an altogether different set of global brands: the latest video art by American artists of a young and hubris-less generation. This somewhat bombastically titled exhibition, USA: American Video Art at the Beginning of the Third Millennium, was a major part of a contemporary art extravaganza including over 100 international artists and close to 25 private and public galleries, but quite unexpectedly, what struck me most was that, seen together in this unlikely setting, the video works provided an unexpected portrait of young America’s newfound cultural subtlety. Take for example Matt McCormick’s The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (2002), filmed in the industrial pastures of Portland, Oregon, which draws attention to how a certain type of iconoclasm (the removal of graffiti) creates another art form, inevitably associated in this context with a kind of “found Suprematism”–the camera rests on abstract fields of colour for our eyes and minds to drown in, as they might have 90 years ago, had we been in Moscow looking at newly painted Asian wall art. I first encountered this video as an aspiring curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery when I helped to install Baja to Vancouver: The West Coast and Contemporary Art (June-August 2004). There, it was expertly presented in a soundproof, neutron-star-black booth. For all the pleasure of the cozy hermetics of the video booth–a standard of contemporary installation that did indeed help clarify the bleepy soundtrack and Miranda July’s hypnotic narration–the West Coast context did not animate the work in the same way that TSUM did. In Moscow, McCormick’s work, set amidst the plethora of video works, was barely audible and somewhat fainter than I remembered it, due to light bleeding in from its neighbours and from the men’s designer wear aisles beyond. Struggling to be seen and heard, it became a perfect cipher for the strangely muted legacy of the avant-garde in Russia–strange because this legacy animates so much of contemporary art production three to 13 time zones westward, where fragmentary excavations of and nostalgic yearnings for the “ruins” of modernism so often turn to the Suprematist and Constructivist movements for inspiration.


The impact of Russia’s formidable contribution to modernism was poignantly apparent in the State Shchusev Museum of Architecture, where one of the program’s special guests, Jeff Wall, chose to show still-life compositions that, while they may have echoed the “minor” tenor of the biennale’s theme–Footnotes on Geopolitics, Markets and Amnesia–also asserted the formidable impact of Constructivist and Suprematist compositional dynamics on Wall’s vision (even, and especially, in the process of looking at such everyday spaces as a studio sink and his own backyard). Wall’s Diagonal Composition (1993), made just as Russia was shedding its Communist past, Diagonal Composition NO. 2 (1998) and Diagonal Composition No. 3 (2000) were all there. The hanging of the lightboxes at a downright weird 30 degree angle to the wall by ghastly, prominent cables lent the presentation a clunky feel. This was unfortunate, given the opportune juxtapositions of the Shchusev’s crumbling 17th-century architecture with the echoes from the golden age of modernism that are imbedded in the picturesque overgrowth and grime of Wall’s–can we call it wild?–West Coast milieu. Like many of the exhibitions in the biennale, this one could only point to rather than fully embody the social and aesthetic dynamics at play due to its distracting hang. But at some point one had to stop worrying about the shoddy installation and consider Moscow through its biennale filter, because what was to be gleaned from this was much more interesting than shop talk regarding the perfection of an installation. For the latter, we can go to the Schaulager in Switzerland, a place that is as far from the situation in Moscow as I can imagine, where Wall’s works were recently presented, well, impeccably.

Moscow’s somewhat messy, misbehaving biennale provided access to spaces at the epicentre of the city’s development and catalyzed broader thinking around the unfolding plot and problems of the city. I have heard 101 critiques of the project as being complicit with Moscow’s real estate boom, due to the fact that the repurposed wine factory Winzavod, the refurbished TSUM and the rising Federation Tower were the main stages of the biennale. This assumes a brain-dead visitor. In going to the Federation Tower construction site, for instance, you could not help but witness the city’s building economy in the flesh (quite literally, workers drawn here from the provinces). The view of Moscow’s boom from the bird’s-eye vantage point of the twenty-second floor made the city look freaky and beautiful all at once. In particular, the work of Polish artist Jozef Robakowski, on view at the Federation Tower, talked back to the crane-consumed boomtown seen from the windows of the tower via the hilariously poignant and droll From My Window 1978-1999 (2000)–a long take in black and white of the grey life beyond the window of the artist’s state-owned flat in Communist Poland.

A polar shift is palpable in Moscow. In place of the avant-garde experiments of Russia’s modernist teens and 20s (which now roam the Western hemisphere like so many ghosts channelled by spirit-starved contemporary artists), a consumerism without core or bounds or soul has turned Russia, and especially Moscow, into a lawless and rampant version of capitalism never actually realized in the “Wild West.” This is a cliche, but it is impossible to escape. And it is one thing to read about it in The Guardian and quite another to be immersed in a city which has borne the brunt of a transition from Communism to oligarchic capitalism. It is as if a giant, greedy consumerist bomb has hit Moscow–a cluster bomb, if you will, chock full of bad bling–and everyone is numbly covering themselves (however scantily) with all the products of the designer deluge in an attempt to forget. In this sense, the assertion of contemporary art as a footnote to markets and the amnesia they cause is a clever appraisal of the situation at hand, and bears with chilling, realist resolve on the title of the biennale: Dialectics of Hope.

I had came to Moscow in late March (gladly missing all the parties that go on anywhere there is a global exhibition of this sort), as much for the biennale as for the incredible treasures of Moscow proper: the dizzying church interiors of the Kremlin, the Socs-Baroque Moscow Metro and the enviable Tretyakov (a bold and beautiful flower painting and all the other women artists taking centre stage in Russia’s variant of the universal survey museum blew my mind), not to mention the thrilling scale of the Stalinist gothic menace that encircles the city, otherwise known as the Seven Sisters skyscrapers. The discovery of Moscow’s treasures was sharpened and tempered in equal measure, both by the gaudy consumerist delirium of the city and by the biennale that was meant to act as its footnote. The entire messy rubble–a confusing collapse of art and commerce, boomtown assets and Tsarist and Bolshevik treasures-made for an experience that did not attack head-on Russia’s dwindling democratic fabric at the hands of Putin the Terrible, but neither did it produce a smooth surface that would make the situation more palatable.*

ZI-0PDW-2007-SUM00-IDSI-29-1

An image of sculpture

At our first meeting in his studio, Kristan Horton showed me his recent self-produced artist’s book, Oracle, an product of his project, also titled Oracle, which translates audio books into printed books. Although it is a charming clothbound work, the book is also in some way sub par. For one thing, the title on the cover is off-centre. Sure, a great deal of effort and care was invested in making it, but the book is short of being ideal. It is as if Horton’s attempt at making Oracle could at best pass as a double of its ideal version, good enough only to pose as an imitation if used in circumscribed contexts, such as a photo shoot, or when seen from a distance in dim light.

Gradually, during the course of that afternoon, I learned that this is characteristic of the way Horton makes art. Oracle is marked by a tenuousness that is typical of a hobbyist’s touch, like those creations forged in a garage studio, a canoe or a plane for example. It does not matter so much if the plane can’t fly. Is the book in my hand Oracle, or a one-to-one scale prototype of Oracle, I ask?

Horton’s reply was that he prefers to make everything himself. The remark, though casual enough, should not be taken as an excuse for the “less than adequate” craftsmanship. The artist’s approach to making Oracle also applies to his practice in general. His craftsmanship is oriented not towards perfection, but rather is used as a trope that constructs a critical position for the artist. The charm of the book’s sub par execution is an expression of the artist’s sophisticated practice, one that has philosophical implications. In hindsight I understand that the statement about making things himself refers to the strategic position Horton takes of being an amateur.

ZI-0PDW-2006-AUT00-IDSI-20-1

A TACTIC OF AMATEURISM

The amateur is a special kind of outsider. Not the subversive that causes trouble, but the kind that enjoys being left alone. Since they operate outside of any trade, amateurs enjoy the privilege of not being bound by its rules. Left to proceed with limited skill, the amateur enjoys an unlimited license to produce whatever he or she might find desirable or interesting–in order to bring it closer, to posses it in its likeness. A lack of expertise means that the product will only at best be an approximated double, a simulacrum of its ideal version and therefore not expected to function at all. For this reason the amateur’s work has no currency outside the studio. Instead, the work, in addition to what it is, also serves to exhibit the autonomy of the amateur’s studio as the work’s site of origin and destination. It indicates the specific kind of independence the amateur enjoys.

FROM DR. STRANGELOVE TO DR, STRANGELOVE DR. STRANGELOVE

Like the amateur’s creation that never quite arrives at what it is supposed to be, Horton’s work perpetually spills over from one provisional construction to another. At issue in Horton’s art is a sense of mobility that exceeds mastery of technique. A major ongoing work in this mode is based on Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

The film’s formal structure is one of the things Horton admires about Kubrick’s work. The plot of the movie plays out in discreet and self-contained sets with no transition in between. For this reason the film lends itself to a kind of mimetic mapping. Dr. Strange-love Dr. Strangelove (2004), Horton’s personal homage to the original, is a collection of photo diptychs composed of images that re-create selected scenes in the movie shown alongside the original scenes that inspired them. Horton creates his images using simple objects found lying around in his studio. For example, in one shot a fork stands in for the body of a B-52 bomber; in another, a white plastic sheet works as clouds.

Exhibited beside images of the original scenes, the reconstructions are marvels of resourcefulness. A mimetic connection between the two images hinges not so much on a representational but rather on a structural correspondence. To begin, Horton analyses the composition of the film still and breaks it down into a collection of discreet elements: the B-52 bomber into a body, wings, etc. He then indexes the individual parts with substitutions such as knives and forks. Looking at both images together, their constituent elements function like abstract variables in an algebra equation that are infinitely substitutable. B-52 wing = fork, B-52 body = knife. One could say that Horton creates a shorthand expression for Kubrick’s” mise-en-scenes.” A comparison between the two can take place because they exist in spaces of comparable logic.

Surely, these homage reconstructions are not good enough to pass as a doubles. They are not forgeries that attempt to usurp the original, the way fake designer bags do. They manage to mirror the original in order to provoke the viewer’s admiration, but not the censure of copyright laws. It is only the counterfeiter, who profits from producing a false identity that competes with the real thing, who may run up against the law. By contrast, the amateur–in this case, Horton–manages to deviate from the deadlock of mimetic rivalry. His structural mapping enables him to twist free from the traditional model of mimeticism based upon representation and the rivalry that it engenders.

CONCEPT ART

ZI-0PDW-2006-AUT00-IDSI-21-1

One may also see the amateur’s haphazard arrangement as the swift response that captures an idea when it first germinates. In the context of film production, the lightness and inconclusiveness of Horton’s reconstruction prompts me to see it as a form of storyboard–a kind of concept art that directors and set designers use to plan the realization of the final film sets. If this is the case, then Horton’s “copy” is the expression that precedes the original, and not merely an imitation that is made after it. The copy would be a strange primal scene that is prototypical to Kubrick’s. It is interesting to imagine Kubrick’s film sets as a realization and elaboration of Horton’s own versions.

Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove displays the methodology and, moreover, the unique sensibility of Horton’s practice. One senses that Horton’s mock-ups are always in the middle of decomposition and recomposition. The mobility and tenuousness inherent to them suggest a movement that passes beneath the stasis of form, representation and narration. Hence, his imitations amount to a subterranean movement that is ontologically prior to that of the original. It is his prerogative.

ANIMATION, FROM CIG2COKE2TIN2COFF2MILK

I would characterize the objects in Horton’s work as being animated by a surplus of desire that perpetually distributes them beyond their provisional identity or composition. Here we are speaking of animation not only as a genre but as a principle that directs his practice. Incidentally, Horton is trained as an animator and has worked in the industry. Coming full circle, his sensibility finds its best articulation in that medium.

Cig2Coke2Tin2Coff2Milk (2006), a frame-by-frame stop-motion animation, was recently exhibited at YYZ Artists Outlet in Toronto. On a worktable in his studio, starting with a du Maurier cigarette box Horton performs an animated sequence of transformation. The cigarette box is cut and folded into a Coke can and when an approximated Coke can is achieved, a real one appears to replace it, setting off another transformation. The sequence that follows unfolds in the order indicated by the work’s title, finally ending up with a carton of milk.

In the high-tech world of digital animation, stop-motion is almost an anachronism, the kind that, like flipbooks, can be created by just about anyone. And it doesn’t matter how adept you are at it; some degree of discontinuity is inherit in this type of animation. It is telling that Horton, even as a trained animator, chooses the most low-tech type of animation, the type that demands less specialized technical expertise than ingenuity and imagination.

The work can be appreciated as an instructional how to sequence. At the same time it makes its animating movement palpable: a kind of structural morphing out of which novel forms and processes continuously unfold. It is not only the inherent forms of objects such as the box and the cylinder but also their associated corporate identities (du Maurier and Coke) that are being morphed into one continuous movement. The duration of this movement is the subject of the animation. Within this process the intervals or stutters inherent to the stop-motion method help to facilitate new connections. These gaps signal the unforeseeable folds or wrinkles within what might otherwise appear to be a linear narrative. They are pockets that produce reserves out of which unforeseen connections and identities can appear. For example, a paper Coke can still bearing a du Maurier logo suddenly becomes within the interval of a new frame a tin one with the real Coke logo.

THE TIME OF THE AMATEUR

Kristan Horton took his time. Taking the advice of his art-college instructors, he did not exhibit immediately after graduation. Rather, his years after art school went to preparing a body of work for a professional career and also, and more importantly, to cultivating a set of values and strategies integral to a personal ethic and a certain degree of independence. Although informed about what was happening in large contemporary art during this time, he did not directly participate in the exhibition circuit and so benefited from the advantage of being left alone. Finally, he makes a contribution–but as a sophisticated amateur.

Choosing this role enables Horton to make artwork at a slight remove from the art scene and its protocols, whatever they might be. His relationship to contemporary art as an amateur amounts to personal and artistic independence. There is a beautiful intelligence and humility in this. Horton is recognized as a contemporary artist, but he at the same time complicates the discourse of contemporary art. Are his prototypical film stills and Coke cans contemporary sculpture? Are they imitations of a contemporary sculptural practice? Or both? From the delicate but critical distance he creates with his work, Horton the amateur artist performs an imitation, a doubling of Horton the contemporary artist, and vice versa.

ZI-0PDW-2006-AUT00-IDSI-22-1

By Yam Lau

Appropriate Canvas Wall Art For Dining Rooms

Placing canvas wall art in dining rooms will make your room more accommodating and interesting. Paintings can make a room look completely decorated and well-appointed. Since the dining room is used for eating and sometimes for entertaining dinner guests, it is important to choose appropriate pictures to display in your dining room.

When decorating a home with artwork, it is only sensible to hang paintings that have a certain connection to the room. For example, if you want to decorate a game room with wall art, it makes sense to hang pictures that depict sports. If decorating a mini-bar, then hang wine canvas or paintings depicting vineyards.

The dining room can be decorated with food art or fruit canvas. Aside from those two themes it is also acceptable to hang paintings of landscapes, flower art and paintings with scenes of people eating in a cafe. Modern dining rooms would benefit from abstract canvas too.

wine canvas art for dining room
Do some research about the subject in the painting. Find out who painted it and where the canvas wall art is from. Make sure that you hang artwork that has an appropriate theme that will not offend the viewer especially when they are eating.

Some paintings that are not suitable for a dining room are images depicting the following:

Sports
Gruesome images
Politics
Religion
War themes
Nudity
Portraits of people or relatives who have passed on

Another factor to consider when buying artwork for a dining room is the size and shape of your room. A small square shaped dining room would call for a single canvas. Long dining rooms with a rectangular 8 seating table can be decorated with canvas art sets.

It would be a good idea to hang artwork that will make a good conversation piece. Your canvas wall art should depict something that will make diner guests ask about it. Be sure to know more about the painting you hang in your dining room so that you can supply a good answer when guests ask about it.

Asian Canvas Tips: How To Add Asian Flavor To Your Home

You can create an Asian flavor in your home cheaply. It isn’t necessary to buy antique Asian furniture or place an expensive Chinese vase in your living room. You can get inexpensive decor pieces that represent Asian culture such as Asian canvas wall art or Japanese fans that you can put on your walls.

Choose simple furniture or pieces that use Asian materials such as bamboo. Asian decor is typically simple and minimalist. Think clean lines, low beds and seating. Many people relate certain colors to Asian culture such as gold, red and black. Use these colors for your decor accents or upholstery.

Place tapestries with Asian landscapes on your wall or hang framed Chinese calligraphy prints. Use Shoji lamps for lighting instead of regular lamps. Place a sake set on your coffee table instead of the usual coffee table book. A sushi set would look suitable in the dining room.

Shoji Lamp

Other things you can use to create an Asian ambiance are little Foo Dogs or Buddha figurines from China, Japanese geisha kimonos, Indian throw pillows, Indonesian masks, and wooden tableware from the Philippines. Instead of getting expensive Chinese vases, you can use cheaper decorative vases in Asian colors.

When decorating in Asian style it is also important to stick to one theme from one country. Mixing up Indonesian decor pieces with Asian canvas from China or Japan won’t look quite right. Explore various Asian cultures and designs to discover which specific Asian theme you want to create in your own home.

simple symple